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Unexpected Gifts

When we first walked through the house in April, it was basically empty – no furniture or window treatments, nobody currently living there at the time. After we decided that yeah, we were gonna take a shot at buying this house built in 1900 (!), we came back and took a closer look.  I’d found out the hard way, from a house we’d signed a contract on a few weeks earlier, that it was a good idea to open those cabinets, look in the closets, really take your time and decide if you can make this place work. (We backed out of the other house after the inspection turned up some Bad Things, but I also hadn’t realized that the kitchen cabinets were actually horrible inside – I never bothered to open a door or drawer. Doh! The market was insane at that time and we were basically jumping at any house that hadn’t been sold out from under us.)

As we slowly inspected each room, opening cabinets and drawers, we realized that there was actually quite a bit of stuff still here. Pots and pans, dishes, silverware, lace curtains (still in the packaging from the dry cleaner) hanging in the closet.  The upstairs storage area, which I call the attic but really isn’t – it’s just a small room at the end of the upstairs hall with lots of space for storing things – had some holiday decorations in the back.  There was a propane charcoal grill on the back deck. Stuff like that.

We tried to piece together the story of these left-behind items.  The seller hadn’t lived in the house since 2011 or 12.  I found a whole kitchen cabinet filled with inkjet cartridges, markers, first birthday invitations, even photos, and our seller was not in any of them. Leftover invoices in the same cabinet had somebody else’s name, a couple with a small child from the looks of things.  I assumed they were renting the house and, for whatever reason, took off in a hurry and left a bunch of stuff behind.  I also assumed it would all be gone once we actually took possession in June.

But it wasn’t gone.  We opened the door with our new key, walked in, and found all these things in the same places we’d last seen them.  So I ended up with a couple of new pots and pans, donated most of the dishes, gifted to Paige all the things she needed for her new home, and tossed the junk in the trash.

I pretty much forgot about the holiday stuff. I mean, it was June and the holidays were the furthest thing from my mind. Once November rolled around, though, I started eyeballing potential spots for a Christmas tree.  You might remember my dilemma when we moved to the little house in Niles, a house so small that there was no possible place for a full-sized tree.  (I actually considered not having a tree that first year, until Dave insisted that we look at some pencil trees.)  To have multiple possibilities for tree placement was a novelty for me; even in Illinois, there was only one real option for where to put the tree (and I still had to move furniture to fit it in).

“We need to buy a tree this year,” I reminded Dave.  “I hate to spend the money, it would be cheaper to buy it after Christmas, but that pencil tree is just not big enough.  We’ll put that one out on the front porch.”

He held up a finger to stop me.  “Hang on.”

He went downstairs (we have a Michigan basement here, so I try to stay out of it as much as possible).  A few minutes later I heard something thunking up the stairs, and then a six-foot Christmas tree appeared in my kitchen.

He peeked around from behind it.  “It was downstairs! It has lights on it and everything. It’s from Bronner’s!”

I mean, what are the odds?!  This tree is the perfect size for the family room, and it is gorgeous.

I did suggest that we buy a second tree during the after-Christmas sales and put it up in the living room or dining room, but Dave shot that down.  Can’t blame a girl for trying!  😉


I just finished the last piece of apple pie, and I’ve been spending the day browsing sales and picking up a few Christmas gifts here and there (and plotting the rest). I am so far behind in that respect. Usually I have most of my shopping done by now, and I absolutely know what I’m getting everyone. This year the holidays kind of crept up on me. Suddenly it was Thanksgiving, and I hadn’t even thought about decorating the house yet. (Many years I have my Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving, especially when it comes so late in the month like it did this year.) We always save the tree decorating for after Thanksgiving, but this year I didn’t even have a TREE by November. (We didn’t bring our old one when we moved because Dave was getting sick of it.)

As I’m typing this, by the way, it’s starting to snow. We seem to have moved to the snow belt here, where we get lots of lake effect snow. This is new for me – even though we lived near Chicago before, we never got lake effect snow; often they would predict a snow storm and it would miss us entirely. Since I love snow, this was rather agonizing for me. Here, though, we will get six inches of snow and the towns around us might get one inch, at the most. It is AWESOME and I love it!

So anyway, the holidays. I forced myself to start planning and it’s all coming together, to my great relief. We were keeping an eye on Black Friday sales, even though we don’t usually venture out to the stores on that day. I saw a pencil tree in the Michael’s flyer, but it was a door buster and Dave was not enthusiastic about heading to the store on Friday morning. Then the website I use to track Black Friday sales,, mentioned that Michael’s had activated their Black Friday pricing starting on Monday the week of Thanksgiving. So we ran out and bought our tree that day.

