... And Other Lessons Learned This Year.
After many years of sulky Christmas puddings and wasted rum, this year I learned how to set my dessert aflame: steam it for ages. Steam it while you eat Christmas dinner, steam it while you sip your wine, and while you do a dish or two between courses, steam it until it too steams, (it is after all, a dense leaden cake, which need not be fussed over) then pour the usual amount of rum over the pudding (the usual amount will vary from year to year depending on the family members gathered around the table. Great Aunt Mildred years might require significantly more rum) and then, with a slight flourish & a sprig of something pretty, set it on fire at the table. You will feel like a conquering dessert hero.
The secret is not to be delicate. Do not fuss. Pruning roses works the same way. Raising children too. (But without the rum and flames.)
Sauce is easy:
Sauce makes everything better. You can make a dip, a salsa, a dressing, or a lemon butter sauce in minutes and it dignifies even store bought quickie-dinner items like kebabs or chicken fingers. A sauce made of green herbs, lemon, olive oil and a bit of garlic – call it Green Goddess or The Hulk – makes everything more delicious. A bowl of aioli for veggies or minute steaks, cherry tomatoes, or oven potatoes works wonders for fussy littles and weary grown ups alike.
The same theory applies to arguments. Set out something good on the side and the whole thing goes down much more easily.
One wet afternoon I had a showdown with my dog at the back door. I keep a pile of old towels and a pretty vintage tin of dog treats sitting by the back door. The dog knows he must run this gauntlet when he comes in. The trouble is, it doesn’t have to happen every time. He does not understand about mud. Or about a freshly washed kitchen floor for that matter. He just wants in, and a drink. On clear summer days, it all works out just fine for him.
However, this particular damp afternoon I was guarding my clean floor. I was tired and somewhat testy. He barked to come in. I opened the door, towel in hand. I wanted the paws cleaned and was in no mood for games.
He eyed me. Backed up.
I eyed him back.
He looked at the towel in my hand and refused to come in.
Fine. I closed the door. He could come in when he was ready then.
He barked. I opened the door. He cocked his head, eyed the towel. Backed up.
I glared. “In the house!” He went back outside.
I closed the door. We did this enough times that I eventually realized I was losing an argument with my dog. I took a breath. Stepped aside, set the towel on the table and picked up a treat. Opened the door. Smiled.
He came right in through the open doorway. Sat on command. I toweled him off. Gave him a treat. He trotted over to his bowl. I watched him drink happily, and gratefully absorbed a lesson in parenting delivered by my dog.
Old is not a number:
I have never really felt old. I shouldn’t, I’m not quite even middle aged. But there have been days this past year that have left me gutted. I have felt worn out. I am sure I have felt the wrinkles burrowing deeper and deeper, like moles under my skin, as I lay down at night.
Old is how you feel after everyone in the house has been sick, even the dog. Old has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with tired and worried. Those old wives knew a thing or two – rest is the key to beauty. Get enough sleep. If not enough, then steal naps when the baby sleeps, when everybody else has gone to the park and house is quiet. Forget the laundry. It will still be there tomorrow.
I have learned that patience is the key to radiance, or at least to a smooth forehead, and like breast milk, patience is only replenished with sleep. And a little hydration. Take care of yourself. Drink water. Rest, even when it means a blanket on the floor of a coughing kid’s bedroom or several extra lumps in your bed.
A new day will dawn, and the wrinkles will smooth over – look to the light, the next family meal, the wag of a tail, a smile flashed on the drive to school and know that all will be well.
My friend’s mother reached out to me one difficult year and gave me a Christmas card I cherish. She celebrates Chanukah but we have long shared in each other’s families and traditions and she knows me well. Nevertheless, choosing a Christmas card when Christmas is not your holiday is not, I would imagine, an easy undertaking. The range in options is extraordinary - from the glitzy to the somber and religious, to the downright tacky. The Christmas card she chose to give to me was perfect, and says everything I treasure about this season.
for the past,
for the present,
for the future.
it is a fervent
that every path may lead to
(agnes m. pharo)
I have saved the card by gluing it onto one of the boxes that holds a handful of the most special amongst the odd, whimsical and sentimental collection of ornaments which adorn my tree. Each year, with memories, shortbread and jingle bracelets at hand, I pull out the box, read the card, and am heartened.
