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Posts Tagged ‘Santa’

I spent this week outsmarting insects called no-see-ums, dismantling and cleaning my apartment, and restoring it after a fumigation, just as everyone enjoys doing a week before Christmas. Me in black leggings tucked into new and surprisingly tight black* Hanes socks, with a long-sleeved shirt tucked into my waistband, to deter the biters. Dressed like this while dragging out paper snowflakes, ceramic light-up houses, and a suped-up tree stand. I looked like a Goth elf. But I beat the invisible little suckers.**

This is good news. And because I’m tenacious and in decent shape, the house is clean, aired, and bug-less. But I’m not ashamed to say this ordeal wore me out. Extra treats have been essential to get me from point A to point B, and I have been enjoying them without the faintest trace of guilt. Christmastime offers up some awesome once-a-year treats. Maybe you could use a couple yourself. Here we go.

Things that Cheer Me Right Back Up

-Driving past the house nearby that has a porch decorated with lit trees and a life-sized Santa.

-Making gingerbread men (to be continued; the dough’s in the fridge to firm up). Finding a cookie cutter for them has proved preposterously futile, so I’m cutting them out freehand. Edibility is the only requisite here, which is good.

-Dim sum and crepes, plus homemade stuff: mozzarella in carrozza, burgers made in the manner of English spiced beef, proper stuffing (which I sadly missed at Thanksgiving), and sour cream coffee cake. The recipe is here.

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The Cake. It won a ribbon at the county fair and is a Christmas morning tradition. One year I even put it under the tree as a present to me. Maybe I’ll do it again.

-Following the local volunteer fire truck as the guys dress up and deliver early gifts to our kids. The kids jump up and down in picture windows and I can see them mouthing SANTA!

-Decorating my tree, which I keep in my room, and which was cut down by a gold miner (truth). Yukon Cornelius made a rare appearance in Colts Neck, NJ. He looked great for his age.

-Filling the bedroom with white pine to keep the tree company.

-Visiting the antiques store to see bits and pieces of Christmases past.

-Buying myself a rhinestone necklace and wearing it home from the mall, even though I had on work boots. Logic, schmogic.

-Observing the sky at dusk on New Year’s Day to predict what kind of a year 2016 will be. It’s an old custom. You want to look for a cloud shaped, however vaguely, like a bull. Totally not kidding! Look it up.

-Reading my old book of Christmas ghost stories, which are less scary than they are quaint.

-Sending Christmas cards. I might be one of the only people who likes this activity. That and eating fruitcake (caveat: homemade).

-Opening my vintage Advent calendars, which are German, at least 50 years old, and were owned by my neighbors growing up.

Sweet.

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Girl after my own heart.

*I wear black clothes a lot. It matches everything, plus it’s all that’s allowed backstage.

**These guys can get in through window screens. Explains why I never saw them.

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I spent part of Christmas morning volunteering at the Salvation Army’s holiday party for the needy. Every square foot of the giant rec room was occupied with food, face painting, Santa, a live band, a walk-around magician, and a toy and winter clothing giveaway, all sponsored by a local Italian restaurant and many, many donors. Yes, we totally tripped over each other, but it was a gas.

I was manning the dish and takeout station when the little girl above came over just to show us her new teddy bear. She glowed like the sun and wiggled a lot, which is why the picture came out somewhat blurry. The woman serving salad beside me said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if all it took for us to be that happy was a teddy bear?’

Below, our coats thrown into a heap in the kitchen by a box of aluminum serving pans. That’s mine above left, with the fuchsia scarf.

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The chef seasoning the next massive pan of macaroni and cheese.

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Mr. Cutie below isn’t afraid. And his mom has no qualms about joining him.

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The little boy on the right was very resourceful in thinking to use the box from his new truck as a tray for his two desserts. But he was so amped up that they slid off. I’m actually surprised he made it to his table. This was shot just before both desserts took a splat.

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Face painting, patience, and another pink slip owner.

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A gentleman who came through the buffet had this around his neck, and I said, ‘I love your plane! Did you make that? It’s from an Arizona can!’ He looked amazed and said, ‘Yeah! And you’re the first person I’ve met who knew it was a plane!’

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*A woman came through the buffet line with two children, and I asked her if she wanted plates as well as takeaway boxes. (Both would have been fine.) She said, ‘Oh, no, just the plates; I want to be respectful.’