We also finally came to a decision on our turkey (nothing like waiting til the last minute) and decided to get a bone-in turkey breast. Originally we weren’t sure how many would be coming for dinner, but by that Monday we knew it would just be us and Eric; Paige was working that day, and my mom wasn’t up to the drive. We still didn’t know if Eric was coming on Thursday or the Saturday after, so we decided to go with a frozen turkey breast (fresh wouldn’t last that long in the fridge).

Thanksgiving came and we had things well in hand. Got the turkey breast in the oven and immediately went out to pick up Eric. It had started snowing, of course, so our roads were slick but I was sure they would be clear in South Bend, Indiana where his train was arriving. I was wrong. It was worse in Indiana, so we had an exciting ride there and back. The train comes in at the airport, which was a little confusing, but now we have it down pat. Eric said he took a nap on the train (it’s a 2-1/2 hour ride); he closed his eyes in Chicago, where it was clear, and opened his eyes in Indiana to a white winter wonderland.

We had a light lunch when we got back, and then Dave checked the turkey which was supposed to come out of the oven around 3. It was about 1:45 and he said the turkey looked like it was done. We are still getting used to this oven, which either cooks hotter than our old oven, or our old oven sucked and this oven just cooks normally (most likely the latter). I could not believe it was already done; I still had to put together the green bean casserole and, geez, I was still full from lunch! Dave checked it again at 2 pm and announced that it was definitely, absolutely done.

So I went into overdrive, putting the green bean casserole together so it could go into the oven along with the sweet potato casserole while the turkey rested. We had no choice but to let it rest for 30 minutes, because we had to cook those dishes after the turkey came out. I had spent a couple days reading advice online about how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner with one oven. For the last 25 years, I used double wall ovens; the turkey went in one oven at one temperature, and side dishes in the other at their higher cooking temperature.

While I cooked, Dave started yelling. He grabbed Eric and asked for his phone. I thought I heard the word ‘turkey.’ This made sense because a few days earlier, a wild turkey had been walking around in our front yard. So I looked out the window and, sure enough, there were turkeys walking across the road by our neighbor’s house. Dave ran down the driveway in his socks (Eric was impressed by that) and took a photo, never even thinking twice about the fact that we had four inches of snow by then. Eric stepped out onto our back deck and got to hear them gobbling as they walked by. We figured it made a good story for our city-dwelling son to tell his friends – how often do you get to see wild turkeys walking around on Thanksgiving?!

Five (or so) of the eight wild turkeys we saw on Thanksgiving

Five (or so) of the eight wild turkeys we saw on Thanksgiving

We put up our Christmas tree on Friday, even though we were both wiped out from the day before. I had really wavered on the tree this year, because we don’t have much spare room in the living room. I was thinking we might just get a small tree and put it on top of the hope chest. Then I did some measuring and realized if we moved a small table and slid the hope chest over, we would have just under 25 inches of space for a tree. Dave talked me into it, and I went looking for a really skinny, tall tree. The one we ended up with is seven feet tall and 22 inches wide, and it is just right for the space we have. I did have to use a different tree skirt (the other one looked ridiculously large) and we left about 1/3 of the ornaments in their boxes, but all in all I declared the tree a success.

Our perfect-for-us, skinny-but-tall tree.

Our perfect-for-us, skinny-but-tall tree.

I got the rest of the house decorated on Saturday; what used to take sometimes as many as two whole days took me just an hour or so. I do miss having the room to put out all my decorations, but it was also fun to change things up and put things in new spots this year. Having even just a few decorations up makes all the difference in my holiday spirit.

No fireplace?  No mantel?  No problem!

No fireplace? No mantel? No problem!

Yesterday I started Christmas cards, and now today I am finally planning my gift giving. I also thought about doing Holidailies again, because I seem to have gotten out of the regular blogging habit. I’m not sure I can pull off a post every day, but I’ll see if I can’t show up here a little more often.

We had turkeys visit us on Thanksgiving … maybe we’ll see reindeer on Christmas? 🙂

Every Day is Halloween (I Wish)

When October 1st rolled around, I put Dave on notice.  “Hey hon, could you help me get out the Halloween decorations this weekend?”  He readily agreed, as I knew he would – the sight of me staggering upstairs under the weight of a huge Rubbermaid tub offends his chivalrous sensibilities.  But he looked nervous; he knows me pretty well.

A few days later, I walked into the living room and almost tripped over the gray tub in the middle of the floor.  Dave presented it like Vanna White, with a sweep of his arm and a triumphant smile.

