Saturday, December 31, 2011

Six O'Clock is the New Midnight

A few hours ago, our house was ringing with the sounds of a dozen yelling, running children celebrating at our inaugural New Year's Eve Kids' Ball. They decorated cookies, thundered up and down our hallways, and jumped on bubble wrap under a balloon drop at "midnight."

It was a new threshold for New Year's. This has always been one of my favorite holidays, full of nostalgia and promise and champagne. For many years, I spent the night drinking with my girlfriends at New Year's parties, and in 2003, I walked into a party and saw a man standing in the kitchen who would later make a Kitchen Widow out of me.

But tonight, New Year's shifted focus and was about my kids. It was a turning point, just like the first night you bring your newborn home and realize that good sleep is gone, or when you realize that Christmas is absolutely not about you anymore. Part of the shift was just out of necessity; I am too old to crash on someone's floor after drinking keg beer out of a plastic cup until three in the morning. I am almost too old for going out, period.

Our New Year's traditions changed as soon as we had kids. We stayed in and went to bed early. But something always felt empty. I did not necessarily miss throngs of people or a New Year's Day hangover, but I missed the air of celebration.

I am reluctant to let go of New Year's forever, though. So instead, I will channel my love of New Year's into my children. We will forgo the champagne for sparkling juice, we will do the big countdown at six instead of midnight, we will play with balloons and toys, we will be noisy in that joyful way that children have. We will end the year as happily as we spent it.

As I sit awaiting the ball drop, alone with my champagne and pondering the resolutions I will quickly break, I am content in our new manner of celebration. It was a great thrill for my kids ... and you cannot get a headache from sparkling apple cider.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Twas the Treats Before Christmas

'Twas three days before Christmas,
And all through our home,
Our diets were dying,
No one's worse than my own.

The children were sleeping,
All cozy and sweet,
As their tummies digested,
Yet more holiday treats.

I in my slippers,
And Chef Matt in his shorts,
Were attempting to fend off
Another sugary course.

And then arose from the kitchen
Quite a deafening chorus.
The stashes of treats shouted:
"Please don't ignore us!"

"You know that you want us,
The cookies and fudge,
We'll be here 'til New Year's,
We're not going to budge.

"Don't stick to your diet,
Now that's just not living,
Haven't you baked six whole pies
Since the week of Thanksgiving?

"The potlucks and gatherings
Over the last long five weeks,
Have certainly filled out
Your waists and your cheeks.

"But what wondrous treats!
What chocolates, what cakes!
It is the sweet delicacies
That a good holiday makes.

"Cake pops and mints,
And peanut butter kisses,
Frosted sugar cookies,
Full of butter, and delicious.

"The New Year is your chance
To keep the calories at bay,
To go back to vegetables
And hide the Crisco away.

"But it's almost Christmas,
A time for family and peace,
And gratuitous indulgence
In all manner of sweets.

"So eat up, my friends,
Give up your noble fight,
And a merry Christmas to you,
And to all a sweet night!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding Fellowship in Coffee Addiction

Lately, life has been reminding me, in all kinds of creative ways, that coffee is crucial to my survival on this Earth. Without it, I just might shrink down into a barely functional, unsociable grouch.

Normally, I am a very moderate person. I can summon the willpower to say "no" to another drink, to a dessert I do not need, to a pair of shoes on sale. And when I am pregnant, I can turn away from a morning cup of coffee with little distress.

But once that baby is born, all bets are off. Coffee calls to me, a siren song of warm, aromatic comfort that brings to mind nothing less wonderful than a quiet, sunny Saturday breakfast in fuzzy slippers. Some mornings at work, I have to distract myself with mindless inbox cleaning simply so I will not get up, head downstairs, and fill my cup for a third time within an hour.

Recently, coffee has been coming at me from all angles, taunting me into drinking far more caffeine than a human should consume in a day. First, the Christmas season brings with it irresistible, frothy, chocolate-y confections from coffee chains, waving down from billboards in their whipped-cream splendor. They are more dessert than coffee, true, but it is that bitter taste of espresso amidst the chocolate that forces me to fork over five dollars without hesitation.

Second, a recent bit of historical education on the Civil War built a kinship between me and those soldiers, who were apparently addicted to coffee. So intent were they on getting their fix that they ground their beans using filthy socks and the butt of their rifles, and they were known to hastily chew coffee beans if they were heading into battle and did not have time to brew. I suppose when your choice is between coffee and water from some suspect source, dirty-sock coffee is the way to go.

And finally, tomorrow would have been my grandma's 82nd birthday, a luminous, gracious woman who always had a pot of coffee on, and sometimes two. It was a rare moment at her house when she did not have a cup nearby, and for me, coffee-drinking and the contentment it brings is synonymous with the feeling that all is well and that Grandma is just around the corner, finding extra blankets or frosting up some cinnamon rolls. 

Coffee seems to catch memories in its steam. It transcends time and geography and situation, settling comfortably in bustling cafes and Civil War camps and grandmas' kitchens, and sometimes when I clutch my warm mug, I can sense the kindred spirits holding their own cups, mulling over their lives and pasts alongside me. It is the addiction I cannot shake, but I think I am in good company.