*Another woman had her eye on some winter gloves being offered free of charge, but didn’t feel comfortable going to the table to get them, so she asked me to be her scout. She was quite earnest; had the color all picked out because she could see them at a distance. I got some for her pal, too. When I brought them over she grinned and high-fived me.

*As I handed out bags of apples and oranges, a man snagged my sleeve and said, ‘Thanks, honey. Merry Christmas.’

*A man in a purple jacket came through the line with a cane featuring a beautifully carved eagle head. I said, ‘That’s gorgeous! Did you make that?’ He tipped up his chin and smirked and said, ‘I designed it!’

Speaking of birds, here are two outside the building with a Christmas bagel. Sounds counter-intuitive, but there it is.

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The deliciousness continued that afternoon, hiking in the Currier-and-Ives-like rolling hills and pastures of Navesink, and shooting as much of the dramatic light as I could…

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..and eating a great deal of the sour cream coffee cake I bake myself every year.

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My Raggedy Ann (circa 1970) always sits under my tree, which is in my room so I can look at the lights as I fall asleep. Sometimes when I refill the water in the base I accidentally bump into her and she flops flat backwards, which kills me every time. She’s old and stained, but she’s still got comic mojo.

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Peace and blessings.

 

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Wild persimmons, Navesink, NJ.

Last week I tossed my stepladder in the car and headed out to pick more persimmons in the woods, and right about now you’re all wondering if I ever actually pay for anything I pick, aren’t you? Between the mulberries and wineberries and peppermint and beach plums and quinces and—wow, it really has been a banner year for wild pickings.* The answer is yes; I pay when I pick at my favorite farm, and will from time to time pick n’ pay at an orchard. But the thrill of the hunt that many get from Black Friday I get from what I spot driving down the road or taking a walk. Two plusses on my end: 1) No wallet necessary, and 2) no one’s squalling in line with me. Three, actually: 3) I never have to wrap what I find and stick on a bow, either.

The fruit above was spotted by my friend Lauren, who was picnicking with her kids in a beautiful wood that is also shared by a cemetery. She sent me a photo and asked what it was. I knew they were persimmons, but these didn’t match the shape of either Hachiya or Fuyu, common Japanese varieties. They were as small as cherry tomatoes. A Google search proved it: they’re wild ‘uns. SCORE.

I climbed the hill looking for them and saw there were two trees, right next to each other. I pulled a fruit down and popped it in my mouth. The flesh was slippery and musky sweet. It was a frigid day, but I picked about 20—as many as dinky me on that dinky stepladder** could without also freezing my fingers off.

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Baked Laurie Colwin’s cake as a worthy persimmon vehicle and mushed them up as a topping. Didn’t need to add a speck of sugar to them.

We move on to Thanksgiving Day, when most people are cooking, eating, convalescing comfortably as they watch football, or squalling comfortably in line per above. Most are not teetering on a stepladder in the countryside, cursing first one’s own lack of height and then the stepladder’s. I wanted to pick from the only Fuyu I knew of in all of New Jersey, the place was deserted just as I’d hoped, and I was too low to the ground to pick even one. Cheers!

No, wait! Just as I did my first futile reach, out of freaking nowhere, a guy ambled up the hill right toward me. I called out, ‘I’m five foot three.’ He answered, ‘I’m five foot ten.’ As good a greeting as any, especially when he insisted on getting a couple of fruits down for me afterward. The holiday of thanks was redeemed, and was made even more touching when he didn’t ask if I’d had any kind of tree-raiding permission. Keep your roaring fires and pashmina throws from Nordstrom—that was bloody cozy right there.

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Fuyus, almost a lost cause, deep in the heart of Navesink.

I forgot to tell you the wild persimmons at top were quite pit-ty, but unless I did something wrong, the Fuyus were totally pit-free. They are much bigger, too, and look like a red-orange tomato. I learned that you just pull off the top, dig in with a spoon, scoop all of the goo out, and eat straight up.***

I winged it this morning—made a parfait for breakfast. You can do it too if you raid a local tree, or more respectably a local supermarket:

-Take leftover homemade ricotta mixed with a little granulated sugar

-Add two layers of the inside of a persimmon

-Sprinkle a little ground cardamom on the whole shebang

The Fuyu persimmon tastes a little like its cousin the wild persimmon, but is much mellower–like a very, very, very ripe apricot. Again, no sugar at all was necessary to add to the fruit.

