Archive for December, 2009
I don’t make new year resolutions. I’ve rarely kept the ones I’ve made while younger, and I don’t need guilt laying its blanket on my shoulders. I have no patience for what ifs anymore. Nor for regrets. Life is a mystery and it is short. Filled with uncertainties and history refusing to be buried, it is violent and predatory and wicked. Yet at the same time, it is so beautiful it takes my breath away.
I have learned an amazing thing in 2009. From men and women and you, dear readers, who could have taught me quite the opposite. I am only as powerless as I think I am. Whatever may come my way, I am the mistress of my reaction. And so I thank you. As I enter a glittery and sparkly new year, my intention is to live fully. Without guilt or hesitation. And without fear. Such I also wish for you.
Have a blessed 2010! And may you grow to your fullest potential, surpassing even your expectations.
For me the year 2009 has been one of the saddest years yet. People I have loved have died- and I am not talking about Michael Jackson and the handful of celebrities that happened to share the earth at the same time as I. I am talking about men, women and children I have met, I have hugged, I have cried with, and I have laughed with. Relatives and friends that have made an impact on my life more profound than a song or book or discovery. Real people that struggled with stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, brain tumors. People that have struggled with real fears not imaginary, who have been loving to the very end, who have placed their families and loved friends above their imminent death, who have been unselfish, who have refused to live with a “poor little me, let’s everyone be sad for me” mentality.
I shall forever miss them all. Daughters barely out of high school, newly wed husbands, mothers, fathers, grandparents. Their laughter, the spark in their eyes, their sense of humor, the profound, unshakeable faith in the love of their God. And I pray that peace descend upon their families. Peace for the parents, peace for the siblings, peace for the offspring. May 2010 bring them joy. Deep and pure and real.
I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. It was taken with my iPhone rather than with a good quality camera, because a good quality camera does not offer the convenience of an iPhone. Or fit in my back pocket. And also, since it was around 3:00am on Christmas morn, it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t too clear.
Christmas Eve day dawned foggy and cold. I awoke before the darkness lifted though, as I was in charge of the family lunch and the house was a mess from the previous day’s baking with my mom, sister, and husband. The kitchen was a nightmare, with pans piled on every surface!
I cooked and cleaned and washed and laundered and set the table, and before long everyone arrived, laden with goodies. We sat and ate and talked and laughed and ate and drank some more. The lunch stretched into the dinner hour. Noticing the lateness and marveling at how quickly time passes, we put a stop to all the fun and festivities and prepared ourselves for church. On Christmas Eve we always go to church.
And, oh how beautiful it was! The brass band blew away on their trombones, their tubas and their horns. The one hundred person choir performed O Holy Night and Handel’s Messiah, and it truly felt as though the angels of heaven descended on earth with their tidings of great joy. My spine was tingling and my hair stood on end, from the beauty of it all.
After church we hurried home and changed into comfortable clothing. It was time to make our rounds to the Christmas Eve parties already in session. We didn’t linger long for we wanted to be at the party where traditional carols and carolers would be. And so we went to my friend’s beautiful estate high up in the wooded hills. The food was amazing and in abundance. The company awesome! Even Santa paid a visit, handing out bonbons to the wide-eyed children. There we stayed caroling and listening to visiting carolers, eating, socializing, and telling stories until 4:30 Christmas morning.
The kids who had been playing with the other 20 or so children, fell asleep the moment we put them in the car. And we did too, just as soon as we brushed our teeth and tumbled in bed, 15 minutes later.
Christmas Day was quiet. We got up around noon, opened our presents, and had our breakfast. We read, watched movies and took long naps. The skies were beautiful and blue, sunshine streaming brightly, but we just ventured out for a little bit as the wind was quick and sharp. At night we read in front of the fire and fell asleep in a pile on the bed, the kids tucked in between us.
And so today, this second day of Christmas we celebrated some more, and tomorrow and the next we will too. The presents that most children would receive on just one day are spread out until the twelfth night (January 5th), the eve of Epiphany. On the 6th, on that Three King’s Day, we will have a special cake, wearing silver and gold (foil) crowns, searching in the richness of the cake for the King’s ring.
Then the season will conclude. Our hearts will be lighter, our spirits richer, our bodies probably fatter. But who cares? Lent isn’t too far off.
This is a re-post from last year on this day. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you mom!!! Happy Birthday!!!!!!
It is early morning, the house is quiet, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee and my thoughts, looking out the window at the snow falling and swirling every time a gust of wind veers it off its vertical course. The snow is deep, probably around two feet, and it hasn’t stopped descending. While I was loving it days ago, I feel it’s about time it stopped.
