Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolutions In High Resolution

Barbara: Aw, okay, I just used that title for word-ly effect. Forgive me. Should I resolve never to write another affected title again?

(Well, I won’t, and you can’t make me.)

Anyway, here’s the thing: I do think regularly shifting our perspective and resolving to do things in healthier, more beneficial ways is really important. But I worry about New Year’s Resolutions. I worry about one-shot deals. About “failing” at the end of the long year and then feeling like a failure. About the long-term looseness of a once-a-year oath, in that there are 365 tomorrows to which we can postpone our commitment to walking more/eating better/being nicer. The New Year’s Resolution is just so GRAND a gesture.

I’ve started to believe that we are just better off if we make New Day's Resolutions.

You know, like, Every Day.

This is the day I do something nice for myself. This is the day I don’t sit at my computer for 8 hours straight. This is the day I cook meals for my friend-in-need. I still may not get around to doing it, but the thought is fresh in my mind. The goal way more immediate. And usually more attainable because I have to resolve something I believe I can do in that one day—not over the course of 52 weeks full of them.

Here’s what I like to do instead on New Year’s Eve (no, not party madly, drink profusely, paint the town, or stay up till dawn, although those can all be fun in the right situations): I like to do the year-in-review. The backward glance over what actually worked. That way I can guarantee myself a hearty pat on the back instead of guilt-ridden chocolate binging.

So here goes. My happiness in a nutshell.

I want to acknowledge that for all intents and purposes, I have done all I can by my daughters this year. I know they will always be a going concern re their wellbeing and happiness, but they are not my “job” anymore. And they turned out unbelievably awesome.

I would like to announce a true shift in my sense of joy and acceptance. More than ever, stuff just rolls off my back. And nothing is the worse for it. In fact, everything is the better. I am less stressed, less neurotic, and less … disappointed. It may not last, but this is something I will continue to resolve on a daily basis.

I want to proclaim my undying love for my husband, with whom I have been through a helluva lot over the years and, thanks to our mutual commitment to being vigilant about acceptance and curiosity, our lives are sweeter and lighter and more wonderful than they were ten years ago.

I want to express amazement that I have created and nurtured no less than six creative projects this year, all of them at risk of being tossed aside due to personal frustrations, and yet all of them still breathing and still being nurtured through to next stages.

And most of all, I want to bow to this community of like-minded, loving, intelligent, spunky (my girls always wanted to be called “spunky”, so consider it high praise), awesome, adorable and just AMAZING blog readers. You have helped nurture my spirit even when I didn’t think I had it in me. You have upheld my firmly believed truth that people aren’t just blandly curious about each other, but care enormously and passionately for a greater good.

Thanks to this wonderful assortment of surprising Old Year Developments, I find myself here celebrating the coming year with optimism and strength. Thank you all!!! And happy, happy New Year to each and every one of you!!!
The Fam in the Old Year
(and PS, yes, that's me adorned in mini lights and tree garland *shrug*)
Deb: I love this idea, Barb.

I have made over our bloggie time together many proclamations in honour of husband, boy, friends, parents, and bloggers.  Riffing off your idea, I would like to kick off 2012 honouring my dear friend and writing partner, the lovely Barbara. She is, first and foremost, a treat to look at. I do not say this lightly or even jokingly. She is beautiful and her inner beauty shines so brightly through her gorgeous packaging that she is always a feast for the eyes. She exudes creativity, love without judgment, and kindness. She is a patient and loving ear, whose advice is always couched in "this may not be right for you" or "maybe you have already thought of this but..." and yet it invariably opens up a part of the scenario I had not quite grasped on my own. Barb personifies constructive criticism. She could teach a course. It has been an emotional roller coaster this year for me. She has been a huge part in my emotional rescue.  

I love you, Barb. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Operatic Argument

Sorry for the delay, dear readers. We got our lines crossed today and forgot who/what was up! So to make up for it, we're taking Jo's prompt and giving you a well-deserved holiday laugh. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Casting Room

Deb: Some months back I sang the praises of some creative friends of ours. They are known as the National Theatre of the World. They started a wonderful web series called The Casting Room, which they write, produce, and direct. It is based on the casting experiences of Stephanie Gorin who is one of the top casting people in this country. 

