Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home [Making] for Christmas

For years now, I've owned a book entitled Home Comforts:  The Art and Science of Keeping House.  Its author is a former lawyer who always had a soft spot in her heart for the details of making and keeping a home beautiful and comfortable.  As a lawyer who would always rather be working around the house, I could totally relate to her obsession.  There's something about creating a soothing haven from the mean, crazy world that is so appealing to me.  

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that many of the items on my Christmas list related to cooking and homemaking.  And my family was happy to indulge my requests.

One of my projects this week has been to move all of my dry baking goods into new, stackable canisters in the pantry . . .

. . . to make room on the countertop for this beauty:

I can't overstate my excitement over this new mixer, courtesy of my in-laws.  (Thanks, Barb and Joe!)  David and I didn't register for a stand mixer when we got married, because frankly our kitchen is pretty puny.  I wasn't sure how much I'd actually use a KitchenAid, and I didn't want to sacrifice our limited counter space and cabinet space for something that wasn't going to get a regular workout.  

I've recently been stepping up my baking, though, and my hand mixer just wasn't cutting it.  I made basic chocolate chip cookies yesterday with the new mixer, and it was so . . . easy.  My arm wasn't sore afterward.  I was able to measure ingredients and cut parchment paper while the butter and sugar were creaming.  It was a dream.  Unfortunately for my waistline, I see many more baked goods in my future.

I also received a few books for Christmas to feed my ever-growing cooking and homekeeping obsession:

(and a new Bible, for good measure).  

One of my goals for next year is to cook far more at home than we have in the past, and I think it's safe to say I'm well-equipped to get started.  Who's coming over?

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Fitness of Presidents

There's been some talk of what good shape President-Elect Obama is in.  My initial reaction had been, "Good for him.  I wish I were in such good shape."  But my (almost immediate) second reaction was, "What's all the fuss about?  President Bush is extraordinarily fit, too."

What I hadn't realized, though, is that the same media that's gaga over the President-Elect's pecs has faulted President Bush for working out too much.  As Michelle Malkin puts it, "Fit Republican president = Selfish, indulgent, creepy fascist," while "Fit Democratic president = Disciplined, health-conscious Adonis role model."

Hardly a surprise, I guess.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet 'Keet

We had some sad news today.  The fact that I feel a little embarrassed about posting it is, I think, something of an insult to the subject of the sad news.

This morning I awoke to discover that my pet parakeet had died.

I've had him for eleven and a half years.  This little bird saw me through relationships good and bad, through law school, clerking, eight moves, and multiple jobs.  He was the darned happiest little bird, singing and chattering through anything.  He adored car rides, television, and his mirror.  David and I credited his longevity to his positive attitude.  

I always felt a little strange admitting to people that I had a parakeet.  It's a bit odd, not like having a dog or a cat.  My college roommates and I bought him the summer before my senior year, and I inherited him after graduation.  We'd wanted a pet, and we lived in an apartment that didn't allow more traditional canine or feline companions.  

We named him Halle.  He was so young when we bought him that we didn't know whether he was a girl or a boy (you can't tell a parakeet's gender until later, when the area above the beak turns either blue, indicating a male, or stays tan, indicating a female).  I was a religion major, and had a temporary obsession with giving pets religious names.  Halle was short for Hallelujah, and he certainly was one to praise each new day.  His name later caused considerable confusion regarding his gender-- even today I had family members refer to him as "she"-- but I assure you that he could not care less.  

Years ago, he was extraordinarily agile, and he'd fly from room to room in my small apartment, landing on curtain rods and unsuspecting guests' heads.  He (and a long-deceased companion, who lacked both Halle's happy outlook and his long life) chewed up the edges of many-a law school textbook, paperback novel, and even my old copy of Saint Augustine's Confessions.  

He'd been sick and weak over the last month or so, and I had a bad feeling that the end was near.  But really, what do you do for a parakeet of nearly-twelve?  Yesterday, he was out of his cage, sitting on my finger and enjoying having his head scratched.  This morning, he was quiet and still in the corner of his cage.  I woke up before David and found him, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry.  Is it crazy to cry over a parakeet if he's been in your home for a third of your life?  

I wrapped him up in tissue paper and placed him in a small, sturdy box.  (Incidentally, it was the Bottega Veneta box from the lovely wallet David gave me for a Christmas present.  The bird liked high quality, I tell you.)  We buried him out in the garden, under the statue of Saint Francis.  