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And you can’t beat the price.

*Wait till next year.

**Santa, please give me a couple of extra inches in height or a small, collapsible ladder. While you’re at it, generously disregard how much of that Endangered Species 72% dark chocolate with blueberries I ate yesterday. Thanks a bunch.

***A handy note about me: I didn’t grow up eating persimmons. I don’t know anyone who did, actually. I tasted one from a store many years ago and remembered it was good, but not much else. I just knew them when I saw them in the rolling hills, and figured everything else out afterward. This is a big part of the appeal.

You can also eat the Fuyu variety crisp, like an apple, but that’s earlier in the season. I needed to wait until the location was cleared out, like, say, on Thanksgiving. You understand.

 

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Shut…

I know, I get it—technically the holiday season ends tomorrow, if you’re going by the Twelve Days of Christmas schedule. That’s January 6, which some call the Epiphany, which my mom calls ‘Little Christmas’, and which is purported to be the day the Wise Men finally pulled in and dropped off their symbolic goodies*. Do just one tidbit this year, or save these up for next year. Or maybe you’ve done all of these already. Rock on. You win Christmas.

1) Attend a small-town tree-lighting. Big fun. Applaud when the big guy in red arrives, and again when he throws the switch and the town glows.

2) Open the doors on an Advent calendar. The kind that gives you a chocolate every day is okay, but I like the picture kind the best. The photos here are from one of the three 1960s calendars I own and adore.

3) Watch the old Christmas specials. The classics aren’t just nostalgia trips; many are also beautiful examples of stop-motion animation (anything Rankin & Bass) and hand-rendered animation (A Charlie Brown Christmas, with its luscious watercolor skies, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! with its sly, Bugs-Bunny-esque Chuck Jones direction).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a shift from mindless holiday cheeriness, and I’ve always found its wistful yearning to be sort of appealing. It was first aired in 1963, when the civil rights movement was just starting to heat up, and this might explain how emphatically the theme of conformity vs. non-conformity is pushed. It also aired a month after JFK’s assassination, and I’d be surprised if this didn’t have had a hand in its sense of melancholy.

Oh, it’s fun you want? Then watch The Year Without a Santa Claus to see Heat Miser throw awesome red-faced hissy fits, and Snow Miser (voiced by comedian Dick Shawn, who played LSD in The Producers a couple of years earlier) blithely instigating every one of said hissy fits.

4) Blow off one thing on your list. I have always made my own Christmas cards and loved sending them. This year, for some inexplicable reason that will probably come to me a decade from now at 3:15am, I just wasn’t feeling it. So I didn’t. Unless it’s a non-negotiable (like maybe the tree), opt out of doing something. The world will continue to spin on its axis, and you get to relax that much more.

5) Eat something real. A piece of real fruitcake, a cookie with real butter in it, real salt-cured country ham. I don’t need to elaborate on this point, right? I do that all year.

6) Same deal for a mug of hot chocolate that wasn’t shaken from a blue packet.

7) Walk through your neighborhood at night and see the assorted twinkliness. +1 if you find a window display of vintage moving figures holding candles or song books. Those are really cool.

8) Collect one can, or more, of vegetables every week you go to the supermarket during December. On 12/23, drop it all off at your local food bank. Include a plate of cookies just for the workers.

9) Read, or reread, A Christmas Carol. Unabridged. Do it to feel the lovely sense of connection with every other human on the planet washing over you, do it for Dickens’s delicious playfulness when it comes to words, do it to find new meaning every year. But do it.

10) Turn on the lights on the tree, turn off all of the other lights, turn on some Christmas music very quietly, and just rest.

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Open 🙂

*Gold, because according to Scripture the newborn was a king; frankincense, because he was a god; and myrrh, because he was destined to die (myrrh was an embalming fluid). Do I win the new Toyota Corolla?

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Vintage Pyrex bowls.

Goodness, this was a lousy week.

Even before the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday I was overwhelmed, disheartened and in need of some peace—proper peace, the kind that soaks into the bones. The song ‘Where Are You, Christmas?’ has never been a favorite of mine, but I have to admit that lately I have been wondering the same thing. Here it was the middle of December, and I should have been happily knee-deep in the fun and joy of Christmastime. Instead, stress seemed to have formed a Plexiglas case around me, isolating me from the season I love so much, allowing me to see it but not feel it. It was as if I was watching it all on television.

