Wednesday, December 24, 2008

wishing you joy and peace this Christmas

James Lesesne Wells (1902) "The Flight Into Egypt," Oil on canvas 1930

May each of us welcome the stranger this season, open our hearts and our homes to those, like the Holy Family, who have journeyed so far and yet still need a place to sleep. May those fleeing oppression find our land hospitable and safe. Visit the Justice for Immigrants Campaign.

May you know the joy of the newborn child, the hope of a mother's love, and the peace that comes with a year put to rest and a new day ready to dawn. Visit Feminists for Life.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), The Adoration of the Magi, 1503 woodcut

May you find yourself overflowing with the generosity of family and friends. May you find ways to share your abundance with those in need. Visit Catholic Charities USA.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

currently loving

- my twinkling tree
- cinnamon scented pine cones
- coffee with bourbon
- new radio sending forth carols all through winter baking
- wool hats
- the crazy short hair cut I just got, which looks even better with wool hats than my previous tangle of long curls
- homemade Christmas
- watching falling snow
- shoveling snow
- walking through the snow
- snow days
- Soup Thursdays at work
- new library card that brought me books and DVDs and magazines
- anything with sea salt
- knitting with wintry grey wool
- old and new carols by Sixpence None the Richer and Over the Rhine
- "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes
- making jewelry while watching new library DVDs
- reading aloud
- Fitzgerald's Jazz Age Stories read aloud--part of what inspired the new haircut
- indulgent low brow holiday film clips on YouTube, such as this scene from Love Actually
- planning for New Year's Eve
- spending quiet evenings in, rather than out chasing the cheer

Monday, December 22, 2008

reducing the mania

Every year at this time I am knee deep in flour, tossing about sticks of butter, and running to the store for another missing ingredient. Not this year. Rather than choosing six or seven kinds of food based gift items, I narrowed it down to two. Yep. Two things to make, taste, give, and share. Seems stingy. But it has increased my sanity. Also reducing the mania, taking remaining vacation and personal days from work. Normally I am the sort of person who prides herself on how few days of work I miss. Yet, as I have begun to strive for a more seamless, sustainable life, I realize how much more you need to be home to accomplish it.

For example, want to grow your own vegetables and then harvest and put up for the winter? Need a few extra hours each day in the garden. Want to make more of your own clothes, replace paper products with cloth that needs to be laundered, bake your own whole wheat bread or pizza crust, or simply eat fewer meals out? You need to be more connected to your base of operations. It is that simple.

Yet is it? With all of our demands for time and the pressures of life, it can be incredibly easy to let those important things go. I do it often. Then suffer for it. Less connectedness, more frantic searching for meaning. More meals eaten on the run, of food that I don't even want in my body, fewer minutes spent in prayer, and missed opportunities to truly engage with those around me.

Back to the Christmas two gifting foods are vanilla-caramel popcorn with sea salt and cranberry-pistachio biscotti. The former is an adaptation of a Martha recipe. Her original recipe had almonds and entirely too much caramel to popcorn. I increased the vanilla, removed the nuts, and replaced regular salt for thicker, chunkier sea salt that provides a sharp earthy contrast to the sweet and smooth taste of vanilla scented caramel. Here is how I make it:

Vanilla Caramel Popcorn with Sea Salt
Makes about 25 cups

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
* 3 cups corn kernels (3/4 C for each batch of popcorn)
* 4 tablespoons canola oil (one for each batch of popcorn)
* 2 cups packed light-brown sugar
* 1/2 cup light corn syrup
* 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 teaspoon thick sea salt - more to taste in the last round of baking
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter 2 rimmed baking sheets; set aside. Place corn kernels and oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; cover. Once kernels begin to pop, shake pot frequently; when popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops, remove from heat; uncover. Transfer to a large bowl. Add almonds; toss.

2. Cook sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until it reaches 255 degrees.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in extracts, salt, and baking soda. Pour over popcorn mixture; toss to coat. Divide between prepared sheets. Bake, stirring occasionally, 1 hour 20 minutes. In last round of baking sprinkle additional salt onto popcorn. Popcorn can be stored in airtight containers up to 1 week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

on transitions and craftivism

This week one of my colleagues left our firm. I am excited for her new adventure, it will be a grand one of the most centering kind. She is choosing the unknown over the known and a path free of mainstream expectations. This is a woman whose parting gift to me was a copy of Knitting for Good, the new release from Betsy Greer. How often does someone at your job "get" you that well?

Greer's world of art + craft = craftivism is an amazing one. And the book is published by Shambhala, the outfit that brought us The Creative Family by Amanda Soule of SouleMama and I Love Dirt by Jennifer Ward. These books are standouts om my bookshelf, they are joyfully gifted to each friend who brings forth a new baby into this crazy world. The texts are small, perfect to hold in one hand with a warm cup of coffee in the other. Knitting for Good is the same. Add to that list that A is a friend of Greer's from their UK days and you can imagine how excited I am to tap into this movement.