If it's foolish to mourn a bird, then call me a fool.  I'll miss the little guy.  

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Faith & Family Live! Christmas Home Tour

Lisa Hendey over at Faith & Family Live! had a wonderful idea-- to share our Christmas decorations.  David and I waited until the fourth weekend of Advent to put up our tree, and I'd only put up the rest of the decorations the week before, so I'm happily enjoying the Christmas cheer now and at least through Epiphany.  

I'd always been in the early-decorating camp, but I must concede that postponing the Christmas decor really did help our Advent observance.  For much of December, we only had two decorations in our house:  the Advent calendar and the Advent wreath.  

The Advent calendar today, with all the days opened!  Strangely enough, we didn't even eat most of the candy I'd placed behind each door.  Almond Hershey's kiss, anyone?

Our Advent wreath on the fourth Sunday of Advent, lit as we decorated our tree.

On the last Saturday before Christmas, we set out at long last to procure the perfect tree.  Sadly, this turned out to be much more challenging than we had anticipated.

We'd heard that Saint Mary's school in Old Town, Alexandria, was selling trees, so we figured we'd help support the school by buying our tree there.  We called over to the parish around 4:00 to confirm that the tree sale was still going on, and they told us that they'd be at the school until at least 6:30.  We piled into my little SUV and headed over, but there were no trees to be found.  Anywhere.  It was as if there had perhaps been a Christmas tree mirage or something, because if there were ever any trees there, they'd completely vanished by the time we arrived.  There wasn't even a scrawny Charlie Brown-type tree or a smattering of pine needles in the parking lot.  

No matter, we thought.  We tried next at an Episcopal church near the seminary here in town, but once again-- no luck.  

We were a little disappointed by this time, but we figured we'd just rely on our old tree standby:  Home Depot.  Not as much fun as a real Christmas tree lot (and certainly not as much fun as cutting one down ourselves at the farm), but we were ready at this point to just get a tree into the car and get it home.

It was here that I began to believe that perhaps no good deed goes unpunished, and that we had postponed decorating for so long that we were going to end up tree-less.  Home Depot had no Christmas trees.  The entire garden center was chained shut, with the lights out and not a single spruce to be found.  Even though I feel a little silly saying this, I'd be lying if I didn't admit I almost cried at the thought of having no Christmas tree.  David and I love decorating the tree together, pulling out each ornament and remembering where we got it or who gave it to us.  We both have ornaments that our parents bought for us every year, dating back to the 1970s.  We've bought ornaments together on our vacations-- our honeymoon in Hawaii, a Caribbean cruise.  I have ornaments hand-sewn by my grandmother, who died this year, and our family friend Loretta has given David (and now gives us) a beautiful hand-painted porcelain ornament every year.  We love the smell of a real tree, we love sitting in the glow of the twinkle lights-- it just doesn't feel like Christmas without a tree.

Just as we were about to head over to another town to continue our search, I remembered the cute garden center near Old Town.  I suggested that we try there, not sure what we'd find.

Thankfully, what we found was a complete winter wonderland.  Trees everywhere, wreaths, garlands, Christmas music piped over the speakers, and even a roaring fire in a freestanding iron fireplace.  It was beautiful.  And apparently it was meant to be, because almost immediately, we spotted The Best Tree Ever(tm).  It was tall, perfectly shaped, and smelled great.

David may be smiling, but inside he's wondering whether The Best Tree Ever(tm) will fit into our tiny townhouse.

We loaded up the tree and headed home, thrilled at how things had (finally) turned out.  Turns out The Best Tree Ever(tm) was indeed a little, um, large.

But at least Sadie enjoyed helping us with the decorating.

We got the tree strung with white lights-- for the first time-- that night.  But then, as we sat enjoying the soft glow of the lights, the glow . . . stopped.  Completely and all at once.  All of the lights went out, top to bottom.  The tree, our biggest one ever, had required twelve strands of twinkle lights, which we mistakenly strung end to end.  We just hadn't thought about it, and we blew a fuse in the first strand.


We re-strung the lights the next day (and by "we," I mean David), and finally got to decorate.  Thankfully, after all that trouble, the tree turned out to be beautiful.

All decorated.

And without a flash to show off the glowy lights.

Our house is small, so we can't go too crazy with our decorating, but we do try to make things look festive.  This year, I went a little nuts with the glass ball ornaments.  I piled them into a wire basket on our dining room table, along with red and gold velvet placemats and red and gold glittery candles.  

