The Morning After.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s day is my favorite time of the year.  With the Christmas hustle and bustle over, the days prior to the New Year are quiet, calm, and peaceful.  New toys provide a distraction to children young and old and the stress of preparing for the holiday gives way to euphoria that the holiday has passed, yet once again.

Early Christmas morning, [S] found the bicycle hidden behind the curtain and helmet under the tree left by Santa Claus.  After her discovery, it was as if the wrapped gifts sitting under the tree had become invisible.  Indeed, it took us hours to complete opening gifts on Christmas day.  While the number of gifts appeared modest, it became clear that she had received more than enough. 

Judging by the amount of use, [S]’s favorite gift is her bicycle helmet.  She wears it inside the house while she plays; she wears it outside the house riding her bike.  Each time she puts on her helmet, I smile, recalling Russell’s demand that we buy her a helmet when she was first learning how to walk. 

The day after Christmas, we hosted a small cocktail party, serving mostly light fare–black bean hummos, toasted pita chips, chicken teriyaki meatballs, crudite, assorted cheeses served with baguette, herb dip and crackers, bruschetta, deviled eggs, fresh strawberries, chicken adobo casserole, tortilla chips, grapes, uh, you get the picture.  We also had plenty of sweet treats from cranberry pie and homemade cookies to peppermint bark and an assortment of candy.  Clearly, we prepared too much. 

My favorite part of entertaining is grazing on leftovers post-party.  The next morning, [S] ate strawberries, grapes and pita bread and Russell and I indulged in dip, vegetables, fruit, and bruschetta.

With the reality that our refrigerator cannot hold another dish or bottle and that our living room cannot house another book or bear, I know that my fear that we won’t have enough–enough gifts under the tree for our daughter or enough food on the table to feed our guests–is not based in reality.  Indeed, we have more than enough.  For that–and for not having to cook for days–I’m deeply grateful.

The Longest Day of the Year

Its’ Christmas Eve.  During the day, children await nightfall; at night, children await the arrival of Santa Claus.  This year, December has taken on a life of its own.  The days have passed too quickly.  The ingredients for my traditional Christmas morning cranberry nut bread remain in the refrigerator, untouched.  The turkey remains frozen.  The house remains in disarray.  Fortunately, my Husband is understanding and our daughter too young to notice.

Today, I called a time-out on December’s frenetic pace.  Rather than bake cookies or clean the house, we headed to Southern Hills Ice Rink in Naha.  There, we introduced [S] to ice skating and wearing gloves.  (In an attempt to protect skater hands from injury during a fall, gloves are required to skate at Southern Hills.)  Fortunately, small cars and chairs were available to rent for those uncomfortable or unable to skate on their own.  The extra support gained from pushing [S] on the ice ensured I remained upright, despite last donning a pair of skates nearly 30 years ago. 

As we drove home, Russell and I discussed tonight’s dinner plans.  Popcorn?  Baguette, fruit, and cheese?  Lasagna?  Russell suggested I cook our Christmas meal this evening, allowing Christmas to be a mostly kitchen-free day.  So it came to pass that I prepared a spinach mushroom lasagna this evening.  In between baking and broiling, we were able to read the Christmas story and help [S] prepare a note and snack for Santa and his reindeer.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her more proud of efforts.  After much to-do, [S] headed to bed with Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas as her bedtime story.  As she dreams of visions of sugarplums, Santa got to work putting together her first bicycle. 

While this year’s Christmas no doubt appears unorthodox to some, for me it is a liberating departure from tradition.  Tomorrow, I will be focused on Russell and [S], not the oven and stove top.  Of course, the turkey will be cooked.  But we will leave that to the New Year.

From our family to yours, Happy Christmas. 

An Act of Love.

fullsizerender336Since [S]’s birth, I have watched both with fascination and gratitude as family and close friends have bestowed on her their time, attention, and affection.  As a result she’s received plenty of playtime, warm hugs, and an abundance of cuddles.  She’s also been the recipient of thoughtful and generous gifts, including classic children’s books (think Dr. Suess’ The Lorax and A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh) and an educational activity table that teaches the alphabet, numbers, directions, music, and animals. 

