‘Tis the season for entertaining! I understand that for some people, the thought of entertaining a large group is at worst intimidating and at best not high on their list of favorite things to do. I have two ideas from recent get-togethers at my house that were delicious and easy. So delicious I’d like to have all these people over again each month. The idea? Pitch-in Dinners! Many hands make light work and when you have lots of people pitching in with dinner, you end up with some seriously good eats.
Pitch-in idea #1: Burrito Bowls
Make a list of ingredients and have everyone sign up for two or three. Here’s what we had:
Two kinds of meat: chicken & beef
Toppings: lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and a couple kinds of salsa
Pitch-in idea #2: Chili Cook-off
This was the perfect idea for this group of friends because we have lots of kids. There were 18 kids running around that day and not one of them went hungry. Each family brought a crock-pot full of their favorite chili. I supplied toppings, corn bread & dessert. We lined up the crock-pots on the counter and ate the day away. YUM.
In both cases, I supplied disposable bowls, silverware & napkins for easy clean-up. So don’t let the idea of entertaining make you cringe – get a group of friends together and prepare to eat and laugh and enjoy each other’s company!
One of the things I’ve decided I want to do this Christmas season is play some Christmas music on the piano. As I mentioned last week, I’m not sure anyone else in my house wants to listen to me play Christmas music on the piano but it will make me happy so I’m going to do it anyway. Step #1 towards this goal? Find some sheet music.
A few months ago I asked my mom if she had any of the music books or sheet music that I played growing up. She didn’t but she did have a grocery bag full of sheet music from my grandfather who played both the piano and the accordion. I asked her to bring it and it has been sitting in a corner for a while now. Last night I went through it and hit the jackpot.
It does have a few of my old pieces in there including two books of Christmas music – yay! But those weren’t the best finds. The best finds were the random Broadway hits, the book titled Dance Songs from 1942 and the collection of “really cool piano music for teens” with the copyright date of 1959. That last one even has notes on the songs in my grandmother’s handwriting labeling songs for my Aunt Margie and my Aunt Mary Lou. There’s the copy of the Fat Lady Polka with fingering notes from my grandpa. The copy of I’ve Got Rhythm with a note to my grandfather from “C” asking him to play the chorus a certain way before “rehearsal on 12/27. Oh! And bring Margaret along too if she’d like. I think she’ll have fun.”
My music lover, E and I had a lot of fun going through the music last night. And I’m going to have a lot of fun learning (or re-learning in some cases) how to play it. I’m going to start with the Christmas music but by the end of January I’m hoping I can play an assortment of polkas. I grew up listening to polka music played by my grandpa and now I’m going to pass that on to my kids… and if they complain or make fun of it (like some people might have last night when I posted a note about my treasure hunt AHEM) then I will turn a deaf ear to them.
The pages are yellowed, torn and in some cases literally crumbling but I feel like I just discovered a goldmine of family heritage.
You know how each summer I post a list of fun things I want to do with the kids? I ask for their input on those activities but really, it’s my list of adventures big and small. Well — I think I want to put one together for December. You know… because December isn’t busy enough already.
Here are some things I really hope we can do this Christmas season:
- Visit our local arboretum at night to wander a trail lit by Christmas lights.
- Head to Chicago to soak in some big city sparkle. Maybe hit the lights at Lincoln Park… maybe the windows at Macy’s…
- Play some Christmas music on the piano not just on the CD player. Admittedly this one is more for me since I’m the one playing the piano regularly these days. For all I know, no one else in the house wants to listen to me play Christmas music.
- Take in Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science & Industry. We used to do this every year without fail and I miss it.
- Pop ridiculous amounts of popcorn and have the whole family sit down together to watch a Christmas movie or two.
- Bake cookies TOGETHER. Yes, it’s faster if I just do the baking myself but I’d like to have the kids help. Especially for whatever goodie we decide to make for their teachers.
I’m discovering that it isn’t actually Christmas that is my favorite holiday. It’s the days leading up to it. It’s the preparing, the opening of hearts, the wonder of a season with a little extra joy in it. I’m probably going to hit a wall of stress at some point but I’m really trying to avoid it by focusing on the journey instead of just one day.
‘Tis the season to give the hardworking teachers & caregivers in our lives a gift. I like to give our teachers a holiday treat – something they can share if they want to, but is also just the right size to keep to themselves. (Because sometimes a treat kept to ourselves is just plain decadent.) My go-to gift: a homemade goodie with a Starbucks card.
I often make Cinnamon Roasted Cashews because they are definitely something that falls in the treat category. Plus they are easy to make and the whole house smells good while they are roasting.
Here is another delicious treat that you can send off to your child’s teacher or caregiver with a smile. This one is the perfect pair for that coffee shop gift card too!
1 cup chopped pecans
6 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cans (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
4 TB brewed coffee (recommend making it double or triple strength so the flavor comes through)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
1. Place chopped pecans in a pie pan or small baking sheet with edges in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes to toast. Remove and set aside.
2. Line a 9×13 pan with foil, butter the foil.
3. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate, condensed milk, coffee and cinnamon. Microwave on high for three minutes. Stir until smooth. If it’s not fully melted, microwave at 30 second intervals – stirring well each time until it is smooth.
4. Stir in vanilla and pecans. Spread evenly into the 9×13 pan. Cover and chill for two hours. Cut into 1-inch squares and place in a festive container. Can be stored at room temperature.
I’ve been having a weird sense of time passing lately. Mostly with my oldest. I look at her and her almost-fifteen self and I can’t help but think of the baby that I snuggled on a big blanket so she could catch some of the afternoon sunshine that poured through back windows. Or the toddler that used to “read” and pull every book off the shelf leaving a mountain of books on the floor when she wandered away to do something else. Or the preschooler that would sing and sing to me – often while spinning like a madwoman on her sit & spin – while I cooked dinner.
It’s breathtaking & unsettling all at the same time. I see these moments as flashes when I watch her talk and laugh with other kids on her swim team or when she is walking out of school after practice or just when she walks in the room.
I’m not having these moments with the other two. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my oldest is about to have a birthday. Or maybe it’s because she’s entered a time of life that I remember so very clearly. Or maybe it’s that she is my first baby and I’m subconsciously realizing that my days with her around all the time are fleeting.
I have noticed this year – and this is with all three kids – that we are entering another phase of life as a family. These shifts happen from time to time. When you go from diapers to no diapers. When you move into having all three kids in school full time. I can’t quite put a finger on what the shift is right now… but it’s happening… they are getting older, funnier, smarter, more engaging. They need me less… and sometimes more.
I feel like I’m parenting in two worlds some days.