Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Six Days of Christmas

On Christmas Eve, we hosted Matt’s parents for dinner and a gift exchange.  I had had a hard time deciding what to cook for dinner until I saw that prime rib was on sale at Harris Teeter, and knowing that was a favorite of Matt’s, decided to go with that.  The day before, I emailed my Dad to ask for directions since it was my first time cooking prime rib.

Or so I thought, until a few days later when I looked back at a post from Christmas last year and saw that was my first time cooking prime rib.

Not only that, but the battery in my meat thermometer died again this year.

Or more likely, I haven’t used it since then.

I don’t know why but 2010 seems to have gone so fast.  Maybe because there weren’t as many hugely significant events this year as last year (2009: buying a house, getting a dog, graduating from med school.)  When I think back on 2010, things like California in March, or going to Utah in January, or running my half in September all seem to have transpired in just a few weeks time.  In fact, it seems like Christmas 2009 was just here, and yet somehow the calendar tells me it was a full 365 days ago.  When I was looking back on last year’s post (and discovering that my memory is not so sharp), I felt like I was reading something I had just written a few days ago. 

Anyways, I’ll save those musings for my year end review post.

I didn’t attempt to make homemade yeast rolls again this year, but otherwise the menu seemed to be quite similar from last year’s: roasted asparagus, roasted sweet potatoes, salad and rolls.  I guess I have a go-to Christmas menu now.  (No one seems to be complaining…)

I also added a new dessert to my repertoire: jam cake.  I had never heard of jam cake, but Matt’s Dad had asked me a few weeks before Christmas if I knew how to make it and said it was something his Mom always had at Christmas, so I set off on a mission to make it.  Matt enlisted the help of his Dad’s former next door neighbor, and she sent us a recipe via Facebook.  Using that recipe, and a few iterations from ones found online to make a brown sugar glaze (heaven), I made jam cake.

I was so excited for my big reveal…. until I learned that Matt’s Aunt Paige had also made jam cake the night before!  She had come across a recipe in a cookbook, so we’ll have to compare notes later.  Anyways, it wasn’t quite as exciting or nostalgic as I had hoped, but Matt’s Dad seemed pleased to have a second crack at it.  After dinner, we did a gift exchange with Matt’s parents and sent them home with hugs for Nanta and Pa, and of course, the remainder of the jam cake. 


Christmas Day turned out to be rather quiet and uneventful.  Matt and Buddy snoozed for most of the morning, so I did laundry and cleaned the house, just like a regular Saturday!

After Matt went to work, I was feeling sort of low that it was Christmas and I wasn’t really doing anything Christmas-y so after far too long reading about other people’s Christmas on Facebook, I shut down the computer and picked up one of my favorite books, Two From Galilee.

Matt had been given this book from Nanta a few years ago, and I stumbled upon it when we were packing him up to move in together.  It’s the story of Christmas, but it’s told from the perspective of Mary and Joseph.  I remember picking it up to read one night when I was looking for something to read before bed, and becoming totally transfixed.  I never had really given much consideration to what Mary and Joseph must have experienced.  I think about the stigma that’s attached to unwed, teen mothers today and imagine that it must have been a thousand-fold worse for Mary.  And for Joseph, to have believed that she hadn’t been unfaithful to him and to stand by her, was incredibly courageous, and then the way he falls in love with his infant son despite it not being “his” is so endearing.  The story moved me the first time I read it, so I decided that it was the perfect way for me to remember that while there’s Christmas (celebrating with family, opening gifts, eating sticky buns), there is also December 25th: the birthday of Jesus.  We celebrated Christmas with Matt’s family on the 24th, and were going to celebrate with mine on the 28th, so this ended up being a perfect reminder of what December 25th is really all about.


My parents and brother arrived Sunday evening, after a harrowing 12 hour drive through some major snowstorms.  We had a nice dinner together, and sadly, an early evening as I had to go to work the next day.  Katie and Dylan arrived on Tuesday, and when I got home from work, we kicked off our Claffey Christmas.  It was an odd mash-up of traditions: Dad wearing the Santa hat handing out gifts one by one (although we always claim he does this to save all of his for the end), opening our stockings, getting a new pair of PJs, laughing and making fun of each other.  But there was much that was untraditional: for starters, that we were celebrating at night time and took a break when dinner was ready.  (Prime Rib, round 2.)  Instead of our breakfast Bloody Mary’s, we had vino and beers that were kept cold in the snow drift on our back deck.  And of course, that we were at our house instead of home in New York in our living room.  But the most important pieces were there: we were all seven together, celebrating Christmas and Dad got a Dilbert calendar.




