spicy holiday granola

Be attentive lest you miss the grace that passes before you, whether as small as a single birdsong or as broad as the rising sun of your own life restored. Be grateful, lest these pearls have been thrown to swine. And be ready to speak of it in the grandest or simplest words or deeds. You have not invented your own hope; it has sprung, green and living, from the grace that has rained upon you, has welled up from deepest springs, has come to you in steadfast rivers.
~ Steve Garnaas-Holmes

The winter sun is pouring through the kitchen windows as I type these words. The temperature outside hovers around 20 degrees, as warm as it will get today. With six inches of powdery snow on the ground, the world looks frosted, ready for Christmas. I’m trying to ready my spirit, too.

All month I’ve been making lists, crossing things off lists, making new lists – grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists. Somehow the act of writing things down and crossing them out calms me, as if each small accomplishment or task completed brings me closer to. . .what exactly? The finish line?

Of course, the idea of completion is an illusion. There will be to-dos until the day when there aren’t, and I’m certainly not in any hurry to get there. Nor do I want to look at December 25 as the end of some silly holiday race.

So my challenge today, and every day this season, is to simply relax into the day’s doings, whatever they may be. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel. [continue…]

choosing joy

I’ve spent the last few weeks rummaging around in the basement, carting boxes of stuff off to Goodwill, decorating for the holidays, making granola and other gifts from the kitchen. When my mind is unsettled, I have a hard time sitting still. Better to put my body to work doing something physical that manifests visible results, whether it’s baking cookies or cleaning the shower drain (I did that this morning).

Still, it feels strange to be entering the holiday season, stringing lights and cutting greens, when there’s so little cause for celebration in the world at large and when so much of what we hold sacred (truth, democracy, and decency for starters) is under full-scale assault. To pay close attention to what’s happening in our country is to wrestle with painful realities most of us couldn’t have begun to imagine even a year ago. It is to open, as Annie Proulx recently observed, “a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.”

And yet, it is December, time in our house to put up a tree, to welcome grown children home, to bake cranberry bread and wrap gifts and gather with friends and family. What I always love most about these weeks before Christmas is the opportunity to connect with loved ones near and far, sending packages off in the mail, exchanging cards and holiday letters, lighting candles and gathering around crowded dinner tables. But this year feels different, as if the darkness of our human affairs has dimmed the lights of hope and faith and joy. [continue…]

spark joy
(and my go-to holiday recipes)

IMG_5882When our sons were young, there was no holding off Christmas. Henry, born December 18, absorbed holiday melodies in the womb, from “Jingle Bells” to the Messiah. His in-utero nickname was Bing, for Crosby, which morphed into Der Bingle after a visiting friend introduced us to the German diminutive. (Of course, we had no way of knowing then that music would turn out to be his “language” of choice but now, looking back, it seems almost pre-ordained; he arrived in a season of shimmer and twinkle, surrounded by love and borne into our arms on a wave of joyful noise.)

That year, in the final weeks of my first pregnancy and with a December due date looming, my husband Steve and I were organized in a way we’ve never been before or since: all our gifts bought and wrapped and shipped weeks in advance, a tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving; holiday cards mailed December first and a newly appointed nursery awaiting its tiny occupant. All was in readiness, every diaper and onesie neatly folded and stacked, every holiday ornament shining in its place.

Four days before Christmas we brought our precious newborn home from the hospital, dressed him up in the miniature velveteen Santa suit my brother had given him, and snapped our first family photo in front of the tree. [continue…]

Celebrating Valentine’s Day (stories, music, & two irresistible cookie recipes)

hearts“And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”   ~ Paul McCartney

Hearts:

When my sons were young, we always made Valentines.  It was a joy for me to join my boys at our old Formica table in the playroom and, for a few February afternoons each year, devote ourselves to frilly matters of the heart.

Of course, we went all out. Our supplies were bountiful: stacks of construction paper, doilies, paper hearts, pink ribbons, lace, glue sticks and lots of sparkly stuff.  And the lavish creations borne of our efforts pleased us greatly.  Valentine’s Day was easy to celebrate: cozy, hands-on, messy fun.  Love made visible.

I still have our old box of Valentine paraphernalia in the basement, though it’s been over a decade since the three of us made cards together and the glue sticks have no doubt turned rock-hard.  I considered the box briefly the other day: should I carry it all upstairs?  Sit down by myself and cut up a few red doilies for old times’ sake?  No, I realized, that would just feel weird. [continue…]

A glorious granola recipe (plenty to give & some for you, too)

jarsMy grandmother Kenison crocheted afghans and made the world’s best doughnuts, two skills I still wish I’d learned from her before it was too late.

She was also the first person I ever knew who made her own granola, back in the days when “health food” was considered a fad, “organic” might as well have been a foreign word, and the cereal boxes in our kitchen cupboard at home ran from Raisin Bran to Cap’n Crunch.

At least, on a visit years ago when I was newly married, I did have the foresight to write down Grammie’s recipe.  recipeAnd although I can’t present every member of our family with a hand-made afghan this Christmas as she once did, I am following in her footsteps. With the exception of books (I always give books!), most of the gifts I’m getting ready to wrap this year aren’t coming from stores.  They’re coming from me.

My granola isn’t exactly like my grandmother’s. I’ve taken some license with her original recipe over the years.  It’s fun to play with new combinations of ingredients, and it never turns out quite the same twice anyway.  (She liked carob powder in hers; lately, I’ve been experimenting with cardamom in mine.) The one thing I always do, though, is make a lot.  And it’s always delicious.  I think of my grandmother every time I start gathering the ingredients, and I feel happier creating something simple from scratch than clicking a “buy now” button on my computer or wandering through stores looking for the “perfect” gift.

As I type these words, the smells of maple and cinnamon and cardamom are still lingering.  [continue…]