I spent part of my snow day on Friday to devour the text. Used my last personal day before the end of the year. A year that has been one of considerable change, transition, and adventure. Best wishes A on your new year! May you find everything you hope for.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

magical movie classic

Last night we went to see It's a Wonderful Life at the Palace Theatre in downtown Albany. This splendid venue was the perfect location to welcome in the Christmas week with a solid American classic. As RJR often points out, many Catholic values are woven into the tale. We started the evening out by meeting up with friends at the newly opened Brown Derby located directly across the street from the Palace. Much like the film, this restaurant and bar epitomizes the Golden Age of Hollywood when dressing up meant a hat and tails not Juicy Couture sweats and a Tiffany heart pendant with Uggs. I had determined this was a worthy event to debut my new holiday dress, a vintage 50s black dress from 272 Vintage Fashions in Troy.

The dress has a more auspicious occasion planned. RJR, K, and I are headed to see My Morning Jacket at Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve and the attire is vintage black tie. The preferred garb is Victorian I think, but try finding anything of that period in my size and you will be in for a hunt. Several attempts before I finally settled on the dress and not the look. My plan for that night is to pull together an ensemble with up do worthy of Joan Holloway from Mad Men. More to follow on that event and the associated preparation. The brother has already been looking for a top hat and cane, while the boyfriend successfully located a vintage black suit. Cannot wait for that night.

Anyway, Friday we were slammed with a massive snow storm so I ended up in riding boots and a long wool skirt that kept me much warmer than the shorter, hipper dress I had planned. And now on to the rest of my baking and making and wrapping of gifts with Bedford Falls' rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" still echoing in my mind.

Friday, December 19, 2008

new artform

I have ventured into many areas of art and design, but until this week I've never jumped into jewelry making. However, when I was selling at giveHANDMADE I was placed next to two women who make lovely necklaces and earrings and they convinced me to give it a try. $15 worth of supplies later, I am into it. Some modest earrings to begin with. Nothing too elaborate yet. I am fairly sure that I have some bracelets with beads that could work and other beaded necklaces that could be dismantled and recycled into more fashionable pieces. A lot of this has been trial and error trying to determine what hangs nicely, how big is too big, and what combination of beads work together. Troy has a bead store overflowing with options and Little Falls recently added one as well. I have a feeling this is going to be a fine indulgence for months to come. Competition for the knitting and drawing.

As you can see from the photos my camera and I are still battling over the zoom function.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

happy birthday to you

Today is my father's birthday. He is one of the most generous, compassionate, warm-hearted people I know. Add to that the fact he is incredibly skilled in all things mechanical, technical, and electrical and you can imagine why people think my mom is married to a prince. His humor is legendary, albeit reliant on recycled jokes from when we were kids. And his ability to laugh at his own humor for hours is in itself amusing. Happy Birthday D-A-D! (He also loves the film Juno--that should give you an idea of his affection for me, forever his baby girl--being the only daughter has major perks.)

Here he is with my mom in northern England appreciating the landscape. What a world traveler!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

winter words

Winter: A Dirge
Robert Burns (1781)

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfill,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want—O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!—
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

green and growing

So little green this winter season. Yet on my windowsill there is a glimpse of what is to come.

Monday, December 15, 2008

modestly festive

I am not an over the top holiday decorator. Nor do I like to pour my hard earned dollars (yes sitting at a computer all day in excel is hard work) into temporary bits of glitz and glam. When I do decorate, I prefer it to be subtle, natural, and at best cheap, if not altogether free. I don't have plans to host a Christmas party this year, but I did have a dinner party for work colleagues on Monday and spent much of last Sunday getting the place ready for the season.

Digging through my fabric stash, I came across three yards of well made wool plaid. (Purchased with sister-in-law J at our favorite off the beaten path thrift store fabric stash in Fairport, NY) By this I mean yarn dyed and woven, not printed plaid. The texture is a perfect contrast to the spiky pine branches, shiny ornaments, and rugged grapevines I also intended to include. I also had recently purchased two round bowls for 25 cents a piece at a thrift store in Little Falls--one a deep walnut stained wooden bowl and the other a shallow glass bowl. Both about the same size. With a trip to Michael's to gather the $3.99 grapevine wreaths, a handful of berries at $.49 a branch, and one tin of silver and white ornaments from Rite Aid, I was able to assemble an array of decorations. I should add that some of the ribbon I already had on hand, recycled from other projects.

I also cut out snowflakes while watching my TV on the internet one night and hung them mobile style from the dining room chandelier. These got a lot of attention at the party. Apparently most people haven't done these snowflakes since they were kids. I, uh, cut some every year. Something magical about making a few cuts on a cone shaped fold of simple copier paper and unfolding it to find an intricate pattern of lacy petals.

