Sunday, December 30, 2012

Achievements of 2012

So it's the end of the year. Time to take stock and make lists of resolutions. I looked back to last year's list and I think I accomplished about 40% of what I planned. I don't know if that's good or bad.

What I managed to do in 2012:
  • Travel
    • Southern California to visit Everest & Francine Bear taking Pops along for the ride.
    • Colorado (via Nevada, Utah and Wyoming) to see K2, traveling with CPA Boy and Pops.
    • Little River with Lady Chardonnay and her daughter, mom and aunt.
    • Bodega Bay (twice) with CPA Michelle.
    • Oregon to visit Jeffy & Jilly and family for our wedding anniversary weekend.
  • Writing
    • I am not as regular as I'd like but I have blogged more often. I hope to keep this up and perhaps even up the pace a bit.
  • Projects
    • Finished my son's 6th grade scrapbook. I wasn't going to work on this --- The Boy is still too young to give a crap but he will be appreciative about it someday --- but I realized it was already to go (I map these things out in detail before I start) and I was able to whip through it. It made me so happy to finish something!
    • This is a category where I fall down a bit but I have some projects almost ready to go for the new year including:
      • The vacation album. I have a pile of memorabilia to sort through and then I will begin.
      • The K family story book. This needs to be typed up and then organized into a book format.
      • Still need to scan negatives and photographs. I have all the electronic tools necessary so I really have no excuse to keep putting it off other than it's a more boring activity.
      • I would like to have an afghan project to work on while I watch TV. I am thinking of some sort of "patchwork" pattern. We'll see.
  • I began attending movies somewhat more regularly (as opposed to maybe once a year) and I have seen 4 since October (and an opera!). I love going to the theater so I plan to keep this up.
  • I stayed reasonably healthy and kept off the 30 pounds I lost. Starting this week we will be back to regular, healthy meals again. I still need to lose lots more weight for health (and aesthetic) reasons. Plus manage a consistent exercise routine.
  • I got The Boy employed. If you constantly ask, "Got a job yet?" EVERY TIME YOU SEE HIM he will get a freaking job just to shut you up! Mission accomplished. For now. 
    • The new year will bring questions of "Got a full-time job yet?" or "Got a second job yet?" Fun, fun, fun.
  • I turned 50! I have some good genes to thank because I don't think I LOOK like I'm 50.
  • I read 120 books (or will have, when I finish my current book by tomorrow night!) which is a good round number, averaging 10 a month. This makes me happy but it's thanks to several young adult books which are quicker to read in general. In other words, I probably won't reach this total for 2013. I guess time will tell.
No doubt I'm missing a few things. But this will do for now.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Big Blank Canvas & Christmas Photos

Kel & Everest, 1967 - I was mad and refused to smile, probably because I had "suffered" to have my hair done!

Today CPA Boy went out and did errands and had lunch at IHop.

[And I just have to ask, WHY don't MY pancakes ever come out as good as those at IHop? Is it really the buttermilk that makes the difference? I am not fond of pancakes, being more of a waffle-loving girl, because they just seem like lumps of cooked dough. But IHop's? Yummo!]

