Christmas Truths

I usually start my holiday shopping in September. I start thinking of presents in July. I have my decorations out before Thanksgiving. I prep myself perfectly to just have a restful holiday and not get sucked into the overwhelming, oh-my-gosh-it’s-Christmas-and-I-didn’t-do-this-and-this-and-this.

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Instead, this year, I got super sick and had my gallbladder out, while trying to work full time and go to school. #brilliantplan

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So, here we are, six days from Christmas. One day from one sister arriving, four days from another. Five days from my brother-in-laws family being here. I still haven’t finished half my handmade presents. I haven’t even gotten the stuff to make my dads present.

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I took a walk on my lunch break today and I thought about feeling overwhelmed and I looked at the snow. I remembered the year my mother went to Chicago and broke both her feet slipping on ice on some stairs. She was there because my sister had a life-saving surgery. Three days later, my paternal grandmother died and two days after that my uncle. My mom came back to south Florida, my father went to Chicago. He and my sister were together for that Christmas in Chicago. The rest of us were in South Florida. It felt so strange.

 

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My parent’s dog is too cute for words.

I can remember in the middle of the night during that time, getting out of bed and finding my mother at the kitchen table, wringing her hands. We talked.

I am not of any organized faith, though I would say that my faith in certain things is incredibly strong. My mother is a very strongly and quietly Christian and many of our conversations are rooted in understanding the others faith. I told her that night, ‘Luke 2:19, momma. “But Mary gathered up all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”‘

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When the shepherds and wise men and angels come to the manger and praise the newborn baby Christ, Mary takes it all in. A new mother, surrounded by strangers, with her baby sleeping, away from home. She gathers it all up and feels it.

Isn’t that a lesson for all of us?

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And so inside of the rush and traffic and birthday parties and holiday parties and calls from far away friends, I’m trying to sneak moments where I gather them all up and ponder them in my heart, even the feeling of chaos. How lucky am I to love so many people that I choose to spend my time finding them the perfect gift? What fortune is in my life that I get to see my siblings during the year? How honest I have grown with myself that I can feel frustration and give it a name?

It’s easy to forgot, or to shame oneself for getting caught in the present rush. It makes it feel much less like a rush when you’re able to be grateful for the work that lets you buy the presents, despite the traffic.

Luke 2:19. It’s not just for Christmas.

Painting the Undercoat

My father loves to paint. Not like, paintings. He loves to paint walls and ceilings and houses.

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About a decade ago, my parents bought a house that was in utter disrepair. The previous owners had smoked (all kinds of things, I’m sure) in the house and the walls were covered in oily tar.

I was home from college and sad to be in a house that wasn’t the house I grew up in. I was angry to not walk in the giant oak doors of my childhood anymore.

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My father’s solution to this: make the kid paint.

So I did, with my sisters and my parents. We coated the house in Kilz. I grew up painting with my dad. I’d do the trim and he’d do the rest until I was old enough to manage a roller.

I was in a small hallway of the house, trying to navigate the giant pole and no space to move it around in. I gave up and stopped painting in smooth strokes from top to bottom. Of course, my father noticed.

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I told him that it was only the undercoat; it didn’t have to be perfect.

He said, “Rose. In painting and in life, if you do the undercoat right, everything will be easier,” and he walked away.

I repainted the undercoat correctly and have spent the last ten years thinking about that.

Let’s Talk About Meat

Meat: one of my least favorite subjects. When I was 12 I announced to my mother that I was no longer going to eat meat. And I didn’t, for about three weeks. Eventually I caved because of a combo of not understanding what I was doing and my mother not being 100% on board.

Then, when I was 18 and in college, I mostly ate in the dining hall, and the meat was less than desirable, so I cut it out and stuck with it for about five years years until one day, I really wanted a turkey sandwich. Then I stopped again a few years later for a few years… I’ve gone back and forth like this for most of my life and learned a ton about nutrition and myself throughout the process.

Now, I eat meat two to four times a week, depending on the season. I would prefer to be meat free, but I have a series of competing GI issues that makes getting adequate protein from plants complicated, so I eat it.

I talked in this post about how I buy meat once a month, but I didn’t say much else about that. I came to that in part because of my relationship and in part because I found that I either end up spending more buying smaller quantities or I end up having more trips to the grocery store because I’d underestimated what I needed. Those last two things got old REAL quick.

So, about a year ago, I started buying it once a month and putting it in the freezer. But then I ran into two problems: 1) my freezer was full of meat and not much else and 2) defrosting things takes forever and is a pain in the tail.

And then I remembered the “book stacking method,” as my mother calls it, where you flatten everything out and stack it.

Say what?

I’m going to show you using a package of almost five pounds of chicken.

Step One: Figure Out How Many Meals You Can Get from One Package

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This is the pack of chicken I typically buy each month. It’s about 4.5 pounds and will turn into about six bags worth of meat, with each bag weighing a little over three quarters of a pound.

I’m using chicken as the example because I’ve found it’s actually the most complicated of meats.

Step Two: Label the Bags

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Every time I do this, I do it a little different. I always put the date, and sometimes I write chicken. Sometimes I write how the chicken has been cut. Usually it’s pretty easy to distinguish chicken from other meats, but since I do this every month, sometimes there’s leftover meat from the month before. So I always make sure to write the date down so that I know which bag needs to be eaten first.

I open all the bags up after they’ve been labeled so that filling them will be easier.

Step Three: Trim the Chicken

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If you like the fat on the chicken, then don’t do this. I don’t care for it so I always end up trimming it off. Rather than having to do that when I go to cook it, I go ahead and trim it off before I bag it up.

