because, christmas

I am steeped in December over here. which really just means I'm busy pinching sap off the ends of Christmas tree branches to rub into the palms of my hands. you know, so I can breathe it in, every chance I get. recently, I showed up for an appointment with a few stray pine needles stuck to the side of my cheek and, I don't know. I think this means I might be doing it right.

I am still trying to find places for all the Christmas things in my house. I am wrapping all the gifts, singing all the songs, baking all the cookies. in other words, Decembering. because December is something you do but also, something you feel. December is the celebration of a birth, the birth is hope and without hope, we are nothing.

I am currently steeped in that lovely thing called Christmas. falling asleep with all the Christmas lights on. I am sneaking cookies before bed. I am realizing just how much I love wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. 

Or maybe it's just me.

Also, I have many traditions around these parts that are near and dear to my heart.

Christmas concert at Severance Hall {sigh).

 Every Winter I choose a random evening and surprise everyone with an impromptu trip where we listen to Christmas music, and we drive through the neighborhoods and look at glitzy Christmas lights, sometimes in pajamas, followed by Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.

Chinese takeout floor picnic? next to a crackly fire in the fireplace? with fizzy drinks and paper straws? best Christmas dinner. ever.

In that vein, you'll be thrilled beyond words to hear I baked 16 kinds of cookies, in roughly 14 hours, with 8 of those hours being sleep. All I know is, I pulled out the sugar, and one thing led to another. Isn't that how all good cookies begin? Then it was 1 a.m. and all the snowflakes, chocolate covered, sugar sprinkled, snowman builders were complete, leaving me with nothing but wide stretches of sky and swaths of evergreen.

  I drive around town with anonymous cards containing bits of cash and loving messages. I pray to be directed to the right people, say Merry Christmas, hand them the gift, and walk away. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. If you want to see Christmas through sun-scorched eyes, drive to the Haven of Rest and notice the people doing their best 11th-hour effort to shop for their loved ones. Hand them a card with some money tucked inside and walk away. I promise, it will make a difference in their world. I also hand out small bags of Christmas cookies and stop at a local laundromat to give rolls of quarters, because can you even imagine hauling all your dirty clothes around town on Christmas eve? It's a small, simple act, but it lightens the load a little. 

I feel compelled to give more during this season. I am hoping to be compelled further in February, June, September. I want to keep wearing it, never take it off. Shift my thinking to this way of truth and call it my own. Surrender to the everyday love that changes all. Make it a way of life. At times I have let the minutes, hours and days box me in. Control me. Giving me an unhealthy relationship with time. Ebb and flow. living in the moment. yet time is elusive. it slips away. I am learning patience. trying to get cozy in it. practicing the art of living the best life I can, maybe it will be even better after another year of practice.

I pace the decked halls of my home,  I think about joy dangling from every rafter while the new year radiates charm and possibility from the end of the tunnel.

Some days I'm scattered. Shifting. Unsettled.
My achy humanity rubs against everything I wish I was.

I'm no good at allowing myself to lean into uninspired, mopey days. I want every day to be a barn burner. When it's not, I call myself into question. I point fingers and tell stories. I survive these days since I must, but I sure don't do it wearing lipstick.

I stew and whine over insignificant plans that didn't quite fall into place. I cry worthier tears over actual heartbreaks, people I love are hurting right now. In just one day, I've been emotional and irrational, overly sensitive like a wily two year old. My feelings have been hurt, and it feels silly to admit it. My family have all gone rogue and I'm probably somewhat to blame. I miss my friends. I feel sorry for myself. I feel bad about feeling sorry for myself. ideas roll like marbles around my head. they bump into each other and shift into positions that are both lovely and unsettling. and I'm thinking about the year behind me, the year ahead. I'm ready to string words and sentences together in a more organized way. 

 I wore high-water jeans with chuck taylors and striped socks yesterday. My hair was flat. I wasted time when I could have been reading.

