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October and November are always busy times for me, between strategizing on what cookies and candies to make to gathering the necessary ingredients, making everything to writing and sending our annual holiday letter, buying and sending gifts, planning trips, and cooking food for get-togethers.

I approached the holiday season with great trepidation, considering I couldn’t put any weight on my leg until early September, and even then, it was painful, challenging, and exhausting. As the weeks passed, and it became easier to walk and return to cooking, gardening, and household chores, I contemplated making a few different types of cookies and candies.

“Why not,” I reasoned.

When I started sifting through my recipes, however, I had a hard time settling on which ones to make. Usually we give away at least half of the cookies we make to family, and friends, and freeze the rest to eat throughout the year. We do the same for candies, except we refrigerate rather than freeze them. By making fewer cookies and candies, we’d have less to give away and maybe none to freeze. Heaven forbids!

The cookie baking ritual began when I was in my late teens and lived near Portland, OR. I’d bake cookies to send to my grandmother in Burbank, CA. While she made splendid savory foods like sweet and sour meatballs, pot roast with prunes and carrots, brisket, matzah ball soup, and noodle kugel, she rarely baked except for an annual Passover cake, and Betty Crocker angel food cakes.

She relished crisp sugar cookies, so I’d make two varieties. One was traditional using butter and the other was from an Israeli cookbook and used oil and orange juice. 

This year, the tradition continued with my making the cookie doughs in early November, and the next weekend, with the help of Rich, baking them. The following week, Rich and I made candies. Because Rich doesn’t work, and has much more patience than me, he made most of the candies in the afternoons, diligently watching the thermometer inch up to soft- and hard-boil, and for peanut brittle, hard-crack.

Despite having to take more breaks, and pace ourselves, we proudly made it through the holiday cookie and confection marathon. It helped that on the day we baked the cookies, Stacey arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon to complete the final few miles by helping take the last few batches of cookies out of the oven, putting them in storage containers, and cleaning-up.

Afterwards, we celebrated by going to a local Mexican restaurant: Rich with just his prosthesis, and me, easily walking.

Below is what we created this year:

  • Ginger coins (small butter cookies with candied ginger)
  • Sugar cookies (some sprinkled with turbinado sugar instead of colored sprinkles)
  • Gingersnaps (always tasty)
  • Chocolate with mint chips (Used a chocolate chip recipe, substituted some of the flour for cocoa, and added mint chips)
  • Chocolate chip with peanut butter chips (Made a chocolate chip dough then added peanut butter chips and crushed peanuts)
  • Oatmeal with butterscotch chips
  • Data newtons (like a fig newton, but with dates)
  • Cappuccino thins (my favorite)
  • Melting moments (light and delicate, made with cornstarch)
  • Mexican chocolate (made with melted chocolate with red and black pepper)
  • Russian wedding cakes (a last-minute addition)
  • Biscotti (one batch with almonds, and the other with pistachios)
  • Peanut brittle (an opportunity to use a chisel to whack it off the marble slab because we let it cool too long)
  • Tillamook toffee (amazing recipe with lots of butter, almonds, walnuts, and chocolate)
  • Dark chocolate cherry fudge (easy to make)
  • Pralines (an adventure in teamwork and working quickly)
  • Cappuccino caramel (anything with the words “coffee” or “cappuccino” is high on my list)
  • Rocky road fudge (fun to make and tasty with walnuts and marshmallows)
  • Candied orange and grapefruit peels (enjoyable to make because the house smells wonderful afterwards)
  • Coconut macaroons (Rich’s favorite)
  • Truffles (I finely chopped peppermint and toffee chips, and rolled chocolate truffles in them)
  • 7-layer bars (everything that’s left from baking is used in this recipe)

Sliding into Thanksgiving

With cookies and candies made, the next hurdle was preparing food to bring for Thanksgiving. The holidays are always an excuse to make foods you normally don’t eat, such as French onion dip with Ruffles chips.

Let’s face it, French onion dip is on par with queso dip made with Velveeta and Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies served with tortilla chips. Or irresistible seven-layer dip with refried beans, sour cream, salsa, cheese, olives, guacamole, and scallions. What’s the point of holidays if you can’t indulge?

