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.

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“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.”

imagesAt my house, we have been talking a lot about what it means to really savor the season. The conversation keeps winding back around to one thing: being mindful about how time is spent–and how it isn’t spent. Its amazing how refreshed I feel on the nights we put Christmas music and read in front of the fire, rather than putting on the TV. Reading is one of those activities that requires all of your attention. All of your focus. I think that is one of the reasons why it is so rewarding. It also allows you to wonder and imagine in a way that the Internet doesn’t. Of course, the Internet is on my top ten list of things I am thankful for. It is great to be able to search and find the answer to any question in the blink of an eye, and it is wonderful to learn about things far an wide from the comfort of your sofa, but it takes away time from seeing things with your mind’s eye.  Its good for the soul to just imagine, without having Google there to inform every nook and cranny of your thoughts.

I hope you find sometime to wonder and imagine and read. And so you don’t have to spend your unhurried moments looking for something to read, heres is one of my Christmas favorites: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is complete with off-beat relatives, the sounds of jingly dimes, a dose of reality, a touch of politics and the joyful, expectant feeling of Christmas.  Without further adieu….

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. 

To keep reading, click here. 

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.

Angel Watching Overhead: Unbreakable JOY of Baby’s First Christmas Ornament

World's most fragile Christmas ornament.

World’s most fragile Christmas ornament.

This is my baby’s first Christmas ornament. Somewhere along the lines my mother added the date in sharpie. While I am glad to have this, it has always stressed me out.

It is thin glass with a foil-y white paint and the traditional silver cap covering the sharp glass top. I have always lived in fear of breaking it. More specifically dropping it and smashing it into a million little shards that you can never quite clean up.

This is why I have taken such care in picking the baby’s first Christmas ornament for my niece, Laura.

You see, for a long time before Lola, her mom and my bff, was able to conceive Laura, we prayed for her—a lot. I never had any doubt that Laura would come, but it took a long time and a lot of patience and Lola could not hurry it. My super achiever friend who goes out and get what she wants had to be patient and wait, because there was no other choice.

Sistine Angel Babies

Sistine Angel Babies

One December, when Lola and I were in Vatican City (I know, lucky ducks) and walking through the Sistine Chapel, I saw this relief and it stopped me in my tracks. And one of the moments I remember praying about Laura with Lola was right there. I told her that those were her angel babies and from then until now, before she was a cell, before she had a name, before she was in the world, Laura was known as the angel baby.

And while I know they would have loved each other the same, no matter how they came together, having to wait and wonder and hope for their family has resulted in an endless amazement between the three of them. It is beautiful. They seem stunned by their good fortune; and grateful. So grateful.

So this Christmas as Lola and her husband celebrate their first Christmas through the eyes of their own child, I want this angel to hang on their tree and watch over them.

Baby's First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

Baby’s First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

And as Laura bounces (and man does that little one bounce!), and laughs, and a plays with boxes and paper in lieu of her toys, I don’t want them to give the ornament angel a thought. And if Laura reaches up and yanks this little angel off the tree to see how she tastes, or if someday she throws it in a backpack to take to school, or in a box to bring to her first first apartment I don’t want her to worry.

I want them all focus all of their attention on the wonder and awe of the season and begin to create the traditions and memories of a lifetime under the watch of an angel and with all the love of me, her Zia.

PS–don’t read this post to her. I want her to be surprised 🙂

Cash Drawer Bells, Cash Drawer Bells. Its Christmas Time in Your Twenties!

Before this season, I spent a bunch of Christmas seasons spent behind the cash wrap of a store in the Shops of the Charleston Place Hotel. Together with a legion of people who make the season bright for shoppers and diners, we worked, worked, worked. We smiled until our cheeks hurt and shared the features and benefits of every beautiful bauble and delicious bite ever to appear in a Christmas ad. We stood in aprons and starched shirts until our we ached all the way down to our toes. Sustained by the bites of food from the Charleston Grille–and the sloshy, icy sound of the martini shakers that marked the end of the day! And when I look back I can’t help but smile and miss the good old days because of all of the moments those seasons held.

The magic wasn’t in the work, it was in the people and the place. The sweet, frankincense smell of Crabtree and Evelyn’s Noel candle. The perfect sip of Godiva dark hot chocolate as we stepped out of the decked halls of the hotel and on to King Street and the crisp Charleston air. Back then, the street would be closed off so a winter wonderland could be built in the very middle of town. A big tree with lights and packages and ornaments, the clip clop of horse and carriage rides, Santa and his friends would wander through making everything merry and bright. I often miss the camaraderie of those days. We were, for the most part, broke kids figuring out our way in the world and working hard to pay our rent in the mean time. Exchanging cookies with friends, singing carols down the street in the middle of the night made the whole world look bright. Today’s plan is to write a hand written note to all of the people who share those memories with me. We are now all across the country and it is high time for us to reminisce again!

If you want to get into this moment, here is what you need:

-This song by Billie Holiday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs4AUuZ9TKk

-A cup of Godiva Dark Chocolate http://bit.ly/1eMoSV7

– Good friends to reminisce with

You may not get snow, but you will get beautiful homes and boats glowing with christmas lights!

You may not get snow, but you will get beautiful homes and boats glowing with christmas lights!

The whole city gets in the spirit.

The whole city gets in the spirit.

You can also plan your own trip to Charleston. It is one of the most wonderful places in the world to spend your Christmas:

http://hiddencharleston.com/holiday-round-up/