Monday, November 18, 2019

How to Assemble a Christmas Village Display in Ten Easy Steps

Saturday, I decided to set up my Christmas village. I hadn't set it out since the Man-Cub started college, and, since it's one of his favorite holiday decorations, I decided that this was his year. The effort required to set up the display demands that we have it up for long enough to fully enjoy it, and, since we are planning to be in Mayberry for Christmas, I didn't want to wait until after Thanksgiving to assemble it.

I've been collecting pieces of the Dept. 56 Dickens Village for decades now; my earliest pieces go back to 1988, and many have since been retired. I currently own twenty-five buildings and twenty accessory pieces in the series, a fully functioning carousel, a working fountain, and an animated skating rink, as well as a forest-worth of trees and bushes and numerous generic filler pieces, such as lampposts, fences, etc. It takes quite a few boxes to store the village and more than a bit of time to construct it.

If you've ever considered starting your own collection, or, already own one and are interested in some tips for assembling your display, read on!

Step One: Transfer  boxes from the attic, garage, storage unit, warehouse....wherever you store your village. Stack them in an area of your home that creates the most opportunity for creating tension in your marriage; this will ensure that you construct the village in a timely manner.

Step Two: Set aside a realistic amount of time in which to construct your miniature city. I've found that one hour for each two or three items is sufficient. I wish I was kidding.

Step Three: Dial up the Hallmark Channel; you'll need the cheesy schmaltz to fortify you for what is to come. As an aside, coffee liberally spiked with Baileys, a bottle of wine, or a few shots of whiskey are also recommended.

Step Four: Get started. Realize two minutes into the first box that damage must be repaired and prepare to do battle with the glue gun. Burn fingers, immediately. Switch to Gorilla Glue. Glue fingers together. Thank yourself for thinking ahead on the Baileys/wine/whiskey.

Step Five: Bemoan the janky condition of the original packing boxes that the village pieces came in, assuming you kept the boxes, which, you should have, although, if you didn't, no judgment. But, you really should have. Anyhoodle, nothing an entire roll of packing tape won't fix.

Step Six: Stare at the space where you will construct the village. Spread pieces out across every flat surface available.Feel overwhelmed by the chaos surrounding you and wonder where to start. Decide to Google examples from other village builders. Go down the rabbit hole that is You Tube. Resist the urge to purchase a warehouse full of foam sheets and a hot tool with which to make awesome landscaping pieces; remind yourself that it took a Herculean effort just to get the boxes out of the attic. Log off the computer.

Step Seven: Spend the next ten hours arranging and rearranging pieces. Curse your inability to accomplish any degree of efficient cord management; fear burning down the house. Dismiss this as an irrational fear. I mean, right? Make a mental note to move the fire extinguisher into a more accessible location. Just in case.

Step Eight: Place the final tree into the display. Step back and observe the fruits of your labor. Realize that your back is killing you, your feet hurt, and you are starving and semi-dehydrated. Dose yourself liberally with ibuprofen and another glass of wine. Maybe eat some cheese; you've earned it!

Step Nine: Clean up your work space. Return the original packing boxes to the storage boxes; accept the fact that you have no chance of winning an international Jenga contest. Throw hands up in frustration, apply the vacation-packing method to the boxes by sitting on them, suitcase-style until the lids close.

Step Ten: Enjoy your village. Try not to cry when you think about disassembling it six weeks from now. Drink more wine.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Empty Nest, Full Heart

It occurs to me that I haven't done an update on the children in quite some time, and, now seems like as good a time as any to do so.

Queen B has had quite a few exciting changes in her life; for one, she got her first, as she describes it "big girl job". She's working at the mental health facility in Neighboring City. The job comes with benefits, a great starting wage, and, an actual ID badge (hence, the "big girl" status). I'm not entirely clear on what her job duties entail, but, I know she is already rocking it and I could not be more proud.

Another big change for Queen B came in the form of Katie moving out. I'll get to the changes that spurred the move for Katie a bit later in this post, but, as for now, I'll just say that, for Queen B (and, Mikey, who, bless his heart, is still living in the basement) it's an adjustment. The girls have lived together for five years, so, it really is a huge change. Queen B is looking for another roommate, and, while she knows that it is an opportunity for growth, she's also going to miss having her bestie right next door.

The Man-Cub is rocking the college life. He recently got a job washing dishes in a restaurant that a friend also works at, and, while he is digging the paycheck, he's not completely enamored of the actual "work" part. Not because he dislikes washing dishes, but, because his schedule keeps him out late, which makes it hard for him to fall asleep at night, which makes it hard to get up in the morning. In short, he's adulting and adulting often sucks. It's great practice for the Real World that awaits him following graduation. And, as always, I am ridiculously proud of him.

