RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five asks us to review the past holiday season -- the good, the bad, perhaps the ugly, although I hope not.
1) What food item was one of your favorites this year - a definite keeper?
It hurts for this scratch-cooking foodie to say this, but...it was really, really nice to enjoy a Honeybaked half-ham, handily delivered to the door, this year. (I made roasted acorn squash and Brussels sprouts, and a heap of mashed potatoes.) We'd sent a full ham dinner to one set of relatives for Christmas, got a handsome discount because of that, and decided to use the savings on ourselves. We can definitely get used to this new tradition. But we've now both had enough ham, Honeybaked or otherwise, to last us until next Christmas.
Oh -- and, after the panic about finding my old family recipes, I did discover a new and improved sour cream sugar cookie recipe. That one's a keeper.
2) Was there a meal or party or a gathering that stands out in your mind from this most recent holiday season?
Christmas Eve morning saw us at the bedside of a dying friend and neighbor; not really the gathering I'd expected or hoped to have on that day, but it was what it was; and if our presence gave our friend extra comfort in her passage into life eternal, then God bless that day.
One of the nicest gatherings was, ironically, just one day after. You see, we had planned to have our hamfest on Christmas Day -- an intimate, even romantic meal, just the two of us. That was before FT's 90-year-old uncle called us up to invite us to their house for Christmas. Uncle was an avid fisherman back in the day, and we'd sent him and FT's aunt some salmon filets for Christmas. "We don't know how to cook these," he told us. "You two will have to come and do it for us." Which of course was just a ruse to have us come and visit them. Their own children, for various reasons, maintain minimal contact with them, so FT and I are their defacto family; we'd helped them put their Christmas decorations up around Thanksgiving, mainly to keep Auntie off the ladder, and had made them dinner that day as well. So that is where we spent Christmas Day -- squeezed around the generally unused dining room table in their tiny dining room, eating a rather simple meal; but enjoying it very much. (I did learn, however, that while Finns love beets, they do not love pickled beets; a note for next year.)
3) Were you involved in a jaw-dropper gift? Were you the giver or recipient or an on-looker?
Well, I"m pleased to say that I was a giver, a co-giver and a recipient. I was co-giver of Bananas, a humongous, ginormous stuffed gorilla we gave Miss Ruby for her birthday. We had feared that this was more an exercise in wretched excess on the part of Grandmas than a gift that Ruby would actually like -- we were even afraid that the huge ape would frighten her -- but Ruby loooooves Bananas. And her parents have taken to dressing Bananas in various themed clothing from week to week (fellow half-century fossils might remember the store mannequin in the Monkees' old TV show that was used similarly). So we're very happy Bananas made such a hit with the whole family. (And we'll just mention that, power shoppers that we are when it comes to our grandchild, we bought Bananas at a 70-percent-off store-closing discount.)
I was the jaw-dropped recipient of a Kindle, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog.
And I think I managed to jaw-drop my dear partner with her deluxe beginning beekeeping kit. This gift had started out as a meager purchase of a few essential beekeeping tools, as a kind of teaser/encouragement until FT could get some advice on what sort of hive and clothing to purchase. But it growed. And now all FT has to do is paint her hive (she's thinking maize and blue) and, this spring, fill it with bees. (This weekend we're going to visit with our cider-making/beekeeping friend Wally for some expert advice in this endeavor.)
4) Was there at least one moment where you experienced true worship?
I assisted for the first time on Christmas Eve -- I've never had that experience, of assisting when the church is packed to the rafters, and it was very meaningful to me; particularly assisting with distribution, being able to place the Body of Christ in so many hands, look into so many eyes and say, "...for you." I think that was the high point of my Advent/Christmas worship experience.
That and -- as unexpected and sad as the day was -- being able to pray with our dying friend just moments before she passed on. When I did this, all my existential doubts and sadness and discomfort and other distractions swirling about in my head made way for a kind of calm certainty that I was merely a vessel for a Mystery far bigger and more profound than my puny presence, and that the Church of all ages and places was with me as I made the sign of the cross on my friend's forehead, and prayed, and read the 23rd Psalm to her. After she passed, I again found myself feeling rather awkward and incompetent as the hospice professionals took over and I tried making awkward conversation with our friend's partner and other visitors. But for a brief time I was in a special kind of sacred space.
5) What is at least one thing you want to make sure you do next year?
After my mindblowing three-day cookie-baking marathon -- next week I want to make sure that I start this project far earlier in the month. I know growing up that my mom would very often begin the weekend after Thanksgiving, and freeze the cookies until the holidays. I will also make a comprehensive list of what I need -- not only the ingredients themselves, but how much of them. And I will make the time to include my honey drop cookie recipe, another old favorite that didn't make the cut this year just because I was too tired.
BONUS: What is something you absolutely must remember to do differently... or not at all!
My attempt at incorporating a water feature into our Advent wreath was indeed beautiful and evocative -- but not very practical. Among other things, it takes a tremendous number of floating candles; the water needs to be changed regularly; and the bowl is subject to smudges and water marks. I made it; I'm glad; next year it will be different. We are thinking about going back to one real Christmas tree in the house. We miss a real tree. And -- no attempt to create an Advent blog or special Advent feature on this blog this year; not unless I get really bored and/or inspired somewhere in the middle of the Pentecost season and write it all up in advance. My relationship to Advent devotionals is much like Charlie Brown's relationship to Lucy's football -- so very tempting to undertake, but I just know it's not going to end well.