We were trying to get together some plans for Christmas Eve and we were perplexed by all the possibilities and decisions to make. Normally, our holidays are pretty set in stone. We have it easy because each of our families live nearby so there's never any major travel to work out.
Kel and Ev, 1968 - Showing off my missing front teeth
  • Christmas Eve: spent with my family, where we have a buffet that hasn't changed much over the years. Cold cuts, potato salad, pizza rolls and egg rolls (as we've all aged into the hypertension and cholesterol years the rolls have started to fall out of favor), spinach dip and whatever else I am in the mood to make (crab dip, cheese rounds, onion dip, etc...).
    • If we have presents we open those next. We used to exchange with everybody but then we picked names for a few years. Now we don't exchange gifts at all. Then we used to play board games after present opening. We'd get home about 11:30 or so and need to get stockings ready or arrange things for Santa. We were lucky to get into bed by 1 am. 
After! Christmas 1969
  • Christmas Morning: up no later than 7:30ish (even earlier in The Boy's extreme youth) and spent at home where we empty our bulging stockings (we each have two, one for each foot of course!) and open the family presents. We usually need to rush through this and then get showered and dressed so we can head to CPA Boy's family home.
    • We don't eat anything at home because we will have breakfast at my in-laws' house.
    • We head out around 10:30 am which is a much more reasonable time than the 7 am time of the early years (keeping in mind the 1 am bedtime from the night before, all the cooking I had done the day before for Christmas Eve --- and the fact that I am NOT a morning person --- and I was already dragging with exhaustion).
Kel, Ev and K2 in 1970
  • Christmas Day: pick up Grandma, who makes cinnamon rolls and something called rolypolys (I have no idea how this is supposed to be spelled!) which everyone in the family but me adores. (Like non-IHop pancakes, these are just tasteless blobs of dough to me.) 
    • We have breakfast and then the kids open their stockings and presents. Once they are done we begin opening the gifts for the adults. Then we have lunch later around 2 pm, which features French Dip sandwiches. We stay until about 5 pm and then move on to...
Christmas 1971
  •  Christmas Night: dinner at my parent's house. Dad usually makes a leg of lamb and a crown rib roast (or something similar) and all the side dishes.
    • By the time dinner is done and the dishes are washed, we might play more games and then head home by 9 or 10.
  • Home on Christmas Night: our house is a sty at this point with opened presents everywhere that need to get put away. This all gets saved for December 26 though and we are so tired we go to bed as soon as we get home!
1972: Is my dress groovy or what?! (It's some sort of "pleather" if I recall correctly.)
In the early days our poor son really didn't get to enjoy any of his gifts until December 26th because we were always rushing off to the next location!

But with a combination of things our routine is starting to change. The Boy is 19, has a girlfriend and a job that requires working on Christmas Day (movie theater) so we may very well see little of him. My mom has been gone for 1-1/2 years so this will be the second one without her. That changed the plans of my brothers, Everest and K2. Now they aren't necessarily here at Christmas anymore (Ev is currently visiting but will be heading home on the 23rd). Meanwhile, Pops gets no joy from the season anymore because his wedding anniversary is December 24th.

Still groovy in 1973
So the crux of all this is we seem to have Christmas Eve to ourselves. We think we will move the opening of our stockings and family presents to Christmas Eve. We are still working out what we will eat. Possibly fondue (then we will stick to our usual selection of appetizers on New Year's Eve) or homemade pizza.

We will be having an early Christmas dinner on Saturday night while Ev is visiting so we will spend more time with CPA Boy's family on Christmas Day. And we won't have to get up too early on Christmas Day.

No doubt we will figure everything out before Monday night! Have a very Merry Christmas!

Note: I guess we must have stopped the Christmas card photos after 1973. After that we took family pictures. Those cover our teen years and are not necessarily pretty.

It seems, as of right now, that we have avoided the Mayan apocalypse but we still have a few hours left of December 21st to go here in California. Guh.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Long Weekend at the Theater

This turned out to be a big weekend at the theater for me. First, CPA Boy and I went to dinner and a movie ("Lincoln") with CPA Michelle and her husband on Friday night. And second, I saw a simulcast performance of "Aida" on Saturday.

"Lincoln" was excellent and all the accolades accruing to Daniel Day-Lewis are well deserved. I didn't think I had ever seen a Daniel Day-Lewis movie before so I looked up his filmography. Apparently, the only thing I've seen with him is "The Bounty" and in those days (mid-1980s) it was more about seeing Mel Gibson or Anthony Hopkins. I've also seen a few minutes of "A Room with a View" but I don't recall him in the scene I watched.

