Friday, December 17, 2010

Just for today - all is good

This year I will be spending Christmas in Portland with my daughter.  Since they moved to Portland a couple of years ago, they have always rented rooms in different homes, three of them to be exact. Now Olivia and Bryan have their own apartment which they got a few months ago.  It is a small one bedroom which they are thrilled to have, this space of their own which feels to them like their own "Tara."  Unfortunately the only furniture they have happens to be their bed.  I think this bothers me much more than it bothers them.  I'm the orderly mother worrying about where will we eat, where will we sit, where or where? The living room is barren, except for computers, guitars, keyboards and amps.

Olivia, Bryan and obedient little David Bowie
(and the living room where I will be setting up my aerobed Christmas Eve!)
So I can put the Norman Rockwell Christmas aside this year, this one will have less family members since they are spread all around the country, no big roaring fire in the fireplace (since there isn't one), no poinsettia laced table cloths on the dining table for Christmas morning breakfast (which I will be making Dutch apple pancakes - recipe below)  or dinner (since there is no table), no feet propped up on the coffee table after late night hot chocolate and Wii games, since there is no sofa or coffee table, and yet this Christmas feels like what could be the perfect Christmas.  Sleeping on an aerobed, dining cross legged on the floor, making due with few cooking pans, pots and utensils. listening to Olivia and Bryan play music, rumble and tumble on the floor with the ferocious little schnauzer, Bowie, laughing and hugging, and feeling almost more love than this little apartment can hold.

Christmas eve we will honor my tradition of going out for Chinese Food (or perhaps Thai this year, because Portland has some of the best Thai restaurants I have been to), then off to Peacock Lane to join the hundreds of others walking the few blocks, hot lattes or maybe even a microbrew in hand, to view one of Portland's most lit up neighborhoods.  You can walk the few blocks, take a carriage ride, or if you must, drive your car.  I suppose that will be weather dependent.  Buckets of rain would call for a warm dry car, a light drizzle could entice us perhaps to take a carriage ride, and if it is a mild star filled night, definitely a walk, umbrellas in hand as a precaution, this is Portland after all.  I really am hoping for that clear night, where the moon and stars will compete with the seasonal brightness and can be spotted half-way around the world.

Letting go of all expectations - kicking the butt of those Ghosts of Christmas past - and making new traditions.  Ah, I can exhale.  Accepting that we don't have to have a turkey dinner, crab and chicken enchiladas seem to be my "new black" for the holiday, no need to string cranberries and popcorn for the tree, lots of lights will do me fine, no need for gingerbread houses and copious amounts of baked goods.  Just letting the feeling of gratitude, that Christmas feeling and spirit spill all over me (probably rather sloppily after one too many eggnogs).

As a Feng Shui practitioner and teacher I give my clients and students the "assignment" of starting a gratitude journal.  They have been around forever, made even more popular by Oprah and "The Secret".  Every night I write down things that I am thankful for, which on some days it can be a stretch to think of anything good!  But it could be something as simple as my morning cup of coffee (which actually makes the list everyday), hearing from a friend, receiving a Christmas card with an adorable Westie on the cover, making every green light, that my jeans aren't too tight, going to Trader Joe's and finding my favorite popcorn in stock, to much bigger things, like getting a raise, receiving a clean bill of health from the doctor, a new addition to the family.  But just as important is the need to be grateful for the things that didn't happen.  That for today, everyone we love is okay, is healthy. No distressing phone calls, no bill collectors, no pimple on my forehead, or worse on the end of my nose, no flat tire, no friends to bail out of jail!  Just for today. All is good.

So I hope all of you enjoy this holiday - even if it presents itself a little differently.  Maybe a different menu, someone else's house, new members of the family, less members in the family, different games, snow, no snow, or an aching back from sleeping on an under inflated aerobed.  It really isn't about anything more than love.

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace. Agnes M. Pharo

  • Dutch Apple Pancake

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces Golden Delicious apples (about 2), peeled, cored, thinly sliced

  • 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • Powdered sugar (optional)


Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl until well blended. Add flour and whisk until batter is smooth. Place butter in 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Place dish in oven until butter melts, about 5 minutes. Remove dish from oven. Place apple slices in overlapping rows atop melted butter in baking dish. Return to oven and bake until apples begin to soften slightly and butter is bubbling and beginning to brown around edges of dish, about 10 minutes.
Pour batter over apples in dish and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake pancake until puffed and brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Serve warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Anything Can Happen

They are called the Santa Ana winds in Southern California and up here in the San Francisco bay area they are sometimes referred to as the Diablo's.  Warm, dry and blustery.  Wrapped up in an eerie stillness, feeling like earthquake weather.  Nobody has described them better than Raymond Chandler. In his story Red Wind, he introduces the Santa Ana's as "those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.  On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight.  Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband's necks.  Anything can happen."

The Santa Ana's are mentioned in other songs, stories and movies. In the romantic comedy The Holiday, Miles, the character played by Jack Black, says of the Santa Ana winds, "when the Santa Ana's are blowing, all bets are off.  Anything can happen."  And it is true, when they blow the air is charged with excitement, an unknowing, a feeling that there is something big about to take place, some change is going to occur, good or bad, and there is nothing you can do about it, this is a fated act of nature.

I haven't seen those winds since last October.  Those warm dry winds were blustering around, creating a firestorm of orange and yellow leaves that blew wildly from the black oak trees outside my window.  From the inside looking out, it looked like fall, but once you stepped outside you would instantly shed your jacket and roll up your sleeves.  Late October and 80 degrees outside.  It just felt strange, oddly out of character and made you feel as if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as if you needed to search for shelter or you'd be swept away.

Wind is a metaphor for the constant change that occurs in the world as well as in each of us. As the weather constantly changes, so do our bodies, the people around us, and the circumstances in our lives.  Each moment is unknown to us, what will happen next, what will be presented to us, just as when the Santa Ana's blow you are never quite sure what is going to happen.  They come on hot, strong, dry, powerful, and can leave you wondering what hit you. This "never knowing what's right around the corner" is a double edged sword, part of what keeps us hopeful and part of what keeps us fearful.

Usually when the strong winds are blowing it can be disconcerting.  For they can blow the roof right off your house, set the fields on fire, knock the trees down, or simply scatter leaves that you had just spent hours raking.  They can mix it up, switch it out, and definitely leave things different than before they came.  And as with any act of nature they are a wake-up call, a loud reminder that we really aren't in control.  

In our own life we make plans, we have dreams, we set goals.  "What are your plans?"  for the weekend, for the summer, for the future,  we get asked or we ask of others.  And most of us have a plan.  But it seems in the "business plan of our life" we need to include the disclaimer, "of course these plans can change at any given moment," if the winds of change decide to blow.  Just as every sailor knows, the wind is the driving force and problems arise when there is no wind, no motion.  So when our own internal Santa Ana's start to blow we should welcome them and pay attention to the direction they leave us facing. Because as you know, "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."

No country for old men (or women)