It's amazing how stressed out a working mother can become as the end of December approaches. This is supposed to be a joyous and festive time of year, but for me it inevitably ends up being a time of mood swings and migraines. This fact always catches me by surprise because I have the most wonderful childhood memories of Christmas.
By the way, I should mention here that I come from a long line of "bad" Jews who celebrate Christmas each year, complete with a tree, lights, candy canes and stockings hanging from the mantle. My mother took the whole ritual of the holidays very seriously, and seemed to enjoy it immensely. Each year she would pick a different "style" for the tree's decor - one year it was all plaid with giant tartan bows, another year it was all silver ornaments, and so on. (She was one of those people who redecorated the entire house every other year.) She loaded the tree up with gifts and filled our stockings until they were overflowing. Every year she made the same breakfast of cheese eggs, toast and bacon -- again, "bad" Jews -- and literally played Christmas music while we unwrapped our gifts. I try to recreate this experience every year in my own home, much to the chagrin of my more religiously observant husband, and look forward to Christmas morning with as much anticipation as I did when I was a child. As a matter of fact, I'm eating a candy cane at this very moment.
The lead-up to December 25th, however is the part that can be rough. I actually started feeling it today, as my daughter and I set out to purchase some gifts for her friends. I don't know if it was the two clueless sales girls at the clothing store that set my mood off, or if it was the traffic that we fought to get across town only to purchase one measly gift, but I started to lose it. I think it's because I started to feel, as I always do at the holidays, that I am taking part in an un-winnable race, a steeple-chase complete with obstacles (traffic), challenges (what on earth do I buy for my sister who has everything), incredible distances to cover (the endless gift list) and that inevitable post-race muscle pain (the January credit card bill). I'm usually the one who decorates the tree, buys all of the gifts and cooks Christmas dinner, adding to the gauntlet that is my usual month of December. I started to feel that dreadful fear that I may not actually be able to finish the race this year, especially since I haven't even warmed up yet.
Much of this comes down to the fact that I spend many many hours at work and thus have very little leeway in terms of finding time to take care of these holiday chores. No matter how early I start my gift buying, I always end up duking it out on Christmas Eve with the rest of the shopping crowds. I end up spending way too much because I start grabbing one of every item that I see in order to avoid forgetting someone. I also carry a tremendous amount of pressure and guilt -- again, I'm a Jew -- about how much time I spend away from my children and subconsciously feel like I will make up for all of it on the morning of Christ's birthday.
So, as I felt that familiar feeling set in, and as my son in the back seat of the car screamed about not waiting one more minute to get our Christmas tree, I decided to retreat to my "happy place." My happy place is where I mentally transport myself in times of trouble. For instance, when on an airplane experiencing heavy turbulence, I close my eyes an imagine myself at my home, snuggled up under the covers with my son listening to him breathe while he sleeps. I say over and over to myself, "I'm in my happy place. I'm in my happy place." Somehow this gets me through without completely losing it in front of hundreds of people. I decided to take inspiration for my happy place on this irritating Saturday, two weeks to the day from Christmas, in my dreamy imaginary holiday moment, one in which I am sitting on my sofa in front of the fire, glass of wine in hand while the children decorate the tree. As I looked at my kids in the rear view mirror I came to slowly realize that my happy place may not be so far away after all.
I immediately turned the car around and drove over the Christmas tree lot down the street from my house, the one where the trees are a touch more expensive, but they are delivered to your home within one hour. My overjoyed son ran up and down the aisles of Noble Firs while my daughter and I looked for the perfect tree. I've brainwashed my little girl over the last thirteen years to look for the exact type of tree that I like: the super model of trees, slender, elegant and very tall. We found our green version of Kate Moss, paid for the beautiful yet doomed tree and headed for home. I decided when we got home to do what I have never done before, and allow the kids to decorate the whole tree themselves. Normally, I would fuss over it myself in an obsessive compulsive manner, quashing their creativity to satisfy my own need for order. This year, I decided to allow myself to just sit back and watch, and to allow them to experience the fun part, the part that I used to look forward to.
To help me in my quest for pre-Christmas relaxation, I opened a bottle of 2007 Jorian Hill "Beespoke" Grenache/Syrah blend. In my mind, this hearty red is one of the most perfect wines for this time of year. Jorian Hill is a small family-owned winery in the cool climate area known as Ballard Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley. Their winemaking and viticulture team of Mark Crawford Horvath, Kenneth Gummere and Jeff Frey focuses on organic farming, low yields and small lot fermentations to create wines that are at once rich and elegant. This wine is striking from the start with its aromas of black olive, tar and raspberry. It has a seriousness and muscularity that comes through well before even tasting. On the palate, the wine shows an interesting balance of qualities from both the Syrah and the Grenache. It has a meatiness and dark intensity that is balanced by nuances of red fruits and spices. It has strength and grip while also being soft and fleshy. I figured that its dark brooding character and comforting fruitiness was probably the perfect match for my mood and situation.
As I sat and listened to the kids laughing and enjoying themselves while decorating the tree, I was able to bring myself back from the dark depths of holiday irritation and appreciate this time of year again. They placed each glass ball and silver bell where ever they saw fit and I didn't interfere or offer my opinion. Now, I'm not sure if I drank too much wine or if I was just overwhelmed by the fact that I didn't have to lift a finger, but I knew then and there that I had never seen a better looking Christmas tree.