Holiday Highs and Lows

Reader Contribution by Jen Brehm
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My 2013 ended on a rather low note with December being a pretty rough month for us. Our special kitten that we had nursed to health at only five weeks of age was hit by a car and killed shortly after his first birthday. I was on a plane traveling from Pennsylvania to Arkansas when our vet called to tell me someone had found his body less than a block from our home. He had been missing for over a day and it had been bitterly cold so I already regretted having to head to the airport and leave town for a week. I answered the call from the vet while a flight attendant stood at my side on a plane in Charlotte telling me that I needed to turn off my phone. I asked for one quick call and after listening to me leave a message for my husband telling him where to pick up the body, she asked if she could do anything.

As much as I’d like to write about my little Leo who taught me to be a cat lover, it’s the New Year and I don’t want this to be a sad start to my return to blogging. I have been quite remiss in posting because of the holiday chaos. It was a holiday season filled with great loss (and not just with Leo), great strides forward on mending broken relationships and creating new traditions with my husband.

We became homeowners just over two years ago and then married the following year. This was our first year of finally feeling settled and prepared to host a holiday event. But neither one of us ever subscribed much to following the standards and our first New Year’s outing in our own home was not about to be our entry into that world. We wanted to find something that honored tradition but yet was our own. In my family, it was required that you eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day or you’ll “scratch” (want for money) the rest of the year. And so every New Year’s Eve the crock pot was filled with a pork roast and piles of sauerkraut and set to cook overnight. We decided it was time to bring a new spin to this holiday standard. The first week of December, a beef brisket and pork butt went into the brine and we began preparations for our New Year’s celebration with Rachel and Reuben sandwiches.

We had already started the sauerkraut back in the fall and loaves of rye bread were baked off in the days leading up to our open house on January 1. The meat was removed from the brine the day after Christmas and then allowed to sit with a dry rub for two days. My husband fought 20-degree temperatures on the outdoor grill for the first 12 hours of smoking but in the end, Mother Nature prevailed. The last two hours were finished off in the oven. We welcomed in 2014 with an assembly line of meat steaming in a roaster on the stove, warm bread coming out of the oven, sauerkraut being spooned from our gallon glass jar out of the cellar and the finished product being tossed on the new over-sized griddle we gifted ourselves. By the time the last guest walked out the door, we had at least one dozen requests that we repeat the event next year. Our own holiday tradition was born.

As we sat spent that evening, my husband and I reflected on the roller coaster of emotions we had been through in just a few weeks. We had gone from trying to find peace in our loss as the year came to an end to feeling as though we truly had a beginning for the New Year. We had survived the Holiday Highs and Lows and it was now time to get back to the routine.

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