My little brother's Boy Scout troop was selling evergreen centerpieces this year, and so he sent me one.  Right now, we have it on top of the bar, along with David's new snowman cocktail shaker (a gift from his parents and the most recent addition to his extensive shaker collection) and a tiered stand of homemade candy (peanut brittle and peppermint bark-- both recipes via Faith & Family Live!).  

We have three creches.  This one was a gift from my dad and Beth.

I bought this one for us just a few weeks ago at a local gift shop.  I just loved the beautiful shape to our Blessed Mother.  

Only two stockings hung by the chimney with care-- sigh.  Still praying that we'll add another one sometime soon!  We finished our 27-day Christmas novena and have lots of friends storming Heaven's gates for us!

Did I mention that I was a tad obsessed with glass ball ornaments?  Red, green, and gold in crystal bowls on the coffee table.

We topped the television armoire with red candles and berries.  The glass dish (made by a local artist) is always there, but coordinates nicely with the other red items for Christmastime!

Candy-cane striped candles and Santa Claus on the bookshelves by the fireplace.

The front entryway, with red candles, an angel, and the third creche.  

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Proclaiming Christmas

Perhaps my favorite thing about Christmas, from the Roman Martyrology for December 24, usually sung at our parish at the midnight mass:


Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,

unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; 
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, 
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, 
being conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
and nine months having passed since his conception, 
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.


Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Simple Pleasures

This time of year, it's all too easy to get caught up in to-do lists, party after party (David and I have SIX holiday parties to attend between now and next Saturday night!), and seemingly endless shopping.  I'm trying to make an effort to enjoy some of the small things that each day brings.  In that spirit, here are a few things that are making me happy today:

The pretty Christmas centerpiece that my little brother sent to me on Thursday.  Thank you, JJ!

A bunch of apples bought at the farmer's market this morning, waiting to be baked into a crisp.

The cinnamon stick, whole cloves, and orange slices simmering on my stove.  My house smells delicious!  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wild Kingdom

Our townhouse lies mere minutes outside Washington, D.C., in an area that is far too dense to truly be called suburbs.  And yet, somehow, our tiny back "yard"-- really, a patio and flower beds-- is almost always teeming with some kind of wildlife.  In addition to the usual assortment of small birds, squirrels, and chipmunks, we have seen raccoons, possums, wild cats, and a Cooper hawk.

Tonight, I had just let Sadie outside when she started barking insistently.  I flipped on the light out back in time to see a possum climbing up the fence and into a tree.  I dashed upstairs to grab my camera and snapped a picture from the guest room window.  You can't see much more than the beady eyes, but here he is:

The hawk was harder to figure out.  Our neighbors on both sides had seen this large bird years ago, but David and I didn't spot him until more recently-- maybe last year.  He's definitely a predator, and is known to sweep in and snatch up one of the dozens of tiny birds munching on bird seed on our neighbors' patio.  One neighbor finally figured out that it was a Cooper hawk, and he still comes around on a regular basis.  I saw him most recently only yesterday.

Perhaps strangest of all-- though not in our backyard-- was David's recent encounter with a wild turkey about three blocks away from our house.  Most inspiring was a year ago, when we saw a bald eagle as we drove north on the George Washington Parkway.  And the sweetest is the pair of cardinals-- one a bright red male and one a muted tan female-- who stop by all winter to pick seeds from feeders on our patio or next door.

Not too bad for a city girl with no yard to speak of.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm still working on this one . . .

We gave our 6th grade CCD class a test a few weeks back, on which they were required to list the Ten Commandments in order.

As expected, the kids didn't get them all right, and a few attempts were pretty cute. My favorite answer, though, came from one of our quietest, sweetest little students:

#8: You shall not think bad stuff about other people.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Randomness

Two photos from my day today.  First of all, I did my civic duty this morning:

Virginia technically doesn't have "early" voting, whereby one can vote before Election Day for no reason at all except avoiding long lines.  Instead, we have "in-person absentee" voting; the difference is that to vote early in Virginia, you have to attest to why you can't vote on election day.  There are any number of legitimate reasons, including being out of town on Election Day.  Which, now, I will be!  I booked a plane ticket yesterday to go visit Arwen, Bryan, and Camilla next week.  

