Christmas Eve

My Christmas Eve was just about perfect (at least in the sense that I felt no stress).

First thing in the morning I headed off to two malls with my mom for some last minute shopping.

I though the experience would be horrible (considered setting up a search party to come find me if I didn't return in 3 hours), but it was actually fairly crowd free and I was able to accomplish rather quickly what I wanted to accomplish.

Then we had a lovely lunch of Kneaders sandwiches--which would be our only Turkey for the day.

After cleaning up the kitchen and dining room at my parents house, I set the table in festive fashion (we need more candles next year--but it was pretty).

And then I set about making dinner (my mom doesn't enjoy cooking and so things like Sunday dinner or Holiday dinners often fall to me). This year, because we had nearly as many vegetarians as meat eaters, we decided to do cheese-stuffed jumbo pasta shells.

I whipped those up early and then put them in the refrigerator until we were ready to throw them in the oven. Then I made the Christmas challah bread from scratch (and it turned out so beautifully) before moving on to a batch of cookies for Santa--decorated in extreme fashion by a 3 year old.

The kitchen was getting pretty hot by this point, but everything was running smoothly and I was finished with all these preparations around 5:30.

Dinner wasn't until 7:30 so I had some time to breath a little until it was time to make a green salad (so if you are counting, that means I made the salad, main course, and bread all from scratch--we bought the cake a store and that is a happy tradition I can live with).

Then we all sat down to dinner and it was delicious (if I may say so myself) and a new non stressful tradition of pasta on Christmas Eve was been born at my house (we did the traditional Turkey dinner on Sunday when the meat eaters outnumbered the vegetarians and it was miserable and stressful and not at all fun--partially, I'm sure, because my mom doesn't cook and so her kitchen is not well equipped).

Then my we read a book that combined the Christmas story from Luke with some beautiful paintings before settling in for viewings of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and "While you were Sleeping."

Christmas Day was a bit of a blur, but Christmas Eve, as I said, neared perfection:

and a great deal of Holiday Spirit

I hope your holiday was lovely as well.


Happy Christmas

The entire time I lived in the UK (well the entire Christmas time that I lived in the UK) it drove me nuts that people would say Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas. It seemed so wrong (I think I was homesick).

Now that I'm not living in the UK I find the phrase "Happy Christmas" quite endearing and wonderful (I think I'm homesick).

So I wish you a

Happy Christmas

and a Merry New Year

(hopefully I'll be back before then, though)


I would like to express a heartfelt thank you to all those who have sent me Christmas cards. My lack of sending you Christmas cards is not in anyway an indication of my lack of love for you. I really do love you and your cards. So even though I am completely inept at this tradition, please keep sending them. I promise someday to get my act together and send you cards as well.



Pretty Books

These little pretties have added themselves to my wish list. Have you seen them yet? They are clothbound classics being offered by Penguin. A total of 8.

I especially like these:

They can be found at Amazon, Anthropology, and possibly Urban Outfitters. They will set you back about $20.


Deep Reading

There was a very interesting article in Thursday's New York Times by Michelle Slatalla. The basic premise of the article was that modern technology has reduced her reading habits to Web sites, blogs, emails, Tweets, and the occasional newspaper or magazine article and that all this reading has left her feeling "mentally flabby." Basically, she claimed, all this modern technology has shortened her attention span to such a point that she spent 30 minutes attempting to read Doctorow's "Homer and Langley" only to get through the first sentence or so having been distracted by the possibility of email and text messages.

To help her through this crisis she turned to reading expert Dr. Maryanne Wolf who explained that deep reading actually involves creating new ways in which your brain uses circuits initially intended for things like oral language and vision--or in other words, reading is not something that our brains are naturally designed to do. To become a reader (or a deep reader as put forward by Slatalla and Wolf--which I am desperately trying not to read as a pretentious reader) one must work at and practise the art--something that one must force oneself into doing until it becomes enjoyable.

