Monday
Nov172014

butternut squash quinoa with bacon, sage + fresh parmesan

For the past few weeks, my daughter has been asking me about the cold hard truth surrounding Santa Claus. I thought I had another year before I needed to explain the complexities of Santa Claus because up until now, she’s never questioned us about it.  I really believed my 11 -year old daughter, a self-professed believer, would have one more Christmas where that magic would remain in tact. And although this is a natural progression of growth and maturity, it still feels too soon somehow. Deep down, I know she’s ready for more grown up conversations. For discussions involving truths that can’t be measured quantitatively but that need to be expressed and felt and shared.

She yearns for these discussions.  She needs them.

It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago, she was writing letters to her beloved Saint Nick, making sure her penmanship was prominent and curly and dotted with hearts. She’d mail those heartfelt little notes and with them, the splendor and brilliance of the season was anchored into her soul.

I walked into her room the other night, hours after she had finally learned the truth, and watched her sleep.  I remembered the way her chubby baby fingers gripped the edge of her crib and the way she’d pull herself up and smile when I walked into the room. And it didn’t seem possible then. It didn’t seem remotely feasible that one day, she would be too grown up for any of it. All of this inner turmoil I’m feeling is about so much more than Santa Claus. It’s about the practice of placing your faith in things that aren’t always visible. In things we can’t always explain, or touch or even entirely understand. It's that faith that binds our minds and hearts and allows us to trust with conviction and passion and absolute certainty. And it’s all part of a much bigger story. A story I always want her to believe in.

I read a beautiful excerpt by C.S. Lewis once. When he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, his dedication to his Goddaughter Lucy Barfield brought tears to my eyes.

“Girls grow quicker than books. As a result, you are already too old for fairy tales…But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” 

Even though the Santa Claus myth isn’t theoretically true, it offers a lot of merit with respect to the human spirit. The idea of giving without the prospect of reciprocation. The notion of receiving and accepting while still maintaining grace and humility. These rituals exert such wonderful life lessons that can be applied to our every day routines. In the way we communicate with our family and friends through meaningful conversations. In the way we become advocates for truth in the face of injustice and ambiguity and adversity. In the way we volunteer our time to a charity or organization we feel a strong connection to. Santa Claus enables these life lessons to flourish in our hearts every single day.

I’ll be there when she’s old enough to read fairytales again. When she’s ready to participate in upholding and making the fairy tale of Santa Claus special for her little brother and new baby cousins and maybe someday, for her very own children. 

Wednesday
Nov122014

roasted cauliflower + red pepper orzo salad with chili

We have very loose plans to travel to France this summer and although it is still months and months away, it hasn't prevented me from researching and daydreaming. I've become obsessed with this gorgeous French Chateau. Have you heard of it? A couple purchased an old French Château and are slowly restoring it and documenting the process on their blog. It's the way I've always pictured the French countryside. Magnificent and yet muted. The sort of brilliance you might expect in a children’s fairytale. And although I’m usually drawn to a more modern esthetic, there is something so beautifully restorative about re-establishing something to its original splendor

I'm most excited because it was my children who, upon my suggestion of a European venue, insisted on France. They are absurdly excited because:

a) They are fluent in French and want to see if they can fool the locals with their faux-Parisian accents.

b) They think artists roam the streets painting haphazurdly and wearing pretty berets.

c) They imagine themselves indulging in chocolate croissants and doughy baguettes and crispy little frites every day which, I might add, is a very real possibility.

Our own personal agendas aside, we're all thrilled for what lies ahead. My daughter has been obsessed with all things French since her school choir sang a song about the Champs-Élysées a few years ago. I still hear her humming it now and then. That sweet, high-pitched tune that propels her to twirl and dance and sing.

My little ones have been very involved in our online apartment hunting expedition and have very strong opinions. Raphaelia is more interested in flats with remarkable views of landmarks and beaches and Nikolas is drawn to the ones that look neat and orderly on the inside. I'm so glad they have all the bases covered. 

All of this preliminary planning has made me think about what’s really important. The disposal of the mundane and the acceptance of the meaningful. And I’m not suggesting that memorable experiences require an international destination or expensive vacations or any money at all for that matter. There is just something so incredibly beautiful about experiencing something for the first time as a family. My husband had the opportunity to travel extensively with his parents when he was a young boy and one of the things he loved the most was that they were able to live those moments together. For the very first time. 

