Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We Need a Little Christmas

At least I'm not the only one.  From my clients to my friends to other bloggers, I've noticed there's just a little less Christmas this year.  In our part of the continent, the weather has been unseasonably and strangely warm.  Things are muddy and drab and the absolute worst is that we do not have our unlimited refrigeration/freezing on our decks, patios, and terraces.  Often I can use my terrace as a freezer and my garage as a refrigerator for the barrage of holiday pots and pans.  So my refrigerators and freezers are crammed, and I'm taking things to a friend's freezer this afternoon.
Whatthefuckever. I will deal with it. 
Is your family the holiday fighting type? I have one side of extended family that is, but I keep my involvement with that to a curt minimum.  My immediate family, though, is usually not one to blow up.  I am absolutely not a yeller. First of all, it takes a lot to ruffle my feathers.  I'm usually too busy fighting with myself to remember to get mad at other people.  Second, when I am angry, I fight more with ice than fire.  I'm not one to hurl insults.  I'm more likely to map out my feelings in a dismissive voice, refuse to let the other party speak, and I am the king of providing examples.  You know how in an argument you bring something up and the other person says AND WHEN HAVE I EVER DONE THAT? Well, I will fucking tell you the date and time and probably have photos.  It's one of my worst qualities, I'm not just a score-keeper, I'm equipped with instant replay.  This is 100% my mother. So when she and I argue it is tense, long, frosty, and there's lots of evidence to sift through.  Thankfully, we hardly ever argue.  Like, maybe once every three years or so. 
My sister, on the other hand, is a Tasmanian Devil.  She yells, she cries, she gestures, she throws out every nasty name in the book.  And then she will cry, give you a hug, apologize, and buy you a present.  This is 100% my dad.  My dad and sister argue constantly.  It is a genuinely hilarious thing to behold.  The words they use are so spastic and lazy, and insults need not be based on fact.  It's sort of like watching two drunk people who have been blindfolded hit a piñata that's not actually a piñata and is a hornets' nest. 
And then there is my sweet brother.  Who never fights with anyone. 
On Monday, there was an epic argument between my parents, my mom and me, and my dad and my sister.  There was ice and fire rolled into one deranged evening.  My mother and I were sitting next to each other going back and forth, and my dad and sister were on opposite sides of the room exchanging obscenities in kind of a jackass tennis match. 
I was so discouraged. I honestly thought about texting my aunt and seeing if maybe she could host Christmas Eve, because I just wasn't sure I could deal with it. As everyone began to scatter, I asked myself why do I even care so much about this
After a terrible night's sleep, I got ready and went to the grocery.  I can't say I was determined, but I knew I would feel worse if I didn't.  After about a half hour of fumbling around, forgetting things, being bumped by the same dumb man's cart who has no sense of produce aisle conduct, I started to notice something. 
Grandmothers with grandsons.  Everywhere.  There was a pair next to me where the grandson was picking up apples, dropping them at a rate of about 50%.  His grandmother would pick them up and say well now we have to use these bad apples that you dropped because it would be wrong to put them back. He didn't seem too worried.  As  I observed these many pairs, I appreciated their unique dynamics and their sweet interaction.  Though children are certainly more inundated with  isolating technology now, these children seemed to be doing just fine--living in the moment with grandma.  As I was inspecting and deciding on cheeses, I heard a brother and a sister talking about Santa.  They were trying to decide what time they should start watching, and from which bedroom window?  Should they stay in their own rooms to monitor separate vantage points?  The older sister felt her room was best because there is ”more sky out the window".  The younger brother trusted that and said yep uh huh.
I think my favorite was what I heard while trying to find my sister's favorite blend.   Over at the bakery, a grandmother and grandson were walking around the display tables.  Can I get cookies?  No, honey, your mommy will make cookies.  Can I get these muffins? No, honey, you don't like cranberries.  Realizing this wasn't going to work, he opted for the sweet, manipulative option: Grandma, can I get these doughnuts for you? clearly knowing this trick, she said No, honey, I'm on a diet.  to which he said oh, gram, you're not that fat
Hearing the children excited for Christmas, scheming for a meet and greet with Santa, and happily tooling around with grandma truly warmed my heart.  I felt Christmas rush to my head and was ready to dive back in. 
Once home and having shimmied everything into the fridge, I turned on Christmas music and hung some garlands.  It's a weird year, and I just need to let it be.  I'm focusing on my favorite parts and not worrying too much about the rest. 
What are yours? My five favorite Christmas songs: Five  Four Three Two One    Honorable mention, both abundant with gay men: One  Two
My mother and I quickly made up, apologized, and my dad and sister have both bought each other presents (that I'm wrapping, naturally) and hugged it out. We had made the human mistake of turning on each other when we needed to embrace each other. 
It's not shaping up to be a perfect Christmas or a near-perfect Christmas.  I'm just glad it will still be a Christmas after all.  I needed some magic, and it found me. I wish you the same.  Merry Christmas.

