Christmas Tree Pizza...

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I didn’t even write a thankful post.  I meant to, I really did, but…you know.  Life.  And all that.

As it happens, though, I’m sort of glad that I didn’t get a chance to sit down and write a post about all the things I was thankful for last week; because for me, increasingly, Thanksgiving is only the beginning of a whole season of gratitude — the grand inaugural event, really, to a month’s worth of working hard at being mindful of all that’s good and right about life.  I say “working hard” because it’s certainly not always easy to appreciate what we’ve got, and while I like to think of myself as a relatively positive person most of the time, I’m no Pollyanna.  Sometimes, it’s a lot easier to just allow myself to sink deeply into the quagmire of everyday annoyances.  But I don’t want to be that way, at least not most of the time.  And since Thanksgiving comes right before the Advent season, a time of year which has lost a shocking degree of its original meaning and quietude and wonder, I try especially hard right around now to be a better person — one who’s more uplifted, more centered, more generally grateful in earnest.

What with all the horrible tales of Black Friday violence from around the country this weekend, as well as personal irritations and inconveniences like a blown water heater (discovered Sunday morning as I froze myself solid in the shower), I’m sorely tempted to throw up my hands, Charlie Brown-like, and cry, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?”  All I want is to feel the calm and peace of the season, the way I used to when I was a kid and my sister and I would walk through our glowing neighborhood at nighttime, our breath puffing in fat little clouds before us as we admired all the light displays.  The way I always did at the late night Christmas Eve services, when everyone in our church would light candles and raise them high above our heads singing “Silent Night.”  The STILLNESS of all that…the magical stillness…that’s what I want, not just for me, but for everyone.  And yet with every passing year of adulthood it seems like the world rails more and more stridently against peace and simplicity.  When people are getting pepper-sprayed over the Rock Star Elmo, you know perspective isn’t just lost; it’s actually been destroyed.

Don’t misunderstand me.  My holiday to-do list is as long as anyone else’s, I’m sure.  We’re not going to give up on presents, or cards, or shopping, or baking, or wrapping, or decorating (though I’ve got some strategies for most of these things that do help me keep some sanity).  My goal isn’t to divest myself of the trappings so much as it is to challenge myself to find the peace and joy within the activity.  And with kids in the house, I think it’s even more important to be aware of that goal — because as with anything else in their lives, the preparations for the Christmas season should be done with an eye towards helping them discover their joy.

The only problem with that theory is that sometimes I think we become so enmeshed in all the DOING, so consumed by it, that we either forget that these activities are supposed to be joyous, or we become too busy to actually find space for other moments of joy.  So I’m determined to be on the lookout, these next four weeks, for the Stuff That’s Awesome about our life and our family — and to devote myself to making it possible, as much as I can, for all of us to enjoy The Awesome.

I’ve often tried in the past, as I think many of us do, to shoehorn holiday activities in around everything else I’ve got to do — shoving “fun” and “happiness” into the usual routine as grimly and forcefully as the Grinch, shoving his overstuffed sack up the Whos’ chimney.  But this weekend, I had a few small tastes of what The Awesome could be like, if I figure out how to scale back regular life for a while…and it was good.  Really good.

On Saturday, I got back to cooking after all the holiday festivities with family, and I confess I was uninspired by the meal plan.  I was, frankly, tired.  We’d had great fun for two solid days, then capped it all off with a visit to our local zoo on Saturday morning for Santa’s arrival and a parade, after which I madly rushed to Whole Foods to do some grocery shopping and get our household back on some sort of routine.  We all needed a break from our break, if you know what I mean; and in desperation, feeling uninspired, I asked the guys what they’d really like me to make for dinner. 

L. had a simple, brilliant idea that could only come from the brain of a five-year-old: Picture Pizzas.  We could use toppings to draw pictures, he thought, and upon further discussion he and I agreed on Christmas pizzas…because hey, once Thanksgiving’s done, what kid doesn’t want to get on with the next holiday already?

Our Rudolph Pizza

The idea itself (as well as the relative ease of making pizza) was enough to rejuvenate me.  Something as simple as deciding how to best capture Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in marinara made me focus not on how tired I felt, or how uninspired, but rather on The Awesome.  And The Awesome happened to be two great-looking, great-tasting pizzas that the kids couldn’t wait to make and eat — antlers, eyeballs, and all. 

The next morning, our water heater broke.  Or rather, exploded.  I felt remarkably and inexplicably calm about the whole thing, and as J. and I strategized about how we’d manage 24-36 hours with only cold water, one word kept leaving both of our mouths: Simple.  Let’s make things as simple for ourselves as we can.  He went to the grocery store for paper plates; I told him to grab some no-boil lasagna noodles and cheese as well.  Within the strange calm that descended upon our household after the discovery of the busted tank, I had a simple dinner of lasagna, salad, and bread ready to go by early afternoon — only the final baking was left before we could eat.  As the realization dawned on me that I had over an hour left before dinnertime and NOTHING URGENT NEEDED DOING, I walked into the living room and said to my children, “So I was thinking we should play a round of Animal Bingo.  All of us together.”

Two minutes later, the four of us were seated around the table with the game; an hour after that, the oven timer was chiming and L. was begging for just ONE MORE ROUND.  We’d lost the opossum somewhere.  J. and L. had discovered a wild, unidentifiable, and apparently quite dangerous imaginary beast living inside the bingo bag.  P. had let several of the animals take a ride on his trains, not caring that he missed quite a few turns here and there while he chauffered the bingo chips around the downstairs.  It was dinnertime, and we were already enjoying each other’s company around the table.  I realized, quite clearly, that in that moment my lack of fussing over a Sunday dinner had brought us to this point: The Awesome.

I’m trying hard not to lose the momentum of the past two days as we rush back headlong into a work week, into commitments and schedules and the inevitable swiftness with which the next few weeks will pass (ack! Cards!  We have to send cards!  And what about the wrapping?).  As I sit down to finalize the December meal plan — which will, of course, be unveiled just a few days from now — I know I’ll take an extra few minutes to be sure that I’m leaving space for the Stuff That’s Awesome to take root.  Maybe it will mean simpler meals, or making do with less, or just leaving room for possibilities like Picture Pizza to find their way into life.  I’ll be doing my best to pause and look around me for The Awesome.  And I challenge all of you to make space for some Stuff That’s Awesome this month, too.