Thursday, December 30, 2010

Epiphany is yet to come

Christmas is finished and all our photos and memories will join the others of Christmas Past. It is also the close of a decade rich in life and tumult. Although we began the turn of the century in China, we moved to Texas that year and began having babies while Brad simultaneously began and finished two graduate degrees and worked full time. I struggled to remain creative while raising the girls and working part-time. We packed and moved four times. Loved ones died, marriages divorced, friends moved away. But our girls thrived, our families moved closer, our friends discovered blogging and Facebook. Somehow the tapestries woven throughout our lives got stronger and more intricate and colorful.
This year, at the close of this amazing decade, we are once more in China. Out of necessity and desire, we all created a truly home-made Christmas. Throughout Advent, the girls spent all their free time making cards, ornaments, scenery, decorations - all from paper. It was all we had. We were too far away to receive snail-mail cards so we strung ribbon and hung all their creations. The potted plant we bought looks like a small fir and showed off all the sweet elves and gingermen and santas and stars and angels. Our Chinese tutor, who comes daily, taught us the Chinese words for everything Christmas. She taught us how to carol in Chinese.
I began to bake. I hadn’t made bread in twenty years and really hate to cook but oh how I craved homemade sweets. I’ve been reading a fabulous book about our spiritual lives and food, and the essays made me want to provide food for my family and my own soul, my own body. I craved the breaking of bread. I bought some flour and yeast and found an easy recipe. It worked. From the same batch I made cinnamon rolls. I could actually smell the yeast when I punched down the risen dough. (I have an incredibly weak sense of smell that probably half explains why food doesn’t mean much more than filling my belly.) My family ooh-ed and ah-ed and requested more. For three weeks of Advent, I made bread every Saturday.
Then I got ambitious. I began to cook more than fried rice or spaghetti. For the first time in years, I made an entire Christmas dinner (in a toaster oven) for our Chinese friends who visited from another province. And by necessity it was all from scratch: cornbread dressing, garlicked green beans with onions, squash casserole, steamed pumpkin (so naturally sweet!), salad greens with olive and balsamic vinegarette, splendid peach pie, rum balls and gingersnap cookies. The guests never had an American-made meal. They were awed.

We had to share. We packed the rum balls (yum for Meyers rum!) and gingersnaps, practiced our carols in Chinese and set out in the 15 degree wind chill. Our retired neighbors who keep cabbages in the stairwell, had a house full of guests for a birthday. We sang and offered cookies. Then on to the community center and the family who lives in their shop and delivers our water. We sang to the fruit seller and the vegetable vendor and the mantou lady. The bicycle repair lady and her Pekingese weren’t out but the shoe repairman was and we sang for him and his customer. Lastly, we found the lady who sweeps and puts the trash on her hand-pulled cart. We like her. She waves and greets us warmly when we pass. Someone found a clean napkin as she removed her gloves to take the cookies. We sang Silent Night in Chinese and wished her a merry Christmas, peace on earth, good will toward men. Epiphany is yet to come.


Nancy said...

Just beautiful, Karen. I feel blessed just reading this. And your bread looks wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Karen, I missed your chocolate cake.

Just the other night I had a sudden craving. I phoned the local restaurant - a supposedly "fine dine" place, and picked up their last 2 slices of chocolate cake. Turned out to be a major let down. On the drive home I missed that chocolate cake you baked and chilled in that little fridge in Wuda over a decade ago. It was the best I ever tasted.

And you said you didn't like cooking.


PS: This is mid-summer. Reading your blog, I can feel the chill of Beijing's Winter and the warmth of the christmas spirit. So beautiful.