Savoring the Christmas Season (With Rum Balls)

The Rum Ball 2013

This is the last rum ball. The last sugary bite of Christmas 2013.

We got a heavy little box of these for Christmas last year from T’s parents, who make them together as part of their Christmas tradition (you can read all about it here). We are some of the lucky people that reap the rewards of the tradition.

When the box arrived in the mail, I asked T if he got a brick of gold for Christmas. He might as well have based on the blissful smile on his face when he opened the lid to reveal perfectly packed, row upon row of rum balls. The whoosh of that sweet, cocoa-y smell filled our kitchen that day and again for months each time we dipped into the stash for dessert or late night snack. They often made us reminisce and tell stories and make plans for Christmas, even in the middle of summer.

Now here we are. Talk about taking time to savor the season. We made these precious treats last almost all year long.  Now we get to anxiously wait for the next batch to arrive.

Happy beginning of the season of expectancy, of waiting, and of warm, festive Christmas time.

Now, get to the kitchen and make some of  those famous christmas memory evoking rum balls. Thanks T-ma for sharing your recipe!

Magic Christmas Rum Balls

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1  Cup vanilla wafers crushed fine
  • 1  Cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1  Cup powdered sugar
  • 2  Tablespoons Cocoa

Wet Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons of light corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup Rum
Instructions:
  1. In large  bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together.
  2. Then add all of the wet ingredients
  3. Stir to combine.
  4. Refrigerate 20 to 30 min., until able to roll dough into balls in your palms.
  5. Roll each ball in sugar
  6. Pack up and mail to the people you love (after stashing a whole bunch in your own freezer).
Expert note: Sometimes we added more syrup and rum according to consistency.  A very little at a time while stirring.  Stir well.

 

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Mail Mail it Never Fails…

Well, we have done it. All of the Christmas presents are sent and all of the Christmas cards are mailed!

In the last few days we have gotten so many great notes from friends, pictures of new babies, new slippers, and a heavy box of homemade rum balls and other surprises that really touched my heart. The mail is a wonderful thing. For less than fifty cents, you can get a message to anyone in the country in a day or two. Think about how nice it is to open the mailbox and see a non-bill: a letter, a note, a card, and on really lucky days, a package.  It’s wonderful to open the front door or the mail box and see familiar handwriting.

Flat E whAt Christmastime last year we had a really special visitor arrive in the mail. Flat Ellaleigh came to visit from Tennessee. She wanted to see what life was like in Washington, D.C. so she could go back home and tell the real Ellaleigh about it. Flat E, as we called her once we became friends, took us on adventures all over town. We saw the White House in lights, we went to see A Christmas Carol at the Alexandria Little Theater and to a Washington Wizards game. We took her to the Botanic Gardens to see trains and trees and to the art gallery where she briefly got lost, but thankfully was found. When it was time for her to go, we packed her up with pictures and postcards and we sent her back home.  As a single piece of mail, Flat E connected family across miles. That little flat girl brought a lot of joy and fun on this end, and I would imagine she did the same when she arrived in the mailbox back home. She gave us a reason to spend a frost bitten evening glove in glove taking pictures in the lights. She put smiles on the faces of those who passed us posing and angling her into photos. You can’t do that with an email.Flat E

This year, more than ever it seems like the days of daily mail delivery may be numbered. Canada, a bastion of all things polite, is already getting ready to say goodbye to mail . And before too long Amazon is planning to skip mail delivery all together with drones  that remind me of The Jetsons.  But this year, you still have time to connect with someone by taking a minute to reach out to with a card or a note. Let someone know they are special enough for you to send them a letter. I for one, would love to hear from you and I am sure there are so many people who would like to hear from you too!

Photo Credit: Donielle Scherff

PS: Unhurried or not, I am glad not to have to go to the post office again for a while. Just remember when you are there–Santa is watching. Be nice.

“ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.

ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”

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That is how the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry begins. My memory of this story is being in a long flannel night gown with my mom and her big Norman Rockwell Christmas story book. Even today I get caught up in the story– the lovelorn feeling of wanting to give the very best to the one you love when your pockets and purse are empty—especially when you forget that the very best you can give is yourself.I still love to get caught up in the bustle of the season and purity of the love between Jim & Della. I hope you will too.

