A Tiny Gentleman, or Its Time to Slow it Down

I have been having a hard time throwing on the breaks of my life. I have been thinking Unhurried Christmas thoughts, but I didn’t think it was fair to share them if I wasn’t walking the walk. In the last two weeks, I have been out of the house before the sun and back well after it has set. I confess to eating more granola bars than meals lately and I haven’t done a thing to my house other than putting up a fall wreath on the door. I had meeting requests starting at 7:30 am and going to 9:00 pm. Not exactly the warm, holiday feeling schedule I aim for.
That changed yesterday.
I am working on an assignment on a military base for a few weeks, and I was working faster than my internet could handle. I escaped to a Starbucks on base for high speed Wi-Fi and a really large cup of coffee (see: the hours I have been keeping, above). Amid the rapid-fire clicks of my keyboard I overheard an encounter between a pair of teeny tiny siblings, a boy and a girl, leaving the coffee shop with their mom. The little girl was about two and a small stature for even that. She was wearing a skirt and ruffled top and the smallest pair of maryjane pumps ever created for human wear. She strode around making the shoes make that “bossy girl walking down the hall” noise that, let’s face it, is pretty damn satisfying. As they got to the door, her brother, who was four years old (tops) says, “After you, ma’am.” The little girl was also holding the door behind him while admiring her shoes. She was strong and cute and relishing in the knowledge! He was a gentleman and proud to be one.
In that moment, they were paralyzed with politeness. She wanted to do it herself—because she could. He couldn’t not do this very important thing he was taught to do. She looked up at her mom and said, “But *I* can do it.” And he looked up at his mom and said, “I am holding the door for the ladies.” How she didn’t laugh is beyond me, but I am glad she didn’t. The earnestness in the situation was palpable.
Finally the mom had to step in and take the door for both of them and when she did, they both scampered off in the direction of their car.
I thought about that for the rest of the day. What I came up with, after my heart recovered from melting, was that the mom of those two little ones is awesome. They were both had the best intentions; being kind and strong— and I am sure that is something she taught them. So when it came down to using what they were learning they got stuck. She didn’t shout or hurry them along. She let them have the moment and it was beautiful.
Time to slow down. Time to savor the moments. Time for an Unhurried Christmas (and possibly a pair of pink maryjane pumps).

Savoring the Christmas Season (With Rum Balls)

The Rum Ball 2013

This is the last rum ball. The last sugary bite of Christmas 2013.

We got a heavy little box of these for Christmas last year from T’s parents, who make them together as part of their Christmas tradition (you can read all about it here). We are some of the lucky people that reap the rewards of the tradition.

When the box arrived in the mail, I asked T if he got a brick of gold for Christmas. He might as well have based on the blissful smile on his face when he opened the lid to reveal perfectly packed, row upon row of rum balls. The whoosh of that sweet, cocoa-y smell filled our kitchen that day and again for months each time we dipped into the stash for dessert or late night snack. They often made us reminisce and tell stories and make plans for Christmas, even in the middle of summer.

Now here we are. Talk about taking time to savor the season. We made these precious treats last almost all year long.  Now we get to anxiously wait for the next batch to arrive.

Happy beginning of the season of expectancy, of waiting, and of warm, festive Christmas time.

Now, get to the kitchen and make some of  those famous christmas memory evoking rum balls. Thanks T-ma for sharing your recipe!

Magic Christmas Rum Balls

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1  Cup vanilla wafers crushed fine
  • 1  Cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1  Cup powdered sugar
  • 2  Tablespoons Cocoa

Wet Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons of light corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup Rum
Instructions:
  1. In large  bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together.
  2. Then add all of the wet ingredients
  3. Stir to combine.
  4. Refrigerate 20 to 30 min., until able to roll dough into balls in your palms.
  5. Roll each ball in sugar
  6. Pack up and mail to the people you love (after stashing a whole bunch in your own freezer).
Expert note: Sometimes we added more syrup and rum according to consistency.  A very little at a time while stirring.  Stir well.

 

Christmas Eve in the Air

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Today we are flying back home. My heart is happy and heavy–I am so glad I got to spend time with my Mom, Dad and my brothers, but leaving is always so hard.

I am hoping for a safe flight, an easy ride home, and a quiet but festive Christmas Eve. If only I could shrink the world some times, it would be so nice to have my family and my work around the same corner.

Hope you have a place to lay your head tonight and I hope the sugarplums you dream of tonight are big enough for this big guy! Merry Christmas Eve morning.