My favorite gift was to my parents from all us kids.  At home, there’s a picture of the 3 of us – Michael, Katie and I – on the mantel that was taken in 2003.  It’s a nice picture, although Katie doesn’t like it because it was during her Barbie-blonde hair and super thin eye brow stage.  Guess I wouldn’t have wanted a picture from my senior year of high school captured forever on our parent’s wall either: my Fiona Apple middle part hair and penchant for tube tops were no better.  Anyways, my mom has been saying for the last 2 years that she wanted an updated picture, now that Matt and Dylan were part of our family.  (Well, to be honest, Dylan still has 6 more months to decide if this is in his best interest.)  So I enlisted the help of Jamie over Thanksgiving, and us kids snuck off to do a little photo shoot.  Jamie was a trooper, because it was dark outside and there were five of us to round up.  But with a heavy dose of patience, a good use of flash and a little photoshop to lighten, we got a good shot and had it blown up on canvas and framed to give to my parents.  Here’s the pictures we used.  And my favorite, an outtake.

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On Wednesday, Mom made her traditional sticky buns and we tried to create some order out of the wrapping paper chaos.  Matt hit the slopes for some snowboarding on Wednesday, so the rest of the clan got ready to head down to Charlotte to spend the rest of the week since I was still working.  We hit the road at the same time, and I waved good-bye to them as I took the exit for 40-East and they went 40-West.  I got a little knot in my throat as I watched them drive away in the rearview mirror, because the holidays were officially over. 

Fast as they got here, the holidays seemed to go by even faster.  I’m thankful that both sets of parents, Matt and mine, were accommodating to our crazy work schedules (mine was the unforgiving one this year!) and were willing to make the trip to see us, or celebrate on non-traditional days.  It was nice to extend our celebrations out over almost a week, and sure helped delay the onset of post holiday blues for a couple extra days.  (Although it does make for one long blog post!)

Merry Christmas, ya’ll.  Hope that no matter what day(s) you celebrated, you were with loved ones!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Wonderland

The next day after the snow fall…. beautiful, quiet hushed morning.  And a very excited puppy dog.






The world is so magical after a snow fall.  (Or at least it feels that way when you only get 2 or 3 a year!)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas

We actually had a White Christmas here in North Carolina!  I couldn’t believe it when I looked out the window to see snow falling in the mid afternoon… and then it just kept snowing and snowing.  Around dusk, I packed up my camera and Buddy and drove over to Old Salem to shoot some photos of the lovely snow with the Christmas decorations up.  It was quiet and hushed outside, but through windows I could see families gathering, fireplaces light up and Christmas trees winking.  A perfect Christmas evening.





Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don We Now Our Totally Awesome Tacky Apparel

Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la…

(Yes I did sing that out loud to make sure I got the right amount of la’s.)

This was our 3rd year hosting our Tacky Christmas Sweater party and each year our friends keep upping the ante with more creative and tackier costumes. There's something about celebrating with your closest friends all looking goofier than the next that brings out the merry, merry in everyone.

This year’s oh so stylish looks included: a fu man chu….


an Uncle Eddie get up complete with a homemade dickie and Jamie rocking a turtleneck that I think she went back to 1994 to borrow…


guys proudly sporting vests with festive Christmas kittens, homemade sweaters, and blinking bow ties and reindeer antlers…


a candy cane cane….


… homemade sweaters (Anne getting the award for most time invested in creating her look), and of course, our guest of honor, 3 week old Ethan sporting his adorable reindeer outfit.


My friend Jenny even made the trip all the way from Raleigh to rock out in her Christmas duds and be festive with us.


Matt and I had a great time hosting, and were so thankful that so many of our friends were able to coordinate their schedules to have the night off.

Here’s all the ladies sporting their fabulous apparel. Sometimes I worry that in another 20 years we won’t be wearing this outfits ironically.


And huuuuuge special thanks to Jamie who took all these pictures and loaned them to me. Because here’s the only picture that was on my camera the day after the party:


In my defense, the Swedish Fish were pretty important to the success of the party.

Merry Christmas, friends! Hope your season is merry and bright, and hopefully just a tad silly too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time


I just love walking through my house seeing little touches of Christmas.  Whenever my house is decorated for the season, I wish it looked like this all year round…. but then it wouldn’t be as special, would it?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow Place Like Home

We had our first snow fall of the year! It started Saturday night, and the snow actually stuck around Sunday to make it really feel like a winter wonderland.