This week, a friend of ours gifted [S] a kitchen play set, consisting of a sink and an oven.  Unlike many–if not most–of the play kitchen sets, this one wasn’t made of bulky plastic.  And it wasn’t pink.  This kitchen set was made entirely from recycled and/or recyclable materials.  Various-sized cardboard boxes were used as foundation; black plastic bags were used to cover stove burners and dials; Gatorade bottle caps were repurposed as knobs; and, white paper was used as a finish.  The kitchen set was personalized with a “[S]’s Kitchen” embellishment on the oven and came with its own muffin tin (a rusting no-longer used tin, painted a kid-friendly red). 

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[S] washing dishes.
The woman who created these gifts did so without my knowledge or input.  Indeed, one day, when everyone was recuperating quietly at home, she texted a photo of the set and asked if it would be okay to stop by.  I was rendered speechless.  Literally.  I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and amazed by her ingenuity and creativity.  “I left it white so [S] can paint it whatever color she wants,” she explained.  “When you leave Okinawa, you can just take it apart and recycle the pieces,” she continued.  “I thought you might want it for her to play with because everyone’s been sick,” she finished. 

[S] has played with the set every day since she received it.  The first day, she bent down and peered at the closed oven door.  “Where’s the light, Momma?,” she asked.  Then, she was baking cookies.  The next day, as I started washing dishes, she moved the kitchen set across from our kitchen.  “Look Momma, I’m washing dishes,” she delighted.  This evening, after a long day of work, I prepared [S] a peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner.  After eating, she went straight to her refrigerator (the cabinet under the sink).  “Here Momma,” she said handing me an imaginary item.  “It’s a sandwich.”

I am equally entertained and intrigued witnessing [S] at play in her new kitchen.  Using a burp cloth as a dish towel, [S] casually threw it over her shoulder when she was finished, imitating me.  “I do that,” I said, laughing aloud.  My inner voice cautioned me, remember this.  As caregivers are aware, my affectations, habits, and mannerisms are being passed down to a new generation, just as are my attitude, outlook, and actions.  

To that end, I am proud that [S] is grateful for–and delighted by–her new environmentally-neutral kitchen set, for I am as well. 

O’ Christmas Tree, O’ Christmas Tree!

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Our Christmas tree farm.

Some weeks are better than others.  For our family, this week was not one of them.  Each one of us was diagnosed with pneumonia or suspected pneumonia.  As one might imagine, it was a week of long days spent at home sipping tea and eating soup.  By the end of the week, I was bored.  It seemed as if [S] and I had read every book multiple times, played with every toy repeatedly, and danced to every song on the radio. 

Friday morning, hardly able to stomach the repetitive nature of my days, I looked for inspiration.  Thinking of my Husband’s desire to learn origami, I gathered various packets of origami paper and googled “origami Christmas tree.”  Taken aback by the number of search results, I scrolled through page after page.  So many types of trees.  So many video tutorials.  So many options. 

With [S] sitting on my lap and a piece of plain green origami paper before me, I started the tutorial of the prettiest tree I could find.  After a few folds, I was far behind the tutorial and utterly confused.  Being stubborn, I persevered.  The three minute tutorial took me nearly an hour to complete.  The result?  A lopsided, tiny, kawaii (cute) Christmas tree. 

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My first origami tree.

Upon waking this morning, I sat next to Russell at the dining room table, handed him a sheet of paper, and started the tutorial.  After completing a few, we no longer needed the tutorial.  And for that I am grateful.  We crafted numerous trees to give to friends and family, near and far.  This evening, we were graced with the unexpected presence of neighbors stopping by to deliver season’s greetings.  In return, we were able to gift small keepsakes in vibrant colors.  The smiles we received in return were priceless.

#OrigamiObsession

Tidings of Joy.

This year, like past years, we began decorating our home after Thanksgiving.  Out came our tree from storage.  Out came our small wreath.  Out came Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas.  Out came the advent calendar [S] received last year.  We hung it in the same location as last year, on the door to our kitchen.  It is festive.  It is pretty.  It is decorative.  And, while the calendar was used last year, it can be used again.

After the holiday weekend, I struggled to get to the post office.  An abundance of work and errands kept me preoccupied and feeling a bit under the weather didn’t help.  When I finally collected our mail, I received notice that a package awaited pick-up.  One look at the handwriting and I knew its contents.  Indeed, that familiar handwriting graced parcels containing the most creative gifts throughout my childhood.

