Monthly Archives: December 2014

To examine

I reflect on 2014 with such contrasting emotions. Changes and choices in my life brought freedom, adventure and greater happiness, yet at the same time many of my dearest friends have plowed through their crappiest year yet. My life has become easier in many ways, yet more people are struggling for food, safety, and shelter. I anticipate returning to work next year having choices about where I’ll resume my career, not whether or not I’ll be able to find work. Many concerns for my boys have lessened, as there are fewer head bonks on doorknobs and falls off of furniture, yet I’m intensely aware that fears other parents face only grow as their children age.

It’s never simple, is it?

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people that could gloss over everything and focus solely on the beauty of the world, but I’m not. So, here we are again.IMG_5526

I have an amazingly easy, beautiful life right now. There is pain, loneliness, anger, longing and grief, of course. But, man, I really have it so good. (This is not because “I’m blessed” or did something right. I hate that complete disregard for privilege. My life is what it is because of a wide variety of factors, many of which I have no control over.) Yet, instead of reveling in the glory of this, I often get sucked into lies. Nearly forty years into life and I still must actively fight against believing that circumstances out of my control can determine how I judge the “success” of my life. Somehow I still have moments that I believe I will find relief from internal struggles if only we lived a more sparkly life.

When I buy into the lure of the shiny, I only find disappointment. I feel sad that we don’t own a house and may never be able to afford one in the city unless we sacrifice certain values. I want a Not So Big House with a permaculture garden. I also wouldn’t say no to a Tesla. I could wear a different pair of Bombsheller leggings every day. I want a red helmet to match my red bags on my bike. I could go on and on and on, even though I know deep in my core that happiness from stuff is fleeting.

When I’m still, listening to the voice of truth instead of fear, I can settle into contentment. Therefore, in an act that will probably be necessary for my entire life, I take the end of the year to reflect on how I grew. For me, this growth usually comes by rejecting lies and fears. I don’t come by it naturally. In addition to gratitude, this is my antidote to the shiny.

I leave 2014 thankful for the support that helped me take the risk of biking with the boys, rejecting the idea that it’s too dangerous, slow or inconvenient. Biking has been a hard-won highlight of the year. Each new step up in the riding progression was incredibly scary for me so I procrastinated like crazy. I have managed my anxiety by taking baby steps, along with ample cheerleading from my husband and inspiration from Seattle’s family biking community. There are plenty more fears to conquer, but I am finally far enough up the mountain to know it’s an adventure I will gladly continue.

I leave 2014 appreciative of renewed discipline, loosening a tightly held notion that I no longer had the resolve to consistently take care of myself as well as I’d like. Years of sleep deprivation and the incessant demands of parenting young children made me wonder if I’d lost my ability to be very disciplined. The first time I dragged my booty out of bed for a 6am weight-lifting class last spring felt like summiting Mt. Everest. I rejected months of serious doubt-training by finally showing up one morning. And the next. And the next. Now it’s a precious part of my weekly routine that elevates my mood, makes me feel better in my body, and gives me strength for biking the hills with the precious, heavy cargo.

I leave 2014 grateful for a husband who thinks deeply and questions conventions. Between the two of us, he is the one most frequent to question our motives. His constant call to reject fear is not always been easy for me, but listening to him and questioning with him has undoubtedly led us to better choices. Because of him I am excited about and energized by more risks we’re going to take in 2015. I am really lucky to have him.

I leave 2014 aching for several friends in crisis. They are unbelievably resilient, having to call on reserves I don’t know. One has demonstrated to me first hand that in our pain we need to call on our trusted loved ones to support us in specific ways. “Text me tomorrow and check in. It’s going to be a hard day for me.” This has aided me tremendously in knowing how to walk alongside her, and others, in agonizing challenges. It’s also a lesson for myself. I sometimes believe that others should know what I need when I’m struggling, and that if they don’t, they don’t really love me. I no longer want to fall for that lie. I want to let people know specific ways they can support me.

I leave 2014 thankful for freedom from false loyalties, rejecting the idea that I need to stay in relationships or communities that have not always honored my values nor shown care for me. This may sound a little crazy at first, but I am an intensely loyal person. I’ve only realized this year how that aspect of my personality has brought imprisonment along with it’s benefits. By listening to that quiet voice, and asking myself what I really want, I am finding desperately needed liberation.

I also leave 2014 angry. Rejecting lies and seeking truth comes with anger. In hindsight, yelling “fucker” at the driver who nearly hit me on my bike wasn’t my best possible choice, but FINALLY, I am speaking my anger, and this is very, very good. It’s probably not too surprising to those older than me. I’m in my late-30s, finally discovering who I really am and fighting hard to take off the masks I’ve unknowingly worn for years. I’m pissed about those masks. Mad at myself for putting them on; mad at those who encouraged me to wear them. I’m also angry at the systems that are failing our most vulnerable and maintaining people in oppression and poverty. I still don’t know what to do with the piles of rage. Word on the street is the antidote is love. And prayer. But many questions and doubts remain for me. I suppose that’s good. It’ll give 2015 something to do.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2015 bring us eyes to see what binds us, the courage to leave it, and a greater ability to love. Ourselves and each other. Out with old lies, in with newly found freedom!

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December 24th

Hoi! Hello! ¡Hola! I decided to pop my head out from behind our Christmas tree and say hi to you all before we’re ringing in 2015. Our family is having an exceptionally quiet Christmas eve and day. Our calmest and quietest yet. No parties to attend, no hosting to tend to, no family to visit or visiting us. I am making simple meals. While I love to cook, elaborate meals take away from family time. All of this was intentional and it feels soooo good. We desperately needed to relax and play as a family. Anything that distracted from that got the ax.

