Friday, December 31, 2010

Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies ...


I'm very nearly speechless.

Make these.

They're sensational. They're not too sweet. I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao bittersweet chips instead of semi-sweet chips. I recommend that you do the same. The espresso serves to heighten the taste of the chocolate, though you can detect it, too. I would also recommend that you add chopped, toasted walnuts, which I will do the next time I make these, which will be very, very soon.

And consume them with Champagne, especially if it happens to be New Year's Eve. And oh, look at that! It is!

But good milk will do just fine, too.

I'd steer clear of consuming them with coffee. Unless you don't have any need for sleep.

Any chocolate-and-coffee lover in your life will be forever in your debt.

Did I mention that they're sensational?

They're sensational.

'Choosing Easy World' ...

I'm a big fan of "easy."

In college, I dropped pre-med and completed a degree in English because pre-med was hard and English was easy. Pre-med required massive textbooks for classes I didn't care to take and hours of studying. English required that I read interesting books and write papers that garnered comments from teachers and professors such as "Absolutely grrrrrrreat!" and "The best sentence I've read all day" and "May I please have a copy of this for my files?"

Screw you, inorganic chemistry.

I tried pre-med. I really did. (If you're so inclined, you can read that story here.)

If I may quote myself from that post: "Somewhere in my DNA, I believe that anything worth doing must be difficult. Writing has always come far too easily for me to consider it 'real work.' "

Damn those Puritans and their work ethic that had somehow seeped into my genes.

But over the years, I came around. Slowly. Very slowly. I made progress, but I continued to struggle to figure out my life, to find the answer, to find that key piece of data that would unlock the mystery to my one true calling. And then I finally realized that that is an entirely futile pursuit.

There is not one answer. I suppose that that is true for most people. No one is just an accountant or just a cellist. But most people seem to land in a place and do a job and earn a living and live a life.

And maybe they're entirely unhappy. Or maybe they're entirely content. I've never asked them.

But for me, myself, there are too many things I want to do, too many things that call to me.

Earlier this year, I was out with my friend Steve. We were sitting at the bar at Bandera, having some a couple of glasses of wine before dinner, and I told him about my editor at Chicago magazine, Joe, who had told me, of choosing an emerging career path, "You can do a lot of things. It's going to be really hard for you."

"Or really easy," said Steve, without skipping a beat.

Or really easy.

In 20 years, I had never thought to look at that statement from the other direction. I never thought to just flip it around.

Easy, Beth. Let it be easy.

Like I said: Easy? I'm a big fan.

Still, when my friend Rick's wife, Julia Rogers Hamrick, wrote "Choosing Easy World," my latent Puritan genes bristled.

But I was intrigued. And I like supporting authors, so I bought the book.

And then it languished on my bedside table.

Why?

Didn't I want to find out how to choose Easy World? Why not?

Turned out, the answer was "habit." Pure and simple.

I, just like just about everyone else, has grown up with loop playing in my head that life is hard, work is hard, anything worth having requires hard work. Hard, hard, hard.

And since our thoughts create our realities, since what we focus on is what we see, we literally make things hard on ourselves.

But if we can make things hard on ourselves, we can make them easy, just like Steve said.

Huh.

But no. It can't be that simple, can it? Just letting things be easy?

Um, yup. It really can be. Better yet, it really is.

Not "can be."

Is.

It just is.

If you subscribe to the notion that all realities are happening simultaneously – and I do – then Difficult World, as Julia calls it, and Easy World co-exist. They're just on different frequencies. Like TV stations. Easy World, of course, is Channel 1. Difficult World is Channel 2. Her point is this: If you're watching Channel 2, you can't see what's happening on Channel 1. You have to select Channel 1.

So, select Channel 1.

Of course, difficulties will still arise, but when you change the way you perceive a situation, the situation changes. If you view the loss of a job as the single worst thing to ever happen to you in the history of your existence and you're sure that you'll never find another job and you'll lose your home and lose all your friends, well, those things may very well happen. It's pretty hard to find a job when you're sure you'll never find another job.

