Coffee heat rising

Merry Christmas(?)

Christmas treeGood Yule Morning to you! I hope your holiday is happy.

Hereabouts, it’s raining. Again. Still. This is the second day of steady rain, with more (we’re told) to come. Just this moment, it’s stopped. And here I am trying to take advantage of that pause to fix something to eat.

It’s not working. Had the bright idea of frying some baby potatoes in butter, rather than, as usual, grilling them. Mistake! The smoking butter set off the fire alarm. Got that damn thing shut off. Carried the potatoes in their pan out to the grill to set the things on the grill pan. It’s starting to mist again. The tiny raindrops sifting out of the sky hit the hot grease and created a stutter of staccato explosions.

Soon it will be raining again, which will make it impossible to cover the grill whenever I’m done “cooking” (or whatever it is) because the metal grill lid will be too  hot.

Haven’t heard when my son wants me to come over for the proposed dinner, a circumstance which I’m beginning to assume means “never.” Okay…whatever.**

What’m’I gonna do about that grill in the rain? Hmmm…  Whenever I can pull the food off of it, I guess, cover it loosely with a few strips of tinfoil. Then as soon as it’s cool enough, put the mostly worn-out cover back over it. No wind is blowing, so a few sheets of tinfoil probably will stay in place for half an hour.

This is devolving into a nice Day from Hell.

Still have the gawdawful cough. The hand still hurts like the devil, though it’s a little better… Friday I’m supposed to go out to the Mayo to get a chest X-ray (since this cough may very well be incident upon the antibiotic they gave me for the UTI, a side effect with potentially fatal ramifications) and a hand X-ray. How exactly any of this is going to help escapes me…there appears to be little to be done in either event. The lung damage, we’re told, will clear on its own in about four months — assuming it doesn’t kill you. The hand? I don’t think it’s broken…and so what exactly is to be done, other than maybe some physical therapy, also remains to be seen.

Yes. The hand…and the woo-woo. Actually, we have woo-woo remedies in connection with both. Videlicet…

This damn cough is about to kill me. Now that we know the stuff that powers Robitussin and its knockoffs — stuff that works very effectively to silence the hack for several hours — jacks up the blood pressure by something upward of 20 points, we’re left with nothing to treat the damn cough.

So I tried an old folk remedy: fresh ginger steeped in hot water and honey.

Interestingly, this does create an improvement. And it works for several hours! The difference is not as joltingly quick as what occurs after a dose of the pizzen in Robitussin, but it’s about the same. And it seems to last for about the same period of time.

Uh huh… Strawberries, cherries, little angels kissin’ spring…

Night before last, I came across the jar of CBD cream that came into my possession a few months ago. I’d forgotten about it, until I had to rummage around for some lip balm.

“Hmmmm,…” thought I, ever articulate: “Why not?”

So I rubbed this stuff on the sore spots, fell into the sack, and forgot about it.

Next morning, I wake up and lo! The pain is about 85% improved.

Of course, I think the Goddess has changed Her mind and decided to smile upon me. By the light of dawn, I blithely forget about the crème de cannabis that I’d smeared all over the paw.

As the pain slowly returned over the next 20 hours or so, somehow I managed to remember the doped cream. Could it be possible? I wondered. Looked up the question of whether medicaments of one sort or another actually can soak through your skin and affect your muscles and tendons. Weirdly, there seems to be evidence that this is the case. I mean scientific evidence, not woo-woo.

What the hell? This morning I smeared on some more. It required some time to take effect — if indeed the outcome is an effect. But after a bit, the pain, which has been pretty intense at times, was somewhat relieved.

Who knows?


….and time passes…and the tinfoil trick works, and lo! there’s a streak of blue across the sky, something we haven’t seen in two or three days. The steak & potatoes came out just fine, despite the inclement weather.

Ruby just came in and opened the door to the garage(!). What is that dog trying to say to me?

It’s mighty cold outside. She doesn’t seem to want to go outdoors, exactly. But what interests her in the garage? That escapes me.

But then…most things escape me.

** Lo! The message M’Hijito sent re: proposed arrival time was sent at 11:20…appeared in my in-box at 1:40. Gee, thanks, Apple!

