Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of 2009

It's the last day of 2009...a decade since the Millenium. I've read some great posts already today--fellow bloggers looking back over their years, the highlights, the regrets, the hopes and resolutions for next year. I'd like to do the same, but somehow it seems like such a task! How did they do it? Look back over a whole year and pick out the best, the worst, the most memorable? It would take me a very long time--and I'm not great at looking back, anyway.

Two thousand nine was a busy year, I realize now as I look back on it. It was a year of travel and health issues for me, growth and change for my son. We went on our second trip to Italy--the Amalfi Coast and Rome; we took my son out west to the Grand Canyon and surrounds. We celebrated our anniversary one month, then visited family the next month in Virginia. Over the summer, I drafted my son into working at my office, and it had a very positive effect on him in several ways. We started driving lessons around the cul-de-sac. He's continued to progress with his music and schoolwork. For the most part, the teen seems to have found balance between his father and me, without the love/hate thing that used to go on.

In mid-July, I started this blog--my first--and with this post, will have 61 posts in 2009. There were some times I wished I had written more, but I'm content with how it's gone. I love my new blogging friends, too!

Health has been an issue this year (my mother used to say you fall apart after 40--maybe it's a family trait.) I started the year with what used to be my constant wintertime sinus problems...then went to an ENT, an allergist, and soon started allergy shots, which have been a godsend. Then came the newly diagnosed hypertension, sprained ankle, and abdominal surgery...which took forever to get over. Finally, the bronchitis/asthma double whammy for the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years season.

As for the world, I've had to cheat a bit and look at summaries in the net news. (There are summaries of the year for almost every category out there--news, politics, deaths, celebrity name it!)

We started the year with the Blagojevich scandal--(trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, if you can believe that!) and the inaugeration of the first black president of the U.S. Soon, '09 brought us Octo-mom, with her six other kids; the bank bailouts; and brought Slumdog Millionaire 8 Oscars. This walk down memory lane is getting fun! Soon came the collapse of AIG amid huge bonuses to executives; the exposure of Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme which lost $65 billion for investors (many of them charities) and Chrysler declared bankruptcy in April and then GM first declares bankruptcy, then ditches Saturn, Hummer, and later Saab.

We still haven't forgotten "Swine Flu" (H1N1) which first hit the news in April; Justice David Souter retired from the Supreme Court and Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in. There were the Somali pirates, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford "hiking the Appalacian"...really with his Argentinian lover; Sarah Palin resigning as Alaska's governor. This past year brought the deaths of Walter Cronkite, Edward Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Michael Jackson, David Carradine, Billy Mayes, and John Travolta's son Jett.

Also in 2009 "Jon and Kate Plus 8" fell apart but two very good TV shows began: "In Plain Sight" and "The Good Wife;" the "Beer Summit" at the White House after the Henry Louis Gates Jr. incident; pythons in the Everglades; "balloon boy" and his lying parents; Tiger Woods has a scandal; the healthcare debate; the Air France jet which was lost over the Atlantic near Brazil; the space shuttle mission to repair the Hubbell telescope (previously determined to be too expensive--so glad they did that!) while the two Mars rovers continued into their sixth year exploring the red planet (they were expected to last mere months); we were bouyed by the heroic work of Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger putting the Airbus A320 down in the Hudson; and the Phillies returned to the World Series but lose to the notorious Yankees.

It has been an eventful year all around! Happy 2010 to All!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Something about the holidays says to me "homemade" and calls for "handmade" things. Except for the unbelievable time crush, this meshes perfectly with my personality. This year, I really wanted to find something nice to make, so I spent some time searching the internet for projects. While I didn't find anything that really excited me, I saw some pictures which I adapted into this years' project. (Spoiler alert to family members who have not received theirs yet: photos included below!)

As you'll see below, I made cardinal Christmas ornaments. This project was perfect for me for several reasons. First, I like to sew; second, the year before last I taught myself a number of embroidery stitches which I have yet to use; and I love to try new things (in this case, beading and use of sequins.)