The Cub is also looking at a change in address; he'll be moving out of his current house and in with some friends at semester break.

And, that brings me back to Katie, who, officially moved out yesterday (she's been planning the move for several weeks now, which gave both girls some time and opportunity to wrap their brains around the change). Katie got a new job at the hospital in Hooterville, so, to spare her having to commute two hours of the day, she is moving in with her older sister and her husband. I'm as proud of her as I am of my biological kids, and, I know she's going to do a great job in her new position.

So. My kids are growing up. They're facing a lot of change and they are dealing with it maturely and with grace. I could not ask for better than that. After all, they'll be responsible for picking out our old folk's home someday.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

It's the End of an Era, and, For Once, I Will Celebrate

I just submitted my last FAFSA to the federal government.

If you are a parent of a college student and aren't:

A) Wealthy by virtue of a fortunate birth (generally, into a family with Old Money)

B) Wealthy by virtue of early investments into start-up companies (Netflix, Facebook, Google, etc.)

C) Wealthy by virtue of a generous insurance settlement (hopefully not based on the loss of life or limb)


D) Wealthy by virtue of a record-breaking lottery win

then you probably know the pain that is the FAFSA.

Having felt the heartburn generated by completing the FAFSA a grand total of six times now; I feel like an expert, not only on the requirements of the application, but on the merits of Tropical Flavored Tums, which, while tasting like fruity chalk, have the least overwhelming metallic aftertaste of all the antacids I've tested.

So, to say that I am happy to be done with this particular responsibility of parenting would be vastly understating my emotions, and, we can't have that.

Dance party!

Monday, November 11, 2019

When You're Thankful and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

When I think of all the things that I am most grateful for, I always count my friends twice. I know how fortunate I am to have them in my life, and, I say a prayer of thanks for them every day. This weekend, I got a chance to spend time with Jules, who, you may remember, is one of The Girls, my lifelong posse of besties.

Jules and I spent an evening in, reminiscing about the past, musing about the future, and catching each other up on the present. We looked through old albums, bemoaning the fact that there are so many people in our old photos whom we can not, for the life of us, remember clearly. Names escape us, despite the photographic evidence that we once found these people entertaining enough to hang out with, so, we did the logical thing; we called in reinforcements, by texting and messaging the rest of The Girls, as well as some other college friends. I'm sad to say; even with that level of support, we still came up short on several identifications. Oh, well.

Thanks to a heroic effort on Hugh's part, we were able to watch an ancient video on VHS (he literally went on a search for our old television set that has a built-in VHS player, wrestled it out of the armoire it was stored in, and hauled it downstairs so we could watch). The video is a compilation of the trip that we all took to Las Vegas in 1993, just prior to my, and Reece's weddings, and both of the rehearsal dinners and weddings, as well as Jules' wedding.

There was a lot of back-and-forth with The Girls during the viewing and a ton of laughter, as well as a few misty-eyed moments. We were reminded of things we had forgotten, as well as of the fact that, as much as we have all grown and changed, our love for each other remains as strong as ever. Stronger, actually.

Jules had to leave yesterday, and I missed her the minute she pulled out of the driveway. I am grateful for every chance that I get to spend with these amazing friends of mine, as well as for the technology that allows us to be "together", even when we are far apart.

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out- Walter Winchell

Monday, November 04, 2019

Recipes From the Porch: Creamy Sausage Tortellini Soup

It's been a while since I posted a recipe, and, while this isn't necessarily one that I would serve on the porch, I figured, why the hell not? It's easy, filling, and utterly delicious. If I were to serve it on the porch, however, I would do so on a chilly day, wrapped in comfy quilts.

The ingredients:

2lb Italian sausage (I use a half and half mix of hot and mild)
16 oz package cheese tortellini
8 oz package cream cheese
5-6 cups fresh leaf spinach
4 cups chicken broth
2 cans diced tomatoes (I use the ones that are flavored with garlic, basil, and oregano)
Handful of fresh oregano
Parmesan cheese
1/2 Cup half and half (not pictured, because I am an idiot)

Step one: Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat from sausage after browning.

Step two: While meat is browning, roughly chop fresh oregano.

Step three: Crack open the tomatoes and throw them into a crock pot.

Step four: Add cream cheese, tortellini, sausage and oregano to tomatoes.

Step five: Pour in chicken broth and top with spinach.

Step six: Heat on low for 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally. About an hour in, remember that you totally forgot the half and half, go ahead and throw it in now, or, go back in time and don't forget it in the first place.

Step seven: Serve in big bowls, with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Crusty bread is also recommended.

Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Day of Rest my (Not so Tiny) White Hiney

Ah, Sunday, we meet again. What's that, you say? We were an hour late in meeting? Yes, dear, I know; see, there exists this little thing called Daylight Savings Time. I don't understand it, either, but, it means that I had to turn my clock back in order to trick myself into sleeping an hour later. What's that? No, of course it didn't work; it just meant that, instead of tossing and turning about in my bed starting at 5:00 a.m., I was tossing and turning about at 4:00 a.m.

This does not bode well for the workweek.

Anyhoodle, you know how, in the bible, it says that you are supposed to be reserved for rest? What the actual hell, Sunday? Where is this "rest" of which the bible speaks?

Le sigh.

Instead of resting today, I found myself spending my "extra hour" catching up on housework and book work. The only work I didn't catch up on was work work, and, yeah...fuck that nonsense; Monday will come fast enough, "extra hour" or not.

On the bright side, while I was toiling away, I had a crock pot of creamy sausage tortellini soup cooking, which, combined with my new favorite seasonal candle, made the house smell about as much like fall as it could; at least until Thanksgiving day, when the smell of turkey, sage stuffing, pumpkin pie, and fresh-baked dinner rolls combine to create the scent of the season.

Speaking of the season, Friday afternoon, I took down all of my Halloween decorations and made way for my Thanksgiving decorations. What's that, you say? Who decorates for Thanksgiving when there are Christmas trees to put up?

This girl.

This girl decorates for Thanksgiving.

And, she's grateful for the ability to do so.

Christmas will be here before we know it, and I see no need to rush. Besides, we now have one whole "extra" hour in which to enjoy it.

Insert eyeroll, here.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

There's a Hole in My Bucket List

New month, new list! But, before I get to that, how did I do on last month's list? Let's see...

1. Pay more attention to my diet...well, I paid plenty of attention to it going right off the track. That counts, right?

2. Book and shoot two family sessions...booked one, shot one.

3. Post one Halloween photo to Instagram every day of the month...nailed it!

4. Do at least two social activities with friends...I surpassed myself; I went to Pickin' at the Pea with The Lesbians, to a barn sale with Kortni, I hosted a Halloween themed Porch Night, I got to spend a full day with Phoebe, and I took Queen B and Miss Mia to The Candle Kitchen for a fun morning of candle making.

5. Take better care of myself, in general...well, there's always this month...

...which, brings us to November's list.

1. Host a kick-ass Thanksgiving Dinner.

2. Put together a kick-ass care package for the Man-Cub.

3. Knock out the majority of my Christmas shopping.

4. Catch up on my monthly bookkeeping at the hardware store; this one sucks, but, it's a must-do.

5. Attend at least two social events with friends and/or family.

6. Hit my 10,000 step goal every day of the month.

7. Find a way to work the word grateful into every post that I write. Because, despite my frequent bitching, moaning, complaining, and general declarations of ennui, I am, without a doubt, grateful. Every single day.

And, that's it.  I would make a crack about setting the bar low, but, since I do that every month, I shall refrain.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Rut Rho!

Happy Halloween, from the Scooby Gang!

I would write more, but, I have a date with a giant bowl of candy and a hundred or so Trick-or-Treaters!

At least, I hope I do; the temperatures are supposed to plummet along with the sun, so, there may be fewer little ghosties and goblins running about than usual on Halloween night.

Guess we'll see!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What's Up Wednesday, October 2019 Edition

Tomorrow is Halloween! I would say that it kind of snuck up on me, but that would be an outright lie; I've been preparing for it all month long. In fact, this may very well have been the most Halloweeniest Halloween month that I have had since the kids were small and we had umpteen parties, costume contests, pumpkin carving dates, and other assorted events to attend throughout the month of October. Today, I'm linking up with Sheaffer and Shay to show y'all just how Halloweeny it's been (and, yes, I do know that I made up two completely new words in this paragraph; just go with it).

What We're Eating

I've been making more of a concerted effort to eat healthy foods at home, but, this past weekend, Hugh and I capped off a full day of fall fun at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, and, I am not ashamed to admit that I ate every bite on my plate; it took two days to do it, but, I did. Also, thank goodness for To-Go boxes.

I also discovered some interesting new flavors at this month's Halloween-themed Porch Night; my favorites included a Ghost Pepper Cheddar cheese that was amazing. I also really liked the unique flavor combination of blue cheese and preserved pumpkin; I wouldn't have tried that had Bethany not brought it to the party, and I'm really glad she did. The pumpkin is candied, and, the sweetness, combined with the saltiness of the blue cheese creates a phenomenal flavor. Highly, highly recommended. Not a blue cheese fan? The pumpkin also paired amazingly with smoked Gouda. Just saying.

