Friday, December 31, 2010

The Candle Indoors, a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by. candles lit indoors during Christmas Eve service US Naval Academy Chapel as described in the novel Solomon's Puzzle
I muse at how its being puts blissful back 
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black, 
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye. 
By that window what task what fingers ply, 
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack 
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack 
There God to aggrándise, God to glorify.— 

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire 
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire; 
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault 
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar 
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

Reading Gerard Manley Hopkins requires an awareness that... Read more

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thoughts About Dinnertime

The Candle Indoors 
"...Come you indoors, come home: your fading fire/ Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault."
weck canning jar used as a lantern in green twilight garden
One of my favorite fictional characters, Tom MacBride says, "Where there’s life, there’s a mess," so with this truth in mind, consider this list about dinner time ... Read more

This One's For You, Mom

My mother loved jewelry. As did her mother before her. My mother loved jewelry so much that she bought a commemorative bracelet or necklace or earrings any time she went on a vacation or trip. She bought a piece of jewelry if she wanted to celebrate -- weddings, graduation, new baby, birthday, new job, promotion, good weather... jewelry. She was also known to have bought a meaningful piece for that special funeral or just to lift her mood. 
My sisters and I must have understood how important Mom's jewelry was to her because we loved to look in her jewelry drawers (she had three, I think) and her jewelry chest and try things on. 
Mom would have loved Clare's recent fascination: 

She's particular.

She put this jewelry on all by herself. How did she know what to do?

Too much is never enough.

What? It looks great!

Let's see how this works with my outfit.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faces of Christmas

I had lots of help getting ready for Christmas this year.

 Joey and Jack are experts at decorating the tree.

They told me that they were being careful to "put the delicate ones up high so Clarey can't break them."

They helped me hang the stockings with care.

So that when Clare got here, she had a lot to discover this year at our house:
When they go outside together, Valerie and Clare say "Oo! Windy!"

Seeing the pyramid twirl, she said, "Oo! Windy"

Clare is saying "hello" to a bird that once was one of my childhood favorites.

So much to see and explore!

 When Val was little, she carried this Santa on her shoulders just like this.

Clare took him for a walk. 

Here she's getting to know the characters from "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer." 

The most fun is when everyone is here:

See what I mean?

Jack came as "Spy-ter-man" and left as this green power ranger.

Is that for me?

Oh, yes!

I think she's worried about the clean-up.  But never mind. It's worth it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Eve in Annapolis

Everyone is welcome at church, but especially on Christmas Eve, when we think back to the moment when God came down to live among us, took on human form to be with us. But sometimes it is hard for people to feel it is so. Maybe because we are always aware of what makes us different; we wonder if we're welcome. It's hard to break away from life, to sit still, to concentrate, to let go of all that keeps us from celebrating and believing. 
For many years, on Christmas Eve we've attended the candlelight service at the US Naval Academy Chapel. The place fills me with a very welcome feeling of wonder. And for some reason I can't really justify, I do feel welcome there; I feel at home. 

If you've never been to the chapel, it's worth a trip, long or short, easy or arduous, to see it. Elegant and uplifting, light-filled and echo-y, it is one of Annapolis' treasures. As you walk toward it -- visible from most of downtown Annapolis, you'll notice the dome verdigris with weather rising above the Academy walls. 

Come closer and you'll see through the blue-tinted windows to the golden space inside the dome lit with tiny lights that make it look like a little indoor sky captured there. Seeing it often as I do, I think always of  Hopkins' great poem, "Spring," where he describes the thrush's egg (blue and cupped as the sky above and containing all of life within) as a "little low heaven."
This image found its way into Solomon's Puzzle:

....Taking a seat in the rows called Sleepy Hollow that stood cross-wise to the main aisle, he found it a perfect place to read in secret. The breath of the wind against the high windows on the west side reminded him that he sat sheltered and hidden. Though the rim of the balcony curved above him, he could see up into the perfect, arched dome that rose above the place where the arms of the transept crossed the main aisle of the nave. Tiny lights hovered there amidst a cupped bluish ceiling that seemed, once again to Ben, a little, low heaven.

      Above him, the dome’s star-like lights shone dimly; as the afternoon passed, they glowed brighter and brighter in answer to the quick, cold sinking of the sun. The great arch behind the altar was lit only by the flickering of a commemorative, perpetual flame that cast its solitary light on the magnificent stained glass, which proclaimed the Navy’s hope: Eternal Father Strong To Save. Christmas trees had been grouped on the altar; their subtle fragrance, their gold, symbolic decorations suggested a world beyond even this one in which he had been kept apart all afternoon.

But step inside the chapel and look up into the expanse of the dome rising above, filled with lights so like stars, the impression is the same; it is a little heaven come down to visit us. And that is how it feels, and aptly so, on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Eve service has beloved hymns, crowds of people, magnificent organ music and at the end, when everyone joins to sing Silent Night, candles are lit and the lights are all turned out.  

When Clare was a baby, her daddy held her in a bjorn carrier, bouncing slightly until she slept while her loving family, including Uncle Karl watched her.

How dear of our children to come with us!

This year, we went with Val and Andrew to the family service at the US Naval Academy Chapel. It begins at 4, is much shortened, and children dressed in nativity costumes take part in telling the story of Christmas.  