But if you view the loss of a job as a sign that you were in the wrong place and that you've now been freed to pursue something you were meant to do? Well, that's a lot more appealing, isn't it?

"Um, Beth?", you may be thinking. "What about paying the bills?"

Yep, I've been there. That panic that comes of not knowing where the money is coming from? Check.

But what good can possibly be created in a place of desperation?

As impossible as it may seem initially, the key is to trust that everything is unfolding just as it's meant to unfold.

If a person who can't swim finds themselves in water, the immediate reaction is panic. But flailing about, struggling, is fruitless. As impossible as it seems in the moment, the best thing to do in that situation is to relax and float.

The same goes for a car that's gone into a skid. Most people end up overcorrecting, and then when the car regains its traction, it's heading in the opposite direction. But steering where you want to go will ensure that you're headed in the right direction when the car recovers.

I have a slew of sticky notes in the pages of Julia's book. I can cite near-endless passages that resonated with me. But those are the passages that resonated with me. What resonates with you may be different.

You can peer into the book on Amazon – and then buy it, I hope. (You can also sign up to receive sample chapters here, but Amazon allows you to glimpse later parts of the book.) You might wonder how she can sustain her premise for all those pages. I did. And the first few chapters all seemed to be saying the same thing. So I thought I could stop reading.

Don't. Read the whole book. It's a quick read. You can pick it up today and have it read by tonight. Or, if you're free tomorrow, settle in with it then. What better way to kick off a new year than by choosing to live it in Easy World? Read it and get the lay of the land.

Then read it again. Make notes in the margins. Underline passages. Yes, the premise is simple, but most of us have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. Let the message really sink in.

Trust in the process.

Learn to float.

Come on in. The water's fine.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wake-Up Cocoa Quick Bread ...

Yesterday, Angelo posted a link to this recipe for Wake-Up Cocoa Quick Bread. I have no idea why I've never subscribed to that food blog. I should do that. Hold on.

OK, that's done.

Anyway, as I was saying, this bread.

I lacked a few ingredients, so yesterday, out and about, I picked them up.

And this morning, I piled everything onto the counter and mixed everything together, and scraped it all into the prepared pan and put it in the oven, and about an hour later, I had this:


Dead simple. As instructed, I let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan before turning it out onto the rack. It came out perfectly:


The aroma as it baked was fabulous, the subtle scent of warm cocoa and cinnamon. The recipe warned to watch it closely, as it's a "dry" bread to begin with so overbaking is a concern. Indeed. Next time, I'll take it out a few minutes earlier.

I was eager for it to cool enough to slice. Which it since has. (A drywall saw would have come in handy to get through the top crust, but a serrated knife did the trick.)

It's delicious. Just a hint of sweetness. I'm eating it plain, to really taste it. (Though I did put a tiny dab of peanut butter on one bite to see if it'd be Reese's-esque. Nope.)

The recipe suggests that this is better on the third day, so I'll keep it around and try it over time. Though, really, what I want to do is toast a slice of it tomorrow and up the chocolate ante with a slathering of Nutella. I live for hazelnut-flavored anything.

It would indeed be lovely to wake up to the bread's aroma. Though given that I live alone, I'd have to rely on an intruder with baking skills, and really, what are the odds of that?

But it's surely worth adding to your repertoire, a lovely bread to whip up when you have guests. A bit of raspberry jam might be nice, just a hint of it. And clearly, this goes really well with coffee. The flavor of the espresso powder in it doesn't come through specifically. It just adds to the overall flavor.

Next time, perhaps I'll try it with dark cocoa. Or some dark chocolate chips. Maybe a smidgen of almond extract. It's lovely as it is, but it also makes a great base from which to experiment.

