Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christians Never Say Goodbye

This afternoon I attended a memorial mass for a friend's father, who died 5 years ago.  For me, now, any memorial mass for a parent touches very close to home, and I found myself reflecting on Momma's death, too.

I saw my friend and her mother in the front pew, and I could tell my friend was crying. I thought of Momma's funeral and my family in the front rows.  Daddy, me, Taylor, Vivian. My sister Summer's family. Ray and his family; Bethany and her family.  I remembered how good it was to have so much of my family there beside me, feeling our loss all together.  It was easier to bear the pain when I could hold Vivian's hand or cling to Daddy's arm.  It was more comforting to bury my face in Taylor's shoulder than into my handkerchief alone.

When I first faced the fact that my mother was dying, I thought of my friend, whose father also died from cancer.  She is an only child and I remember thinking to myself, "She only has her mother left to remember her father from her childhood."  I wasn't judging her or her parents for having a "small" family; I wasn't trying to congratulate myself for having "so many" siblings.  It was merely an observation I had at the time, wrapped all about with the coming loss of my mother.  I was especially thankful for my siblings, then, and for my nieces and nephews who had known Grandmama while she was with us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nantucket Cranberry Relish

As promised, here's my favorite recipe for Thanksgiving cranberry-ness .

  • there's no cooking involved
  • you can make it several days (even weeks) ahead of time--the longer it sits the better
  • since there's no cooking, all the natural enzymes of the fruit are intact and help you digest all that turkey
  • it's way tasty

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Yep. That's me. Not sure why, today, but it remains the case, despite my best efforts.

Ok, maybe not my best efforts. In fact, maybe not any efforts.

I should probably go work on that.. maybe a Harry Potter movie might help.

Well, Happy Sunday anyway :P

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The first year Taylor and I were in Boston, he worked a lot on the weekends at a church in Belmont.  He was gone all day on Sundays and often a good deal on Saturdays.  So I had a lot of time on my hands.  I filled the hours with crafting, mostly, and I made an Advent Calendar for us.

I had grown up with a felt calendar which my grandmother had made for our family.  It was so exciting to take turns every day pulling each new ornament out of its numbered pocket and finding the perfect spot to snap it on the tree.  Each ornament had its own explanation, which we read from the little booklet disguised as a present under the felt tree.  It was so perfect for children.

Friday, November 26, 2010

HP 1, 2, 3.

In case you were wondering what we did today, there was a lot of sleeping in. a lot of sitting. a fair amount of eating leftovers. much movie watching--the first three Harry Potter movies, actually. popcorn eating. and chatting and laughing.

All in all, the perfect follow-up to an intense food-fest that went off successfully.

In fact, we pretty much looked like this all day:

I even mended a couple sweaters that had been sitting in my "need time to sit down to hand-sew to mend" pile for over a month.  So not a bad day, if you ask me :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks Giving

Thanksgiving was always Momma's favorite holiday.  She told me it was her favorite because all she had to worry about was food. And--let's be honest here (in case you haven't figured this out yet)--my family was really into food.

Especially Momma.  

And boy did she "worry" about the food.  Not that she stressed out about it, but she planned and planned for it. I think she really looked forward to the holidays all year long, planning for months ahead of time: stocking up recipes and thinking about what she'd make and how she'd serve it. She loved parties.

She had stacks of magazines with recipes she wanted to try.  Countless cookbooks were piled on her bookshelves. Her recipe box was stuffed with 3 x 5 cards.  Every year she'd try at least one new dish.  Usually, there would be several--sweet, savory, and cookie-y.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Little Luxuries

I recently started forcing myself to read more.  I wasn't not reading because I don't like it--really, I think I like it far too much.  But I have to force myself to read more because I always feel like reading is being lazy, that I should be doing something else..

I wasn't reading just more in volume, but more frequently, and a wider variety of books.  The adoption process was one cause, since part of our home study is reading books on certain topics of adoption.  Part of it was traveling a lot--it's always nicer to look at a thick stack of pages when the plane touches down, rather than unplugging my headphones from the TV jack and thinking "golly, what did I just do for the past 6 hours?"  So I've been reading. And it's been wonderful :)

But when I get home from work, and I'm tired, I find that all I want to do is make some popcorn or tea and sit down and read the afternoon away.  Of course, there's nothing really wrong with this :) but it does become a problem when one wants to do it every day and may (or may not) have actually succeeded in doing it for a week or two...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pause that Refreshes

A couple weeks back, pausing during Mass and looking ahead to a particularly busy week, I found myself distracted from the liturgy, thinking instead about the many and varied little things I had to accomplish before I would sit in that pew again.  It was going to be a very full week.