You can read the whole story below, or you can download it to a reader for free by clicking here.

ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again—you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Adventures in Limoncello

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2013-11-22 18.16.01It all started with the black plastic bag that screams: “Hey world, I just came from the liquor store.”

Actually, it starts a mile before I got that bag. When I was in Italy a few years ago, a serendipitous turn of events landed me and Lola in the beautiful coastal town of Sorrento. Sorrento is far and away one of the most magical places I have ever been. The whole coast captured my heart, from Amalfi with the pebbly beach and strings of lemons hanging from the door frames and painted on every flat surface in homage. It is the stuff books are written about.

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Sorrento, on the other hand, is the kind of place where you could see yourself living. The winding streets and hidden alcoves of frescos and streets lined with vespas—the passages leading to hidden courtyards and the open town square complete with a bright yellow church and a glimpse of the rocky cliffs above the Mediterranean which is just a small swath of blue between Sorrento and the island of Capri. When we were there one rainy late morning the weather broke one and we took a walk. We wandered around and tried on backpacks and purses in deep greens, indigo, and jet black. We sorted through silk scarfs and fine linens, and we bought lace hankies tatted by nuns.  When we were though shopping we followed my patented method for avoiding tourist trap restaurants and getting an authentic meal—pick a street, then make the first right and the first left. Your restaurant will be right there (this method has never failed me—and you can never get lost). We walked down three stone stairs and sat at one of four tables in an empty restaurant. There were cruets of olive oil on each table. We stacked our packages to the side and we waited for whoever was rumbling behind a curtain like the Great and Powerful Oz to come out and take our order.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen a man with salt and pepper hair emerged, he had a carafe of red wine and a basket of warm bread in his hands. I am sure we squealed. We ordered in Italian and the bashful man disappeared behind the curtain again. When he came back he was all apologies…”signora, no Bolognese.” Bummer. He was out of what I wanted. I touched his hand to stop the flow of “Mi, dispiace!” and I told him to bring me whatever he wanted. The bashfulness cleared and his face erupted in a smile. When our food came, it came with a vengeance. There were so many bites to try. I don’t remember all of it but I remember the lasagna. Mmm Mmmm. Lola and I talked and ate and revived.

We started to make a move for the check when our waiter, the owner it turns out, came out with a stout carafe filled with a vibrant yellow liquid. He poured us each a sip and one for himself. We all clinked glasses, said “cin cin!” and tapped our glasses on the table before taking a drink. It was an icy burst of lemon followed by the warmth of the alcohol sliding down your throat. When we out on our coats our host walked close to me and I held out my hand (such an American). Lola said, “Aw! He was going to ciao you!” And with that we did traditional kiss on each cheek and it felt like we were leaving lunch with an old friend. Lola and I still refer to giving a good bye kiss as ciao-ing someone 🙂

When I was first dating T I told him this story. This led to a Godfather movie marathon where he would wow me with caponata and I showed off with my ancient cannoli recipe, and of course we had to have limoncello, which I promised to get. The only problem was I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched high and low and couldn’t find it. That is when I placed a forlorn call to Lola to tell her this tragic tale of woe. How? How could we possibly watch The Godfather without the limoncello?  We wouldn’t!  I got bottle in the mail a few days later  (three cheers for Lola!). It contained a tall frosted glass bottle of Limoncello and two tiny glasses with cherubic babies riding lemons with wings on them. It still makes me smile to think of sipping out of those glasses. Now we never have to have it delivered because we can make it at home!

On to the bowl of lemons…

I started with a recipe but I made some changes as I went:

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Start with ten washed lemons and a vegetable peeler. Peel the lemon skin (just the yellow, not the white). This part took a while. I actually ended up doing it in front of the TV (see my remote?). The long skinny, vertical peeler did the best job (I tried three).

2013-11-22 22.56.25When you have a bowl full of peels, cover them with 750 ml of vodka. I have read that a higher proof vodka (100+) does a better job of extracting the lemony color and flavor than a standard bottle of vodka. I don’t know if this is true, but what I chose (a triple filtered 80 proof, unflavored potato vodka) worked just fine.

Then you cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature for four days.

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On day four, strain the peel from the vodka. It will now smell like a lemon grove and have a pale yellow color. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan combine a cup and a half of sugar with two cups of water and melt over medium heat. The goal is to create a simple syrup here, so if you want it more or less sweet, follow your bliss.