They have just started their second season. Each episode is based on a real incident in the casting world. This one features yours truly. Hope it gives you some laughs. If you enjoy it, please stay tuned for the whole series and check out last season. They are very short!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Costa Rica Musings (or “Way To Wreck It” revisited)

Barbara: In honour of our upcoming trip to Costa Rica—!!!!!!—I decided to revisit an old story that Deb and I had posted to our now-defunct Way To Wreck It page (we thought our Deco Tips and Easy Recipes would get more traction—until we discovered they needed actual articles…). Some of our long-time followers will have seen this, but most of you probably missed it. So I’ve decided I can make two points with one blog—the telling of a “fresh” story, and the tip of the hat to our upcoming trip. Here goes:

Several years ago, my husband and I planned a surprise trip for our daughters to Costa Rica and we were really excited about it. Especially the surprise part. So were our teenaged daughters (they were 12 and 15), knowing we were taking them some place exotic, but not knowing exactly where. And my husband and I were veeeerrry stealthy, endlessly researching Costa Rica on the internet, sneaking travel brochures into the house, and meticulously planning our itinerary. I was beside myself, mapping out just how long we might keep the destination a secret from the girls––even delighting myself with the realization that we could probably get all the way there before they clued in because the airport signage would all read “Liberia”, which––as brilliant as my daughters are––would probably make them believe we were off to the Middle East or something.

And the girls were just loving the anticipation––brought them right back to the magical days of waiting for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

After weeks of this charade and with a few days to go, the girls were both in their bedrooms doing some prep-packing. And I’m subtly coaching them on what they “might need”.

I remember puttering in the kitchen when suddenly it dawned on me that they absolutely should NOT forget one essential item. So I call up the stairs at the top of my lungs: “Girls, don’t forget to pack your tampons for Costa Rica!!!!!!”

I freeze with horror, praying and wishing they haven’t heard me. Silence from upstairs. Then the low murmur of one daughter to the other, “Did she just say ‘Costa Rica’?” The other daughter, resigned, disappointed, somehow not surprised: “Yup.”

Way to frickin’ wreck it.
The girls as we arrived in Costa Rica. Looks like they forgave me for my gaffe!
Deb: My little boy was such an innocent. Do you think it was maybe that we only let him watch Thomas the Tank Engine till he was 12? Well, I can’t worry about that now, can I? That will be for him and his shrink to dissect.

At any rate, I found myself with a 12-year-old who still believed in Santa, and I, being (in my own fevered brain) the keeper of all things Christmas, was elated. One night, scant days before Christmas, I was singing him his goodnight song (Christmas-themed, of course) and he said, “Mom, do Santa’s reindeer really fly?”

I thought, Okay, here we go. I mean he was 12, for Godssake. So I proceeded to tell him the origin of St. Nick, etc. Suddenly, he sat up, eyes wide, tears streaming down his face and shouted, “I didn’t ask if Santa was real! I didn’t ask if Santa was real!”

So there I was broken-hearted, my Elf ears all askew trying to back-peddle my way back to his innocence: “Oh, Luke, I am so, so sorry.”  “It’s okay, Mom,” he squeaked out between sobs, “I still love Santa.” I waited till he fell asleep and then I hit the eggnog pretty hard. Then I fell asleep in a nutmeg haze, wishing like Cher that “I could turn back time”.  

PS You can still enter to win a trip to Costa Rica on their Facebook page

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

Barbara: For those of you who celebrated Christmas this past weekend, I hope you had a beautiful weekend. I certainly did, with all the requisite eating and feting too much. But I also managed to find time to loll about with my beloveds … and to enjoy every second of it.

Too lazy still to write anything of significance, but I will leave you with this video—one of my favourite creative wonders of the world. Tomorrow I’ll come back here and throw something really really challenging your and Deb’s way to chew on. Just kidding, I’ll probably still be burping and rubbing my over-bloated belly and talking smack. But come join us!

(This is the real deal—full-scale, actual real-life animation. Amazing.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trimming A Tree With Friends Realized

Deb: Thanks, blogees, one and all, for joining in the festive trimming of the tree and wreath that we proposed some weeks ago. Here it is in all its glory in our respective homes. It’s lovely sharing this season with you all.
Deb's Wish Tree

Barbara's Welcome Wish Wreath
Barbara: Thank you all sooooo much for sending so many lovely wishes. I loved them when you sent them, and then again when I cut them out, and then again when I hung them. Here are all your wonderful words:

"Peace" and goodwill to all!
Give someone the gift of your undivided attention.
Am Ende des Jahres
zurück blicken auf den Weg,
der hinter einem liegt.
Sich erinnern, inne halten.
Aufatmen. Durchatmen.

