“And They’re Off!!!”

55898457Fair Warning- I may come off as grinchy here, but stick with me, and I think you’ll understand why. Plus, if you ride with me ALL the way to the end, there’s a bonus.

The end of October, to me, is always a very clear new chapter in a year. The first three 3/4 of the year are over, and we make a mad dash towards the end in a frenzy of stress and activity.

I don’t care what the calendar says either. With November, Autumn is all but over, and winter begins. I don’t like winter, and I don’t like stress. So the last quarter of the year, for me, is unbridled misery. We’ll spend three major holidays juggling back and forth between families so neither feels slighted or cheated out of seeing the boys on holidays, we’ll be cramming my work shifts into that same mix, juggling added financial burdens of home heating, travel, and holiday costs, (seriously, $50 for a Christmas tree?) and the ultimate pain in the ass that is snow removal.

Less than 48 hours into November, the first Christmas commercials appeared on TV, (Very classy Big Lots, very classy indeed) and I can feel it already.

I know I’m supposed to be thankful and joyful this time of year, but if I’m going to be completely honest with you, that thankfulness and joy REALLY only strikes me when I flip the page to January and it is all over.

One rule we have though that relieves some of the anxiety of the holidays, is that on Christmas, we go nowhere. The boys have Christmas in their own house. With us. If anyone wants to visit THEM…fine, but my car doesn’t leave the driveway on Christmas day. Being one of the biggest days of the year for family and love and junk, the catastrophic jealousy that would result from our visiting one family or another on Christmas day would be incalculable.

You see, part of the issue with the upcoming season are the grandparents. My wife and I both are the oldest of three siblings. The middle siblings are both married, but childless, and the youngests are still unmarried. So we have the only grandkids in the mix. With no other grandchildren to dote on, there is a constant vying for attention on behalf of both grandparental parties.

This is made much worse by the fact that my in-laws are an hour and a half away, while my parents are in the same town. The in-laws seem to think that my parents see the kids every day…in reality, it’ll be months between when we go over to visit. Scheduling doesn’t permit willy-nilly visiting.

And when we DO travel to the in-laws, my local family has a tendency to become jealous that we’re willing to drive the hour and a half to someone else’s house, rather than spend the time with them so close.

At one point a few years back, we literally had to sit down with a calendar and count out how many weekends we had spent with each family and try to balance it out.

Now though, we don’t have that luxury. I work weekends, or parts of weekends. I have a total of three days off this month, which doesn’t count Thanksgiving, since I’m working 3-11 that night. We don’t have the luxury of traveling that often, or even visiting my parents…I stop in when I’m in on patrol, but lets be honest…they want to see the kids, they’ve had more than enough of me.

So you can see, with familial pressure to visit and such, on top of everything else, why I dread the holidays so much. Our home is too small to host a large party, so when people do come to visit, such as on Christmas Day, one family comes, hangs a while, then leaves, just in time for the other to drop in. There isn’t any contention between the families, not at all. (anymore I don’t think….I don’t bring up the past) There just isn’t ROOM or TIME for them both at once, and it gets sticky.

My only consolation for the next several weeks? Food.

My god. The food.

Stress and all, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday of the year. Wake up in the morning, deer hunt for a few hours, come home, start eating….and don’t stop until you physically cannot move anymore. One year my brother-in-law and I weighed ourselves first thing in the morning and actually tried to see who could gain the most weight by the end of the day.

…I realize this is horrible, considering the plight of a major portion of the world’s population, but that didn’t occur to us at the time.

Christmas…the baked goods. I’m a sucker for baking. Probably because I cannot do it myself. New Year’s eve, all we do is eat. Snacking all day, so that by the time dinner arrives, there IS no dinner because nobody can take a whole meal.

I stress-eat like a madman the last quarter of the year. Since I have significantly cut back my alcohol intake since getting in to law enforcement, I can’t use that to take the edge off when things get hairy….so I turn to food. Beloved, wonderful food.

_____

Now, as I promised, there is a bonus for those of you dedicated enough to read my whining these last 900 words. I’ve shared this before, a LONG time ago, but I’ve picked up a significant number of new readers along the way- such that most of you haven’t seen it before. I love to cook, but cannot bake, so at large family gatherings, my making desserts is out of the question. I also do not have the patience or know-how to cook entrees. Therefore, I turn my attention to appetizers.

One of the very first recipes I have ever tried was bacon stuffed mushroom caps. I rooked the actual recipe from HERE.

– It is a simple recipe, but a complete smash hit. The cool thing about it, is that the filling can be tweaked to taste. More bacon? More/less onion? Totally up to you. Use the recipe as a guide, but you don’t need to follow it with biblical devotion. The most time-consuming of the whole project is peeling the mushroom caps. I tried it once without peeling, and it just wasn’t as good. Peel them. It’s worth the time.

My only REAL recommendation? At least double the recipe. They go fast. Like…really fast. One year I stuck a double batch of them out before Thanksgiving dinner, ran out for about half an hour, and there were zero left when I got back. They’re awesome fresh, not bad cold, and awesome again heated back up in the oven once they’ve been refrigerated. If you CAN make them onsite at an event, you’ll be elevated to culinary sainthood, but even if you need to make them and pack them to a gathering, you won’t make any enemies by bringing these. Unless bacon violates any religious principals. Then….well….I can’t be held responsible for that.

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