christmas eve & christmas 2016

Saturday, December 24:  Mike, Alex and I drive on this overcast Saturday to the Washington National Cathedral for our annual Christmas Eve visit. We’re a small group this Christmas, as Adam is body-surfing at a beach in Maui and Sarah is hanging with her dad, his two pugs, her dog Bagel, her stepmother and half-brothers in Virginia Beach.

In the Cathedral’s nave, we admire an owl hidden in a Christmas tree amidst poinsettia and cranberry garlands, and columns decked out in red-bowed wreaths.  We crane our necks to admire the Space Window, celebrating the Apollo mission to the moon, and the three Rose windows and all the stained glass scenes that bring the stories of Christianity to life.

an owl in the Christmas tree
an owl in the Christmas tree
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

I light a candle and pray for peace and love, for healing in our country after our divisive election and under our upcoming regime change, for the Syrian refugees and other people suffering because of war and famine and corruption, and for my children, who I hope will someday thrive. I also pray that I can find my quest, my own personal legend, in my life.  I squeeze a lot of hope into that one candle.

The Canterbury Pulpit depicts people and scenes relating to the Bible’s translation into English.  Stories for the pulpit came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Canterbury Pulpit
Canterbury Pulpit

We find the Pentagon Cross, made by Alvin Neider from fragments of the facade of the Pentagon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in recognition that we are “united in memory, freedom, and faith, and in the hope of and love for God, our nation, and all peoples of the earth.”

The Pentagon cross
The Pentagon cross

We find HOLY CITY, a pilgrimage of sight, by Irish citizen Brian Whelan, a nine-paneled painting showing “a vision of unity amongst the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”  Says the artist: “The daily news is full of stories of faith against faith; a never-ending holy war and perversion of God’s love.  Wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism are often described with religious labels.  This is not a perspective shared by most people.  Across the faiths, we have far more in common that divides us.”

Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan
Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan

The artist says this doesn’t depict any one Holy City that exists in today’s world: “This is my aspirational vision of what a Holy City looks like.  Each of the canvases contain churches, mosques and synagogues, representing the Abrahamic faiths, painted in bright, playful and colorful forms.  An abstracted, disarming vision of cultural unity; living together in peace, acceptance and in harmony; a haven for the soul. … In this Holy City, hospitality would be offered to all pilgrims.”

For close-ups of the nine panels of Holy City, click on any picture in the tiled mosaic below.

In the Crypt level, we visit the Bethlehem Chapel, showing the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, telling the story of Jesus’ entombment following his crucifixion.

chapel
chapel
iron door
iron door
chapel
chapel

The main reason we come to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve is to see the crèches from all over the world.  We see nativity scenes made from natural materials found in Mexico, India, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, New Mexico, Arizona, Turkey, Uganda and others.

In the Jamaican nativity, the bodies are made of rolled woven mats with painted gourds for heads.  They are dressed in woven fiber and fabric garments.  The figures’ eyes are painted with touches of gold, which make them glow.  As for the Wise Men: one Magi is from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe, each wearing elaborate fiber headdresses that represent their home continents.

The bodies of the figures in the Singapore nativity are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree.  While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough.  The figures are then formed on a wire armature.  The entire process takes anywhere from 2 1/2 – 15 hours, depending upon the intricacy of the figure.

Singapore - joss stick powder
Singapore – joss stick powder

Finally, a crèche made of wood depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska.  The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions.  Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler.  On the roof is a star, and a snowy owl rests nearby, representing an angel.  The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan.  Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not.  A totem pole completes the scene.

The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.

mosaic
mosaic

Outside, we take some parting shots of the Cathedral and then drink coffee and tea in the gift-shop-turned-cafe, amidst steam, hissing and the chatter of other pilgrims.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
St. Albans
St. Albans
me at the Cathedral
me at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral

The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.

Cathedral garden
Cathedral garden

On the way home from our visit, we stop at the Lebanese Taverna market, where we eat a smorgasbord of kibbeh, sambousick, fatayer cheese, arnabeet, loubieh, and fattoush. I pick up a few stocking stuffers at the market here.

Back home, after wrapping our remaining presents and preparing the chicken apple sausages for tomorrow’s Christmas brunch, we meet my sister-in-law Barbara and a friend of hers at Luciano Italian Restaurant and pizzeria for Christmas Eve dinner.

Though we’ve never done this in Christmases past, we attend my sister-in-law’s 8:00 church service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, where she sings in the choir.  We hear a wonderful and moving rendition of “Ave Maria” that brings tears to my eyes.