On the morning of December 1st, Russell and I watched [S] open the oversized flat envelope addressed to her attention.  [S] was excited.  And I was even more excited to put it together.  I can’t help but think that Russell was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t able to construct our three-dimensional gingerbread advent calendar.  Since that morning, [S] has asked to open an advent window each day.  (Yes, she tries to open more than one on a daily basis.)

I couldn’t be more thankful or delighted with the gift.  As [S] holds the calendar, she talks about the puppy dog, cat, mouse, and rooster adorning the side of the house.  We discuss the various sweets featured on the roof, including what look to be matcha (green tea) doughnuts–one of [S]’s favorite treats.  And Russell and I debate whether gnomes or dwarfs are walking the grounds.

The gift has altered our morning conversation for the better.  And it truly has brought the joy of the season to life.

#ThankYou

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On the Nightstand.

It’s that time of the year when our family reads a holiday book together.  This year, we selected Charles Dickens’ novella known to most as A Christmas Carol.  Thanks to Hollywood’s fanciful interpretations of the beloved holiday classic, I can’t even say the title without conjuring images of Vanessa Williams or Scrooge McDuck.  (Yes, I know, poor viewing choices.)  Regardless, the well-known plot vividly comes to life through Mr. Dickens colorful prose.  I see the dark streets of London; I feel the bitter cold on my cheeks.

Never read it?  It’s short.  It’s insightful.  It’s humbling.

‘Tis the season.

On Traditions: Start Them Young

fullsizerender323Each time this year, I do my best to be festive without becoming excessive.  Indeed, were I to allow my love for Christmas meet my inner perfectionist, my home would look like a holiday explosion of white lights, crystal and glass balls, candles, red ribbon, wreaths, and garland.  Fortunately for Russell, [S] curbs my enthusiasm to purchase, let alone decorate with, breakable, dangerous, and costly baubles.  As a result, we have an artificial tree dressed in an abundance of white and colored lights, adorned with a handful of glass balls and origami stars and cranes.  It is, I dare say, perfect.

From the week of Thanksgiving to the first of the New Year, I do my best to savor each day, departing from my typical routine.  Rather than sit at the dinning room table for coffee, I curl up on the couch with a steaming mug of coffee in front of the brightly lit tree.  Rather than eat toast for breakfast, I cut a slice of pumpkin bread or, even, grab a freshly made chocolate chip cookie.  It is a time of small indulgences; it is a time to experience the joys of life that get lost in the everyday mundane.

Growing up, Christmastime meant that the freezer would be filled with party mix, also known as Chex mix.  My Father would spend an entire day making batch after batch of the savory snack, rationing out small bowls of the once-a-year treat to those who wanted some.  And everyone wanted some.  The smell of roasting cereal and spices filled our home.  After the party mix was prepared the real magic happened.  The party mix disappeared, until bit by bit it would be brought out in small portions.  That was, until Christmas morning.  On Christmas morning, each member of our family would receive a brown paper bag, our names written in my Father’s handwriting, tied with a bow.  Inside that bag, sat a plastic bag filled with our own ration of party mix.  It was one of the gifts I most looked forward to on Christmas day.

The preparation of party mix during the holidays is a tradition we continue, as do my Father and sister.  To be certain the recipe has been updated and tweaked to our taste, to include a bit of heat that coats the cereal, pretzel, nut treat.  The preparation still takes all day.  And the results are just as rewarding.  Last year, when [S] was just a bit older than one-and-a-half years old, I thought she would reject the snack because of its spiciness.  I was wrong.

Yesterday, after each batch came out of the oven, [S] tried to grab handfuls of the mix as it cooled.  “It’s good Mommy.  I like it,” she declared enthusiastically.  I now know how my Father must have felt, times four.  Yes, I want the treat to last.  But, just like Christmas itself, it’s more meaningful to experience the joy of the season than try to prolong it.  This morning, [S] joined me in nibbling on a small bowl (or two) of party mix for breakfast, while sitting on the couch, looking at the tree.

