Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011

Am I supposed to do a New Years Eve post? Full of the wit and wisdom I’ve accumulated over the last twelve months and containing nuggets of hope and inspiration for the upcoming year? Yeah, good luck with that. Plus, can I just say that 2011 wasn't that great a year for me or many people I know. It kind of blew and I'll be more happy than sad to see it go. Onward and upward.

I’m not a resolution person because they feel made to be broken and then make you feel bad about yourself. And because I’ve already hit you hard with inspiration and loving kindness in my Christmas Eve post I’ll simply close the year with what’s in my head right now. Don’t be scared.

I hope to let go of all that which does not serve me, lean into the moment, embrace uncertainty because it’s the only certainty out there, and find the path that will make me the best version of me possible.

Here’s hoping you all have safe celebrations and that 2012 brings more positives than negatives.

p.s. thanks to all of you who follow this blog or read me regularly- it means alot. And not in a stalkerish kind of way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Talkin' to Me?

Flashback to 6pm Christmas Day in Denver Colorado. Upstairs a flurry of activity (which I am studiously avoiding) indicates that dinner of regal proportions of forthcoming. My brother sleeps on the couch. My sister-in-law has provided me with a glass of rose champagne and I’m hiding in the downstairs family room with this scene behind me.

Are they related? Do they love each other? Do they even like each other? Do they only see each other once a year? Yes to all of the above but in this techno world they’re hooked up to earbuds and headphones (now so old school they’re back again) watching movies on newly received Kindle Fires and iPads and listening to music on iPod-nano watches. Am I even speaking English anymore?

I could delve into the implications of a generation that knows each other through Facebook (one niece was given an account as her greatest wish for Christmas. By 7:30am she had sent me a FB invite and by 4:30 had over 60 friends). And yet…and yet. They play hide and seek, laugh and elbow each other, shriek over old photos of their parents and beg to be told stories about their parents’ misspent youth. Isolation and togetherness.

For some of us it’s all right- I sat and typed away, comfortable in my own head but for others it’s profoundly discomfiting. My mother moved from room to room asking questions and wanting to interact but not only unable to understand the technology but uninterested. What she really wanted was someone to sit and talk to her about their deepest thoughts and feelings. For people like her there is no substitute for the human voice.
Is this shift better or worse? Will this generation be able to truly connect with each other and the world at large? Or, like lovely penmanship, is talking going to become an antiquated form of communication? Will personal isolation become the norm and all socializing be done online? The clack of keys replacing conversation?

Asked as she typed this post while her husband cooked nearby listening to a podcast…

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Christmas Story

Briefly: 2007, I’m unemployed for the first time, living in Utah which was not a good place for me to be for any number of reasons. My unemployment benefits ran out in September 2007 and my stress over money and my situation was all consuming. The only thing greater was my belief that I had to get out of Utah. A dear friend lived in Portland and offered me his apartment for the Christmas holidays. I drove there in eight hours and there our story begins. Rather then work from my memory here is my actual journal entry from December 24, 2007 (it’s a bit long but don’t give up, OK?):

7:35pm: I can only try to explain what has happened to me tonight. I found a restaurant two days ago that was lovely and looked just special enough for Christmas Eve dinner alone. It’s called Serratto on the corner of 21st and Kearney. Blonde wood, lots of candles, high ceilings, wine bottles along the wall. Everything warm and glow-y. I arrived early tonight because the shops closed at 5 not  6 as I had hoped. Still, they had a table ready and I was seated. It was a table for two near the back half of the restaurant but with a view of the bar and the windows to the outdoors. My waitress was very nice and I decided to go with a split of champagne for dinner. At first she came back and said unfortunately, they were out of the kind I chose. I said I would think about a split of wine. She said she would bring me a glass of champagne on the house while I thought about it. Then another woman (the hostess, I think) came by and said they’d found more of the champagne, what would I like to do? I went with it. There was a table of 6 next to me and they were quite nice as neighbors. One of the women seemed to own her own shop and the older gentleman was 80- I couldn’t quite get the dynamic- but I was almost comfortable enough to join them. In between my salad and my entrĂ©e a woman came in and was seated across from me at another table for two. She looked a bit like Diane Keaton with streaked short hair, very well put together. I thought we must be in the singles row. She pulled out a book and started reading. I noticed that she did the same things I do to keep her hands free- balance a knife or saucer on the spine of the book to hold it open. Our meals progressed with me enjoying my champagne and a rack of lamb. I was completely in the moment, happy to listen to the people next to me, watch the people around me, and enjoy my surroundings. I looked at this woman on and off and thought that it could be me in 10 years and that would be just fine. She was happy being alone. On the bar a man had his glass of beer aligned in such a way that the flame from the votive nearby looked as if it was flickering inside the glass. I was a bit mesmerized.