By Wednesday I was stretched to maximum capacity and utterly exhausted. I crossed everything off my list for the afternoon, drove to the antique district in Red Bank and walked into the red wooden shop at Front Street and Bridge. My blood pressure went down to a simmer as soon as I opened the door of the old building, a mighty garage sale on two floors. It’s a good place to step out of yourself, out of the present, into what (at least) feels like a warmer time. The place even has a calming aroma; the mix of wood, vintage clothes, books and housewares all together in one spot is what I imagine 1958 or thereabouts smelled like.

This antiques shop relaxes me because the stuff within is not so much precious as homey. There are the odd mahogany end tables and gilded mirrors, but there are far more simple things, ones that waft good memories around me like a May wind. I love seeing the type of 1960s porcelain figurines my aunt used to display on her dresser, the ones of ladies with updos, wearing broad sweeps of black liner on their upper eyelids and real dangling earrings. I love seeing the same miniature Madame Alexander dolls I used to collect, and the kind of metal lunchbox my sister used to carry to school.

The vintage kitchen stuff soothes me most of all. The nooks and alcoves piled floor to ceiling with kitchenware are quiet places where you can step in and feel enveloped by women, long-gone, who imprinted themselves on the worn goods they left behind. Here the potato masher and wooden spoons with well-used handles, there the scratched ceramic bowl in which of hundreds of loaves of bread rose. Corningware dishes that saw countless Thursday night meatloaves, birthday-dinner chicken fricassees, heaps of peas from a carefully tended garden. Within these humble, common possessions were the spirits of generations of women who worked their whole lives to keep their families well fed and protected. I felt that spirit, decades later, and felt the safety they provided transfer to me.

Depression glasses and plates are stacked by color, and they make muted rainbows on the shadowy parts of the shelves. Utensils are in spatterware buckets and inside drawers of wooden hutches. The place is a mishmosh, granted; but there IS order, there IS a layout, and I found that comforting, too. What Holly Golightly appreciated about Tiffany, I appreciate here.

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I liked these as a kid, but my mom wouldn’t let us get them because she heard a rumor that they contained lead. Was that true?

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Jadeite vases, coffee cups and bowls.

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Rolling pins.

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Enamelware soup ladle, made to accommodate a deep stock pot.

Christmas decorations are all around the shop, too, most from 1960 and earlier. I loved peering into the cabinets full of candle choirboys, never lit so they would always stay perfect, and grinning Santas. My mom has Christmas things she loves putting on windowsills every year, and so do I. I imagined the sweet-faced angel below being someone’s mom’s favorite. And once again I felt enveloped and safe, even though it was through an image of someone I had never met, from a time before my time. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense on paper; it worked.

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Shiny Brite tree ornaments.

Many years ago I was at this very shop and fell in love with a tiny bottle brush Christmas tree. I came back a couple of days later to buy it and it was gone. Amazing how the loss of something that cost three dollars could have made my heart sink like it did, but it did.

On Wednesday I turned a corner and saw another bottle brush tree. At just two inches, it was tinier and even cuter than the one I lost all of those years ago. Three and change. Done.

I stayed for an hour and left the shop feeling much looser and calmer. Yes, the rest of my week got hairy from time to time, and I’m sure it will again. But I have my little bitty tree right here on my desk, and it helps to remind me of the joy and peace this season is supposed to have.

I’m not sure I believe in sweeping generalizations like great joy is all around us, if only we reach out and grab it. Would that it were. At times like this it seems even more implausible, and that’s coming from a pretty enthusiastic optimist. But I don’t think that’s how it works.

Instead, I think we should seek out any bright little glimmers of joy we can find. Those are all around us, and those we should grab. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmastime or any other time of year. Hang on to them and let them sink into your bones. They’ll fortify you. When necessary—before it’s necessary, really—I recommend taking a day, or an afternoon, or even an hour, to play hooky from the world.

And I figured this out: Maybe stress is best diffused just by seeking out anything or anyone that can help us to feel safe. Maybe that’s where peace comes from, too.

I hope you figure out a way to find it—all year long but especially now.

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