Today is my mom’s birthday. I did not need to read through my journals -although I did read a whole lot yesterday- to recapture the emotions I have been going through the last four years. Since childhood the dynamic energy of our family has been held together by this peaceful, calm and loving woman. She has sacrificed her youth to us, mothering, cooking, making peace, taking us places, admonishing tenderly when we needed it, teaching us songs, reciting poetry, raising five kids with strong personalities, to be kind, to be loving, to be polite, to love God, to think for ourselves and not give in to the peer pressure around us. Reminding us that mother, father, sister, and brother are one’s true best friends. She has been silly when we were silly, cheerful when we were cheerful, encouraging when we were sad, no matter how inconsequential (from an adult perspective) our hurts.
As we reached adulthood and started families of our own, she gathered us back home on Sundays, cooking up a storm, waiting on us, holding and playing with the grandchildren so we could eat while the food was hot. She babysat on weekends so that the five of us kids with our spouses could go out to dinner together. She babysat during the week when we were in school or at our jobs, caring for and loving her grandchildren with the same patience and dedication she had shown us.
And then cancer struck. Out of nowhere, no indication. It took my breath away, and I, who had believed myself strong and optimistic and unafraid, couldn’t stop crying and began to fear every phone call and every shadow. I became moody and short-tempered and found fault with the littlest, most unimportant thing. I am sure I was a nightmare to my husband and my son. And for the first time in my life, I blamed God. How could He do this to her? To her?? I could name two dozen people who deserved it. But her? What had she done?
Sensing the pain and disillusionment of her children, she stood strong and unwavering in her faith in God. She’d never complain, not even when the chemotherapy and radiation left her weak and pale and trembling. Not even when she lost her hair and her eyebrows and her eyelashes. When every breath she took must have hurt her to the core and every step was an exertion. While her heart must have cried out to God and possibly to my father, she was her faithful, encouraging self to the rest. She knew how frangible we were.
I cringe when I reflect upon my immaturity. She, who had encouraged me for years and years, could barely get any words of encouragement from me. I was too afraid to linger on her illness. I was too afraid I’d come undone. I couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t know if the right words existed. Everything I came up with sounded empty and pathetic, a screen to keep the real feelings in. I didn’t even know what my real feelings were, other than a jumbled up and chaotic mess. Besides, I was busy being selfish and busy blaming God. I wallowed in self pity day after day, wondering what would become of me, were she to die. Wondering what would become of the relationship between my sisters and brothers and father. She was the glue between the parts, the filling between the cake.
The winds of despair blew me in many directions. I reflected about the church I had been brought up in and how it had become a millstone around my neck with its formulas and laws so intent on punishment. I fell victim to my newfound occupation of holding everyone but myself responsible. That inner voice that I had always attributed to God, had become less and less dependable. All the things it was telling me seemed to be meant for someone else. Angrily, I just stopped listening. And then one day my mom said something I had often heard (yes, even in my head): God rains His blessings on the just and the unjust, and we have to be strong in our faith and take the good as well as the bad. It isn’t for us to question, and not because we don’t have the right, but rather because it keeps us from seeing the grace of God and the miracles He works in our lives.
I wish I could say I went home and got on my knees and prayed for repentance. I wish I could say that hope and courage and contentment and selflessness became such a part of my life that I never questioned God anymore. But I didn’t fall on my knees. And, I didn’t become a better person. Instead I became angrier at God, and (I’m ashamed to admit this) even at her, for saying such simplistic things. It was all well and good for someone to dole out the advice, especially if there had been no major suffering in that person’s life, but how could she just sit back and believe it? And not just believe it, but repeat it?
Yet, my mother is a wise woman. She knew what she was doing, she felt my uncertainties and my need to be uplifted. She knew those words would slowly work their way under my thick skull and turn me in the right direction. She has unwavering faith in God to hold her up and knew that I was lacking. Slowly faith has worked its way back in.
But it isn’t easy. Even now, day by day, I have to remind myself. To pray. To hope. To lift up my head and stop focusing on the mud and dirt around me. To stop looking for faults in others while just noticing the good in me. Sometimes all I can offer to God is a please or a thank you, because words fail. My mom’s health has improved. The peace within me has increased. The love between us all has deepened.
I love you mom. More than I can possibly express in words or deeds. For all that you were and you are and you will be. I love you and thank God for each day we are together. Happy Birthday!
One of my daily indulgences is stopping by my favorite blogs while the morning is still in its infancy and my little angels sound asleep. I have all my favorite sites bookmarked, and am so thrilled when I notice that there is a new posting. After our conversations I leave feeling amazed, happy, a bit more cultured, and a better woman. Or more correctly, a woman better equipped to take care of her house, her kids, her hubby, herself, and her job.
