Monday, November 29, 2010

just say no(vember)

November is a vintage brooch - topaz, amber, citrine - pinned to the lapel of a nubby wool jacket. And I'm not quite ready to take her off yet, or trade her in for the velvets and sequins of December. Nowadays it seems like the calendar turns as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared from the table, hurling us headlong into the holidays. But there's still a bit of November remaining, an entire day worth snatching back from the fray. Time for a bit more thanks and for giving thought to truly making a jewel of December.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the write attitude

About as humbly handmade as imaginable, we wrote names on the front and used gratitude journals as placecards at Thanksgiving dinner. Homemade from cardstock paper, plain old string, a hole punch. Now they're tucked into belongings making their way back to Charleston, Columbia, Charlotte, Washington, DC and Tennessee. To hopefully be jotted in now and then to keep the weeks ahead from being just a blur of work, studying, exams, errands, appointments. Little handwritten notes to self, reminding us to remember.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

simply thankful

One of my dearest friends from high school lost her mom this year and I think often of how, in the middle of her sadness, she said that maintaining a sense of gratitude is what keeps her connected to her mom. I'm sure it's not easy, but in working her way from sad to grateful she somehow always gets to a better place. Gratitude is such a personal, quiet, humble thing of the heart. It's also life-affirming and transformative, a blessing beyond measure. Happy Thanksgiving.
(click on image to enlarge)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the great pumpkin

Are you a pumpkin person? I enjoy them as a bright spot on the doorstep in November, but inside the kitchen is where they really brighten things up. In pumpkin bread, pumpkin smoothies and, of course, a good pie (recipe straight off the Libby's can and incredibly easy!) that practically makes itself once a week at this time of year. Best of all, did I mention that pumpkin is good for you? Here's the simplest of soups to prove my pumpkin point:

Pumpkin Soup

1 stick butter
2 onions, chopped
8 cups vegetable broth
3 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup half & half
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large stock pot and cook onions until translucent. Add broth, pumpkin puree and spices. Mix well. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Blend with an immersion (hand) blender until smooth. Add half and half. Season with salt and pepper. Reheat until piping hot. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds. Serves 8-10.

Monday, November 22, 2010

simply (im)perfect

Are you familiar with the concept of wabi-sabi? It is an ancient Japanese way of experiencing the world that celebrates what is simple, natural, impermanent, imperfect. It calls for embracing the way things are, from the stark beauty of bare branches on the late November trees to mismatched plates on the Thanksgiving table. It's laugh lines, a child's art project, your favorite old sweater, a homely yet delicious casserole for dinner after a weary day. Wabi-sabi is authenticity and acceptance. Doesn't it feel peaceful just thinking about it?

(WABI SABI by Mark Reibstein. Illustrated by Ed Young. Little, Brown & Company, 2008.)

{Thanksgiving . . . for long Sunday walks . . . thought-provoking, thought-lifting conversation . . . the jewel tone flowers of fall}

Friday, November 19, 2010

five for Friday

November in a gorgeous nutshell. Words as lovely as the pictures.

It's just not the same without Gourmet magazine gracing the holiday mailbox this year. What a surprise to find last November's issue in a forgotten spot. Bittersweet serendipity.
I'm thankful for the afternoon this week that Italia and I spent making gratitude journals with a group of elementary students.

How fun of the orthodontist to throw a Harry Potter movie preview party for patients and friends!

"And don't forget the Wickles!" my nephew says. "for leftover sandwiches."

{Thanksgiving . . . for the 84-year-old sports referee written about in today's newspaper . . . Powderpuff football . . . a new Harry Potter movie just in time for the holidays}

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

raising hope

It isn't every day that we get to work on a project at StewartMarr that's not only carte blanche creative, but near and dear to the heart. This is the front/back cover of a fundraising piece for the Charlotte Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation that went to the printer today. The cover says: If we had a nickel for every time a child's finger was pricked for a blood sugar test, we could probably cure type 1 diabetes. And inside: Instead, we must rely on your help. Anyone who has or loves someone with diabetes knows exactly what this means. We hope everyone else will find the message compelling enough to read and respond. That's our job. And my prayer.
(click on image to enlarge)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

{Thanksgiving for . . . recipes with pumpkin as the main ingredient . . . 'Candemonium' Food Drive at A.G. Middle School . . . every minute of November}

