A Recipe for Fireside Bliss

A short recipe  to warm you by the fire:

This

Cocoa--The good stuff

Cocoa–The good stuff

PLUS

Cinnamon Goodness

Cinnamon Goodness

Equals

Cozy and Warm by the Fire.

Cozy and Warm by the Fire.

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Angel Watching Overhead: Unbreakable JOY of Baby’s First Christmas Ornament

World's most fragile Christmas ornament.

World’s most fragile Christmas ornament.

This is my baby’s first Christmas ornament. Somewhere along the lines my mother added the date in sharpie. While I am glad to have this, it has always stressed me out.

It is thin glass with a foil-y white paint and the traditional silver cap covering the sharp glass top. I have always lived in fear of breaking it. More specifically dropping it and smashing it into a million little shards that you can never quite clean up.

This is why I have taken such care in picking the baby’s first Christmas ornament for my niece, Laura.

You see, for a long time before Lola, her mom and my bff, was able to conceive Laura, we prayed for her—a lot. I never had any doubt that Laura would come, but it took a long time and a lot of patience and Lola could not hurry it. My super achiever friend who goes out and get what she wants had to be patient and wait, because there was no other choice.

Sistine Angel Babies

Sistine Angel Babies

One December, when Lola and I were in Vatican City (I know, lucky ducks) and walking through the Sistine Chapel, I saw this relief and it stopped me in my tracks. And one of the moments I remember praying about Laura with Lola was right there. I told her that those were her angel babies and from then until now, before she was a cell, before she had a name, before she was in the world, Laura was known as the angel baby.

And while I know they would have loved each other the same, no matter how they came together, having to wait and wonder and hope for their family has resulted in an endless amazement between the three of them. It is beautiful. They seem stunned by their good fortune; and grateful. So grateful.

So this Christmas as Lola and her husband celebrate their first Christmas through the eyes of their own child, I want this angel to hang on their tree and watch over them.

Baby's First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

Baby’s First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

And as Laura bounces (and man does that little one bounce!), and laughs, and a plays with boxes and paper in lieu of her toys, I don’t want them to give the ornament angel a thought. And if Laura reaches up and yanks this little angel off the tree to see how she tastes, or if someday she throws it in a backpack to take to school, or in a box to bring to her first first apartment I don’t want her to worry.

I want them all focus all of their attention on the wonder and awe of the season and begin to create the traditions and memories of a lifetime under the watch of an angel and with all the love of me, her Zia.

PS–don’t read this post to her. I want her to be surprised 🙂

Thanksgiving Memories Across the Pond

Amalfi on a rainy day!

Amalfi on a rainy day! That’s me on the right and my BFF, Lola on the left.

Thanksgiving has always been a time to create new traditions for me. I grew up in a very large extended family–and while I love my family, as an adult I took the first chance to excuse myself from the chaos and follow a more contemplative, relaxed, and, as long as I am being honest, quieter road.

For a while, before boyfriends, husbands, and babies, my best friend and I hopped across the pond and explored Europe. Thanksgiving is a great time to go to Europe–rates are low and its off season for London and Rome. If you are on a budget, this is a way to make the dream of going to Europe come true for a lot less money. The memories we made were worth every cent we spent. On Thanksgiving we always celebrated with a great dinner and good wine. I don’t think we were too obnoxious, but we were always happy to tell the people around us it was American Thanksgiving.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

This is an excerpt from my journal at the time. It still makes me smile…and want to plan another trip:

Time in Sorrento: Hours

Gelato eaten: Who cares. Did I mention I was in Sorrento?

When we drove out of Naples and into the rocky cliffs to Sorrento. We checked into the Hotel Michaelangelo (not Buonarotti, they were all very quick to point out, another one). I took a bath in the most fantastic coral marble bathtub. After all that talk about Roman Baths in Pompei, I was thrilled to have a chance to splash around.

I thought about leaving this story out, but I have to share it.

We had dinner in the hotel. It was Thanksgiving! We decided two things–1. We were getting dressed up and 2. We were drinking three bottles of wine. When we walked in to the well appointed dining room and were seated I noticed a commotion in the corner. When I looked over, several members of the wait staff and the men from the kitchen had dashed to the door and were more or less drooling on the travertine tile. I couldn‘ t help but grin at them but them I immediately looked away. I distinctly heard a Mamma Mia (they actually say that?). Even when they are lusting after the

new girls in town, they are still calling for their mothers 😉 Anything Lola tells you about the rest of this evening is likely to be untrue. She was making things up about me kissing a hot Italian waiter. All lies. He kissed me.

Early the next morning, we were up and ready to catch a hydrofoil to Capri. Through an act of divine intervention, our day in Capri turned into a private, escorted tour to Amalfi in a Mercedes instead.