Am Ende des Jahres
Hoffnung schöpfen.
Einen Neuanfang wagen.
Sich freuen, auf das was kommt.
Sich leiten lassen,
einem Stern folgen.

Am Ende des Jahres
an einem Ziel angekommen sein.
Stolz sein,
etwas geschafft zu haben.
Hindernisse überwinden.
Nicht aufgeben.

Am Ende des Jahres
einem Wunder begegnen.
Keine Angst spüren.
Sich überraschen lassen.
Staunen, glauben.
Vertrauen haben.

Am Ende des Jahres
einfach Mensch sein.
English: At the end of the year

At the end of the year
look back at the road
that lies behind you.
Remember, pause.
Breathe. Breathe deeply.
At the end of the year
gather hope.
Start anew.
Look forward to what will happen.
Be guided by someone,
follow a star.
At the end of the year
reach a goal.
Be proud
of something you achieved.
Overcome obstacles.
Never give up.
At the end of the year
come across a miracle.
Don't be afraid.
Be surprised.
Be astonished, believe.
Have faith.
At the end of the year
simply be human.
Joy and happiness
The greatest gift is a friendship you never knew you'd have.
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16 NRS
Friends come from strange places and I found both of you on Facebook and I am sure glad I did. I love you both without ever meeting you, yet! But that will happen.
From Norway with love: GOD JUL OG GODT NYTTÅR.
Thank you so much for your blog! It has helped me through many troubled times. Thank you both for thinking of us despite never knowing us before!
"You'll see it's all a show/Keep 'em laughing as you go/Just remember that the last laugh is on you." - E. Idle.
"What has happened, has happened. It's where we go from here is what counts." - author unknown
"There are many ways to skin a chicken." - me
"It's not enough to bash in heads/You've got to bash in minds." - Captain Hammer.
"Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste, there's so much to celebrate!
Believe in what you feel inside
Give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need if you just believe."
Bippitty Boppitty Boo -- Ba Doo!
"Love wholeheartedly and without restraint."
merry christmas to all my love ones above
My wish is that for everyone here to make at least one person smile.
"Go to work. Do your best. Don't let your praying knees get lazy and love like crazy."
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all,
All you do is make people laugh.
Thoughts are focused on nothing except what's going on up onstage.
There are other people enjoying the same thing.
There is friendly contact.
There is support given and taken, sometimes without anyone ever knowing.
There is no judgment.
There is no negative thinking.
The drive is not as lonely.
The future does not look as hopeless.
In the black of life, there was some light.
And all you did was make people laugh.
If love is the treasure, laughter is the key.
Never give up on your dreams!
Merry Christmas.
This post isn’t for the tree or wreath, just to simply express my gratitude. I have been reading this blog for a short time now, after discovering it via Colin’s twitter, and finally got the courage to actually post a reply. I wanted you guys to know just how much your blog means. By sharing what you all are going through somehow helps me deal with the depression and other things I have going on in my life. It is hard to explain, but posting a reply and talking to someone REALLY helps. It is easier to talk to people online rather than in person for me. Regardless of whether or not anyone ever reads this, it is helping me. Even just having something to look at and keep up with everyday helps!
So thank you so much!! You will never know how something so small can help so much!
"Guess why I smile a lot. Uh, 'cause it's worth it.
"So I'll say Merry Christmas
I'll wish peace to you
I'll hope for the hopeless, your dreams come true.
And I'll pray for the laughter
I'll sing through the tears
I'll say Merry Christmas for all the world to hear."
"All you need is love."
"Hang in there."
"Peace and love to all"
"Stay shiny"
In Western lands beneath the sun
the flowers may rise in spring
the trees may bud
the waters run
the merry finches sing
Or there may be this cloudless night
and swaying beeches bare
the Elven stars as jewles bright
amid their dancing hair