Update, Wednesday, The Next Day: Cut a slice, broke off a bite. Ate it. Yup, tastier than yesterday. Fuller flavor, but still subtle. Popped the rest of the slice in the toaster. Didn't let it get too toasty. Broke it in half. Put a bit of butter on one piece, a bit of raspberry jam on the other. The butter doesn't do much for it, not like it does on traditional toast, but the raspberry jam. Oh, now that's lovely. Mind you, that piece doesn't have butter and jam. Just jam. No need to consume the calories from the butter. And no, I can't believe I just wrote that.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

So This Is (The Day After) Christmas ...

The day after Christmas always feels so strange.

All the hubbub is in the rear-view mirror. Except for those who venture out to the stores in search of sales or to make returns.

I am not one of them.

Black Friday is my least-favorite shopping day of the year. Today is my second-least-favorite shopping day of the year. I won't venture into so much as a Walgreens today. I'll stay safely away as the retail piranhas strip the aisles all but bare.

At the moment, I'm relishing that I have nothing to do. I have things I can do – there are always things to do – but I have nothing I have to do. The remaining items on my to-do list, lone lines of legibility in a sea of entries crossed off, are of the future variety, things I've written down simply so I don't forget them, not because they need to be done ASAP.

Now that I don't have to make bread, I kind of want to make bread. Now that I don't have to bake cookies, I kind of want to bake cookies. I surely don't have to cook. I don't have to cook for a couple of days. Mom always overprepares. She's Serbian. She can't help it. And I am the grateful recipient of neat stacks of plastic takeout containers from the food-service store, each filled with something from Christmas Eve including a delightful piece of chocolate cheesecake, a throwback to my childhood, that will be consumed a forkful at a time over the course of a couple of days. It's very rich.

I may read. I may nap. I may drink wine. I will very probably drink wine.

Gift-wise, this was a very practical Christmas, very much on purpose. None of us need anything. We all have more than we need, frankly, as do so many others, too much stuff. But we still wanted the tradition of opening gifts together, so for the most part, we gave each other consumables, experiences, or useful things. I gave my brother and sister-in-law, for example, a gift card to a restaurant they've been wanting to try. They gave my parents a gift card and tickets for dinner and a show. They gave me a Keurig one-cup coffeemaker, which I didn't know I wanted until I received it, but it's perfect for those afternoons when I want coffee but I don't want to brew a partial pot. So that's "stuff," but it's useful stuff, not stuff for stuff's sake.

One of my nephews gave me an inscribed copy of David Sedaris' "Holidays on Ice," which I love, because David is a genius but more because my nephew slyly ascertained what book of David's I might like and then stood in line to get it signed for me at a campus event. David wrote, "To Beth: With the pleasure of meeting your enchanting nephew"; observant man, that David Sedaris.

My cousin Patty sends my birthday gifts for Christmas. This year's prizes were a notepad and pen from Graceland, where she had the great good fortune to visit this year, as well as a little cookbook of Southern recipes, that sound heart-stoppingly, fabulously insane. She also sent, for Christmas, a fab tile affixed to an easel backing for the purposes of display, a very pretty hand-lettered tile that reads, "Ask not what your mother can do for you, but what you can do for your mother"! I laughed out loud! I'm sure that's what Kennedy meant to say.

In my stocking, mom gave me dark chocolate-covered almonds – so good – and dad gave me lottery tickets on which I won bupkis. There were also potholders, which I had asked for. Like I said, practical Christmas.

There were more potholders, fancier potholders, waiting under the tree, as well as the sandstone coasters I wanted because the metal coasters I have don't make any sense. And there was a very cute Christmas decoration, because my mom couldn't resist (he has joined The Snowman in Angelo's chair, and they are both enjoying looking at the tree), and there was a prepaid gas card that will fill my car many times over. And then there was wine. A box of wine. Not a box of wine, but rather a box containing three bottles of wine, which was perfect not only because I love wine but because in the run-up to the holidays, I had forgotten to buy any, and while I could have uncorked one of the "fancy" bottles I have on hand, I prefer to save those to drink with someone who can appreciate them with me. So now I have three nice "everyday" bottles to enjoy, starting today.