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Pour the COOLED simple syrup over the vodka and lemon mixture. Cover and let stand overnight.

The last step is to strain out the lemon peels and pour your limoncello into a pretty bottle. It tastes best and is traditionally served ice cold.

You will notice you now have ten peeled lemons and it would be a shame to waste them. Stay tuned for my next lemony adventure in the kitchen. Until then, ciao!

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving….while we still have it

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T just walked in and for the fourth day in a row, let our paper hit the floor with a “thunk.” Yesterday it came in two packages, a slim volume of news in a plastic bag, and an enormous tome of ads, fliers, and enticements from every retail outlet within a one-hour drive from here. It has been this way for days.

As we were enjoying being home, and reminiscing and writing :), other people were having a very different Thanksgiving weekend.

I am a big proponent of people following their own way to happiness. That is the beauty of this great country we are fortunate to live in, but I am sorry people had a choice last week.

Black Friday has been an extension of the Thanksgiving celebration for people for a while, but that wasn’t enough; retailers wanted our Thursday too. I am sorry that there was even an option for people to skip a day when more or less everyone can be free of deadlines and responsibilities. Those days are hard to come by. The clocks just keep rolling back, taking away more and more of our holiday, until it is just another day.

  1. In addition to robbing us of the time we have to do nothing—to find the dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) as the Italians call it—I have a problem with stores robbing the world of some calm. The constancy of the rush is overwhelming. We went out to return a movie at a grocery store the night after thanksgiving and we reveled in the ghost town that met us. For once, it was quiet. There was barely a soul out and that made me exhale and embrace the peace of it all. I bet the streets and stores and traffic lights can use a break too, as silly as that might sound.
  2.  In America, where we work longer days and with less vacation than any other first world nation, this one, completely American holiday stood out as a semicolon in a sentence; a pause before heading into the typical rush of the Christmas season. A day of football or board games, or long conversations, and naps. Now it is just another day, albeit with a big dinner—and for what? Christmas presents? It makes me sad that kids don’t get to spend long days in their footie pajamas on a regular basis, so to take away the days that is possible, seems almost criminal. And speaking of criminal…
  1. I love Christmas. I love surprising people with presents, but I don’t understand how that motivates people to behave like a pack of wild animals over something electronic. Especially when it is to give a gift on a religious holiday marking the beginning of the most selfless act in history. Someone loses their life every year at a Wal-Mart, and this year knives were brandished and shotguns were involved. No one should die over a Christmas gift, no matter how good the door busting deal is.

You don’t see people this worked up to go to the polls on Election Day, or to the blood bank when they’re running low. We don’t see people busting down barriers to get to friends or family in need. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that motivates this kind of frenzy today. Ironically, for most of us, I bet if you presented your loved one with the option to have a new TV and lose you, OR  have you but get no new TV, they would pick you (and if they don’t they go directly to the naughty list and don’t deserve a new TV). And for the life of me, how do people over look one tiny, lifesaving option: the Internet? Shop Cyber Monday, get what is on your list and save the possibility of bodily harm.

When you have the choice, I hope you choose peace over hurry. I hope you cho0se calm over hectic. I am wishing you pajama days, nights by the fire and the ones you love and short lines when you have to hit the stores. And lest I come off as the Grinch, please know I am wishing you presents too–ones with pretty bows and filled with love.

This has been a rant from my holly bough-draped soap box. I will get back to the fun stuff now–thanks for indulging me.

Ready, Set, Grow!

My Amaryllis  is a cheater. Its true. I waited until the day before Thanksgiving to open the box and get the planting medium set to plant the bulb on Thanksgiving, but when I opened it, I found this.

Ready, Set, Grow!

I guess every year of a tradition has its own story (see the backstory of mine here), and this year it starts with  this overachieving Amaryllis  already popping out of the papery brown bulb. I have righted it, placed it deep in its peat-y soil, and placed it in my own sunny kitchen window. Hopefully it will lose the bleached out green and keep growing. I will keep you posted. 

In the meantime, I would love to see yours too. Post photos here, please.