But I recognized many actors in "Lincoln" and that made it fun: Sally Field (obviously), Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn (from way back when he was in "The Days & Nights of molly Dodd", an all-time fave TV show of mine), Jared Harris ("Mad Men"), Hal Holbrook, James Spader ("Boston Legal" and "Pretty in Pink"), Lee Pace ("Pushing Daisies" and "Wonderfalls"), Michael Stuhlbarg ("Boardwalk Empire"), Adam Driver ("Girls") and a few more.

But we didn't get home until 10:30 pm and then I had to get up on Saturday to drive to San Rafael for the 10 am broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of "Aida". "Lincoln" lasted about 3 hours, counting all the previews and "Aida" was 4 hours long, thanks to 2 intermissions. My rear is still numb from 7 hours in theater seats in less than a 24 hour period!

As for "Aida", someone in the audience sitting behind me mentioned that it was probably one of the three most famous operas. Certainly I knew the name but until I read up on it, I had no knowledge whatsoever about it. On the other hand, I know very little about ANY opera. It's always one of the "Jeopardy" categories I can answer very few clues.

So, "Aida". The basic plot is this: Aida is an Ethiopian princess who is a slave in the service of the pharaoh's daughter, Amneris. No one knows Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king. Both Aida and Amneris love the Egyptian general Radames. He loves Aida but is offered the hand of Amneris after his big victory over the Ethiopians.

Aida's father is captured as a slave (but the Egyptians don't know he's the king) and he guilts Aida into finding out the route that Radames and his troops plan to use to invade Ethiopia. Amneris overhears the conversation and, out of jealousy, turns Radames in as a traitor. He is condemned to death by burial in the vault beneath the temple. It turns out Aida is hiding in the vault so she can die with Radames. The end.

Other tidbits and opinions:
  • Everything is sung in opera. There is no spoken dialogue. I do not know if the performers should be called actors or singers!
  • The Met Opera broadcasts once a month to theaters all over the world. The transmission is in high-def and looked AMAZING. There were a zillion cameras and many of the shots were close-up of the performers on stage. You could see every emotion
  • During the intermissions Renee Fleming (herself a famous opera singer) interviewed the performers, the conductor, and assorted other people working backstage. You also got to see how they moved scenery around and got the stage ready for the next act.
  • The woman who performed Amneris, Olga Borodina, was just wonderful. During her final solo, when her character realizes she was wrong to turn Radames in, a single tear dropped down her cheek as she sang the last line. And we got to see it all in close-up thanks to the HD cameras. Wonderful!
  • The woman who performed as Aida was also very good and had just made her Met debut last month. Her name is Liudmila Monastyrska. 
  • As for the story of "Aida" itself, it was kind of depressing right from the start. Aida is sad because she doesn't know if her father is still alive, she is a slave and she has a forbidden love with an Egyptian. Her story never has any real moments of happiness. The minute she smiles some new sadness comes along and makes her sad again!
  • The characters are real quick to contemplate death during their low points, which seems a little much in this modern world. I kept thinking that this was NOT an opera to show to impressionable teenagers. (This could be a standard opera storyline for all I know.) And Aida does basically commit suicide at the end by sharing Radames fate.
  • I was probably the youngest person there. By far. I looked up opera and found that the Met has an average audience age of 57.7 years.
  • I didn't recognize any of the music. None of it was stuck in my head afterwards and I am usually a great sufferer from "earworms" (a piece of music that gets stuck in your head, not actual worms). The Verdi pieces I have on my iPod are mainly from "La Traviata" and "Il Trovatore". 
  • I guess I liked it a lot but I didn't love it. I will need to try other operas first to see whether it's opera or "Aida" I don't love.
  • The next Verdi opera broadcast by The Met will be "Rigoletto" in February. Also coming are "Les Troyens", "Giulio Cesare", "Maria Stuarda" and "Parsifal". I'm not sure if I will see any of them; maybe "Parsifal".
And now Christmas is just over a week away and there's still so much left to do!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Greek Cookies

Pops and I spent a few hours on Tuesday making some Greek cookies called koulourakia, a butter cookie that goes especially well with milk or coffee. (Pops also made a different Greek cookie, kourabiedes, the next day.)

