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Tag: christmas morning

hark!

hark

arms wide-open, it’s the dawn that follows the silent night. night of awe. dawn of darkness lifting. the dawn, i pray for you, when the outlines of all your blessings come sharply, crisply, indelibly into focus.

when, perhaps, you find yourself all alone, nestled inside the flutterings of your heart and your soul, and all the Christmases of all the years before come tumbling softly, and this particular one, perhaps, leaps out from the pile because this is the Christmas when you’ve unwrapped a particular glimmering knowing from under your tree.

maybe it’s the simmering of newfound love. maybe it’s the weight finally shrugged off your shoulders. maybe, after all the hours of darkness, you’ve found your way to the flickering light off in the distance, and you’re home now, finally home.

maybe it’s that the story of Christmas — the blessed virgin mother and holy child, the newborn babe laid in the straw, the star of wonder lighting the heavens, the beasts of the pasture poking their noses into the barn, drawn by all of the stirrings — maybe the story of Christmas this year awakens a place deep inside you that’s too long been numb to the hope, and the light, that nativity brings. that nativity lays quietly at the cusp of your heart.

come, open the gift. open the possibility of wonder. of glistening light. wrap yourself, for even just this one sacred hour, in the hush and the whisper of peace. peace on earth, please. but peace in your very own kingdom — you can make that happen if you take hold of wonder, if you chase out the noise, if you close your eyes (or open them wider than ever), and open your heart. breathe deep. inhale the Divine, animator of all that’s wonder-filled, that’s breathtaking.

that’s what i pray you find this blessed morning, under your tree, tucked in your heart. may this dawn of quiet at last, this day-breaking hour of stillness, seep deep into your every channel of wonder, into the depth and breadth and whole of your soul, and fill you with Christmas at its holiest.

amen. and merry blessed Christmas.

here’s one last little wintery blessing, from the pages of slowing time….

Meme-CountYourBlessings

may yours be a sumptuous, most heavenly day…..

before the pit-pat of little feets

once again, it is wrapped in black. before the black turns to purply, before the streaks of light begin to steal away the blackness of the magic of christmas that i have come to love best: before the pit-pat of little feets tromp down the steps, streak across the hall, shout, it’s christmas.

don’t get me wrong, i love that chapter. it’s just that i love this one better.

it’s just me and the darkness and the twinkling of the tree, and the clock ticking, and the simmering of “smell” on the stove. smell is my old pot that sizzles all through the winter with a great heap of orange peels, and cinnamon sticks and cloves and bay leaves and water that turns syrupy brown what with all the sizzling.

sometimes i make a fire when i know the coast is clear and poor ol’ santa won’t be singeing his bottom, or the soles of his boots.

i’m usually alone with santa’s handiwork. in fact the sight of his plate (up above) tickles me to no end. we have left food for the reindeer, a big mug of milk, and the best of the sweets we have stored in our tins. this year it looks like poor santa had time for just a bite of the shortbread star and one little square of peppermint bark. seems like the reindeer didn’t get much. this might bother poor tedd, but he’ll get on with the business of the day, which in this case looks to be the very thing he wanted, a rock-n-roll guitar. santa should have remembered ear plugs for papa. oh well.

back to the part that is my christmas gift: the shhhhhsh of the morning when it’s me and the tree….

it starts, like it has for nearly a half century of years, with that first semi-conscious awakening, as those brain cells kick into holiday drive and send out a newsflash, it’s christmas morn. and since i’m the mom now i don’t have to hold myself in under the covers, i can unfurl, i can escape, i can dart down the stairs in my jammies, and drink in the magic of the morning.

i plug in the tree, turn up the flame under the smell, haul out the makin’s of my christmas morn cake. the one that will have the windows steaming on the inside, the one that years ago i discovered made me feel like a mama on christmas. baking in the kitchen, while little heads up above still swirled with visions of sugar plums. that’s what moms do, isn’t it?

this morning is all about christmas from the other side. this is all about making christmas my way, stitching it with the great tapestry of sight and sound and smell that stokes my heart, stokes my soul. this is christmas the way i always wanted it to be. this is christmas before the cacophony unfolds. this is christmas hushed.

curled in my red-and-white checked chair, mug in hand, staring into the flames, drinking in the magic of making christmas for others, i inhale a deep gulp. i hold it in my lungs.

this is a moment i wait for all year, and i don’t want to let it slip away soon. each christmas, how it changes; i am the mother these days not just of wee little ones. in fact, just now i hear 13-year-old feets. they make the floorboards creak. they hardly pit-a-pat.

i wonder if, 13 years from now, i will still hear those feet up above. or will he be out in the world, sending me an email some christmas morn, from far on the other side of the globe? saying, dear mama, i hope it’s quiet there. hope the smell isn’t burning. hope you could manage to get down under the tree and plug in the lights. hope you don’t mind christmas alone.

guess i need to go make christmas for the boys i love best. it won’t be christmas forever. only once a year do i get that fluttery truth in my half-asleep brain: it’s christmas, get downstairs. the dark won’t last for long.

here’s my whispering for each of you: may you find whatever you are seeking this christmas, the wisp of a dream come true, a hug from someone who really loves you, the magic of unwrapping something that tells you someone was listening, really listening. if there is good possibility a tear is spilling down your cheek, may there be someone to wipe it, someone who loves you, and maybe that someone is me. all the way from here to there. i know what it is to find a little dark corner on christmas and fill it with light, and call it your own.

quietly, softly, before the volume is cranked: merry blessed christmas. i wish you were right here beside me. we would stare into the fire. we would breathe deep. we would hold on to the miracle of the day before it unfolds.

