Spring Forward, Look Back

Spring is a time of hope, when promises unfold and the world is fresh and green. It’s also the time when I reflect on life-changing milestones and special memories.

Every April, I celebrate the evening that I reluctantly attended a barn dance outside Lawrence, Kansas and met my future husband. I also remember the time, four years later (to the day) when he defended his thesis and we prepared for our move to the Netherlands (the next day!). An overwhelming cascade of memories mark the flight to Holland, arriving in that unfamiliar village that would become home, and meeting a friend who would instantly become family. I also think of young daughters searching excitedly for brightly colored Easter eggs hidden among the daffodils or scattered throughout the house.

It was quiet this year, and a college visit took the place of the traditional Easter egg hunt.

My friend sent photos of her home – a beautiful farm in Holland, ready for friends and family sharing a festive holiday brunch.

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The Art of the Hospitality and the Holiday Home

After my last post, you know that my friend Els is a creative person, gifted at the art of hospitality.  I couldn’t resist posting a couple of pictures of her home, decorated for the holiday and ready for guests.  Lovely!

Easter Table

Ready for Guests

Words Escape Me

laundry line

Sometimes,

I feel like working in silence.

Kneading bread dough,

painting walls,

pulling weeds with the sunshine on my back.

fence

Here are some images from a walk around the block in historic Richmond on a quiet afternoon.

 

wringer

Richmond oaks

Everyday Gifts: 10 No-Cost or Low-Cost Ideas for the Holiday Season

Ornaments

It’s the holiday season, and the pressure builds to buy.  So that we may give.  But giving does not always require a purchase.  In fact, when I look back over a lifetime of friendships and family and giving, the most memorable gifts have been from the heart – not from a store.

Here are some ideas for low-cost or no-cost gifts that make a true impression.

  • Original Art.  Frame a drawing, painting or simple sketch or scan, print on high quality paper and make holiday cards.  An abstract painting on thick paper can be cut into bookmarks (with an inspirational quote).
  • Children’s artwork.  See above!  Kids’ artwork and photos can also be incorporated into simple and memorable ornaments.
  • Love of reading.  Read a good book lately?  Share with a friend that has similar tastes and have a book club for two over a cup of tea.
  • Instant garden.  Pot a few plants from your garden that can be taken inside for the winter.  An arrangement of a few small succulents potted in sandy soil becomes an instant garden.
  • Seeds for the future.  Save seeds from your butterfly plants or vegetable garden, dry and package in ziplock snack bags.  Wrap in a square of decorative cloth and tie with a ribbon or tuck into an inexpensive cloth bag (you can find mini tote bags or gift/favor bags  at the dollar store).  Gift tags can include a drawing or printed picture of the future plant, fruit or flower.
  • Cooking inspiration.  Share a few of your favorite recipes and include the finished product or a few hard-to-find or exotic ingredients.
  • Make mine a double.  The next time you bake, make a double batch and share with a friend or neighbor.
  • Home sweet home.  Furniture, kitchenware or other items not in use are a welcome gift for someone just starting out, a student or friend in need.
  • Mr. (or Ms.) Fixit.  Offer to share your skills and talents with someone that needs assistance.  Rake, shovel, repair, or do some computer maintenance – your time will be well spent and much appreciated.
  • Songs and laughter.  Organize a house concert or talent show and share the gift of music and companionship.  The price of admission can be a drink or snack, a willing voice and plenty of applause.

Everyday Shrines

When you think of a shrine, you may envision a holy place of worship, pilgrimage and sacred relics.  In some parts of the world, people have household shrines dedicated to a deity.  I also see them in businesses like my favorite Asian restaurants – little altars with offerings of food, tea and incense.

I have everyday shrines; places of magic that contain memorabilia associated with revered people and places.  These are small corners where sacred relics disguised as ordinary objects gather and lend some of the personal energy that makes our house a home.  Here are some sacred possessions and their stories.  What are some personal objects that have meaning for you?