Do you know Ellie? I'm sure you do if you're reading here.  If you don't, she is a constant student of beauty and design, wife and mother, hilarious writer, and a non-PC voice that often makes me look gentle.  And she loves cooking and food on an elemental level.  And she has a French rescue dog.  She gives her readers gifts many times a week through her perspective and joy for life.  She chooses to be productive and tenacious in the face of a monster.  Isla, a friend I made through the comments on Ellie's blog, asked if  I would share her lovely idea--a gift of the heart and soul for Ellie.  Inspired by this preview of Ellie's upcoming book:
Sometimes I beg God to just let me have those few moments of liberty back. Let me just walk around the park again without knowing my fate. Let me be ignorant, let me be blissful, let me be unafraid. If I could just have back a few moments… I would run around that park smelling every flower letting myself get pricked by a rose thorn. I would pop into the hotel and grab a cappuccino. I would peer into the bottom windows of the brownstones. I would skip over the cracks of the sidewalk. I would walk down the tiny broken steps of the church thrift store and pick things up and put them down at my leisure. Hell, I might even stretch out my arms, lift my head to the clouds, start spinning around in circles and sing a little song. At the end of my allotted time, I imagine I would try to renege on my deal with God and I would ask for more time. Don’t make me go forward to my life with ALS. Let me just stay in this park without ALS. Just give me another few minutes… This time I will cherish it, I promise.

She ended her post with So I encourage all of you to get over to Gramercy Park on Christmas Eve...

Isla had this idea:
To all of Elle's friends who are touched by her spirit and her indomitable zest for life...Let's set a time on Christmas Eve when we will all go outside, spread our arms wide, lift up our faces to the sky, and twirl, and twirl, and twirl...just for Elle. What do you say? I am going to twirl. I hope some of you will join me. 7PM Central Time.

I love that idea.  Hopefully it's okay with Isla if I expand on her idea and say that it may not even need to be spinning around outside.  Perhaps if you're likely to be drunk and your lawn is soggy and muddy like me, you can propose a toast.  A toast of gratitude--and send that good energy to Ellie.  She'll be asleep (or awake freaking out about finding the right raspberry jam with seeds but not, like, all seeds to serve on brioche Christmas morning) in Provence for us in the States.  And I think waking up to strong, positive, ambient energy on Christmas is a fine gift.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Diamond Glints on Snow