This is the most time consuming step in the whole process. You want to make sure that you’re getting all the white parts off the chicken. It should end up looking like the picture above.

Disclaimer: I’m not a spectacular chef, but I do alright. And I didn’t go to culinary school or anything like that. I’m sure there’s great ways to cut the fat off chicken that are much more precise than I do. I just know that the white parts taste yucky so I cut them off.

Keep going with it, and you’ll end up with two stacks: one of chicken and one of grossness.

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I’ve found that if I cut the plastic off the top, so just take my knife along the inside edge of the container, I end up with a good place to put the fat.

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Step Four: Cut the Chicken

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Once I have a little stack of chicken breasts, I start to cut them in different ways. Some I’ll leave at whole breasts (or I’ll cut one in half to be able to split between packages). Those will be for crock pot meals. Some I fillet and some I turn into cubes or strips to go on salad.

Since I’ve already done my meal planning when I did my grocery shopping, I have a good idea of what I’ll be using the chicken for. I’ve found it’s easier to cut ahead of time, since I’ve already got the cutting board, etc. out and I’ll have to cut it anyway to make it fit evenly into bags.

Step Five: Wash the Cutting Board

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I’ve heard many different kinds of things about using a wooden cutting board. It’s the only one I have, so it’s the one I use. I don’t put it in the dishwasher. Instead, I wash it by hand three times with dish soap and scalding hot water (I highly recommend wearing gloves if you’re not used to that). I usually also scrub it with sea salt after the first wash. I don’t actually know if it helps, but it makes me feel better.

I’ve had this cutting board for eight or nine years (when an awesome friend gave it to me for my birthday) and I have yet to get sick using it, so I think whatever I’m doing is probably just fine.

Step Six: Bag and Flatten the Chicken

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First, I put all the chicken into the bags they’re supposed to go into using one hand. So, keep one hand for bagging and one hand for touching chicken, or get someone to help you. Then, I wash my hands.

Once my hands are clean, I hold the top of the bag and hit the bottom on the counter a few times to settle the chicken to the bottom. Then, I lay it on the counter and press it into the corners of the bag. With full chicken breasts, I don’t do that. I just let them be what they are. But with everything else, I make it as flat as possible and then seal the bag.

Step Seven: Repeat Step Six

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I keep going with this process until I’ve filled all the bags.

Each month I also buy pork chops, steaks and ground beef. I tend to buy the small pack of pork chops that has six in it and only two steaks. Those are already cut and typically already trimmed so I just put two in each bag and place them so they’re lying next to each other when the bag is flat on the counter.

For ground beef, I usually buy over three pounds and make four bags. Once the meat is in the bags, It’s pretty easy to just flatten out.

Step Eight: Admire Your Handiwork

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A) It felt really weird to take a picture of the inside of my freezer and B) that’s basically taking up no space. Each bag stacks on top of the other. It’s pretty easy to tell from the colors which meat is which so pulling it out takes two seconds, rather than sifting through packages and floppy bags.

And, best of all, I’ve found that it takes about 10 minutes in cold water to defrost chicken, ground beef  & pork chops (steaks take longer because they’re thicker). It used to take almost half an hour! And, if I’m really on top of my game and pull it out the night before and it’s guaranteed to be defrosted by the time I get home from work.

I never thought I’d reach a point in my life where I was doing this or thinking about this. I got overwhelmed a while ago by the amount of food in the house that was coming in when I started shopping monthly. I was frustrated all the time by the freezer and the process of having to wait to defrost what I was going to eat.

This kind of prep (I guess it’s prep?) takes me about 15 – 25 minutes. That’s it. But making this change has saved me money, space and both cooking time and emotional time.

& Cookies

November just whisked itself right past me.

At the very end of October, I had my gallbladder out & spent about two weeks recovering.

I had visits and calls from family and friends. My brave mother took me to surgery and brought me home. D cared for me the rest of the week and was a total rockstar. I will say, for any folks out there that might be facing this now or in the future: it’s not as bad as it is in your mind. My incisions hurt more than I thought but for less time than I thought they would. Take the medicine they give you, listen to the doctor, keep everything clean and you’ll be just fine.

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It’s been about a month now and I no longer need as much rest as I did two weeks ago. I basically feel normal now! Probably from all the help I got from this kitten! I still don’t fully understand what I can and can’t eat, but I’m definitely starting to get it, which made Thanksgiving a little complicated, but with every meal I learn a little more.

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Sister’s Boots / My Boots (similar)

My dad is a veteran, so my sister and I took him and my mom to lunch for Veteran’s Day, which turned out to be one of the coldest days we’d had so far. The restaurant was crowded with other veterans and people who came up to say “Thank you,” to my dad (love it!). My sister and I huddled around this little heater that was set up in the lobby.

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We’ve only gotten a couple of flurries so far this year. I’m excited for more; it would be nice to have the beautiful snow to go with the cold. D works for a snow plow company during the winter, so we get to ride around in this during the winter! I prefer my cute little car, but as soon as the ice gets on the road, I’m sure I’ll be batting my eyelashes, trying to convince him to drive me the hour to and from work.

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Salt & Pepper Shaker / Pie Plate

I thought I burned the pumpkin pie this year. It turns out that when you have a deep pie plate, you have to either make more filling, or keep your pie crust almost at the same height as the filling or else it looks burnt. The pie itself was just fine and only the top part of the crust was burnt. There was only one piece left at the end of the night, with five pies and seven people, so I suppose I can say that it turned out delicious.