Strawberry Rhubarb

Some may believe Memorial Day marks the beginning of the barbecue season or the first weekend it is warm enough to go to the beach. Admittedly, we indulged during the long weekend. We got together with friends and family, spent time in the sunshine, waded in the lagoon and had too many hot dogs, but more importantly we paid tribute to our troops. Selfless men and women who have sacrificed their own freedom and even lives to ensure people they have never even met might enjoy those very things. It was a weekend laden with emotion and ceremony. My boyfriend James, former active duty United States Marine, shared a tribute with my family on Monday afternoon. He bought an extra six pack of beer. We opened each can, one by one, pouring them over the grass to honor the fallen. He cried which is rare; I cried which is not rare. Everyone cried grateful tears, appreciative tears for lives lost and the lives still entangled in conflicts around the world. 

fruit-pie.jpeg

Someone in the digital sphere had said we can give thanks by living a life worthy of their sacrifice. While I can't save lives in the same way, I can endeavor to make the world a tad more kind, even sweeter. I took to my large pile of magazines and found a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie recipe from the Food Network. I found rhubarb at the market, an ingredient I have never worked with, and I got acquainted with its raw bitterness. I spent hours alone in my kitchen, following every step and assembling my very first pie, entirely from scratch. Berries were washed, butter cubed, and dough kneaded. 

While the dough was chilling we got a great rain and I listened to the calming melody of falling drops on the window sill. I rolled out the crusts and mixed the filling with sugar and the juice of just one lemon. The pie was arranged on a soaked picnic table as the drops made a lovely pattern. 

My crust strips may have been uneven, but the pie was bursting with character. It made me very proud to make something, every component, from start to finish. In to the oven it went, the aroma bewitching. Butter and fruit filled my home. We enjoyed the pie on Memorial Day with fresh whipped cream and touch of vanilla, silently giving thanks to the men and women away from their families. God willing most will return home, but the bitter reality dictates otherwise. May we never forgot them and strive to live lives worthy of their sacrifice. 

A Christmas Kind of Mood

Mom and Dad prepare the stuffing like Nonna would have.

Thanksgiving was a whirl wind. It went as quickly as it came.  Our family prepares such an abundant feast that we convened on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to share a meal again. I love that. Such a wonderful holiday, and we get to have it twice. Having been so late in the year though, soon after the turkey and stuffing was digested, Christmas preparation was upon us.

It is the first year in the last seven, that I am home for the entire month of December and it has already been something special. Simple things make it so. Nothing extravagant, but the tangible anticipation of Christmas heightens the enjoyment I suppose. The scarcity of the season, only available one month in twelve, empowers us to live and love more freely? Or maybe Christmas music has subliminal messaging that teaches us to be kind to one another. The egg nog is spiked with happiness. The sugar cookie scented Yankee Candle puts you in the mood to bake. Or maybe it is the Holiday Bloom and Cheer Febreeze. That must be it.

In December, people sing along: in stores, at their desks, in the car. I pretty much sing along all year, and mess up lyrics through and through, but during this time of year it is more common and socially acceptable. The inhibited even sing. Some whistle. There is skipping. All do it to the tune of Carol of the Bells or Sleigh Ride. On Spotify, A Charlie Brown Christmas is alive and well.

In the past few weeks, I have spent more time than usual in Michael's craft store, buying Christmas stickers, treat bags, glitter pens, and blank cards. I've done serious time in the baking aisle as well. What to buy, what to buy? Brown sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Shall I splurge on new muffin pans? No Francesca, yours are fine. A can of pumpkin here and Anise extract for Mimi's Anisette cookies. Chocolate chips of every variation.

Sitting in my pajamas one evening I was working on Christmas cards, cutting out shapes with my Cricut and deciding on a color scheme. From experience, I know if cards aren't started well in advance, I won't finish them. I made some hot cocoa and added a splash of Eggnog as it needed a little dimension. It felt slightly gluttonous and perfectly "holiday".

Christmas card making.

Christmas card making.