We headed up and down and around the cliffs, through the three towns of Sorrento and around the coast. From the single lane road we could see Capri and the other islands in the Bay of Naples being beaten with waves. We pressed on, stopping to take some pictures, buy some pottery and nearly give in to car sickness (seems to me our driver would speed up, hit a curve, slam on the breaks and repeat). We went through Positano and Salerno and ended up in heaven.

Amalfi is the most beautiful place on earth. The drive is not for the faint hearted, the destination is remote and to say it is paradise would be to insult it. I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough.

Three steps from the small port, there is a rail, stone steps and a pebble and black lava sand beach. I stood at that rail unable to form words. There in front of me swelling and crashing and emphatically waving hello was the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea.

When I could pull myself away, Lola and I went back to the square and took it all in. They were putting up Christmas lights around the town’s patron saint, Andrew. His feast was the next day. We wandered into a chocolate shop (mmmm. Ginger), and wandered into the winding back alley streets. We stopped to buy a present for our favorite new baby and started talking to the shop owner, Maria. Maria has two unmarried sons in their thirties. She is 62 and would like to be a Nonna. Wink. Nudge. By the end of our chat, I think I found an apartment to rent in Amalfi. So, I am going to use it. More on that when I get home.

Before we headed out, I went back to the seaside view and it had improved. There beside me, out of nowhere was an olive skinned man the Hollywood could not have cast any better. He started talking (va bene) about two men on the beach by the waves and so on 😉 When I started to leave he made the pleading gesture and asked: Where are you going bella? And you wonder why American woman leave and never come back. Lola got a beautiful picture of an enormous wave smashing into the coast. I asked our guide about a stone structure on the very, very top of the mountain and she told me it belonged to the town hermit. The town hermit! That is awesome. She also told me the townspeople used to bring food up to him every week. This made me think; perhaps he didn’t intend to be a hermit. Maybe he just did not want to have to walk down the mountain every week and lug back groceries 🙂

The ride back to the hotel, which we nicknamed the Georges V, was harrowing. We made it one piece. I spent the rest of the evening savoring Amalfi…and when Lola took a nap, I mapped out my return strategy. If (and by if, I mean when) I am ever missing, don’t worry. You will find me somewhere between Sorrento and Amalfi.

Ciao for Now…

Sigh. Those were some good days of being unhurried.

Friends we met on the road!

Friends we met on the road!

Looking over Positano.

Looking over Positano.

Giving Thanks by Sharing Dinner

Mmmmm! Thanksgiving Dinner for Everyone!

Mmmmm! Thanksgiving Dinner for Everyone!

When I was working at Crabtree and Evelyn in Charleston, SC all of those Christmas seasons ago I remember meeting a dashing older couple who tried to explain to me, a born bleeding heart, why it was important not only to help people with time, but also to do the best I could for myself so I could have the wherewithal to donate money to the causes important to me. I think this was my first interaction with members of the GOP 🙂

I think of that couple often. It was good to get a new perspective. While I took their advice (in a round about way) and I could write a check, I am going to put a little more heart into my Thanksgiving this year–because I have the time!

A lot of people are in need every year, but this year, soldiers coming back from war, people out of work, and reductions in the food stamp program might mean more people in need–and many who haven’t needed help before. I am going to help my neighbors in the small way that I can.

If you are in Northern VA, you can also commit to providing a Thanksgiving Basket for a family in need by signing up here (by November 18th),  and if you are having a hard time dropping off, let me know.  I can pick up your basket and drop it off with mine!

If you aren’t in Northern VA, you can use the Feeding America website to find your local food pantry and make a Thanksgiving donation there.

I am getting our dinner basket ready. This is a list of what each basket needs to provide a hearty Thanksgiving meal for a family:

  • 3 cans assorted veggies (please no green beans)
  • 2 cans fruit
  • 1 bottle olive or canola cooking oil (~ 24 oz.)
  • 1 box instant potatoes or macaroni and cheese or stuffing
  • 1 box rice or a 2-5 lb. bag of rice
  • 1 box biscuit or muffin mix
  • 1 snack (pretzels, chips, nuts, etc.)
  • 1 box of dessert mix
  • 2 lb. bag of flour
  • 2 lb. bag of sugar
  • 1 $25 gift card (Giant/Safeway/Shoppers) for the purchase of a turkey/ham entrée (We do not have the capacity to store or accept perishable items.)

Collection Site: 
St. John Neumann Church, 11900 Lawyers Road, Reston, VA 20190

Collection Dates & Times: 
Thursday, November 21st: 1 PM- 5 PM
Friday, November 22nd: 9 AM – 7 PM

If you can’t get all of those things together, consider donating something to Reston Community Center. They are collecting food and supplies to feed our neighbors. Here is a list of what to give and where to drop it off.

Now tell me what you are doing to give back this Thanksgiving. Do you have a tradition or are you starting a new one? I want to know!