I thought, "If I can just make it through this week, next week will be easier. I'll just muddle through and then I can relax a bit."

I did muddle through the week, and I got (nearly) everything done I was supposed to finish.  But y'know what? The next week was almost as busy as the last one and I didn't get a chance to relax "unhindered" like I thought I would.  I felt a bit cheated. And quite exhausted. I had been so looking forward to a  rest later on that I missed opportunities to rest when I had them.  Does this happen to other people?  I sometimes feel like I'm the only person who (unrealistically optimistically) thinks busy-ness will subside occasionally and give me a break.  Perhaps I am.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hawaii--A Summary

So, you may be wondering what our Hawaii vacation was like.  If I were you, I'd be wondering, but (knowing myself as I do) I may not really want to hear about it because I'd be jealous.  But you're a much better person than I am, I'm sure, so I'll go ahead and share.

T's parents took the whole family to Hawaii for a week to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.  Most of the family arrived in HI on Thursday, but T and I didn't get there until Saturday afternoon.  As soon as we got there, we started to relax. It was almost as if our bodies could already feel the waves rocking us back and forth on the water, lulling us into a soft sense of loveliness.  It was my first time going to Hawaii; we stayed on the south shore of Kauai, right on Poipu Beach.

In fact, after just a few days there, swimming every morning, lunching, and swimming some more, I found that if I sat still, I was still being rocked by the waves. Back and forth, up and down. So peaceful.  I woke in the mornings to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore, perfectly in time with Taylor's breathing, who slept contentedly on my shoulder.

If there's one thing I take away from Hawaii, that could summarize my whole experience, it's that the ocean is a magical thing that sets the rhythm and pace of life there.  I understand, now, why T wants to be close to the ocean.  It's so easy to feel little in front of it.  It's big and mysterious and calming and magnificent.

Our week in HI was full and relaxing and wonderful.  We went hiking and swimming and touring and shopping and eating and beer tasting.  In summary, I'd have to say that I would go back, but I was also glad to get back home.  I truly loved it, but it's hard to think of Thanksgiving and Christmas when it's 85 and sunny and beachy outside :)

Enjoy the photos--hit me with questions!


Friday, November 19, 2010


Such a funny word, huh?  All-most. To be all of something that isn't quite. It's similar to being all muddy. Or all giddy.  Or all blue.  Right?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Baker In Me

I've always loved to bake.  I get it from my mother.  My earliest memories of her in the kitchen, especially around the holidays, were her baking.  She probably made something of everything over her lifetime.  Cakes, cookies, candy, baked decorations.. it was wonderful to see how she loved to make.

Her mother loved it too.  As Thanksgiving approached, Big Mom (that's what we called my maternal grandmother--she was, after all, from Texas) would start to bake sugar cookies. Batches of them! She carefully sorted through her two or three suitcases of cookie cutters, picking which ones she wanted to use that year, and she'd mix, chill, roll, cut, bake, and store the cookies for days on end. Then she would put her kids to work frosting them.  There were plain cookies and imprinted cookies and all shapes and sizes (we have a tree cookie cutter from her stash that's nearly a foot tall), turkeys, pumpkins, santas, stockings, even full nativity set figures.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ok, fellow eaters of the world. Here it is, less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, and I have yet to nail down which recipes I definitely want to do.  I have quite an arsenal at the ready, but I don't know what to do.

The turkey, for a brief moment, was hovering between a maple-butter turkey which Momma made for Viv's birthday dinner one year (which was. delicious.) and a boned turkey a la Julia Child.  I still really want to try a boned turkey, but with 10 people coming to dinner chez Black, I think I'll stick with something I know this time 'round.  I was settled on the maple turkey, herbs and all (and more patience and planning this time).  And then... (oh, that infamous little word), I found this turkey from Joanne Chang.

Now, it may not look like much to the un-initiated eye, but really, this woman is the ultimate in amazingly tasty foods.  You've heard me talk about Myers + Chang before, and you've heard me rave about Flour Bakery + Cafe.  And I'm only now discovering she does Thanksgiving?!  I think I would eat anything this woman cooks.

But then I love this stuffing and these sweet potatoes and I'd love to do a soup like this (especially for Vivers), and there will be mashed potatoes and gravy and the Nantucket cranberry relish I made last year (though this one from Joanne looks amazing, too).  I'm even thinking of adding other-than-starch vegetables this year :-o  Like this salad, and then I saw her carrots and her pickles.  I don't know what to do!