Clare and Pop

the curve of the balcony above Val and Andrew gives a covered feeling and you can still peek up into the dome

She sat down on the floor  by our feet as if it were her own little room and played with the tiny troll with bright pink hair that I stuck in my purse at the last minute.     

She walked the troll along the hymnals saying "Walk, walk" very loudly until Val suggested that the troll    tiptoe.  "Tiptoe, tiptoe," Clare whispered.  

Heaven, indeed, come down as low as we needed, to our great joy. 
Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

For those who would like more of the MacBrides... A Christmas Story

May you be kindly understood this Christmas

Still holding the child’s chart, Joe MacBride walked with the woman and her daughter to the front desk. The little girl reached for him, “Up pwee, Doctor,” she said, her fingers Window looking at snow covered garage at Christmas.spread wide, her feverish eyes trying to smile. Joe scooped her up in his arms. “I have a bit of Christmas candy up here for you,” he whispered, “if your mommy says it’s okay.” Read more...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All Things Country

I've driven by All Things Country dozens of times. Recently it was recommended to me as a store that likes to offer books by local authors. I made a visit and fell in  love!
The store's motto made me feel at home at once: "Bringing beauty to life one home at a time.."

We all want to have homes, somewhere to be safe and warm. Somewhere to think and sleep and eat. Somewhere for friends to visit and family to gather. Because it is so important to the health of our souls, we try to make our homes beautiful. This effort does not have to mean lots of money or gold and silver.  But it does take effort and creativity and love.

 There's beauty everywhere...

Santa with a sheep lying at his feet... hmmm, I like that idea.

Colonial candles in every scent you can imagine.

for collectors...

The beauty...
is inspiring

...makes you feel at home...

with time to dream and remember happy and significant times...

 and what's important.

The folks at the shop are friendly and talkative.

The folks include two golden retrievers, the friendliest dogs ever, who lie in the sunshine or greet shoppers.

A customer brought the dogs some Christmas toys!

With a motto or philosophy that strikes home with everyone, no wonder the shop is so beloved.

My book, Solomon's Puzzle, has been welcomed there, too. I'm grateful! And I hope it fills people with inspiration and hope as they take it home with them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Musical Visit and a Recipe for Christmas Morning

Some dear friends stopped by.

They came bearing gifts of flowers and cookies and sweetly scented candles.

They filled our home with laughter and music as they chatted and rehearsed.

The piano and harmonies were heavenly.

My neighbors were treated to the sounds of their caroling.  What a blessing for my neighborhood!

And they came back to sing on our porch, too!

more singing inside to warm up...
Thank you to our visiting carolers, Sam, Kelly, Katie, Minna and Sarah. Come back every year to bring Christmas cheer for singing loudly for all to hear!

I have no pictures of this recipe, so I decided to include it here. We always made this coffee cake for Christmas morning. I mixed up the dough and asked some of my children to put the cake together as it is a messy and fun job. Now my grown children have been asking for the recipe, so I thought I'd share it with everyone. It can be made ahead and frozen or made just a few days ahead and wrapped up.

On December 23 make the overnight dough:
1 package or 1 Tablespoon yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water (not too warm -- as they used to say "blood warm" or the same temperature as your wrist.  Sprinkle a few drops on your wrist and if it feels neither hot nor cold, it is just right)
Let the yeast mixture stand for about 10 minutes. This brings the yeast to life and gives it a chance to get going before you add the other ingredients.

Add by mixing with electric mixer:
7 Tablespoons lard (I use either coconut oil or Crisco or a combination of both)
7 Tablespoons sugar
3 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon salt

Beat in 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour.  Beat for 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down. The dough will be sticky.
Grease a big bowl and put the dough in there, turning it in the bowl so that all sides of the dough are coated. This keeps the dough from drying out.
Cover tightly with plastic wrap. I usually stretch a rubber band around the bowl edge to keep the plastic wrap tight.  Refrigerate over night.

In the morning, take the dough out and put it on the counter for about an hour.
Heat the oven to 350
Melt margarine or butter (for no-milk recipe, I use coconut oil and non dairy margarine) You'll need about a half cup.
Mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 3 Tablespoons cinnamon.

Grease a tube pan.. You can also divide the dough and bake it in two cake pans. If so, grease these. Take out a plate big enough for serving the finished cake and set aside

Dust your work surface with flour and empty the dough onto it. Flatten out the bubbles and roll it into a log. With a knife, cut chunks about 1/12 inches. Dip each in melted margarine and then roll in the cinnamon sugar and place in the baking pan. Fill the bottom of the pan and then make another layer.
 If you need more melted margarine or sugar/ cinnamon, pause and fix this.
When all the dough has been cut into pieces and thus coated, cover the pan and let the coffee cake rise for about 40 minutes. It should be nearly double in bulk.
Bake for about an hour, watching (particularly if you use butter) that it doesn't burn.  When the coffee cake looks done-brown and high and handsome test with a knife to make sure the inner chunks are baked. It's important to bake it long enough so that the dough is done and the sugar coating caramelizes.

Take the baked coffee cake from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Immediately get a plate and using potholders, put the plate upside down over the top of the coffee cake. Invert and wait a minute as the hot syrup formed from the sugar/cinnamon drips down onto the coffee cake. Remove the pan and wash.

It's important to invert the coffee cake immediately. If you forget, heat it up for 3 - 5 minutes in the oven and try it.