Photography

Snapshots of A Michigan Christmas

December 28, 2013

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Thank you all so much for the sweet thoughts and words and emails and notes and comments on my last post. I was touched by the stories, encouragement, and kind words that so many of you shared.

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We spent the week of Christmas with my family, tucked away in the forests of Michigan. There is always something magical about Christmas, a holiday that turns the world on its head. The snow that fell for days, the quiet empty forests, the traditions that we clung to with a fierce tenacity were magic to our hearts this past week.

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We can’t always live in the fairy tale that is Christmas, but we need the reminder, once a year, that there is magic and wonder and grace, that the world is not all trudging and traffic and rushing, that sparkles and frosting and twinkle lights are the real, tangible things that hold our world together.

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For my family, at the close of a year that held the highest highs and lowest lows, magic was being together. Magic was sugar cookies and bowls piled high with neon shades of frosting, snow that poured down endlessly for days, and hills covered with freshly powdered snow for perfect skiing.

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Magic was watching my baby sister walk across the stage and receive her oh-so-deserved nursing pin and listening to the careful notes of my youngest siblings’ first piano recital. Magic was a spontaneous lunch date alone with my mama on Christmas Eve. Magic was the family cats surprising us at the back door a few days before Christmas Eve after we had despaired of seeing them again.

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Magic was setting out cookies and cider for Santa with my littlest brother, who is far too old to believe in Santa but who willingly humors his older sister’s attempts to pretend that we are all still 4 years old. Magic was hours of Chinese checkers, sleeping in, sugary fluffy carb-and-sugar-rich breakfasts that appeared at the dash of Mom’s magic wand (otherwise known as a Bosch mixer). Magic was the wood-burning stove that kept us all warm, stocked by aged wood Dad has been carefully curing all year.

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2014 is racing closer and I’ll begin a regular posting schedule here again next week. But for now, all I want to do is encourage you to enjoy the last sparkles of Christmas magic. Hug your kiddos, your spouse, your parents. Waste time snuggling on the couch. Bake something extravagant and time-consuming. Wear your pajamas all day and do nothing but read that book. Make a batch of fudge and take it to those neighbors that you’ve never met.

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The magic of Christmas lies in the softening of our hearts and the changing of our world. The magic of Christmas lies in hope where we have given up, in the impossible happening. Where does magic need to happen in your world as we enter 2014?

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“Fairy tale does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

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Table

Possibly “The Best Soup I Have Ever Made” or Sweet Potato Soup with Cardamom

November 9, 2013

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When my family came to visit back in August for Kyle’s wedding, I took everyone on a field trip to Union Market. My mom – being someone who knows about fancy spices like saffron and cardamom – bought me some at one of Union Market’s cute spice stands.

I was scared to use them for months (precious spices? What is that? Can I break it? Will I wreck them?) ad kept them in my gadget drawer for 2 months, content to sniff them occasionally, or about three times a day. But let’s be real. The packages of goodness were meant to be used in a recipe.

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And finally, I found the perfect recipe for the cardamom. During my weekly trek to the grocery mecca that is Costco, I bought a huge bag of sweet potatoes. I love potato soup but I was convinced that sweet potato soup would be even better than my usual jaunts down Soup Lane. If sweet potatoes are healthier and tastier than regular potatoes, then it stands to reason that the soup will be equally better. Right?

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I was pretty ecstatic with the result. The soup has a cinnamony, spicy flavor that is so unique and perfect for cozy late fall/early winter dinners. It also only took about an hour of simmering, which makes this a perfect meal for cozy lazy weekend nights.

Mark even declared that this soup was the best I had ever made. Bonus: now you have an excuse to go and buy cardamom. I still don’t know what to do with the saffron but I’ll keep you posted! Any suggestions?

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Sweet Potato Soup with Cardamom

4 large sweet potatoes

2 cups milk

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 tbl. olive oil

4 stalks chopped celery

1 chopped onion

3 garlic cloves or 2 tbl. granulated garlic

1/2 tsp. cardamom

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

Saute the chopped onions, garlic cloves, and celery in the olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add  chicken broth, wine wine, and milk. bring the mixture to a low simmer. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks (leave the skin on). Just when the mixture begins to simmer, add the potatoes, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer for an hour before serving.

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Travel

Winter Battles

January 26, 2012
I battle a legitimate illness about once or twice a year. In all fairness, I can't complain. I am not one of those unfortunate souls who gets desperately ill every time the wind changes. 
But even the best have their bad days. And one morning this week I woke up before work to the horrible realization that the vicious hand of a winter cold had gripped my head.
I presume that there are few other young perky professionals out there who enjoy working while sick. But any young woman (and yes, any guy as well) can take a few simple steps to make a day at the desk and a head-cold a bit more compatible.
Stockpile. First of all, when signs of disaster strike, stock up. After a visit to CVS, I surveyed my supplies, which consisted of medicine (one version for bedtime and a non-drowsy version for work hours), cough drops, Vitamin C tablets, orange juice, Kleenex, and Vicks Vaporub. And Brachs candy-hearts and York Mint Patties.

