Merry Christmas, friends.
On Saturday night, we went to see the Christmas Light Show at Macy’s in Philadelphia. It was just as whimsical and lovely as I remembered.
It was fun to see both kids and adults crowding around to watch the lights.
Rob made a point that back when this store was built (when it was Wanamaker’s, the first department store in the country), things were just done differently. It’s such a beautiful building – marble floors, balconies on each level overlooking the Grand Court Atrium, even a huge organ which is the largest playable instrument in the world! It’s a really special place.
And it was a really special night!
Oh, how I wish I had managed to get pictures of the spread I put out. I truly do. There were stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, chicken skewers, barbecue meatballs…it went on and on.
How excited am I?
About what, you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m excited because this weekend, Rob and I are going to spend time together in the best city I know – Philadelphia.
You may remember that we spent a weekend there over the summer, hanging out with friends and just generally enjoying the time together without having to answer to anyone else. It was pretty awesome, and something we knew we had to do again (if only for the Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Shower at the Westin. Seriously, have you ever experienced them? Because if not I’d dare to say that you haven’t lived. It’s just that amazing.).
I love Philly so much. I can’t describe the feeling very articulately. It’s just where I was born and raised, the skyline I know by heart, the city I’m insanely proud of for all the times it tries (even if it doesn’t always succeed).
It’s the place that, whenever I visited somewhere else (including NYC), I missed and wanted to return to. It’s home and it always will be.
So on Saturday and Sunday we paint the town red…and green, since we’re going to try to see as many Christmas-y things as we can. First up is two tickets to Holiday Pops, which is always fun (they have a gospel choir that is so good I swear I wanna jump up and sing along)…then we hope to get a chance to visit Christmas Village at City Hall, and my favorite…
I haven’t seen the light show at Macy’s since it was the light show at Wannamaker’s (maybe it was already Lord & Taylor at that time…who can tell?). It’s simple enough – a whole wall of lights in the shape of animals, Christmas characters and snowflakes blinks in time to music and narration by none other than Julie Andrews. Compared to more hi-tech spectacles this may seem…pedestrian.
But it is so.not.even. It’s magical. There’s something about the music and the lights, and seeing the awestruck faces of the little guys all around, that resonates in the soul. Plus it’s pretty. And Rob’s never seen it. So I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.
We would love, like looooove, to visit the Italian Market as well. We went last year and had a blast even though it was, like, 2 degrees outside with constant icy winds. I hope that this time around we can take more time to enjoy it without suffering hypothermia. All the spices, fresh meats and seafood, cheese and produce I can get my hands on. It’s a dangerous scenario, actually. Seriously, y’all would have a fit down there.
How could you not be happy around all this olive oil? How??
Regardless of whether or not I get to frolic in the Christmas Village, or drool over the multitude of beautiful food shops in South Philly, or get a good night’s sleep in a Heavenly Bed*, it matters not. The important thing is spending time with Rob and taking a breather from the madness of the holidays.
That’s what it’s all about.
*I better get a good night’s sleep in that bed. I was totally lying about it not mattering.
How about you? Any special plans for the holiday season?
So to sum it all up, in case you aren’t following: I am not a fan of wrapping gifts.
Buying? Yes. Unwrapping? Sure! But actually wrapping? Not so much. Because I stink at it. There. I said it.
But then I take a look…
…and I see all the work he’s done for me.
It’s so pretty.
So here I go again, wrapping and decorating so he’ll have pretty presents under the tree, just like I do.
I’m so happy to be sharing this series of Christmas tree memories with my friends over at Company Girl Coffee today! Pay a visit – you won’t be disappointed!
There really is something about just sitting at night, looking at the tree. It takes me back to my younger days, and the annual Christmas tree decorating which took place at my parents’ house.
When I was little, we’d put the tree a couple of weeks before Christmas. This was always the most magical time of the season.
Or so you’d think.
We’d always use the same fake tree. I can’t tell you how long the first tree I remember lasted…decades, I guess. Back then they made the trees well, as they did with everything else. So Dad would bring the pieces up from the basement and with each trip, the excitement increased.
