Merry Christmas, darling!
It is months like these that remind me just how fortunate I am. To be surrounded by good people who love me and to live in comfort and peace. December has flown by, but through the whirlwind of changes, Christmas is always the same. Same food, same faces, same candlelight service where the entire congregation sings Silent Night while we hold candles, passing the flame individually from one neighbor to the next until the entire church is twinkling. But I’ve already skipped to the end.
December started with a bang when Maddie and I hosted a holiday party. The first time we had people over, we were pleasantly surprised when our friend groups merged so easily. I guess if you are a nerd–no matter what your discipline–you will get along with others who are likely just as a goofy as you are and don’t take themselves too seriously. We decorated the apartment with lights and colorful treats and couldn’t believe it when people actually honored our request to get fancy.
It was a night filled with laughter and marshmallows. I couldn’t have asked for a better make-shift family this year. The next morning we trekked through the sleet to Monica’s house for a holiday brunch and gift exchange and, again, I found myself surrounded by quality people who believe you can absolutely eat cake for breakfast if there is coffee in it. Presenting yet another Mix&Match Mama cake: Peppermint Mocha.
December really was the month of cakes. Shortly after this one I (with the invaluable help of my co-worker Kate) made this spice cake with cardamom-coffee frosting for a co-worker’s birthday.
The frosting didn’t quite blend, but it was pretty damn good. That same day I made this white cake with maple frosting for a holiday dinner/dance at this local community support center for people with autism and other more severe mental disabilities.
I thought it turned out rather pretty. Regardless, it disappeared incredibly quickly. I volunteered at this center a month before and had a very emotionally overwhelming, but positive experience. I got a good vibe from everyone I met and felt like I was doing something useful there. So I went back and helped prepare and serve food and clean up afterwards. Autism isn’t something I have any personal connection to, but would like to learn more about. After my first time volunteering I read the book The Reason I Jump, a book written by a 13 year old Japanese boy with autism. He is non-verbal and wrote the book using a specially designed keyboard. The book was then translated into english by David Mitchell, an American author who has a son with autism. It was incredibly moving and beautiful to read, but I wonder how much of this is the author’s voice when you factor in a) the translation, b) Mitchell’s artistic license and embellishment as an author, and c) the perhaps subconscious desire of a father who is desperately trying to understand the inner-workings of his son’s mind. Both the book and my experiences at this wonderful center made me feel humbled, grateful, sad, and inspired by the purity of certain human beings–both those who have found happiness despite the bad genetic hand they have been given and those who love them without abandon. There was so much love in that room that night that I frequently found myself blinking away tears as I sat and watched the festivities after my salad serving duties were over. I even made a new friend who is expecting a baby girl today! We exchanged emails, so I will have to check and see if her special Christmas gift arrived on time.
But my baking adventures didn’t stop there. I made cookies for the office (I originally only intended to make them for my bosses, but the recipe ended up making 4 dozen…so I fed everyone).
And I participated in Carnegie’s first ever Gingerbread House Competition! Even though we were supposed to break up into two teams, a group of us worked together to make sheets and sheets of gingerbread and sing holiday songs while we frosted our incredibly creative creations. Kate, David, and Matt made an ark (that explains the truth behind the extinction of the dinosaurs) while Oren, Wyatt, Scott, Yusuf, and I made a map of the world, complete with various Carnegie scholars in their respective countries and a few of the dinosaurs who got left behind.
Despite our ingenuity, humor, and the many hours spent carving and decorating…both of us lost (out of three teams). The winning team got more votes than both of us COMBINED. Granted, they did build a very beautiful Japanese style house complete with river and bridge, BUT…they used graham crackers. I know our structures weren’t houses, but at least we used gingerbread! I may or may not have told a few people that scandalous fact while the voting was going on. In all seriousness I couldn’t care less, but still….
My holiday happenings in D.C. ended with Maddie giving me a gift-card to Haven Pizzeria, a new place in Bethesda that makes bomb pizza and holds a few very sweet memories for me.
Then I was off to Texas.
I binged on Homeland the night I got home (and furiously called my work-mates when I saw the ending), but the very next day the festivities began again.
Monica hosted a lovely mother-daughter dinner at her house.
Brittany fed us crepes and local french wine that we drank in front of the fire.
And last night we celebrated the very-high-number annual Smogard Family Christmas Eve Party. We were looking through old photos and found pictures from some of the first years, where the youngest member of the crew was only 2 (she is now in 8th grade). So many things have changed over the years. People have moved, loved ones have died, marriages and births have made the party grow….but every year we feast on Cuban food and celebrate our thankfulness for one another. And speaking of new marriages, this lovely lady is getting married in March!!! I am truly honored to have had a friend like her throughout the years and cannot wait to experience more milestones together.
And in case you aren’t up-to-date on your Disney movies, the title of this post is from the movie Frozen. It is about the sacrifices you make for the ones you love and, regardless of your religion or the strength of your devotion, that is what this holiday is all about.