What? Christmas is Over?

Sort of sums up December…wine was involved.

Kind reader,

Where has the time gone? Or, more importantly, you may be asking (no worries if not)…did I fall off the planet?! 

Regrettably, it has been awhile since I’ve put pen to paper, so to speak, but yowza has time flown!  November is but a blur.  How is it possible that Thanksgiving has come and gone?  In fact, really….Did November happen at all?  I may have been abducted by aliens or temporarily sucked into some black hole in the universe because…honestly my normal routine, for inexplicable reasons fell by the wayside.  I fell off, for example, the gym wagon preferring Hallmark Christmas movies to pumping iron.  Nor did I make homemade tortellini for our Thanksgiving meal, something I have done for a handful of decades. 

For goodness sake…did I even eat turkey and my favorite stuffing? 

Oh silly me. I kid.  Why yes!  Whew!  My waistline knows for sure!

Through the fog of sweet treats and libations memory serves (thankfully) that turkey and all the delicious trimmings, to include a pecan pie to die for, was enjoyed at my house.  As a matter of fact, Sis and Company hauled their dishes to share through the modest pathway that connects our back yards.  Of course, we ate ourselves silly and as we did so our lively chatter included everything from tortellini making strategies, what gifts were left to purchase and wrap and Christmas traditions, past, present and future. 

Which brings us to a few days shy of the end of December. Where in heavens name did that entire month go? Remnants of holiday ribbons and bows that adorned packages are piled in a glass bowl still on my coffee table. As I regarded them this morning over my second cup of coffee I realize I’m stunned. What? Christmas is over? Christmas– and with it, the sounds and sights of the season– has come and gone?!

Poof. Just. Like. That. Gone for another year.

Still…If I sit very quietly with eyes closed, the days leading up to Christmas return. I listened to Christmas music and hummed my favorite carols from morning to night. I gushed like a kid over the twinkling, bright holiday lights that lit up everything from neighborhood trees to greenery on our mantle. And I smiled from ear to ear when I attended my nephew’s holiday concert. Oh the joy in his parents eyes, and mine, to watch our little man play his saxophone!

Yes, I hold dear all the sweetness, love, joy, laughter and holiday lattes as well as a few tears thrown into the mix too…because, well…it is that time of year! It never fails, nor arguably should it; the time of year when we often reflect upon not only a host of Christmas memories from long ago but also on a lifetime of relationships with family and friends. The good and the bad and everything in between.

So….this Christmas eve had Sis and I in my kitchen kneading pasta dough. Nothing quite gets one into deep rumination like kneading dough for eight to ten minutes, by hand. Sure, I could use dough hook to do the deed but it is so much more satisfying to put heart, soul and muscle into the dough.

Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

“Mom would be so proud that we are carrying on her tortellini tradition,” said sis as she pressed the heals of her hands deep into a ball of dough.

Eh, si cara I thought as I reached for the bag of Tipo 00 flour. “Yes, and she’d really love our new tradition from the past four or five years… the “tortellini wars”… with our Italian family in Italy,” I said. Indeed…my favorite cugino of all time, Paolo, had just days before messaged from Italy. “Tortellini Team Udine” had thrown down the gauntlet preparing a whopping 516 tortellini!

Lord have mercy! Who is going to eat all that tortellini? Are they feeding the Italian Army?! There’s no way we’re going to beat them this year,” I thought.

Sis, in a deeply pensive mood, lamented for a moment as we kneaded away. “I’m so glad my young son loves helping in the kitchen,” she said. “It makes me sad though that after I’m gone there will be no one to carry on this holiday tradition.”

“You don’t know that sis,” I said stopping for a moment to take a sip of red wine…because….well, one cannot possibly make tortellini without a glass of wine nearby. “He loves helping us with tortellini and he’s getting good at rolling the dough through the pasta machine and knowing when the thickness of the pasta is just right to begin the next step in the process: adding the filling and folding the dough into the requisite ring (belly button) shape. Mark my words sis, all that you do, especially during the holiday season, will not be forgotten by that great kid of yours. And, truth be told, I’m still amazed that my daughter holds certain traditions dear. With our less than ideal relationship I would have never thought it possible that she too would carry on the pasta-making tradition.

This seemed to lift my sis’s spirits. And so, on Christmas eve, with some extra hands to help (my nephew, and even my husband!) we got into a steady rhythm with peaceful Christmas piano music in the background as we worked, churning out 496 tortellini–my half filled with a leek mixture and my sister’s half filled with a finely ground mixture of mortadella, prosciutto cotto (the cooked variety) and pork loin. Yes, dear reader, this mixture proved to be absolutely divine with butter and sage!

