Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Without Opa

Currently Reading: Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.

Today has been a Christmas baking day, one full of cinnamon smells, wiping flour on my apron, and licking dough from bowls. My back is sore but my heart is full. Everywhere I look, I feel and see Christmas- from the carols serenading us to the lights on the Christmas tree to the bags full of Christmas goodies on the counters. (Nate playing Harry Potter Lego on the Xbox isn't exactly Christmas, but I'll take it anyway.) :) This year, we used our new Advent wreath (Adventskranz for us German folk) to celebrate the Advent season. While we got a little behind on lighting the candles, we are making sure that all four will be lit tonight as Advent ends and the Christmas celebrating begins.


I am a little nervous for Christmas this year, for it will be our first one without Opa. He won't be there to put on his obviously-fake-but-terribly-cute Santa wig and beard to pass out his "special envelopes," or to sit at the head of the table during Christmas dinner. He won't be making up his own silly lyrics to a Christmas carol and making me laugh- not at the lyrics but at the silly voice he uses. I dreamt about him several weeks ago, and he was using that silly voice again, making a joke just for me. I missed it. It was good to hear it again.


Every year, my sister, Nathan, and I put up our Oma's Christmas village after Thanksgiving. It is something my sister and I have always done; Nate has now become part of the tradition. Ever since we were little, we have lugged up boxes of porcelain houses and accessories, and proceed to perfectly design a little Christmas village in the middle of Oma's living room. We have never missed a year.


While we do this, we always listen to the same CD of Christmas carols, Oma bustles in and out with extra tablecloths and some mugs of hot cocoa, and Opa would sit in his chair, watching us and giving us pointers. Two years ago, as he watched and we admired our handiwork, he said something about how someday he wouldn't be here to see us put up the Christmas village. And then he started to cry. Real tears.

The only time I have ever seen him cry was when he would tell the dog fart story that made him laugh so hard, he was sobbing. But this time was different. Suddenly, my Opa was showing us how important our little ritual was to him, and how much he would miss it when he was gone. In shock, I went to him and laid my head in his lap and cried with him for a minute or two. Then we dried our eyes, and laughed, and I fetched him cocoa. That was really the last time he was with us for the construction of the village. Last year, he still sat and watched us, but he was more listless and a bit unaware of what was going on. This year, of course, my sister and I fought back the tears as Roger Whittaker's version of "Ding Dong Merrily On High" sailed into the room and we began to lift houses out of boxes. His chair was empty. But he and I had that moment, that good-bye to our tradition together two years ago and when I look back on it, I am so glad it happened. That is one of my favorite memories of my Opa, despite the heartache of it.

Putting up the Christmas village this year was hard, but we made it. I like to think it was our precursor to what Christmas will be like this year- hard and dreadfully sad, but still bearable. Still happy. Still celebrating.

I will celebrate the family I have, here and there. I will celebrate the 24 years I had with the greatest Opa of them all, and I will celebrate that someday I will get to see him again. And I will celebrate love, and magic, and hope, which is stronger than the pain and the heartache of loss. My soul is at peace and ready for the joy that is Christmas.

I intended to discuss my journey into Louisa May Alcott's world recently, as I finished the biography Marmee and Louisa, read several of her short stories, and started reading Little Women out loud to Nathan.... but it seems like I needed to get this out today. Thank you for listening. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Be Still

Currently Reading: Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante and The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey

Nathan and I went to our church on Saturday afternoon, slipping into the quiet, darkened sanctuary for a half hour of stillness and reflection and prayer, alone with our Lord in His house. It felt so right, so necessary, to center ourselves and lift our thoughts and questions to God after a day of tragic news and horrific truths. I left the church feeling whole and restored, still shaken but sure of who He is and the good that still exists in this world.

My journal received some of my thoughts this weekend, but I want to share some of them here as well. There is so much sadness in the world, so much I want to change- not just the tragedy in Connecticut but those who struggle and hurt every day- in poverty-stricken countries in Central America or war-torn areas in the Middle East, even the homeless and hungry in our own country- people we don't often hear or talk about and are never mentioned in our Facebook statuses. We are so blessed, so lucky to be protected and well. And when our sense of security is shattered, as it was on Friday, we grapple with our feelings of vulnerability and of fear. Of our mortality. Of the potential of losing what is most dear to us. We are stripped raw and exposed as we force ourselves to re-examine what is most important in our lives, and let go of the things that don't matter. While it hurts and tears at us, it is so good to venture from our stable pillars and reassert our faith in God, in each other, and in ourselves.