I first came across Lisa Borgnes Giramonti’s blog in the spring of this year, and immediately felt a connection. It could be perhaps that we both share some of that European sentimentality and affinity to tradition, or perhaps because she is so naturally chic and stylish and my little self wants to be just like her. Whichever it is, I am glad and will not question it. After all, I benefit from her natural graciousness and elegance on a daily basis, and often find myself wondering just how she would approach a certain design dilemma or dinner seating issue.
She is the ultimate designer, hostess, writer, and artist. I mean really, how many of you like to spend your time embroidering? I certainly didn’t until I saw Lisa’s work, and fell under the spell of this form of documenting the passage of time. She made this long-lost art, chic again. Check these three posts out: http://abloomsburylife.blogspot.com/2009/01/embroidery-apartment-in-nyc.html this: http://abloomsburylife.blogspot.com/2009/01/embroidery-fabulous-mitch.html and this: http://abloomsburylife.blogspot.com/2009/02/embroidery-lords-prayer.html. I absolutely adore them, and her, and I don’t know how she manages to make something so time consuming seem so pleasant.
And… Lisa has given me permission to say that something MAJOR is in the works with her embroidery, which thrills me because I can boast that I knew her way before she was a world famous billionaire artist. So leave me a comment and then head on over and check out her site. You’ll love it!
When I was a child my favorite Christmas story was The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden. It is a lovely story about an orphan child wishing for a doll and a grandmother, and also the story of a doll wishing for a dear child’s arm around her. My sisters and I loved it so much we kept checking it out of the library over and over. As I got older I forgot about the magical story of a wish coming true, until I got pregnant with my son and started on making my dreams of a children’s library a reality.
For months and months I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally Powell’s Books, my favorite local bookstore, located a used copy for me. And wouldn’t you know it, but a few years later there was a new printing of the book, and suddenly they were everywhere.
A new book I am adding this year is Jane in Winter by Elizabeth Wix. I just ordered this fairy tale and can’t wait for it to get here. Evil queen, forests, children, winter! My favorite kind of story! You can read more about it and order it from the author’s own site: #mce_temp_url#
Also, check out my friend Michelle’s Christmas blog: #mce_temp_url# Michelle loves books! She’s got a collection close to 2000 of them, not counting the Christmas ones. I’d love to spend a weekend in there just looking around. Besides that she is one of the best book reviewers out there, and Christmas is her favorite holiday.
Following is what I consider to be essential reading:
The Gift of the Magi O. Henry
The Fir Tree Hans Christian Andersen
A Miserable, Merry Christmas Lincoln Steffens
The Legend of the Christmas Rose Selma Lagerlof
The Birth Of Christ St. Luke 2:1-16
The Three Wise Men St. Matthew 2:1-14
A Pint of Judgment Elizabeth Morrow
The Miraculous Staircase Arthur Gordon
The Story of Holly and Ivy Rumer Godden
The Little Match Girl Hans Christian Andersen
Jane in Winter Elizabeth Wix
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
The Mitten retold by Jan Brett
The Gingerbread retold by Jan Brett
Toot and Puddle: I’ll Be Home for Christmas Holly Hobbie
Christmas in the Big Woods Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree Robert Barry
Eloise at Christmastime Kay Thompson
Are your favorites on my list? If not, what are they?
My earliest memories of Christmas are all involved around this delicious recipe from my mother. She used to make platters of it, then cut it up, roll it into two inch long pieces and wrap it in crinkled paper and foil and hang it on the fresh cut Christmas tree my father had just brought in. Also hanging on the tree were precious oranges, walnuts in their shells, prettily wrapped candy, cookies, and real candles dripping wax. We lived in communist Romania back then and didn’t have strings of lights, electric trains circling the tree, nor ornaments weighing down the branches. Life was much more simple, much more real. Maybe because we lacked what we now take for granted, any unexpected treat was such a luxury and such a joy.
Eagerly we anticipated the carolers we knew were coming anytime between nightfall and the crack of dawn on that Christmas Eve night. We dressed in our finest, helped set out the pastries, the cookies, and the little fancy sandwiches my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother had worked on for the last several days. The best china was brought out, for it was a perfect opportunity to show it off. Butter, sugar, chocolate and coffee were precious commodities hoarded throughout the year, and only used for special occasions: Christmas, New Year, Easter, birthdays, weddings, christenings, and funerals.
The house filled up with guests who reminisced all through the night, feasting on sausages, creamed potatoes and delectable desserts. The kids got to stay up too, and usually there were so many of us that when we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore, every available surface or parent’s lap held a softly snoring child.
725 grams (3 cups) powdered milk
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder unsweetened
500 grams (2 cups) sugar
1 cup water
2 sticks unsalted butter cubed and at room temperature
1 tablespoon (or more) rum
1 cup roasted walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
Coat a large cookie sheet with non-stick spray, or if you are seriously self-indulging, butter. Have it ready and close by.