A Very Tuba Christmas!

2013-12-23 12.32.54This afternoon we got to see a little bit of Austin. We drove through the corridor of quirky shops on South Congress to our first stop: the Capitol Building. We actually rushed over once we read about a concert happening there today–a TUBA concert! 

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It was hard to tell how many tubas or people were there but is was a wonderful event. There were shiny new tubas, ones that had some stories to tell, some in the hands of kids in band jackets and others on the broad arms of men with beards and salt and pepper hair. Every tuba was bellowing out hymns and Christmas carols while people sat in the grass and kids played in the sunshine. A little research revealed that this concert happens all over the country and has for the last forty years. It might have been the first flash mob. See if there is a concert in your area here.

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We listened for a while then walked thought the lobby to see the incredible dome and pictures of all of the Texas governors through time. I had T stop to reverently tip his hat to George W. Bush.  After we picked up this year’s Texas Christmas ornament, we met my parents at Kerby Lane Cafe for some local color, cinnamon roll pancakes, and great conversation. On our way out we were caught in the middle of a disagreement between two friends. After one friend stormed out yelling, he apologized to us in the parking lot. Austin is still weird but everyone is so polite; Texas is such a mixed bag.

After that, we went back to South Congress for some treasure troving. We sifted though Peruvian pillows and Mexican trinkets, bells from India and paper stars from Texas. I held land grant documents from 1910 and old mah jong tiles. We saw ancient books and old advertisements, typewriter keys, and even a box for face cream touting it’s magic ingredient: mercury. My Dad bought me a parachute man, you remember the kind–you wrap them up and toss them in the air. We tried on crazy hats, wooden shoes and crazy glasses at Lucy in Disguise.

There is so much pressure to make everything perfect, or at least make every moment good or at least “count” in some way when you are with family you don’t get to see every day. This day started out with the unexpected and then went to the silly.  It was so hard to leave one another at the end. In short, we had a great day. I hope your family time is going the same way.

Merry day before Christmas Eve. 

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


2012-12-13 18.42.59Happy St. Nick’s Day!

When I was in elementary school I remember coming back into our warm classrooms after eating lunch and leaving our little shoes in the long, marble corridors (this only works in arctic climates, like Buffalo, NY where kids reach for boots instead of their shoes to go home) . We would walk to our desks in stocking feet and full of excitement. We giggled about being barefoot at school. The boys slid across the slick floor when they thought no one was looking.  When were ready to go home at the end of the day, all of the girls were sent to the coat closet to get their things. Then all of the boys. And as we all wiggled our feet into moon boots or plastic bags to waterproof our feet before stepping into rain boots, there was a murmur of anticipation. Did he come? Did St. Nick come to SCHOOL? It was almost more than a six year old could stand. When we were buttoned into our coats with hats on our heads and mittens on our hands we were lined up in two neat lines at the door. And Miss Pat, my intensely stern first grade teacher waited for our silence. She opened the door, and let us out to our shoes! They were filled with treasure from St. Nicholas: Jesus stickers (the kind you had to lick to make sticky), an orange, two foil wrapped chocolates and a (be still my art supply loving heart) a can of Play-doh.  That still feels like the magic of Christmas to me.

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Who wouldn’t want to find chocolate in their shoe? Well, as long as it is wrapped, of course.

At home, my Mom took on the role of  St. Nicholas, filling our whole family’s shoes every December 6th that we all lived at home. And now, I carry it on in my house.  St. Nicholas Day is is also a special day for my family another reason–it’s my Dad’s Birthday. My Dad, like St. Nick, helps everyone. If you are stranded with a flat tire, my Dad is the person you want to drive by. I won’t embarrass him here by listing his kind acts, but there are many and I am so glad for me and for the whole world that he was born.

A lot of different countries claim St. Nick as their own. I am not sure where it started, but the legend is just about always the same, a man of God who gave to those in need; and he did it in secret to preserve their dignity and to their surprise.  You can be St. Nick to someone today. It could be as simple as Jesus stickers and an orange or as huge as making dinner and emptying the dishwasher. Give of yourself in a way that makes everyone feel good. Think of the smiles you will create.

The picture above is from the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA (sorry to the artist, I couldn’t find a signature). You can look for it at the Torpedo Factory’s Holiday Open House tomorrow night. The event is free and open to the public and they are giving away thousands of dollars in prizes–including art and art supplies!

You can learn more about the history of St. Nick at the related articles below.

Let There be (Christmas) Lights!

