Christmas 2011: The Nativity

Our Nativity scene has a Scandinavian twist.

Kris’ grandma Charlene gave us this Nativity set last year.  Since I didn’t make it to Nebraska last wintertime, I saw it for the first time a few days ago.  We’ve got all the figures set up, with 2 special additions, Dala horses.  There’s Mary, Joesph, an angel, shepherd, and various farm animals; the Dala horses fit right in.

You may notice that the Baby Jesus is not in His crib.  I’ve hidden Baby Jesus until Christmas Day.  Traditionally in Latino households, Baby Jesus gets put in his crib when the family comes back from midnight mass.  The 3 Wise Men are also seemingly MIA.  They are across the room, next to the stereo.  Every few days I move them closer to the manger set, but they won’t show up until the Feast of the Ephiphany, 12 days after Christmas, January 6th.

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Our Christmas Tree 2011

Right now, upon entering our house, a sweet, woodsy smell of evergreen gushes out as soon as the door opens.  We have set up our Christmas tree, and it is making itself at home, filling our living room with its pine fragrance, my favorite smell of Christmastime.  Evergreen is the smell of comfort and nostalgia.  I associate it with friends, family, Christmas lights, fires in the fireplace, hot cocoa, snuggling, and Christmas carols.  It’s coming home from midnight mass to a quiet and dark house, solely lit by the tiny lights of the Christmas tree and a whiff of pine.

When Kris and I got our first tree, it was a little 3 foot tree that we set up on top of our coffee table.  We didn’t have any ornaments at the time, but I found some golden ornament balls near the dumpster at our apartment building.  One of our neighbors must have changed their tree color scheme and left them out for someone else to use.  Lucky us!  We went out and bought one pretty ornament each, a tradition we continue to this day, and that year, 2008, we had a tree full of golden ornaments and two random ones.  The simplicity of tree decoration didn’t matter though because it still filled the apartment with its pine smell.

This year we have a 5 foot tree, a stout Noble Fir with sturdy branches.  Last night we decorated it to the sounds of Christmas music.

Around the tree are various ornaments.  What I love about Christmas ornaments are the memories and stories they remind me of.

Various star-shaped straw ornaments that were my decoration last year.

A few first year ornaments as wedding and First Christmas together gifts.

These stuffed ornaments were made by my mom over 30 years ago.  I grew up hanging these ornaments, and my mom kindly gave us half of her collection for our own tree.  (Look I’m saying hello through the golden ornaments!)

She also gave us these cute snowmen from her accumulated collection of ornaments.

We have crystal ornaments from my mother-in-law, Pat.

And ornaments from Michele, a woman I call my second mother; may she rest in peace.

We can’t forget this ornament.  

Kris wanted to throw it away, but I told him that my neighbor from when we moved into our first house in Livermore made me this when I was in elementary school.  It used to have a cotton-ball handmade bear attached to a green ornament ball.  But, during our first Christmas with our dog, Titania, she found that low-hanging ornament, and then I found the handmade bear and green ball ripped to pieces by the backdoor.  I will keep shell though because now it has 2 stories.

Instead of getting an ornament each, we bought an elegant angel tree topper.  She’s playing a glittered lute and has a gold and white dress that drapes over the tip of the tree.  Kris arranged the last Christmas lights to go inside her dress so she lights up when the lights are on.

It is starting to feel more like Christmas as we put more and more decorations up.

Nature’s Green Butter: our avocado harvest

Our avocado crop increased 300% this year.  By that I mean that we went from 2 avocados last year to 6 avocados this year.  Our avocado tree is the spoiled baby of the backyard, and it is full of surprises.  When we moved into our home in May 2010, seeing an avocado tree, albeit stunted from years of neglect, was a delight.  Once you know what an avocado tree looks like, they are easy to spot.  First are the two-toned leaves, a dark green, glossy as a magazine page top coupled with a wallflower tan beige underneath.  Avocado trees always have an abundance of leaves making them fun to lie underneath and stare up into the Jackson Pollock chaos of it all.  These trees do not have bark but instead tout a green-yellow nakedness dotted with rough brown patches that the sun has “burnt.”

When we got married, Kris and I gave my mom an avocado tree, planting it, mistakenly, in late August 2009.  It did not survive the winter.  Having naked bark means they are very susceptible to too low of temperatures unless they are planted in a pot and brought inside for the winter.  My mom was very excited about that tree, and it broke her heart to see its once green branches turn black as if overtaken by frostbite.