Wolf then goes on to suggest that Slatalla try reading "Gilead" as an "easy re-entry" into the world of deep books. This is where I had to stop and stare and then re-read the paragraph to make sure I had read this correctly. Gilead an easy read? No. Gilead a really well written book that I only really loved once I had completed it--you need to finish this book to fully understand the book and how/why it all fits together. Yes.

True the book was being suggested as a deep read--deep read defined as "the kind that you engage in when you get lost in the syntax and imagery and the long, convoluted sentences of a really meaty book"--so I suppose that perhaps changes the rules a little bit in relation to how truly entertaining or page-turning the book itself is during the actual reading. Still, I've got to believe there are meaty books out there that would be an easier introduction or re-introduction into the world of deep books--also I believe that there are books out their that are meaty and convoluted and still easy/entertaining to read and this sometimes makes me look at books like "Gilead" as pretentious books that are only read in order to be able to casually title drop at cocktail parties (did I mention that I have read "Gilead").

And really, I must stop here and argue that a book needn't be convoluted in order to have depth. In fact, this is one of my main complaints against people who look down on me for being an adult who reads young adult literature. To merely assume that since a book is written for teenagers that it doesn't tackle real issues in a mature and, yes, deep manner is simply foolish.

I've wondered over the weekend at the idea of reintroducing someone into the world of reading books by suggesting "Gilead"--and it truth I've further wondered at it being suggested to Slatalla in light of her difficulty in reading "Homer and Langley" as they appear to be similar in style. It is one thing, I think, to suggest that book to a person who wants to take their reading to a higher level. It is, however, an entirely different thing to suggest it to a person, who like Slatalla, has lost the ability to maintain her attention on anything over 3 pages in length. Wouldn't it be wiser to suggest a book (even a simplistic book) that will easily capture the reader and then once they have finished that book congratulate them and then suggest something like "Gilead" that will stretch and strengthen their reading stamina?

In conclusion, I'll just say that I do enjoy a deep book (and not only for the title-dropping possibilities). There is something very satisfying in reading something complicated. It makes one feel smart and smartens one as well.

What book, if not "Gilead," would I suggest? Good question. Maybe "The Count of Monte Cristo" or "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" for starters and then maybe "Atonement" or "The Road" for a little bit deeper reading. Then, of course, by all means move on and read "Gilead."

What are your suggestions?


Easy Chanukah Dougnuts

Here is an easy, easy recipe for those of you who may be doing a little Chanukah night tonight:

Easy Chanukah Doughnuts

2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 T Baking Powder
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Cups Plain Yogurt (I'd like to try vanilla yogurt sometime)
2 T Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch of Salt
Cooking Oil
Confectioner's Sugar

Mix flour and baking powder with eggs. Add yogurt, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Heat oil in deep pot (about 350 degrees F). Drop by spoonful into hot oil and cook until brown. Serve sprinkled with confectioners sugar and/or jam.

I did all the mixing by hand and it came together really nicely and really fast.



Happy Chanukah

Tonight I'm making these super easy Latkas in honor of this Jewish holiday:

Potato Pancakes (Latkas)

4 medium potatoes
1 small onion
2 eggs
2 T. unflavored bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
12/ cup oil

Peel the potatoes and grate them into a bowl. Pour off the extra liquid. Peel the onion and grate it into the bowl. Break the eggs into the bowl. Add the bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix very well. heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat until it sizzles. Carefully drop the batter into the hot oil by tablespoonfuls. Flatten each pancake with a spatula. When the pancakes are golden brown, carefully turn them over with a spatula. Fry on the other side until brown and crisp. Put 3 or 4 paper towels on a plate. When the pancakes are done, use the spatula to remove them from the frying pan and place on the paper towels. The extra oil will drain into the towels. Serve with applesauce (in my opinion the only option) or sour cream.

Don't worry if you're not ready celebrate, you have 7 more nights of Chanukah!


The Letter J

My little sister (one of them anyway) has opened her very own Esty shop called The Letter J where she sells some pretty great headbands that I love (and am getting for Christmas).