I think when possible, travel offers such unique instruction. There is something so enlightening about learning through tangible means because that kind of physical connection can’t be learned through textbooks or classroom theory.

I'm going to ask my children to keep a short journal for the duration of this holiday. They’re old enough now to experience the culture and beauty on their own terms and I want them to remember those wonderful little tidbits. Those tiny details that would otherwise go unmentioned. Forgotten. One of my favorite things is going back and re-reading old journal entries from my childhood. It was such an important part of growing up for me because it helped me to appreciate those periods in an altogether new light. It allowed me to value them for what they were; fleeting moments that made an impression.

And impressions form opinions. And opinions form ideas. And ideas form personalities.

I can’t wait to watch their little personalities ripen.

Now about this dish. I know. I know. Two orzo recipes back to back but I honestly couldn't help myself. I wasn't even planning on writing about it which is why there is only one, mediocre photograph. Sorry about that. It was so incredibly delicious and easy, just the sort of thing I know you'll all love. The really fabulous part is that it's equally delicious served hot or cold and it's one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day. Go make it. It's superb.

 

Wednesday
Oct152014

tomato-orzo stew with parmesan + basil

Oh my. I had no idea I've been away from this space for so long. I've been wrapped up in birthday celebrations and preparations for Thanksgiving. Time passes quickly and there are days where that feels like a good thing, and then other times, you sort of feel sad about it because it might mean that you’re not loving and embracing it enough. That's how I'm feeling these days. Time is hurtling and I don't like it one bit. It’s evident when I’m with my beautiful little niece who is now seven months old. Or when I look at photos of my darling nephew who is already two months old. How did that happen?

Autumn is in full bloom and that means bright colored, honey-toned leaves with flecks of red and orange. It means chunky knits and tall boots and spiced-lattes. Soups and stews and chilis and homemade biscuits. Roaring fires and brisk, nippy strolls. And although the days are getting shorted by the minute, I've embraced it by delving into some fine reading material. My book club is currently into this little gem which is terrifying and exhilarating and inconceivable. It makes the early departure of sunlight a little more bearable when there’s a good book and warm cup of tea in hand.

We had a really wonderful weekend. The weather was perfect and it was spent in the company of family and good friends. We shared a meal and played board games and took long walks on the beach. The children collected sea glass and we made hearts in the sand out of rocks and my mom helped me collect some driftwood. I’m not sure what I’ll use it for but I’ve always loved the twists and bends and color of wood that’s been bathed in salt water and sun. All year long, it’s a reminder that summer is never too far away and in the depths of winter, that is a welcomed reprieve.  I used to always think of this time of year as a precursor to winter which made it nearly impossible for me to embrace the beauty and splendor of the season. But slowly, I’ve learned that every period offers something poetic and beautiful. I have to try really hard to remember that when it’s minus 30 and the cold is thrashing with bitterness and fury. It’s times like this, even in the midst of wet slushy winters and blowing, prickly snow that I am grateful for this place. For living near the ocean and amidst valleys and farms and beautiful orchards where a breathtaking hike and the opportunity to gather your own apples and pumpkins are so very close.  

While we were walking and collecting things and looking out into the beautiful ocean, we couldn’t help but feel grateful. For the water and the warm October breeze and the tall sun-lit trees. That feeling of being immersed in nature is so invigorating and freeing. It's peaceful and quiet and because that little stretch of beach is so private, the solitude sort of allows you to lose yourself in your own private thoughts. I realize now that this place in the north shore saved me in so many ways. From being too busy or too involved or too immersed in so many extras that crowd your mind and leave you feeling a bit worn out. This past Thanksgiving weekend, in my own private tribute of gratitude, this space was near the top.

And I imagine it always will be. 

Wednesday
Sep172014

peanut butter granola with dark chocolate

My darling girl,

I remember the way I used to rub my belly and sing songs and imagine days where we would have only each other while the rest of the world went about their daily labors. That we would lie in bed, cuddled and warm, reading fairy tales and napping arm in arm.

I'm so happy those things actually happened.

I can hardly believe almost eleven years have passed since you graced us with your presence. Eleven years since I felt your heart beating next to mine. A heartbeat I heard many times before through medical appointments, but one I longed to touch and feel and caress. It was and still is, the most beautiful sound on earth. I've wondered about that sweet heart of yours so many times over the years. About how I would cope if someone toyed or broke or abused it. I wondered what I would say to make that pain and hurt go away, or if my words could ever provide enough comfort and healing.

