Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrating Through Loss - Making Some Changes

As some of you are aware our family lost its Matriarch this past September.  This was a woman who's life was rich, full, interesting and active until her last day.  She was the dynamo at the center of our family and she is, and always will be, missed.  The first Holiday Season without a loved one is always difficult; we are blessed with a large, functional family of people who, while they all don't live close by, love each other and enjoy each other's company.  Who could ask for more?  Not I.

So, as my better half and I contemplated this Holiday Season we found ourselves re-examining the "holidays as usual" program we've been adhering to for the past 15 plus years.  Somehow, it felt that this year we needed a change - not a return, maybe a new way to celebrate.

Every year for many years, we have been holding an Open House on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day was Family, but Christmas Eve was our "event". We'd send out a huge email, tell folks that they needn't RSVP, and that they were welcome to bring a friend, come and stay, or just drop by for a nog and to hang a decoration on our tree.  Neither one of us could envision THAT Christmas Eve for ourselves this year.  The more we talked, the more we realized that what we were trying to clarify in our minds was that we wanted Comfort.  We wanted warmth and pretty and a bit of sparkle and love.  We wanted familiar and predictable and laughter and good food and candle and fire light. We didn't want the doorbell ringing every few minutes.  We wanted to sit back, relax and soak it all in. So - what would that look like?

It didn't take long for both of us to come to a very similar conclusion:  let's investigate if some of our nearest and dearest, instead of dropping by our Open House, would be up for an evening long sit down dinner, with holiday songs playing in the background, a big sparkling tree, a long warm, groaning table and  some well, what else can you call it, "hanging out together".

We decided we needed and wanted that big hug that comes from being in the company of close friends and loved ones while having a few cocktails, eating  fabulous food, and sharing hours of conversation and laughter.

Bless them, a number of folks said yes!  The leaves will be added to the table and it will be placed in front of the fireplace (an outcome of raising two puppies at the same time leaves us with a relatively empty living room as two of our chairs spend the holidays at the upholsterers!).  We intend to look for the biggest tree we can find and we have dug out a lot of decorations and dishes and other chotchkes that we haven't used for a long time.  Somehow, seeing them is making us love them all over again.  For some reason, we've also become more obsessed than usual with natural decorations, dried  reeds, wood, handmade things, etc. It just all seems to be falling together along those lines.

For me, the lesson is to realize that loss is loss and the emotions around loss don't make a quick exit.  That said, it isn't necessary to be maudlin; to soldier through regardless.  It is necessary to be good to yourself and say, "What do I want?".  That's OK.

We can't wait for Christmas Eve!  I promise that I will share the Christmas Eve menu post event.  Some things are surprises, after all!

Enjoy the process, the preparations and the celebrations!

By the way, here's a little chart that I came across recently that I think is useful.  Lots of these spices are in heavy rotation at this time of year!  Good and good for you!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Philly Foodist's Happy Holiday List

'Tis the time!  So many holidays are upon us.  Hanukkah starts this Saturday! And then we are into Christmas and Kwanzaa. How do you prepare?  Do you come out of the Holiday Season exhausted or refreshed and filled with wonderful memories?  Or, more commonly I suspect, with a mixture of both?

It seems to me that most of us who take holiday preparations seriously face a lot of challenges in coming out of all of this with mostly lovely memories.  I know there are lots of folks out there who just have to "show up" and celebrate.  I sometimes look at them piling into their cars to go to so and so's house with their wine or cookies in hand and think, "That must be nice; nothing to do!"  However, for the rest of us, there's planning, cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating, inviting, and - oh, remembering to fit in that very important haircut!  How do we handle it all with a smile and a firm grip on what the season should be all about?  How do we have FUN!?!

For me, I try to remember to follow a few "rules" :

1.  After awhile you just have to accept that the fact that you are attending to every detail, agonizing over every gift, and planning every meal down to the salt and pepper cellars because you like doing all that crazy stuff! Give into your obsessive side and enjoy fussing over detail and - this is important - don't let people tell you that you shouldn't be fussing!

2.  Remember that folks are coming to your home to see you and celebrate with you - and yes, because by now they probably know the food will be good! They will enjoy themselves if you are enjoying yourself, so whatever you do, aim for being a relaxed and happy host.

3.  For many of us, there's a blessing in, "having what we need". Think about what material, store bought things those close to you really need.  Especially the adults. There are probably a few things here and there but keep in mind the fun of presenting handcrafted gifts, or small purchased gifts that are unique and really speak to the likes and interests of the recipient.  Try to be sure to give yourself the time to Shop Small - you will find more of those unique items in independently owned small shops and artisans' galleries and the like. As for handcrafted or homemade items, the important thing to remember is if you make gifts, deal in gifts items that involve a process that you enjoy and have a knack for doing.  For example, I wouldn't try to knit scarves for people - that would be a disaster because I don't enjoy and am not good at knitting. And although I love to cook, I'm not one to enjoy spending a day turning out tons of cookies.  That said, whipping up a batch of mixed berry cordials in pretty recycled bottles or making homemade vanilla extract or red onion jam is pure delight for me.  I love the process and the outcomes.

4,  Making lists are a vital part of the process; you'll feel more in control because you aren't trusting everything to memory.  I like to make separate lists for gifts, decorating, cooking, homemade gifts, etc.  Yes, I have a lot of lists - but they are short and I can see at a glance what's necessary within different preparation activities.  Find a very secure spot for your lists; there's nothing worse than spending a great deal of your precious time making lists and then losing them!  Trust me on that one!

5.  Keep in mind that your home doesn't have to look like the decorated house in the shelter magazine.  Your home should be a place where those dearly beloved holiday objects that have been in your family for years and years will make an appearance for a couple of weeks. They will dress up your homestead and make you happy every time you see them.

6.  Do something that's purely charitable at this time of year.  Serve lunch at a food program; go to a Toys for Tots event with new toys; support a family that wouldn't have Christmas by donating gifts or money through a local agency; donate something; volunteer.  Figure out what works for you, but don't pass up the opportunity.  It will effect your "seasonal spirit"in a real way.

Oh, . . . . and if you can, play Holiday music while you do your preparations.  Let all of those silly holiday shows that are on TV every year at this time serve as background too - Charlie Brown or The Grinch anyone?  Believe it or not, the shows and the music will help to keep you "in the spirit".  If we lose the spirit of the season to stress and exhaustion, we've lost our ability to enjoy what should be a magical, happy time of the year.