My favorites of the available selection are these two hot little numbers:

Should you like either of these headbands (or, of course, any of the other headbands currently available in her shop), you are in extra special luck because she has consented to give my readers 20% off through Wednesday, December 16th. Plus, you will get free shipping within the US through Christmas.

To claim the 20% off you will need to check out, select your address, send a message to the seller (my sis) with the code:

Yankee Girl,

and then commit to buy. That is it. DO NOT PAY after you commit to buy. My sis will then send you an invoice (via email) with the discounted price.

(Email me if you have any questions or if you goof)

As a further bonus, my sister has offered a permanent discount of 10% for my readers. So after December 16th you can keep on using the Yankee Girl code for 10% off.

Thanks J.


The Hiding Place

I've just finished this (The Hiding Place by Sherrill, Sherrill, and ten Bloom) wonderful book and now have a deep love and respect for Corrie ten Bloom and her sister Betsie. Should you not know the story, Corrie ten Bloom organized a resistance movement in Haarlem, Netherlands that hid Jews. In 1944 she and many members of her family were arrested and eventually she and her sister Betsie were sent to a concentration camp in Germany. What is, perhaps, most remarkable is that not only did she never lose her faith in God, but she and her sister continually saw God's hand over all that was happening, gave thanks in all things, and loved and forgave their captors--and this love was not given years later but in the actually moments that they were being mistreated. They are my heroes. What a would we might live in if we could all truly see that we are ALL children of a Heavenly Father who loves each and every one of us--and that we must also love and forgive each other.

I'm not at all sure how it is possible that I have not read this book given that a) I love books about the WWII era, b) I have a librarian as a Mother who has read this book, and c) I have actually been to the ten Bloom home.

Now, having finally gotten around to reading this fabulous book, I am dying to go back. It was only about 4 years ago that I was there so I still remember it quite well, but still I think I would now have a greater appreciation for the home and what took place there. For example, when you arrive for a tour you simply walk past the front door (still located in the alley) and read the clock sign that indicates when the next tour will be (tours are free). Once you know the time of the tour you can wonder around the area (maybe stop in the nearby St Bavo Church where Mozart and Handel both played the organ and hear the organ being played like we did) or visit the ten Bloom watch shop that is still in operation (although no longer owned by the ten Bloom family) as a real watch shop not a tourist attraction--so you should also only visit it if you intend to buy something. When the time of the tour approaches you return to the door and simply wait outside until someone opens the door and invites you in (there wasn't even a line). Had I had any wits about me I might have spent a moment wondering what it must have been like to be Jewish in 1943 and standing outside that door waiting for someone to invite me in while not being at all sure what my future would hold.

Oh, it just kills me that I didn't know/think about this and all the other things that now I know. It has made me long to return to the Netherlands.

Here is a picture of the little sliding door at the bottom of the closet that accessed the hidden room.

Here is a picture of my sweet mom standing in front of the hidden room. Part of the wall has been taken down to allow easier access and viewing of what the room was like. A few people from each tour are even allowed to stand in the room (room a loosely defined term as I think it was only 30 inches wide). I was lucky enough to be able to do that but somehow we don't have a picture of it.

Here is that church you can visit. It is just around the corner from the ten Bloom house--the organ is amazing.

The is not related to the ten Bloom's but I cannot think of the Netherlands without thinking about their pancakes (crepes). And yes I did order pancakes at nearly every meal I ate in that country--chocolate, bananas, whipped cream, and powdered sugar. The whipped cream was especially wonderful--richest most wonderful thing I have ever eaten. This particular pancake can be had just up the street from the Anne Frank museum.

And the bikes of Amsterdam were a continual amazement to me. Here is one of their parking garages.


Red Hot Lips

The Fly Lady recommends beginning each day by "getting dressed to lace up shoes." Roughly this means that each day should begin with a shower, getting fully dressed, doing your make up and hair, and then finally putting on your shoes. Of course she doesn't simply recommend any type of shoe; she recommends lace up shoes. The entire point of all this is that you will feel better about yourself if you do these things at the beginning of each day, feeling better about yourself will help you to be more productive, and doing these things will prepare you for whatever your day has in store for you. I like and agree with this idea completely.