Then the stand would be place in its spot of honor, and the center pole in the middle. Screws would be tightened to hold the pole in place, and then Dad would wrap a piece of twine around it and nail it to the wall – I’m assuming that the tree must’ve fallen at one point, back in the day? A wire hoop went around the pole, to hold the branches out to their desired fullness…and then the rows of branches would go on, one by one.
At this point, the tree never seemed tall enough. Is it possible, I’d wonder annually, that I remembered it taller than it actually was? Did it grow in my memory? But then the top piece would slide home, and that top branch was just as high up as I knew it to be in my heart.
Then. Oh, then. It came time for Mom to “shape” the tree – you know, spreading and arranging those many bristly branches until there weren’t any empty spaces and the tree looked good and full. This…was a little stressful for all of us. And now, upon remembering this, I know where my “you’re only saying it looks good so I’ll stop” attitude (which pops up every now and again) comes from. Because I’m pretty sure I just quoted her directly.
Then time for the lights. I liked to make myself as invisible as possible as Mom and Dad
snipped at each other worked together like a real team over the spacing of the strands as they progressed down the length of the tree. It was uncomfortable super fun.
Finally. Finally once my mother was completely and totally emotionally drained from the strain of shaping and then stringing the lights, it was time to hang ornaments. This was where my brother and I would come in, and after many years, my sister and my other brother. To this day, there’s still the rush between Jason and I to get our “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments on the tree first, and in a position of more prominence. Pushing and shoving would ensue as we clamored to get our ornament just one branch higher than the other. One year not long ago I came home to find my ornament on the back of the tree. So mine replaced Jason’s, and his was turned backwards. Mine then went in the trash. It’s a good time.
But it’s all okay in the end, because I was the first born and therefore have more “This baby is awesome” ornaments than he does. That’s just the way it goes.
Nowadays, I don’t decorate the tree with the family. I decorate my own tree with my husband. And this year we were fortunate enough to decorate two trees – one in the living room, one in the den. We might not have the annual “who can find their ornament and get it on there first” cage match, but we do carefully unwrap our own precious ornaments…the ones from our honeymoon and from each anniversary…the “Our First Christmas, 2006″ ornament which we so treasure…and put them on the tree together.
I hope that one day I’ll watch, lovingly, as my own children clump all the ornaments together in the one spot of the tree they can actually reach, the way Jason did when we were small. They’ll go to bed and I’ll fix things when they’re asleep. And maybe through the years we’ll be adding more “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments long after I thought I ever would, the way my parents did when the younger pair were born. Maybe they’ll clamor to hang their own favorite ornaments and through the decades will turn it into a good-natured rivalry which only happens once a year. And I’ll remember putting up the tree long ago with my family, and how even my parents’ strained nerves were a part of the ritual.
And I’ll smile beatifically through it all, my composure maintained, my sanity firmly in place.
See, we use pre-lit trees now. It’s a better day.
I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately, and it all revolves around the holidays.
For my entire life, I’ve been that person who waits all year long for Christmas to come around once again. The sheer magic of the holidays does something to me. I can’t explain it, but the thought of it sends delighted shivers up my spine. And I’m thrilled to say that my enthusiasm towards this time of year has rubbed off on my husband, who is quickly surpassing me in Christmas spirit. It does my heart good to see it.
So I’m sort of “that person”. The one who discreetly listens to Christmas music on her iPod in early November. Who thrills at the appearance of the first Christmas commercial on TV. Whose heart skips at beat the sight of the first decorations.
I’m also the naive girl who made it her mission in life, one year, to have homemade eggnog with her family on Christmas Eve (I hadn’t learned about tempering eggs yet…and had to skim out the little bits of scrambled while fighting a sense of disillusionment). The girl who once stayed up until 3 in the morning, baking cookies for coworkers (because I didn’t start making them til I got home from work that night – it was a bad idea). The idiot who bought I can’t even tell you how many skeins of yarn on year in order to make afghans for extended family (I completed a total of ONE of them, by the way – sometimes I can do more in my head than I can in real life).