Letting Christmas Traditions Bloom

AmaryllisI was talking to my mom about slowing down and unhurrying the season and we were trying to figure out the last time I wasn’t working around the clock for Christmas. We were on the phone and it was a long conversation, which is a new benefit of the unhurried Christmas.

My mom usually gets the brunt of my busyness. She always takes the time to call to make sure I am taking the time to sleep and eat and do something fun now and again, and she is met with “Can I call you back after…” or “I can’t talk, I was just about to…” or “I have been meaning to call you but by the time I slow down it has been too late.” She tells me the housework will wait when I am running on 5 hours of sleep. She tells me she will call me to wake me up if I decide to take a nap between work and an evening commitment.  Mama Mia, if you are reading this, thank you.

But I digress…

There was one time I slowed down a while—when I moved back to upstate New York and moved in with my grandparents. I worked part time raising donations for a television auction. I didn’t have a car or an alarm clock, I just fell into the staid, calm of their routine.

Every morning my grandfather said my name at the closed bedroom door and 30 minutes later there was a cup of coffee on the table for me between his mug and my grandmother’s tea cup. We bundled up and headed out in the icy air of a Buffalo winter, and listened to old music on an am station in the car. From January to May my grandfather drove my grandmother and me to work and picked us up at the end of the day.

There was not much quiet in my big, rambunctious, Italian family, but my grandfather was a font of calm for me. Somehow when I moved back I got this focused time with my grandparents that I hadn’t had since childhood, before all of the cousins and siblings were born. For the first time, I was an adult to my grandparents (or as much as a grandchild can ever be an adult to their grandparents) and our relationship grew.

Amaryllis12707That winter I bought an amaryllis and when I showed it to my grandfather, he adopted the whole project. We’re both gardeners in a family that is kind of annoyed by the mess dirt creates. Before too long, the plastic pot the bulb came with was abandoned in favor of a recycled ice cream tub. As the bulb sprouted, he stuck pencils in the soil to prop it up. And then the pencils were replaced with yard sticks. The whole operation was in the window next to his chair at the dinner table—the sunniest spot in the house for many reasons. And that bulb, our Christmas experiment, thrived.

By the following Christmas, I had moved out of their house. I had rented an apartment a little closer to the city, got a promotion and started working full time, finally gotten my license, and was on the verge of getting engaged. In all of that, I stopped to buy two amaryllis bulbs—one for his sunny window and one for my apartment. I loved having this thing we just did together—me and him. I remember running out of my uncle’s house as my grandparents started to pull out of the driveway after a visit. I almost forgot to give it to him. I handed the blub to him through the car window, standing on my toes to avoid the slush at the curb. He was genuinely happy about it. “I’ll go home and plant it now.”

Not long after that, after a quiet, eyes-forward conversation as we drove together, my grandfather, my papa, told me that he had lung cancer. I brought him a tiny Christmas tree in the hospital. He was home and back there over the Christmas season. I would go and sit with him and talk with him for the few minutes that he would be awake and he would smile and laugh and ask me to turn on the news. That was the last Christmas we had together.

I found those bulbs at the foot of his basement stairs in the spring when he passed away. The bags said “Christmas bulbs” and the year they were first planted written in his handwriting. When I went back for them a week later, someone had already thrown them away. I have planted an amaryllis and thought of him, no matter where I have been, every year since them.

My mom started planting them too. Somewhere in there, I started sending them to her for Thanksgiving and we would plant them—on opposite ends of the country—at the same time. We then spend the whole Christmas season sending one another pictures of their progress and then of the big, breathtaking blooms. I have gotten a lot of Christmas memories and cheer out of this unintentional tradition.

Slowly it bloomed...

Slowly it bloomed…

I am posting this a bit early because it is on my mind—and because I want you to take the time to plant one too. Last year I kept meaning to get to it and I didn’t. It wasn’t until my mom told me she gave my brother one to plant for the first time at his house that I eventually bought one at Target. It was the last of the batch, it was busting out of its torn paper package and it was already stunted and contorted. It did not have a good start and I didn’t have my grandfather’s sunny window. It took forever to get rooted. I was so behind the others. It bloomed around the New Year and it was gorgeous, but it wasn’t the same as taking the time to do it right. I said never again, so here is where I own up to that.

This bulb will hit the dirt on Thanksgiving. And with it will spring up another year of memories and the warmth of the season.