Monday, November 15, 2010

There's just no substitute for a familiar face across a formica tabletop, drinking strong coffee and talking about the kids, the news, the weather, a book. Our Italian foremothers instinctively knew this, but why does it seem like such a luxury these days? When did things become so hectic and so complicated? My favorite scene in Rococo by Adriana Trigiani is when Bartolomeo and his hilarious sister Toot (picture Bette Midler) sit down in her kitchen, nibbling at a plate of cookies. It's so companionable and comforting, no words are even necessary. I'm going to search out and seize more of these moments moving forward. Get out the old school Moka coffee maker, pin down a good biscotti recipe, talk about nothing and everything with the people I love. Catch up on life.
{Thanksgiving . . . for the train winding around a Tennessee mountain in the morning mist . . . for those who show up and give their all, even when they don't feel well . . . for a beautiful paperweight with a quotation about books from Kathleen . . . for the dog, always so happy to see us}

Thursday, November 11, 2010

story of the ginkgo tree

The ginkgo tree is believed to date back to the dinosaur age. Its fan-shaped leaves turn a brilliant gold in autumn, last for quite a while and then seem to drop almost all at once. Since ancient time, extracts from the ginkgo have been thought to lift spirits and enhance memory. I don't know if that's ever been proved, but just looking at the ginkgo tree in our church yard provides a lift. So revered, it's the theme for a collection of devotions written by the clergy that a group of us has been compiling since last summer. We hoped to have a book celebration under the canopy of ginkgo leaves this fall, but now it looks like The Blessing of a Ginkgo Tree won't be delivered until the Christmas Bazaar. We're proofreading the galleys now, though, and it's very exciting to see the project coming to life. It's been a blessing to be part of it.
(photograph by J. M. Schneid)

Monday, November 8, 2010

{Thanksgiving . . . daylight savings time and falling back (to bed!) . . . having lunch with a long distance loved one . . . pimento cheese on pita triangles}

Sunday, November 7, 2010

love letters

The very best letters provide a window on the heart of the writer as well as a window on the reader's own life and its place in the wider world. They speak to the issues of the times yet are timeless. They can even kindle a spark of faith in the weary, confused and bereft. The letters, or Epistles, of Saint Paul are immortalized in the New Testament of the Bible, transcending time and tribulation to illuminate a way to navigate life in the 21st century and beyond. Take one of his most memorable lines to heart and see if it doesn't transform your life: "Whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things."
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne or Nicolas Tournier, 16th century. Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, Texas.

Friday, November 5, 2010

{Thanksgiving . . . for the golden orange color palette that is November . . . the annual Hope Gala to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation . . . The Marriage of Figaro . . . Fridays}

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the write time

Did you know that this is National Novel Writing Month? If the poster alone isn't catalyst enough to get you writing, you can read all about it at www.nanowrimo.org. More than 170,000 people worldwide are participating in this annual creative writing extravaganza that was started in 1999. My sister gave me a heads-up about it on Halloween afternoon and I really did envision dusting off a book idea and taking it all the way to the 50,000-word goal by November's end, at a thousand or so words per day.

Problem is, I only made it through Day 1 before deciding that my idea needed much more fleshing out before diving in and that I didn't want to sign on for that kind of daily pressure right now. But I did get something very valuable out of the exercise and that was realizing how excited I was to a) go to bed Sunday night and b) wake up Monday morning energized by creative possibility. I need that. And you do, too. So while I won't be writing a novel this month, I'm going to come up with some novel ways to keep that kind of special spark kindled anew each and every day. For all of us creative types.
{Thanksgiving . . . for a cease in the political ads, at least for a while . . . braces emancipation day for ian . . . Ted Kooser and other past poets laureate}

Monday, November 1, 2010

hope floats

Sometimes the blessings in life will parade right by if you're not paying attention. You may be looking skyward for things that are big and bold and dressed in their holiday best. These are the obvious ones to spot. But what about the down-to-earth, bring-you-to-the-knees instances that come wrapped in fear or even shrouded in sadness? Today I'm particularly grateful for a doctor's dire warning to my best friend: if you don't take radical care of yourself, starting now, you are going to lose your health. My daughter's thanksgiving moment happened at school when she saw her friend smile for a brief second, her friend whose beloved brother died ten days ago. Blessings don't necessarily have to be candy-coated or rainbow-colored to count, they just have to be filled with hope.