And I have just remembered that I still have cheese. Oh, this day just keeps getting better, and it's not even 9 a.m.

So now it's time for another cup of coffee. And some time with a book, I do believe.

The exhale continues.

I hope your holidays were everything you wished they would be.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace And Love, My Friends. Peace And Love ...

Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Almost ...

It's nearly Christmas Eve, which is really the bigger of the two days in our family. Christmas Day is very low key. Christmas Eve is the big dance.

I'm nearly ready. I have a couple of things left to wrap. I'll bake during the day, bread to go with dinner, cookies to contribute to dessert.

My attempt at a relaxed run-up to Christmas has come off pretty well. Even without baking 14 kinds of cookies, there was still plenty to do.

But so far, so good.

Last night was Christmas, The Prequel, with a brother who will be traveling and spending the holidays elsewhere. And it was really lovely. The food was amazing (made even more so for the fact that I hadn't eaten since the night before), the fire was cheerful, the gifts were thoughtful, and there were a lot of laughs.

How fortunate am I to be able to do it all again tomorrow? Fortunate, indeed.

I hope this finds you well and happy as Christmas arrives at last. I love this time of year, when all the hubbub subsides and folks settle in to enjoy time with one another. And cookies.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grown-Up Christmas ...

This season, for whatever reason, I've been thinking about my colored tree.

The tree in my living room is lit with white lights, incandescent little twinkle lights that cast that warm, happy glow, not those hideous LED numbers that make everything look like science fiction.

The tree in my dining room is lit with white lights and "globe" lights that glow almost gold.

But when I moved into my first apartment, my parents gave me the tree that had been in the basement of my childhood home, not the funky aluminum tree on which we hung the blue glass balls (wow, that was shiny) but the fake-ity fake tree that we festooned with gold garland and colored lights and plaster ornaments my brothers had painted when they were wee.

I made a giant silver star for the top of it, an excellent use of cardboard and tin foil. I bought some new ornaments to make the tree my own. And I was happy.

Growing up, I used to put a string of colored lights around the inside casing of my bedroom windows. My bedroom windows faced the next house on our tidy block of bungalow homes. I'm sure the neighbors didn't care, but the lights were never for them. They were for me. I loved falling asleep to the glow from those lights, the blue and the yellow and the green and the red, all of which seemed to add up to pink at night.

These days, the fake-ity fake tree from my apartment gets set up in the corner of my dining room, with a "grown up" color scheme of a sort of sage-y/spearminty-y green and copper and off-white.

And the living room tree looks rather traditional with its "cranberry" garlands, and silver and acrylic ornaments.

But this year, I wanted my colored tree.

My box of colored lights and funky ornaments and gold garland has sat, patiently, on a shelf in the basement for years, waiting for me to want to use it again.

I didn't want to spend a lot of money to indulge my whim. So I'd looked at trees but hadn't bought.

Until yesterday. I walked into a store with the intention of buying two things, written down, on my list, but made a detour to the Christmas trees. And there I saw a sea of orange signs. Clearance, baby. Fifty percent off. Because who doesn't have a tree already, when Christmas is one week away?

I didn't need the tree to be pre-lit. I had colored lights at home. (I hoped they'd still work.) So I needed just a plain tree, smallish in scale. And there he was, just waiting, on sale for $24.99.

I picked up the right box for the stacks on the floor and headed back to the front of the store. My little cart would no longer do.

Later, at home, I set about assembling him, which mostly amounted to bending down the branches and fluffing everything into shape. I wanted the tree in the TV room so I could enjoy it while watching Christmas movies, but that room doesn't have any floor space to spare, so ... I set it up on my treadmill.

Yes, nothing says, "I've given up all illusions of exercising between now and Christmas" like setting up a tree on your treadmill.

I did, however, put on a peppy Christmas CD and bopped and fluffed until the tree took on a respectable shape and then I headed downstairs to get the box.