We let the boys pick a present to open today, and they both happened to pick ones with Legos inside (good odds?), so Harry and I are reading and writing while the boys are building new sets. Watching Miles open his and jump all around in excitement, “I wanted this! Thank you so much!” started the day off beautifully.

This year involved a few lessons for us regarding city crowds. Santa is in demand, people. Finding an open Santa lap to sit on is harder than finding a parking spot at the mall. It may take days. We should’ve been sufficiently warned when we saw people carrying sleeping bags, coolers of food and toy baskets to the lines.

With under a week left until Christmas, Charlie informed us that he really wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. This has not been a tradition for us. In fact, Harry and I hated the idea of forcing our wary kids on some guys’ lap to make them cry so we could get a picture. Now that Charlie was instead desiring this to the point of tears, honoring it was a serious act of love. An act that led us on a tear-filled Santa scavenger hunt all around town.

First I called a local nursery to see if we could snag an appointment with their Santa. A set time seemed so civilized, but that’s what everyone thought so of course they were completely booked. Next we visited an outdoor mall close to our house. The line was a minimum of an hour and a half. Outside. There was no way the boys were going to get through that, so we told Charlie we’d need to try something else. Tears welled up. We headed downtown to visit Nordstrom’s Santa whose staff was conveniently texting you at your appointment time. Perfect! We’d go see the Gingerbread Village while we waited. “Mama, how can Santa be at the other place and downtown?” Let the Christmas lying begin.

We arrived at 2:30 and Santa was already booked until closing at 9pm. Even their consolation wait-list was so long that the elf told me it was pointless to put our name down. Surrounding this kiosk were many tearful little boys and girls and their shocked parents. We made more promises to Charlie, realizing we may have to return to a line first thing in the morning.

How did we get in this place of potentially devoting two days of our vacation to finding a Santa lap? I was ready to pay any old man on the street for his services. Anyone from this list would’ve been excellent, too.

While looking at the famous, and therefore also unbelievably crowded, Gingerbread Village structures, I had plenty of time to think and got a feeling we should try Macy’s. We headed there next. With an enormous sigh of relief, we took our spot in a reasonable line. An hour later, one boy was sitting on his lap while the other watched curiously and eventually talked to him from a very cautious distance.

“Santa, a lot of my friends say you don’t exist, but now I can tell them that you do!”

“Why do they say I don’t exist?”

“One of them stayed up all night and never saw you!”

“Well, part of my magic means that I can’t come while kids are awake.”IMG_5635

They talked for five minutes, about Santa’s magical ways and what Charlie wanted. (None of which, of course, was on his original list. Aint’ gonna happen, kid.) Charlie called it his “order.” We gently informed him later that Santa lists are wish lists and not guaranteed orders. There may be disappointment tomorrow.

But for those five beautiful minutes and much of our time afterward, his eyes were completely lit up. He kept asking question after question. “I meant to ask how old he is!” We may only have a year or two left of the magic with him, so I’m glad we embraced it. I’m also incredibly thankful I’m sitting with a blanket around me instead of waiting in a line right now.

Grasshopper Squares have been a Christmas tradition for us for at least five years and they’re one I can’t imagine ever giving up. Maybe it’s because I was conceived after my mom had a Grasshopper at a restaurant. Mint and cream are a part of my DNA. I remember making them while pregnant with Miles, so he’s probably hooked forever, too. These treats have that lovely peppermint chocolate combination (like a Thin Mint! Andes! Frangos!), with a smooth truffle-like top and a brownie base. They are a really luxurious bite. Or ten.

I decided to share these here after making my second batch this year. Our first batch was shared too quickly (lucky teachers and neighbors, right?) and the boys were super sad. Harry and I wanted more, too. A recipe this loved by my family needs to be on record so they can make it someday themselves. And you just may want to, too.

I wish you peace, laughter, gratefulness, play and rest. And a little bite of delicious.

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Grasshopper Squares

Adapted slightly from Gourmet Magazine. Yields 5-6 dozen.

Brownie base

  •  6 ounces (12 tablespoons; 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate (between 55-65% cacoa), chopped
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 35 g (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Mint ganache

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons clear or green crème de menthe (there’s no flavor difference- I just don’t like food dyes so I buy the clear)
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache

  • 8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (55-65% cacoa), chopped

Preheat oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Butter the foil, too.

To make the brownie base, melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in double broiler (or a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat), stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly integrated. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake about 20-minutes, or until set. Cool completely (uncovered, on a rack). This takes one to two hours.

While the brownie base cools, make the mint ganache. Heat cream and white chocolate in a double boiler (or bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour it over the finely chopped white chocolate in a bowl. Let it sit a minute before whisking.) Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. Chill covered until thick. Stir occasionally. This takes about 1 hour.

Spread the chilled mint ganache on top of the cooled brownie base. Make a thin even layer by using an offset spatula. (Of, if you’re like me, just deal with it not being perfectly even. You won’t care when you taste one.) Chill covered until firm but slightly sticky, about 30-minutes.

While the mint layer chills, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and dark chocolate in a double boiler (or heat the cream to a simmer in a saucepan, and pour over finely chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute prior to whisking.) Whisk until smooth. Chill covered until thick, about 30-minutes. Stir occasionally.

Carefully spread the cooled chocolate ganache over the mint layer and chill at least 2 hours prior to cutting.

Lift the dessert out of pan using the foil overhang. Carefully peel off the foil and place the giant bar on a large cutting board. Run a knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim the edges of dessert (~1/4 inch off each side). Cut into squares (rectangles! triangles!) and serve.

The grasshopper squares keep chilled in an airtight container for 3-weeks. They can be layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment if needed.