Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"I dwell in possibility." - Emily Dickinson 
If ever there were a nugget to sum up the New Year's Eve mindset, this would have to be it.  The past year is falling off the shoulders like a heavy cloak.  And the coming year is a fresh page on a thick tablet and we are the ones dipping a fountain pen into ink, poised to write a new story.  This may be the year you hope to finish your novel, fall in love, love the people in your life more, go back to school, finish school, find good work, find a fun hobby, grow a garden, grow a dream, grow in faith.  

Here's the great news:  it's all possible!  And that's infinitely worthy of a champagne toast, swirls of confetti and the Times Square glitter ball dropping as the Guy Lombardo orchestra plays Auld Lang Syne. Dwell in it on this eve of possibilities.  And again and again in the fresh start granted us each morning of our lives as the sun comes up anew.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  Christmas trees placed at the curb for recycling, bits of tinsel and a small stray ornament catching the sunlight . . . generations walking 'en famille' along the greenway . . . long lines at the movies, people waiting to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Marley & Me}

Monday, December 29, 2008

all is calm, all is bright

Raise your hand if you love this week between Christmas and New Year's Day.  Time to take a step back and a deep breath, to process all of the sights, sounds and memories of the season.  It's peaceful at home, quiet at the office.  Evenings are free of school and work night routines.  There's a stack of new books on the nightstand.  And nothing on the to-do list except browsing for a beautiful 2009 calendar, making vegetable soup and a long winter walk.    

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pearl of wisdom

How does your garden grow?  The garden of your life, that is?  Are you tending it with thoughtful, loving care or is it neglected and choked with weeds?  Before plowing even one bit further, meet an extraordinary gardener who'll inspire you to create a pocket of paradise within your own heart that will blossom in earthly delight.  He is a man named Pearl.  

On a three-acre lawn in struggling Bishopville, South Carolina (pop. 3,670), Pearl Fryar has created a take-your-breath-away scene of giant, Jumanji-like topiary sculptures cut from boxwood and holly.  It started as a hobby in 1984, something to do after working all day at the aluminum can factory and possibly even a way to win the Garden Club 'Yard of the Month,' something a black man had never done.  Today people come from around the world to marvel at Pearl's garden and pay homage to the man who took discarded plants from the local nursery and created a masterpiece.

Peace, love and goodwill are the major themes of Pearl Fryar's life, spelled out right there in his shrubbery.  His reputation keeps growing with the Oscar-worthy movie A Man Named Pearl, just out on dvd.  It's a story of goodness, God, art, passion, genius and back-breaking work that shows us the very best of human nature.  You can't watch it without turning over a faith-filled new leaf.  

Friday, December 26, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  a big tray of cannolis, ends dipped in almond slivers and tiny chocolate chips . . . candles in each one of Dr. Mac's windows next door . . . neighborhood children outside riding bikes and scooters from Santa, bouncing new basketballs . . . the thick batch of after-Christmas clearance circulars tucked into the morning newspaper}

Thursday, December 25, 2008

blessed wishes

When trappings and trimmings are stripped away,
What remains is the essence of Christmas Day:
A humble barn backdrop, a present or three -
Spare beauty of an unadorned tree.

What remains is one star that lights up the sky,
The earth-stopping sound of a baby's first cry.
How and when did it all get so underrated?
So store-bought, so frenzied, so complicated?

It was simple things I adored as a kid:
Peppermint ice cream, a Charlie Brown twig,
Mugs with a snowman, the cookie dough press,
Shiny church shoes, a sweet velvet dress -   
Colored lights twinkling across the bay,
The St. Mary's bazaar, the nativity play.

Here's to memories, meaning and hope,
To faith made stronger, the courage to cope.
To an olive branch gently delivered by dove,
And the forever belief that you are loved.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

a holy ghost story

After Luke (Chapter 2), of course, there's no more fitting story for this season than A Christmas Carol.  Because it, too, is a story of redemption.  And there's no finer guide than Charles Dickens for exploring the mysteries of the human heart. He gives us a caring nephew, the bouyant Mr. Fezziwig and sweet, dutiful Bob Cratchit. There are also three ghostly visitors and a tiny, frail boy who represents all that is precious and vulnerable in this life. But the story belongs to Ebenezer Scrooge, so miserable and disconnected from humanity that beggars scurry from his path.  He even curses the carolers who sing outside his door.  

I think our fascination with Scrooge since 1843 is that we . . . are him.  As the years layer on, there aren't many who haven't lost a love, been hurt, disappointed or damaged by circumstance, who haven't shut down when the going got unbearably grim.  I know I sure have.  But Dickens reminds me that as long as we're blessed with the gift of another day, we can choose to honor it in full measure. We can make our lives a monument to what is good, just and merciful.  We can care.  We can reach out.  We can love.  It won't necessarily be easy or pleasant.  And we may die trying.  But to live any other way isn't really living at all.  The best thing is, it is never, ever too late. This is the gift of Christmas as lovingly told in Luke 2: God truly does bless us, every one. 