She was the first to explore the backyard of our new house, and the first to discover an avocado tree hanging on for dear life behind a massive wall of thistles.  After we massacred the thistles, we discovered that the tree had two fragile fruits, hanging in its lower branches.  So, like Marlin in Finding Nemo left with one last egg in the movie’s opening scene, we took those fruits, ripened them and planned how we could save the avocado tree the following Spring.

This tree is the avocado tree that carries all hope.

And it has delivered 300%.

Six avocados this year.  A record!  Since avocados do not ripen on the tree, I picked them and wrapped them up in a brown paper bag, giving them about 2 weeks to soften and darken in color.

Here’s a close up.  I wish you could scratch and sniff the screen because it smelled earthy, sweet, and ripe.

After the fruit had ripened, we were left with a divisive dilemma.  Kris wanted to make something with them and found all sorts of recipes in an effort to get me to add them into something.  Avocado Pie.  Avocado Ice Cream (I admit this one tempted me).  Avocado Mousse.  (My husband has a sweet tooth).  My instinct told me that by cooking our first avocados in a recipe, the flavor would be lost with all the other ingredients.  Avocados are usually added for texture and for vegan creaminess factor.  I wouldn’t budge.  I wanted something where the avocado would be the star, not a texture agent.

So, we smashed up 1 avocado into pure essence.

And we anti-climatically used it to top some cheese and crackers.  The most flavorful cheese and crackers I have ever eaten.  I swear, I was eating nature’s green butter.

The Case for Being Stylish Homeowners

Docket #CV 123

Case #987

Dictates of Society vs. the Ericksons

Domicile in question: single family home located in the stylish, hipster central-San Francisco Bay Area

Room in question: living room which, due to a lack of window treatments, gives passer-byes a clear view inside at ugly walls dotted with too many colors

Charges: disorderly stylish-homeowner conduct, excessive use of Behr paint samples, infringement on neighbors’ rights to see a pretty home inside a window, and style negligence

Plaintiff, please state your case and evidence.

Honorable members of hipster Bay Area society.  We of the San Francisco Bay Area have a style standard to uphold.  Around the country, the world even, people look to the Bay Area for innovation, style, panache, the next Apple product or Google acquisition, even Michael Pollan’s forthcoming book telling us how to eat.

The Ericksons are a part of our community only because of a geographical location.  Their outright rejection and refusal to participate in being stylish new Bay Area home owners has caused unprecedented torment to our aesthetically inclined community.  Their indecision in finding a color for their living room has motivated friends and family to say, and I quote, “They are a lost cause.”  Please note exhibit A, B, and C on the record as evidence.

Exhibit A: Living Room Wall- southside

Guess how many different paint samples are exposed on this single wall for the entire community to see?

Exhibit B: Southside living room wall with colors numbered

Additionally we have Exhibit C, the east-facing wall.  4 more colors for a total of 24 paint patches.  An obvious excessive use of Behr paint samples from Home Depot.

Many people retuning from a long day at work on BART have notified us of the eye-pain caused by the quilted paint look sported in the Erickson living room.  Due to the fact that they do not have curtains everyone passing by is subjected to this style negligence.  Truly this is a classic case of style unbecoming a Bay-Area homeowner.

Defense…state your case.

(looking up from reading Game of Thrones series)

Ms. Erickson?  (throat clearing in awkwardness) What do you have to say in your own style defense?

Oh.  Hi.  Ummm.  Right.  Style defense.  Ladies and gentlemen, upholders of the dictates of society.  I admit that I am a fashionably disadvantaged person.  My husband and I bought our house about a year ago, and we’ve been in a process of making this house a home.  Our home.

We’ve been having some difficulties, as the prosecution has duly noted.  We have this beautiful slate fireplace, see?

And it has such beautiful cool blue tones with splotches of terracotta browns and peachy-browns, and rich greys.  And the amazing thing about this slate fireplace is that it changes colors depending on the way the light hits it coming through the window or if it is morning or afternoon light.

Then we have these bright wooden floors, stained in a yellowy orange color with brown grain marks.  We didn’t choose this color because when we ripped out the carpet and got our floors redone we didn’t know that we could choose our floor stain color.  We just let our floor guy handle it.  Isn’t this a lovely rich warm tone though?

Please ignore the playful puppy in this photo.  Whenever we sit on the ground she thinks we are going to start wrestling.

So, our struggle has been how do we complement both a cool tone from the fireplace and a rich warm tone from the floors?