Though here at journeys end I lie
in darkness buried deep
beyond all towers strong and high
beyond all mountains steep
Above all Shadows rides the sun
and stars forever dwell
I will not say the day is done
nor bid the stars farewell
Love from Norway, no signs of snow :(
"You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in that tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang. Sing it anyway!"
Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.
"Dreaming is free.
“Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down.” 
"Let there be so much joy and love in you this Christmas it spills out to those around you!"
Peace, love and happiness!
The Best of Times Is Now.
What's left of Summer
But a faded rose?
The best of times is now.
As for tomorrow,
Well, who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now.
Now, not some forgotten yesterday.
Now, tomorrow is too far away.
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last,
Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now.
Listen! I hear bells!
Here come all the shiny gifts!
You sleigh me, Santa.
Dashing through the snow.
Santa is coming, my dear.
Are three ho's enough?
It's snowing outside.
I need something to keep warm.
Hugh Jackman...Naked.

Favorite Christmas?
Fireplace burning, Nat King Cole,
Hugh Jackman...Naked.

I don't want visions.
No Sugarplum fairies, thanks.
Hugh Jackman...Naked.

Hey Santa Baby,
I want one thing only please
Hugh Jackman...Naked.

The halls are all decked,
The fireplace is brightly lit,
WHERE the HELL is HUGH??!!
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman
Love and hugs

And Deb has written a holiday poem for you all!

            And Christmas Time

Oh festive of Elves, ahhh decker of halls, 
Pourers of shots, and rummers of balls

Up nutmeg, up foam, on baker, on treats, 
Dash sprinkle of chocolate, where buzz and full meet

Why season of joy, you do me so right
I meet with long friends, and some, just tonight
We guffaw and we whisper, surprises to come
We reindeer the merry, and elf up the fun

We build, almost bursting this day to become
when the last cookie’s cookied and the last hymn is hummed,
And I know it's scant weeks before I’ll start in
To rally the Christmas, that's yet to begin. 

And last but not least, this is the best way we could think to “send” you all a Christmas card. Just click on the link! Deb and Barbara’s Christmas card.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Great Holiday Reads

Barbara: As the time for holiday downtime is fast upon us (no matter what you celebrate, most of us get to at least enjoy the off-hours), I thought I’d offer up some of my favourite reads from this year.

My daughter recommended this one and it is awesome: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It is fast-paced, intensely vivid, and often heartbreaking. Tragedy and curses lace the story, sort of like a hip, modern-day 100 Years of Solitude. But there is an undeniably beating heart at its core. The end took my breath away. And it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, so how’s that for a recommendation?

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is probably on lots of people’s lists right now. It’s a biography of the World’s Fair in 1893 Chicago, but with the intertwined stories of one of the worst serial killers in American history and the epic efforts of big city dreamers and schemers, it reads very much like page-turning fiction. Larson does write a bit melodramatically at times, but that doesn’t detract from a really satisfying read.

Like the above book, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was on my Book Club list this year. And it is a remarkable, amazing, poignant, brave, and singular story. Written in 1937 when women’s lit was still trying to be taken seriously, never mind that by African American women, this book captures time and place like few others I’ve read. She uses dialect through much of the book, which can be hard to read at first, but this only gets you closer and deeper into her visceral experience. It is so captivating, a great timeless read by any standard.

Any good holiday books on your shelf???

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Brain On Christmas

Barbara: This is my brain (or some variation thereof):

This is my brain on Christmas:

I know I blithely claimed a few weeks ago that after all these years of hosting Christmas I was accustomed enough to the whole to-do that I could “do it with my eyes closed”. And, yes, to a real extent this is true. All my lists are catalogued on the computer, shopping lists are at my fingertips, chores designed to flow one into the other. I know the recipes I will make so well, I won’t stress over them. I have a good enough track record hosting that if things go awry, I will let it roll off my back (short of getting sick or hurt—that’s always a bummer. Thinking of you, Lyndsie!!). And still, STILL, I truly feel that kaleidoscope brain coming on. As if my mind wants to go in a million different places—half dreamy sugar-plum wonderland places, half soldier-rigid endless-prism places.

I pride myself on my follow-through. Mostly because I’m pretty good at it. And you wanna know why? Because I do stuff right away. A task comes down the pipeline, a dream demands attention, and I deal with it. Because the truth is, if I don’t deal with it right away, I will forget. Guaranteed. (One of the problems with smart-phones is that I can receive and read an email early in the day but won’t be able to deal with it until later in the day, and so the risk gets upped of me ruining my follow-through track record. Morning email is easy to forget by end of day.)