Monday, December 22, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  Santa in a gorgeous dark red velvet suit, walking purposefully up Ridgewood Avenue and adjusting his hat . . . using the vintage sifter Walter found in a Charleston antique market to make shortbread angels, confectioner's sugar falling like soft snow with each squeeze of the old metal handle . . . winter solstice, the shortest day of the year}

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holidays drop an anchor in time . . . they grab time by its invisible hand and invite it to the table, where it almost seems palpable . . . Holidays open a window on the past, which attends in the shape of memory. Holidays celebrate the repetitive nature of time, its continuities, its cycles.  Holidays are respites, giving us the chance to pause and reflect upon all the days we didn't count dear enough.  And it's never too early - or late - for that.   Anita Diamant

Friday, December 19, 2008

just the write gift

You could search the mall over, scour every specialty shop in town and endlessly troll the internet, yet not find a single bauble with the 'aha' value of a handwritten gift.  That's write, a gift of words for your nears and dears.  We're not talking Pulitzer Prize prose here, although it may well be received as such. This is about meditating upon a simple prompt, then taking out some nice thick paper, or a pretty little journal or notebook, and the juiciest pen around.  Your heart will do the rest.

1.  When I see (roses, Austin Powers, quilts), I think of you and why.
2.  My very favorite times we've spent together are . . .
3.  There's only one you and here are 20 reasons why.
4.  You make the world brighter by . . .
5.   I love you more than (chocolate, Saturdays, life) . . . and why.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

shopping for the (human) family

Typical of a mother, her wish list consists of sheets (double and twin) and towels. Bath products are on there, too.  The little boy needs a winter coat (large), gloves and a hat.  He also wants a football and basketball, 'but not necessary.'  Family #6-5 is the one we're sponsoring in the school's holiday outreach effort.  I don't know a thing about them, except that they also need food, paper products and laundry detergent.  They probably need a miracle, too, but I feel so woefully unable to provide one.  And this makes me very sad. 

But I did find a fantastic coat at a fantastic price, one that's actually cool enough for a middle schooler to wear. The football and basketball were on sale, too.  And I will find some tiny comfort in imagining the mother taking an almond-scented bath after a weary day, wrapping up in a beautiful thick towel afterward and then hopefully resting peacefully, at least for a while, beneath soft cotton sheets.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

circle of time

Want to know the best thing about a holiday get-together with old friends? It's not the festive decorations, good red wine, scrumptious red and green antipasto tray or even the tiny star-shaped candles flickering on the coffee table. It's the chance to reconnect with someone you used to know quite well and may have lost touch with over the years. Namely, yourself.  Old friends have a window on your world from a certain point in the circle of life.  While you look back and see an inexperienced hack in an advertising agency, they remember you as having the write stuff.  You recall sleepwalking through the months (years?) after losing your dad and having a new baby, yet they remember you keeping fresh cut herbs in a mason jar on your desk and sharing thoughts that have helped them in tough times since.  You remember them as funny, beautiful, smart, talented, full of life.  Which they still are.  And yourself as lucky to be among them, both then and now.  This is a gift, you think. Of the very most wonderful kind.  

Sunday, December 14, 2008

all aboard!

Holidays bearing down on you like a freight train?  Magic packed away in an ornament box somewhere in the attic?  Trip to the maul sap your good cheer?  Thank goodness there's still time to turn this train around.  But it's leaving the station now, so you better hop on board. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg was published in 1985, taking the biblioworld's collective breath away and winning the prestigious Caldecott Medal for best illustrated book of the year.  And, oh, what a story.  Gorgeous and ethereal, it will transport you to a place where finding Santa's sleigh bell under the tree is in the realm of possibility.  

Along the way, you'll eat candies with nougat centers as white as snow.  And drink hot chocolate as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.  You'll climb mountains so high, it feels as if you might scrape the moon.  And when you arrive, you will glimpse miracles.  Thing is, though, you have to get on board.  You have to wrap your bathrobe tightly around you, close the door on all that is familiar, venture alone into the dark, snowy night and board that train.  You have to take a leap of faith.  And isn't that the journey of Christmas?  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

REINDEER MIX = shelled green pistachio nuts + almonds + dried cranberries + dark chocolate holiday m&m's + white chocolate chips + wheat chex cereal

Thursday, December 11, 2008

letter men

There were green and white and black balloons.  Fried chicken and sheet cake were served.  Season highlights flashed upon a screen.  Awards were given for most valuable player.  And most improved.  Jerseys and varsity letters were distributed.  Players high-fived. Parents beamed.  Then it was over, almost as soon as it began.  Just like the season itself.  But before the cafeteria lights were turned out, a small booklet was handed to the coach.  In it were letters from the graduating seniors, to be read later, in quiet.  Maybe after tucking the kids in bed and waiting for the cold medicine to kick in.  

