I spent the entire month of December — and honestly, most of November, too — dreading the holidays and doing my best to avoid thinking about them. The “will he/won’t he” question of whether my estranged son would demonstrate some basic human compassion and reach out to let me know that he’s alive was a huge part of it. (Spoiler alert: nope.) But I also just couldn’t picture the holiday without family, without church, without any of the rituals of my childhood.
As it happened, it was an incredibly nice Christmas. Ha. I don’t know whether all the dread actually made it better? Maybe I was so poised for it to be horrible that anything would have been better than my worst fears. But nope, it was actually just a really great day.
Suzanne and I dabbled in Christmas preparations ahead of time: we didn’t get a tree, but we put up Christmas lights on our respective houses, and we agreed to exchange stocking stuffers. And then we both bought stockings so that we’d have someplace to put said stocking stuffers! We hung the stockings in her house, along with one for the dogs and one for the cats.
First thing in the morning, well before daylight, I made a pot of coffee and brought it over to her house so we could open presents. (I knew she was awake, because we play an online game, Spelling Bee, and we were both adding words to it by 6AM.) We did such good jobs of present-giving! Also, great minds and all that — both stockings included socks and chocolate caramels. Ha. Hers also included t-shirts and a jigsaw puzzle and a tortilla warmer; and mine included some stickers I’d admired, a set of bamboo camping utensils, and a gift card for the cupcake store. We each also had a few presents from other people, my favorite of which was a magnet from Christina that so made me laugh…
We laughed a lot and drank our coffee and I ate gluten-free Christmas cookies that Suzanne’s awesome next-door neighbor had brought over on Christmas Eve. Then I came back to Serendipity and started calling people: my dad, my brother, Christina and Greg, my sister. With the spirit of Christmas on me, I even called R. He didn’t answer, but I left him a message wishing him a Merry Christmas, and I tried not to let myself get overwhelmed with sadness.
Instead I dragged Suzanne and the dogs off to the beach. Not that it was hard — even on a gray and rainy day, S & the dogs are always enthusiastic beach goers. But it was solidly rainy, so instead of going to one of our usual walking beaches, we drove down the Samoa peninsula to Humboldt Bay’s bleakly famous North Jetty. Bleakly famous, because it could easily be haunted from the number of tragedies that have happened there. We didn’t go anywhere near the jetty, but we admired the waves from a distance and appreciated the ocean air. And got really wet. I’d brought a cup of tea along, sort of randomly, and I’m not sure I’ve ever appreciated tea more than when I got back into the car and realized my coffee mug had kept it so hot that it was still almost undrinkable. Yum, hot mint tea on a rainy day.
On our drive home, we saw a rainbow that was actually more of a splotch of color in the sky than an arch. Beautiful and odd — what does one call a rainbow when it’s a circle, not a bow?
Our Christmas dinner plan was — well, unusual, maybe? Earlier in the month, I’d made a pork roast for dinner one night. The next night, I made pork tacos from leftover pork. But we used corn tortillas from the grocery store and they were terrible. During the course of our dinner conversation that night, I decided that my goal for 2021 was going to be to learn how to make homemade corn tortillas. Good homemade corn tortillas. Suzanne was a little dubious, but onboard for any experiments I wanted to make. She was also, conveniently, the proud owner of a very nice handmade tortilla press that was gathering dust and cobwebs in the cupboard.
Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t pick a major holiday as a day to try something totally new, but given the 2020 situation, why not, right? My plan for dinner was shrimp tacos and if the tortillas were disastrous, shrimp rice bowls.
The tortillas were not disastrous. Tortillas turn out to be ridiculously easy to make if you have the right tools, aka a cast iron skillet, a tortilla press, and a tortilla warmer. Also helpful, a heavy-duty ziplock bag. On two cups of masa (corn flour, available here at every grocery store), pour one and a half cups of very hot, but not boiling water. Let it sit for five minutes, then knead it for several minutes. If it’s too crumbly, add a little more water; if it’s too sticky, add a little more masa. Divide the dough into 16 equal-sized balls. (For me, using the Christmas cookie method of dividing the dough in half, then in half again, then in half again, then in half again, was a good way to get very evenly sized balls.) Heat a cast-iron skillet to fairly hot, but don’t add oil. Cut the heavy-duty freezer bag open and cover the tortilla press with it, and press each ball of masa individually between the plastic sides. Then cook it in the cast-iron pan for about thirty seconds per side or until it puffs up slightly. Put the tortillas in the tortilla warmer to stay nice until you’re ready to eat them.
As a goal for 2021, learning how to make good homemade corn tortillas feels really satisfying, because DONE. They were great. As it happened, we didn’t have the jerk seasoning I thought we had, and the shrimp was disappointingly bland IMO, but the tacos were delicious. Yum. So good that I’m contemplating making them for lunch now, because even though it’s only 9:30AM, I’ve made myself hungry.
After dinner — early, because the tortillas were a lot less time-consuming than I’d envisioned — we took the dogs for a walk. Just our usual walk, down to the end of the street and back again, but the weather had improved and it was a beautiful late afternoon. We talked about traveling and food, trips that we want to take, places we’d like to eat. It was a thoroughly satisfying envisioning of a future with possibilities rich and interesting.
I’m so relieved to have the holidays almost over. Do I think that life is miraculously going to get better, that my grief will magically disappear, that the world will suddenly become a sane place again? Well, not really, actually. But I had a really nice Christmas, and for today, that is sufficient unto the day.