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).

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Mail Mail it Never Fails…

Well, we have done it. All of the Christmas presents are sent and all of the Christmas cards are mailed!

In the last few days we have gotten so many great notes from friends, pictures of new babies, new slippers, and a heavy box of homemade rum balls and other surprises that really touched my heart. The mail is a wonderful thing. For less than fifty cents, you can get a message to anyone in the country in a day or two. Think about how nice it is to open the mailbox and see a non-bill: a letter, a note, a card, and on really lucky days, a package.  It’s wonderful to open the front door or the mail box and see familiar handwriting.

Flat E whAt Christmastime last year we had a really special visitor arrive in the mail. Flat Ellaleigh came to visit from Tennessee. She wanted to see what life was like in Washington, D.C. so she could go back home and tell the real Ellaleigh about it. Flat E, as we called her once we became friends, took us on adventures all over town. We saw the White House in lights, we went to see A Christmas Carol at the Alexandria Little Theater and to a Washington Wizards game. We took her to the Botanic Gardens to see trains and trees and to the art gallery where she briefly got lost, but thankfully was found. When it was time for her to go, we packed her up with pictures and postcards and we sent her back home.  As a single piece of mail, Flat E connected family across miles. That little flat girl brought a lot of joy and fun on this end, and I would imagine she did the same when she arrived in the mailbox back home. She gave us a reason to spend a frost bitten evening glove in glove taking pictures in the lights. She put smiles on the faces of those who passed us posing and angling her into photos. You can’t do that with an email.Flat E

This year, more than ever it seems like the days of daily mail delivery may be numbered. Canada, a bastion of all things polite, is already getting ready to say goodbye to mail . And before too long Amazon is planning to skip mail delivery all together with drones  that remind me of The Jetsons.  But this year, you still have time to connect with someone by taking a minute to reach out to with a card or a note. Let someone know they are special enough for you to send them a letter. I for one, would love to hear from you and I am sure there are so many people who would like to hear from you too!

Photo Credit: Donielle Scherff

PS: Unhurried or not, I am glad not to have to go to the post office again for a while. Just remember when you are there–Santa is watching. Be nice.

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…

Baking Someone Happy

Ready to be filled with goodness.

Ready to be filled with goodness.

Today is a really special day and to celebrate I had the time to do something I haven’t done in a LONG time; bake! I used to make wedding cakes, shower cupcakes, pies, cookies, the works. I even had a room in my house reserved for just this purpose. But work, among other things, ended that years ago.

But this week I am back! I spent time whipping, mixing and, truth be told, licking the beater of my Kitchen-aid Stand Mixer as I made the perfect wedding cupcakes with love for my friends who are tying the knot in Baltimore this weekend. I spent time in the cake supply aisle picking out the perfect frosting tip and considering every sparkle, sprinkle, coloring and topper. It was WONDERFUL.  

I also bought disposable pastry bags, because, you know what? Regardless of how unhurried I am, time scrubbing out the small end of a pastry bag is precious time wasted!

If my house were on fire I would grab family photos and my Kitchen-Aid.

If my house were on fire I would grab family photos and my Kitchen-Aid.

I hope you can take some time to relax and bake, and because this is the season of giving, I am about to divulge a cupcake recipe that I have taken years to perfect. Consider it  a wedding present.

Wedding Worthy Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes a dozen and a half cupcakes
Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

Ingredients:   butter, sugar, eggs, really good vanilla extract, baking powder, salt, flour, milk.

How to Make it Happen:

  • Preheat oven.
  • Beat 1-1/2 sticks of butter at medium speed until smooth.
  • Add 1-1/2 cups of sugar and beat well.
  • Then Add 2 eggs, 2 tsps of vanilla, 2 1/2 tsps of baking powder and a 1/2 tsp of salt and mix until combined.
  • Add in 2 1/2 cups of flour a 1/2 a cup at a time until incorporated
  • Finally add 1-1/4 cups of milk and beat until it smooth and creamy.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to get into individual baking cups (about 2/3 full).

These really are dense, moist, and delicious. I will let you know how they go over on the big day.

A little sparkle makes everything taste better.

A little sparkle makes everything taste better.

I also found some other recipes that I am going to add to my list to try… and a one controversy that I didn’t even know existed: American cupcake vs. English Fairy Cake. I am thinking there is room for both on the dessert table of life 😉

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!

Cash Drawer Bells, Cash Drawer Bells. Its Christmas Time in Your Twenties!

Before this season, I spent a bunch of Christmas seasons spent behind the cash wrap of a store in the Shops of the Charleston Place Hotel. Together with a legion of people who make the season bright for shoppers and diners, we worked, worked, worked. We smiled until our cheeks hurt and shared the features and benefits of every beautiful bauble and delicious bite ever to appear in a Christmas ad. We stood in aprons and starched shirts until our we ached all the way down to our toes. Sustained by the bites of food from the Charleston Grille–and the sloshy, icy sound of the martini shakers that marked the end of the day! And when I look back I can’t help but smile and miss the good old days because of all of the moments those seasons held.

The magic wasn’t in the work, it was in the people and the place. The sweet, frankincense smell of Crabtree and Evelyn’s Noel candle. The perfect sip of Godiva dark hot chocolate as we stepped out of the decked halls of the hotel and on to King Street and the crisp Charleston air. Back then, the street would be closed off so a winter wonderland could be built in the very middle of town. A big tree with lights and packages and ornaments, the clip clop of horse and carriage rides, Santa and his friends would wander through making everything merry and bright. I often miss the camaraderie of those days. We were, for the most part, broke kids figuring out our way in the world and working hard to pay our rent in the mean time. Exchanging cookies with friends, singing carols down the street in the middle of the night made the whole world look bright. Today’s plan is to write a hand written note to all of the people who share those memories with me. We are now all across the country and it is high time for us to reminisce again!

If you want to get into this moment, here is what you need:

-This song by Billie Holiday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs4AUuZ9TKk

-A cup of Godiva Dark Chocolate http://bit.ly/1eMoSV7

– Good friends to reminisce with

You may not get snow, but you will get beautiful homes and boats glowing with christmas lights!

You may not get snow, but you will get beautiful homes and boats glowing with christmas lights!

The whole city gets in the spirit.

The whole city gets in the spirit.

You can also plan your own trip to Charleston. It is one of the most wonderful places in the world to spend your Christmas:

http://hiddencharleston.com/holiday-round-up/