All the strands of lights still worked (hooray!) and I wrapped them in and about the branches and when I reached the end of the final strand, I stood back and clapped a happy little clap and then reached for the garland.

I draped it on the tree the way I remember garland as a kid, swagged. John Cougar Mellencamp (that's what his name was when the CD I was listening to was released) sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in a very country-music way and I started unwrapping ornaments.

I had fewer than I remembered, but then thought I must have given the plaster ones back to my mom. But this tree is less about the ornaments than it is about the lights. So I hung what ornaments I had.

I took the ornament box and the box from the tree downstairs. I straightened up the kitchen. I wanted things in their place. And I poured a glass of orange juice because I felt like something was coming on, and I turned off the lamp in the TV room and sat on the couch to enjoy the glow of my nostalgic tree.

And it didn't feel the same.

I sat there with my disappointment. It was still a cute tree, I thought, it just didn't take me to where I wanted to go. Was it the faded quality of the lights, I wondered? Was it the lack of ornaments? Was it the shape?

No, it was none of those things.

I decided that I've simply grown up.

It had to happen sometime, right?

So the feeling isn't the same, but The Snowman is very fond of sitting in Angelo's comfy chair and gazing at the garland and lights.

And next year, I'll find a new theme for it. One for who I am now, not who I was then.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Happy Holidays" ...

A friend recently posted a status update on Facebook about returning to the use of Merry Christmas instead of "the now politically correct Happy Holidays," which made me look up from whence "Happy Holidays" comes.

Turns out, I didn't find a definitive answer, but I do love Bing Crosby's rendition of "Happy Holiday," and that was written by Irving Berlin for "White Christmas" in 1942. So it's not a recent phrase by that standard. It's been around for nearly 70 years.

I've always taken "Happy Holidays" to be inclusive, not exclusive, not a snub of Christ but an acknowledgment that many holidays fall around this time of year that many people observe, including Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Epiphany, and Orthodox Christmas. I had a friend in high school for whom Epiphany was the primary holiday of the season. I can wish my Jewish friends a "Happy Hanukkah" during Hanukkah, but they celebrate Thanksgiving and New Year's, too. I have friends and family who observe Orthodox Christmas. "Merry Christmas" applies to them, does it not?

Or does "Merry Christmas" as a greeting only apply on December 25th, just as Happy Birthday only applies to the day of your birth? (Although, as far as I know, December 25th isn't noted in the Bible as the day of Christ's birth, but that's another post.) And while I'm not religious, if I were, I think I'd be more offended that Christmas has been co-opted into a massive observance of consumerism that begins for retailers in August and is marked by folks camping out in parking lots to get great deals on flat-screen TVs the day after Thanksgiving than I would be by acknowledging that others observe other days around this time of year, too.

Whatever holidays you observe or not, I always wish you joy and peace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not Smart ...

Yesterday, on Facebook, Sheila posted a link to this story in the Chicago Tribune, a piece about Evanston Township High School District 202's decision to eliminate a freshman honors combined English and history course.

"The unanimous school board vote paves the way for freshmen of all races, socioeconomic and achievement backgrounds next fall to take the same freshman humanities course next fall. Proponents of the move see it as a way to diversify advanced courses and circumvent the traditional process of tracking students into courses by test scores that often places minorities in lower-level classes," wrote Diane Rado, the Tribune reporter.

To the members of the Evanston school board, may I just say, with no respect whatsoever: You're all idiots.

Now more than ever, it is asinine to lower educational standards, and that is exactly what you've done.

So, most of the high-achieving incoming freshman are white? And?

Let's agree on a few points:

1. Evanston Township High School is in Evanston, a wealthy-ish suburb, which, from what I know about its population, skews white.

2. The freshman entering the high school have likely gone to elementary schools in the area, and those schools, by virtue of being in wealthy-ish areas, are likely good schools supported by healthy tax revenue.

