Make a List, Check it Twice
You better not shout. You better not cry. You better not pout…do you know why? Yes, I know Santa Claus is coming to town. And at my house, Hanukkah Harry has already made a visit or two as well. But more importantly, this is the season for joy. Not pain, stress, worry and obligation. It’s a time to cherish all we have and those we love. The pretty lights, twinkly decorations and familiar holiday carols are awfully nice, too. But when it comes with a side of angst and fret, I want to shout, pout and cry.
I recently took a good hard look in the mirror. How could I up the joy this holiday season and keep the pain to a dull roar? There are traditions Andy and the kids wait for all year – the trip to the National Christmas tree, Handel’s Messiah at the Kennedy Center (Andy, not the kids), the Nutcracker ballet, the parties, the tree, the menorah and of course, the presents that come with 8 nights of Hanukkah, 12 days of Christmas and the 24 day advent calendar countdown leading up to them.
And then there are the traditions I perpetuate because they’ve become expected. But some of these tasks wear me out. I admit that openly. The truth is no one cares about these things but me. Just me. So if I’m the one to please, why not change the bar? Set it a little lower. Take some pressure off and breathe a little.
First off the list, the annual holiday photo card. You know that person who has her holiday cards out by Thanksgiving? She has her tree up, lit, tinseled and ornamented shortly thereafter. She’s also the one whose shopping is done and gifts neatly wrapped under the tree before you’ve even had a chance to get sick of hearing “Jingle Bells.” In previous years, I’ve been that deplorable person.
Not this year. I took a photo of my favorite cards from years past, posted it to Facebook and said “happy holidays” right there. We look the same as last year anyway. Sort of. To make up for this grinchy move, I’m also doing more in-person well-wishing. That feels pretty good. So if you’re on my list and wonder why my card wasn’t in your mailbox before Cyber Monday, it’s not that you’ve been dropped. I’m just taking a year off. Back next year.
Next to go? The made-entirely-from-scratch gingerbread house. The kids like building the house and putting the candy on it. They don’t actually care if I made the gingerbread myself with no hydrogenated oil products (we don’t eat the darn thing anyway!). It makes no difference to them if I cut and baked the pieces or not. And this is where those nice little pre-baked kits come in handy. The kids completed the kits last weekend to their enormous delight. Check, check.
And what about the parties, meals and activity planning the host must perform? It’s what you make of it. In previous years, I’ve sweated every detail to the point of being voiceless by Christmas Eve and bedridden with pneumonia by New Year’s Day. Make a fuss and this is what you get. Not recommended, friends.
This year, I’m taking a more relaxed approach. We will eat good food. We will laugh. We will drink cider and egg nog and mulled wine. I will remain calm. We will unwrap presents – and no one will care if the corners aren’t precise or the bows don’t coordinate perfectly with the paper since it all ends up in the trash anyway – and we will give thanks for togetherness. We will also blow through many packages of batteries and build a slew of toys with poorly written instructions and too many pieces. That is what it’s all about. And I will still be calm.
And what of the shopping, you ask? I’m still working on that. I bet you are, too. (If you’re not, don’t tell me.) This week, I’ve made a list of my favorite home and kitchen items. If I’d like to get it, I feel good about giving it. So here are the things I’d happily give or get.
- I love my kitchen to smell amazing whether or not I’m cooking. I just acquired a small rosemary tree and it’s not only adorable, it smells great. It’s also functional. You can snip from it to make dishes like this one and this one.
- If you are looking for something more dramatic in the herb department, check out this eye-catching wall-mounted herb garden. The chalkboard takes it over the top. I want one of these. Yes, that was a hint to anyone who is paying attention.
- Food gifts are always high on my list. It’s fun to introduce friends and relatives to unique products I might not necessarily buy outside of an occasion. Last year, I sent my brother a shipment of ridiculously indulgent ice cream from here. This year, I’m hot on the addictive nut butters from Big Spoon Roasters in Durham, NC. I made my own version of the peanut pecan butter (pictured above slathered onto a honeycrisp apple – my favorite breakfast as of late) earlier this year before I’d tasted their variety. Let’s just say I will not be dirtying my blender for this particular flavor combo anymore.
- I also like fun accompaniments for cocktails. Check out these thai basil jalapeno pickles from Gordy’s. The cute jar makes them taste better, I think. It’s a change from the standard bottle of wine and complements all the wine your hosts are sure to get from their other guests. And if you know an expectant mother, you can send her the ice cream and the pickles all at once.
- Who doesn’t like pretty stuff for the kitchen? Sassy and fun kitchen towels, like these with lovebirds or an old-fashioned bicycle would look great in a kitchen or bathroom. I also think this set of milk-bottle measuring cups is awfully clever. And while you’re at it, a pretty, sweet-smelling soap for the sink is always welcome.
- Needless kitchen gadgets drive me crazy. No, I don’t need a special pair of gloves for cleaning potatoes thankyouverymuch. But the smartly designed tools that make cooking easier and more fun? Yes, please. A few of my treasured gadgets fitting that description include the piggy steamer for steaming vegetables and reheating things that splatter, the corn zipper that makes cutting kernels off the ear a snap and this handy little garlic crusher, which is a lot easier to clean that a garlic press.
- People who like to cook know a thing or two about salt. I use kosher salt, fine sea salt, coarse sea salt and an array of “finishing” salts I won’t list here. I like to have a place to keep all these lovely salts. A cute little salt cellar liket this olive wood model is that place. I keep the frequent use salts like kosher salt in a bigger jar and something like a smoky sea salt might end up in a smaller container like this one.
Were you naughty or nice this year? To yourself, that is. Whether or not anyone is watching, you know the real answer. Look in the mirror and give yourself a big smile. It all starts here.