Thoughts? Suggestions?  Do you think a soy-sauce turkey will conflict too much with other, more traditional flavors on the table?  If I did Joanne's turkey, what other of her recipes do you think I should definitely make? What ones of my more traditional ones?  Dare I ask what your favorite recipes for Thanksgiving are?

I realize I'm only be acerbating the problem with more recipes, but I'm a recipe junkie. What can I say? :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Tangible

Fall has always been such a sense-filled time of year for me.  There's the change in the air, the crunch of the leaves, the holiday cooking smells that begin to waft from the kitchen, the lessening daylight and cozy indoor evenings, and the smell of burning leaves or wood fires in the chill air when you step outside.  The season of fall is all about preparing, storing up, buckling down, and bundling up. Preparing for the holidays, storing up the season's bounty, buckling down to the work of the new school year, bundling up against the looming winter chill.

Slicing a squash in half and scooping out the goopy seeds with a spoon, I was struck by the tangibility of the season.  I soaked the seeds in some water, methodically loosening the squash "gunk," straining, rinsing, and separating the seeds, and dried them off.  They stuck wickedly to the towel, so I ended up having to brush the sticky-seeds off with my hand, and then off my hand into the pan.  I stirred them around in some oil, salt, and pepper, tasting my fingers to make sure the spice was correct, and put them in the oven [275, till crispy].  I love the smell of roasting seeds.  Roasting anything, really--chicken, apples, tomatoes, beets.  All that flavor sealed in to burst at the right moment in my mouth. Perfection. So Fall.

Of course, other seasons are tangible, too. In fact, everything has that sense-full aspect to it.  Padding softly through falling snow, wrapping mitten'd hands around a mug of hot cider; or feeling the first warmish sunshine of early spring on your face, smelling the green things popping up through the ground; even something as unpleasant as sweat dripping down the middle of your back as you walk to work on a hot summer morning brings us sharply into the awareness of our physicality. Our own tangibility.

What a joy to be touch-able, to feel things and see them and smell them and hear them.  To come to know things through the real experience of them, making the idea of them palpable. Memories stirred up from childhood of mounds of crispy roasted pumpkin seeds, freshly salted, recalled themselves to my mind slicing open that squash, peering inside at the promise of spring.  Slowly and steadily, as I washed and seasoned and baked the seeds, the memory and anticipation of Delicious approached until the warm seeds where in my hand, popped into my mouth, and crunched down into reality in a burst of salty-roasted Goodness.  What a beautiful gift our senses are.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Oh--Hello November

So, remember last year when it was NaBloWriMo in November?  (A cursory look seems to indicate it was October this year.. oops).  Well, I so enjoyed a reason to write everyday that month that I fully intended to do it again this year.

And then I was in Hawaii with my husband's family on November 1st and y'know what? It completely slipped my mind :)  Which is understandable, I think (wait till you see the pictures--I think you'll forgive me, too).

But hey Byzantines:  guess what--Philipovka is just around the corner! When did this happen?! I was thinking about Kris Kringle presents last evening and I realized: HOLY MOLEY NOVEMBER 15 IS ON MONDAY!  You might think all-caps is unnecessary, but I was more than a bit taken aback.

Philipovka means the beginning of the nightly meal prayers, and the advent wreath and the red cloths on the icon corner.  I have to get out my felt advent calendar and start snapping little ornaments on the tree. It means I need to get my act in gear for Christmas presents and to start (really start) thinking about Thanksgiving.  It means, to put it succinctly, that the year is almost over.  I'm not sure I'm ready for that.

Though still, to my mind, the end of the year is always such fun with all the holidays and the presents and the cooking and baking and eating, oh! the eating.  I love the Christmas season for the same reason I love the Easter season--it's so centered around the senses--a truly tangible holiday:  the smells of baking, or leaves outside, the touch of the well know Christmas decorations in my hands as I unwrap each one and hang it up; the soft glow of lights on the tree and the sight of a beautifully set table ready for a party.  These things remain with me closely.

And I find myself wanting to slow the year down a bit, to savor its ending just a little more this year..

Back to blog writing months.. I've worked out a compromise.  I'll blog every day during Advent.  That is, during Byzantine Advent, which is Philipovka, starting November 15.  Blogging every day will, at least, help me realize the passing of days, which may not slow time down, realistically, but it will help me appreciate the days more.

And that's important, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've been working till 5 this week.  This is a bad time of year to start working until 5, I think.  Not only have I just returned from the blissful doing-nothing of Hawaii, but add in the time change on Sunday and it's a recipe for a mopey me as I watch the sun set sitting at the desk answering the phone.