All I want for Christmas is…

Two nice belts…

My belts have worn out or ceased to fit, probably a function of buying cheapies at Target and eating a bit too much good food. Have you noticed—if you’re of the female persuasion—how difficult it’s gotten to find an attractive belt that’s also utilitarian? The department stores are full of various flights of leather, plastic, and chain fancy, none of them designed do much other than make you look like you went on a fugue instead of a shopping trip. They have holes. They have hooks. They have chains. They have rhinestones. They have animal hair. They have dangly charms. They have hinges. But they don’t fit through the belt loops of a normal pair of bluejeans!

The ones that do are plain beyond plain, flat unembellished uninteresting strips of leather with buckles made of base metal. Good for holding up your jeans while you’re shoveling weeds out of the garden, but not something you’d wear to be seen in public.

So, I’ve raised my sights above the Target sale rack:

Yes: Brighton belts. And yeah, I know they cost three times what Target is charging. But my experience with these better-quality belts has been that they last for years, not just months. Either of the ones in the top left image would be perfect for jeans or other casual slacks. I need both a black and a brown belt, and that style, the Denver Diamond, comes in both colors. I think the Dakota Chevron Diamond,on the top right, would be great with jeans, too, but Amazon seems not to have it in women’s sizes. And I don’t know whether a men’s 36 is the same as a women’s 36—Brighton women’s belts tend to run small, so there’s no way of guessing how they compare or whether a fat old lady could wear a men’s version in the same size.

Brighton does carry some dressier women’s belts. Below the cowgirl numbers, for example, Brighton Classics Womens Brown & Silver Belt is extremely nice but not gaudy. Alas, they don’t have it in my size.

I like the hardware on this Brighton Classics Womens Silver & Black Snakeskin Belt, too. But it seems to be available only in 28 inches. They also have it in red, in a size larger.

The Brighton stores in the malls here have a slightly larger selection of women’s belts. Some are way baroque. But a few are very nice, along these lines. If you don’t mind crowds and disconnected salesladies.

Christmas Is for Friends

Melancholia I

A few days ago over at a Gai Shan Life, Revanche described spending Thanksgiving with a friend, having opted a trip to visit her perennially stress-inducing relatives. Though she was obviously relieved to have freed herself from another angst-filled holiday, you can almost touch the guilt vibes coming off that post.

Is there one among us who does not feel this?

The purpose of family is to spoil holidays for adult children, siblings, and cousins. It’s part of the cosmic order.

I find Christmas especially depressing, because my mother loved it so and made a very big deal of it. She learned her flair for Christmas celebration from her grandmother, who turned Christmas into high performance art. It was the holiday for us. I miss my mother a lot, and I miss her and her family the most during Christmas.

My stepmother, who came on the scene shortly after my mother died, practiced her own art of making Christmas miserable. Like many who loudly pretend to be followers of Christ, she was just downright mean. It took a long time before I realized she was doing it on purpose: exploiting holidays to stage a hurtful remark or a nasty stunt. I finally figured it out when she tried to do a number on me at Easter. Unlike her tribe, my family, not being worshipers of the man from Galilee, didn’t celebrate Easter. So when she threw a zinger at me that spring it had no effect…except to make it clear that she thought I would be missing my family and that she was taking the opportunity to reduce me to tears again. Later her daughter revealed that I wasn’t the only target of her machinations—that she’d been doing it for years to everyone around her.

When we were young, my husband and I used to get together with our best friends the weekend after Thanksgiving and throw a magnificent feast, which we called TGTGIO: Thank God Thanksgiving Is Over! Turkey was absolutely out of bounds, and so the focus of dinner would be roasts like leg of lamb, duck, prime rib… My friend Barbarella could REALLY cook, and so could I.

It went a long way toward making us feel better.

Later, when I could no longer stomach another Midwestern meal of flat white stuff (the new relatives favored overcooked steamed Butterball turkey, mashed potatoes with the consistency of library paste, and cauliflower, accompanied by “salad” of canned fruit in lime Jell-O), we would bundle the kid and ourselves in the car and drive 12 hours (one-way) to Grand Junction, Colorado, there to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s mother. It was a desperation move. Just imagine: driving 24 hours, often through blizzards and over long stretches of black ice, to get out of spending three or four hours with that bunch!

I wasn’t a lot fonder of my mother-in-law. She was so powerfully opinionated that she believed her every thought, no matter how cockamamie or faddish, was dead right, and if you didn’t agree with her in every detail you must be a blithering fool. However, she was at least neither deliberately mean nor stone stupid. Since she admired intellect no end, I could safely bury myself in a book all the time we were there, avoiding most confrontations.

