Wednesday, December 30

A Card From Christmas Past

As I was taking down Christmas cards and setting some aside, my husband remarked at me saving them. I am not a saver of things by nature, but if you write me a note in a Christmas card, it’s getting saved and put away with the decorations.

Today as I was flipping through cards from Christmases past, I thought of all the senders who aren’t on this planet anymore and the ones who were yet to be that started showing up on later cards. In addition some folks aren’t with the ones they started out with and now send cards from the current loved ones they are with. Look back, and I’m sure you’ll find that same instances with your friends and family.

One particular card I picked up said, “For Grandson and His Wife at Christmas.” Excited, knowing it was from my husband’s grandparents, Papau and Mamau, I read her handwritten note: “Hi you two. Heard you moved back to Buffalo. Sorry you couldn’t make it up to see us; maybe next year. I know your mom has told you about Papau. He’s still sore but getting better. When you get as old as we are, it takes longer to heal. Rick and Ginger, we love you both and wish you all the luck and happiness in the world. Be good and take care of each other. Love, Papau and Mamau”

I have no idea now what ailment Papau endured, but we enjoyed many more years with both of them in our lives, and when Mamau took leave of this planet, Papau moved in with my mother-in-law so we got to see him quite a bit.

They were two of the coolest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Even into their seventies that sat close together like teenagers and held hands. Every time we’d see them they’d warn us to never get old. While we have no choice in that matter, we can surely “be good, and take care of each other.” Merry Christmas, Mamau and Papau.


Vacation. You can leave a physical place or vanish from your daily routine.

I am in the midst of my end-of-year vacation and am enjoying a good mix of things. I’ve gotten up early and slept in late. I’m staying up late right now. I’ve had lunch with a dear friend, and I’ve eaten fantastic leftovers at home consisting of Christmas ham, white cheddar with chipotle peppers and cranberries in it all topped with onions and grilled on seven-grain bread. I eaten a bit of my dad’s homemade peanut butter fudge every day. This afternoon I did an entire clean sweep of one room in my basement and started the keep, trash and donate piles.

Before I left work, a coworker asked what I would be doing with my days off. I responded, “Two things. 1. Do nothing. 2. Do whatever I want.” It’s working out well so far.

Sunday, December 27

Christmas Present

My husband and I are back to our serene life after three days of wild family merriment, and the afterglow is a ribbon of warm pink weaving through this day after. I am so grateful to everyone who made my Christmas one of the merriest. The synergistic effect of all these individuals - my mom and dad, husband, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, brother-in-law and one to be, nieces, nephew, sister and brothers and even the sometimes maddening (for me) dogs and cats - creates a boisterous experience that is not to be missed.

As a kid, the culmination of Christmas was that fantastic plastic or stuffed creation that I’d been yearning for all year long. Now it’s about the fresh baked stuffed mushrooms and thumbprint meatballs made by my dad, pumpkin pie fit for the Gods, walking dogs with my niece and sister-in-law on a mild Christmas Eve afternoon while we terrorize them with Christmas caroling, a gift exchange that makes you appreciate your family’s cleverness and creativity as much as the gift, playing Scattergories and sucking at it, laughter, miscommunication, feeling stupid and more laughter, surprise gifts like the Miracle-Gro my parents got for our Norfolk Pine named Wilson (the only other living creature in our house with a name), homemade fudge from my grandmother’s recipe, more homemade fudge...and truffles even, making crunchy French toast with my brother while my dad sizzles bacon and the wonderful smell that ensues, the smell of dinner later (can someone create an aroma recorder, please?), sharing wine made from sweet Niagara grapes in tiny tasting cups, brunch with my in-laws on Christmas Eve morning, the lovely glass vase my husband saw me admiring in the fall, getting him the thin soft scarf he’s been pining for, love, love, love in spite of imperfection and finally not dwelling on Decembers past. It really is all about the Christmas present.

How I Survived Christmas

My apologies to Christmas, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s like running a half marathon instead of a full - all the fun, half the stress. Like running a half marathon though, it’s half the gratification. Christmas makes you put in all the work, and sometimes when you prepare as you should and all the elements are with you, you get to the finish line feeling really, really good. This Christmas gave me that all-smiles, I-can-stop-now, boy-this-has-been-a-lot-of-fun feeling.

Past Decembers have had some really dark spots for my family. Some events were depressing beyond words. The bright lights and merriment barely made a dent. This year, I found my way through the fog. Here are some things that helped:
1. Gift Ideas List.
Early in the year and every time I heard someone mention something they would like or need, I added it to my Gifts-to-Be list under their name on my iPhone. Or I added things I just know they like in general. When gift-buying time came, it made it much easier. Yes, it may be the thought the counts, but you’ve got to put some effort into the thought.

2. Baking.
When I still had too much to do or sad memories began to creep in, I baked. And I remembered how much I like doing it. There is something immensely satisfying about creating something from nothing in just an hour or two. Spreading a little confectionery cheer is also very smile inducing. Seven kinds of cookies and two pans of gingerbread put me right in the spirit. I also worked the baking right into stocking stuffers so everyone got a colorful one-of-a-kind gingerbread cookie. My inspiration was Starbucks' cute polar bear cut-out. I went with mittens and Christmas cows. It was so much fun.

3. Putting up the Tree.
This seems like a no-brainer, but some years the weeks were just flying by, it became mid-December and “What’s the point?” won out over other thoughts. This year I had to get it up before my cookie party so the house would be all festive. Being a designer, I pride myself on never missing a deadline; it works for more than just projects.

4. Inviting People Over.
Inviting people over made me put up all my lovely decorations (mostly made by my mom), forced me to keep the house spic-n-span and somehow made this month feel less rushed as I baked with friends, had dinner and watched movies with others and enjoyed a whole weekend with my parents and mother-in-law in which we enjoyed a walk in the park to feed chickadees by hand and a TubaChristmas concert that was a couple of the most enjoyable hours of the month.

If you were ever a Girl Scout like me, you learned the secret to life at an early age: Be Prepared. Or at least give it your best effort.

Tuesday, December 15

Four. Seven. Ten.

4 women. 7 cookie recipes. 10 hours - plus me going on to decorate for two more for an even dozen hours to round out this baking marathon. Rows of snickerdoodles, piles of pizzelles, shallow domes of sour cream cookies and more covered my countertops and the smell of the holy trinity - butter, flour and sugar - permeated the walls of my kitchen. Above are some results from my semi-annual* cookie party.

*It takes a hiatus now and again.

Tuesday, December 8

December Thaw

My tree is up, lit and decorated and has been for a week. If you are a Christmas-celebrator, yours is probably up, too, and you might wonder, “What’s the big deal?” I’ve been a humbug, a scrooge, opposite of in-the-holiday-spirit for a couple of years and even the years the tree went up, I often found it a chore.

I used to have an annual cookie party that has been on a two- or three-year hiatus. This Saturday it will be back, and it’s going to be the best one yet. My friends and I often bake from sunup to sundown and eat butter, sugar and dough for lunch. This year we will take it slower, have an actual lunch of cranberry chicken salad on croissants, and I’m going to have the frosting made ahead of time. Snickerdoodles, my specialty, will be the first cookies in the oven.

What has happened exactly to bring on this holly-jolly?

It’s warm, people! 30 degrees. Not 10º. Not 10º below. November was filled with 40 and 50 degree days, and while the temperatures are dropping, my holiday spirit didn’t get frozen solid before December got here. It’s as good a reason as any.