Here are all the ingredients (except the flour) all ready to go: orange juice, baking powder, sugar, 1 pound butter and 12 eggs divided into yolks and whites.

This is everything blended together before the flour (14 cups of it!) gets added:

Here's Pops mixing the dough by hand because the mixer bowl was too small. When I make these someday I may try using the KitchenAid dough hooks but of course the recipe would need to be halved or quartered first.

Pops has touched every part of the each cookie but I DID see him wash his hands first! Whew!

Here he's rolling out the dough to the proper size before cutting off pieces to form the cookies.

In our family we always shape them like the letter S. Wikipedia says that the Minoans made theirs in a snake shape because they worshiped snakes for their healing powers. (Those Minoans obviously drank a bit too much ouzo.)

Once the koulourakia are formed they get brushed with egg and baked for about 25 minutes.

This is the aftermath:

 And the final, yummy result!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tree Shopping, Opera and Other Things

The Boy with his cousins KK and AK with AS on the right kicking a stump
On Saturday we went Christmas tree shopping with the Smith side of the family. My mother- and father-in-law have been tree shopping since 1963 (the year before they got married) so this is a LONG Smith Family tradition.

The younger members of the family generally kick stumps and help with cutting the tree. The place we generally go has been less thickly forested with trees so I am not sure that it will be open for much longer. It used to be a family-owned tree farm but now a fire station owns it. They sold trees to finance the new station --- which is now built --- so we think they are just selling off the remainder trees before quitting altogether. But one thing Sonoma County has a lot of are Christmas tree farms so we may need to try other farms next year.
The Boy brought The Girl so everyone got to meet her. They have been going together for almost a year now. 
I think this is a cute picture of me and CPA Boy!
Next weekend I am going to see an opera at the movie theater in San Rafael. They simulcast the performance from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I have NEVER seen an opera before!

The opera is "Aida" by Verdi. I really like his work whenever I hear it so I figured I'd start with  him. The show starts at 9:55 a.m. so I assume we will be seeing the matinee performance as it happens in NYC. More about this next week.

I have a writing project I want to work on so I will be playing with that this afternoon. It's something I already have most of the pieces of and they just need some expanding and illustrating. But there are a LOT of pieces and I am still not sure how to format the whole thing. I'll write more about this when I have finally made a dent in it.

In preparation for my project I was reading about some different types of software that writers use. One is called Scrivener which seemed intriguing. Then there are several different programs to write screenplays. I will just be using Microsoft Word for the time being.

I am also intrigued by the possibilities of self-publishing. Amazon, for example, seems to make it really easy to publish anything. But first one needs to write something worth publishing! (This particular project is not it though. Maybe the next one...)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Getting in the Holiday Spirit (and Fondue Update!)

I had actually brought the Christmas boxes inside from the garage just after Thanksgiving but I let them sit for a week before tackling them on Monday. CPA Boy helpfully suggested, "You can decorate the tree on Monday in between doing laundry!" THANK YOU, HUSBAND, because there's nothing that makes 6 loads of laundry fly by like doing MORE chores.

Up top we see the "Holy Family". This is how they start out the season. I have not checked to see what they are doing now. Usually Mary is huddled with the Wise Men and all the rest are worshiping the sheep. (Doesn't it seem like "worshiping" should have an extra p? Shipping? Shiping?)

I select wrapping paper with the overall color scheme of our house: red, white and black. Like these:

And yet CPA Boy pays EXTRA MONEY to have wrap the gifts he buys (this kills me). Which look like this under the tree right now:

In no world do the blue or gold packages match anything in the house! Oh well, they will soon be buried under the avalanche of properly color-coordinated gifts for him.

Keep in mind that I really DO appreciate that he shops for me AND "sticks to the list" (what's the point of making a list if people don't USE it?!). I just like matchy-matchy with the holiday decorations. It's always amazing that these Type-A traits pop up in me for such lame things.