A Kitchen Shrine:  Silver and lapis ring from a small shop across from Albrecht Dürer’s House in Nürnberg, Germany; Opal ring purchased on my first business trip to Boston; Sandstone oil burner and Satsuma oil from The Body Shop (Anita Roddick is a personal inspiration); Stone and Bergamot oil from the beautiful Grüne Erd (“Green Earth”) store in Nürnberg.

 

Portraits and Cards:  Portrait of my husband painted by my daughter for his birthday; photograph taken by my mother when I was 17; birthday cards from my mom and my friend Els.

Kitchen Tools can be sacred:  Marmalade crock from the 1930’s found at a stall on Portobello Road (where I used to walk each day); wooden spoon from my mother by way of my grandmother;  kitchen tongs from Germany; assorted utensils I use to cook every day.

The items in my kitchen are well-worn and ordinary, but I use them with care to make good food for people I love.

Are you thinking about your everyday shrines now?

Boxes:  Handmade wooden box from Costa Rica; special handcrafted box with a circus motif – a gift from my husband from a trip to New York; inside the circus box are earrings from my mother and grandmother.

Shells and Stones:  I gather shells and stones wherever I find them and keep them in a clay bowl.  They have been collected from all over the world and airport security is sometimes interesting with a bag full of rocks.

Last but not least are the letters and artwork from my family.  I think I’ve kept every one.  Probably my most precious possessions.

Fear of Festivals

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good at holidays.  Taken to extreme, fear of holidays even has an official name:  Heortophobia.  Not wanting to be bound by obligation disguised as tradition, I’ve veered a little too adamantly to the other extreme of unpredictability.  Spontaneity seemed better, somehow.  Brighter and freer.  My kids asked, “Can’t we just have turkey dinner like everyone else?” when I proposed some new and exotic menu.  I thought I was rescuing them from the horrors of green bean casserole (sorry, Mom – I confess that it was never a favorite).

Recently, a comment from a new Australian acquaintance made me think.  He noted that in workshops that he leads, he would ask participants to raise their hands if they were indigenous.  Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders would raise their hands confidently, while white people would sit still.  “Everyone is indigenous to some place, but white people seem to have forgotten their past.”  He continued to talk about the importance of names, family and clan/kin/tribe, connection to your origins and knowing your traditions.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since.  It’s probably appropriate this time of year.

Festivals

Diwali – Festival of Light

Now I read with curiosity and slight longing when I discover posts about others’ joyous traditions.  For example, I just happened upon this wonderful post about Diwali on Kiran’s Cooking Club site.  Diwali is also known as the “Festival of Light” and it is India’s most important annual holiday.  The name Diwali refers to the clay lamps that people light outside their homes, symbolizing inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.  Originally a harvest festival, Diwali is a time when Indian people (regardless of faith) seek the blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.  The holiday is celebrated with family gatherings, lamps, lights and fireworks and traditional sweets.

“Zie ginds komt de stomboot…”

When we lived in Holland, we enjoyed the arrival of Sinterklaas (otherwise known as Saint Nicholas) with his crew of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes – Moorish helpers) by steamboat the third week of November.  The Sint rides his trusty white horse and “Petes” engage in all sorts of mischief.  Children leave shoes out each evening, and if they are lucky they will find small presents in the morning.  December 5th, the Eve of Sinterklaas, is celebrated with gifts, rhymes and sweets.  Typical treats include pepernootjes (small spice cookies), speculaas (more spice cookies!), large chocolate letters for the first letter of the child’s name, marzipan figures and chocolate coins.

Other harvest festivals and fall and winter celebrations draw me in with their family time, sense of belonging, music and fun.  We spent 8 of the last 20 years living in The Netherlands and London, far from home and family holidays.  This year, we’re divided.  Extended family is far away as always and two daughters are studying abroad, leaving a small group of three to celebrate a quiet holiday.

What will we do?

Will we celebrate my husband’s Spanish background with a feast of tapas and traditional dishes?  Should  we explore my English/Scottish/Irish heritage and perhaps rediscover the rituals of the Winter Solstice?

Or shall we stick to tradition and try something completely new?