Now I’ve saved it here for you; a recipe for Christmas, handed along, touched by time, buttery fingerprints, and love.
Amidst all the decking of the halls
(can we pause to discuss this thorny issue for a moment? have you ever tried to decorate with boughs of holly? it is not jolly. holly is plentiful out here on the West Coast and seems to thrive with an ornery vigor in spite of our rainy climate. holly’s tough green leaves and bright red berries are festive indeed but in reality, give me hives wherever the nasty sharp leaves penetrate my skin)
and being jolly,
(also stressed. very, stressed. up until all hours packaging homemade truffles and knitted scarves over which you have laboured and must now wrap and send before the post office cackles expensively in your flushed face about mailing deadlines stresse.)
there is the ‘Yuletide treasure’ to be considered.
While the lyrical ‘treasure’ in Deck The Halls is certainly the season’s gift of intangible moments of true delight, in truth a great many Yultide moments are the ohmygod sinking feeling variety when you realize that you have forgotten a hostess gift or something for the amazing tutor who helped your child through a particularly hard science term.
I had one of those moments this past week; I needed a solution and a present and I needed both right away. That afternoon I had many phone calls, chores and appointments to fit in, along with the school run and then an extracurricular event. (did I mention it was also bucketing down rain? not jolly). The gift was an important one to give, how could I have forgotten? But forgotten I had and so I pushed, soggy and frantic, through the doors of one of my favourite go-to stores when I find myself in a must buy crunch.
I hate to buy stuff for the sake of the buying, and if I must buy stuff, or have stuff to bring, stuff to offer, stuff with which to say ‘thank you’ or ‘I appreciate all you do’, then I want the buying of that stuff to do as little damage to our collective society, environment, and more selfishly perhaps, to my holiday-strained bank account as possible. I feel better about shopping for the must buy stuff at a place that does the kind of good that touches on every one every one of these reasons and more. Which is why the bells on the door at Ten Thousand Villages jingled to announce my frazzled arrival.
We call love to give luxuries like tea and coffee and chocolate and though I feel a little like the holly pricking at your conscience as I type these words, unless you buy fairly traded, shade grown, organic, and/or small scale farmed, each one of those items does tremendous harm to people, animals and the earth.
I want the little babes with makeshift shelters, the partridges and the pear trees, even the damn holly to last for all the Christmases to come so I am always delighted that Ten Thousand Villages sells delicious luxuries that also support sustainable industries, spare children from forced labour, and foster collectives and cooperatives which in turn do good in local communities worldwide. I also want to cope with the last minute present OMG I NEED IT NOW, RIGHT NOW moment with a scrap of dignity leftover.
Here are just a few ideas which do just that: beautiful beaded necklaces which look extravagant but are in fact affordable glamour, (have you seen Oprah’s fund raising bracelets and necklaces? beautiful. have you seen the price tag? totally out of reach) coffee and hand made ceramic mugs, tea and exquisite teapots, chocolate, wallets made of recycled materials perfect for holding for gift certificates, community building sponsorships like schoolrooms across the world (hello teacher present), hot chocolate and pretty spoons, scarves, ornaments, jingle bells, angels, (to thank the angels in your daily life) candle holders, (find a nice beeswax candle and help out the bees instead of the petroleum industry), notebooks (can a person ever have enough notebooks?), stationary, music.
Other win-win must buy stuff options are not-for profit shops in your community like local museums, (dinosaurs! space! ) the art gallery, (notebooks and stationary, really, never enough) or a gift shop attached to your local botanical garden or ecological center (the bees, honey for sweetness, calenders, seeds in winter). Go to the craft sales, many have charitable components or are affiliated with community centers. (while decking the halls I was given just such a gift: an angel in support of Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign of the Stpehen Lewis Foundation. she made me happy & looked so pretty with the other angels.) Stock up at the school fundraisers.
Give, and give back at the same time. It’ll put the fa in your la la la.
In these fuzzy times of sponsored blog writing, I should add that this is not a sponsored post. These words are my small sprigs of conscientious holly, judiciously snipped and carefully placed along this little lintel in the ether.)
* Do you have a fabulous holiday solution to share? Join the chorus in the comments below."