The weekend before Thanksgiving I baked two sugar pumpkins and pureed the flesh in preparation to make pies. Monday, I took a break and did no cooking.

Tuesday, throughout the day, in-between working, I made fresh cranberry sauce (pureed an orange with its peel, cranberries, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and brown sugar), salmon spread (smoked salmon, capers, red onions, and cream cheese), spinach spread (cooked spinach, reconstituted dried vegetable soup mix, and cream cheese), French onion dip, and corn muffins with fresh corn.

Wednesday afternoon, I made two pie crusts, and put Rich to work, making the filling, using the pureed pumpkin I’d prepared a few days earlier. I then carefully put the pies in the oven, and 90-minutes later, after poking them repeatedly with a toothpick to test for doneness, removed them from the oven.

I then did a happy dance!

Except for having to arrange our collection of cookies and candies on a tray to bring for Thanksgiving, I’d completed my holiday baking. The only thing left to do was organize what we were bringing and lay-out our clothes, so we could stumble into them the next morning.

Weeks prior, Rich had been sorting through thousands of photos in his mother’s photo albums and scrapbooks. She had at least 40 huge tomes, which prior to Rich inheriting, took up an entire closet in her house. Rich had been dismantling them and putting the photos into boxes for friends and family.

Along with packing food to bring on Thanksgiving, we brought boxes of photos for Stacey and Chris along with salt dough ornaments I’d made before the accident and had recently painted over the course of several weeks.

Pleasant journey to Bremerton

Thanksgiving morning, we woke before the alarm, threw on our clothes, grabbed stuff out of the refrigerator and on the counters, poured coffee into insulated cups then headed to the Coupeville ferry, a quick 15 minutes away. Since Rich doesn’t like to take any chances, we got to the ferry an hour before it left.

Dressed warmly, we enjoyed sipping coffee in-between bites of granola bars, and reading stuff on our smartphones and tablets.

I’ve written several times; the ferry is a unifying force. Residents, visitors, tourists, delivery drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and others patiently wait to board the ferry. You see people walking dogs, children their hands held by parents, wandering over to the water, walk-ons with wheeled suitcases and bags, and weekend warriors ensuring their kayaks, and canoes are properly tied down, and in the case of bikes, precariously perched on racks.

Off to the side, larger vehicles – delivery, utility and semi-trucks, cars, SUVs and trucks towing trailers, RVs, and commercial vehicles such as airporter buses and ambulances  – are in special lanes to be directed to the middle of the ferry with cars and smaller trucks parked in the remaining spaces and in the car decks on both sides of the ferry.

Except for the summer months when ferry lines are long and frustrating, travelers are generally in a good mood. This was definitely true on Thanksgiving morning with people journeying to zones of turkey, ham, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

When they started loading the ferry, we were fortuitously directed to the middle, towards the front by the passenger elevator. While Rich didn’t initially want to get out of the car, I nudged him to give it a whirl. Several months prior, when we took the ferry to Port Townsend, it was challenging for him to walk between the cars and reach the elevator. And because the ferry was pitching, he found it difficult to stand.

With the water calm on Thanksgiving morning, Rich not only had no issues with snaking between the cars to reach the elevator, but easily walked around the passenger deck and enjoyed the 30-minute crossing.

Victory. Every success leads to another.

The drive to Bremerton where Stacey lives was a little over an hour. It’s always enjoyable, passing over the dramatic Hood Canal Floating Bridge.

Enjoying time with family

It was fabulous seeing everyone. The night before Chris and his wife, Shawnie and their two children, Coen and Caitlyn had ventured down from Camas, WA. Minutes earlier, Casey and her husband Bryan, and their two munchkins, Sawyer and Maisie had arrived from Vancouver, WA.

Shawn, Stacey’s husband was busy cooking. While I’m not a big meat eater, I turn into a cave woman whenever I see what Shawn has cooked on his snazzy smoker and grill. I just want to snatch it, run off into a corner, and start gnawing, growling at anyone who comes too close.

With it still being morning, and hours before the Thanksgiving feast, I assembled Coen, Caitlyn, and Sawyer at the table to make snow globe ornaments. I always bring a craft when I visit. The ornaments had pre-cut foam snowmen, hats, scarves, candy canes, gift boxes, and snowflakes, making it easy for the kids to be creative.