Over the years, though, this feeling of “I can accomplish every ridiculous idea the neurotic little Christmas elf in my head comes up with” has left me…exhausted. Irritated. Frustrated. And it has drained me, slowly but surely, of my Christmas cheer. I find myself loving the idea of the holidays more than the holidays themselves. I look forward to cookie baking, but the act of it leaves me annoyed and stressed. My spirit of joy is dying by inches with each passing year.
Hence the soul searching. Why is this happening? And can it be stopped?
Then I saw something this morning which made my jaw drop. I wish I could remember where I saw it – on a blog? In a comment? On Twitter? For the life of me I can’t find it, and if I did I’d thank the person who typed it out even if it wasn’t their idea. And even if my interpretation wasn’t what was intended.
It’s literally as if the little elf in my head started screaming and jumping up and down and banging pots and pans to get my attention, because he recognized the answer to the problem immediately.
“Do Less. Be More.”
Whoa. Stop the presses. What’s this? You mean I can actually do LESS and be MORE?
Up til now, when I’ve thrown a holiday party, I’ve felt compelled to go from-scratch all the way. Literally the biggest shortcut I’ve ever taken was using canned crescent rolls for pigs in a blanket (and seriously, who wouldn’t? They’re the most delicious things ever) or a pre-made pie crust. And that’s pretty much it.
In most cases, it’s really a matter of economics – over time I’ve learned, as most of us do, that there’s a convenience charge involved with even the most everyday items. So why pay extra for a bag of shredded cheese when I can spend less for a block and grate it myself? Why buy candied nuts when it’s a snap to make a glaze for plain old nuts on the stove? Why buy slice-and-bake? A tub of hummus? A jar of sauce? I can make all of these things by myself.
Thing is…when you’re hosting a party and there’s a bunch of things to be prepared, it may be a good idea to take not only dollars but time invested into consideration as well, and how much of It you’re spending not enjoying yourself and your guests. Lord knows I can’t remember the last party I threw where I wasn’t too exhausted to enjoy myself. Case in point: Last New Years, when I slept through 2 hours of the party. True story.
So the lesson here, at least my interpretation of it, is that I need to do less fretting, less from-scratch preparation of every single thing, less stressing over the perfection (or lack thereof) of everything in my domain…and more being there. More connecting, more sharing, more actual listening to what a friend is telling me as opposed to keeping an ear out for the oven timer. To be more of a hostess and less of a Martha wannabe. I need to tell myself that people are showing up not just for the food (although let’s not kid, they’re coming for the food) but to be with me and my husband. And the best thing I can give them is the gift of my attention to them.
Because at the end of the holiday season, no one will give me a medal for Most Cookies Baked. No one will care that the delicious dip I served up came from Trader Joe’s and not my food processor. Or that I made my own eggnog or crocheted everyone’s gifts or stood at my counter/stove/sink until I wished my feet would fall off because after 7 hours they hurt.so.much.
What they will care about, at least I would hope, is that we got to spend time together in a lovely, festive atmosphere…while I was actually awake.
And eating pigs in a blanket.
What about you? Do you set high standards for yourself during the holidays? Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to share?
Really, are there any three words which go together so perfectly? Any three words which stir the soul the way those three simple words can?
Okay. Maybe “I love you”. But “chocolate chip cookies” absolutely has to be #2 on the list.
It just so happens that I’m married to a lover of the cookies with the chocolate chips, so when I’m baking Christmas cookies, chocolate chip have to be knocked out right away just so he can relax and quit asking me when I’m making them. Sheesh.
It helps when making dozens upon dozens of cookies that a recipe be easy. And this, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a pretty darn easy recipe. It’s not all fancy pantsy and filled with crazy add-ins. Just straight up buttery, chocolate chip goodness.
It also happens to result in what are probably the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made. This, friends, is what we call a “win-win”. And who wins? You do.
And whoever gets to eat them, of course.
Note: I know that everyone and their mother has their own favorite recipe which they call “best ever”. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the butter mixture and thoroughly combine. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven.**
* This is purely a matter of taste. I don’t like too many chips in my cookies and feel that 2 cups is way too much. You may feel differently!
**15 minutes is usually enough to get that beautiful golden brown color, but some ovens (like mine) require 20. So keep an eye on these babies and make sure they don’t burn!
Do YOU have a favorite cookie recipe?