Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Santa Claus means to me

   Something I've learned in my 35 years is that lots of times I don't really make sense.  I say this because I hate Winter with a blinding passion.  But....I really love Santa Claus.  And in American culture you can't really have one without the other.  But it's not so much the current identity of Santa Claus that I love because he has unfortunately become intertwined with commercialism.  You really have to go back to some of the origins of Santa Claus to get why I love him so much....

   And because I love mythology and fairy tales so much, I went and found a couple of internet pages on the origins of Mr. Claus himself.  One is here and another with lots of information on different cultural interpretations of Father Christmas is here.

   In keeping with these mythologies of Santa Claus, I really and truly see the spirit of Santa Claus in those who do good for others.  Just for the good of doing it and for no other reason.  In our culture it really saddens me that so many kids have developed such big expectations for expensive gifts.  Don't get me wrong, I understand why kids want the good stuff because hey, I as a parent would love the good stuff too.  But...most of the time we don't get all the expensive stuff because we just can't.  And during the years when we have extra money I always try to get a little something extra for friends who don't have as much as we do.  Or donate to local charities for kids whose families' can't get them stuff.  

   So when the time comes for me to have the talk about Santa Claus with my kiddos, that's what I'm going to tell them.  Because I do believe Santa is still alive and well for some of us.  I believe that small miracles can happen when you least expect them and that Santa is a great mythological story that helps keep those small miracles alive.  

   But I'm always going to hate Winter LOL

P.S.  I had to post this because LOOK it's Santa Claus in action!!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Cookies

  One of the holiday traditions I have is baking cookies.  Before we had the boys I would bake a TON of cookies to send to family and friends.  Now I don't have as much free time as the 2.5 yr old and 4 yr old have to constantly be broken up from fighting each other.  But....I make the effort to make some.  Because it has become a tradition and it's a way I can give gifts to people I care about without spending too much money.  And this year money has been especially tight because of those evil renters who wrecked out house in New Mexico.

In no particular order, here are the cookies I've made this year:

For chocolate chip cookies I always go with the classic Nestle Toll House cookies, which you can find the recipe for here

Pumpkin Cookies

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned or cooked pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Blend together sugar, pumpkin, oil, & vanilla.  Combine dry ingredients & stir into wet ingredients, mixing well.  Fold in raisins & nuts.  Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  Yields 3 - 4 dozen

Andes Creme de Menthe Chunk Cookies

1/2 cup salted butter - softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package (10 oz.)  Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour

Blend butter, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, & eggs until mixed.  Sit in Andes chips, and then the flour.  Chill approximately 1 hour in refrigerator.  Measure out about 1 oz. of dough, roll it into a ball, & place on greased cookie sheet.  Raise oven rack one level above middle.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes before removing from pans.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Peanut Butter cup cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking sda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) semi sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped peanut butter cups (about 6 of the 1.6 ounce packages)

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter, peanut butter, & sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking soda, & salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips & chopped peanut butter cups.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 in apart onto ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks.

Double Chocolate Espresso cookies

can be found here and surprisingly didn't make anyone hyper.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Season for SAD

  Most of the people I know look forward to the holidays.  They love to spend time with their families, wrap gifts, flit from place to place finding that special something for everyone on their list.  I'm not most people.  As soon as the November time change hits my personality takes a dive.  As the days grow shorter and Winter peeks out from it's lovelier sister Fall, I become a grump.  And this has happened every Winter since I turned 18...possibly even before then.  Although I've never been given the official diagnosis, it's safe to say I'm a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  There's a short article on it here and you can find much more information on it on the internet.

   Because depression affects people differently and SAD is a seasonal form of depression, I can only assume that the way SAD gets to me is not the same way it gets to everyone else.  But basically once that time change hits, I have two moods.  There's the apathetic "I don't want to get out of bed and do anything but sleep" mood and there's the "I hate everything in the world and just want it all to go away" mood.  When I'm in the apathy mood it's very difficult to get even the simplest task done.  My brain feels fuzzy like it just can't seem to grasp ordinary concepts.  When I'm in the angry mood I'm at least able to get things done.  Anger seems to be the more productive of the two moods.  When I get into SAD season I tend to draw back further into myself.  It helps my family in that I'm not snapping at them as much, and it helps me in that there's less of the hectic holiday crap for me to take in.