Of course, I know I have no room to complain, so I'm really not asking for sympathy (honest, Viv).  But it kinda puts a damper on the 365 project if you wake up late, rush to work, and don't get out until it's dark. I mean, there are really only so many things at home I can take pictures of :)

So when I happened to look up from the computer yesterday as the sun was setting, and noticed the intense pink and purple light show outside, I grabbed my camera and temporarily abandoned the phone.

It was brilliant. Beautiful. Stunning.

And I may not have noticed it if I had been at home.

So I guess there's always something to be grateful for, huh?


Can I admit that I'm kinda proud of myself?  I mean, even though I haven't posted a whole lot on a regular, consistent basis (so much for new year's resolutions, huh?), I've done a wordless photo a week consistently :) That's something, right? It's a start!

I started the wordless thing as an exercise in restraint. To practice not over-explaining my photos or my ideas. To let the picture tell the story. To inspire your imagination.  But I have a confession to make (at least, I think it's a confession--maybe it's more of an Announcement):  I don't like adding titles or descriptions to any of my photos now.  

Well, alright, I do add descriptions to some of them, and I do at least title others.  But when I come to a situation like this, where the photos could all be titled the same thing, or the same one or two things, I think my inherent laziness comes out and I say "oh, you know it's a ginkgo branch." And I leave you to it.

Is that freedom? Is it artistic? Is it really just laziness?

Well... whatever :)


to Annie
from K.K.

It's not the same when I type it out.  If you want the full effect of the memory those words have for me when I think of them, they have to be in Momma's handwriting, scrawled in pencil on a Christmas gift tag, attached to an evidently hurriedly-wrapped present found on my pillow in the morning.

Kris Kringle presents were just one of the traditions Momma kept during Advent.  I recall, over the years, we did many things through the Catholic grade school we all attended.  Mostly it was a Jesse tree, which we'd color and cut and paste and decorate at school the last week of November and bring home to keep track on throughout December. There were also the paper chains--do you remember those? Each day's paper link had something helpful to do on it.  But it was our domestic church traditions that are most important to me.

Like those Kris Kringle presents.  Now, I could be romanticizing my past, but I seem to recall we got the best KK presents on the coldest, windiest days of the year, when we were most reluctant to get out of bed.  One morning (probably during Kindergarten), I remember waking up and, looking around, perceiving that it was not in fact Christmas yet, I immediately pulled the covers over my head to go back to sleep.  [Sometimes, I still wish I could do that.]

But, there were still those presents that Kris Kringle (who wrote just like Momma...) left for us as the anticipation grew. They were always rather small presents, nothing too elaborate.  Sometimes it was just a candy or treat wrapped up for us. On Sundays, there was a family gift--something we could all share and enjoy.  Sometimes it was a box of tasty Christmas chocolates, or delicious cookies.  Sometimes it was a beautiful Christmas book, which we would read as a family later that night.

In the evenings on the four Sundays of Advent, Momma would gather us around the dining room table which was always laid, quite simply, with the advent wreath and candles.  It was a gigantic wreath.  I have faint memories of it going with the (artificial) Christmas tree we had for years, but I can't be sure.  All I remember was that it was pokey and big and very green and huge. And it was the very first Christmas decoration we got out every year.  There was a white, 5-candle holder that fit nicely inside it, holding our purple and pink candles.  Momma always had a white candle for the middle, to light on Christmas eve.

So we would all stand around the table, holding hands, all the lights turned off except the candles.  The first week, Vivian lit the candle. The next week, I got to light two.  Bethany lit three the next week (she got to light the pink candle! Pink because the third Sunday means we're almost there. Christ is almost here!) and Summer lit four the Sunday before Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we'd come home from church and Ray would light all five candles (five, Vivian and I thought, that's a whole lot of candles. I wish I could light that many).

And, holding hands, we would sing. [No, not the song from the Grinch] :)  We sang an ancient hymn, blending our voices in the soft glow of candle light, letting the still, silent darkness wrap our melody round with holy waiting.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!  And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  

This seems to be the season for remembering traditions.  This is time of year when families gather and spend time together, close inside against the cold.  History emerges from dusty attic boxes; it comes to light at the bottom of a hot cocoa mug.  Tradition and historicity cannot be ignored during the holiday season, as they can much of the rest of the year.  But I say it is a blessing that we cannot hide it.

We can't ignore our past stories. We should seek to understand them and pass them on.  Maybe if they make sense, we'll feel more inclined to hold on to them.  I know I will keep mine close, especially as my family grows, and I have my own little ones to tell stories to.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010