Weeks from now, the events of this weekend- the pain, the fragility, the awakening- will only be an aching memory and we will return to our daily routines and worries. But this week, with Friday's events still raw in our hearts and with Christmas celebrations drawing closer, my challenge for myself- and for you- is to watch and take note of the little blessings we are given every day, savoring the joy that comes when we stop to notice them. One of my favorite Bible verses is "Be still, and know that I am God." When I am still, when I stop and slow down to fully recognize the blessings of my life, I find God. He is there- in the glow of our Christmas tree, in the dance of sunlight on snow, in the voices of my loved ones. I will seek Him, living in gratitude, despite the world of sin in which I live. And by doing so, even when I feel most helpless, I know that gratitude can lead to amazing things, that it is powerful. With thankful hearts, we can bring love and understanding and kindness to our world and the world of those around us. We can change our perspective... and make a difference in our own, unique ways.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Peek Into the Kitchen

Currently Reading: A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz

I love my kitchen.


It's a tiny galley kitchen with barely any counter space but it is one of my favorite rooms in the apartment. Cooking was never my "thing" growing up; it was my sister who helped my mother make pizza dough and chop ingredients. It was never very interesting to me until I moved out and started living on my own in college. Suddenly, cooking became exciting and I looked forward to trying new recipes.


In my kitchen, I am able to express another aspect of my creativity. I savor the act of slipping my apron over my neck and rolling up my sleeves, grabbing mixing bowls and measuring cups. And with the holidays right around the corner and the semester wrapping up, I'm looking forward to all of the days I will have to spend creating in the kitchen. Lately, I have been very interested in creating homemade pantry staples, thanks to my new favorite cookbook, The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. (Her blog is linked here; she is a great cook and very helpful. Both times I have emailed her with questions about yogurt firmness or cleaning my Dutch oven, she has responded within days.) Thanks to her cookbook, I blanched my first batch of corn on the cob this summer and I learned a wickedly delicious butternut squash soup recipe. Best of all, we no longer buy cereal, yogurt, canned beans, hamburger buns, or vegetable stock- I now make all of these things from scratch, which is gratifying in so many ways.

Granola cereal and yogurt
Not only do I know that we are saving money on our monthly grocery bill, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that we are putting healthier food into our mouths, without preservatives or an influx of sugars or sodium. It is thrilling and deeply soul-satisfying to cook. I agree with Alana: "the thrill is what keeps me cooking and sharing."


I am far from done with my experimentation. Cheddar crackers, fruit roll-ups, Italian salad dressing, and more are on my list. I have also found another cookbook that I will be reading over Christmas break called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese, which will hopefully yield even more ideas and inspire me further to grab my kitchen tools.

While I am far from the perfect cook, it is a hobby that I have come to really love. It is relaxing (as long as I'm not rushing to put dinner on the table) and it is therapeutic. Turns out, cooking itself has a pretty fascinating history as well. Yesterday I finished the book Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson. I will never look at my kitchen gadgets the same way again. Turns out there was much I didn't think about when it came to what was in my kitchen and how the devices I take for granted- forks, fridge, oven- has had a profound impact on what we eat. The history of cooking is the history of humankind and a history of our cultures. Everything from ice cube trays to spatulas have a history, one that affected our ancestors and their survival for centuries. For instance, the invention of pots allowed humans to cook different foods together, instead of hanging individual pieces of meat or vegetables over an open flame. In addition, pots helped move us from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural one, for we finally had the means to cook the food we grew. Wilson includes discussions of how ovens have changed our relationship with fire, how the type of knives we use have contributed to human jaw's overbites, and the fear people had of refrigeration. I feel like I have a better appreciation for and a new awareness of how my tools affect my cooking. Occasionally, while reading late at night, I found myself sneaking into the kitchen just to open the cabinets and study my kitchen tools- what they're made out of, how they're shaped, and think about how much harder it would be without these devices. I truly feel that anyone who has a passion for cooking would learn so much from this book. I know that it has increased my passion and inspired me even further.

Have a great weekend! Here is a little holiday magic to start December off right!


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