After my meal, I decided to go for it and order pear and fig bread pudding. The woman across from me got up to leave and went to the back bar with the waitress to pay her bill. I saw them talking but thought nothing of it. The bread pudding was delicious and I ate what I could but not all. I was pleasantly buzzed and completely contented. The waitress came over to clear my plate and said, “I have something to tell you.” I asked what and she asked if I noticed the woman across from me. I said yes and hesitated. She said, “Well, she paid for your entire meal, including my tip. You can leave whenever you want.” I was stunned and could not speak. Finally I said, “What? What do you mean? Why would she do that?” She said the woman told her that I looked happy and was taking care of myself by ordering champagne and dessert. Then she said that the woman said, “She reminds me of myself when I was younger.” I almost freaked out. I touched the waitress’ arm and said, “No! I was looking at her thinking that could be me in 10 years and I would be just as happy.” She agreed, asked my name, told me hers was Heather and said she understood because she was an only child. By now both of us were crying lightly. I said I could not believe someone would do something like that. She said it was Portland, that people were kinder and nicer here. That it was a magical place. She asked if I was from here and I gave her a brief rundown on my situation. I asked for the woman’s name and she said she might be able to get it from the receipt but I did not pursue it. Her first name is Nan. The woman had told her to cover my bill before my bill came knowing that I might not accept so it was what it was. We talked for a bit more and I offered my Visa for a tip but she said she was very covered and that was all right. Then we welled up again, squeezed hands, and I got up to leave. I got outside and started to cry. Soon big heaving sobs. Who would do such a kind thing for a stranger? I have an obligation now to share that, pass it along. I am deeply deeply touched and grateful.

There is a lesson here but I can’t quite get to the core of it. On the one hand I want something desperately but cannot obtain it. On the other, when I least expect it I am given amazing gifts. What does it mean?

So I am satiated with delicious food and champagne and humbled by a stranger’s generosity. What a day. I feel as if I need to go off somewhere and contemplate this. There is something here to learn; something very important.

A lovely little miracle, right? All true. I hope each and every person reading this has something wonderful happen to them VERY soon. Even if it's tiny as long as it gives you hope and makes you feel loved.


Source: via Catherine on Pinterest

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Walk

This post might also be titled How You Know You Have Too Much Time on Your Hands if only because this little ‘project’ amused me mightily. In fact, I’m still grinning about it and hope it will make others, people I don’t even know, smile too.

Let’s begin. By and large, I’m a sloth but recently I’ve started taking nature walks 3 days a week to help deal with stress and my inability to sleep. It was either that or coerce my doctor into writing a Vicodin prescription which would mean arm wrestling her and she’s mean. So, I’ve been taking these lovely jaunts through a wetlands nature preserve near the library where I volunteer.

Now we’re going to get corny…I really love it. There are few, if any, other people, the landscape changes from stream to pond to marsh to open space with bamboo, cat tails, pine trees, holly and tall grasses. I’ve heard a rooster (no idea where he lives) and seen muskrats and a snake (and didn’t scream or throw rocks).

Every time I walk I see something new and beautiful. I feel gratitude and contentment. With the holidays going full swing I decided I wanted to give back a little something to this wild place. I’m not going to get into some metaphysical dissertation but I believe everything alive likes to feel appreciated and maybe with something more than my whispered thanks at the end of each walk. Because even though they may not be commercially grown or aesthetically perfect all of these trees are alive and trying. They’ve weathered winds and floods, soil erosion and stupid people (carrying that empty beer bottle to the nearest trash can is exhausting) and still continue to grow and try to thrive. After this year I know what that’s like. It’s tiring and to have some recognition of how amazing you are means a lot. And if it makes you feel pretty with a little bit of bling even better.

Here is: Thank You to My Favorite Place


Lanky dude- I had to bend the branch to get the ornament up there but neither he or I were hurt.

This guy wins the Charlie Brown award- look at that big bright tree behind him and he's well...just not quite there yet.

A fringed sleeve pointing

I love the creek that runs through the preserve and really wanted to see a splash of color working its way along. Before you get in a snit, its not litter- I scooped it out after the photo.

Just a lovely mossy branch, a shiny globe, and the lunatic who thought it would be fun to decorate the trees.
The End.