2013-11-29 18.03.28HAPPY DECEMBER!

Two nights ago we kicked off the season of light here in Reston. Big white stars led the way to the dark Christmas tree where a sea of people–our neighbors–gathered. There were kids in Santa hats and teenagers in scarves and reindeer antlers. There were people holding hands and holding hot cocoa; ice skaters spinning and babies squealing. Dads had kids on their shoulders and everyone had a red nose and rosy cheeks because It. Was. COLD.

Everyone waited. The brass band was silent on their risers and the Reston Chorale stood tall and still holding their sheet music.   Everyone waited. At six o’clock on the dot you could hear a clip-clop in the distance. The crowd hushed to hear the jingle bells on Santa’s horse-drawn sleigh.

It was the perfect metaphor for the season:

The anticipation.

The lights in the darkness.

Those stars leading the way.

And a moment later, the tree was lit to a round of cheers and shrieks of delight. The lights seemed to strike up the band and the chorus!

This year's there were stars!

This year’s there were stars!

The family next to us sang along for the first three carols and then the woman I assume to be the mom said, “Ok, ready to go?” and started removing kids from their high perches when an older voice said, “No, I want to stay for my favorite Christmas carol.”  Grandpa sounded like he was from New York and he was wearing a well broken in Santa hat. So they stayed and they kept on singing until I’ll be Home for Christmas was through. And they smiled and sang along and their grandpa’s voice boomed and his smile beamed.

This made me think. What makes the moment is a cheerful giver. I imagine there were bunch of people in the tree lighting crowd who would have rather been on the couch watching football, or across the street at Best Buy elbowing the crowds to a discount computer, but they were there with the big and the little ones who really wanted to sing Silver Bells and see Santa and bask in the Christmas lights. And just by being there, by giving their time with a smile, they made the moment even better for the people they love (and I bet for themselves too). The same proves true in less fun moments. Its better to grit your teeth with a buddy who you can laugh with later than to not be having fun AND have to deal with sour people on top of it.

Another benefit of not being hurried though Christmas is being able to take the time to be a cheerful giver.

For me, there wasn’t a place in the world I would have rather been. Divine intervention stepped in for me to enjoy the moment with the one I love. You can see 100% of the pictures I took here. A minute after the tree was lit, my phone went dead, so I could just enjoy the season without putting a screen between me and the festivities. I am so glad it did, because the thing about moments is that you don’t get them back to do over. Sure you can make new ones, but why not make the most of the ones we have, while we have them. We could hear the Gloria all the way to the car. It was a wonderful night.

So long Thanksgiving. Hello Christmas Season!

Now where did I put my Advent wreath…

Ready, Set, Grow!

My Amaryllis  is a cheater. Its true. I waited until the day before Thanksgiving to open the box and get the planting medium set to plant the bulb on Thanksgiving, but when I opened it, I found this.

Ready, Set, Grow!

I guess every year of a tradition has its own story (see the backstory of mine here), and this year it starts with  this overachieving Amaryllis  already popping out of the papery brown bulb. I have righted it, placed it deep in its peat-y soil, and placed it in my own sunny kitchen window. Hopefully it will lose the bleached out green and keep growing. I will keep you posted. 

In the meantime, I would love to see yours too. Post photos here, please.

T minus 8 Hours to Our Top 6 Thanksgiving Traditions!

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The last leaf! Thanksgiving walk 2012

The last few days have been busy ones and though they haven’t been hurried, they have been busy. I have had two work projects delay until they were happening simultaneously and between altered schedules, the unexpected, and the toil of everyday, we have been more of a tag team than a couple. While we’re a great tag team, I really don’t like it when that happens.

But now the leaves are raked, the fireplace is clean, and work; after tomorrow, work has been told to buzz off for the next four days. We are ready for what I have been calling the Thanksgiving Relax-o-thon. Our Thanksgiving isn’t traditional. For starters, it is just we two. Turkey is only involved as a leftover, and the main course is chow fun and spring rolls. Just saying it makes me smile. This is the most relaxed, low pressure holiday imaginable. Here is what I am most looking forward to:

6.      Being cozy at home with a fire crackling and a mug of cocoa. The pure joy of this is augmented by the weather we are having. Cold and wet and icy; perfect for being home and watching movies.

5.      Thanksgiving Dinner of Perfect Bites. Rather than an enormous thanksgiving feast we have decided to make just the perfect bites of the things we like the most. We like surprises, so I can only tell you mine–salty, green Sicilian olives and stinky cheeses. These will be an appetizer (more like evening grazing) before the dinner. The main course is Chinese food, T originated this tradition. Talk about no pressure Thanksgiving!