I am calling in favors to make the final Christmas magic happen. I have even taken to mustering up stashed away spirit from a few years ago, evidently there was spirit to spare. Also tapping the reserves. pulling out aces that fell in holes. yet, somehow I am still waiting. sure there are glittery Santa's. chubby snowmen. impossibly tiny lighted villages. Christmas music. shiny vintage bulbs. sparkly lights. the scent of pine  and cinnamon. but the joy that fills the house, creeps into every corner. still waiting...

for the jolly. and the merry. 

Christmas seems different this year. For the first time, I found myself digging it out of the boxes with the ornaments and tinsel. Looking for it among  the snowmen and stockings. Usually I already have it on by a favorite sweater. I have it spilling out of everywhere. Until, everything started to change. I kinda feel discombobulated and out of sorts. Sure, it is still exciting, but now also uncertain. It does not all make sense yet, and I find myself still wondering about things. things untold, and as of yet, unknown. Still trying to get my head around it. I do know for sure that it is deep. That there is a happy/heartachey kind of feel to the season. Should not all of the preparing and anticipation last longer than a month. Should giving and gratitude not have a limitless shelf life? Be never ending? Everlasting and all that. This is not breaking news people, but what Christmas really is, what it was meant to be all along. 

And call me childish, but I am borderline pouting about the snow situation this year. Bare grass. mud. rain. thunderstorms! not acceptable. I am doing the best I can with what I have. Snowflakes strung everywhere, but I'm hankering for the real thing. It's not just that I'm fond of it, but snow seems to be winter's commitment and I have come to expect it...look forward to it even. A fresh swooooosh of powder and abra cadabra, instant magic. delivered right to your front door. At the risk of repeating myself, I love the way everything looks covered in quiet and elegant. Everything bare and gloomy suddenly gone festive. How the world lights up and sparkles. Dude, the shiny bouncing off the snow can throw off some serious twinkle! Makes it dazzling. like pixie dust and glitter. The simplicity of this decorating plan is pure genius.  

I am not suppressing the sadness in this world, but I'm not swimming in it either. I am setting out my little trees, baking cookies, singing songs. I am remembering Christmas with my Dad, and I am doing everything I can to keep that part of him alive. My goal this year is to not be left with that sinking Christmas is over feeling. I want the "peace on earth, good will to men" feeling to go on...f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I will let the little things go. I will look at more twinkly lights. Sing carols at the top of my lungs. Put aside my obsession about buying the "perfect" gifts. Give more hugs. make fewer lists. paint my nails red. spend more time with loved ones. clean less. help others and ask for help if I need it. Eat less cookies and more veggies. Spend less time in the kitchen and more time at the table. Be kind to others and to myself. Fix my heart on things that don't come wrapped up in pretty paper and bows. To remember, all year long, the real reason. And to be grateful, truly grateful. I am still throwing around the bling. Dipping everything in chocolate and wishing everyone a Merry. Decking the halls, but hoping what will shine through, what will be seen is love, hope and joy. A place where I am reminded of the truth, in a world that truly is beautiful. In a life that truly is blessed. It may look a bit different, seem a tad strange...yet my heart continues to melt and my hopes are molded around the reflection of my journey in the way that I live and love. and so, this is Christmas.   but first, a clementine. and a christmas cookie. and more of that thing called Christmasing. I am praying for peace. I am celebrating even when I feel like crying sometimes
because, Christmas. Christmas. 

just sayin'.

Peppermint Fudge Brownies
Makes 30
6 ounces milk chocolate chips
3 ounces peppermint chips
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup good quality dark cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated natural cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom and hang over the sides of a 1/4 sheet pan (9x13x1) baking pan.

Add the chocolate, peppermint chips, and butter to a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high power in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each interval, until the chocolate and butter are melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate. The timing depends on the wattage of your microwave. Stir in the vanilla extract; set aside to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside.

Add the eggs and sugar to a clean, large bowl. Whisk until they become thick and pale yellow, about 1 minute. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly to the sides. You can give the pan a tap on the counter to help it settle, too. Bake for 30 minutes until the center is set and the edges gently pull slightly away from the sides of the pan (the toothpick test does not work on brownies, so you just have to trust that they are done by visual cues). Let cool completely before cutting.


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