Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our First Christmas...

Before I begin, I would just like to say that I hope that everyone had a nice Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

I would like to say that our first Christmas was shiny and perfect, but the truth is, I missed celebrating with my family in CA. I've never spent Christmas away from them in 38 years. I guess it wouldn't be normal if I wasn't a little homesick. I think that part of it is that we are all still mourning the loss of our traditional Christmases at my grandparents' house, which ended after they both passed away in 2008.

So, partly because of that, I think I came into the Christmas season a little on the emotional side this year. I am happy, though, that we were able to give a really nice Christmas Eve to Eric's family. My family decided to not do gifts this year, so Eric and I were able to focus our attention on his parents, nieces and nephew, who his parents have raised.

We went to Vancouver, the closest big city (about 40 miles away) about 2 weeks ago and did a marathon shopping day that turned out to be pretty productive and successful. I wrapped everything a few days before Christmas.

His family does things pretty informally, which is the complete opposite of my family. But, since we were hosting and because I have certain high expectations of myself as the hostess, I wanted to set a beautiful Christmas table for them. We used our wedding china for guests for the first time and my grandma's silver, which I'm so thrilled to have inherited.

The dinner was simple: some pizza, and I made BBQ chicken in the oven, Mexican rice, a salad, and my special chocolate chip sherry bundt cake, but we had a nice time. Eric's mom has been in a physical therapy rehab center with a broken foot and she just lost her sister about a week and a half ago, so knowing that we could give her a lovely evening away from the hospital for a few hours helped me to get out of my own pity party.

The evening was nice and comfortable and ended a bit earlier than what I'm used to simply because Eric's dad had to drive his mom back to the hospital (she had gotten leave for a few hours.) Eric and I cleaned up after the dinner and took Bailey for a walk in the rain, looking through windows and seeing other families celebrating their Christmas Eves and counting our own blessings.

Christmas Day was quiet. We only had one gift to open, from Eric's best friends, the Porters, which turned out to be a bean bag tic-tac-toe set up for the family room downstairs. It was a relief to see what was in that box, because we had been guessing for a week and had absolutely no idea what it was. We had fun setting it up and hurling the beanbags through the holes for about half an hour. Next came a quick phone call to my mom, who was at my brother's house, a nice Christmas breakfast, and a little more emotional tears from me followed.

But once again I had an opportunity to put things into perspective. We went and saw his mom at the hospital. If that doesn't make you count your blessings, nothing will. It was the proverbial scene with elderly people lining the hallways, looking a little lost. I tried to smile at the ones whose eyes I met, again counting my blessings, of which we have so, so many.

After the hospital and a quick trip to drop off an old TV/VCR to Eric's dad, we came home, grateful to have a nice warm home, grateful to have each other, and reminded of what Christmas is all about. We ended up snuggling downstairs watching A Christmas Story on TV and laughing uncontrollably at the funny jokes that never made sense when you watch that movie as a kid.

What a day! What lessons learned.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas and its changes...

In this year of multiple life changes, I'll be spending Christmas in WA with Eric and his family this year. Maybe it is because this is the first year in my life that I will not be spending Christmas with my family, but I had the need to have reminders of Christmas all over the house. Fortunately, Eric and I each had trees from our previous houses. Instead of debating which one to use and where, we used them both:

Mine in the living room as the main tree.

Eric's little 5-footer in the kitchen. His mom used to work for Hallmark and every year she would pick one ornament for him and let him pick one himself. There is an interesting assortment of Santa and football-themed (her choices) and religious, Nativity-themed ones (his.) The size is just right for the room.

And, since we spend a lot of time downstairs in the subterranean family room, I thought we needed a tree down there. So we got a white tree and red and gold ornaments to match the crazy carpeting down there, which I admit, is beginning to grow on me. I'm still waiting for that to happen in our very orange kitchen. Although the kitchen itself is awesome.

We are still settling in and deciding which projects to tackle, so, unfortunately our fireplaces will not have any fires this year until a chimney sweep comes out and inspects them. Who knows when they were used last. I do miss the hearth at my house in San Gabriel's living room. It was so pretty. Maybe one day we'll build more of a mantle in this house. All in good time, though.

This nativity is one that I bought at my favorite antique shop down in San Juan Capistrano. My gut tells me that it is not an antique, but I love the figures and the serene looks on all of their faces. It is sitting on my grandparents' console (which I can finally use because of the size of this house) in the dining room.

I saved the best for last. I am thrilled to have inherited this item from my grandparents' house. No one else showed much interest in it. This is a Mexican nativity scene that my grandma bought. Together, she and my grandpa built the diorama around it. It is the blending of the best of their grandpa, the thinker, the builder, the engineer. My grandma, the artist, the organizer, the decorator. I was able to put all new lights in it and bring it back to its former glory. I love having it set up during this season. It brings back so many great family memories.

Not only will this Christmas be a change for me, but also for the rest of our family as we all continue to adjust to the changes in our lifelong holiday traditions now that my grandparents are gone. Last year we had Christmas Eve at my house, and this year it will be at my mom's. This will also be the smallest gathering, as 6 out of the 7 grandchildren will be unable to attend. 5 are now out of state and my brother as obligations with his in-laws. Happily, my mom and her siblings are determined to be flexible and continue the family Christmas Eve traditions. Next year Eric and I plan to attend.

Lastly, another change this year is that it seems my whole family is doing very little in the gift department. I'm OK with that as long as everyone is agreeable, but as the person who has been in charge of the Christmas Wish Lists for the last several years, it feels weird not to be scrambling around collecting them from everyone.

The great thing about that, though, is that none of us really NEED anything. We're all so fortunate, so blessed, and have such abundance, that Christmas gifts almost feel redundant this year. And, as much as my life has changed this year, so much of it has been changes for the better. Now really, what Christmas present can top that?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Smell of Home...

This week I've been in a little bit of a funk. I think I've been a little homesick for CA, my mom, my nephew, decent shopping, etc. It's annoying how those moments of melancholy creep up on you.

I wanted to do something different with our meals, so I made Mexican rice--a staple in my home growing up--for the first time in about 20 years. It turned out OK, but not as flavorful as I would've liked. It tasted better the next day and with some added salt.

Today I made a second batch of Mexican rice. I used a shallower, but wider pot, more onion, and made it early enough so that it could sit even after it was cooked. It was better! Posting a picture of it on Facebook elicited all sorts of responses and suggestions from friends. There are a million and one ways to tweak the recipe.

And in an attempt to do something different, I wanted to try albondigas (Mexican meatballs) soup. I found a great recipe online, (click HERE for the recipe,) ran to the store to get the things I was missing, and did it. I knew it would be a success because I was making it in my grandma's pot. Anything made in that pot is going to turn out good because she was an amazing cook.

I was so happy that it turned out great! Eric got a great dinner and I got a good sense of satisfaction and a kitchen full of childhood aromas. They are comforting smells that made me feel less homesick. And now we have enough to last 2-3 more meals. Yum!