Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In the Candy Store

I’m like a kid in a candy store this week, or just a grownup getting to stay home until after the first of the year, hanging out in my jammies, drinking hot chocolate, and getting some long neglected house projects out of the way.

There have been several phone calls back and forth with a local homeless shelter regarding the donation of the bed in my spare room. Once it goes to a family in need I’ll have that room clear to transform it into what I’ve been wanting for years – a writing/art room. A studio. A room of one's own. Then I’ll have no excuse to avoid writing, and my creative messes will be limited to one room instead of spread around the rest of the house.

This post is being written on my new toy; my husband gave me a new laptop for Christmas. I’ve wanted one for years, and now that I’ll have a room just for me it’s the perfect gift at the perfect time. Yep, I’m like a kid in a candy store. And it’s only going to get better.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I’m sitting here at the computer wrapped in a blanket with a hot cup of tea in front of me. It’s cold and gloomy outside, and not so much better inside. Until I moved into this house I’d spent a good portion of my adult life heating with wood. Sometimes it was my only heat source. While I’d gotten tired of hauling wood – and making sure I had a good supply in before the first cold days – I’ve never fallen out of love with a good, roaring fire. Forced air heat doesn’t compare. There’s nothing to cozy up to and you can’t warm your toes on a heating vent in the ceiling. It doesn’t even look warm.

There are all sorts of reasons not to have wood fire; it’s bad for the environment, you have to cut down trees for fuel, it’s messy and time-consuming. But right now, honestly, I don’t care. I miss a fire. It’s really the only way I know to make a house toasty warm and welcoming during the dark winter days.

And here we are at the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year, the longest night, the day the light begins its return. I like to do a little ritual every year at this time to welcome warmth back to the world, inviting the light into my home. It makes me appreciate the winter more and keeps me aware that spring will come, no matter how dark and cold it is until then.

Until then I’ll light lots of candles and drink cup after cup of tea.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I like ordinary things. Plain, everyday things that have been lived with for a long time. New has little appeal for me, instead it’s the scratched piece, or the one with a dent I like. The well-loved, but not threadbare thing I, or someone else, have owned for years. There’s a sense of continuity that makes me feel at home.

When I look around my house I see the couch my husband brought from his first marriage (it’s in ridiculously good condition) and the china hutch I brought from mine, a cupboard my husband made using old glass doors I found at a garage sale, a desk I bought at an estate sale 27 years ago. And little things: cloth napkins that get softer with each washing, a small clock I can hear tick-tocking from the other side of the house, mixing bowls I’ve collected from thrift stores and garage sales, the afghan I crocheted while healing from my first heartbreak a lifetime ago.

They’re all ordinary things, simple belongings that remind me that I’m making a home to live in for a long time. They’re part of my future now, as well as my history.

What ordinary thing makes you feel cozy in your home? Does it have a story?

Monday, December 7, 2009

To Warm the Cockles of Your Heart

Last night’s dinner was pure California winter comfort food, a big bowl of Cioppino to drive away the damp chill. I try to make it at least once when crab is in season, mostly because it’s a shame to not take advantage of the ocean’s bounty.

The first time I ever had cioppino, in fact, the first I’d ever heard of it, was in my early twenties. My first clue it was a messy dish was the bib the waiter tied around my neck before he set my meal in front of me. I haven’t eaten cioppino in public since. It’s a meal to be shared at home with people who won’t mind that you’ve got sauce on your hands and who expect you to mop up the last few bites with a hunk of sourdough bread.

This is my tried and true recipe. It’s open to adjustment and is always a little different depending on how spicy I want it to be, whether I use tomatoes with herbs already added, and what seafood looks good at the store.

Cioppino Sauce

2 – 4 shallots, finely chopped
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
Red wine (1 cup)
2 cans crushed tomatoes
1 bottle clam juice
Fresh parsley, finely chopped (1/2 bunch)
Thyme, Oregano, Red pepper flakes (to taste)

Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil. Add red wine & reduce. Add crushed tomatoes, clam juice, parsley, thyme, oregano,  red pepper fllakes, and simmer. (I simmered mine for almost two hours, partially covered.) Add seafood.