We made significant strides when we finally just went with instinct and chose a color.  Ironically one of the first 3 we put up, but that’s a story for another day.

Dictates of society: we may have mostly IKEA furniture bought from craigslist, a coffee table with a giant crack in the middle of it, and a CRV TV set that we put nick knacks on because it doesn’t work, but we have soul, and if style is anything it is instinct and soul.  This is not a case of style negligence.  I ask you to see our progress as a slow process of new, young homeowners learning to trust their instincts and discovering their sense of style.

Our No-Front Lawn Experiment Part 2: Ripping out the Sod

This is part 3 of a (highly chronologically disorganized) series about turning our front yard into a French style potager garden.  In regular people’s terms, making our front yard a kitchen garden.

One of the most important things we learned in this process is an ever present question for young, new homeowners: how do we figure out what to spend money on and what to save and do ourselves?

Here’s the overview post of the process.
Here’s how we planned out the design.
This post is about ripping out the sod.

Can we even call our “grass” sod?  It was weeds disguised as grass, lots of crab grass or Bermuda grass, I’m really not sure which.  I learned this- if the grass has a roots system that looks more like a tree’s root system, woody, thick, seemingly impenetrable- then there’s a problem, and what’s there is not normal grass.

In an attempt to save money, Kris started by trying to rip the sod out by hand, thinking it wouldn’t be that difficult.  This was before he realized the incredibly evolved root system of Bermuda grass.  In 30 minutes he got one chunk out, a line along the sidewalk.

Trust me, there is progress in this picture; it’s along the bottom edge of the grass.

Exhausted, he came back in, “Let’s rent a sod cutter,” he states.  “It’ll only be about $60.”  I agreed, realizing that for some things, machines work much better than slaving away out of cheapness.

Luckily, we have a tool rental Home Depot by our house and got the sod cutter for a 4 hour rental period.  We used it for less than 1 hour, but 4 hours was the minimum.

The machine cut through the thick ground like a sword.  It took Kris 30 minutes to get a one foot long line along the edge.  With the sod cutter, he finished the rest of the area in less than 20.

Starting at the outer edges, he circled his way around a labyrinth prayer, concentric squares into the next section.  Of course he was being extra cautious by the automatic sprinklers.  Not like we’d used them anyways- who’d want to give weeds water.

And then, there it was half of our front yard, naked as a baby.   Exposed for all our neighbors’ confusion and gossip, a symbol of the new young neighbor couple’s insanity.

Still clueless new homeowners, we thought we may be able to get rid of the sod by putting up an ad on Craigslist.  FREE SOD.  Apparently many people responded and 3 actually came to our house to check it out.

“It looks a little too dried out for me,” said the first.

“Not as much as I thought it would be, but thanks,” said the second.

The third curious person stopped by about 8 pm,  just as I was returning home from work.  I was slightly freaked out since this man in a truck seemed to be staring right at my house as I was getting out of my car and walking up the path.

“You here about the sod,” says Kris, coming out of the house to meet him.

“Yeah, but I want to take a look first,” he said smartly.  “I’ve been re-doing my sister’s back yard for free with things I’ve found on Craig’s List.”  Walking up behind me, he lists off the concrete, wood, and other findings he’s managed to get from the freebie listings.  He stops at the edge of the path, surveying the half of the yard that remains and the other half, rolled up into neat piles for one lucky person looking for grass.

“This is mierda,” he says, using the Spanish term. “Ess-Eightch-Eye-Tee.”  He looks at us as if we were idiots.  Even though it’s nighttime, his annoyed mockery is palpable.  “This is pure crabgrass.  Weeds.”  He laughs at our naïveté and his waste of time.  “Did anybody really offer to take this?”

“A few people come out to see it, but they thought it was too brown,” explains Kris, starting to doubt our grass’s nature.

“You shouldn’t give this crap away to people.”  Then the businessman’s voice comes out, after all, maybe this wasn’t a complete waste of his time.  “Thirty dollars and I’ll haul it away for you.”  Ever thrifty, we decline the offer.  My husband decided he’d take the weed-sod to the dump himself the next day while he went to get some free manure at a horse stable.  We thought that since it was green waste there wouldn’t be a dump fee.

The next day, Kris takes the day off work to dump the sod and shovel a different kind of ess-eightch-eye-tee, horse manure, for soil development.  The dump fee for the grass-weeds-sod-whatever it was, $36, not to mention the couple of hours to shovel, haul, and toss.  Thankfully the horse manure was free.