Towards noon, everyone “suited up” to walk (or in our case, drive) to a local park. I’ll deny that Caitlyn and I zipped from one apparatus to another, whirling on a merry-go-round, whizzing down several slides, spinning on a raised platform, bouncing on a teetertotter, and trying out the interactive panels, such as a cool xylophone.

The very accessible equipment on the playground was only a few years old, and easy to navigate. Although, I did climb up a tall slide with rungs, which was hard to do with my chunky heeled-shoes, and it was a bit scary to whoosh my legs in front of me so I could slide down.

While I still rock side-to-side when I walk, for the most part, I can do all low-impact activities with little difficulty and discomfort. Rich also enjoyed being at the park, primarily as an observer since the uneven ground was difficult for him to walk on… at this point.

Coen’s 7th birthday coincidentally coincided with Thanksgiving, so when we returned from the park, he opened his gifts. Having received a Lego kit, he immediately delved into building it, using the instructions. Less than an hour later, it was completed.

Meanwhile, Caitlyn and I sat on the ground, and I helped her put stickers in one of the coloring and activity books I’d brought. She’s a girlie girl so it’s fun to hang out with her, discussing important topics like bunnies, unicorns, princesses, ballet, and anything that’s pink.

With everyone having had their fill of the spreads and onion dip I’d brought, it was time to bring out the holiday fare, which included smoked turkey (I had to fight the urge to grab the drumstick and run off like a hungry dog who’s scored a tasty bone), ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, string beans, gravy, rolls, and other goodies. Everything was very tasty.

After our food digested, it was time for the dessert course, starting with an ice cream birthday cake, celebrating Coen’s birthday. It was scrumptious: Mint chocolate chip ice cream with dense chocolate cake and creamy white frosting.

The next course in the sugar binge was pecan and milk bar pies made by Casey, along with my pumpkin pie and tray of cookies and candy. And of course, two types of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream to increase the calorie count.

Realization at the ferry

Because Rich was concerned, we’d miss the 6:45 p.m. ferry, the last one of the day because of the low tide, we said our good-byes at 4:45 and arrived in Port Townsend in an hour and a few minutes. With plenty of time to chill-out, I decided to look at the photos I’d taken on my digital camera. After reaching the last photo I’d taken during Thanksgiving, a picture appeared from our sailing trip in the Canadian Gulf Islands. We’d returned, the week before our accident.

We came back on a Monday, and I immediately started back to work on Tuesday, thinking I’d have time after Memorial Day to download the photos and write about the trip. Now, looking at photos of us raising the sails, visiting Vancouver, Victoria, and Sydney, hiking around smaller marinas, and spending time in the boat made me queasy. It was the last trip we took when Rich had two legs, and my left leg was in pristine condition.

The realization we’re not going to be the cool elderly couple with trekking poles, climbing around the Andes, walking for miles around Scotland, and chartering a boat in Italy to explore the Mediterranean is heartbreaking. Gone is the ability to spend all day wandering through museums, exploring back alleys, and then strolling along a moonlit plaza.

Now, sitting in the car, exhausted from the day’s activities, the vision I had of our future is hard to abandon. I struggle every day with the realization we need to scale back our plans and expectations and accept a new “normal.”

I know I should be more thankful that we’re both alive and didn’t suffer more debilitating injuries. But the stubbornness in me stifles my gratitude, replacing it with the unrealistic fantasy we can rewind the clock to when we hopped off the sailboat in Canada.

Time to Make New Memories

A few days after Thanksgiving, we set up our “holiday” tree. Normally, someone who’s Jewish doesn’t have a tree. My tree, however, is more like an enjoyable trip down memory lane, rather than symbolic of Christmas.

It’s filled with beaded ornaments I made in my teens, beaded mittens I’ve made in the past few years, miniature shoes from Rich’s mother, ornaments from Texas, Washington D.C., Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, handmade ornaments from around the world, and angels (lots of angels) I’ve made from lace.

The tree makes me happy. More importantly, it’s filled with memories. Every year, I can add new memories. I have the same opportunity with Rich. We can find activities we can do together, places we can visit, and experiences that refresh and replenish our memories. For this, I’m grateful.