Let it be enough

Christmas mouse

Wishing you all warm memories this holiday. On Christmas Eve, our kitty held court over us as we lounged in our reading chairs and ottomans, reading books and watching Christmas movies. The mouse on the tree taunted her as do the chirping birds in cages whom we supervise while our son works. We ate leftovers for dinner. Leftovers!

Phone calls and texts from friends and family far away stand in for their physical presence–the joy of having your life long best friend text you “Merry Christmas” the moment you open your eyes–becomes the new tradition. Later, we talked on our headphones as we worked in our kitchens, a thousand miles apart.

These “virtual” memories, as real as those long-distance phone calls charged-by-the-minute when we shouted greetings to our grandparents, suffice for now.

Giving thanks for the day, for the light sparking on the lake. Let this be enough.

Christmas tree and cat

It’s Not Helping

An interview in the New York Times with playwright/satirist/director Robert O’Hara encapsulated the trajectory of my year–the intent of my December 31, 2016 resolution–with this statement: “Being private is not helping.” Sadly, I did not articulate my goal to become an advocate of change nearly as clearly. But that is the gist of it: be outspoken, out there, real, loud, visible. Granted, as a people-pleasing, conflict avoiding, occasionally passive-aggressive introvert, my out there may not be very loud.  But my ears ring and my palms sweat as soon as I hit that “send” or “publish” or “post” button.

Hubris does not drive me. I don’t think I have any better ideas than the next person about how to fix the tax plan, prevent mass killings, or safeguard medicaid and social security. But I have found that avoiding discourse, NOT talking about what is going on around us is not helpful. For years, the general rule has been, “don’t talk politics” at dinner, in the grocery store aisle, in the back yard with your neighbors. Wrong. Talking politics is exactly what we should be doing, and values, and  how we voted and why.  And religion. Yes, we should talk about religion. How else will we understand our neighbors, the Muslim owner of the local deli, the Vietnamese manicurist, or the banker from Ghana who processed our car loan?

I live in a small town where I am in the minority: I don’t own a gun. I would benefit from better understanding why my neighbors do. Then, perhaps, I can advocate for gun control more effectively.

My next New Year’s resolution is more of the same, because being private is not helping. Explore your discomfort zone, people. A diverse, collaborative society does not happen unless everyone shares their views. Listen. Listen loudly.

Well-Seasoned Greetings

After a day and a half of sifting and chopping, the friends and family holiday treats sit ready on our kitchen island, awaiting delivery. I took a few shortcuts this year, eschewing the Santa’s Whiskers and Slovakian Butter Cookie cut-outs for good old Toll House, and I bought fudge for the first time. Sorry, Mom–nothing compares to your carefully crafted “Millionaire” version. But the Apple Bread remains. The scent of cinnamon and apples perfumed our home while Christmas carols performed by country artists serenaded us. I measured and stirred, seasoned and baked.

This morning, assembling cookie tins, portioning salted caramel brownies, and wrapping moist loaves of apple bread, I remembered all the moments of the past year, sweet, savory, salty–the taste of fear and disappointment, the surprise of joy, the comfort of waking up to tomorrow, the scent of forgiveness.

May your holidays allow you time to reflect, provide a taste of memories to come, and infuse you with joy.

Whisking your way through the holidays

My husband and I met while I was making the last batch of hollandaise for the last plates of eggs benedict served at the last Sunday brunch on the last day I co-owned The Purcellville Inn in Loudoun County, Virginia. I hated him on sight.

Out of admiration and in perfect innocence, David had made his way through the service doors in the main dining room, down the stairs, and into my kitchen. As I stood whisking clarified butter and tears into a cloud of egg yolks, I listened incredulously to him extoll the virtues of a good hollandaise.

“Where does this guy get off?” I wondered. “And when will he leave?”

Unaware of my disdain, David thanked me for my time, wished me luck in my new endeavors, and ambled his way back to his table.

Eighteen months later we met again, in the copy room of a law office near the White House where the catering company I consulted for set up a remote kitchen in preparation for a swank Christmas party. David was to be our “fireman” and general dog-body trouble shooter. Ironically, he did put out a fire that night caused by a food hotbox overheated by sterno tins. He ordered my catering partner to stand atop a chair. As she held her apron aloft, fanning the fumes away from the smoke alarm, David smothered each flaming can of fuel. I whisked boiling cream into dark chocolate for dessert fondue, thinking, “Maybe this guy’s okay.” Six months later, we fell in love.

