Archive for December, 2011

The Yule Blog

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Merry Christmas,

As you saw on the postcard, we did a lot of downsizing in 2011 – even our Christmas greetings downsized to a postcard – so I appreciate you taking the time to find the website to read our annual family recap.

After living on Paula Lane for 17 years, it became apparent to us that the house had become too much for us. It had too many bedrooms now that Ethan and Valerie weren’t living at home, too much yard work and way too much mortgage. We are grateful that we didn’t have to give up our first born to Wells Fargo in order to get out from under it, so after about a six month process, we moved in early November to a cozy condominium in a quiet complex called The Cottages in Cotati.

It’s more of a drive to get Jennifer Lynn to her full-on schedule of high school activities but one of the best things that has come from moving up the road is that Steve has had the opportunity to share office space with a long-time business associate in a nearby community. After working alone in a home office for the past eight years, more contact with the outside world and a bigger separation between home and office feels really good to him.

On a beautiful day in May, it was a thrill for us to watch Ethan and 5,000 of his closest friends graduate from San Francisco State. It was definitely an opportunity for me to be in the moment and set aside my worries about the job market, his compounding student loans and the $56 in his checking account. However, I needn’t have stressed, because he did get a job at a small video production company located in the nice part of Oakland. He’s working the phones to bring in projects so he can build his film industry credentials on IMDB – that’s the internet encyclopedia of movie data. He really likes the sound of Ethan Rustad, Associate Producer.

Valerie’s second year at Chapman University in Orange, CA, has been a lot sunnier than her first. We know she’s doing fine because unlike the frequent teary phone calls during her freshman year, we never hear from her. She’s too busy perfecting her graphic design projects, working part-time at a law firm in Santa Ana, taking acrobatic classes and watching “Friends” reruns on Netflix with her roommate.

Jennifer Lynn was the only one of the three kids who actually had to experience the move with us…Ethan and Valerie just got a text message from us with our new address so they could find their way here for Thanksgiving. Jennifer’s only requirement for our new home was that she didn’t have to share a bathroom with mom and dad and since our new place has two-and-a-half baths, we exceeded her expectations.

As a sophomore this year, Jennifer Lynn is combining two activities that surprisingly have something in common: cheerleading and playing the tuba. That’s because that both require heavy lifting. Wow, that girl’s getting some shoulders on her.

I have been very fortunate to continue my position at the Petaluma Visitors Center and Downtown Association in spite of the dwindling reserves in the city’s coffers. And Steve’s versatility as a marketer, designer, consultant, cartoonist, filmmaker, and pretty much anything else anyone will pay him for, has seen us through the tough economy.

We are looking forward to hanging some pictures in our new place, letting out the collective breath we’ve been holding for the last year, and seeing what opportunities the New Year has in store.

We wish you peace, happiness and prosperity in the New Year!

The Christmas crunch

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

The ghost of Gourmet Magazine past visits my kitchen every Christmas. That’s because for almost 20 years I’ve been making the Biscotti di Greve recipe from the December 1992 issue to give as Christmas gifts.

Gourmet – December 1992 $2.50

I always enjoy getting the magazine off the shelf and studying the fluffy intensely-pink dessert that is pictured on the  cover and flipping past the NordicTrack ad to get to page 164. By now though, I’ve used the recipe for so many years that the page is so crusty and spattered that the magazine practically opens by itself.

Because we moved a little more than a month ago and all our routines have been shaken loose, I wasn’t sure I would continue with the biscotti baking tradition. I love making them but baking 20 dozen biscotti is time consuming and our lives in 2011 have been all about downsizing.  So maybe giving homemade gifts was another aspect of my life that could be simplified. I could make one trip to our neighborhood Target and I could be done – no fuss no muss.

But after Steve and I talked about it, baking the biscotti again this year just felt right. I know at least some of the recipients truly look forward to getting them and would actually miss it if they didn’t get my “I hope you don’t have any loose fillings,” crunchy almond orange biscotti.

Besides, if you’re going to give a homemade treat as a gift, I think biscotti are the perfect choice; they are practically guilt free because they have so little fat and not all that much sugar in them. Plus, there’s no such thing as a stale biscotti so they will taste just as good in January when all the other holiday goodies are long gone.