But the latter are optional. Only have an excessive stockpile of comfort food on hand if you want to maintain your happiness as well as your sanity. 

Furthermore, take these items to work with you. Keep them with you at all times. Cough-drops can't work their magic sitting alone in a cabinet.
Sleep. Seriously. Just go to bed as early as possible. Avoiding your mattress will simply extend the torturous symptoms.
Wear your highest heels. This is not the time to wear your feelings on your face. The effort you put into your attire should directly counteract how awful you feel. Take a shower, wear an outfit that you love, put on extra lip gloss, and show up for work on time.

This is the day to fake it until you make it. I was so distracted by the high-heel-induced foot pain today that I practically forgot about my cold for almost an hour.

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Life | Table | Uncategorized

One Chili Night…

February 2, 2011
One recent cold Saturday night found a group of people at my house for dinner. All of us were nearly strangers to each other and to the city. We came together over warm chili and soft bread and tangy lemon cupcakes to relax, to share, and to connect.
 
We laughed a lot about our persistent and often awkward attempts to feel at home in this sprawling strange city. We compared notes about work and friends and our homes far away. And after a few hours, we parted ways feeling much less like strangers and much more like co-wanderers and friends.

Gather some family, or some friends, or some friends-to-be together over a warm pot of chili this February.  When I used this familiar recipe, I halved the large quantity and still had plenty for six people as well as leftovers that lasted well into the week.


Chili
2 lbs. hamburger (extra lean)
1/2 large minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 6 oz tomato paste
2 16 oz can red beans (I used kidney because that's all I had on hand, but red are definitely preferable)
1 16 oz can white Northern beans
3 tbl chili powder
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves (1 tsp crushed dry basil)
1 tsp ground pepper
½ cup Merlot or equivalent red wine (white is an acceptable substitute. Again, all I had on hand…)
In a large stock pot, brown hamburger, minced onion, and minced garlic cloves. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Simmer for at least 45 minutes and up to 3 hours.

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Life

Of Plans Gone Astray….

January 27, 2011

Sometimes plans go awry. Yesterday, I had hoped to saunter in the door from work around the usual 7:00, eat a great dinner, do some reading, and maybe whip out a blog post. But those plans changed.

Yesterday a blizzard descended on the city, just hours before the usual traffic rush. Offices let out early in an attempt to help employees get home before the heavy snow hit. But to no avail. The heaviest snow fell between 5:00 and 8:00, when every driver in the metro area seemed to be on the road.

In summary, I spent the hours between 4:30 PM and 12:30 AM with thousands of other cars, slowly making my way home (a mere 12 miles away). So I had plenty of time to think. And ponder. And sigh. And gaze at the clock. And change the radio station.

And I feel like I learned some things.

I learned a lot about perspective. Driving 30 mph on a 50-mph-highway in everyday traffic might seem frustrating, but when one is crawling along at 1 mph, 10 mph starts to look pretty desirable. And while a 45-minute commute that stretches into an hour may be irritating, an hour commute looked like a dream last night at Hour 5.

I learned about patience. Because, for eight long hours, circumstances were firmly beyond my control. I couldn't change the weather or make the traffic move faster or change the road I was on. And I had two choices: I could be panicky, irritated, frustrated, and upset. Or I could just relax, refuse to stress, and accept the inevitable. The former wasn't going to get me home faster. So I worked on doing the latter.

I learned other things too:

  • When the highways and freeways are crawling because of the snow conditions, trying to cut through the backroads of hilly (read: impassable) neighborhoods is not the most effective solution.
  • Conditions like last night bring out the best and worst in people.
  • Chivalry is not dead. Countless men who could have stayed warm inside their homes instead chose to stand out on the roads digging out cars, helping stranded drivers, and directing traffic.
  • It's difficult to gracefully reject the offer of a date from someone who just pushed your car up a hill, but sometimes necessary.
  • Pushing cars up snowy hills is difficult in a skirt and heels, but possible.

When we travel from our door to our office during the winter, sometimes it's easy to ignore the potentially dangerous outdoor conditions. Until sometimes we're faced with the prospect of spending the night on the road. As conditions on the road deteriorated, I was relieved to know that I had the following in my car:

  • A flashlight
  • A car charger for my phone and GPS
  • A full tank of gas
  • Gloves and a coat

However, after last night, there are definitely a couple of things I'm going to add to my car's "winter stockpile":

  • A tow rope
  • Non-perishable food
  • Boots
  • A blanket

What do you keep in your car during the winter in case of an emergency?

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Things I am grateful for today:

81. Walking in the door of my house last night at 1:07 AM
82. Relative safety last night amidst major chaos
83. A room-mate who was willing to meet me a mile from our house in the middle of the night in the freezing cold
84. Shovels
85. Four-wheel-drive trucks

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