If you’re near Fanno Creek in Tigard, Oregon anytime in the next few weeks look around. Pay attention. You might find even more beauty than you expected. I always do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Expectations

Tuesday evening and the gifts have all been bought, the house decorated, and Christmas treats baked. The mall and post office have been braved and conquered. All the things that need to happen for Christmas have been accomplished but soon the hard part begins; the part that includes the expectations (oh-so-many expectations). Gathering at this time of year is as freighted with meaning for families as Valentine’s Day is for lovers.

By that I mean, the expectation that something magical and profoundly different will happen when a group of people related by blood get together at this time of year. So many family members, be it mother, sibling, father, grandparent, spouse put onerous standards of togetherness onto what is usually a brief span of time (not including what you spend in delays at the airport or on the road). The result is frayed nerves, short tempers, and always ALWAYS someone being disappointed or hurt. Either a conversation was left unsaid, a song unsung, a ‘cherished’ activity undone, a photo not taken. It is seldom that reality and expectation connect and that’s why it’s called life. It’s messy and cranky and silly and tired and fun. And it should be enough.

So here’s to the fact that my brothers will continue to call me Beavis and blame me for farting in front of their kids (as if!) when it was them, my mother will stress over every detail of everything, my sisters-in-law will float graciously through the days making nice with everyone (except the snarky one who has the a wicked sense of humor- you know who you are), and my nieces and nephews will make me smile because they’re all almost as tall as I am and so worldly, sweet, and young. I’ll keep smiling, without expectation, and in hopes of deflecting those of people who need something else or something more. This is what we have. This is who we are. Family.

What about you? Do you have expectations for the holidays or do you have to deal with others? Is it a stressful time or relaxed?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor- Holiday Bling Extravaganza

You had to know I couldn't let this one pass by without comment! Last week another chapter in the legend of Elizabeth Taylor was closed with the Christie’s auctions of her jewelry, clothes, and artwork and memorabilia. The jewelry raised $115 million dollars which would have made Taylor smile. She was a woman who appreciated bling and made sure that every man who paid homage to her did so with rare gems. The collection was of a size, quality and variety to rival a queen’s which is most likely how she viewed it. For that, I respect her. She knew her worth and it went far beyond jewels as evidenced by her copious philanthropic work in the fight against AIDS (a portion of the auctions' proceeds are going to her AIDS foundation). So, in this season of gifts and giving and all things bling-y here are just a few of the amazing pieces that have gone off to new owners. I’d love to have been one of them but am not sure what goes with sweatpants. Or do emeralds go with everything?

A 55 carat cabochon sapphire suspended on a pave diamond and sapphire chain. Sold for $5.9MM

Rectangular cut emerald set in platinum. Sold for $3.3MM

La Peregrina- a 55 carat, 11 gram 500 year old natural pearl once owned by Mary I. Added as a pendent to this ruby, diamond and cultured pearl necklace. Sold for $11.8MM

This necklace and ring above were given to Taylor by Richard Burton as a wedding gift the first time they got married. The set also included a bracelet and earrings made by Bulgari. Sold for $6.1MM

The Taj Mahal
A heart-shaped diamond set in a red stone, jade and diamond mount on a gold and cabochon ruby Cartier chain with tassels. The diamond is circa 1627. Sold for $8.8MM

This I do know- a tiara goes with everything. This one was a gift from Mike Todd and is made from mine-cut diamonds, circa 1880. Sold for $4.2MM

Are you a jewelry person? Any particular gem that calls to you- even if you don't own one? Even with fakes- what do you like?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Decorating- Not So Much

I’ve just realized that there are things at which I’d like to be good but which I am not. You’d think I would have figured it out when I didn’t make the Olympic swim team or become the editor of Vogue but those are from the years when I was dreaming big. This is something that should be a bit more attainable and yet, is not. I like to believe I have good taste and sometimes I do but the photos below proves it does not always extend to holiday decorating. This is what I loving call my hot mess of Christmas decorating. Or, for the first photo, to keep it arty: avant-garde deconstructionist Christmas. Before you assume I was drunk (not an unfair assumption in most cases), I was not.

The problem begins (every year) when I procrastinate and then go, “Holy hell, it’s December 12th I need to get the tree and house decorated.” Each year I am surprised that I don’t wake up one morning and find it all done. Seriously, once you’re not a kid with a 20’ wish list for Santa aren’t the elves supposed to stop by and decorate the house (leave cookies please!). Is that asking too much? I mean, if they don’t have the toys made by now it’s not going to happen. And I NEVER got the Barbie Big Head I asked for when I was 9 so I’m pretty sure I’m owed something here because I was very good that year.