“Thanks, babe!  But this isn’t the only one – see how it says ‘Thanksgiving/Halloween’ on top?  This is the overflow, what wouldn’t fit in the main Halloween tub.”  I opened the lid to give Dave a look as he expressed his disbelief.  “See?  The ghosts for the front door aren’t here, the pumpkins, the bats …”  I moved the turkeys and cornucopia out of the way to grab the few Halloween decorations in the tub, and then closed it up.  “Come on, I’ll help you find the rest.”

We trooped back downstairs to the crawl space, while Dave muttered, “I didn’t see any other box, I don’t know … are you sure … ?”  I positioned myself by the door while Dave hunched over and inched his way into the short space, and told him to check all the way in the back.  Before long he found the tub and I had my work cut out for me.

I love decorating for the holidays which, for me, start with Halloween.  I definitely got this from my mom; I can still picture our Halloween decorations and remember the excitement I felt when I’d come home from school to find that she’d decorated the house.  Halloween was a huge, big deal to me; I really got into picking out a costume, I absolutely loved trick or treating … the excitement and anticipation of the day was always over the top for me.  I actually used to have nightmares about missing Halloween – I couldn’t get my costume on in time and before I knew it, trick or treat hours were over, or I just plain forgot and realized the next day that I’d have to wait until next year.

I’ll never, EVER forget the year my dad enlisted our neighbor’s help to deliver some bags of candy as we were watching Charlie Brown’s Halloween special.  I stared at the TV, rapt … and a little horrified on Linus’ behalf.  He missed tricks or treat, the horror!  My dad tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window.  “I just saw the Great Pumpkin!  Did you see that?!”  I hadn’t seen anything but … gosh, was that a flash of orange?  Is the Great Pumpkin REAL?!

Just then the doorbell rang.  My dad, comfy in his usual TV-watching spot on the couch, asked me to answer it.  And there on the doorstep were two bags, for me and my brother, from the Great Pumpkin.  It was the coolest thing ever – can you see now why I love Halloween so?!

Sometime in the dad, brother and mom, a.k.a. Kiss -- no Halloween post is complete without this photo!

Sometime in the 70s…my dad, brother and mom, a.k.a. Kiss — no Halloween post is complete without this photo!

As a young adult and before I had kids, I was satisfied with decorating the house and handing out candy on Halloween, admiring the parade of costumes and eating the leftover candy when the doorbell finally fell silent (a benefit I never really realized as a kid).  But once I had my own kids, my dormant Halloween obsession came alive.  I made their costumes, decorated the house inside and out, and took them trick or treating for as long as they wanted.  (And seriously, most of the time I couldn’t believe it when they were ready to go home.   Really guys?  That’s it, you’re done?  One year Paige said her cowgirl boots were hurting and I actually had to bite my tongue to keep from talking her into walking some more.  I have a serious trick or treat problem, really.)

When they got a little older, I started a Halloween meal tradition and I did this up until 2011, the last year I had a child living at home on October 31.  I would make up a menu, print it out and leave it at their places to find at breakfast.  It was always horrible and disgusting, and the game was for them to figure out what we were really having for dinner.  Once or twice I made a new recipe I’d found just for the occasion, but generally it worked out better to have things I already knew they liked and just give them a gross name.

Our 2011 Halloween Menu

Our 2011 Halloween Menu


Appetizer — Sausage/cheese balls with eyeballs made of mozzarella and pepperoni discs

Main course – Pasta shells filled with sauce and mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni rolls (infected warts)

Dessert – Apple wedges filled with caramel and mini marshmallows (as the teeth); brownies with spiderwebs and spiders on top

Green beans became witches’ fingers, apple slices and caramel apple dip became vampire fangs with mucous membrane dip, and spaghetti became (what else?) worms in blood sauce.

My kids are all grown up and make their own entertainment on Halloween now; Dave and I answer the door, hand out candy, and usually have Tacos in Pasta Shells for dinner (also called Severed Eyelids … the best gross name for shell pasta of any size).

But I still get a little jolt of excitement when the month of October rolls around.  I change my desktop wallpaper and Facebook cover image to skeletons dancing around a bonfire by the light of the full moon.  I decorate the house just like I always did; when Toby was still alive, I made sure that I pinned his Superdog cape to his collar for the day.  (I made that from leftover scraps when I was making Paige’s Sailor Moon costume.)

Toby the SuperDog!

Toby the SuperDog!

The cats know better … they stay out of sight on that day.  Who knows what kind of costume I might come up with for them?!

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