Friday, December 5, 2014

The long answer

Today, all day, the clouds parted long and wide enough for the ground to dry out a little and for us to pick out a hairball of a tree. In the next few days we will wrangle the monster inside, deck the halls, make merry, and invite the family to help cut out snowflakes and hang ornaments. The month has begun to twinkle. It feels good.

I keep thinking about the Victorian house we lived in at the start of our California return. Someone asked me the other night how my Thanksgiving was, and I gave them the long answer. Good! Great! It was the first holiday in quite a few years that felt normal. No one was sick, no one had recently passed, and no one had an infant. It felt celebrated. Celebratory. Awake. Alive. Like, we’re healing. It hasn't felt like that in a while. It hasn't felt like that since we lived in the Victorian. Is that why I can't get that place out of my head lately?

I looked at that house on a whim way back when. It was a ludicrous, out-of-place monstrosity, too much height for not enough width. But I loved it immediately. It stood tall and lofty on a busy street for our town, and from the dining room you could look out the window and across to Saint Mary's. There were weddings, with young brides in huge white dresses and bridesmaids in loud, ruffled frills to match. Mariachi bands often played. The men wore their brocade jackets, and they crooned with their instruments at the bottom of the stairs while guests walked out to find their cars and head to the feast, wherever it was. I'd watch, and write, or listen from the kitchen, and make membrillo.

Or, we'd be bold, and Cedar and I would prop ourselves up on the couch and watch through the big front window. That was the window that framed the life-sized passion scene on the side of the church, the scene where John had been knocked over and broken, and all that is left is a cement scar. Though I never thought I would like living across the street from such a spectacle, with the Passion and the traffic and the people, we settled in quickly to the hourly bell tolls, the weekly weddings, the Masses, and I found the proximity to ritualized devotion comforting. Truth be told: The vaulted blue ceilings reminded me of the Ukrainian church in Vancouver where their blue dome symbolizes the divine on earth. Our own Victorian temple. And the house fed my imagination. I imagined grand, grown-up parties, with fruitcake, and tablecloths (!), and cocktails. I imagined myself soaking up belief, by osmosis. At some point I noticed people driving by in their cars, crossing themselves as they passed. And I watched religiously enough in the short time we lived there to know that every day the mailman took a break from his deliveries to stand close by the Passion. Maybe he was only resting, but I liked to think there was something more going on.


As of Friday we will have lived in California for five years. Five years. When I was sixteen I was convinced that you couldn't love someone until you had been together five years. We have never lived anywhere in our adult lives for more than five years. It has been our cutoff. So this feels big. And the Victorian, there are lots of reasons why it keeps beebopping around my head. 'Tis the season, and the Victorian was our quintessential season, so I remember it. I remember it because the house itself felt like this quince spritz tastes. Sparkly, bright, tall, and sweet, but also elusive and a bit driven towards mysticism. It had seen a century of Christmases past – the regal, rich, and lofty, the homespun, heartfelt, and plain, and all of the in between. But there is more. The house was just across the street to a place of faith. It framed the view. And Christmas, every Christmas, forces a similar proximity such narratives.

On Saturday it will be full moon, and we will gather. It will be simple, and warm. It may be a little quiet. Maybe. Maybe not. The kids will eat sugar. Eden will take down half of the ornaments we put up. I will bake (and eat) chocolate whiskey cake. We will put the ornaments back on the tree. We will overdo it on the whiskey and the cake, I’ll start sipping tall glasses of this spike-less spritz, and we'll just have to see what else comes.

Quince Spritz with Herbs

This recipe assumes that you have an abundance of quince syrup, that by-product of membrillo-making. It is a simple syrup, boiled down a bit, made from the water in which the quince cooked. If, perhaps, you do not have this burden, you may reconstitute any store-bought or hand-me-down quince paste with water with a 3-1 ratio: Stir over low heat until smooth, then use in place of the syrup. The spritz will have a bit more of a jammy flavor, but when was that ever a bad thing?

1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons quince syrup
sparkling mineral water
small wedge of lemon (looking for not much more than a half a teaspoon, tops)
long sprig of fresh herb: rosemary, thyme, or sage

Pour the syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Splash in a little soda water and stir with the herb sprig. If you want your drink extra herby, roll some leaves between your fingers to release the oils and stir again. Or, break off some leaves and crush in the bottom of the glass. Fill the glass with ice and top off with more sparkle. Squeeze in the lemon and drop the used rind into the mix. Stir again with the sprig and drink immediately. Enjoy! 


  1. Amanda, you are a beautiful writer. May your holidays be sweet and reflective, with plenty of time for joyful celebration. And the long answer -- may it continue to hold sway in this hallowed space.

    1. Thank you and thank you, Cheryl. To you also, all of it, as well.