Dad and I went to Corrado's to pick up the tree, a seven foot Frasier fir. It was loaded into the pickup truck and we drove home sharing a little heart to heart. He works quite a lot so any time he has my ear, I come away feeling grateful and loved. At home, James was preparing the pierogi Mom bought from the Polish Church. They are divine-the potato and sauerkraut kinds. He also made cabbage and kielbasa to round out the perfect, comforting meal. We huddled around the table, elbows knocking one another which happens in an average sized kitchen.  Smaller the better I say, as there is more affection packed into each square foot of the space. Take that, monumental kitchens with islands and elaborate cabinetry. (P.S. Don't get me wrong, if I ever came to have a kitchen like such, I would just have to pack it with more mouths to feed and merriment to share - to maintain the good stuff ratio of course.)

In December, calendars fill up with Cookie exchanges, Christmas concerts, and holiday parties. There is ice skating and tree lighting. Menus are planned and dishes prepared. Flannel sheets with snowflakes make their way on the bed. Gingerbread are decorated with candies and icing. Stockings are hung and gifts are wrapped. Regardless of how little they may have, people find a little extra to give to someone else. My friend Joey suggested we start a message chain in which we share daily with each other what we are thankful for. It has become my favorite part of the day.

I often wonder what would happen if we prolonged the season. Why must it only last from Thanksgiving to New Year's? The holidays can be tiring with the planning and gatherings, I know. We need not have cookie exchanges all year, although it would be pretty gnarly. I am thinking more about the spirit of it all. It would be just lovely to feel that warmth and gratitude all year. Maybe reconcile with someone you have been avoiding or donate your time to a charity drive. Make time for a dinner with old friends.

If I am not mistaken, research shows that Jesus was born in the summertime so I think it's only fair we share the love with the rest of the year.

Crafting for a Cause - Operation Gratitude

Working at a Web Design studio, I spend much of my day navigating the web for information and inspiration. While the extent to which people (over)share frivolous information is sometimes alarming, every so often I find a real gem; I was elated to discover Operation Gratitude.

Opgrat.png

Operation Gratitude "annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, to their children left behind and to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors and their Care Givers. Their mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member’s face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people." 

In just ten days, Operation Gratitude will send their Millionth package. Yes, you read correctly: one million packages to past and present heroes and their families. 

Having been raised to consider the needs of others and attending a university that stressed Jesuit values, the notion of service above self has been relevant as long as I can remember. The pressing question remains,  how can we integrate service into our daily lives? Having my fair share of student loans, writing a lofty check to a worthy cause is not an option for me, at least not yet. But there are abundant other ways to help. 

Mother Teresa said it best. 

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

Operation Gratitude makes it easy and fun to do some good. I like crafting personally, so the hand-made projects looked to be the perfect opportunity. Admittedly, I horde scrapbooking materials and thus had an abundance of paper, decals, stickers, and blank cards on hand. My boyfriend James, a Veteran with twelve years of service in the United States Marine Corps, bought me a Cricut machine for Christmas last year; it was put to good use card making. 

Friends and family were over to celebrate my parents' anniversary, so I took advantage of the crowd, got everyone to the table, and distributed supplies. We decorated Christmas cards and signed them with heartfelt messages of thanks. The guys with poor handwriting relayed messages to be written by their wives; they stuck to stickers and glitter. This unlikely group of crafters made it all the more memorable. 

My friend Lindsay, who makes quite a fantastic Christmas card I might add,  is a school teacher and was motivated to get her students involved too. The children wrote letters to the troops, decorating them with hand-shaped American flags.

Fostering gratitude is important in younger generations. Tthis type of experience will likely leave an impact on them.  As they age, they will hopefully continue to give of themselves to deserving people and causes.

As the holidays draw near, I know not everyone will be home with their loved ones. Some are called to serve abroad and their families are called to carry on at home. Others dedicate their lives to bringing these families comfort and support.  All sorts are heroes in my eyes and it is essential we say thanks...

 Thank you.


How will you share your gratitude this year? 

To learn more about Operation Gratitude and the great work they do, follow them on PinterestTwitter , or Facebook

Pocket Full of Paradise

I think "conversations" are named as such because they allow your heart to converge with the heart of another person.  The best of them leave you feeling enriched, inspired and if you're really lucky, renewed. They sometimes move you to tears. So, you look away from your conversation partner or feign an itchy eye. (A propensity for shedding tears has made me quite adept at these maneuvers.) Great conversations are organic and need no catalyst. They just happen, and rattle your core for the better.    

