She’s making a list

This Christmas was the first one Kenley and I had been able to enjoy together as a married couple. I don’t know whether it was because of that, or because we wouldn’t be home in South Carolina for the holidays, but I realized this past December — perhaps a little too late — that I was in charge of making Christmas happen this year.

For the past 37 years, my mom has been responsible for Christmas, and it is now quite clear that I didn’t appreciate her enough for this. So thank you, Mom.

I now also know why holiday decorations start showing up in stores before Halloween. Yes, retailers want to encourage you to spend more money. But you also have to start prepping far in advance if you hope to make Christmas merry and bright — especially if you live in a place where the forecast is almost always sunny and 70-something, and the only white Christmas is brought to you by shopping centers that make “faux snow” each night.

Kenley and I hadn’t had a Christmas tree the past two years. In 2009, we were busy getting ready for our January 2010 wedding, and in December 2010, we were in the midst of a cross-country move. So this year, a tree was at the top of my list. On the first day that Kenley and I had off together, we loaded up on carbs to prepare for the challenge ahead.

Every time we had driven by The Griddle Cafe, a breakfast-lovers diner on Sunset Boulevard, there had been an intimidating line outside. But this time we were determined to wait it out, and the line moved more quickly than I expected. We got two spots at the counter and began making the second-toughest decision of our day: what to order from the cafe’s ridiculously delicious menu.

Seriously, you’ll get a sugar high just reading the document, which features such concoctions as Oreo-filled pancakes, Noisella stuffed french toast, and chocolate chip cookie crusted french toast. I narrowed my choice down between the Tis the Season pumpkin pie pancakes, and the red velvet panCAKES. I decided on the latter because red velvet is the cafe’s specialty, and it seemed more Christmasy. Kenley ordered a turkey-and-cranberry sandwich, which was a Thanksgiving meal between two slices of bread.

The red velvet pancake was the size of my plate and tasted more like cake than a pancake. It was made even more decadent by the dusting of cocoa powder and cream cheese icing on the top. (You can buy The Griddle Cafe’s red velvet pancake mix on the cafe’s website.)

On a sugar high, Kenley and I set off for one of the many Christmas tree lots that had popped up around town. There, we faced our most difficult decision of the day. Mindful of the lack of extra space in our apartment, we considered a small, misshaped “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.

But after several strolls around the lot, we kept coming back to the same tall, perfectly shaped noble fir, priced at what we thought was a steal. Someone else was looking at it, too. Better make our move quick! We waved the guy over to stake our claim. But once I got to the window to pay, I was told we had been looking at the wrong sign, and that the tree was actually $20 more than expected. Noble fir, indeed.

I would have protested, but the tree cutter had already fired up his chainsaw and cut several inches off the tree’s base. Too late. The noble fir was ours. We tied it to the top of our Toyota Solara coupe and drove home — very slowly, and very carefully.

Once inside, the tree brushed the ceiling, but no worries. We just cut a few branches off, and she fit perfectly. We spent the rest of the afternoon decorating the tree with ornaments from our childhood, as well as some we had received as wedding gifts. Penguins and Eiffel Towers (where we got engaged) were well-represented on the branches. It was our first Christmas tree, and it was indeed perfect.

Next on the Christmas list was taking a family photo for our Christmas card. I had wanted to take a picture on the beach or at one of the shopping centers with the fake snow, but work schedules and life in general didn’t permit. So we settled for the classic shot in front of our tree. There was one attempt to get the whole family — us, the two cats and the dog — in one shot, but Buster and Machete didn’t want to have anything to do with that. At least Malia eventually cooperated.

Deck halls. Check.

Hang stocking by chimney with care. Check.

Don gay apparel. Always. Check.

Sing yuletide carols. Leave that one to Kenley. No one wants to hear me sing. Check.

Two days before Christmas, and almost everything was marked off the list. Kenley and I both had the day off, so we planned to go out for lunch and then go shopping for his Christmas gift.

However, we came home from lunch to find that Malia had been very naughty. Our husky — who was diagnosed with diabetes the day after Kenley and I decided to move across the country — had decided to open some presents and found some chocolately Christmas treats. We monitored her and decided we should take her to the emergency vet, where they pumped her stomach and kept her overnight. We were able to pick her up on Christmas Eve morning.

We were now short some Santa spending money and Kenley’s gift had to wait, but at least we had a healthy dog. Merry Christmas!

On Christmas morning, we woke up and went to a nearby Methodist church, where we were two of the youngest people in the very small congregation. It was a good old laid-back Methodist service. But Kenley and I will probably keep looking for a church family that’s a little younger and has a strong music program.

We went home and ate a Christmas brunch including sausage casserole, grits and a cranberry pie, and then we opened the gifts our parents had sent us. There were even (non-chocolate) gifts under the tree for Malia, Buster and Machete.

I thought it was appropriate that we go walk on the beach on our first Christmas in L.A. We arrived at Playa del Rey just in time for sunset and got a few good photos with the new Bloggie video camera Kenley gave me for Christmas. Look out, Shellevation readers: Video is coming soon! (I gave Kenley an IOU for a guitar case, which appeared under the tree a few days later.)

We had a not-so-traditional Christmas dinner at Stefan’s at LA Farm. Chef Stefan Richter was the cocky, bald-headed runner-up on Season 5 of “Top Chef,” and his website plays a version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It had to be good, right?

Stefan didn’t disappoint. It ranks as one of my favorite restaurants so far in Los Angeles.  We sat on the patio, which was warm and cozy with fire pits and leather couches. I ordered the crispy scallops with sweet corn puree and pumpkin seed oil. The scallops were tender, and the dish had just the right amount of sweetness. Kenley couldn’t resist ordering the open faced burger served with a sunny-side-up egg on top and foie gras on the side, but even my burger-loving husband said it was too much.

Stefan himself was there, and as he walked by our table, he complimented Kenley on his haircut. Take a look at Stefan’s photo on his website and you’ll understand.

The restaurant offers a five-course tasting menu for $55, which would be fun to try.

Having a tree inside the house proved too much temptation for the cats, who knocked off ornaments one-by-one. Several days later, after we had returned home from an outing, we found that our pets had almost managed to bring the whole tree down. Happy new year! Wishing you 12 months of good food and good drink, good friends and new adventures!

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3 thoughts on “She’s making a list

  1. Thanks, Shelley. I felt like I got to spend a little bit of Christmas with y’all after reading this blog. I’ve been looking forward to it; and as usual, you didn’t disappoint.

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