   Now, in all honesty I have good reason to be worried right now.  We've spent all of our savings account on fixing up our rental home in New Mexico, which is now pretty and sparkly and eagerly awaiting a new renter.  Which we don't have yet.  And if we don't get a renter in there in January we're going to have to default on that mortgage.  That's really stressful.  There's also that I just today found out we're going to be losing $165 a month out of our already tight budget because apparently the military gurus don't think we need as much monthly BAH as we currently have.  (This has since been revised and we won't be losing any money on our BAH *huge sigh of relief*)

   I get to start working on the fieldwork portion of my master's degree in January.  I don't get paid for ANY of that.  AND we have to pay for someone to watch our kiddos while I'm doing my fieldwork.  Which means more money out of our sieve-like pockets.  I have MANY reasons to be SAD right now...but I'm fighting it.  Because I have three kiddos that I love more than anything else in the world and they need their mother.  

  Distractions such as listening to my favorite music, reading a good book, and sometimes watching a good television show can help to kick the SAD away for a bit.  Unfortunately the book I picked up was The Hunger Games which is NOT a good book to read if you're fighting any kind of depression.  And then I decided to catch up on Once Upon a Time and it DEFINITELY didn't help keep the SAD away.  I'm just going to call it a day and curl up with one of my Anita Blake books because even though they're pretty's always the people who deserve to get hurt that get it in those books.

 (If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts, please get the help you need.  Because there is always someone who loves you way more than you think they do.)

PS.  Saw this on Curious George this morning and had to add it.  "Winter.  It was like a roller coaster of BLAH."  Perfect description of Winter for me!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double-Chocolate Espresso Cookies

I'm going to adlib along with the recipe because although these are absolutely amazing, they're also not a normal cookie.  They don't act like normal cookies as I found out by baking them last night :)

3 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks, divided
1/2 cup butter or light butter, cubed
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules (or 2 Starbucks Via packets)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small heavy saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, butter, & coffee together.  Stir until smooth.  (Resist the urge to scoop up the melty goodness in the pan and have a glass of wine instead.)  Remove from heat & set aside to cool.  (I didn't actually let the chocolately goodness cool & discovered the dough is REALLY runny if you don't let it cool.  My next attempt will be to mix all ingredients while chocolate is still warm & then let it cool for 5 minutes.  It thickened up after the chocolate cooled off.)

In a small mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs for 3 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored.  Beat in the chocolate mixture.  (Sip more of your wine to get your mind off the insanely good smell of chocolately goodness mixing with sugar.)  Combine the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Add to chocolate mixture & mix in remaining semi-sweet chocolate.  

(Grab the biggest cookie pan you have because my medium cookie sheet would only hold 9 of these at a time b/c they flatten out and get pretty big while baking.)  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets.  (Parchment paper works wonders & saves your cookie sheets from spray residue.)  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes (depending on how big your cookies are) or until puffed & tops are cracked.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks.  (This is very important - the suckers fall apart if you don't let them cool long enough.  I ended up letting mine cool for 7 minutes & they did much better.)  

Enjoy your cookies & try to refrain from eating the entire batch by yourself ;-)

BTW, I found out through trial and error that it's almost easier to mix all the dough up (while having your wine, of course)  & then stick it in the fridge overnight to get firmer.  Makes the cookies so much easier to deal with on the cookie sheet ;-)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Enter the Borg Queen

To continue the story of my first encounters with my MIL, we follow our small family to Holloman AFB, NM.  About 6 months after we'd moved and begun to settle in, I made one of the best decisions of my adult life.  I went over to what was then called Life Skills and asked to speak to a counselor.  And during my first appointment with Dr. B, I was very frank and even said, "I need to know if there is anything wrong with me because I don't want to be a danger to my daughter."  

Now, to fully understand this whole situation it's necessary for a bit of background information.  The previous blog entry In the Beginning explains many of the problems I was experiencing with my MIL and why I was beginning to doubt my own sanity.  Because the MIL's entire family to include her son (my husband) enforced the idea that she could do no wrong.  Add to this the fact that bipolar disorder runs in my family (both my father and his mother were given that diagnosis.)  So here I am, wondering what the hell is actually happening because everybody in my husband's family was telling me what I was experiencing was not what was actually happening.  So I go to see this counselor with the secret terror that I could actually not be viewing my life correctly because there was something wrong with me.  (Because this is what I'd been told in not so many words.)  And do you know what he said?  I remember this because it made such an impact on me.  "There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.  The only thing that might apply is adjustment disorder."  I cried tears of absolute relief in that office.