I, however, own only 2 pairs of lace up shoes (tennis shoes and biking shoes) and neither of these shoes are terribly appropriate for the majority of what I wear day in and day out. Therefore I have pretty much opted out of the getting dressed to lace up shoes and replaced it with getting dressed to red hot lips. It is pretty much the same idea only I finish myself off with some red hot lips.

Red hot lips, though, have been a fairly new thing to me and have definitely taken some getting used to. However, as several 9 year old girls at church make regular comments to me about how nice my lipstick is (and if a 9 year old girl doesn't know what is fashionable, who does, right?), I believe it is something I will stick with.

Of course, in addition to learning to re-recognize myself in the mirror with my red hot lips I have found myself wondering about lipstick etiquette. Namely, is it okay to reapply lipstick in public?

A quick google search reveals that there is a bit of a continental divide on the issue. Apparently it is just fine to reapply lipstick in public in Europe. However, it would seem that there are some limitations to when it is appropriate to reapply lipstick in public in the US. For instance, if you are at a very nice restaurant or at a business lunch/dinner you should never reapply your lipstick in public. If, though, you are at just a nice restaurant with friends or family you may quickly reapply lipstick but never lip liner. (I found nothing on what is appropriate at McDonald's) However, there seems also to be an American line of reasoning that says if you can see a bathroom from where you are sitting you should use it to reapply your lipstick.

I am personally leaning toward the basic American standard here, but I would love hear/learn from your wisdom on this issue.


We Get England!

66 to 1 that the US wins the World Cup.

I like those odds.

England v. USA should be some kind of fun.

My Favorite: Movies (Romantic Comedy Category)

I finally got around to seeing this truly excellent film. If you haven't seen it you really must. (And for you girls who don't care too much for sports, this film has a very soft touch--nearly a chick flick) Sitting in the theater got me thinking about other great films I've seen and how I would possibly go about ranking them and coming up with a favorite 5. I pretty much decided that is an impossible task. But in the spirit of trying I've come up with a list of my favorite Romantic Comedies (Other categories to come):

You've Got Mail
4. One Fine Day
3. While You Were Sleeping2. Return to Me I love the attention to the little details in this movie.
It Happened One Night Perhaps my all-time favorite movie.

What are your top 5?


Christmas Plans: Books

Thanks to a couple of sick days spent in bed, I've already read through nearly all of these books and it is definitely helping keep me in the Christmas mood.
A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg--fantastic Southern Lit
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien--letters from Santa to the children of Tolkien; provides excellent inspiration for a new tradition (at least new to me)
The Hired Man's Christmas by George Givens--lovely true story and very short
Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke--you've probably seen the movie in Sunday School and the book is equally as nice (another short one)
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou--best thing I've read this Christmas
A Christmas Treasury by Sam Elder--forgettable collection of Christmas experiences and traditions
One Christmas by Truman Capote--nice
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote--very nice
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris--an irreverent look at Christmas today (short stories). Love it! Except skip the second story as is not at all nice.
Christmas With Anne by L.M. Montgomery--just starting
Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson--seen the movie but haven't read the book yet.

I am saddened and embarrassed to report that my to-read Christmas book list is shorter than my to-watch Christmas movie list. Maybe you can help me out a little (but not too much because my overall to-read list has just recently fallen under 60 and I'd like to keep it that way)


How to Tie a Scarf

It is that fabulous, chilly time of year when I get to pull out my winter scarves. I love my winter scarves but, sadly, I can't tie a good scarf. All that has now changed thanks to some passed along tips from the fab Reachel at Cardigan Empire:

And my favorite:

I've been trying out several of the knots with different kinds of scarves and it has been really fun and interesting to see all the possibilities. And go check out Cardigan Empire today for some great tips on wearing stockings, leggings, and tights.