You might also think that as I have scads of free time I would have gotten after this on Thanksgiving weekend. Again you’d be wrong despite the fact that every single year of my professional life I’ve said, “If I didn’t have to work I would have my house completely and perfectly decorated.” Again, a disconnect between what’s in my head and reality. Besides I was good to go and then some crazy cable station ran The Lord of the Rings trilogy uninterrupted for 48 hours. I can’t fight that!

Witty banter aside, what happened was this. Yesterday I finally forced myself to finish unloading the industrial size plastic bins of Christmas craft materials (read more on that here) that J hurled from the storage space in the garage onto the top of my car (yes, the Grinch was based on him). What I found is the same thing I find every year but once my oohing and aahing and ‘oh that’s so pretty’ is over, I’m finished. Here’s a partial inventory:

3 rolls of fancy embossed wire ribbon. There are probably 50 things you could do with it but that would mean taking off the plastic wrap that keeps it from unspooling and I’m not sure I’m ready for that commitment.

 Pretty right? And that's just one- plastic wrap intact.

3 28’ long plastic pearl garlands in red and gold. Two of these are woven artistically through the boughs in the ‘piece’ above which took a lot of time. That left me one which I was going to coil repeatedly around my neck as hip holiday jewelry but 28’ seemed a tad excessive and I was going out with fellow librarians who might, at some point, need to act as a job or character reference and the word ‘weird’ is not what I’m looking for (even if it would fly in Portland). Moving on.

2 (you thought I bought everything in 3s didn’t you? I CANNOT be labeled, all right?) strands of silver frosted snowflakes with a tiny light inside so they glow when plugged in. I’m fairly exhausted by this point so they’re draped artistically over the wine rack.

 The most interesting thing about this picture is that we have an unopened bottle of Ketel One in the house. WTF?

I imagine you’re getting the drift of things now. One, I don’t really understand what ‘draped’ or ‘artistically’ mean. And two, while I have an imagination so out of control I’m taking klonopin like Pez to stay calm it does not extend to holiday decorating. I’m admitting defeat- for now. Real defeat would mean giving away all these pretty things to someone who would use them and I’m not quite there yet. Next year, I’ll start earlier, I’ll make fresh pine wreaths, win the lottery...

How could I forget my favorite one? The barfing artistic draping of boughs and lights in front of candles atop an Ionic column (I may not know how to decorate but I sure as hell know my classic architecture, so there).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Recipe: Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

My second recipe in less than a month- don’t freak out. I’m not working, I don’t have kids so it was either bake something or send Christmas cards and at least I can eat some of whatever I bake whereas I don’t see any pay-off in writing cards. And yes, it may be the holidays but it is still all about me.

These biscotti are delicious and despite how difficult people think they are- they’re not. You just have to hang around while they bake which means…more TV time. Plus you don’t have to get cute with frosting and decorating, they’re simple elegance (i.e. I have a tendency to eat frosting out of the bowl and therefore can’t be trusted with those kind of recipes).

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

1 ½ C dried cranberries                 2 ½ C flour

1 C sugar                                     ½ t baking soda

½ t baking powder                        ½ t salt

3 large eggs                                 1 t vanilla

1 C salted shelled natural pistachios

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 t water to make egg wash

  • Soak cranberries in boiling hot water to cover in a small bowl until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, then pat dry with paper towels.
  • Preheat oven to 325˚. Butter and flour a large baking sheet.
  • Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well blended.
  • Add eggs and vanilla nd beat just until a dough forms. Add cranberries and pistachios and mix at low speed.
  • Turn out dough onto a well floured surface and knead several times with floured hands (dough will be sticky). Halve dough, then form into a 13-by-2-inch slightly flattened log on baking sheet, spacing logs about 3” apart. Brush logs with egg wash.
  • Bake in the middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut diagonally into ½” thick slices. Arrange slices, a cut side down, in 1 layer on baking sheet. Bake in the middle of oven, turning once, until golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

Gourmet December 2001

Friday, December 9, 2011

Frosted Morning

I’m on this walking kick- mostly because without it I’m moving at an ever increasing pace towards stress related mental implosion. Like those films you used to see in high school of protons, neutrons and electrons and they’re all whizzing around each other and then in nuclear fusion the particles move so quickly they ultimately bash into each other and KAPOW- destruction. At least that’s what I remember about it which is probably why I ended up as an English major in college.