Long story short: My husband is a good man in all ways about presents for me, except for this gift wrapping issue!

The tree is very small, only about 4 feet. This year I draped my snowmen garland down the sides rather than wrap it around in a spiral. This was because I put the tree in its final position before I started decorating (the lights are part of the tree) and I didn't want to move it out from the wall to decorate. I like doing the garland draping though; it's fast and easy. And it looks like the snowmen are having an orgy:

Aren't they adorable (ignoring their tendency to orgy, of course)!

Here's the finished tree:

It will look so much better with a zillion packages underneath it. (And no TV in the frame.)

So who wants to read about the fondue place? You do! You do!

The Boy and The Girl ordered the 4-course meal which includes the cheese fondue appetizer, a salad, the meat course and the dessert fondue. CPA Boy and I stuck with the fondue appetizer and salad for dinner.

But first, the menu tells you that you can only order one choice of fondue per cooktop on the table. (These are built in to the table, like a smooth top kitchen stove.) We were seated at a table for four with only one cooktop. That meant we'd all need to agree on ONE thing.

This is where being assertive helps. I asked to move to a table with TWO cooktops. The waiter looked a little put out and went to ask. All the other tables in our section were empty at this point so I could see no reason why we couldn't move tables. After a couple of minutes they moved us across the aisle to a two-cooktop table.

CPA Boy and I ordered the Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue and the kids got Spinach Artichoke Cheese Fondue. They place pots on each cooktop (which are double boilers) and when the steam starts to pour out then your server returns and makes the fondue right in front of you.

Ours had a base of white wine and the spinach artichoke had a broth base. These heat up and then seasonings and cheese are added until the right consistency is achieved. Ours required MORE CHEESE which is not a bad thing. You get little bowls of bread cubes, veggies (carrots, broccoli and cauliflower; one out of three ain't bad)) and apples for dipping (diping?!) into the fondue. We still had some dippers left over by the time the cheese was gone so I have to say that you get enough of them.

I'm going to estimate that we had between one and one and a half cups of fondue. Which is a perfectly acceptable amount for an appetizer. (Still, I will make this better --- and less expensively --- on New Year's Eve.) I thought ours was a little too heavy on the wine because I tasted that more than I tasted the cheese. (We are not wine drinkers in general but I do like wine-flavored foods.)

We got our salads next. Three California Salads (and one Caesar Salad for CPA Boy). Totally fine but nothing out of the ordinary if you eat salads regularly: baby greens, roma tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans, and raspberry vinaigrette.

Then the main course for the kids (who are both 19 but will forever remain "kids" to me) consisted of a platter of raw meats and more varied vegetables to go with their boiling pot of vegetable broth. The meats included ahi tuna, shrimp, seasoned sirloin, teriyaki sirloin and marinated chicken.

[And seriously, Spell Check? You want me to correct "teriyaki" to "sukiyaki"? You have "sukiyaki" in your dictionary but NOT "teriyaki"??]

The Boy and The Girl dug in. This portion of the meal, wherein CPA Boy and I had nothing to eat in front of us, took by far the longest amount of time. Each of those little hunks of meat took at least two minutes a piece to cook in the boiling bouillon. The kids soon learned to spear the meat or veggie and then just let it sit in the pot rather than hold each fondue fork. They give you 4 per person.

The Girl was finished eating sooner than my son but he finished every single morsel of meat so nothing went to waste. He is a bottomless pit when it comes to food.

But seriously, this part of the dinner must have taken over an hour. By the time dessert fondue was ordered we two old folks were definitely ready for more food! (We got there at 5:30 and left just before 8:30.)

