Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Memories: Old & New

Today is mine and Tom's 2nd wedding anniversary.  I truly can not believe we have been married for two years.  I decided to start a new blog because I've really missed writing and getting my thoughts out.  I had thoughts about continuing where my old blog left off, but it has been so long since I wrote on that one.  I also feel that I am in a new place in my life than where my old blog left off.   My original blog started out as a way to deal with my grief from losing my mom to cancer when I was only 19.  My last few posts are about finishing my first year of teaching (now I am in my 6th year) and wanting to get engaged to Tom (after we had been dating for a few months and now we've been married for 2 years).  So a lot has changed.  Some of this blog will still be centered on my grief and my faith, but I am hoping that it will have a different perspective since so many new blessings have come my way.  I also want to share the next chapter of my life with Tom as we proceed to purchase our first home out in Baiting Hollow, on the North Fork of Long Island (we love the farm country out there!).  Lastly, I hope to share my crafting, cooking, and baking that I enjoy so much and I want to rejuvenate my Etsy account.  Overall, thanks for reading, and here I go...

This Christmas I felt inspired to try to deal with some of the pain that still lingers from missing my mom.  I still miss her daily but the holidays tend to be the most difficult at this point.  I have pushed aside a lot of our traditions because sometimes it is easier to just skip them, than to face the reality that my mom isn't here to share them with me.  I felt ready this year though to tackle two traditions that have been weighing on my heart and mind.  

The first goal was to visit the cemetery.  It sounds horrible, but I honestly haven't visited my mom's grave in years.  The reason why is it genuinely makes me feel so sad and depressed, not only the day I go but for quite some time afterwards.    Growing up we used to go to the cemetery all the time.  It was so normal for me as a child because we went about once a month and on holidays.  My mom would always pick out some artificial flowers.  We would drive to Pinelawn to see my mom's mother, Grandma Ernie, and then we would proceed to the Veteran's cemetery to see my mom's grandparents, Grandma Vita & Grandpa Rocco (can you get more Italian sounding than that?)  Often, we would meet up with Aunt Jean and Uncle Tony who would have goodies for us from Uncle Giuseppe's like jelly rings or rainbow cookies.  I never knew any of these relatives who had passed away, so I was unfazed by these visits.  I knew it made my mom feel sad, but she ultimately, seemed happy to have visited, to have kissed their graves, and the day always ended with treats.  However, now that I have lost someone so close, I don't know how she made these frequent visits.  Maybe it was easier because she did go so much.  In any event, I knew she valued these visits and I have often wondered what she thinks of me never going.  I've always hoped she would understand that it is just out of pain that I haven't gone.

So this year, I decided I wanted Tom and I to make the visits.  Typically, my dad buys some type of wreath or spray to put on the graves.  Tom and I chopped down our own Christmas tree this year, and when I saw all the extra branches left from his trimming, an idea started to form.  We decided to make our own wreaths and sprays.  Tom made a wreath for my mom and sprays for Grandma Vita & Grandpa Rocco, Grandma Ernie, and Uncle Tony (who also has sadly since passed away).  I decorated them with bows and Christmas balls and wrote their names on their decorations.  Armed with our handmade items, we visited four grave sites.  This was a big project to do all in one day.  I did cry, a lot actually.  And I still feel these visits hanging over me a bit.  But there is a part of me, deep down inside that is very happy and proud we did this.  I felt like the items we made were so heartfelt and handmade and I loved that they included my Christmas tree with Tom.  I am so thankful to have a husband who would take the time to make these with me, drive me to each cemetery (3 in all), and help me deal with the sadness it caused me.  I hope to make this an annual tradition from now on and I hope my mom knew that we were there and that we visited not only her, but the people she loved so much too.

Another Christmas tradition which I decided I was finally ready for was to make our traditional Anisette cookies.  I have been wanting to do this every year since I met Tom, but this was the first year I felt ready.  My parents, Eric, and I used to make batches and batches of these cookies every year when I was kid.  My mom would prepare the dough and then it would have to sit in the refrigerator overnight.  The next night we would sit at the kitchen table, roll out the dough, and make all types of shapes.  My favorites were the ones we made for our initials!  We would often make double or triple the amount the recipe called for, because we would share these cookies with everyone at Christmas time.  After they were all baked, they would sit to cool.  The next day we would ice and sprinkle them.  We would dye the all different colors and we would lay all the cookies out on saran wrap across the entire table.  Then, my parents would dip and Eric and I would sprinkle the cookies.  The best was getting to eat that first cookies, so fresh and delicious!

 This was such a part of my childhood Christmases that I know came from my mom and my great-Grandma, Grandma Vita.  I am so glad to have re-started this tradition with Tom and someday we will pass it along to our children too.  For our first time making these solo, we did pretty good!  It took me some time to judge how much flour to add to the dough, which my mom seemed to just naturally be able to know, but as we proceeded, I was soon able to feel and remember just what the dough should feel like.  Tom made me laugh with some of his "creative" designs that he made.  Overall, we are very excited to share these cookies with both of our families!

Here is the recipe in case you would like to give them a try:

Anisette Christmas Cookies

5 eggs
5 tsp baking powder
3 whiskey glasses of Anisette
3/4 cup of oil
2-3 cups of flour (you will feel how much is needed once the dough no longer feels sticky when you knead it)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
Confectioner's sugar
Little ball colored sprinkles

Mix eggs, anisette and oil until well beaten.  Then, add sugar, baking powder, and flour as needed.  Knead the dough until it is sturdy and not too wet (I used my kitchen aid mixer this year and it was SO much easier from my mom used to knead the dough by hand).  Put it in the refrigerator for the next day.  Then, knead the dough and shape it into cookies (knots, spirals, pretzels, candy canes, letters, etc).   Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Once they are cooled, mix confectioner's sugar with a little milk to create the icing.  Add food coloring to create any colors you want.  Dip the cookies in and then sprinkle the top! 

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