The first photo is a look at the contents of my "bag" laid out for use. I sketched the main pattern on yellow paper (one with tail up, one lower) while the white paper is the wing pattern.

The rest of the ingredients are red felt, embroidery floss, a fabric marker for tracing, pillow stuffing, ribbon for hanging, and beads, sequins and metallic thread. If using beads, don't forget beading needles, which are much thinner than regular ones (I normally use #9 or 10 for sewing and the beads do not fit over them).

After tracing the pattern onto the felt, I sketched some seasonal designs, such as holly leaves, stars and snowflakes and then embroidered/sewed them on what would be the front of the ornaments. The upper bird has holly leaves with sequin "berries." The lower cardinal is a design of beaded stars of yellow/gold glass beads.
I found that decorating them first, before cutting the precise design worked better, as you have more fabric to work with and do not ruin the sharp edge of the bird as cut out. As you see above, the next step is to cut an identical piece of red felt for the back of the cardinal. Below, I went for a more "flashy" look by tracing a wing pattern onto the bird, outlining it in a chain stitch in blue, then sewing on blue, silver and gold sequins. Next are two more, one with a green edged wing with green, silver and pink sequins, and the other is snowflakes embroidered with silver floss and two strands of gold metallic thread (I changed this to one strand on subsequent snowflakes because that much thread is difficult to work with).
Finally, I wanted to do more actual embroidery, so below are blue flowers highlighted with the yellow/gold beads. After embroidering the front, I sewed the plain back on using a blanket stitch. This is a really simple stitch which gives a decorative, squared-off edge. Before beginning, I determined where the ribbon for hanging would be by sticking a needle at the edge of the felt, near the center of the back and let it balance (head to tail). If it tilts too far forward, move the hanger forward and vise versa. While sewing the back, just add a few extra stitches to hold the ribbon on for hanging. I stuffed each bird as I attached the back, making sure the head and tail were adequately stuffed. Here's a photo with several of my Christmas cardinals, all but one finished. I am happy with how they turned out; hope everyone likes them!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Christmas. It brings many things. It's not at all like what we're shown on TV and in movies, though...but very little in life is.

We had some fun here, with family and good food. On Christmas eve we (hubby and his aunt, celebrating her 92nd Christmas) spent the evening wrapping and then enjoying the "Seven Fishes" together. I made appetizers of mini crab cakes and calamari salad, followed by cioppino with shellfish and shrimp and fish. With everything we sipped a fantastic Dry Riesling, perfect with seafood.

We had a quiet, enjoyable evening, reminiscing and talking about whatever. We sat around the kitchen bar/island and I put the food out as it came. After dinner, we went together to Christmas eve services at my church, which is like going home. It's always nice to be there--with our wonderful pastoral staff and congregation, we are among friends. It was a great service. We had a peaceful, enjoyable evening.

We slept in a bit on Christmas; I set an alarm but "snoozed" it until after 9. We finally decorated the tree on Christmas morning (thank heavens Santa didn't mind) and picked my teen up at noon.

The afternoon was very nice; everyone enjoyed their gifts and it was great to see lots of smiles. My son gave me a cat-a-day calendar (perfect) and a book he chose based on his recollection of an animated conversation I had had with another adult he respected about the excellent author Nelson DeMille. Again he impressed me with his thoughtfulness and attention.

By late afternoon though, everything caught up to me and I felt like I was hit by a truck. (Will I never get over this illness??) I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my son on Christmas, so, covered by blankets on the couch I watched him play his new Wii game and listened to his guitar playing. It made me happy to see him happy with his new things and to spend time with my son, as he approaches adulthood.

Christmas isn't like on TV or in movies, but we're not actors and there are no "second takes" here. There was no excited screaming or running out to the new car in the driveway with the giant red bow (I've always hated those commercials). We shared in the day, the meaning of the day, and enjoyed being a family. I enjoyed being able to give my loved ones things that made them smile--and hopefully showed that I understood them and wanted them to be happy. That's what I like about Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Day

Now it's really beginning to look like Christmas--and a white one, at that! Here on the East coast of the U.S. we've had quite the snowstorm, in the form of a nor'easter. I would estimate we get one of these every 8 or so years (I've been through 3 now, since 1992). Other years, we have 3-4 itsy bitsy snows which are gone in a day. This snowstorm with high winds began here at 11 p.m. on Friday and ended sometime around midnight on Saturday.