Ah, The Start of the Holiday Season.

fullsizerender322Sunday, I was able to prepare our first home cooked meal since we returned from Taiwan.  In an ode to Thanksgiving, turkey breast and my Grandmother’s cranberry dish were on the menu; steamed asparagus in lemon better replaced my holiday green bean casserole and buttermilk biscuits replaced my labor intensive sour dough stuffing.  Given the truncated menu, I opted to bake a pumpkin pie for dessert.

Prior to Sunday, I had baked two pies in my lifetime:  one apple and one pumpkin.  When I bake, I tend to find the most complicated recipe available and go with it.  That is how it came to be that I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon preparing pumpkin pie that requires ice-cold vodka for its crust and ground ginger, maple syrup, candied yams, and double whisked custard for its filling.

As I was cursing the uncooperative pie dough, my thoughts turned to the holiday season.  In an instant, my mind was overrun with questions.  Should we have people over in December?  If so, who?  When?  What do I cook?  When will I be able to bake?  What should we have for Christmas dinner?  Should we buy a used tricycle for [S]?  Should I hand sew a stocking for [S] this year?  Does wrapping pajamas [S]’s already picked out count as a gift?  What about party mix?  When can I make cards for family?  How will I be able to prepare an entire meal in this kitchen?  How will I be able to prepare for the holidays with two young children next year?  I began to panic.  How will it all get done, I needed to know.

This was the first year I recall being overwhelmed by what might be.  Our oven is slow.  That is, unless it is fast.  Every burner on our stove top is lopsided, requiring exacting attention to the contents of each pot and pan.  But my anxiety wasn’t about what to cook or who to invite over.  Rather, I was wondering whether I am up to the task to make this Christmas a special joyous occasion for family and friends.  After I disclosed my near panic attack to Russell, I asked, “What is wrong with me?”  After listening me with a half smile on his face, he responded, “Don’t forget, you never have to do it alone.  We’re a team.  We’ll get everything done–together.”

Later that night, as I cut into the pumpkin pie, immediately noting it could have used a bit more baking time.  I bemoaned the fact, grumbling that I knew better, that I should have been guided by my instinct, rather than the timer.  Russell commented that it tasted great and I should let it firm up in the refrigerator.  The next day, the pie tasted even better and appeared to have firmed up just enough.  And I have not received one complaint about dessert.

It was then I realized that imperfections are part of the holiday season.  The baking, cooking and entertaining all will get done, be it for better or worse.  But my most significant accomplishment will be enjoying time with family and friends, whether over store-bought or homemade cookies.

Here’s to kicking off the holiday season with an eye towards embracing the flaws and imperfections of life.

Happy Christmas Eve

Earlier today, my husband presented me with a surprise–a bottle of Glenlivet.  Those who know me, know that I have a soft spot for single malt scotch.  And after savoring a bottle of 30 year old Macallan, I’m hard to impress.  But Glenlivet holds a special place in my heart, as the first scotch whiskey I drank–and I drank it for months before becoming brave enough to order Talisker, Oban, and the other Glens.

It is 10:08 p.m., Christmas Eve, as I write this post.  I could bore a reader to tears by describing our day.  Suffice it to say, after shopping this morning, baking this afternoon, cooking this evening, and cleaning tonight, I’m ready for a break.  And I’m about to have one.  My feet will be up.  I will be sitting on our couch.  And I will be enjoying Glenlivet, as I watch my husband put together the first of many Christmas gifts for [S].

[S]’s grandparents generously sent a child-sized table and chairs for Christmas.  A perfect gift for a growing toddler who is focused on being as independent as can be.  She’ll have her own place to sit, draw, read and play with friends, be they real, stuffed, or imaginary.  [S]’s other grandparents sent gifts, one of which requires batteries.  As I wrapped the gift, I turned to Russell to ask if we had three AAA batteries on hand.  We do.

These small steps in parenting–supervising the construction of a gift and ensuring we have batteries on hand Christmas morning–touch my heart. They are moments that remind me how fortunate we are.  And I’m reminded that such moments are gifts themselves.

Tomorrow morning, I will watch our daughter walk into the living room and see the table and chairs.  She will explore the wrapped gifts under the tree that have provided her hours of enjoyment and busyness.  She will speak with grandparents, aunts, and cousins.  She will eat turkey, cranberry and sweet potatoes.  And she will fall asleep exhausted by the newness of experience Christmas day.

If only every day could be like Christmas.

Cheers.