Well, all those people are gone now or nearly so, and though I will confess to an occasional moment of loneliness at the holidays, I certainly don’t miss those who went out of their way to create unhappiness. M’hijito’s circle has developed a holiday tradition of putting on a big party for all their young friends, and the older generation is invited to that. It’s a great deal more fun than any of the true “family” holidays many of us experience.

They say Generation X substitutes friends for family. Maybe that’s as it should be.

Ebenezer Scrooge celebrates Christmas with Bob Cratchit


Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I. Public domain.
John Leech, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. Illustration for Dickens’s
A Christmas Carol. Public Domain.

How to get rich on Black Friday

Saint Nicholas

Comes the American Express statement in the mail, bearing good tidings. In only two more months, our annual rebate will be comin’ your way.

Here’s a strategy, we’re told, “to give yourself or your family something special from Costco”: use the holidays as an opportunity to buy, buy, BUY and charge it all up on your credit card!!!

Woo. Hooo. I can hardly wait to run out to the sales tomorrow and rack up several thousand dollars worth of debt, so I can get a few bucks back.

As  practical matter, if you have one of these cash-back cards and you religiously pay off the balance every month, you don’t have to go out and spend yourself stupid during the holidays (or any other time) to get a nice kickback. I put all my budgeted discretionary spending on this card—that is, everything that is not a regularly recurring utility or insurance bill—and pay the entire balance promptly. AMEX says the rebate I’ve accrued so far is $276.04.

Nice. That will cover the cost of draining and refilling the pool. Merry Christmas!

The ghost of Christmas Present visits Ebenezer Scrooge
The ghost of Christmas Present visits Ebenezer Scrooge

St. Nicholas of Myra: Cultural Universe. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 Wikipedia Commons.
Ghost of Christmas Present: John Leach, from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons.

Six steps to a frugal little Christmas

Ah, yes. Costco has had its Christmas merchandise out since Labor Day, a sure sign that a white-plastic Christmas is y-cumin’ in. Some of us suffer from chronic skepticism about the annual merchandising frenzy. But you don’t have to be totally cheap to come up with a pretty Christmas celebration that won’t leave you feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Here are a few strategies that have saved me some bucks:

1. Stop sending out Christmas cards. Just because someone sent you a card last Christmas doesn’t really mean you have to reciprocate. Add the cost of postage to the price of the cards themselves and this custom gets to be an expensive proposition. Send cards or Christmas letters only to your closest friends and family, and, whenever possible, hand-deliver them.

2. But when people send you cards, put them in an envelope and save them with your Christmas wrappings. Next year, take a pair of scissors, cut out the cute images, and use them to make gift tags. Simply take a piece of good-quality paper, cut it into a rectangle as wide and twice as long as needed to accommodate a cut-out Christmas card image, glue the image to one half of it, and fold the other half under. Voilà! A free and very pretty tag.

3. Make your own Christmas wrapping. Get some brown wrapping paper or white butcher’s paper and a set of stamps. (Or, if you’re really frugal, save and cut open paper shopping bags to lay them out flat.) Each time a gift is wrapped, stamp it with cute little designs, and then tie it up with pretty ribbon or colored rope. A variant on this, if you have children, is to roll out the paper and have the kids paint Christmas motifs on it. When the artwork is dry, roll it back up and you have bright, colorful, and meaningful wrapping paper.

4. Get a living Christmas tree. Planted in a good pot, a small pine will live several years—once I had one last four years. Cart it inside for the holidays, decorate it, and then take it back out when the celebrations are over. Water it well before bringing it in the house and again when you return it to its backyard habitat. If you have a place for a big tree in your yard, you can plant it in the ground after it outgrows its pot.

5. Shop in artist’s consignment stores for unique and interesting crafted gifts. Last year, I found an incredible pair of handblown, solid glass mugs for M’hijito, heavy manly things with swirls of royal purple running through them. The store had so many hand-crafted possibilities it was hard to make a decision, and most of them were reasonably priced.

6. Shop for Christmas gifts all year round…especially in the post-Christmas and midsummer sales. This lets you buy things you know are wanted without paying top dollar, and it frees you from the crazy-making Christmas rush. By spreading the cost over the entire year, it allows you to buy plenty of presents, but pay for them without running up a tab on the credit card.

While it’s true that Christmas is a part of the universally human gift economy tradition, by emphasizing fellowship more and piling junk on everyone around us less, we can keep the costs within reason and have memorable holidays every year.

