I love this time of year. Part of the fun is unearthing all of the treasures I've accumulated. Today, I spent some time lovingly updating three Christmas "pyramids" - those triangular German displays featuring tiny figures such as Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, three Wise Men, shepherds and sheep and in one that I have, a choir of angels, including one playing a pipe organ. Each one is crowned by a wooden propeller, which turns in response to the heat of four candles at the base. One of the pyramids was purchased by us on a trip to Germany. Another was given to us by Hannah after she toured Europe as part of a student choir. The third was a gift from us to my late mother, which I took back after she passed away.
Over the years and through many moves, some of their pieces had loosened or broken. Any loose items were re-attached with my glue gun. Many of the little candle holders and drip rings had discolored or gone missing. I decided to give them the attention they deserved and ordered brass replacement parts from Germany. I pried dried wax out of the wooden openings for each candle holder and tried one of my candles, which proved too small. Then I remembered a box of slightly larger candles, but alas, they were too big. After experimenting with different possibilities, I settled on whittling the bottom of each candle slightly so that it could be forced into the brass holder. Voila! Now each pyramid has new brass hardware and four new candles. On Christmas Eve, they'll be lighted so that the grandchildren can see how they work.
As you see from the photo, there are several other items on the glass coffee table. One is a square tablecloth embroidered with pine branches and candles, that I rescued from my Grandma Baehren's apartment when she moved. Made in Germany, it's the perfect base for the pyramids. Also displayed on the table is a Santa "smoker" that we bought there years ago. It was the first in a parade of Santa figures we've acquired through the years. Lastly, there is a small creche made in Poland--the first Christmas item we bought as newlyweds.
With careful maintenance, I hope I can pass these things on to my children and grandchildren and tell them the story behind each one. In the meantime, I love seeing them every day and remembering.
Recently my daughter Hannah invited several women she knew from a vendor relationship and their significant others to her home for a holiday dinner party. I leapt at the chance to prepare some (OK, almost all, of the menu items), which allowed me to flex my culinary muscles. Over lunch, Hannah and I planned what would be offered, using recipes from Bon Appetit, Magnolia Journal and online.
Appetizers included baked mini crab cakes coated in toasted panko, Edam cheese triangles crowned by a date or apricot and wrapped in thinly slice proscuitto, and a baked Brie, served with bubbly Prosecco.
While Hannah greeted her guests, Reagan and I prepared plated salads: spring mix crowned with pomegranate seeds and slivered apples and a tasty homemade balsamic dressing. Guests sat down to a beautiful table, using my mother's gorgeous Haviland china and my beloved silverplate flatware. Candles glowed, and each place setting sported a festive napkin ring.
Then, to the main event. Sliced rare tenderloin, Ina Garten's garlic mashed potatoes enriched with goat cheese and topped with Parmesan and a lovely rice dish, topped with toasted almonds and pistachios, golden raisins and cranberries sauteed in butter, carrot slices and thinly sliced scallions.
Now came my favorite part. Using a new recipe, I had made a classic Buche de Noel. This is a complex recipe, but fun to make. First came a genoise, rolled up warm with a cocoa-dusted kitchen towel. Then a rich vanilla buttercream was spread on the unrolled cake and re-rolled. A small slice of the cake was placed on top of the log, and another diagonal slice was placed on the side. Chocolate buttercream coated the log, with a fork drawn through the buttercream to suggest the striations of bark. Meringue mushrooms decorated the finished log. Cranberry shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and mini pecan tarts topped with caramel were passed.
Great conversation, lots of wine and laughs made for a very pleasant evening. A crazy gift exchange involving Lena and Noah (who had just returned from parent's night out) capped off a great time for all.
T'was the time before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...unless you count the squirrel that decided to pay us a visit. I was sipping a quiet cup of tea near the warmth of the fireplace watching CBS Sunday Morning when suddenly Toby went berserk, barking in a way I'd never heard before. His tail was standing straight up as was the hair on his back. I got up and peeked around the corner just in time to see a young squirrel come through the dog door.
The little guy made a bee-line for the living room, with Toby in hot pursuit. I yelled to Andy to come out of the bedroom where he was watching soccer and he got to the front of the house and grabbed Toby so he could stay in the crate. We lifted the chairs, thinking the squirrel was under one of them, but no. All the doors in the hallway were closed. A look around the family room yielded nothing. We figured that the squirrel had exited the way he came in.
Toby was let out of the crate, but immediately headed for my office where the squirrel had taken up residence in the corner behind a file cabinet. Once again, Andy took Toby to his crate while I tried to get the squirrel to move. He moved, all right, straight down the hall and into the family room where he hopped on the windowsill in the far corner and began scaling the blinds: up, down and across. Now Andy is armed with a broom and is stabbing at the blinds, trying to get our tiny guest to leave. We finally get him to exit the window and run under the kitchen table. With a little encouragement from the broom, he left through the open door, headed for the back yard and beyond.
What a way to start a Sunday morning. Now Andy is looking for a squirrel Christmas ornament to commemorate the episode. I don't think I'll need a reminder.
P.S. If you want a good laugh about a squirrel on the loose, watch this classic from Ray Stevens: g.co/kgs/Bv5rNp.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.