We spend some time at Barbara’s house for gift exchange and good cheer, and then return home, where we bid goodnight to our Christmas tree. 🙂

our Christmas tree
our Christmas tree

In the morning, in our typical Christmas fashion, we open our gifts one by one, and we have the same Christmas brunch I got from a 1992 issue of Martha Stewart Living and have been making for nearly 25 years (except the years I was abroad, when my family made the same brunch): Breakfast Frittata, Chicken Apple Sausages, Cheese Grit casserole, pancakes with cranberry maple compote, mimosas, and Barbara’s addition of a fruit salad with an orange sauce.

A good but quiet Christmas all around.

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year in 2017! 🙂

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chinese lantern festival: a holiday menagerie

Thursday, December 22:  It’s time to get into the holiday spirit, so I go with a friend to visit the Chinese Lantern Festival at Roer’s Zoofari in Vienna, VA.  Not only does the display get me into the holiday spirit, but it also makes me nostalgic for Asia, where I saw a phenomenal lantern festival in Seoul, South Korea at the Cheonggye-cheon Stream Lantern festival.

Here, we find 40 sets of over 800 hand-crafted lanterns made by a master of the craft in Zigong, China, the center of China’s lantern tradition.

gate to the festival
gate to the festival

The 2016 lanterns highlight ‘The Wild,’ including lanterns in the form of animals from around the world, including Africa, Antarctica, Asia, America and more.

Here is an whimsical display of jellyfish, reflecting beautifully in the pond.

jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond
jellyfish on the pond

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

We come across a group of lizards which seem out of place in cold Virginia.

I wish you all joy, delight, adventure, and LOVE during the holiday season and in 2017.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or just happy winter solstice!  Whatever or however you celebrate, I hope you’re surrounded by family, friends, and positive vibes.  Love and hugs to all of you!! 🙂

cocktail hour between the holidays: the early december edition

Sunday, December 6:  So much for good intentions!  I planned to start posting my cocktail hour more regularly after I wrote the last one on December 1, but here I am only getting to it a month later.  Welcome to our between-the-holidays cocktail hour.  Forget the patio; we are now moving indoors where it’s nice and warm.  Mike tells me he’d rather not entertain until we’ve finished our house renovation, but as we are just getting ready to sign a contract with a contractor this week, that wouldn’t be till the spring.  I can’t wait that long to have a gathering with my blogging friends!

Please, come in and make yourself comfortable.  I’ve made some hot apple cider, and I also can make you can egg nog drink, alcoholic or not, as you wish.  Lots of great wines too and some craft beers.

I’ve been trying to keep up with you on your blogs, but in case I missed anything, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the holiday festivities.  Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?  Decorated your house for the holidays?  For my American friends: did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Have you been outside exploring nature?  Have you seen any holiday light shows or been to any holiday markets?  Have you had your first snow of the season?  Have you seen any good movies or read any good books?  Have you been to any plays or concerts?  Have you completed any house projects?

We just picked up our Christmas tree this afternoon, and it’s now sitting in a bucket of water until we can decorate it sometime this week.  Mike put the wreaths on the windows and a spotlight near the front door which illuminates the wreaths. Other than that, I haven’t done anything holiday-related other than to buy myself some Christmas presents, notably a new Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a telephoto lens.  I won’t be opening it until Christmas, but it’s already been delivered. 🙂

Mike and I went on a beautiful hike on Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River on Sunday, November 8, which I wrote about here: a november rock scramble on billy goat trail.  The following weekend, we went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we stayed in a B&B, walked all around Antietam Battlefield, and had a wonderful time celebrating our anniversary.  More about that later. 🙂

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving on November 26 at my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland. My sister Stephanie from California and my brother Rob from New Jersey couldn’t make it, but my dad and stepmother were there, as well as my sister Joan, her husband Steve and my nephew Seth.  Sadly my niece Kelsey, who is now married to Dave, had to go to Dave’s house for the holiday, so she wasn’t there.  However, in a rare alignment of the stars, all three of my children were in attendance.  It was a wonderful day.

The table's all set
The table’s all set

We drove 2 1/2 hours to Salisbury and when we arrived, my sister was busy cooking.  The table was already set.  We visited and hung out while the turkey cooked, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers and smoked oysters.

Joan and Steve, perfect hosts as always, made sure everyone was happy and had what they needed.

Joan and Steve
Joan and Steve

Some of the kids and Mike threw a football around in the front yard.  Mike somehow ruptured the tendon on one of his fingers, causing it to dangle at the joint. Later he found out from the doctor it’s called mallet finger. As an ex-football player, he was quite embarrassed about it!

frisbee game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike
football game: Top: Sarah, Alex, Adam, Seth. Bottom: Mike

Mike took a picture of my sister and me out by the pool.

Joan and me
Joan and me

When dinner was finally served, we all loaded up our plates and joined each other around the table for a wonderful meal.