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You’d think after 18 years of living in upstate New York, snow wouldn’t really phase me anymore but since we only get it a real snow fall maybe three times a year here, it’s always pretty exciting. When you don’t have snow all the time, the few times it shows up you still get that magical, hushed world feeling like a little kid as opposed to the grown up version of snow which is just being annoyed at how winter weather makes traffic bad, cars salty and hems of jeans permanently ruined. I drove around Sunday running some errands and felt a teensy bit homesick seeing the snow covered trees and thinking about not going up to Rochester this year or Utah for New Years and getting my real snow fix.

Saturday night we put a big dent in our Christmas decorating, which of course includes testing all of last year’s lights to see if they work. Buddy is good at that. I just love the way our house looks at Christmas time. There’s nothing like the glow of twinkly lights and the fireplace flickering. I remember sitting on the couch one night last year during our big snowfall and looking around at my glowing, warm home and having it really sink in that this is our home. When you’re in your 20s, it feels like you move every single year. I haven’t had the same address for more than 18 months since leaving Guilford Way on August 21st, 2000. It hit me last year, in my Christmasy home, that we bought this house and it’s ours. Provided the job hunting gods are good to Dr. C next year and no other unforeseen circumstances arise, I can go ahead and order the large roll of return address labels. That’s a good feeling. After all, there’s no place like home for the holidays and we’re fortunate enough to be about to spend our second Christmas in our home. With this little guy. Merry Christmas to us.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Thanks

When I was little, I really wasn’t that big a fan of Thanksgiving.  Probably because it couldn’t hold a candle to that other holiday that comes 4 weeks later that just so happens to involve a whole lot of PRESENTS, and while I’m a big fan of mashed potatoes I could really care less about turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.  I know, I was a regular Thanksgiving Scrooge.  The older I get though, the more I appreciate that Thanksgiving is one of the few times a year that is really sacred for families.   I don’t know many people who have entire extended families sharing zip codes anymore, so having that time reserved for family get togethers is more important than ever and I’m pleased that despite the busy, work-work-work culture we live in, most businesses continue to give people the time off to gather together with their loved ones.  Of course, we have the added challenge of the emergency room residency schedule that doesn’t always allow for traditional time off!  For instance, this year Matt was working 5:30pm-5:30am the entire week of Thanksgiving, with a day off on Saturday and a 24 hour shift on Sunday.  Needless to say, when he wasn’t working, he was sleeping.  Both of our families have been really awesome about working around our crazy schedule, whether it’s meant celebrating our holidays on days other than the actual holiday-day or making the trip to come see us when we don’t have enough time off to get there. 

This year my parents drove down to Charlotte, where we celebrated Thanksgiving at Katie and Dylan’s home.  I have to confess that Katie and my mom did pretty much all the cooking, while I took full advantage of a lazy day off and read, napped, walked my doggy around Katie’s cute uptown neighborhood, and chatted with my fam.  (Don’t be fooled by that picture of Katie sleeping – that’s after hours of food prep!)  I did contribute a pecan pie, so I wasn’t a total culinary mooch.  Our meal was delicious, and I was super sad to have to leave my family Thursday night but given that either route home from Charlotte involves passing a mall I decided it was in my best interest not to wait until Friday to make the drive.






On Friday, my hubby slept off another night shift and I used the free day off to get caught up on some housework and projects.  Saturday my family came up to Winston, and Matt, Dylan and my Dad spent a chilly day on the golf course while I recruited Mom, Katie and Michael to help me lug Tupperware tubs of Christmas decor out of the attic.  Lucky them.  After the boys got back, the children embarked on a secret mission to obtain my parent’s Christmas present (not telling) and then we reconvened at Riverburch for a yummy, wine-y, happy family dinner together.  It was hard to say good-bye to my fam after what felt like an incredibly short weekend, but I’m thankful to know that they’ll be in just a few weeks for Christmas and that we’ll also get to spend some time with Matt’s family in a few weeks too. 

And with that, the holiday season has kicked into high gear!  Somehow I think that 4 weeks away other holiday is going to be here before I know it.  Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Animal Style

Our last day in San Diego!  Hard to believe vacation is coming to an end.  I had heard that when in San Diego, one must go to the zoo, so to the zoo we went! 

