There are two speeds: Advent-speed and Christmas-speed.
I don’t know about you, but around mid-December the former fades. Thanks for the memories—fireside readings with the family, meditating about all that is to come, eight hours of sleep, breathing…
Nowadays, I am jacked up on Christmas. Which is kind of fun but also not so pretty.
First, the ugly.
Scene: Eight a.m. A horn blasts in the driveway—once, twice, thrice. I know that horn. It’s the postwoman. I fling back the duvet and fly to the front door. Yep, it’s her, still beeping. Baby, it’s cold outside, so I throw on a coat and stand on the front porch—five yards from the idling mail truck—and make a big show of pulling Wellies over my striped pajama pants. I snatch a parcel from her hands as we exchange terse “thanks,” me tossing in a bonus sugary smile, the sort of grin no one’s gonna buy as genuine (nor do I intend them to).
Well. I showed her.
To be fair, our hound was standing there barking her head off, and mail carriers and mutts don’t mix. But our postwoman has been grumbling, through the unlit cigarette between her teeth, about delivering our mail—“Y’all sure order a lot of packages”—for twenty years. She knows Hazel is harmless.
No peppermint bark in the box for her this Christmas!
Scene two: Last minute-ish, I order (more work for my friend the postwoman) a book for somebody. For this somebody, I am convinced the book is the can’t-miss gift, a literary jackpot. I wish this were a post about how beautiful this book is. You would prefer that, probably.
The idea is to bestow the book on a Tuesday, the last time before Christmas I will see my somebody. Okay, she is my therapist.
But Amazon has been a bit broken this season—have you noticed? Despite my Prime status and a scheduled Monday delivery, the book doesn’t show. I track the order; there is a delay. I compose an email to Amazon’s customer service.
Hey, Amazon, what is up? Have the holidays finally done you in? I read the news. I am aware the world’s gone crackers for one-swipe purchasing, leaving you struggling to rally enough drivers, enough trucks. When a lady in a rented U-Haul shows up at 10 p.m. on a Sunday in my driveway, I get it that there’s a chink in The System.
We the people have come to rely—heavily— on The System. And if you are going to rise to the responsibility for practically obliterating brick and mortar retail, I am going to need you to bring me my stuff. Punctually.
I am a Prime member with an order history longer than Santa’s list. I’m sorry to say this season’s dispatch fails are making Christmas more complicated. Due to this latest letdown (see order number above), I am being forced to actually put on clothes, get in my car and drive to Barnes & Noble to buy the goods you didn’t deliver—‘tis a gift, and I need it straight away. Please note, I had sprung for one-day shipping, so imperative was the timing of this present.
Promises, promises. Oaths are but words, and words but wind. Love you, Amazon, but come on.
I find this cleansing, like the hateful letter you scribble to an ex and then tear into a hundred pieces. Only I hit send.
I do not expect a representative to show up at my door with apology roses. So silly is my complaint, I anticipate no response at all. But within hours, I get one. Amazon confesses they are truly sorry and they humbly repent. Here is a refund for the shipping fee and an extra month of Prime, for free.
Amazon, you are the giant that ate the earth, nonetheless; I feel rotten for kicking you when you are down.
As you can see, I am grappling with goodwill toward men. Especially concerning brown paper packages tied up with strings, or the lack thereof. It is not easy to muster magnanimity when you are convinced folks are out to inconvenience you.
Everybody else is traffic, right?
Once again, I’ve let myself be licked by an acute case of Christmas OCD. Willingly have I traded meaning and peace and Mary-at-Jesus’-feet for Martha-in-the-kitchen and rigidity and ridiculous standards. Have you ever seen a gal retie a ribbon eight times to get it just so? It’s not attractive.
I acknowledge and bewail my manifold sins and wickedness. Advent-speed, I miss you.
Hotlanta experiences an under-forecasted, over-performing storm, with heavy, wet snow that blankets branches and renders my street a winter wonderland. I grab Hazel and tromp into the woods—and Wellie-walk until dark. Snow, the splendor of my Connecticut childhood! In silent worship, I savor the hushing-est hush there is: snowfall.
The only other sound’s the sweep
of easy wind and downy flake. ~ Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Hazel, Georgia-born and bred, is not so sure about the cold stuff under her paws. After a bit, though, I note a spring in her step. Why, she’s almost frolicking. By George, I say, you’re getting the hang of it.
I cannot sit still; this brisk stroll is the best I can do at slowing down.
I am back, for an hour, in Advent-speed.
Enter the yellow ramekins, the crossroads of my Christmas, per se.
In planning for a small luncheon I billed as “simple,” I realized I simply had to make an eggnog crème brulee for dessert, despite a woefully depleted supply of four-ounce ramekins. Pinterest was begging me to cook up these crème brulees, I tell you. So I turned to my (somewhat) trusty ol’ pal, Amazon, and lickety-clickety ordered half a dozen hobnail custard cups in a perfectly lovely pale green.
I accomplished this—and more!—late-night on my laptop, using an app I had installed, Flux, which reduces that pesky, brain-frazzling blue light near bedtime. One must find ways, where one can, to remain calm. And then my perfectly lovely pale green ramekins arrived—on time—in an awful shade of angry yellow. Which is exactly what I ordered, turns out. Funny how I got soft mint from school bus yellow. Flux!
Yellow ramekins with white and red dishes—like McDonald’s?
Blue light was not to blame for the knots forming in my shoulders or the unfortunate twitching in my left eye.
Granted, I had choices. Call curtains on the drama and use the yellow ramekins. Tweak the menu. Or fill the busy day before my party with a citywide search for more acceptably hued vessels for crème brulee. You can guess which direction I headed.
But what do you know? The HomeGoods gods smiled upon me—in the back of a cluttered shelf of what-nots and whatevers, bam! one set of pale green ramekins. At a bargain price, to boot.
Score! Still, I was uneasy. I had failed to take the road less traveled. The chillaxed road. I complained of this to my aforementioned therapist, who, by the way, seemed thrilled with the book.
I told of my tizzy, and she had a laugh. But when we got down to business, she all but dared me to use the yellow ramekins at my soiree. She didn’t quite say so—therapists are maddening that way. But clearly going with the garish gold would represent some brand of growth.
I went with the green. But in twist after ironic twist, at my luncheon, I:
· neglected to remove the sign—NOPE—I had taped to the sparkling clean powder room door to ward off family beforehand. I noticed this after my guests came and went (or held it).
· overbaked the cranberry-orange soda bread. Which, once you scraped off the blackened bottom, was delightful. If you follow Ina’s instructions—and listen out for your oven’s timer—the Barefoot Contessa’s recipes are flawless. Damn her.
· in adding the finishing touch, that irresistible caramelized crust, I forgot my custards under the broiler, burning the living heck out of the brulees.
Laura’s follies are proof-positive that God has a keen sense of humor.
I know better—I pay $125 an hour to know better. In my pursuit of perfect, I forfeit my unalienable right to the marvel of a moment. I am sick of having this particular conversation with myself.
I cannot squash my nature, my upbringing, my overemphasis on aesthetics. Nor should I. Still, I owe it to myself and my (long-suffering) people to fight the good fight, when I can. I’ll celebrate my successes, the points where I soften. When I hear the siren call of my extremes, I can use that as a touchstone to turn away.
So I slip up now and again. I am okay, for the moment, with picking and choosing my—moments. Baby steps.
It won’t kill me to extend an olive branch to the postwoman. Perhaps I’ll buy her a pack of Camels—and not fuss over the ribbon I tie around it.
As for serving crème brulee in bright yellow ramekins? Nevah.