I'm not one much for gratitudes, but I do try to remember the things that keep me going, that remind me why it's good to be alive. In the spirit of the season, there's so much for which to be thankful.
Mostly I'm thankful for the things you'd expect--my husband, my cats, my family, my jobs, the fact that I have shelter and food and even music and books. I'm able-bodied and healthy. I have good friends. I have whiskey.
I'm thankful for other things, too.
I'm thankful for feasts with my family and old jokes and traditions. I'm so thankful to have a good relationship with my brothers and their wives and, now, my baby niece.
I'm thankful for friends who've become family.
I'm grateful I was able to visit Texas this month and visit my grandmother. Knowing it might be the last time I see her is at once heartbreaking and beautiful. I didn't get to say goodbye to my grandfather, so this was really a gift.
I'm thankful that the same trip gave me added perspective on my relationship with my birth mother. It's been 18 or so years since we first reunited and it hasn't always been easy. Let's be honest, it still is kind of fucking hard. More and more, however, I realize this is just what it's going to be so I better get used to it and maybe even get over it because I have an adoptive mother here in California who's been to hell and back for me and, really, that's enough.
All that and I know my birth mother loves me. And the silvery thread of that is enough for me to soldier on in this relationship.
I'm thankful that after 15 years of my father not speaking to me that I' m really learning to give zero fucks about it. Sure, there may still be tears but there is also acceptance. I can't fix him. It's not my fault. I've done what I can.
I'm thankful for the desert and the mountains and the ocean and wide-open skies and endless roads to nowhere. I'm thankful to know there will always be new adventures as well as far-flung places I can call home.
I'm so goddamned thankful that there are people in this world who care enough to fight and, yes protest, for the Michael Browns and the Trayvon Martins of the world. I'm thankful there are people who want to see real change, who strive to fight injustice and lies.
I'm thankful there are people like Wendy Davis who will campaign for women’s' rights and even after losing a political race, will keep on taking a stand.
I'm thankful there are homeless shelters and, even more so, animal shelters to take in creatures in need. I'm thankful there are volunteers who help run those organizations even when money is scarce and I'm thankful there are people who give money to keep them going. We're all in this together folks, let's help each other out--let's be kind and generous, OK?
I'm so incredibly thankful for the ability to love art and, also, create art. Sometimes those are the only things that seem to keep me sane. The right piece of music, art, literature or film can be life-saving. To create your own bits can be life-changing.
Sometimes I'm even thankful for the insanity: the depression, the sadness, the fears that creep up. They teach me so much. Honestly, at this point I can't even imagine life just being an effortless ride free of glitches and bumps and questions and the darkness.
Without all of those rocky stretches, without all those moments of utter blackness, who would ever appreciate the sunshine again?
Well, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and I'm already breaking one of my major rules: No holiday music until the Friday after the big stuff-your-face day.
But I have a cold and it's been that kind of day--month and year, really--so here I am listening to some festive tunes. All thing Christmas will soon consume my life, which means it's time to get my game face on.
It's time to think about survival because, let's be honest, I'm going to over-extend myself. It happens every year so that by the time my birthday rolls around on December 23 I am tired and maybe even a little Scrooge-y. OK, probably very Scrooge-y. Last year my birthday followed a weekend of parties and then two days of exhausting work and it was all I could do to go out to dinner and have a good time damn it. I know, poor me).
But that's part of the fun. I like the holidays. Actually I love them. Hey, I don't know what's wrong with me either. Maybe it's the glittery lights and the promise of good will and cheer even if those things never quite materialize in full. I love the idea that maybe, just maybe, we can all work toward common good. Or something like that.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't about a Jesus-y Christmas although I was raised in a Christian household and maybe that's where some of my enduring love comes from. This idea that we strive for kindness and generosity. That and as a kid I just freaking adored the annual Christmas pageant. The glitz! The carols! The cookies after!
By the way, this isn't necessarily about it not being Jesus-y, either. That's a different topic for a different day.
Certainly, I love the cold weather. I love frosty air and breath that floats on cold nights like icicles.
I fucking love Christmas music. It's a sickness, but I do.
(For the record, I hate Black Friday, ugly Christmas sweaters (take your irony and shove it) and stupid holiday commercials that feature St. Nick as a 'regular guy'. Stupid.)
I love looking at holiday lights, I love getting together with friends and exchanging White Elephant gifts. I love holiday baking. Too much, actually.
I love, love, love watching It's a Wonderful Life, Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I love Christmas trees and fragile vintage ceramic decorations passed down from my grandmother. I love stockings hung from the chimney with care.
I love the anticipation on Christmas Eve--even without a huge stack of presents to open, I still feel it. I love the early quiet of Christmas morning when we do stockings and drink the good coffee and enjoy a few moments of respite. I love that the cats play with the toys we got them for about five minutes before moving on to the wrapping paper.
I love the comedown between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I love the prelude to the next calendar year, I love the promise of January and all the fresh opportunities it promises to bring. (January fibs like that, but I believe it every year).
I love getting together with my family. Sometimes they drive me crazy. Inevitably something about the big family dinner will cause me great stress. But they also always make me laugh. Always. And there's always booze involved, too, so we've got that handled. Although, pro tip: Bring a flask. Just in case. You'll thank me later.
Speaking of booze, most holiday-related things are better with it. Here's a recipe for my SN&R Bake-off entry, Whiskey Spice Bundt Cake -- a.k.a Survive the Holidays Cake. Tip: Use the good coffee and expensive whiskey for this one, it's worth it.
It didn't place in this year's competition but Greg the distribution manager declared it his favorite and demanded the recipe. Greg's a seriously stand-up guy so that's a win in my book.
This recipe is from The Kitchn blog and I like it because it's not terribly sweet and, also, because whiskey. And, if you put it in a pretty vessel such as this Nordic Ware Holiday Bundt Pan, it makes it seem as though you did a ton of work when really you're just an expert at buttering and flouring a pan:
For the cake: 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 1 cup sugar 1 cup brown sugar 3 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (whole or 2%) 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
For the glaze: 1/4 cup brewed coffee 1/4 cup American whiskey 1/4 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar, for serving Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until creamy and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and yogurt and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat lightly, just until flour is no longer visible. Fold in the cranberries and transfer batter to bundt pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
After the cake has cooled for about 10 minutes, poke 10 - 12 slits into the surface of the cake with a sharp knife. Spoon about half the glaze over the surface, or as much will soak into the slits. Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan with a butter knife and turn the cake out onto a rack. Place the rack on a baking sheet to catch drips.
With the point of a sharp knife, cut 10 - 12 slits into the top of the cake. Spoon glaze over the cake, soaking as much in the slits as possible, and using a brush to spread glaze over any uncovered areas. (You may have some glaze left over.) Let cake cool completely.
Just before serving, dust cake with powdered sugar. Top each slice with whipped cream, if desired.
Note:The cake can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. After cooling completely, wrap with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container at room temperature.