Christmas dinner plans

What are you doing for Christmas dinner? I’m expecting five to seven people, which should be great fun. Since I like to enjoy my friends, my plan is to make a home-cooked meal that entails as little work as possible. Two work-avoidance strategies: make things ahead, and use the oven with maximal efficiency.

Here’s the tentative menu:

Roast prime rib
Yorkshire pudding; OR delicious gravy
Baked potatoes with sour cream & chives
Yam casserole
Brussels sprouts
Green salad or Waldorf salad
Ice cream or store-bought pie
Wine; iced tea, water, or good coffee for nondrinkers

Nothing could be easier than roast beef: no stuffing. 😀

One standing rib roast
Two or three cloves of garlic
A little olive oil
Salt & pepper

Slice the garlic cloves lengthwise into slivers. Take a knife, poke holes into the roast, and stuff a piece of garlic into each hole. Rub a little olive oil over the outside of the roast. Season generously with pepper and salt. If you’re planning to make Yorkshire pudding, place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan. Otherwise, just set it in the bottom of the pan.
Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees and roast the meat according to the doneness you prefer.

Baked potatoes: Well…baked potatoes could be easier than roast beef.

One fine Idaho potato per diner

Wash the potatoes. Stab each potato all over with a small sharp knife—you want to puncture the skin so none of the potatoes will explode in the oven. About an hour before the meat is done, place the potatoes directly on the rack in the oven.

Serve with a bowl of good sour cream (organic seems to taste best) or, if you’re the fat-free type, a decent organic yogurt mixed with juice of half a lemon. Also provide a bowl of chopped chives or green onions.

Yorkshire pudding is really just popover batter cooked in the drippings from your roast. A blender makes preparing this stuff extremely easy.

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt

About a hour before the meat is done, put the eggs in a blender and mix on “high” until lemon-yellow. Add the flour and milk in alternate batches of about 1/3 cup at a time. Toss in the salt while you’re doing this.

Pour this batter into the drippings that have collected beneath the roast. If there’s not enough drippings to cover the bottom of the pan, put a half a cube of butter into the pan and allow it to melt before adding the batter.

Alternative: Delicious brown gravy. I’m not nuts about Yorkshire pudding…it soaks up all the drippings and leaves you with no gravy. If you like popovers, you can use the batter above to make your bread serving for this dinner—just generously butter a muffin tin and fill the cups about a third full. Really, popovers should be cooked at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. So unless you have a second oven or you’re willing to let the roast rest that long, substitute store-bought French bread or rolls and make yourself a wonderful gravy.

Pan drippings from roast beef
red wine
possibly a little beef or chicken broth

If the pan drippings are mostly fat: place the pan over a burner on the stove. Remember to use a hot pad, because the pan will be hot. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour over the drippings and stir briskly over high-medium heat. As the flour starts to brown a bit, add wine and broth, ad lib. Stir well, scraping up the drippings, until the gravy thickens. Add more wine or broth to achieve the consistency you like.

If the drippings contain a lot of liquid: skim off most of the fat and discard. Take about a cup of wine or broth and add a tablespoon or two of flour to it. With a fork, whip these together so no lumps remain in the liquid. Bring the drippings to a fast simmer or slow boil over medium-high heat. Pour the flour & wine into the simmering roast drippings and stir briskly until the gravy thickens. Allow to simmer for a few minutes to cook out the “raw” taste of the flour.

Cashew-Yam Casserole: This is a fix-ahead dish that bakes unattended with the roast.

About 2 1/2 pounds yams or sweet potatoes, whole or halved
Boiling water
about 1/4 cup sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
About 1/4 cup pineapple or orange juice
About 1/4 cup water or rum or bourbon
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup salted cashews, coarsely chopped

AHEAD OF TIME: Cook the yams in boiling water until very tender. When cool enough to handle, peel them.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cooked yams until mashed, and measure. You should have about three cups. Add cinnamon, salt, egg, juice, and sugar. Beat until fluffy, adding more fruit juice if the mixture seems dry. Taste and add more sugar or salt, if needed. Mix in two tablespoons of the butter.

Spoon into a one-quart casserole or soufflé dish (you can cover and refrigerate, if desired).

Add the cashews to the remaining one tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan. Heat, stirring, until lightly toasted. Sprinkle over the casserole.

About 40 minutes before dinner is served: bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven.

Et voilà! Add a nice green salad and have your friends bring dessert, and you’ve got a large dinner with little work.