What I'm Reminiscing About

This time of year never fails to remind me of the times that we took the kids to the haunted houses put on by various nonprofits and service groups. I'm also reminded of the years that we haunted the porch for the kid's friends and the neighborhood kids who came trick-or-treating at our house. Those were fun times and I actually miss having my wits scared out of me by Michael Myers wanna-be's.

What I'm Loving

As I said earlier, I am loving all of the Halloween-themed things going on this month; one of my favorites was the Halloween-themed Porch Night that I hosted for friends and family. Generally, October is a bit too chilly for an evening event on the porch, but, this year, we had really mild evenings early in the month, so, I whipped up a batch of blood red Sangria, and called all my witches to the yard. It was a ton of fun.

Hugh and I also set up our annual skeleton display in the front yard; this year's theme was a no-brainer considering that Hugh will officially retire from law enforcement at the end of the year.

I also decorated the house and the porch, as I do every year, and we've thoroughly enjoyed the decorations. I'm not necessarily enjoying the thought of boxing them all back up, come November 1st, but, I'm also not dreading it or anything.

What I've Been Up To

Hugh and I attended our town's annual Pumpkin Chuckin' event, taking Boomer along for the fun. We hung out in the pumpkin patch, watched pumpkins being shot through the air at speeds that rendered them invisible to the naked eye (kind of defeating the purpose, if you ask me), cheered on our favorite tractor in the tractor-pull competition, wandered about aimlessly in a corn maze, and posed for selfies along the way. This is what our lives have come to, now that the kids are grown and gone; we take our dog to the pumpkin patch. Saints preserve me.

What I'm Dreading

Ok, I lied; I actually am kind of dreading the thought of boxing up all of my Halloween decorations and hauling them back up into the attic.

What I'm Working On

I've had several Senior sessions, as well as an adorable family session, and, I'm booking up for the holidays, so, it's safe to say that, while my side hustle will never take the place of Day Job (my name is Chelle; I'm here for the insurance); it is providing a nice little savings account for the trip that Queen B and I are planning to take next year.

What I'm Excited About

We recently purchased the Man-Cub's return ticket home for Christmas break and I can't wait to see him! Almost two and a half years in and I still require daily Proof of Life, but, there's nothing quite the same as having my babies under my roof, not even a daily call, Snapchat, Facebook post, text message, Facetime session, or post on Instagram.
What I'm Watching

I binge-watched the entire first season of Daybreak on Netflix in two days. It was hysterical and I am really hoping that there will be a second season.

I have also been watching the Hallmark Fall Festival movies on the Hallmark Channel, which, has been a refreshing change from the typical Christmas movies on Hallmark.

Oh, they share similar recycled plots and some of the same actors, but, at least I'm not looking at California scenery impersonating Vermont in December. You all know what I'm talking about.

What I'm Reading

Work has been crazy-busy this month, so I haven't had a lot of time for book reading. However, I have a fondness for seasonal magazines, and, since they make for a quick read, I have indulged in them, instead.

What I'm Listening To

Currently, I'm listening to a pot of chili bubbling away on the stove top. The weather turned ridiculously cold here in Petticoat Junction, and, with record low temperatures predicted for the rest of the week, it's not looking good for the Trick-or-Treaters.

What I'm Wearing

With the advent of cooler weather, you would think that I would be loving the opportunity to bust out my cute fall sweaters and scarves, and, for the most part, you would be right. But, with the onset of hot flashes, caused by my rapid descent into  old age; I am having a hard time wearing heavier items of clothing without wanting to periodically strip them off and run naked through a fan factory. This is frowned upon in polite society, as I'm sure you're aware. Also, I wouldn't know where to find a fan factory,  so, no scarves and heavy sweaters for me at this time. I am still rocking a sleeveless tank top under a lightweight cardigan with cute boots, however, in case you were wondering.

 I've also been wearing this cute pumpkin t-shirt on repeat; mainly because it's lightweight and doesn't make me sweat like a whore in church on Sunday, but, also because it is cute, and, seasonally appropriate.

What I'm Doing this Weekend

Hugh has an assignment in Wyoming this weekend, so I'll be on my own again. I'll probably spend most of my time taking down the Halloween decorations and decorating for Thanksgiving. The house is also in dire need of a deep cleaning, so, I may get that accomplished as well. Or, I may curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and the Hallmark Channel. Coin toss!

What I'm Looking Forward To Next Month

My birthday falls on Thanksgiving day this year, and, I'm hosting dinner. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys rolling out of bed at five a.m. on Thanksgiving day just to assure that the turkey will get done. I also love mixing stuffing (or, dressing, if you prefer), mashing potatoes, simmering homemade cranberry sauce, and watching dinner rolls rise before popping them in the oven. I think it's because I was born on Thanksgiving day. Or, I'm just weird. Either way, my people eat well on Thanksgiving.

And, that's what's up for this month.