But this dreamy/manic state I’m in right now undermines my best efforts at effortless control. I’m forgetting to go places, call people back, return emails. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a bit disorienting. I’m going to rest on my past laurels and decide to let it roll off my back. After all, the holidays will pass, real life will kick back in, and I will slowly ratchet up back to my normal organized self.

For now, I’m going to keep changing the kaleidoscope image and admire its pretty colours. Maybe while I’m eating another chocolate square.

Deb: Dear Barbara,
                 I have really enjoyed reading this post ... who are you again?
                                        Love, Deb xo

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shepherds In Bathrobes

Deb: One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is our annual Shepherds in Bathrobes at Church. This particular version from England boasts a star of another type. As the Brits would say "Brilliant!"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Random Acts Of Christmas

Deb: This season of gifts has started early for us. Our front steps had lost their adhesive cement glue and had fallen forward leaving part of the steps without support. Things were busy and although it was on our list of “calls to make”, we had not yet gotten to it.  We came home after a particularly busy day to see our front steps re-plastered and held up with support wood wedges and bricks. Apparently, Otto, the lovely man who did the steps two years ago, had driven through the neighbourhood and seeing the crumbling steps, set out to fix them without charge. When I called him to thank him he said he was just standing by his work and ... Merry Christmas.

Last night I had to go to a party alone as Colin had a gig in Tennessee. I resolved to take a cab and had grossly underestimated the cost upon arrival. I decided that being at this party was worth the cost and let it go. When I was getting ready to leave, two of my dearest friends, Steven and Trish, insisted and I mean INSISTED that they drive me home. Now to really understand the generosity of this gesture you have to know two things. One, they live two blocks from the party, walking distance. And two, I live a forty-minute drive away. But insist they did, so we set off to their home first to see their tree. It is a STUNNING tree and brimming with their family tradition of each family member buying a different mercury glass ornament each year. I got to spend rare precious extra time with them hearing great stories from their lives that I don’t often get to hear. It was sweet on every level.

I received a call from my cousin Anne yesterday saying that she is cooking up a storm for my parents and dropping it down to them and having a visit. My dear friend Sandy called today to say she has frozen bags of homemade soup for Mom and Dad and is on her way to visit today. Sigh.

And finally, the kindness that each hurried, harried shopper shows my Dad as he shuffles along or blocks the aisle of the market or stands in the doorway by mistake. I have experienced nothing but smiling empathic faces, kind words, and thoughtful gestures. In fact, I have been overwhelmed. They have given me, by example a reminder to slow down and value my errands with my Dad, and to not make him feel rushed no matter what I have on my plate.  Sometimes we forget how affecting our own acts of kindness can be and, as with my Dad, I have seen their rewards in his grateful thank you at the end of a fun day.

Have any of you received any random acts in the midst of the season that sometimes gets a bad wrap?

See what I did there? :-)

Barbara: Great stories, Deb! And great question.

I think the seasonal event that often gets a bad “wrap”—love that!—is the Christmas party. I admit I worry that I’ll be left in a corner, not knowing anyone, not knowing what to say. You know—the outsider of the cocktail party cliques. On Saturday, my husband and I went to a Christmas party where the only person we knew was the hostess. And, of course, she was going to be busy … being the hostess. But she is so lovely, so we decided to suck up our reticence and go make merry. And lo, everyone at the party was lovely and open and curious and interesting. We had a great time. I think good party etiquette is a lovely random act of Christmas. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Me … In-Training

Barbara: I went to my favourite yoga class the other day (man, yoga is my balm in times of stress; it does this subtle re-centering on me no matter how wound up I am; it stretches my muscles, reminds me how to breathe; takes my mind off minutia; man, I love it!), and my teacher had invited this intuitive healer to lead one of our classes. I was excited—always interested in how people interpret the way we are, offering us more tools for how to manage stresses and anxieties.

The intuitive healer had several excellent reminders for us: when you start to tense up, breathe slowly in and out; when you feel hurried and rushed, slow down, be mindful, take your time, instead of playing into the time pressure. Most things that we imbue with time-pressure won’t actually derail if we take 1 or 2 extra minutes of mindfulness (using stoplights as a chance to breathe and regroup instead of panicking and freaking was one good example).