The only other zoo I have been to is the National Zoo in DC, and I was there specifically to see Butterstick (the baby panda) and he was sleeping.  In a tree.  Out of sight.  I can't even remember if I saw the rest of the zoo, so bitter was my disappointment.  I don't think I did (Matt?  Did I?) because I literally was in shock at some of the animals we saw at San Diego.  It was definitely the first time I’ve seen many of them in real life.  Giraffes, and elephants, and lions, and jaguars (oh my!) and Meer cats and monkeys - I felt like a little kid looking at all these creatures.  They were fascinating!





After nearly 3 miles of walking around the zoo and two attempts to see the polar bears, we took the skyfari back to the front entrance and called it a day.  Our final west coast "must do" was a trip to In-N-Out Burger and we checked that off the list on the way home.


This ended up being the perfect balance of doing stuff and relaxing (thanks to West Coast time allowing for some serious sleeping) and eating and seeing - the kind of vacation where you're not exhausted at the end of it, but happily content and prepared to dive back in to real life.  Even better when you fly back on a Wednesday, and only have to do 2 work days before the weekend shows up!  (Unless of course, you happen to be starting a month of Trauma ICU like my poor hubby who will rack up a mere 128 hours of work over the next 9 days, including 4 24-hour shifts.  Ugh.)  Our flight back home was uneventful, our greeting from the pupdog was exuberant and our own bed, welcoming.  A good end to a great trip.

Monday, November 15, 2010

All Who Wander

Ok, I'll do my best to refrain from waxing poetical about food again today.  Today was another big adventure, compliments of our amazing tour guide/host Michael.  Mike kept talking about us going hiking out in the desert, and truth be told, I'm not a big hiker - I often get bored and wonder why I'm not running.  Fortunately, after this trip, I might be will to give hiking a second opinion.

First, we drove to an area called Cleveland Forest and did a 45 minute hike up, up, up and even farther up to a peak called Garnet Peak.  Wow - the view.  I felt like I was looking clear out to Arizona.  I had a sudden epiphany when sitting up high on the mountaintop that those who had come to California for the gold rush had to have crossed these very same mountains - without a Jeep to take them halfway up, without a camelbak to keep their water cold, and certainly without a GPS cell phone telling them how far they'd gone.  It sort of stunned me, to realize what those people had gone through to get to the west coast.  I'm pretty sure I would have set up camp after crossing the first mountain.  If I had had to have crossed those mountains, today there would be a small settlement at the foothills of Arizona called Megville where I would have called it quits and set up camp.




At the top of the mountain, we found a geocache - a small tube of PVC pipe with a notepad inside to sign our names and date and a little note.  We added ours, after reading through who had been there in the days and weeks preceding us.


After our mountain climb, we headed farther into the desert for a flatter and easier, albeit longer trail.  The destination for this one was an "oasis."  This is what my brother kept saying but I really couldn't figure out what he meant until I saw it.

After about two miles of dusty rocks, all of a sudden I saw a small pocket of bright green bursting out of the dusty ground.


So that's what an oasis is.  It was just what you think - desert totally surrounding a little pocket of green palm trees, grass and a little creek trickling through it.  Very neat to see.


On our way back, we spotted a bunch of long horned ram on the other side of the path.  We both stopped to investigate each other for awhile, before the rams moved on. 


We have been getting quite the wildlife tour, and this is before even going to the zoo!

For dinner tonight (can't help but bring up fodo again), we went on pursuit of Matt's #1 vacation priority: really good sushi.  Thanks to yelp and a recommendation from a sushiophile friend of Michael's, we ended up at Sushi Ota.  Matt and Michael ordered some crazy sampler platter and I tried not to look while Michael ate a huge roll filled with salmon roe (the utter thought of the texture of that gives me the heebie-jeebies) while I stuck with my delicious but very boring California Roll.

Sushi mission accomplished.

After sushi, thanks to some awesome Google skills by my husband, we ended up at Babycakes.  Umm, no, not a strip club, thank you.

Babycakes was a bar/lounge that shared a home with a cupcake counter.  Cupcakes and champagne.  Hello, Heaven?  It's me, Megs.  I'm here, let me in, okay?

(Yes, that would be our 2nd cupcake of the trip, but who is counting?  I mean, that hike had to have cancelled out at least the frosting.)

Jamie and I sometimes daydream opening a cupcake shop - even though neither of us have a proclivity to extreme cupcake baking OR the know-how of running a business (although Jamie would have a leg up in that department considering she has a degree in it, whereas I don't know that anatomy and physiology classes would come in handy when it comes to bookkeeping and staffing and inventory.)  I think we basically just want a cupcake shop in Winston, and we see ourselves opening it as the most direct route there.