God bless you each and every one.

eggs, cheese, an ungodly hour

soon as the numbers beside my bed flash 4:01 sunday morn, i’ll be unearthing myself from the covers, stretching a wary toe out into the cold and the black of christmas eve before most of the world gets with the program.

it’ll be time, as it has been for the past four christmas eve mornings, to wake a sleeping boy, now an almost-man child, and head out with our shopping bags and our crates of clementines to a soup kitchen where we’ll be the ones to turn on the lights.

and no doubt i’ll be carrying with me the story of nina.

for two christmases, nina was my compatriot in this pre-dawn drill of cooking the yummiest, oozingest christmas eve breakfast that ever there was.

nina, she took the hard part. a one-time caterer, now a mother of two–two girls under three, mind you–she went to town on her end of the deal. and i’m tellin’ you, the woman could cook.

you see, nina had a heart the size of montana. once, on one hour’s notice, when no one showed to cook sunday-night supper, she turned her little family’s tuna noodle casserole into tuna noodle for 40, and dashed it straight to the soup kitchen.

but the thing about nina was that she was admittedly, emphatically, not a morning person, and certainly not with two little ones who needed to wake up to their mama. so she took what she called the day job, gave me the night job, or at least the still-dark-out start of the shift.

she made the strata, a haute strata, mind you, a huge one, a strata bulging with eggs and imported cheeses, sausage, potatoes and God only knows what. what i know is that when i plated it up to that long line of hungry souls in the chill of christmas eve morn, their eyes how they glistened, their tummies they growled.

my end of the deal has to do with the 4 and the zeroes flashing at the side of my bed, nudging me up out from the covers. has me shuffling down the hall to rustle the sleeping heap i call my firstborn son. it’s been my job to gather all that goes with the strata: the cocoa, the candy canes, the great mound of marshmallows. since it’s christmas eve after all, and the folks we’re feeding are homeless or sheltered in bunks down below from the kitchen, 12 to a room, we go for fresh-squeezed orange juice, serious stand-up coffee doused with industrial-sized shakes from the cinnamon shaker, and sweet breads of cranberry walnut or orange and pecan.

for back-to-back christmas eves it worked just like that. we were a team, in touch through the phone. i’d talk to nina the day before to go over the plan. then, once home, and starting to wilt, i always called nina to give her play-by-play praise from the men and the women who came back for seconds and thirds of her strata.

i never met nina the first year, but i fell in love with her over the phone. and i wasn’t supposed to meet her the second year.

only there in the dark, on a christmas eve that was frost-bitingly cold, as we pulled to the back stairs to unload, i was startled by carlights at 4:40 a.m.. in a dark south evanston alley, you don’t want to be running into just anyone. and since nina always made such a fuss about not being up before dawn, she was the last one i expected to find there under the hood of a great arctic parka. i’d never seen her before, but i knew in an instant who those big brown eyes belonged to. “nina?” i called out. “what in the world are you doing awake?”

“we were running behind,” she started explaining. “we stayed up late doing the tree and never got to deliver the strata, so we just decided to stay up and bring it over now,” she said, laughing. and then barely a blink later, the vision under the fur-trimmed hood was gone in the dark of the too-early morn.

as always, the strata had the hungry and even the not-so-hungry coming back for more. and more. as always, i called later that morning to pass along every last kudo.

that was the last time i talked to wonderful, generous, spontaneous nina.

two months later, late at night, my phone rang. it was my friend harriett who lines up the cooks and the servers for soup kitchen; she was sobbing. in between sobs, i made out the words: “nina died this morning. she just died.”

nina was 37, tops. her little girls, the ones who couldn’t wake up without her, were 3 and 2. her husband, michael, the one who made the pre-dawn strata delivery, he was left alone in an emergency room, bundling together her things. nina had had a headache the day before, and within hours of walking into the ER, the doctors were telling her husband they were so sorry, she’d died. it was an aneurysm that couldn’t be stopped.

i decided then and there on the phone that night that every christmas eve breakfast from then on in would be in the spirit of nina, nina who could not do enough for the world.

i called starbucks, hoping for a gift card for each soup kitchen soul. i went begging at the bread store, asking if i could pick up any unsold bread or sweet rolls to take it up a notch.

i was thumbing through strata recipes, looking for one that might be like nina’s. then my friend harriett called. the strata would be taken care of, she told me. nina’s father and michael, her husband, would make it. they’d drop it off, in true nina style, the night before, but of course.

so last christmas eve, nina’s strata was, once again, the absolute hit of the soup kitchen counter.

and i, the one spooning it out onto plates, couldn’t stop thinking of the love of two men, her father, her husband, side-by-side in nina’s kitchen, carrying on, following nina’s instructions, line by line, layering their grief with the generous heart of the woman who all of us so achingly missed.

here’s a thought: what if i get michael to share nina’s recipe, and all of us whip up a batch of sweet nina’s strata? and then, in the spirit of the woman with the unstoppable heart, we give it away to someone who needs reason to glisten this holiday season.