December the 28th. December the 28th. That day means something. Ah, yes, my car payment is due. It also means I am on vacation for the next five days and don't even have to THINK about work until next Tuesday. I'm a bit of an obsessor, though, at least when it comes to my job, so I'll have to see how that all works out. I hope my vast readership, all six or seven of you, had a splendid holiday, whichever one you may have celebrated. For a few years I have wanted to do something special on the winter solstice -- you know, dance naked around a pole or sacrifice an enemy or two to appease the gods -- but I always get busy and forget. Perhaps next year.
I spent the evening of this year's solstice at a shopping mall. Sean took me shopping for my big Christmas present, which was a nice coat. (A new coat: it sounds so Pat Nixon, but believe me, it was exactly what I wanted.) I have never owned a nice, grownup coat and this year he decided to help me rectify that situation. You'd think it would be easy to find scads of warm winter clothing (even in L.A.) a few days before Christmas, but no. Everything is on clearance to make room for the new spring clothes which are due next week. We walked from one end of that mall to the other, and the only place we had any luck was the store where we started out and ended up, Nordstrom. They had one really attractive black coat with a detachable hood and a button-in lining that I loved, but it was two sizes too small. We decided to take advantage of Nordstrom's famous customer service policy and get the nice saleslady to call around to other stores to see if she could find one in my size. While she was checking the computer to see who she might call, I tried on the too-small coat just for kicks, and guess what? It fit! So we bought it. When I got home I weighed myself and found that I had unexpectedly dropped eight pounds in the last month -- I guess all that running around at work negated my increased eggnog and cookie consumption. Yay, retail Christmas!
After the successful coat purchase, Sean dropped me off at Wood Ranch Steak House to have dinner and exchange Christmas gifts with Norman. I gave Norman a DVD set called Forbidden Hollywood, a book called French for Le Snob, and a mix CD. He gave me a mix CD, a CD by someone named Neko Case (whose voice is simply amazing -- I know nothing about her other than the sound of her voice but she is my new girl-crush), a Ghirardelli Intense Dark candy bar, and some marshmallow snowmen that are just begging to be experimented upon. We had a lovely dinner and a nice chat.
The next day I spent most of my time baking: I made butter cookies, chocolate shortbread, and two loaves of stollen, which is a traditional German Christmas bread. I also proved that I am the best! friend! ever! by taking Norman to the airport at five o'clock on the Friday before Christmas. Actually, the traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be.
On Saturday the 23rd I worked a four-hour shift in the morning, and then Sean and I drove up to Santa Barbara to see his grandmother. Sean's mom's side of the family usually celebrates Christmas on the 24th at his grandma's house, but this year everything was different because Grandma had a small stroke a couple of weeks ago and understandably did not feel up to entertaining a big crowd. So we just spent a few hours visiting, chatting and noshing. Grandma was incredibly tired and did not seem herself. Granted, she's 89 and has slowed down a bit in the past few years -- she usually spends our visits camped out in her comfortable arm chair -- but I really noticed the lack of vitality and enthusiasm this time. Even though she said she was delighted to have us come up to see her, I felt guilty the whole time that we were exhausting her.
On the way home, Sean and I stopped at the outlet stores in Camarillo and visited the Restoration Hardware outlet. We bought the most amazing Christmas tree stand on clearance. You plug this stand in, then plug the Christmas tree lights into the stand. When you hit a switch, the whole tree revolves! And because the lights are pluggged into the stand and revolving also, their cords won't tangle! You hit another switch and the stand plays "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"! (I don't think we'll be using that feature much.) We decided not to switch out our current Christmas tree to this stand because, of course, I didn't decorate the back of the tree and had no time to reconfigure everything. But next year, baby, next year -- tackiest tree on the block, guaranteed!
Christmas Eve was spent cleaning the house and yard, as we were playing host to my family's celebration. I had to make a last-minute run to the supermarket, and while I was waiting in the checkout line I noticed a woman two people in front of me take a cheesecake out of her shopping cart and leave it on top of a gift card display. If it had been a can of soup I would have rolled my eyes and said nothing, but a cheesecake? That cake was going to sit there for hours before anyone noticed, and then it would either have to be thrown out and the store take a loss, or it would go back in the case and the poor person who bought it would get sick. So I excused myself to the person in front of me, took the cake off the top of the display, and handed it back to the guilty party, saying acidly, "Why don't you tell the cashier you don't want this and she can ask someone to put it back in the case." This woman looked at me with huge, frightened eyes and squeaked, "OK," and that's exactly what she did. The woman standing between us in line, the one I'd excused myself to, looked at me with disgust; I figured she was probably the sort to ditch a pork roast in the canned goods aisle.
Christmas Day was lovely and warm, perfectly clear with a high of about 75 degrees. My brother and his wife and daughter, two of my sisters, my niece, Sean's dad and his wife, and a couple of old family friends showed up. We didn't do much besides talk, eat, cook, and listen to Christmas music, which is what Christmas is all about, as far as I'm concerned. I roasted a lovely filet of beef (served with both gorgonzola sauce and horseradish sauce) and made potatoes au gratin and the famous green bean casserole; we also had a good salad and some fresh rolls. Virginia, the woman my dad had been seeing for several years before he died, was one of our guests, and she complimented Sean on the roast. "Well, I just carved it," he said, giving me credit for the cooking. Virginia seemed surprised that I could prepare a nice meal, which kind of irritated me. How long has she known me -- close to ten years? Did she really have no idea? Earlier she had told her daughter that she'd never drunk a Cape Cod. I had just prepared myself one and told Nikki, her daughter, that Virginia could try mine and I'd be happy to mix her one if she liked it. I guess it agreed with her because she ended up drinking my entire drink. Maybe she had a little buzz on, because when she left a few hours later, she told me I was becoming "quite a good cook," and she complimented my hair. Now, I must admit, I was having an exceptionally good hair day, but I was surprised by her comment. "You must always wear your hair that way," she said as she hugged me goodbye. "Not like a successful businesswoman, but like an adorable young girl." Uh, okay.
We had a mild scare later in the evening because my sister Mary thought her 7-year-old daughter and my brother's 3-year-old daughter had been snatched off the front porch, where they had been playing. We couldn't find the girls anywhere in the house. We all ran out into the yard and the street calling for them but got no reply. Suddenly, I thought, "Where's Sean?" It turns out he had taken them for a walk around the block to see the neighborhood Christmas lights but hadn't mentioned it to anyone; they all returned safe and sound about ten minutes later.
On the 26th, I took a huge Nordstrom shopping bag to work filled with cookies, candy, and cake that Sean and I couldn't possibly eat by ourselves. I knew my co-workers could polish it all off in a few hours, and god love 'em, they didn't let me down. Now, of course, I wish we had some cookies to snack on.