3. Having a good educational foundation, some of those kids are likely to do well in school generally.

4. Regardless of race, some people are simply smarter than others. There's a reason that there isn't one IQ score. There's a reason not everyone earns the same score on the SAT. Some people score higher, some people score lower. Some people are Einstein, some people are Forrest Gump. (Who turned out just fine, by the way, and yes, I know he's a fictional character.)

So what good is possibly served by casting every freshman into the same mid-level pool? Those who have had less advantage may be challenged, but those who are more advanced than the material will simply be bored. You'll be wasting their time. Which really means you'll be wasting their education.

I'm not an educator, but I'd be willing to wager that if a child isn't already an honors student by the time they reach high school, they're not going to suddenly become an honors student. I'm sure there are cases where some kids who weren't challenged suddenly blossom when connected with the right teacher, but you're not asking kids to blossom here. You're asking all of them to hover around the middle, the mean of their collective intelligence.

What is the point in that?

If you were sick – say you needed open-heart surgery – who would you want to perform the operation? The surgeon who graduated at the top of his class in medical school with a specialty in cardiology or the general practitioner who, you know, eeked by with a C average?

I was one of those honors students. Through whatever combination of genetics and education and a mom who started teaching me from an early age (I could write my name when I was 3), I did well in school, relatively speaking. I was in the gifted program in junior high and I was placed in honors classes in high school. Were most of my fellow students white? Yep. But at the time, my high school had a larger white population than black or Hispanic. Still, there were people with skin tones other than my pasty whiteness in the class.

So I was a good student. I was also a crappy athlete. Being tall, coaches wanted me to come out for volleyball or basketball. I had no interest. By comparison, there were some, of course, who were really spectacular athletes. Would I have wanted the really talented basketball players to have to play with me? Nope. I'd just slow them down. Don't pass the ball to me. Pass the ball to someone who can actually get the thing through the hoop and score.

My point is, we all have abilities. What high school, since the first educator thought up that awful, ego-crushing institution, hasn't comprised geeks and jocks and and every other stereotype? There will always be the popular girls, there will always be the goths. There will always be the theater wonks and the kids who hang around outside and smoke. There will be the guys who are really good in auto shop (and maybe some girls, too). Always.

So, dear school board, you've done no one any favors by trying to pretend that everyone is the same, that everyone will reap identical benefit out of the same middling course. You're not putting everyone on a level playing field because the playing field is never even. By ninth grade, educational ability has emerged. That's not to say that some kids can't do better, but why would you put the smarter kids in a position to do worse? Will they ace that class? Probably. But what will that mean? An A on their transcript. Swell. An A they didn't have to work for, an A they could have earned with their eyes closed? Meaningless.

As Sheila wrote when she posted the link, it's not the black kids who suffer with this decision nor the white kids, it's the smart kids.

What we need is a better educational system from the get-go. Children should not be passed to the next grade simply because the end of the school year has arrived. Likewise, smarter-than-average kids should not be stuck in a given grade simply because their age corresponds to that level. For all students, always, we should raise the bar, not lowering it. Challenge them, make them reach. All of which is a huge undertaking, I know.

But this?

What a bad decision, school board.

Not smart.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love One Another ...


This photograph makes me cry.

Part of the reason that it makes me cry is because I know the story behind it. The woman whose face you can see is my friend and author Patti Digh. The woman whose face you can't see is my friend Sheila, Donna's mama.

They had met in person just a couple of hours before, but had come to know each other online over the past few months. Patti wanted a crayon apron to take on the tour to promote her book about creativity. Sheila had a crayon apron that had been given to her daughter.

Sheila told Patti that she was welcome to it, but that it was embroidered with the name Donna.

Patti replied that Donna is her first name.

And so Sheila sent the apron and Patti has shared Donna's story with every audience on the tour, and on Friday, the apron came home to Chicago. For a few hours, anyway.

But a much larger part of the reason that that photograph makes me cry is because from it emanates so much love. The way it captures the bond those two women share, the expression on Patti's face, the way her hand cradles Sheila's head. That is not a polite embrace. That is love.