For dessert The Boy wanted a chocolate fondue that had caramel in it and The Girl didn't so the guys switched chairs. The Boy and I shared the Flaming Turtle (milk chocolate, caramel and candied pecans, flambeed tableside!) and CPA Boy and The Girl shared the Yin and Yang (pictured above, with tray of dippers), which was dark and white chocolates in the design you see above. The dippers included pieces of bananas, strawberries, cheesecake, marshmallows, rice krispie treats, brownies and pound cake. I ate a reasonable amount (I think I tried a piece of each dipper) and The Boy polished off the rest. Again, bottomless pit.

I think with the picture above, using the pieces of banana in the bottom left as a size guide, you can see how big their fondue pots are (they are double boilers, remember, so the fondue does not go near the bottom level of the pot itself.). I am curious what would have happened had we remained at a one-cooktop table. Bigger pots? I never saw any but maybe I just didn't notice.

And again, I will make this so much less expensively for New Year's Eve! So our final review is, while it was a nice one-time thing, we'd rather go the the Cheesecake Factory (leftovers for a second meal!) and make fondue at home. Or go there just for dessert (again, one piece of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake lasts for two servings!).

We are glad we didn't order the meat course because we would not have been able to eat much of it and I am not sure what one does with leftover raw meat chunks. Take them home and cook them later?? Seems a little too complex, doncha think?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fondue for the Rich

For The Boy's birthday we gave him coupons for things like "One Month's Free Rent" (he used that one immediately), "One $50 Gift Card of Your Choice", and "One Dinner (with one guest and parents) at the Restaurant of Your Choice". So tonight we have reservations at a restaurant called The Melting Pot.

Originally we thought it was a restaurant in San Francisco (it's actually in Larkspur down in Marin County) and my heart fell. The idea of driving into the City for dinner makes my heart grow cold. Just the idea of parking is enough to make you lose your appetite.

Plus we are in the middle of a series of huge storms, dumping inches of rain in the North Bay causing flooding everywhere. Usually our rain is a series of showers, sometimes not much more than a light mist. But these storms have been hours-long downpours so the ground is saturated, hence the major flooding.

Yeah, driving into San Francisco? NOT my idea of fun. Driving down to Larkspur won't be huge fun either in the pouring rain but CPA Boy's office is just down the street from this restaurant so finding it and parking won't be the nightmare it could be.

Anyway, this restaurant was something selected by The Boy's girlfriend. (My son wouldn't know a fondue pot if it hit him upside the head.) And it's basically a fondue restaurant. So far so good.

BUT! It's hugely expensive! I like eating at restaurants that specialize in something I can't do well at home (I'm too nervous to spend big money on fancy cuts of beef that I can easily turn into hockey pucks when I can have them cook it perfectly at Outback or Cattleman's. (And if it's not perfect enough you can send it back for something else. Can't do that at home with broiled hockey puck.)

And I was reading more about this fondue place on-line and here's what I learned:

There are four courses available: an appetizer fondue (your choice of fondue and bread, apples and veggies), a salad, a main course fondue (your choice of fondue, cooking style and a tray of assorted meats) and a dessert fondue.

All well and good.

BUT! Focus on the main course fondue for a moment. "Cooking style." One might think that that's how the meats get cooked and you have the fun of dipping the tasty morsels into the cheese. BUT no, the meat comes to the table UNCOOKED. So you get to cook your meat in a pot of oil, THEN you get to dip into the cheese.

As a review on Yelp put it, "when I eat filet mignon, I like it right off the grill, NOT boiled in oil."

So CPA Boy and I will stick to a la carte appetizer and dessert fondues. Maybe a salad. If we are going to splurge and eat out a an expensive restaurant, the least we expect is that our food gets cooked FOR us, not BY us.

Note to self: make sure to put reasonable limits on any future birthday coupons!

And since fondue is so ridiculously simple to make, CPA Boy and I decided to make fondue for our New Year's Eve meal instead of our usual selection of appetizers. (These things might get moved to Christmas Eve or CPA Boy's birthday in January.) We have two crock pots so one for cheese and one for chocolate. Join us and we promise you won't need to cook your own food!