Sometimes, though, the walk becomes so much more. I even stop walking, like today, a beautiful cold sunny morning after a night of hard frost. I was absolutely mesmerized by the frost dipped leaves on the sidewalks, each like a painting. When I find things like this in nature it’s one of the few times I can truly shut off the noise in my head. I guess that’s called focus, right? I’m immersed in what I’m seeing and hoping that I can capture it to share. It’s still and so am I.

Hammered copper?

I played with extra shadows when editing this, making the colors pop a bit more.

The arrival of sunshine first brings more glitter then ultimately turns Cinderella leaves back into a slippery soggy mess.

Towards the end of my trek I saw a perfectly shaped evergreen tree. It was over 6 stories tall and stood in Christmas tree perfection against the deep blue sky. Two elements: blue sky, green tree. Nothing more and nothing more was needed. I had my camera and was going to take a picture but didn’t think a photo could convey how perfectly right this tree was. I stood and looked at it and it stood and looked at me. I took a deep breath and knew that I will be taken care of. I don’t know how or when and my mind fights so hard that anxiety is a constant companion but when seeing something so serene and majestic I’m reminded of the ultimate beauty of the universe. Beauty is born of love not fear. I will be all right.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portland Shopping: Frock Boutique

If you’re like me and prefer buying gifts from small local shops with a unique flair then a store like Frock on NE Alberta Street would make you as happy as it did me. I stopped by on a sunny afternoon this week (which was a bonus) and was enchanted.

From the moment I walked into Frock I knew I was going to have fun. The shop is bright and filled with merchandise to appeal to women of all ages (even infants). Every table has just the right amount of cute, fun items- not so much you feel overwhelmed but enough to keep your interest and make you want to stay. I met owner Angie Heiney who explained that she and co-owner Ali Wykhuis have been running Frock for over 8 years with a focus on locally made, accessible and whimsical clothing and accessories. This is exactly what I want to hear because shopping at department stores or J. Crew doesn’t do it for me anymore. I want to give gifts that can’t be found anywhere else and I want to do it without breaking the bank.

Frock covers all price ranges and offers something for every female out there. After a thorough investigation I ended up with gifts for one niece and my sister-in-law (the SIL gift is SO cute I’d love to show it here but she reads my blog). The hard part was getting out of there without something for me but that’s called after-Christmas shopping.

These flower cuff bracelets are fabulous- why can't I be this creative?

You had me at Christmas tree made out of lollipops but lipgloss wrapped up like candies? And cupcakes? I'm in love (and no, I did not try and eat one of the cupcakes).

Lots of cute knits perfect for layering (the only way to go in Portland)

It's probably not polite to burst out laughing in front of strangers but then you shouldn't have such rude, funny magnets on display.

Funky oversized copper earrings

Skulls in pastels and flowers? SOLD!

I have nowhere to wear this but love anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

That Explains A Lot

Men produce 52% more serotonin then women do. It’s not feminine ‘weakness’ that accounts for our higher rates of depression, it’s a simple lack of chemicals. That and having to deal with men.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe: Winter Salad

photo by: Christopher Testani

As someone who thinks the four food groups are sugar, salt, fat, and chocolate no one is more surprised than me that I’m in love with this salad. Kale? Bitter and tough. Brussels sprouts? Smelly and gross.

This was pretty much the level of maturity I showed when J suggested making a salad to bring to Thanksgiving dinner last week. I didn’t actually say, “GROSS” but I’m not the best at hiding my emotions (the gagging noise didn’t help). Anyway, dear soul and gourmand that he is, he persevered by saying, “I want something bright with all that heavy food” so I shut up. His funeral, right?

Not really. This salad is so crunchy, fresh, tangy, and (damn it) healthy it’s crazy. While all the food we had that day was delicious (thank you, Michael!) this dish was the group favorite. Seconds were had by everyone and I felt so virtuous I ate both my piece of dessert and J’s.
If, like me, you think it has to have tomatoes to be a salad (I miss you guys!), this dish will change your mind.  Get over the Brussels sprout thing because I promise this is a salad you’ll love. And so good for you, you can have extra dessert.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot

  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced

  • 12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped (we used sliced almonds and toasted them)

  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino (or Parmesan)

  • Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
    Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
    Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Dressing, kale mixture, and toasted almonds can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover dressing and kale mixture separately and chill. Cover almonds and let stand at room temperature.
    Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

    Bon Appetit, November 2011

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