and so this was Christmas.
Last year Christmas still seemed brand new. It knocked my heart around. Then everything started to change. Things felt discombobulated and twitchy. things were uncertain. then they weren't. I pulled out a new understanding of what not just Christmas, but life was about. what it was meant to be all along. So, no big surprise that this year I had to dig my holiday spirit out of the closet along with the tree and decorations. I kinda already felt it, already had it on. At times it still doesn't make sense, and I still wonder about things, but I know for sure that this depth, the happy heartachey feelings of the season, all of the contemplating and the giving and the gratitude has a shelf life longer than one month. It reaches further than December 26th.
Our days now look different, it's true, and I hope they look different all over again in a year. I hope my heart continues to melt and mold and I hope the way I live and the way I love always reflects my journey. Restraint not exactly being my strong suit, it's not surprising that we've not yet talked resolutions. It is near end December, less than a few days till the first official promises are allowed to fly. My silence on the subject is downright astounding, seeing as I'm already down several new resolutions. My empty journals are filling up. I know that every year has it's own momentum, and I am finding this one, was less gallop, more mosey. Pretty much entirely due to yours truly. Normally I wipe the calendar clean, come January 1st, marking up the month following with important appointments, nap, read, daydream, take a walk, spend time with my peeps: repeat, ditto, and again. This year's will be no different. I may just be off by a week or two.And then there's every day life, calling my name. like the sweater in my knitting bag, begging for more attention (and cables). Good stuff, but holy cow, how did I not know about the double bookings? Somewhere along the way, I think I missed the fine print, the part that reads knitting occupies precisely the same amount of time already allocated to baking, writing, laundry, cleaning, and sleeping. Throw in the holidays and I need an executive secretary to keep it all straight. And then, add to that the emotions! Man!, I have barely even started. It happens. It sets me straight. Me and my silly sugar-coated agenda. Sometimes life and everyday take precedence over gingerbread. At least until two Thursday's ago. Then all bets were off.
In years past I had gotten into the same old Christmas cookies rut. They were always amazing, but somehow this year I wanted something a little more, well, a little more. and that was exactly what I got. While Frank and Bing filled the air, the oven worked over time. I made triple batches of peppermint bark and buckeyes. I made lists. Check, check, check and double-check. Little balls were pinched and shaped and filled. We rolled eight different kinds of dough, and frou-froued them up right before bed. Well, right after dunking others in powdered sugar. We giggled like five year olds making a village of snowmen. Butter wrappers were piled several inches high, the recycle bin was filled with five-pound flour and sugar sacks. Also, a few (dozen) more things were baked, so at least the cupboards weren't bare.
By the following day I still didn't have shopping finished, but I did have tins and tins of cookies. And by the week-end, with my patients still down but less out, I began inching my way toward true Christmas spirit. Fancy-talk for I bought and wrapped my first few gifts! There. very much better. It was amazing, the difference a week made. And today? by golly, with bits of Christmas still playing peek-a-boo all around, a huge sigh.
Today, I'm finding myself easily distracted. There was snow falling the last half of last week, big fluffy flakes that looked ridiculously festive. they mostly vanished the next day. I don't know where they go, the steady stealth snowfall. Some special snowfill? Does Pottery Barn use it in their snow globes? But when first snow fall lands on winter solstice, I consider it a special delivery, I'll take it every single time. We're officially into full on winter season, and I'm so very fond of this stuff. I appreciate the way that snow settles the score with winter's commitment to steady, stinging cold. A fresh fwooosh of powder, and abra cadabra!, abandoned backyards become winter wonderlands. And at the risk of re-stating the obvious, did you notice the free home delivery program? delivered right to your doorstep. The genius of this plan is so under-rated. Man who comes up with these things? And then, there's the minor matter of aesthetics. I'm a little dumb-founded by winter's stealth beauty. I love the silhouettes and the soft muted colors. The way colors pop in a gone gray world. I love the way the entire landscape transforms, powdered and frosted and leavened by white. I love the way every last leaf, pod, and cone dons a jaunty white cap when the first flakes fall. I love the crisp quiet, the silent eloquence. The miracle of birds, somehow surviving. The old foliage of fall, gone suddenly festive. I love how, when the cold stays and the skies clear, the whole landscape lights up like a Fairy tale. I remember the structure of snow is a crystal, which multiplied by a billion throws off some serious twinkle.
The tree's are still all up and twinkly. We are on every day full on sparkle. stockings are empty. Presents un-wrapped. Cookies (mostly) eaten. warm fuzzy feelings all around. Old ornaments now hang with new ones fitted in. I'm learning again this year, that less is more. I'm setting out to spend time together, to share the anticipation and joy of the season with my people, to give beyond myself, to remember the Reason. Fixing my heart on things that don't come in a box. and I'm so glad. I remember back to the time I thought no one would ever leave. it scared me. But I'm singing out a new story. It starts with faith and ends with love that just keeps on going.
Christmas swept me up again. It's a tradition, You know, right?
This year we did things a bit differently.
We opened our gifts on the 24th. and the 25th. and the 26th. We waded around in the mess like always and our hearts burned bright for our family, one less than last year. All throughout the Day, and in the days before and after, my mind drifted that way, chipping off a tiny piece of my heart every ding dang time. I am from hardy stock. I have always known that I am strong, but I think I surprised even myself with just how strong. Still, I keep begging for a pure heart and a clear perspective. looking for the words that won't bring me to my knees. I'm alternating between resisting the urge to dismantle the tree and wanting to leave it up forever. I'm cracking up over my desire to move things along, and to keep them the same. I am smiling over the gardening catalogs already in the mail. jammed with gardening tips.
I feel you, garden catalog people. I really do.
But there's snow falling and I'm not quite done floating on this peace.
and so this was Christmas, and I am straight up in love with Christmas.
Sending love to the broken hearted tonight. Your children are not forgotten.
Red Velvet Cake (a.k.a. Christmas Cake)2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 oz. red food coloring
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or three 8-inch round cake pans.
2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste without lumps; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
4. Make sure you have cake pans buttered, floured, and nearby. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. Yes, it will fizz! Add it to the cake batter and stir well to combine. Working quickly, divide batter evenly between the cake pans and place them in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check early, cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. To remove the cakes from the pan, place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, then gently lift the pan. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting. Frost with buttercream or cream cheese icing (recipe below).
Recipe Notes: *Sift cake flour once before measuring, then sift again with the other dry ingredients per recipe instructions. Wear an apron and be careful with the red food coloring–no matter how hard I try, I always end up staining something! As you’re mixing the cake batter, use a spatula to scrape down the bowl frequently throughout the entire process.
Cream Cheese Frosting
16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Turn mixer to low speed and blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).
Recipe Notes: If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, more powdered sugar can be added (up to four cups). But remember, the more sugar you add, the less you’ll be able to taste the tangy cream cheese!