Here's a look at my deck on Sunday, with 20 inches of snow and the little path I shoveled through 6 p.m. on Friday. The additional 2-3 inches is from the last couple of hours of the storm.

And here's the back deck...I probably should have put the chairs away for the winter, but the teenager likes to sit out there even when it gets quite chilly.

The wind blew hard from the east (the right, in this photo) and the snow clears off the roofs on the east and drifts behind, to the left.

Unfortunately, road clearing in this area is, shall we say, sub-par. I wish the snowy roads were actually cleared, as opposed to compacting the snow into several inches of ice, making them less passable, as far as I can tell. In this picture, you can see some patches of the road. This is a good section--in town, these patches are very few and far between.

But, to their credit, all of the school districts in the area have already closed for Monday, which is good because the roads will definitely be impassable in the morning when the busses would have to run. (It's well below freezing.)

So, tomorrow is up in the air (my ex has demanded I drive my son to his house in the morning [back roads which take 20 min. on a clear day], which I am not obligated to do, therefore I am not going to do), so until my ex comes to get the young man, I'll be home for a "snow day" with my son! Hope it lasts all day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I was going to write about something else, but Little Ms Blogger's "Question of the Week" started me thinking... You can read her nice post and many replies here, but her question was simple: What is/was your favorite holiday tradition?

When I think of "traditions" in general, I usually think of things done in childhood--at least that's how my ex meant it, when he used to wax nostalgic about the supposedly idyllic holidays of his youth. And some of that was nice; during our first few Christmases together I enjoyed how the grandparents would come over in the late morning and neighbors would drop by for visits. These and a few other traditions were nice to share with the ex's family.

Looking back at my childhood Christmases, there wasn't any emphasis on tradition. We hung stockings and had cookies and eggnog on Christmas eve and opened presents in the morning, true. But things so often "went wrong" in one way or another, that if we weren't having a problem, we were waiting for one.

The Christmas traditions I remember with pleasure are, first and foremost, waking up way before anyone else and creeping silently downstairs. There, I would light the tree and build a fire in the fireplace. Sitting in the warm glow of the flames, I would try to soak in the scene and absorb the peace.

I also remember setting up the nativity scene. As the oldest daughter (and least likely to break it) I had the honor of setting up the figures of the nativity. I remember carefully unwrapping each one--Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the shepherd, sheep, donkey, ox, camel, the three wise men...and finally Jesus in the manger. When I was younger, I remember how I used to set the scene up with baby Jesus in the center and everyone crowded around Him in a circle. They all wanted to see Him! My mother would rearrange the pieces into the more traditional setting later, so we could view the scene. One year, I spent several evenings in the basement making a wooden stable out of some wood scraps and shims--that manger scene meant so much to me that I wanted them to actually have the stable for a home.

After leaving home, the nativity was one of the first things I needed for my own holidays. I don't recall if I found one for that first Christmas, but soon I did. It was just a simple ceramic set painted in jeweltones, like my mother's, but I was so happy to have it. And every year it's there, on a piece of green velvet. Truth be told, I didn't remember setting up the nativity in a tight circle like I mentioned above until one year, when I let my son have the honor of putting it out. When he finished, one look brought that lost childhood memory back instantly. It was like seeing myself. All of the figures were gathered tightly around baby Jesus, just to see Him, to be near Him. I left our nativity as my son arranged it that year.

Another tradition which I have kept since leaving home is to go to Christmas eve church services. I wouldn't miss it. The service is the culmination of the four week season of Advent--the time of preparation for Jesus' birth. My season just would not be complete without welcoming our Savior's birth by singing "Silent Night" in a darkened, candlelit church. The peace and sense of anticipation we leave the church with is incomparable.