You would think, based on my series of Thanksgiving posts, that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday.  However, my fervor for Thanksgiving has traditionally been dwarfed by my absolute love for Christmas.  After Thanksgiving, I found myself in an unusual state of apprehension toward Christmas.  My ideas and plans for Christmas that I had set in June weren't feeling right, and I was lacking focus.  Could it be that I had managed to actually make myself sick of Christmas because I started too early? That was a feeling most bizarre to me. 
As it turns out, it was intuition urging me to pause.  Last Thursday, while I was doing dishes, I heard my phone continuously buzzing. It was my aunt asking if I knew where my mother was and why she wasn't picking up her phone?  My grandmother's care facility was trying to reach her because my grandmother was in very poor condition.  My mom has kept her phone at her side every moment since my grandmother became sick in 2007.  She is always paranoid about missing a call.  This particular morning she was in a doctor's appointment and had her phone on vibrate as a courtesy.  My aunt was headed over and I assured her I would reach my mother, one way or another.  Luckily, my first call to my mother was answered with only about ten minutes between my aunt calling me and me relaying the message to my mother.  It was time for hospice and maintaining her comfort--hoping she could pass peacefully. I wrote a thorough post on my grandmother's illness here --and my wording is confusing in this post. GG is my great grandmother, below is my grandmother.
My grandparents, though they divorced, remained very close
and in love in so many ways. 
It is such a weird feeling hoping someone you love will die.  You're almost terrified to say it aloud because it sounds so bad.  But the reality is that most people have had that experience or feeling for a loved one, and there is no sense keeping it in.  I asked my religious friends for prayers of comfort and mercy, and I asked my non-religious friends for their best wishes. 
While my mom and dad, aunt, and grandpa and L were taking unscheduled shifts at my grandma's bedside, I was doing my best to keep everyone fed.  And then some.  I did not stop cooking all weekend.  Even at 2AM with no one to feed, I was making vats of muffin batter for some unseen apocalyptic brunch when I just know I'll need five thousand muffins.  I feel lucky that I have this role in my family.  No one calls me for legal help or medical advice.  Everyone knows I am too emotionally unstable to handle anything other than making pasta and pies. 
Repeat, repeat, repeat

Not one to usually slum it on the floor, Barbie sensed my angst and
refused to leave my side.I had to bring her to work with me on Saturday.
We are very thankful that my grandmother went peacefully early Sunday morning. It's a rare occasion my mom sees the sunrise (unless she has been up all night making a tablecloth).  And I'm glad that if she had to be up early, it was the most spectacular morning.  A hoarfrost left the world glittering and icy blue, the perfect stage for the giant golden sun to climb through the trees.  I had forgotten that the day before was my great-grandmother's birthday.  As my mom and I sat and talked, alternating between crying and laughing, she told me that all Saturday she was feeling GG in an ambient way.  I had, too. 
My GG's house had a wonderful smell.  It was spicy and floral, kind of like grapefruit zest and whiskey.  Probably because she picked a grapefruit for breakfast and liberally poured Canadian Club the rest of the day.  But there is also that Floridian mildewy smell that still smells good in a weird way.  As I took a break from crimping pie crust, folding fruit into apocalyptic muffin batter, and transferring pasta from boiling water to yet another cream sauce, I took Barbie out.  It was a cold and clear evening.  Standing there as Barbie tried to trick a squirrel out of a tree, I was overcome with the aroma of GG's house.  I mean I might as well have been seven years old standing at her bar topping her whiskey and a splash off with more whiskey because my splash was too long.
My mom was glad to hear she wasn't crazy for feeling it. We then decided we should get everyone together for dinner.  I ran to the grocery for more pasta and wine. 
I figured I would also get some flowers, to make sure things didn't feel too bleak.  At first I was tempted to use my pink.  My pink is fuchsia, and very bold.  But as I thought more about it, I decided I would use my mother's shade of pink, which is very soft and peony-like.  Then, I had a duh moment and realized of course I should use my grandma's favorite shade of pink.  Her pink is shell pink, a little peachy and pastel and very sweet.  Though there were many dozens of roses in my pink and my mother's, there was only one dozen in my grandmother's shade.  I picked them up and figured I would supplement with other flowers.  As  I set them in my cart, I laughed in delight when I saw the variety name on their plastic surround. 
My GG's name
The roses are true conch shell pink, no?
GG and my mother.  GG never said "cheese" for a photo. She always
said "Knockers up! We paid good money for these!"
Note my GG's Standard Issue Queen Hair and my mother's
brushed out hot roller disco queen sideweeping do.
I busily began cooking when I got home and had myself in pretty good shape to feed 15ish at 6.  Around 3PM, I had the cakes in one oven, the bread in the other, buttercream whipping in my mixer, dishwashers running, tablecloths in the washer, and chicken in the sous vide. For a little while, my mom was sitting at my island and we were talking about signs.  I told her Ellie's beautiful story about her brother and his sign for her.  As  I walked from my range to my mixer, I heard a beep and the room went dark.  I looked around and the house was dark.  Fuuuuuuck. I heard my neighbor's generator begin to hum.  Truthfully, my first reaction was to throw a tantrum.  I was tired and upset.  I regrouped quickly and actually found the whole thing hilarious.  Like, of course.  On this beautiful day, hardly even a breeze in the air, my power goes out.  What to do?  I thought about packing up and cooking in my friend's kitchen, but I really didn't have time to leave and transport all my stuff.  I lit my grill, let it preheat a bit, and baked the cakes on the grill.  They turned out fabulously.  Feeling quite confident, I also tried to bake my bread on the grill.  It looked glorious! But smelled acrid and burned.  The smell of bread never lies, and it was blackened to a crisp on the bottom.  Oh well this isn't about bread I told myself. *Note-if I didn't include this link based on the title of Ellie's post, I could no longer call myself a gay man 
Losing daylight, I began to find the whole thing even funnier.  My kitchen was a mess, I had vegetable scraps in Himalayan proportion piling in the sink, and was making a salad by candlelight.  My vinaigrette was stupid and my attempt at parmesan-crusted grilled chicken was a shitshow.  My security system was beeping incessantly and I banged into a wall in my dark basement carrying up candles.  I finished that damn buttercream by hand, frosted my grilled cake, set the ugliest tables I have ever seen, and got started on the sauce. 
Good to know: in a pinch, a grill, rack, and sheet pan are an acceptable
makeshift oven (sheet pan is elevated, not directly on the grates)