Last year, we bought our first pre-lit, slowly spinning Christmas tree. I no longer have to worry about where to put my favorite Christmas kitchen ornament. The small beribboned whisk rotates into view every ninety seconds or so. I remember my tears dropping into the hollandaise, and how lucky I was to find my true love through sorrow and fire and food, whisking my way to happiness.

May you stir up a little love and joy this holiday season.

the whisk and the blue icicle

Lions and tigers and bears on and under the tree

Polar Bear

On our first Christmas in the first home we owned (our fourth Christmas in Florida), a co-worker gifted each of our children with a stuffed bear.  She handed the smaller package to our youngest child, Ally.  Matthew waited patiently for his younger sister to unwrap her package, taking delight in showing her how to press the belly button on the little fellow. A holiday carol played. When Matthew unwrapped his somewhat larger package, a simple ribbon adorned his bear, instead of the festive tartan plaid vest and bow tie worn by Ally’s bear.  Ally reached out and christened Matt’s toy “Bearsy!”

As children do, they swapped presents and both bears sat beneath our Christmas trees for years to come. Little bear eventually lost his bow tie, and who knows what happened to the vest, or when the carols stopped playing. As the older child, our son lost interest in little bear early on, but Ally had love enough for both, as well as all the stuffed animals to come. She never slept or traveled without a bear, finding comfort in her dreams and waking moments.

Only Bearsy survives. I found him this summer in a bin of clothes and shoes Ally gave me her okay to donate when I cleaned out closets. With his coat worn smooth, his nose shined, and new satin ribbons tied round his throat, he once again sits beneath our Christmas tree. Perhaps, he will strike up a friendship with the little bear ornament we picked out years ago, an echo of old friends. Ally won’t be home for Christmas this year, but Matthew will be here to help celebrate and reminisce about Christmases past, and a little blue-eyed girl with blonde curls who loved her bears.

Bearsy under the tree

Hallmark Moments, TV Pablum, and Star Wars

I think I’ve somehow gained five pounds. Since Thanksgiving. This does not bode well for the rest of the holiday season. I am overweight, but my weight is stable, and my diet is generally healthy: almost no processed food, low salt, made from scratch cooking, mostly fresh. We follow a gluten frugal diet and rarely consume sugar. Frozen items are fresh foods I portioned and wrapped and froze myself. I hydrate appropriately. I frequently get up from my computer and move, although the steps-tracking app on my phone has disappeared somehow.

To what do I have to blame this aberration? The Hallmark Channel. I confess, I am becoming a TV Pablum aficionado. Is there a twelve-step program for sappy movie addicts? Taking a break from the NY Times, NPR talk radio, the check-out-line-shouting headlines, my husband and I watch Hallmark or Lifetime or Hallmark Mystery. Our typical Sunday night routine? I indulge in the import PBS series of the season: currently Outlander, snuggled deep in bed pillows with the cat. My husband lounges in the living room channel-surfing between Gears, and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, with the occasional foray over to House Hunters International or Property Brothers.

This season? All Hallmark all the time. The cat now executes her “thunder runs” up and down our thirty-foot hallway, trekking between the two rooms, the two TVs, and her two glazed and numbed caretakers. Oh, that’s right, we are not cat owners, we are staff.

We took a little break last night, pulling up “The Force Awakens” from On Demand in preparation for the latest Star Wars new-movie-issue due out on Thursday of this week. On this viewing, my emotions did not rise at the playing of the opening theme music. Nor did my heart quicken at the first appearance of Han Solo, or when the fighter pilots made their last-ditch approach to take out the planet-destroying-death-gizmo. Instead, I teared up as the little droid BB-8 entreated R2-D2 to come out of hibernation. I sniffled when Daisy hugged Finn for rescuing her. I sobbed when Han and Leia’s son struggled between the pull of the Force and the Dark Side. In other words, I experienced my Star Wars Hallmark movie.

Somewhere, deep in my pantry, I harbor a Star Wars Millennium Falcon cookie cutter. Time to soften some butter and grate some ginger. I wonder if we have any molasses? Maybe tonight, Hallmark will show again that film about the baker’s niece who has to resurrect the annual Christmas Eve cookie competition and rekindles a long ago lost love? Maybe if my husband and I watch the same movie, I can get some steps in by chasing our cat on her thunder runs down the long hallway. Better yet if I can avoid eating the cookies.

Wishing you all a merry Wookie holiday.