Now, all these prompts are great to hang on to as often as we can, but the thing she said that I knew right away I wanted to chew on with you guys was her reminder that we are essentially beings-in-training. Most of us set personal ideals for ourselves that we aspire to (and, believe me, I do think goals and dreams are important), but we also beat ourselves up if we “fail” to achieve those goals on any given day.

Take the epiphany, for instance: let’s say I finally realize that I always expect—provided I do the “right” things and work hard—that everything will go the way I’ve strategically planned. Of course when they don’t, I get all stressed and upset. And so I decide I have to break this debilitating habit. Full of newfound self-awareness, I assume I will never fall into this negative cycle of expectation/disappointment/stress ever ever again.  Until I do. And then I beat myself up for never ever learning from my mistakes. And so I’m twice bummed. Bummed once because my plan didn’t work out, and bummed twice because I let myself get bummed again when here I’d gone and decided I was going to turn a leaf.

So this concept that I don’t need to change in an instant (like, c’mon, Barb, the switch has been flipped, so now SHINE!!) was quite a relief for me—because what I truly am is a better-person-in-training. Epiphanies are grand and essential but only the first step in a long marathon. I’m practicing every day, not failing, not even “succeeding”, but making my best efforts.

I’ve never been an athletic person, so maybe this idea that a part of me is doing something essentially athletic—getting up every morning, pulling on my resolve, stretching my faith in myself, warming up my epiphanies, and then running!—is simply … liberating.

Deb: Barb, this is a wonderful reminder that we are pepes in progress. Lovely image, really. If we are open and lucky, we will keep learning until we die. I am pretty good at the baby steps concept. If I learn the lesson and then find I have to relearn it, I always find lurking a piece of the previous lesson learned to build on. For example, when I am doing last-minute Christmas shopping and things are crazy paced, I employ what I call “work against the energy!”. Like your instructor said, if everyone is rushing, I stroll, if everyone is pushing, I back up. But I do love the idea of the traffic light recharge. Great advice. I will start employing that baby tomorrow. Great advice during a busy time of year!

Hostess Pecans
Barbara: I was only going to publish this recipe next week, but we’re getting so near the holiday rush that I had to share this with you as soon as I could because not only are they so delicious, but they can be whipped up in a few minutes with minimum fuss and mess and—served in simple canning jars—they make amazing hostess gifts. And they are butter-free (and so also vegan)!
As pecans can be expensive, you can also use a smaller jar to nice effect.
I serve these with cheeses as well as sweets. The cumin makes them smoky-good.

2cups pecan halves
1 tbsp water
1/4cup brown sugar
1tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp cayenne
1/2tsp coarse sea salt

Put the pecans (or almonds) in a glass pie plate and douse with water, mixing well. Combine the rest and then mix it with the nuts.

Microwave (uncovered) on high for 2 min, then stir, then follow with another 1 min of cooking and, if necessary, another 1 min, until glazed and syrupy (I've made it where they don’t end up "glazed" and they're just as good). Be careful not to burn them.

Spread the nuts on parchment paper to cool, breaking apart occasionally. And voila! They should be ready to jar in about 20 minutes. A hostess gift you can whip up while your rollers (or whatever) are setting…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Carpenter Christmas

Deb: My Christmas message for today. This gorgous song from a beautiful and talented woman who did not trust her mirror or her heart. Hearing her voice was a turning point for me in my life. I wish she had known how many of us felt that way. The Carpenter's songs still helps represent Christmas to me.

Peace to the family and friends of Karen Carpenter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Friends’ Handwriting

Deb: Recently a friend posted on Facebook an appeal for people to send Christmas cards online instead of through the mail. I get it, I do. But there are more factors that go into the sending and receiving of cards than just the environmental ones.

The sending and receiving of Christmas cards—or greeting cards period, for that matter—is a tradition going way back in time.

The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, in London in 1843. 

They became so popular that it was unthinkable in certain society not to send cards. After a period and certainly when I was a child, sending Christmas cards was something you simply did, no questions asked. I used to love the card garlands my parents would make and I loved to flip up their festive covers to expose the signature underneath.