Sift the powdered milk and cocoa powder into a bowl, and combine with a whisk until well blended. On medium heat make a syrup of sugar and water by pouring the cup of water into a deeper pan and gradually whisking in the sugar. Don’t forget to stir! Let it simmer a few minutes and check readiness by placing a teaspoon of it into a glass of water. If it holds together it is ready, if not keep stirring! Add the blended powdered milk and cocoa and mix with a wooden spoon until it’s well incorporated. If it is too thick, you can add water, but only a little at a time. Work those muscles in your arms until it resembles a smooth chocolate frosting, otherwise you get air bubbles, or a mouthful of powder. Add the rum and the nuts, take it off the heat and stir in the cubed butter until all melted. With the help of a spatula spread it on the prepared cookie sheet and let it cool at room temperature. It will harden as it cools. Enjoy it! I guarantee it won’t last long.
By the way, I have no idea on the number of servings. And since I have never made or eaten the American version of fudge I don’t know how closely it resembles it, in either recipe or taste.
Also: HUGE congratulations to Autumn of#mce_temp_url# for winning this week’s $25.00 giveaway to Target. Now leave me a comment and go check out her site. Don’t forget any comment from today on qualifies you for the next $25.00 giftcard giveaway.
Apparently I work too many hours, have horrible eating habits (too much chocolate, coffee and pastries), and sleep too little. For the second time, in as many weeks, I am sick again. I’ve had the flu shot and the H1N1 shot, to no avail. I have no idea what exactly is the matter, as I dread going in to see the doctor just to be told to go home and rest. But my right ear hurts so, I feel like cutting it off, and I who have never smoked, have a smoker’s raspy voice.
It’s been sunny, yet very cold. At night the wind scratches at the windows and sends the kids to our bed, where they snuggle in wide eyed, clutching at the covers and twining their legs with ours. And although I am sick and should know better, I love the warmth of their little bodies and let them stay, only to awaken hours later my limbs all numb, hubby gone down the hallway to sleep in the empty room.
My hours awake are spent in bed, looking through my journal for favorite recipes,
pasting cutouts of images from my favorite magazines,
opening my mail (yay, Christmas presents have arrived!),
Finally, I will be enjoying a bowl of this delicious stew prepared by my darling hubby, with a chunk of crunchy French bread, at the kitchen table surrounded by the dear faces of my family. I adore the primitive taste of bone marrow. There’s something so satisfying in it’s goodness.
And then off to bed for sleep and another day of the same, until I feel better. Stay safe and healthy!
Once upon a time my mom had an amazingly brilliant brother. Not only was he a mathematician, he was the most articulate speaker, and people would come from miles (kilometers) around to hear what he had to say. While at University in the 1950’s, he participated in a rally against the communist government and was imprisoned for years. No one knew where he was or whether he was still alive, and as a parent I can just imagine the worry and the fear.
For hours each day the guards would place him in a stand up coffin with a hole drilled at the top, and trickle water drop by drop onto his shaved head. The space was so tight that he could not even lift his hand to wipe away the water. When they released him from that confined space, they would whip the soles of his feet with a rubber hose before allowing him back to his cell.
They broke him, before I had a chance to see his brilliance. Only after just the shell of what he had been remained, was he released. All I remember of him was his silliness and his drinking. He would chase the chickens around the yard, or awkwardly ruffle my hair in passing, and although I knew he was harmless, I couldn’t help but be scared when he’d come to grandma’s house where he had his own private apartment, drunkenly singing at the top of his lungs.
I was thinking about him today. And about all the freedoms we have that we take for granted. And also, about all those people with the ideals to fight and suffer for our freedom, whom we dispose of so easily after they have served their purpose. We pass by their broken bodies and minds and pretend we don’t see them. Yet we know where they come from and where they’ve been. And although we only imagine, we cannot fathom the hell they’ve seen while we’ve been cocooned in our cozy homes, far away from the cruel realities of life.
So, be it a dollar, a meal, or a job, let’s continue to support them and bless them.
According to random.org, the winner of last week’s giveaway is Jessica of Booking It. Check her out in the Blogroll. Jessica is the type of blogger that I wish to be, but forget. And what is that, you ask? Why, she responds to every individual comment left on her posts. Well, I do have the excuse of not commenting while there’s a giveaway as that makes it all the more difficult in counting the eligible entries. Still… Also she is full of practical advice for writers which she doles out with a great sense of humor. Congratulations Jessica!
This week’s giveaway is starting right now. Any comment on any post past, present, and future, enters your name in the drawing. This week’s giveaway is a $25.00 giftcard to P.F. Changs, Red Lobster, or The Olive Garden. Good luck to you all! Now don’t forget to comment!