And when something works, why change it? Although the thought of going to Target and just picking something off the shelf instead of making the gift myself sounds appealing, the reality is much more that I would spend two hours wandering the store only to come home frustrated and empty-handed because I couldn’t find anything that would be appropriate and affordable to give clients, friends and family.

The smell of them baking would also help our new place feel more like home. I don’t need to just make biscotti, I need to make some happy memories here too.

And there’s one more reason why I should make them again this year. How could I pass up the opportunity to say we’re giving biscotti from Cotati…it has such a nice ring to it.

Best Cat Ever

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

When we moved a little more than a month ago, we downsized our square footage. But sadly, we also downsized in the number of pets we have.

We don’t know if it was the move that was the tipping point for our old cat, named Charm, or just coincidence, but about two weeks after we moved, the kidney disease that we knew he had, got worse rapidly. He stopped eating and it was obvious that it was time to say goodbye to his fuzzy round face.

We never really knew how old Charm was because we adopted him from Forgotten Felines when he was an adult cat but we had him for 14 years. He was the first pet for our family and he opened the door for getting two more cats, a German Shepherd, a couple of rats, toad, and assorted fish that also joined our household in the subsequent years.

I really don’t remember how we happened to choose Charm that day at PetSmart. Perhaps all the cute little kittens had already been adopted. But our daughter, Valerie who was five at the time, had her heart set on getting a pet that day so the cat with the slightly crossed blue eyes and latte coloring came home with us.

The name on his cage at the adoption center was “Toro” which gives you a sense that he wasn’t a little fluff-ball but more of a plus-size cat. Valerie immediately renamed him Charm because of a Barbie computer game that she was obsessed with at the time.

Apparently Charm had led a tough life before coming into our house because when we got him, he was a very ratty looking cat. He had a big chunk of fur missing from his tail and feline acne on his chin – who knew cats could get zits?

But once Charm put his paw that was accustomed to prowling the tough streets of Sonoma County on our plush carpet, his little kitty brain was wiped of any desire to want to go outside. We could have left the door open for days and he never would have ventured outside. Although we’re not sure who was smarter…Charm or the toad…he had enough brain to know a good thing when he saw it.

Charm was a total lap cat. You only needed to be sitting for about a minute before this big ‘ol cat with four very small paws was upon you. I’ve never seen a creature that could get more relaxed. He would eventually end up sleeping on his back with his skinny cat arms raised over his head like he was doing the wave in his sleep.

But his favorite place was on Steve’s lap when Steve was at his computer. He loved soaking up the warmth that Steve’s massive tower put out. Every time Steve would touch the top of Charm’s back – which was every time he reached for the keyboard with his right hand – Charm would raise his butt so he was on his tippy-toes and then settle back down until Steve used his right arm again. Even though Steve had so much cat fur on his keyboard that the keys became felted, at least this constant up-and-down of his back end forced Charm to get some exercise.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Charm, it would have been even harder to do it if we were still living in our old house because he was a presence in our lives 14 out of the 17 years that we lived there. He is one of the best memories I have of our old house.

Home for the Holidays

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Next week, we will celebrate our first month anniversary in our cozy condo in Cotati. And it’s almost starting to feel like home. I’m beginning to be able to identify electronic beeping sound goes with which appliance. Is it the dryer beeping, the microwave, the oven signaling that it has been preheated or the refrigerator telling me that the door has been open for too long?

Of course, celebrating holidays and creating memories definitely helps a house feel like a home. Hosting our family for Thanksgiving and having the aroma of a turkey in the oven fill the house – and thankfully not setting off our overly-sensitive smoke detector for the two hours that the turkey was in the oven – helped Steve and I get over the feeling that we weren’t staying in a nice hotel on an extended vacation.

And downstairs right now, our daughter is baking gingerbread cookies and it smells wonderful. Isn’t having the smell of freshly baked cookies that taken right from the real estate agent’s manual of “How to Make an Unfamiliar Place seem Homey?”

And we got our Christmas tree. Since our new place is full up with furniture, there wasn’t a wall or corner that made the perfect place for the tree so it’s sprouting right out of the middle of the room.  Actually, it’s quite nice having a 360 degree view of it.

In the long run, it’s probably the everyday activities even more than the special occasions that really add up to feeling like we are living here and aren’t just visiting. Now that I’m in the routine of cleaning the bathrooms and cleaning up cat barf, I’m darn sure that I’m not staying in a hotel. And you know what, it feels really good.