Somehow, the thoughts had made it from teenage head to page and it all came rushing back:  the sights, sounds, struggles, victories and memories . . . You've been like a father to me . . . I'll never forget summer practices in the sand pits under the boiling hot sun . . . I'll always remember giving you a hug in the middle of the field as the fans rushed out to celebrate . . . Thanks for helping me when times were so tough at home . . . Your advice did not fall on deaf ears . . . Because of you, I have grown from a scared boy into a strong man.  It was a winning season.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

heavenly, isn't it?

{Holiday snapshots:  boxwood garlands . . . mercury glass . . . seeing tree lights twinkling inside houses while driving down Queens Road at night}

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

behold, the pomander

Want a sweet holiday treat that isn't fattening or difficult to make and costs mere pennies?  Something that requires no triple A batteries, no hard-to-find ingredients, no tidy sum extracted from a dwindling bank account?  Yes, if you'd like to hold the holidays in the very palm of your hand, then pick up a pomander.  All you need is an orange and a few whole cloves.  Stick the cloves into the orange here and there, or in the shape of your initial, or in a swirly artistic pattern.  Whether you make just one to put in the windowsill, or enough to fill a bowl for a centerpiece, note the spicy, citrusy fragrance that suddenly fills the room.  It's eau de Christmas.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  walking into the winter wonderland that is the Blossom Shop on Park Road and dreaming of a flower-filled season . . . lighting the second candle on the Advent wreath at church . . . 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, beautifully illustrated by Leonard Weisgard}

Sunday, December 7, 2008

ten again

There were cupcakes and crafts, doll sandwiches, strawberries and lip gloss party favors.  There was a walk through the garden, a bunny sighting, lots of giggling and a game where everyone competed to see who knew the birthday girl best.  Anna likes blue and penguins and science and soccer and Harry Potter. Oh to be 10 again.  So much fun to be back in that world for a few precious hours yesterday.  Back in time to when I liked green and rabbits and math and skating and Nancy Drew best.  You should definitely schedule a visit.  Some things are 2 good 2 be 4gotten.  

Saturday, December 6, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  setting up the creche . . . a pretty glass bowl full of tangerines and peppermints . . . playing hide and go seek in the Christmas tree lot}

Friday, December 5, 2008

do-as-you-choose Friday

Sometimes the school and work week can feel interminably long, weekend looming like a mirage as you slog through budget meetings and pop quizzes and taco night and taking out the trash.  It certainly seemed so as a child who had to visit the eye doctor every Tuesday and Thursday, whose baby brother had colic, whose dad worked long hours and whose mom was in graduate school.  Until, in a stroke of motherly genius, mine invented the beloved institution of Do-as-you-choose Friday.  My sister and I got to alternate planning how we'd spend that precious afternoon with our mother, baby in tow.  She liked Martha Washington Ice Cream Parlor.  I favored the library.  We both liked to get rootbeer at Dog & Suds.  I recall watching boats at the marina and seeing Little Women at the movies.  Mostly I just remember the happy, sort of celebratory feeling of traipsing along together, without a pressing agenda, simply doing as we chose for an afternoon in time. Friday afternoon is still my very favorite part of the week. Today it'll be Christmas present-making with Laurie at lunch.  A quick stop at the library. Later maybe even a scoop of pistachio ice cream.  

Thursday, December 4, 2008

{Holiday snapshots: the handmade felt Advent banner with an ornament for each day . . . a cloud of whipped cream on a cup of hot chocolate . . . all things sequined}

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

please bring an appetizer!

What makes one the hit of a party?  Not a smashing outfit, brilliant conversation or even leading the Conga line.  It is, simply and undeniably, the dish you bring. That, my friends, is what people will remember long after the candles melt.  I want you to be armed with a recipe that'll create more buzz than Edgar Sawtelle at the book club ornament exchange.  Or earn you a promotion at the office potluck.  This one's easy.  It's a southern classic.  A gift from my kitchen to yours:

Perfect Pimento Cheese

1 lb. of sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 lb. softened cream cheese
1 small jar diced pimentos (approx. 3.5 oz.), drained
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
6 drops Tabasco sauce
dash of cayenne pepper

Grate cheddar.  Mix together cream cheese, mayo, Tabasco, sugar, pepper.  Blend well with grated cheddar. Makes 2 cups. Keeps several days in the fridge.  Serve with good crackers, carrots and celery.  Or Granny Smith apples.  Also makes a killer grilled cheese sandwich!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

{Holiday snapshots:  a bin of paperwhite bulbs at the hardware store . . . wreaths made from big balls of bright red and olive green yarn at the coffee shop . . . a cardinal in the holly bush}

Monday, December 1, 2008

  And all of a sudden, it's December!