All told, with the tree lugged in by RJR, the lights, and the other crafty purchases, I spent just over $100 to get the house in shape. I am thinking that I love the simple festiveness of the plaid so much I will try to find a new wool plaid each year. By cutting pieces off and adding bits here and there, I have a constant theme throughout the house. Each year the plaid could emphasize a new color, red, blue, green, gold, ivory...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

back to knitting

With giveHANDMADE concluded and all of my Christmas gifts made--except the food stuffs that must wait until that week--I am able to return to knitting. The green scarf is nearly complete, perhaps one more TV show or movie timelength to go. The handwarmers in ivory are not so close. In fact, Friday when I ventured out in the aftermath of the storm, I landed at a local coffeeshop to knit fire side. I've been frustrated with the quality of my stitches with the double-ended needles and decided to bind off and have a one wrist cuff. Stylish huh? Rocking the 80s in finely knit alpaca/wool blend. I am determined to begin again. But then it was the whole casting on thing that stumped me before. Oh well. The project fits nicely in a bag made by S and I think I will be taking it with me to any number of locations in the coming weeks of holiday cheer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

yes, winter

Remember how I said it was officially winter now? Well, I was not lying. Thursday and Friday we were slammed with a huge ice and snow storm. Nearly 150,000 people lost power and once grand trees are laying in heaps of branches on sidewalks. Many in my office worked from home yesterday. I happened to be one of the few in Troy who kept electricity all night and all day. Around 4PM I decided I'd done my time--what with no coffee breaks, chats with colleagues, or gratuitous email--and headed out to the streets to survey the damage. As much beauty as tragedy it appeared to my eye. Gorgeous crystal berries, sparkling trees, and ethereal glass forests. After sunset the images became even more graceful and produced an eerie creaking sound. My apartment remained largely intact although there is water damage from melting snow and ice that made its way around the roof drain pipes and in through a leak in the roof instead. A bit of a mess right now. Waiting for contractors to return and repair the cosmetics. In the meantime, I am enjoying the icy glow of winter sun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

officially winter

I consider the first weekend of December to be my winter kick-off. It is usually when I begin listening to Christmas music and when I fetch the tree. This year it also marked my participation in a handmade holiday event. The day turned out bitterly cold, but quite fun once I was inside and getting assembled. Absent the boyfriend or an extra set of hands, a few kind souls took pity on my pathetic jumble of boxes and baskets on the sidewalk and helped me lug my gear inside. The venue was excellent; being paired with the Farmers Market was perfect. I made some new friends and connected with some other like minded artisans. I cannot say enough good things about Troy.

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

snow and tree fetching

Unblemished snow met me this morning on the front steps. What a perfect snowfall for fetching a Christmas tree! After years of not having a tree in my own space, this year I will get to set it up in front of the apartment's sprawling bay window that faces the street. Now, instead of gazing longingly at others' twinkling magic from the street below, I will have my own magic to share with passersby.

First things first however. Must go on to church to sit with the K-1st crowd where we will be discussing the readings for the second week of Advent--preparing the way.

Friday, December 5, 2008

last minute mania

That post about creative energy at the last minute, yeah, a bit optimistic. More like bleary eyed crafting late into the night that in the morning looks like something your 7th grader brings home from home-ec. Eek. It seems that each new piece I try to add to my selection for Saturday is worse than the last. Tonight I have a holiday party at a co-worker's house and then it will be back to work until I stumble out to the Farmers Market tomorrow to set up for GiveHANDMADE. By myself. How did I miss the fact that RJR would be out of town for work and that I wouldn't have help to set up, much less give me a break from hosting my table to mingle? Oh well. As I often say when facing something looming, "by this time tomorrow it will be over." Not that I am not excited. I am. But seriously, I take on too much. All the time. Been trying to remedy this.

Will write about the aftermath tomorrow! I am sure that there will be many lovely indy crafters there that will dull the pain of my pathetic booth. Be well and happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

crazy about these

Soft pretzels. Not the large oily twists you find at the mall that smack of preservatives and chemicals. No, compact, fresh doughy twists mastered in Philadelphia's storefront bakeries. There is now a Philly Pretzel factory franchise in the capital district. See here for details. Walking into a strip mall is not quite the same as sidling up to a truck in Center City, pushing past the construction workers to get your 30 cent pretzel or showing up at 5AM outside the Ben Franklin pretzel bakery under the El in Kensington to purchase 300 salty sticks for the youth basketball play-offs, yet it might satiate my cravings. I might buy a few dozen to freeze. Wow, now I'm hungry.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Lots to do before this Saturday's giveHANDMADE event in Troy. I did some sewing over the weekend, but not nearly enough. The last minute rush is kind of a good feeling though, creative energy and all that. Plenty of people are taking the pledge this year, how about you?