You learn a lot about someone when you take the time to converse. Typically, you can tell what a person values. Their disposition too. Are they a pessimist or eternal optimist? Do they keep a firm exterior, but every so often grant you a glimpse of vulnerability? Do their eyes widen with pride when they talk about their children? Or do they cringe when they talk about an unsavory encounter, as they search for some reassurance that their life has not been ruined even if it feels as such.  If you listen hard enough to someone else, they just might teach you something about yourself too, and remind you of your pocket of paradise.

I find it funny that something special can stare us in the face day in and out and we never realize it until someone else points it out. There are times I feel as if I am in control of or have been able to do very little, until another person convinces me otherwise. Their stamp of approval and reassurance are just enough to override my internal doubt (for the time being). We want different things, things we don't have, until someone tells us that we are lucky to have what we have; for a moment in time we are contented that someone validated who we are, and where we are.  We stop seeking greener grass.    

Recently, I had such a conversation. We talked of snow mobiles, fishing, vacation homes too. Life with kids and how it compares to life before kids, and reservations about knowing when the right time is to have kids. Family dinners and gift giving. What makes a home versus a house? How to establish a comfortable balance of money and time, and determining personal and professional goals. Finding one's purpose, a desire for clarity, and the profound importance of patience and hard work.

I left the conversation feeling grateful for dinnertimes, my family who love me despite my imperfections, for a short commute, a warm home, and the understanding of others. For friends and colleagues, memories from summers at the bay even if we no longer have the house there, and a solid education even though I have loans that are not going away anytime soon. For sausage and peppers, crusty Italian bread, a fire, and the sacrifices of veterans and their families. Grateful for the unknown. Although I hunger certainty, it would be dreadfully dull to always know what was coming, I imagine. Most of all, I was grateful for that candid conversation and a pocket of paradise all my own.                                                                                                                              

Gratitude

Rainy days and Mondays, always get me... thinking. I know they are supposed to get you down, but maybe if we take a moment to reflect, they can make us grateful.

Mondays come after the weekend. Depending on your profession, the weekend is typically a time to relax. If not relax, at least provide an opportunity to accomplish the things you could not get to during the week. Work or other responsibilities got in the way of doing what you had intended. Weekends allow much needed time to catch up, reconnect with your family, get much needed rest, or  revisit a hobby you have neglected. (This sadly does not apply to my boyfriend, a chef, who works through his weekend, but I am speaking generally.) If you are successful in even tackling a small fraction of this long running list of to-do's, the Monday after just might give you a sense ofaccomplishment.

Beyond catch up, the weekend is comprised of social outings and recreation, typically. The assumption being that people work Monday through Friday, the weekend is when the social being in us seeks fulfillment and connection. My weekend was full of such encounters. To start, I attended a Wounded Warriors Amputee softball game. Now, that was lovely to behold. Our nation's wounded heroes not hardened by their fate, but rather rejoicing in their abilities. Surely a new way of doing things, batting with one arm, but no less an ability, and in my opinion a more refined ability than batting with two. It afforded me some valuable perspective and gave me hope in the human spirit.

Next came a benefit for Cancer Survivors, that my sister organized. It was a lovely celebration to commemorate fighting a severe disease and winning, or continuing to fight it with resolve. It was another showcase of courage, and provided me yet another opportunity to look at the important things in life more closely. Resilience against an aggressor, faith in the process, and appreciation for the moment. Give us this day...

Lastly, friends and I danced away at a Portuguese festival: Sangria in hand, sun overhead, and smoked barbecue in the air. A language I did not understand blaring through the speakers, as couples ranging from their teens to their seventies danced in unison, with zeal for life and love of one another. If you had a weekend anything like that, the Monday after just might give you a sense of contentment.

Now what if we move away from the Monday itself, and tackle the rain? What is so wrong with the rain anyway? We get so bothered and depressed but really, it's a life source. It fuels the growth of plant life and in an abstract way, hydrates the body. Rain represents something beautifully cyclical. It waxes and wanes as needed. (Ideally, it is not absent for too long or else we will have some issues!) Certainly, rain might interrupt your fun, cancel a ball game, or force you to rethink the beautiful attire you planned on wearing out to make your ex jealous. And yes, it may pale in comparison to a breathtaking sunny day. But more importantly, it forces you to focus, slow down perhaps. Drive slower. Stay inside to finish something important. Dabble in the kitchen before eating out. If said rain happens to coincide with a Monday, you might find yourself thinking. And this kind of rainy Monday, just might give you a sense of gratitude.