I believe we are called to live a life of honor and truth. One that propels us forward spiritually and authentically. To be empathetic and understanding along this journey and to live faithfully even when life seems terribly unfair. Even when we are broken and afraid and overwhelmed. Even when we feel we don't have any more to give. It takes a long time to grow into the person we are meant to be and along the way we will encounter hardship and sorrow. And as you try hard to find your own path, I hope you never forget that all of these things, the good and the bad, strengthen our spirit.

It's easy to be swept up in that current. In that need to be accepted and noticed and loved. Any change you feel is necessary should come from a place of personal growth rather than a need to conform. We are all just beautiful souls trying hard to find our way, but we often neglect the fact that the clearest path to the truth lies in our ability to believe in ourselves. I want you to know that your self-worth should never come from a place of compliance or from a desire to be recognized for anything more than what you actually are.

And now, almost eleven years since I first laid eyes on your little face, I see how much you have taught me about love and resilience. I know now more than ever that what matters most in this life is those morsels of goodness found in a persons heart and soul, and I can say with absolute certainty that yours is filled with empathy and compassion. With love and light.

It’s hard for me not to be consumed with what lies ahead but I am learning that the very best way to live, is in the here and now. Not to concern myself with tomorrow but to focus solely on the miracle of this beautiful life.

Today. With you.

Love you forever and ever and ever,

Mom

Wednesday
Sep102014

roasted chickpea, sweet potato + quinoa pilaf

My mother always said that a child’s Godparents are determined long before a baby is even born. The connection is already forged and put forth and the promise of a spiritual presence is pre-determined. I've always felt a deep connection with my own Godparents and like the idea that we've always belonged to each other. 

My Godfather, was always, always, immaculately dressed with a four piece suit and a fedora with a small feather tucked on the side. He looked like a movie star from the twenties. Perfectly groomed. Dapper. Distinguished. My Godmother was beautiful, with rippling black curls and big brown eyes and they were both devoted to our relationship. To making it special and strong. 

Even though they lived in a very urban setting on a very busy downtown street, they managed to create a beautiful backyard oasis filled with colorful flowers and sweet smelling potted herbs. Across the street was a mom and pop shop that sold comic books and candy and every time I’d visit, I dashed over with a two dollar bill in my hand for a bag of roast chicken potato chips and a pack of cherry- flavored Chiclets. 

They reserved a barrel of crayons and old paper placemats from their restaurant for impromptu art sessions and they'd always hang my drawings on their wall or fridge. We'd often feast on a lunch of braised beef and fluffy white rice and homemade pudding, and sip on little cartons of the sweetest imported orange nectar I’d ever tasted. And then we'd sit in their very formal living room adorned with antique Victorian-style furniture and long flowing drapes and have coffee and homemade almond biscuits. My cup was always filled with more milk of course but still, I felt a bit grown up about the whole process and for being included in what seemed like a very formal ritual. But perhaps my favorite part was being allowed to feed their pet canary, George. He was a bright yellow hue with flecks of orange and ginger and he had the tiniest beak I’d ever seen. I'd sit next to his cage and listen to him chirp happy little tunes that I swore mimicked many of my favorite childhood songs. Before I left, my Godfather would always take a big scoop of candy from a decorative bowl on his dining table and shove them in my pockets. “Thank you,” I’d mumble, with a mouthful of buttery, English toffee. He’d wink at me and put his finger to his mouth making a faint shushing sound.

Our little secret.

I only have happy memories of the time I spent with them and I love that I’ve carried these beautiful, real-life stories with me all these years. That they have become a huge part of the way I remember my childhood and ultimately, I think that’s what’s made the biggest impression on me. The practice of spending time with my loved ones from a very young age and being immersed in their every day life. The garden. George the canary. Coffee and biscuits. It’s all part of this chapter in my life that has become a compass for me. My Godparents are a part of my story and I am a part of theirs. It’s this beautiful map of connections and experiences and memories, some magnificent and others, rather ordinary, but still meaningful and important.

Still celebrated. 

Very recently, my  Godmother had her 91st birthday and I am so happy that she is still here with me, watching my own children grow. She has a maternal presence that can’t quite compare and I’ve always valued her advice and unwavering devotion. When we asked her to be Raphaelia's Godmother too, she wept. And so did I. Because the truth is, she's the very best Godmother and the very best person.

She belongs to us. And we belong to her.