Seeking happiness and joy for the holidays

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Locket my Mormor (maternal grandmother in Swedish) gave me when I turned 16.

Happiness should be the one thing always present during the holiday season — after all how times do you hear the word ‘joy’ uttered in December?

Unfortunately, it’s not always effortless to be happy this time of year — there’s so much to do, so much stress and so many expectations that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My job is particularly crazy in the winter. If people seem neurotic about their Thanksgiving dinner, imagine being responsible for the meat for hundreds of Christmas Eve and New Years Eve dinners. Some of the chefs I know could out-diva Mariah Carey and her requests for rooms full of white kittens.

So this year my co-workers and I came up with a brilliant idea — a happiness advent calendar. Each day one participant brings a small gift to the other 14 participants. It’s been awesome. I’ve come into work every morning to find treats on my desk, amongst them a peppermint Rice Krispie treat, a seasonal beer and a camel turd. There was a platter of apple slices with a jar of caramel sauce, a homemade lollipop and even a taco bar.

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Peppermint Krispie Treat & Hot Cocoa

Let me tell you — it’s a mood lifter that I desperately needed this year, as my grandmother, one of the people I was closest to my whole life, passed away on Dec. 3rd, just nine days before her 96th birthday.

I rarely get overly personal in this blog, but since my grandma has made numerous appearances over the past three years, it felt disingenuous to ignore her passing. And I’ll admit it’s been nothing short of devastating for me.

The hardest part is facing that kind of sadness with the holidays looming. It’s nearly impossible to smile, to be cheerful and to pretend to care about cookies, carols or Christmas at all when it feels like my world’s been turned upside down. While friends were attending cookie exchanges or holiday parties, my family gathered in Tacoma last weekend for the funeral.

In all the sadness though there are bright spots, like the fact that I was lucky enough to have 35 years with my grandma, which is pretty awesome in itself. I got to know her not just as a child but also as a teenager, a college student and as a married adult — something not everyone is lucky enough to be able to say.

She was an incredible lady who had a sense of adventure, a serious independent steak and a great sense of humor. She was also Swedish and thus every Christmas would whip up a batch of her famous (or infamous, depending how you feel about such things) pickled herring.

A few years ago I was smart enough to help her do it, taking pictures and writing down the recipe. So if you ever have a hankering for a bit of Scandinavia at your table, give it a shot. I’ll admit I only tasted it once during a slightly tipsy game of “dare you to eat it” with my cousin. That was also the only time I tasted lutefisk. Nothing I care to repeat.

Putting the herring in the brine

She also made incredible hotcakes, or Swedish pancakes, that warranted their own post a few years back. When we were young, my cousin, my brother and I would watch cartoons in the TV room every Saturday morning and my grandma would appear every few minutes with a fresh-out-of-the-pan hotcake, balanced on her spatula, to be given out to us in turns. We didn’t even have to get up! (Talk about spoiled…)

Swedish hotcakes

Even at 95 my grandma made hotcakes and served them to me at the table as each one was done.

So while I’m sad, I’m trying to remember all the good times and to let a little holiday cheer back in.

And, thankfully, I have help. From my super awesome husband to my co-workers to kitties to friends who have helped distract me with fun outings or sent me ‘thinking of you’ texts, I’ve been grateful for everything that has made me smile:

Happiness Advent Calendar gift: A tasty camel turd.

Happiness Advent Calendar gift: A tasty camel turd.

Who could be sad around this bundle of fluff and purrs?

Who could be sad around this bundle of fluff and purrs?

As it’s essential to live every day to the fullest, I’ve also learned that every little bit of joy is important.



My grandma at my wedding in 2007. Jag älskar dig, Mormor.

My grandma at my wedding in 2007. Jag älskar dig, Mormor.



10 thoughts on “Seeking happiness and joy for the holidays

  1. Zach shared this with me…so sorry for the hole that will be in your heart…your Grandma was such an amazing woman…I feel so privileged to have gotten close to her the last 11 years of her life. She was very special to my daughter Katelyn and I…the way she took us in as her own once Zach decided we were his future truly embodies her love for life and others! We will miss her 😦
    Grateful that she taught how to make those very same hotcakes that y’all love and cherish the memories so much…They are a regular in our household! 🙂
    Love and hugs from Texas!

    • Hey Alyssa, I think it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure on Christmas Eve when she isn’t there to eat a plate full of pickled herring or make me decipher a letter written in Swedish, it will become more real. I’m really happy that you got the chance to know her for so long — she was so very special. We were all fortunate to get so much time with her.
      Zach told me you guys have gotten good at her hotcakes. I’ll have to come to Texas and have him make them for me. I never got very good at them — maybe they just taste better when someone makes them for you. =)
      Thanks for writing and hope you guys have a merry Christmas!
      Love, Jessica

  2. Pingback: Cooking like Keller, Part IV: Apple Fritters & Calvados Ice Cream | Attempts in Domesticity

  3. I don’t know how I missed this post, Jessica, but I am so sorry you’re having to go through this loss! Your post honors your Mormor in a wonderful fashion–that photo of her from your wedding is gorgeous and shows her humor and personality! I’m happy for you that you have friends and family and kittens to help you get through this hard time!

    • Thanks for the sweet words, Kerry. It was a rough Christmas but I’m slowing processing it and trying to focus on the good memories. I’m also happy that I lived so close to her so I was able to see her often, which makes me happy. And seriously the best cure for sadness is a kitten. Either she’s raising hell and being hilarious or she’s totally conked out and adorable. Win, win! 😉

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