Everyone except me
Everyone except me
Everyone except Steve
Everyone except Steve

After dinner and dessert, we drove back home to northern Virginia.  The next morning Sarah wanted to invite her Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister, over for brunch.  We had a somewhat healthy version of huevos rancheros and bacon and waffles.

healthy huevos rancheros
healthy huevos rancheros

I finished reading Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan on November 24, which I really enjoyed.  Then I dove right in to The Outside of August, by Joanna Hershon.  I find this story intriguing because it’s told from the point of view of a daughter whose mother, Charlotte, is always escaping to foreign lands.  They can’t really figure out what she does when she goes away, nor why she feels compelled to always leave. The family feels the mother’s absence intensely when she’s absent, and they seem to always be waiting for her return. Of course, I can identify with this story as I can see a lot of myself in that mother.  It’s interesting that it’s told from the children’s point of view, and focuses on how her absence really affects the children.  Of course, in my all-too-real life, I can see the effect my absence has had on my children, although they insist that they are proud of me for following my dreams and for my bravery and adventurous nature.  They say one thing, but their actions often speak differently.  I’m nearly finished the book and am anxious to discover why the mother always felt the urge to escape to exotic lands. Maybe it will tell me something about myself that I don’t know.

I went to see the movie Steve Jobs.  It was an excellent movie and it just so happened Adam was home on the afternoon I was going to see it and asked to come along because of his fascination with Jobs.  Adam is brilliant, and like Steve Jobs, he doesn’t see the need to go to college.  He wants to change the world like Jobs did, but in a way that involves permaculture, organic farming, etc.  At this moment, I can see Adam struggling to find a direction and I wish with all my heart that he’d reconsider going to college.  One thing I’m figuring out is that I cannot force my children to do what they don’t want to do.  It’s a losing battle, and I’m learning to give it up.  I have to step back and give them the reins and see what they can figure out on their own.  But I must admit it’s frustrating to see such a struggle going on with him when he could have it so easy.

Mike and I went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and, another night, we went to see singer Madeleine Peyroux at The Barns at Wold Trap.  I really loved the movie, Spotlight, in which journalists in Boston took on the Catholic Church over the abuse of young children by priests. I was less impressed with Brooklyn, about an Irish immigrant girl.  It seemed tedious and predictable.

I had a goal to send off my novel to 10 agents by the end of November, but I only sent it out to five.  I don’t know why I’m so resistant to putting it out there.  Of course I’m afraid of rejection, but shouldn’t I be more afraid of it sitting on my computer, unseen by anyone, as it has for the last twelve years?  I hope to send it out to at least five more agents by year-end.

I’ve been doing way too much shopping, such a foolish thing to waste my time on.  But I find myself in the house all day and feeling trapped.  I just have to get out and see other human beings.  I’m considering signing up for a real estate course just for something to do where I can get out with other adults. I’ve always enjoyed looking at houses and my banking background will come in handy.  I don’t really want to teach ESL in America as the pay is horrible for the amount of work required.  And now, I don’t want to go abroad because I need to stay home for various reasons, mainly my children, Mike and the upcoming home renovation.

In 2000, I did The Artist’s Way 12-week course.  Doing that inspired me to write short stories and eventually my novel.  Now I’ve decided to undertake The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon.  I just started it on December 2 and it will take 12 weeks.  Who knows what this might open up for me.

I find myself quite depressed about all the violence that is happening in the world, especially related to ISIS: the Paris shootings, the Beirut attacks, the downing of the Russian plane, the recent killing of a governor in a state in Yemen.  The killings in San Bernardino this week by a husband and wife who pledged their support to the caliphate.  Will the violence ever end?  I have that same uneasy feeling I had after September 11, the time period during which my novel takes place.  I wrote the novel at a time when I felt shaken by world events, and those events keep repeating themselves in different forms today.  I don’t begin to know the solution to dealing with the ISIS caliphate and their violence-with-a-vengeance campaign.  I don’t even know if people such as these, people who are so hell-bent on forcing their world view on all of us, can be bargained with in a non-violent way.  Would they be wiling to bend, even a little?

Here in America, we have our own brand of terrorism as well, with disenfranchised and alienated people taking their anger to the extreme by grabbing an easy-to-access weapon and randomly shooting innocent people.  I can see the alienation that is taking over our country and we should work on correcting that deep issue rather than thinking more gun laws will solve what I see as symptoms to the problem.  I am for some gun control, especially for assault-type weapons, but I also would like to know that when I feel threatened in any way, I can go out and get a gun myself to defend my family.

No matter what, I refuse to be afraid.  I will not let these people have power over me, and I hope most Americans will refuse to stand down. I am not going to let someone else dictate to me what my life will be.

