Saturday, December 24, 2005

Making Christmas ...

Christmas, of course, happens.

The running and chasing, the buying and wrapping, the cooking and baking, none of it really has anything to do with Christmas at its core. I know that.

But Christmas: The Event requires all the planning and preparation, and however harried we get about it, it's all worth it in the end.

My Christmas began on Thursday, the 22nd. I donned my Cookie Fairy wings (invisible, of course) and made my cookie rounds.

Doreen received her package of cookies (she called to tell me she was in a Beth-induced sugar coma, so her doorman, apparently, did not consume her loot before she got home).

Dave received the cookies for him and his wife and his daughter. "They're like little dogs at home," he said. "Jumping around waiting for these to arrive." Cute image.

Bill received his cookies. Or rather, his desk received his cookies. He was out to lunch. But later, when I was back at Dave's studio, Bill was in his office, so I knocked on the door and peeked in and said, "Merry Christmas, Bill."

"Hi, Beth," he said, in his famous, sonorous voice. "You're thin!" he said as he hugged me. Bless you, Bill. Women never tire of hearing that. We chatted and I referenced the cookies on his desk. As I've mentioned, Bill loves my oatmeal raisin cookies. "Is that what that is?" he said. "Well, let's get to it!" He tore into the large cellophane bundle. "Do you want one?" he asked. I declined. He took a bite. "This is the best gift I get!" he said. "I love your cookies."

Which, of course, is why I bake so many cookies at Christmas, because people are so inordinately happy to receive them.

Then Dave, in a surprise move, presented me with a Christmas gift. "We don't exchange Christmas gifts," I said.

"I know," he said. "But I saw these and thought of you."

Oh. My. God. Springsteen's 30th Anniversary "Born to Run" 3-disc set, a James Taylor DVD (because Dave knows how much I love JT), and ... AND! ... U2's "Vertigo" DVD, filmed in Chicago in May! Score! SO exciting! Of course, I saw the show, but you can never see all of the show. While you're busy looking at The Edge, Bono's doing something else downstage. (Later at G's, we watched some of the U2 disc. Bono was, at times, literally larger than life. So fabulous.) Dave is such a talented musician in his own right, and I'm so grateful that I have him in my life which with to share my love of music. The discs would have been fab presents from anyone, but they mean even more because they came from him.

I drove Dave to his lot with all of his loot and briefcases and such and wished him a Merry Christmas before heading over to G's.

He met me by the elevator, as he usually does, asked me if I wanted anything to drink after taking my coat, and as we stood in the kitchen and I sipped my water, he told me that he had gotten word that morning that his grandmother had passed away.

And just as he had comforted me when Doreen called about her mom, I did my best to comfort him. It's hard to lose anyone at any time, but it's even harder at the holidays.

Later, he was hungry, despite his sadness, so we went to his favorite Italian restaurant. I'd never been. Merlot on Maple. Painfully charming, an old house in the middle of rows of retail. Paneled dining room, white linen, gleaming stemware, dimly lit. We each ordered a glass of wine. We touched glasses. "Here's to your grandmother," I said.

Anna, our server, told us of the specials of the day, including a Bolognese dish made only for the holidays, Golden Drop lasagne, a white lasagne made with white truffles and veal and sweetbreads and porcini mushrooms. When it arrived and they uncovered the dish, I thought, "Well, that's small." But I could have been sated with half a portion. It was insanely rich. I took the first bite and said, "This is *spectacular*."

G put on a mock pout. "You never say my food is spectacular."

"No," I said. "I just stand up, put my napkin on my chair, walk around to your side of the table, lean your head back, and plant one on you. That wouldn't be appropriate here." He leaned over and kissed me anyway.

He had the braised lamb shank. Fabulous in its own right. We were both far too full to even consider dessert, but we looked at the menu anyway. We were almost seduced by the siren song of zabaglione with warm chocolate, but we managed to stay strong. We'll have it another day.

G loves to people-watch, and the restaurant proved to be good theater. In his view was a woman who will forevermore be known as Plastic Fishnets, for her overly sculpted face and over-the-top stockings. In my view was a younger woman who, to my alarm in such an elegant space, was shoveling food onto her fork with her fingers.

Later, after watching some of U2 on his living-room wall, we headed to my car to drive back to my place. Since I wouldn't be seeing him for Christmas, we made a plan to spend the night at my house, where we could open presents by the tree. G doesn't decorate for Christmas. Nothing. Not a sprig of mistletoe (though we hardly need it), not a candy cane. And I appreciated that he agreed to come out to my 'hood because it was important to me.

At my house, he put my present under the tree. By its shape, I thought it was a toaster. But it wasn't. He put two bars of chocolate on top of my package and wrapped it all together, hence the strange shape. The chocolate, packed with toasted almonds, is some of the best stuff I've ever tasted, and, so he tells me, it's like cheap, everyday chocolate in Germany. Those Germans, they live right.

My gift, though, made me misty. A couple weeks ago, when I was on the hunt for a birthday gift for my cousin, G took me to a gallery/shop in Chinatown where I fell in love with a small piece of pottery, a vase of sorts.

So he went back and bought it for me. Whatever was put on the clay before it was fired creates a mottled metallic effect. I love it.

And he liked his gifts, too, among them the German gummi bears he likes (we are both tuned in to giving people something sweet) and a shirt he admired the day we went shopping for my mom.

Friday was his day to finish getting ready for his trip to Germany. He wouldn't let me drive him to O'Hare, but he did agree to a ride to a Blue-line stop. As we neared it, he looked at me and said, "Two weeks."

"I know," I said. "But I want you to travel safe, and have a good time with your friends, and take care of your mom." His grandmother's funeral will be Tuesday.

He got his stuff out of the backseat and leaned back in to kiss me. "Merry Christmas," he whispered between kisses. And then I drove away.

Christmas Eve has been busy. Creating more cookie packages, making bread to go with dinner, running - God help me - to the mall to pick up a gift card at a movie theater for mom to give to Kyle in his stocking, delivering a heaping plate of cookies to a friend who didn't have time to bake, helping her wrap packages. Driving to her house, holding her very large plate of cookies on one hand, my bicep objecting painfully, Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" came up on the stereo. Something about it made for a very cool Christmas moment: Delivering cookies on Christmas Eve with Eddie Vedder blaring on my stereo. Blog-worthy.

At mom's, the kids were patient through dinner then less patient through dessert then almost ready to burst as the adults drank their coffee. Finally, it was time for them to open presents. Everyone was pleased. Nick and Gianna got what they wanted, Kyle got cash and a video game and, from me, an iTunes gift card and two CDs: Relient K and U2 (The Joshua Tree; any serious music fan should own "The Joshua Tree"). He and I hopped in my car later to give Relient K a listen. It's a keeper.

But my favorite moment of Christmas so far has been me sitting on the hearth with my arms wrapped around Gianna on my lap, saying, "I love you, honey," and her saying, almost in a whisper, "I love you, too."

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