I figure that, despite fervent prayer on my behalf (and by countless others), we are likely facing a bloodbath next Tuesday.  Better for me to be in a home with no television, an adorable child to dote on, and plenty of opportunity for baking than to be stuck on Capitol Hill with a bunch of gloating Democrats.  And if endless repetition of the Itsy-Bitsy Spider and "Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple" doesn't dull the pain of watching the country go to Hades in a handbasket, well, there's always alcohol.  Stock up, Arwen.  I know you can't have any, but do it for me.

Second, David and I received an adorable Halloween surprise in the mail today from my dad and Beth and J.J.:

I am more fun than your typical Halloween card.  I am jaunty and smiling.  Hang me by your front door for the two trick-or-treaters you may see on Friday.

Ever since my sister and I were little, Beth has sent us random holiday cards.  Not one to hit up the Hallmark only on Christmas and birthdays, Beth is likely to send you a dancing leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day, a Jack-o-Lantern on Halloween, a smiling turkey on Thanksgiving, or a toiling worker for Labor Day.  Okay, I made that last one up, but it was always fun to get "extra" holiday cards in the mail for holidays where they're not expected.  Thanks, Beth!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Playing Tourist in my Own Town

I took Thursday and Friday off from work to play like a tourist in D.C.  Ali and Trip came up from Savannah for a visit, so we had to see all the sights.  

Thursday was a perfect, gorgeous day in the city:  Bright blue skies, a few puffy clouds, and just-cool-enough temperatures.  We decided to head down to the National Mall to walk around the monuments.

We parked near the Washington Monument to start our walking tour.  

Ali and Trip agreed to some rare PDA (of the arm-around-the-shoulder variety) for a photo by the monument.

We don't get terrific fall color in D.C., but we do get something!

I was excited to get to walk through the World War II memorial.  The last time I'd been near it on foot, it was roped off, and we could only see it from afar.  It really is a beautiful and fitting memorial.  I wish that my grandfathers, both WWII veterans, had been able to see it before they died this year.

The field of stars represents the American soldiers who died in World War II.  Obviously each star represents many soldiers.

After the WWII memorial, we continued down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial.  The reflecting pool was looking kind of gross.

Check out the duck butt by Trip's hand.  Hee hee.

Yes, we were twinsies in our vesties.  At least they weren't the same color.

The squirrels on the Mall are very fat and very unafraid.

We stopped over to look at the Korean War veterans' memorial.  I kind of like it because it's so different, but there are a lot of folks who think it's ugly.  

It's also really spooky at night.

Trip contemplates the images at the Korean War veterans' memorial.

Trip and Mr. Lincoln's house.

I loved reading the Gettysburg Address again.  Seriously, if you haven't read it in a while, do it now.  It's worth it.  

Ali contemplates the words of one of our greatest Presidents.  Or enjoys the view.  You know, whatever.

Check out the reflection of the Washington Monument in my sunglasses.  Who needs the reflecting pool when you have Lauren's gigantic reflecting glasses?

Okay, maybe the reflecting pool is pretty cool.  Even if it's pretty slimy.

I find the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial to be pretty moving.  I know some people don't like it, but there's something about seeing all those names etched in the granite.

We had to get a shot of me standing by the little island where David and I got engaged.  The island is a memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  

Another beautiful day in D.C.  

It turned out to be a good thing that we walked around outside on Thursday, because Friday and Saturday were both gray and rainy.  We still had a good time, though.  We hit the White House on Friday morning to tour the East Wing, and followed that up with a tour of the Capitol.  Because I see the Capitol every day, I neglected to take any pictures-- though I'm sure Ali will put some up over at her blog.  

The gray day matched our mood after touring the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is extraordinarily well done-- and incredibly moving.  I feel like I need to go back at least three more times just to take it all in.  You could literally spend hours in there and not see everything.

The funniest part of the day occurred as we finished up lunch at Matchbox.  Our waitress suggested that we visit the new Newseum, which is dedicated to news and journalism.  Sometimes I tend to-- ahem-- speak without thinking (I know, you're really surprised!), and I just blurted out, loudly, "Nah, I kind of hate journalists."  And I do.  I can't stand their lack of objectivity, their generally obvious liberal bias, their pushiness, and the way they can never seem to accurately describe anything involving the law.  (To be fair, I know that the law is complicated.  But in their efforts to simplify important court rulings or new laws, news writers always seem to lose important nuance.)

Our waitress didn't seem to mind my little outburst, but the two girls at the table next to ours whipped around and stared at me, mouths agape, eyes glaring.  Journalists, I suppose.  Ah, well.  I hope I didn't embarrass Ali and Trip too much.