For a few years now, I've adopted the old Italian tradition of making the Seven Fishes for Christmas eve dinner--but that's surely better suited to a great big family dinner instead of two or three people. I'll work on that. Other than those traditions, there are the cookies. I've always baked a variety of cookies for Christmas--I love cookies, and the people around me always seem to too. I didn't realize how essential baking was to my season until several years ago. I was so busy in the weeks before Christmas that I had not even made any cookie batter, much less baked any cookies. I felt something was missing. I awoke on Christmas alone and feeling out of sorts, but with a craving for cookies. While waiting for my son, I mixed up 3 types of cookies and baked a dozen or two of each type. By the time he arrived, I was feeling the season and the house smelled like Christmas. Some traditions can cure a multitude of ills!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Tis the Season

It's beginning to look a little like Christmas--or maybe just to "feel" like Christmas--around here. The weather has turned cold, and we've had our first little bit of snow. Where I am, it began to snow after dark last week, when the temperature finally dropped, after a full day of windy rain. My car had a visible coating when I turned the porch lights on before going to bed, but when the sun came up in the morning it was gone. It counts, though--we had snow. For here, that counts as snow. We probably won't have anything measurable until January sometime. Right now I'm watching The Weather Channel, where they are reporting from the great lakes area, being pounded by lake-effect snows of nearly 2 feet. Maybe that's what's making me think about Christmas.

Unfortunately for me, I've been just too sick to do any decorating or shopping for the holiday. Hate that! It's starting to get a bit late in the season! Other than making lists in my mind and crocheting and sewing (I'll have to show those in another post) I have done nothing to usher in the season. I must get my head back together, make lists, and at least start to burn up the internet to get the shopping done.

About a Christmas tree...we actually need to do two, since I live in two places...I have no idea when they will happen. More importantly, I'm missing Advent, and listening to our sermons on iTunes just doesn't really take the place of being in my church, feeling the sense of preparation and warmth of Advent. Oh dear. Just to feel better and be a part of the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, that's what I want for Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus

by Peter J. Gomes

Subtitled "What's so good about the good news?" this book takes to task the religious establishment and urges a return to teaching the good news Jesus taught His followers.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Eat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

I just finished Eat, Pray, Love last night and couldn't wait to write about it.  

Friday, December 4, 2009

Viva gli italiani!

I have another new hobby. It suddenly dawned on me that there could be blogs written by Italians, about anything Italian, in Italian! I was right--there are! It took me a few minutes to figure out that in order to find them I needed to do my searches in Italian, but then I hit the "mother load." Just like in the English-speaking blogosphere, there are many hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs in Italian!

I first tapped into the world of cooking blogs. My, oh my, there are so many! I started browsing the other night and added a bunch of blogs to my list to follow. One in particular which I loved immediately is written by a mature woman who is apparently a fantastic cook! The first night, I found her family recipie for Cappalletti in Broth. She credits her grandmother and aunt for the recipe, so I'm thinking it must be quite an old, traditional recipe.

Finding this recipie was quite a thrill since I have for years been searching for a traditional recipe for Cappelletti in Broth because I remember it so fondly from my childhood. My grandmother (nee Moretti) and her two sisters would get together on a fairly regular basis and make what seemed like massive quantities of Cappelletti together. I wish I could have been there just once. Cappelletti is a filled pasta which resembles tortellini, and theirs was filled with a mixture of meats with maybe some cheese inside as well. The filling always had a hint of spiciness, along the lines of cloves or nutmeg--so unique with the meat filling. I suspect there never was a written recipe for this wonderful dish, it was just a family tradition probably learned from their mamma and nonna.

We ate the meaty filled pasta in chicken broth, and there were always sweet brown raisins in the broth. It was like nothing else I ever ate during my childhood, all warm and brothy and sweet, with grandma back and forth from the kitchen, fussing over us. Now that I found a traditional recipe, for some reason, I just starting having the desire to make my own pasta....strange, is it?

But I digress. The new Italian blogosphere promises much--more opportunities to practice reading Italian, some links to my heritage, and a window into today's Italy too!