Specifically, a cupcake shop that serves champagne.

Specifically, an exact replica of the place we went to tonight – which of course, I failed to take any pictures of.  Sigh.

(So, can this outing be considered market research and all cupcakes tax-deducted?  Please say yes.)

As you can imagine, this ended up being an early night between 5 hours of hiking and a post-cupcake-sugar-crash.  Oh yea, and that whole east coast time zone (which is becoming less and less of factor with our wake up calls.)  Hard to believe we are almost to the last day of our trip.  That must be the sign of a great vacation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

La Jolla Kayaks and Old Town Tortillas

When we got back to San Diego on Sunday, we debated a surfing lesson but nixed it due to the potential frigidness of the Pacific this time of year.  Instead, we took to the water in kayaks!  We set off from La Jolla, and paddled around the coast til we got to an area populated with seals.  Seals!

Seals are really, really loud.  Who knew.

Our kayak outing was not particularly strenuous - the water was very placid, the sun was setting and the breeze was light.  I found it almost meditative, especially once I found my rowing rhythm.  Now, all I need is a lake to wake up on every morning and my very own bright green kayak to achieve total bliss.  OHMMMMM.

The highlight of our kayak adventure, though, was when we got home and went to upload the seven or so photos my brother had taken on his roommate's nifty waterproof camera.  I plugged it into my iPad only to see over 200 pictures pop up!  We broke into a fit of giggles when we realized he had set it on "every 5 seconds" and our entire trip was documented from the perspective of my brother's lifejacket.  Lots of awkward pictures of chins and knee caps, but a few neat ones we found in the mix.

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After our kayak (and photo) adventure, we set off on another culinary adventure.  Yes I am keenly aware that the only thing that kept me from weighing twice as I do by the end of this trip was all the activity we did!  One of Matt's attendings had told him to visit a specific Mexican restaurant in old town because they had "the best margaritas in town."


Only apparently, that's like saying "go to the Chinese restaurant in China town."  Old Town IS pretty much all Mexican restaurants and tourist shops!  Fortunately she had provided specific name and address that Matt pulled up on his email, and we were able to find it.  When every other restaurant was empty at 6pm on a Sunday night, this one had people spilling out into the street waiting so we were pretty optimistic.

It was indeed the best margarita I have ever had.  Hands down.  I rarely get margaritas in restaurants because they seem to be all sugar.  This one was the exception.  A 6 count of tequila (which according to former bartender brother is 2 shots), a 3 count of Triple Sec, a squirt of sour mix all into a pre-chilled, pre-salted glass. 


Oh and the food?  Almost forgot about that.  It was also the best Mexican food I have ever had.  Lo siento Carolina del Norte, you've got nothing on San Diegan Mexican cuisine.  (I assume being about 25 minutes from the border has a little something to do with that....).

Anyways, we enjoyed our Mexi-meal and headed home with our bellies full and happy.  Another day, another adventure, another meal.  We are loving our West Coast vacation. 

In An LA State of Mind

Somehow Matt and I managed to talk Anna and Pablo into being super tourists and taking a double decker bus tour of Los Angeles.  Pretty sure we saw everything.  The bus tour started in Santa Monica, at the pier, wandered through Brentwood and Beverly Hills and then we swapped lines at Rodeo Dr.  Then it wound through Hollywood and Sunset Blvd.  Such different aspects of a city, so close together.  I pictured “Hollywood” being so different.  We thought we were going to get off at Pink's to have a famous hot dog, but it was getting late and the bus driver had other ideas.  He pointed out our delicious destination as we sped past, distraught and delirious with hunger. 

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After a long day on the bus (and only a cupcake to tide us over, since our hot dog plans were foiled), the 4 of us threw together a magnificent feast - guacamole nachos and bruschetta, followed by steak and asparagus with prosciutto.  Obviously, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs when it came to grocery shopping, and the Pinks drive-by had left us all ravenous!  We had a fun evening at Anna and Pablo’s, where us girls whipped the boys in 90’s-themed trivial pursuit.  I know my 90s, ya’ll.


Sunday morning, we wrapped up our whirlwind Los Angeles tour with a delicious (and hearty) brunch in a quirky little cafe near Anna's house and lots of hugs and promises not to go another 3 years before our next visit!