And I think to myself what a world it would be if we all cared about each other so deeply. If we all recognized how important it is to connect with one another, to really understand those around us and those we don't even know.

Not every connection is as profound as that of a mother sharing something of her daughter's with another mother, but why are we here if not to be there for one another?

I was honored to witness that moment. And I am grateful that Lynne Gillis was there to capture it.

There is only love and fear.

Be there for one another.

Choose love.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Me And Santa ...


Angelo created a post he titled "awkward santa..." which set me to wondering whether I ever had my picture taken with Santa. I have no recollection of sitting on his lap, and I have never seen a photograph.

So I called mom and asked her if she ever took me to see him. Her response: "Yes, and you stood there and screamed. So I never took you back."

Mom, thanks for not plopping me on the scary man's lap and insisting on a picture anyway.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Donna's Good Things, Online ...

This is not hyperbole: My friends Sheila and Jeremy are two of the most amazing people on this planet. (Sheila just saw those words on Facebook. She wrote to say that I am overselling the two of them. I assure you I am not.)

Sheila and Jeremy are Donna's parents. (They are also Jay's parents, but this particular post is about his sister.) Last October, Donna died. You may have read this little post about her. "Donna was singular," her parents wrote in her obituary.

Indeed she was.

Donna loved to dance. And so, to honor her, Sheila and Jeremy established Donna's Good Things, a foundation to fund, among other things, dance scholarships. This past June, they raised enough money for four scholarships, enabling four children to take classes who otherwise could have not. (You can read about that here.)

This past October, on the anniversary of Donna's death, Sheila and Jeremy invited a group of family and friends to gather and carve pumpkins. The previous October, pumpkins began to appear in the parkway in front of their home, a pumpkin tribute. And so it was only fitting, one year hence, to pay tribute to Donna once again. We carved our pumpkins and ate Donna's favorite macaroni and cheese. And when evening came, we lit the pumpkins and gathered 'round and sang the songs that Donna sang. It was more than a good thing. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. (There's a picture of the pumpkins here.)

And today, Sheila and Jeremy launched donnasgoodthings.org, a site that celebrates Donna and her singular spirit, a place to share good things, and keep up with Good Things happenings, and contribute to enable even more Good Things in Donna's name. (In addition to dance scholarships, Donna's Good Things also pays for portable DVD players and iPads for children and their families to use while at the hospital, undergoing treatments.)

I never had the privilege of knowing Donna, but as is true for so many others, too, I have been forever changed by her story. She is one of the greatest inspirations in my life. As are her parents, who I am grateful to call my friends.

This is Donna. And these are the words by which her parents elect to live. So should we all.

Folks Who Inspire Me: Early-Morning, December 7, 2010 Edition ...

I've been tinkering with a post since Sunday.

Normally, I log in to Blogger, clack away for some amount of time, give what I've written a quick proof, and hit "Publish Post."

Normally.

But the post I've been tinkering with isn't yet fully baked. It may never be. I may scrap it. Or today or tomorrow or the next day, I may revisit it and find the right thread that pulls it all together.

In the meantime, though, I realized this morning that I read several blogs by folks who truly inspire me.

Of course, I am inspired by many, some of whom I will write about another day, and some of whom don't have blogs or sites, so I will mean no slight to them for not linking to them later, but this morning is about the few folks who are swirling about in my caffeine-deficient consciousness.

In alphabetical order, for egalitarianism's sake:

AndreAnna – AndreAnna is my primal-eating hero, transforming her life with food and fitness, selflessly sharing her story. She's an adorable wife and mother who's recently moved to the Midwest and wonders what she's gotten herself into. She inspires me.

Angelo – Angelo is the only interior designer whose work has ever caused me to point at my TV and shriek with glee. He delights in everything, from tiny details to grand statements, and literally – personally and professionally – makes the world a more beautiful place. He has a very kind heart and a true desire to help others realize their potential. I am grateful to have come to know him.