4.      Baking. Even though I’m not making dinner, I couldn’t get through Thanksgiving without baking. This year I am making two things: a classic pumpkin pie, so I can call my dad and have a piece over the phone and a two loaves of brioche. One loaf will be for turkey sandwiches on Friday, and the other will go home with a great teenager who is coming over tomorrow after school to sort through our surplus CDs. I am pretty excited about making both.

3.      Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Confession time—I have been watching every sickeningly sweet, late night, cable channel Christmas movie I have come across for weeks. These uncomplicated movies full of twinkling lights and happy endings have been warming me up for the real holiday movies to kick off.  Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the official movie our Thanksgiving weekend. We quote the movie all year long and it never ceases to make me laugh almost to the point of tears. The end of this scene in particular makes me lose it every time. 

2.    Talking to my Family. I am hopeful that my mom has decided not to cook. I am crossing my fingers that she is ordering a turkey from one of the terrific BBQ places near her house, and then powdering her nose with flour before she brings the pie (and Redi-Whip) to the table to the oohs and aahs of my brothers. Just when I think I have swayed her to take it easy, she will change her mind (relaxing is not her style!). I will know all the details for certain when I call them with my own piece of pumpkin pie and I can’t wait.

1.      Thanksgiving Weekend Date Night. A long walk in the crisp air with the one I love is enough to make my heart burst with gratitude for the life I get to live. A few years ago, we started taking a Thanksgiving walk (I am sure we were motivated to burn off some of the pie we planned to eat) and now it has become a tradition. When the world starts to spin almost out of control and deadlines, and chores, and responsibilities come calling, were good at reminding one another to breathe and to laugh. In the quiet moments, it feels great to say thank you for that and to just enjoy being together.

 A view of the lake from our Thanksgiving walk 2012.

Geese on the lake;
from our Thanksgiving walk 2012.

I will get back to living in the moment, but for now, I am filled with anticipation for my top six–and right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree lighting and caroling. Commence the Christmas season!

“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.”

imagesAt my house, we have been talking a lot about what it means to really savor the season. The conversation keeps winding back around to one thing: being mindful about how time is spent–and how it isn’t spent. Its amazing how refreshed I feel on the nights we put Christmas music and read in front of the fire, rather than putting on the TV. Reading is one of those activities that requires all of your attention. All of your focus. I think that is one of the reasons why it is so rewarding. It also allows you to wonder and imagine in a way that the Internet doesn’t. Of course, the Internet is on my top ten list of things I am thankful for. It is great to be able to search and find the answer to any question in the blink of an eye, and it is wonderful to learn about things far an wide from the comfort of your sofa, but it takes away time from seeing things with your mind’s eye.  Its good for the soul to just imagine, without having Google there to inform every nook and cranny of your thoughts.

I hope you find sometime to wonder and imagine and read. And so you don’t have to spend your unhurried moments looking for something to read, heres is one of my Christmas favorites: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is complete with off-beat relatives, the sounds of jingly dimes, a dose of reality, a touch of politics and the joyful, expectant feeling of Christmas.  Without further adieu….

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. 

To keep reading, click here. 

Chicken Wing Dip. Because Its Delicious and I am from Buffalo

I have long since given up finding good wings south of Buffalo. There was a brief and shining moment when we found good wings at a great old neighborhood restaurant within walking distance from our house. They had a fireplace, loud live music from time to time, and the bartenders knew our wing order as soon as we sat down. But alas, they lost their lease, and again, we find ourselves wingless.

Enter Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip. It takes ten minutes to make and it saves me a trip north, and saves my boyfriend my  impassioned  tirade about what real chicken wings taste like 🙂 I offer it to you as something quick to pull together for a party. It has also stood in for dinner more than once at this house.

Step one: Gather up chicken (this is canned chicken breast),  a cup of Franks Red Hot Sauce (there is no substitute),  a cup of Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing (this one is “light” which is kind of funny when you consider this whole dip is predicated on a block of cream cheese), one block of cream cheese, a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and a big bowl.

Step two: heat the cream cheese in the microwave until it is soft (about a minute).

Step three: Shred the chicken and stir into the cream cheese.

Step four: add all other ingredients and stir until smooth

Step five is choose your own adventure–you can either bake it and make it all bubbly, put it in a crockpot to serve warm, or dive in as is. I prefer the last option 🙂