Over the years I have adored both sending and getting Christmas cards from loved ones near and far. When the season is over, I cut the cards up and use them the next year as tags for the gifts. We also use the same gift bags in our family year after year. This year I am buying yards of soft tulle-like fabric that can be used as the stuffing of the bags instead of tissue and reused every year. These things are my tiny efforts to mix the traditions with the realities of this world. Small, but something. And yet the pressure to end this tradition mounts every year.

Fewer and fewer of our friends send Christmas cards and I understand the reasons—footprint, time, expense. Still I miss these cards. It’s not even the cards I miss so much, but the signatures.  What I really love about getting cards is seeing our friends’ handwriting. It is so comforting to open up a card and just by the valediction know exactly who sent it.

And when I was doing our cards last night, I was thinking about the relationship between John Hancock and our son’s generation. It dawned on me that this generation has no connection to handwriting. They could not begin to recognize a friend’s cursive scroll and feel warmed by it. They won’t look at a note and recognize it as Bill or Megan’s handwriting. Because they don’t. Write, that is. With pen or pencil. They simply don’t write. And they don’t care. Why would they? They don’t want for what they never had.

Me? I will miss seeing our loved ones dotted i’s and crossed t’s on our Christmas cards. I will miss seeing the flourish that Kathy gives to her “L’s” and the looped curve to the “C” that identifies Christopher’s note. I love my friends’ handwriting. It is so personal. It’s who they are; it’s part of them.

So at some point, probably next year, we will give up the sending of cards and do them online. We will send by mail to the aunts and uncles and friends who are not online and that will cut down the cards by ninety percent. But it’s not the same. At least for me. You can send me the most beautiful e-card in the world and I may even play it over and over. But it won’t have your personality scrolled across the bottom. It will simply say, “Love, Doug, Janet, Tyler and Grace”. I’ll be glad you sent it. But I will miss the you in it.

What are you going to do? The handwriting is on the Facebook Wall.

Barbara: I never thought about looking at people’s handwriting and seeing it as an intimate extension of who they are. Of course it is! And I must have noticed it, but I’ve never thought of it. And now that you mention it, it is a special communion. It is distinctly personal, revealing, sacred.

All this said, I often think of my own writing as the side of me I’d rather hide, like ugly toes or excessive sweat. My handwriting is atrocious. It is hurried and sloppy and barely legible—even to me. And what’s more, it is often physically painful for me. When I was young, I used to develop these hard little balls under the skin near my wrist from the “exertion” of writing. The top knuckle of my middle finger veers right thanks to the pressure I put on it as a rabid teenaged writer. Computers have saved me from confusion (others’ and my own), have saved me time, have cleaned me up for the world, like a mom slicking back her kid’s unruly hair while wiping the grime from their cheek. I was getting seduced into thinking this was a better me I was showing to the world. And yet, to your point, Deb, it’s not the real, unadulterated me. 

My other weakness is in the whole sending of mail. I am terrible here too. I have long ago accepted I would rarely, if ever, send anything by mail. Legions of letters, packages, and warrantees have languished on my hall table to slowly gather dust and eventually be tossed.

I admire you and your ilk. I have treasured every card you have ever sent me and admired every stroke of your thoughtful pen. I love getting real mail. I love getting real cards. I will miss the ritual when it passes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Yummy And Easy Holiday Baking

Barbara: For today’s quick edition, I’ll share what is a new recipe for me. My daughter made it for the holidays last year and we all swooned. And it's the easiest recipe ever. Because it’s made with crackers and is so highly addictive, she calls it “Crack”. When I used this name at the last advent in front of one of my other daughter’s friends, she very delicately re-named it “Crackle”, which I like because it is a bit like a brittle.

4 ounces saltine crackers (that’s one row from a regular box)
1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Line cookie sheet with saltine crackers in single layer. (I also lined the pan first with parchment, but I’m going to guess this isn’t imperative—the buttered crackers just lift right up.)
A smaller pan would work even better, as then the crackers would abut each side.
In a saucepan combine sugar and butter. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. 

Immediately pour over saltines and spread to cover crackers completely. Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes. Spread melted chocolate and top with chopped nuts. 

Cool completely and break into pieces like brittle.

How to ruin these: if they haven’t cooled completely the chocolate layer will lift off the crackers. I put the whole pan in the fridge for a few hours. And later, the pieces freeze and thaw very well.

Crazy good!

PS if some of you haven’t yet left a holiday wish to deck our halls, you still can!