Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas Alone

The first couple of Christmases that you spend alone have a tendency to slide into self-pity, even if you put up the tree and string the lights. Two extremes can lead you astray. Either you can try too hard only to crash, or you can resolve to tough it out only to find yourself depressed by an all too daily ambiance on a very special day. I’ve done both, more than once, but I have also learned to create room for Christmas and then to rest in the certainty that it will be there. When I stop trying to engineer a picturesque, peopled holiday, I find joy in contemplating my blessings, a state of mind that opens up remarkable possibilities. That is when Christmas happens.

Among my blessings this year: my fire. I love that little stove that burns so warm and bright. It takes the chill out of my living room and provides a place for my gaze to rest.

My curtains. They are done at last. I bask in achievement, or I would if they were hemmed. But they thwart cold draft off the living room windows, and the clean lines of nubby cream silk falling floor to ceiling please me. The room is transformed from its previous cluttered maroon ambiance to a haven, despite ragged upholstery. My curtained privacy affords a new luxury—drying myself in front of the fire—a sensual delight that is completely new in my experience.

The puppies don’t mind. They are sacked out under the sofa, flattened by their day’s labors. Today, they learned to climb the stairs, and Max is appalled. He spent the day in my bed, equidistant from all edges, keeping watch for intruding, marauding, squealing puppies. Today, they learned to climb the stairs, but not to come down, so from time to time, puppies cry out for rescue.

I took the big dogs to the office for a couple of hours while I dealt with a fried hard drive (really! I just did this in April on the same computer), and they holidayed with people in the building, more delighted to be out in a social whirl than ever. We arrived home to find….oh, nooooooo!.....I thought the puppies had done all they could do to startle me, but no.

There were puppies on the front step. In twenty degree weather. Frantic Nell was trying to round them up, aided only by the barrier of a few steps down. Puppies don’t know how to go downstairs, at least not yet. I can only imagine how they got outdoors. Occasionally, my front door does not latch properly. Or maybe Nell couldn’t handle being alone with her offspring and her frenetic leaps hit the doorknob just right. It’s also hard to say how long they were out there, but my house was quite warm and my furnace was struggling to heat the frigid Vermont hills and fields. No harm done, all puppies safe and sound, so among my blessings I still count puppies.

I’m thinking this is not the year for a tree, but I will look for a pretty wreath and maybe some lights for it. Visitors in a steady stream are forecast, looking for a puppy break, but even if only the 4-H kids (the pet care group) and a few close friends come, that will make for lovely visits. There are interesting things to eat in the fridge, a ham and some of Aunt Ber’s slaw. I’ll push the furniture back and lay down some old quilts so we can all celebrate Christmas with puppies.

Between visits, I’m counting smaller blessings, too: my missing black maryjane rediscovered under the bed, that the auto shop said to me “Isn’t it time for your inspection?” and it was due in December, and discovery of a new kind of lemon (Meyer) reputed to be a cross with an orange.

I am enjoying the search for a few perfect recipes. I have achieved broccoli raab pizza nirvana, as well as the ecstasy of lime pickle, not for the faint of heart with its quarter cup of cayenne to the quart. I am working on chicken with preserved lemon and oil-cured olives, a ricotta pie with spinach and red peppers, something with Meyer lemons, and maybe that dried cranberry panettone in the new Cooking Light issue. I can play in the kitchen and cook anything I want, unfettered by obligations to Christmas dinner or fatty treats. Don’t get me wrong, I love making traditional Christmas things, especially Christmas cookies, but I also love being free not to do so.

I tried to convince a couple of friends to come over for an authentic Mexican dinner for Christmas, but they are deeply engaged in counting their own blessings, and I cannot fault their choice. Really, wouldn’t it be fun to do something totally different for Christmas? As I recall, last year I made sauerbraten and red cabbage, which is traditional in other parts of the world. Fun. Christmas is fun, when you let it happen.

I am also looking into the new year. At the Rotary Christmas auction, I won a trial membership at a new gym. Maybe I can squeeze my four visits in over the next week and a half before the annual January crowd descends. I’m doing the freezer inventory and thinking about what I can feed visitors not only in the holidays but through the winter. I’m finding soup I tucked away for just these chilly days—carrot ginger and cock-a-leekie and more. I’m cleaning out, clearing the decks, dumping excess stuff. Sometimes it’s meditative work, but more often there is an old movie or Christmas music for accompaniment. Markedly improved satellite tv offerings are yet another blessing of the season.

The first few Christmases I spent alone were motivated by work pressures, compounded by intense dislike of traveling in holiday crowds. But now I don’t understand how anybody has time for Christmas if they travel. So much Christmas happens on its own without preparation or prompting. I hope and expect to emerge into the new year refreshed by this blessed season, and what a gift that is!


Robert said...

A Mexican dinner Christmas, oh gosh that sounds really good. My in-laws would never go for it, least, I don't think so. You've got me wondering how I could sneak out and up for a visit!

But with family obligations my time is not my own. I don't mean that the way is sounds, though. My nieces are two, and they know about opening presents now. They don't cry much, and this year they figured out I'm not a piece of furniture.

But I miss having tamales around the holiday...

Karen said...

Robert, how could I have forgotten the tradition of tamales? Into my mind leaps Gaby, a cleaning lady who helped me when I lived on Staten Island, who pampered me deliciously at Christmastime. How do the tamales turn out so pink?

Your comment also made me catch myself in a silly error. They have Christmas in Mexico, of course, just as they do in Germany. Tamales and sauerbraten are traditional Christmas fare, if I can get past my americentered presumption. Any chance you can convince your in-laws of that?

Anonymous said...

Oh Karen, please tell me the first time that you visited my blog you didn't find one of my more splenetic, misanthropic posts (the dissing on newsletters) .. . I have been enjoying your blog so much and would hate to have you get a bad first impression--- really-- most of the time all I talk about are my dogs-- and some of the newsletters I get are great-- truly. ~bluepoppy

Anonymous said...

I surfed on in from Amy's blog, and I'm glad I did! What a lovely post!

Janet, aka www.fondofelves.com