I continued therapy with Dr. B for quite some time, over a year in all if I remember correctly.  Many things happened in my life while I was seeing this wonderful therapist.  One of the many things that happened was the emergence of the name Borg Queen (at least in my head.)  I was really funny the way the whole thing came about.  I was venting about the MIL & her family and how anytime I was myself around them and displayed anything other than what they wanted shown around them I was basically put down or punished passive aggressively.  I said something like "They just want you to be how they are, or they don't want you to be at all."   And Dr. B said "Oh that sounds just like the Borg!  Resistance is will be assimilated," he went on to say in that low, monotone Borg voice that any Star Trek TNG fan knows.  It was possibly the most awesome thing that ever happened in therapy with him, with the exception of him telling me there wasn't anything wrong with me.  And it honestly is just a good portrait of the MIL because just like in TNG mythology, she honestly believes that everything she does benefits the universe.  The Borg Queen absolutely believes that uniformity and bringing every living humanoid into the Collective is the best thing for the Universe.  The MIL believes that everything should fit the nice little fantasy world she lives in and she will do whatever she feels is necessary for that to happen.  And hey, it's a humorous way to deal with a non-humorous situation.  And who doesn't love humor?

Another sequence from film that I use to help myself deal with the sometimes useless feeling of trying to keep my uniqueness in the face of the MIL's absolute need for conformity to her fantasy is from Labyrinth (the Jim Hensen movie.)  It's close to the end of the film when Sarah is confronting Jareth to rescue her brother.  The script goes something like this:
"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen.  For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great.  You have no power over me."

Because that's what it really boiled down to:  her power over me.  Because until I started seeing Dr. B and talking to someone who wasn't dazzled by the MIL, I had lost my personal power.  And by having a very good therapist and working through so many of the issues that happened during that time, I was able to gain my sense of self and my personal power back.  And I will be forever grateful to Dr. B for helping me find myself again.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The weekend that kicked my ass

I began this weekend by walking into the hair salon to get my pampering & found my hair stylist on the floor in a pool of her own blood with paramedics surrounding her.  It is also now officially Winter and well into the Holiday season, which means I'm associating less with my Brigit goddess and more with my Morrigan goddess.  And my MIL comes in this week.  I really feel like I'm floating out in the middle of this big expanse of nothing & don't really have the gumption to try to find a line to get out.  But....that's part of what this blog is for.  Because the holidays really do make me lose my damn mind.

So, back to the hair salon.  I stayed with the owner of the salon for a good thirty minutes or so to make sure she was calm enough to take care of herself.  It's not every day that you're having a conversation with someone who just falls over.  I've seen it once before and it's just the strangest thing.  And very shocking to the person who witnesses it and has no medical training.  The paramedics who assisted thought she had a mini stroke, but all kinds of tests & things will have to be run to determine what actually happened.  I'm going to go by the salon this week and just check in to make sure everything is as well as it can be.  

So Winter.  The bitch is here and won't be leaving anytime soon.  This is the time of year when I just want to wall myself up in a cave with my books, a good fire, and some really thick blankets.  And I don't want to socialize with anyone.  Enter the MIL (going to have to explain at  some point why I also call her the Borg Queen, but that will have to wait for another blog entry) who just wants to spend as much time around her grandchildren (ie. her granddaughter) as she can.  And my husband who has grown over the years with his boundary abilities, but still can't just say no to her.  He really believes it would be worse for the kids if she weren't in their lives, but I really don't know anymore.  There is so much infighting between his mother and her family that he can't convince me the kids wouldn't be better off without her.  But it's his mother and his decision to make, not mine.  We have our own way of dealing with his mother when she enters our territory and once she leaves we both heave a happy sigh of relief.  So that's later this week.  And the weekend has already beat me down.  I have quite a few "holiday" things left to do, so I'll be trying mightily to concentrate on those rather than the impending dread of another Borg Queen visit.  Maybe the Morrigan will deign to lend me some of her strength so I can get through this week peaceably.  

I'm listening to Sarah McLachlan today because some days she's all I can listen to.  And things become a little more bearable.  Because until February comes knocking I'm stuck in the middle of the Winter death, and it's really hard to be all happy and light.