And indeed…I will confess that my competitive spirit kicked in. So much so that since some of my prepared leek and parmigiano filling remained after I ran out of dough, I was fully enthusiastic to knead up another batch of dough to move us triumphantly over the finish line to a first place victory. Alas, my team was apparently exhausted and were a sip of red wine close to revolt (full disclosure: we would have been perilously close to missing Mass) so my plan was summarily overruled. Harrumph.

Next year, Tortellini Team Udine!

Alexandre-the-Greatest will surely carry on this tradition long after I leave this planet!

As 2019 comes to a close I can only let out a long, slow breath filled with infinite gratitude. The next moment could bring heart wrenching pain or joys beyond belief; there may be harmony or incongruity, love or extreme dislike (you get the gist) …that is the journey of life. Really, the mess of it all is not for the faint of heart. Still, up or down, great or small, I’m eagerly anticipating it all. So tonight, as I ponder on past, present and future, I’ll raise a glass to those I’ve lost, to those who are still here and to whatever awaits in the new decade.

There is bliss in that.

Cheers.

Merry Christmas Bliss

Candy Cane Fashion?

Candy Cane Fashion?

O Happy Day!

No. The house has not sold.  That would truthfully mean an ecstatic day.

What’s the deal then?  Of course:  It’s Christmas Day! And, once again, I’m lucky to spend it, with my sister and her family.

I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation to making the eleven-hour drive.  We did the same last Christmas and it turned out to be an unbearably sad and difficult visit.  Add to that, this is the first Christmas without  mother.  As difficult as life with her often was, I miss her presence on this Christmas Day.  I miss the phone call (Okay…me making the call to wish a Merry Christmas).  I miss the story of what’s cooking–or not cooking– on the stove.  I miss sharing the fact that I pulled out the hand-crank pasta machine for tortellini-making and I stuffed them with leek instead of meat.  Unbelievably, I miss mom’s tirade against Obama and his policies as well as her “…now be good girl or else I’ll give you a big bop on la tua testa.”  Yes, this is our first Christmas without this force of nature. There hasn’t been a day since she has passed that I haven’t thought about her.

With that in mind how on earth did it happen that on this Christmas we didn’t make tortellini?  It’s a first after many years! Perhaps it’s because we are still reeling.  Mom’s passing and the drama and heartache that has characterized the last five years or so has left a deep imprint on our lives.  We are exhausted from trying to make everything just right… for so many…from every angle, for so damned long.  Perhaps we simply need to take a pause….a step back…along with an impossibly long, healing breath as we reflect on the good, bad and ugly.  Then, and only then, can we truly move forward with a renewed gusto for life and all its wonderful possibilities.   Sis and I realize that the little traditions that mom inspired and required through the years will soon be extinguished if we don’t do our best to keep some of them alive now that she is gone.  Indeed, it is a necessary mission to pass along to young Alexandre-the-Greatest and…if she is willing…my daughter and her husband-to-be.

So, we make a promise to press on though perhaps, when necessary –as in tortellini-making–on a different timetable.   True,  this particular Christmas Eve was not about midnight mass, tortellini, fish for dinner, opening presents, or watching Lawrence Welk Christmas show re-runs–or Andrea Bocelli–on PBS.  Traditions cast aside, but certainly not forgotten, we mixed things up considerably this year.    Instead this holiday found us making jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon and slathered with barbecue sauce. Bro-in-law happily toiled over a goose gumbo and sis prepared a pot of hearty chili.  Alexandre-the-greatest, five months from turning nine, the youngest chef among us, made trays of Christmas cookies… from scratch!   Opa Kurt had to have been smiling from above too.  He would have been tickled with delight over the gastronomic delights being made in my sister’s cozy kitchen.

With dogs and cats underfoot, we cooked, we drank, we toasted, we danced and we filled the kitchen with laughter over Amazon’s Alexa as we peppered her with a host of silly questions and requests.  We talked and sang, embraced and tickled.  Simply put, there was joy where there once was heart-wrenching melancholy.   Sis invited folks over for Christmas cheer and we filled our bellies with seconds and thirds of everything.  This all the while keeping our mother uppermost in our hearts; wishing things had been better…different…but above all, wishing she was healthy and still with for one more Christmas.

Oh what a merry day it is when spent in the arms of love and acceptance with family and friends.

It was a day of Merry Christmas bliss.  I sincerely hope yours was filled with comfort and joy too.