Let there be Peace on Earth.

Let there peace on Earth…

and let it begin with me. The idea of “holiday stress” has always seemed solely cliché and never applicable to me. That’s most likely because for most of my life all I had to do was wake up, run downstairs, open the gifts, eat the ham and sweet potatoes, and revel in the magic of a holiday that brought so much happiness and cheer. As an adult (and mother) with gifts to buy, really long car trips to conquer, and multiple family occasions to attend, stress has surreptitiously slunk its way into my favorite time of year.

Since we were married, my husband and I have never lived in the same city as our families, both of which live in the same city. We kill the proverbial two birds with one stone when we make the haul home and get to spend time with both sides, which is so wonderful. However, this once-absent holiday stress first appeared when we started trying to be everywhere, for every event, for everybody. Well, not for everybody, for us. We didn’t want to miss anything if we didn’t have to, but this all-inclusive RSVP meant a lot of time bouncing around, a lot of sneaky glances at the clock, a lot of late arrivals, and for me, a lot of guilt. Add in two babies and very little sleep, and the whole thing was just plain exhausting. I felt like I could never really be anywhere. In my mind, I was already on to the next meal at the next house with the next family member, and the anxiety of disappointing someone was ever-present and ever-growing.  Talk about an out-of-body experience… We needed everyone’s patience and understanding, but we needed our own most of all.

In talking to friends and family, I learned I am not the only absent-minded guest at the brunch table (sub: dinner table, dirty Santa game, cocktail party). This year, I am making a resolution before the ball drops; one that will serve me well for what is left of this year. I am making a promise to myself to forgive. That’s right: forgiveness is the stuff peace is made of. How you ask? That stress (which leads to anxiety, which leads to edginess, which leads to guilt) can be curtailed with a little compassion and a lot of grace. And, it starts with me…or you. Instead of beating myself up for the array of things I should have done better, namely not getting so stressed in the first place, I vow to pat myself on the back, forgive myself for whatever I am thinking or feeling, and remind myself that I really am doing the best I can. When you are easier on yourself, you can be easier on others, and that is how grace can grow and peace can spread.

That said, if you Google “holiday stress,” you will stare down link after link of helpful coping tips and ways to ward off what seems to be a cultural norm. I browsed through several, and there is some really useful information out there. From sniffing citrus to taking a walk to just saying no to at least one holiday obligation or request, everyone has a list of go-to stress busters in easy-to-navigate slide show format. My biggest takeaway was a simple one. Nothing is perfect. Every family has conflict, every dinner has an overcooked turkey or undercooked potatoes, every gift exchange has at least one unscraped price tag. Try to shake the expectation for perfection à la Stepford and see that life is unfolding as it is meant to. It’s okay to be down, underwhelmed, or irritated at the holidays, just don’t let those emotions take root. Acknowledge them, let them go, and make room for joy. Don’t miss the smile on your child’s face when he opens his first present, the cold, creamy taste of the egg nog, or the familiar chorus of your family laughing in unison.

The peace is actually always there. We don’t make it; it was given to us long, long ago. It is our choice to deem ourselves worthy of a calmer, happier existence than is possible when our lives are stifled by stress. We deserve this always, but especially now. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? We have been given the ultimate gift. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Wishing peace, joy, and love to you and yours,

Melissa

 

Warm Stew and Warm Memories

Mawmaw & Graham

Mawmaw & Graham

Warm Stew and Warm Memories

It goes without saying that the holidays are a time for family gatherings. This holiday season is especially dear to my own family. I lost a grandmother in September and a grandfather just two weeks ago. My grandmother held on until I completed a two-day journey home with both of my babies to kiss her goodbye, and my grandfather passed peacefully in his sleep the night after I had been over to visit him with my boys. I don’t mean to be somber, and really I don’t feel that way. I am joyful and eternally grateful for the family they created. Family is the most precious thing we have. It takes effort and intention, but if nurtured and cherished, family can provide support, comfort and a safe place to be your true self.

I was raised in a very close, Sunday-lunching kind of extended family. My cousins are like my siblings and every aunt and uncle had a hand in shaping who I have become. In such a family, grandparents are like the cornerstones. They are our common bond.  Our anchors to tradition and to each other. I could wax poetic about each one…

Grandaddy & Austin

Grandaddy & Austin

Instead, I will share a memory and a recipe. A few nights before he passed, my family was eating at my aunt and uncle’s house. My aunt fixed a fish stew that I made up several years ago. It reminded my Granddaddy of the Bouillabaisse he used to cook every weekend in his long past days in the kitchen. He was one of the first to get a bowl and was telling everyone how good it was as he sopped up the tomato wine sauce with a hunk of toasted garlic bread. I was so proud that he liked it, as my grandfather was a man with an excellent palate. I loved this soup before for its bold flavor and easy preparation, but now it has a special place in my heart right next to my grandfather.

Fisherman’s Stew
SERVES: 6-8

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tbsp butter

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped

  • 1 cup white white

  • 2-4 cups of lobster stock (can subsitute fish, clam or chicken stock), amount of liquid depends on the consistency you prefer

  • 1 cup pasta sauce (I use a homemade family recipe, but store bought will work)

  • 1 can diced tomatoes, no salt added

  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper

  • ½ tsp dried basil (or add more fresh if you have it)

  • ½ tsp dried oregano

  • ½ tsp anise

  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • ½ lb mussels

  • 8 clams

  • ½ lb shrimp

  • 2 tilapia fillets (or any white fish), cut in to 1 in pieces

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. In a large dutch oven or sauce pan, heat oil and butter. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 6-8 minutes.
2. 
 Add wine and let reduce for a few minutes.
3. 
Add stock and next 7 ingredients, through cannellini beans. Let sauce simmer about 10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add more broth or salt as needed.
4. Add all seafood except the shrimp. Simmer about 6 minutes and then add shrimp. Cook about 4 minutes more, until shrimp are pink and clams have opened. Remove from heat and sprinkle parsley over each serving.

Serve with toasted baguette slices. The soup part can be made ahead of time and left on warm. Or even make it a day ahead and reheat for company. Add seafood when you are about 10-15 minutes out from dinnertime.

This supper is delicious and flavorful. Don’t be intimidated by the seafood; try it out this weekend for yourself, and then impress your friends and family at your next gathering. I guarantee they will be begging to know how you made such a restaurant-worthy dish. (Is that tooting my own horn?) 

To quote my grandfather’s favorite farewell: “Bye-cycle!”

Melissa