I used Dungeness crab, scallops, shrimp, mussels, and clams, adding them the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Light candles, pour good red wine, and dig in.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting Crafty

The living moment is everything. - D.H. Lawrence

The heart of a sweet life is in saucy friendship.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, the day we gather with family and friends, eat too much good food, follow traditions, and make memories. And, hopefully, find a moment in the busy-ness to be thankful for what we have.

Every family has its own way of celebrating the day. For some people it’s a full-on turkey dinner, for others it might be a picnic at the beach. Some families aren’t even related to each other, but have found a heart connection that binds them as surely as blood. It’s all about setting aside some time to be with people you love and really seeing each other in the best, most caring light.

We’ll spend the day at my sister-in-law’s house, gathered around a huge table filled with amazingly delicious and beautiful food. It’s going to be a good day, full of all the things that make a holiday.

I have so much to be thankful for: my husband, a warm home, that in a tough economy we both have jobs, for the families of my heart and blood, for the many small moments that make life magical.

I’d love to hear about your day. How do you celebrate?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making the Bitter Sweet

Have you ever eaten a fresh cranberry? Let me tell you, you haven’t missed out on anything. There’s nothing to recommend it. You wouldn’t want to grab a handful to nibble while watching a movie. They’re not a tasty treat.

But add a little sugar, some chopped orange and walnuts, raisins, and port, cook it for awhile and magic happens. Put it in jars and you’ve got deliciousness to last all year. Today I canned 24 four ounce jars of Cranberry Port Conserve. I can’t say it’s my best effort, but it’s pretty good.

Making jams or conserves is a meditation for me. I breathe and pay attention to details, one step at a time, everything in its own time. No hurry, no wishing it might be different. It just is.

Most often jam is made from sweet fruit; it’s not a stretch to make it edible. A cranberry requires something more, a willingness to see what it might become with a little imagination.

Cranberry Port Conserve

4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup port
½ cup finely chopped, peeled orange
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Combine cranberries, sugar, and port – bring to a full boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, until berries pop.

Add orange and raisins. Return to a boil, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, until mixture forms a light gel, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in nuts.

Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wishing and Hoping

Every year, when the dandelions go to seed, I can’t help but want to make wishes on each one that floats by. When I was a kid we called them fairies, chasing and then catching them with both hands so they couldn’t escape before we’d whispered our wishes to them.

I still make wishes on dandelions and stars and birthday candles. I also know that wishes don’t always come true, and when they do, they often look differently than we’d imagined. And sometimes the wish itself needs a little adjusting – kind of like the dandelion seed in the picture. It’s a little ragged.

That doesn’t mean we should stop making wishes, or be afraid of what we wish for. We need our wishes. They help us live well.

So go ahead … close your eyes, make a wish, hold it gently, let it go.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sometimes there are no words, only our own quiet breath.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Not So Perfect

Almost forty years ago I made this little cup. It’s been packed up and moved with me at least a dozen times, and never, not once, have I thought about throwing it out. It was the first thing I ever made.

It’s supposed to be a Japanese tea cup, a beautiful thing for a graceful ceremony. I was nine; grace and beauty weren’t within my reach then – and often aren’t now – but I tried anyway.

The cup is too shallow, the rim too wide, the glaze drips down the side without pattern, my little fingertips left indents where there should have been a smooth surface. I compared my cup to those made by my classmates and came up short; I may have cried.

It now sits on the china hutch where everyone can see it. I keep it because it reminds me that something doesn’t have to be perfect to be precious. It’s a good lesson about the other parts of life too.

In the last few years I’ve ventured into making things again. Sometimes they’re beautiful and sometimes they’re kind of pathetic. There probably isn’t an artistic masterpiece in my future and it doesn’t matter a bit. What I love is dropping into a meditative state when I’m mid-project, the sense of curiosity about where I’m being led, the satisfaction of having done my best.

If, in the end, I’ve made a thing of beauty, that’s an extra gift.