I just couldn't help but think that my grandmother was somewhere, giggling hysterically with my GG at my rapidly unraveling plan.  This was precisely her kind of humor.  It reminded me of the time my grandpa's tooth fell out on vacation, and then we got kicked out of the restaurant because my sister and I were too young to be there, and then we made a wrong turn and ended up driving off the island, and then we drove back onto the wrong island, hit a grocery cart in a parking lot that we told my sister was a person, and tried to pay a road toll with twizzlers because no one had any change.  While my grandpa, sister, and I were intermittently annoyed by these circumstances (or traumatized in my sister's case), my grandma did not stop laughing for a second.  She did not like potty humor, foul language, or raunch, but she loved bumbling misadventure. 
I saw my grandpa pulling in my driveway and wondered how I could illuminate his path through the door.  All of the sudden, there was a voom of electronics retooling and the power was back on. 
I had my siblings, cousins, and I at one table in my kitchen, and my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandpa and L in my dining room.  I don't usually separate like that, but I knew they needed to discuss the memorial service/celebration of life.  I opted to exclude myself and siblings and cousins from that talk because it's not a matter where many opinions are helpful.  Had I been there, I would have forged ahead with my idea and done my best to shut everyone else up. So for once, I can safely say that I respected boundaries of decency.  They came up with a plan and  I think it will be wonderful. 
I continued to remind myself through the evening that this wasn't about the food, wasn't about the flowers or the table setting, it was about family.  It was about gathering, sharing our love for our mother/grandmother/adored (ex) wife.  My awful chicken, bad vinaigrette, and naked tables only made things better, and luckily my grill cake was pretty damn good. 
I have some plans for Christmas to include my grandmother beautifully and let her be the star, which she will love.  I have an entirely new plan for Christmas and am now ready to dive in.  I am way behind, but that's okay.  The decorations will not be showstoppers, and the food will be plentiful and easyish.  This may not be a year I wish to dazzle my family with Christmas, I think this is a year I simply wish to be with my family.  But don't think this means there will be any less MSDE or pinecone glittering next year.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die
Mary Elizabeth Frye