Patti – Patti is a quiet force of nature, a wife and mother and author and teacher and artist who sees life with a clarity and simplicity that I am trying to achieve. She is funny and wise and profound. And she wears red boots.

Rick – Rick is the reason I know the aforementioned Patti, and my blog is the reason I know Rick. He happened upon my site one day, and started reading and started commenting, so we started chatting and we haven't stopped since. Rick is a delightful blend of IT-smart-fix-it guy and otherworldly-wisdom guy. Knowing him enriches my life.

Sheila and her husband, Jeremy – Sheila is a friend from high school with whom I lost touch until just over a year ago when she found me on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, her daughter, Donna, passed away. Every day, I stand in awe of the grace that she and her husband, Jeremy, exhibit. They have created Donna's Good Things in their daughter's honor, an organization that raises money to fund dance scholarships (their girl loved to dance) and buy portable DVD players and iPads for children to use in the hospital, and accomplish other good things that have yet to be dreamed. They are wonderful parents to Donna and their adorable son, Jay, and are dear friends to me.

Tom – Tom is a business partner of the aforementioned Angelo (we really are all connected) who started leaving comments on my blog one day, lovely, encouraging comments that struck me for their kindness and seeming out-of-the-blueness. (Though I presume he found my blog through comments I'd left on Angelo's site.) He reminds me of people I meet on the 3-Day: kind for kindness's sake, someone who truly understands that we're all here to help one another in whatever ways we can. Which, of course, applies to everyone in this post.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The First Real Snow ...

Last night, as I was making my way around the house, turning off lights before bed, I noticed the snow on my deck. Just a bit of snow. More than a dusting, but not too much.

With all the lights off, I looked through the window in my front door at the streetlight across the street. The snow was falling gently, cinema-like. Movie snow.

I said out loud, "I wonder how much snow we'll have in the morning." And then I crawled into bed, happy for my flannel sheets.

This morning, moments after waking, I said, "Let's see how much it snowed!" And threw off the covers, sat up, pulled on my socks, and headed for the front door.

It had snowed enough to make everything white. And it is snowing still.

I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots out the dining-room window.

Early light, the first real snow.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

On A Winter's Night ...

This morning, it began to snow.

I am very much a fan of snow if I can appreciate it from inside my home.

Today, though, I had to be out and about, and further afield that I had planned, so I was very happy to return home, to tuck my car into the garage and make my way inside, to plug in the tree and bring up the lights in the dining room just enough to balance the glow.

The darkness makes it feel as though it is late, though it is not. But I am in for the night, happy to be on my couch, in my sweater, my lap covered by my favorite afghan, a glass of wine by my side.

My friends Bev and Chris sent along a sampling of chocolates from Seattle, a box of assorted chocolate-covered dried cherries, and three bars of interesting chocolate – coconut curry, vanilla, and fig fennel almond – and a wee box of grey-salted, dark-chocolate-covered caramels.

And last night, Doreen decided that she is not really a fan of the rosemary Marcona almonds she bought at Trader Joe's, so I have those with me, too. Rosemary, wine, and chocolate.

I am surrounded by comfort and music that soothes me. I am a contented sigh.

This year, I find myself in a very relaxed place about Christmas. Going with the flow. Taking it as it comes. Doing what I'm inspired to do.

Will I send out 80 cards? Maybe. Maybe not.

Will I bake the usual complement of cookies and make my cookie rounds? Maybe. Maybe not.

Will I put up the second tree and procure a third? Maybe. Maybe not.

This year, I really want to let the holidays happen, participate when I'm moved participate, hang back when I want to hang back.

It's as though the past two years have been a long transition and I now find myself in a different place. I have left a lot of shoulds behind.

This moment is the life I want to lead, centered and calm and happy in a serene way. I know that life continues outside my door. Complexities and needs and misunderstandings. Details with which to deal. Banality.

But moments such as these, they fuel me, recharge my readiness to reenter the fray.

This is good, this life I've chosen.

And likewise, I am blessed.