Back to more pleasant things.  We haven’t yet had any snow in northern Virginia, but we have had many rainy and dreary days.  I love to go outside to walk every day, if possible, and the weather has put a damper on that.  The weight I lost over the last couple of months is slowly creeping back, so I need to pull back on my eating.  But on these cold and dreary days, comfort foods are calling my name.  We’ve been making a lot of soups, the perfect remedy to cold winter days.

Here’s one view along my favorite 3-mile walk around Lake Audubon.  We’ve had a lot of gray skies like these lately.

Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Reflections on a gray day around Lake Audubon in Reston
Lake Audubon
Lake Audubon

SCAN0001We went this past Friday night to Mike’s company’s holiday Christmas party.  I haven’t gotten dressed up like that in years, and I have to say, I really don’t like getting dressed up! I’m always so uncomfortable wearing pantyhose and walking in heels.  I don’t know why on earth someone can’t invent some comfortable pantyhose!

It was a fun gathering with lots of fantastic food, especially crab cakes and a pasta bar and a great salad bar.  It was nice to meet many of Mike’s coworkers. The best thing about the party was this crazy photo booth thing where you got inside and did silly poses and the photo booth printed out a column of pictures.  It was so goofy and loads of fun!

Finally, on Saturday, we went to Richmond where Mike went to the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game and I met Sarah and Alex for lunch at Fresca…on Addison.  Later that evening, we picked up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana, and we all went to the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and then had a Cuban dinner at Kuba-Kuba.  I’ll post something about that later.  It was great fun and got us all in the mood for the holidays. 🙂

I know I’ve talked a lot about what’s been going on with me, but I hope you’ll tell me what’s happening with you in the comments.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. Hugs to you all and thank you for coming.  Have a holly jolly Christmas and a happy New Year!

 

christmas eve

Tuesday, December 24:  We have another long-standing tradition of going to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. She lives in Vienna, Virginia and on our way to her house, we drive past the most decorated house in Vienna.

an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood
an overly decorated house in a Vienna neighborhood

My mother-in-law, now 87, is on oxygen and is very frail.  Known as Nana to our children, she used to cook a feast of ham loaf and scalloped potatoes and other goodies from her Ohio past, but she’s too frail to cook these days.  It makes me sad to see her in such poor health, and so weak, and such a shadow of her former self.  She still has a big heart, though, and her poor health won’t put a dent in that.

Nana and Alex
Nana and Alex

My sister-in-law, Barbara, does most of the work this year, getting a ham and corn pudding and green beans from Whole Foods.  She buys an array of cookies and decorates the tree and the mantel (along with help from my sons).  She goes all out on wrapping presents in the most elegant and exotic paper imaginable. This year she’s decorated the tree with bird and animal ornaments.

Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies
Bailey searches under the Christmas tree for goodies

Here are a few shots of our family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Again, it’s been four years since I was home for Christmas, so it’s lovely to be with family again on the holidays.

weekly photo challenge: joy {christmas day}

Wednesday, December 25:  Having been away from home for the last three Christmases, it was pure joy to be home this year to celebrate with my family.  We woke up at a leisurely pace, we had coffee, we sat beside the tree listening to Christmas carols and waited for the boys to wake up.  When they did, we opened gifts.  It was a simple Christmas, much more so than in the past, and I liked it that way.

Christmas morning in our house
Christmas morning in our house

I got new pajamas, a workout shirt, some snow boots and a bunch of books, mainly by my new favorite writer, Ann Patchett.  Mike got biking gear and clothes, Alex got a new computer, and Adam got some books and his upcoming trip to Australia (which is costing us a fortune).

Alex & Adam
Alex & Adam

After taking a long hot bath, I began preparations for the traditional Christmas brunch that I made for 20 years before I went away to Korea and Oman.  We don’t make a Christmas dinner because there is no room to eat anything after this brunch.  I know we should think of changing the menu sometime as it’s not at all heart friendly.  The problem is that we all like it so much.  I made a big Southern Grits casserole.  Lots of butter, a pound of cheese, four eggs: these are all involved.  Next I made a Breakfast Frittata that includes red pepper, a dozen eggs, milk, scallions, tarragon, goat cheese and red potatoes.  As always, on Christmas Eve, I assembled Chicken and Apple Sausage Patties, made from ground chicken, Granny Smith apples, onion and fresh sage.  Mike sauteed them this morning while I made the Cranberry Maple Compote to go on the pancakes he also made.  All of this was accompanied by mimosas and a fruit salad featuring star fruit made by my sister-in-law, Barbara.  My mother-in-law also joined us, as always.

After eating this huge feast, all we really felt like doing was napping.  Everyone spread out all around the house, finding a quiet and comfortable place, and caught a peaceful bit of slumber.

Finally, after everyone woke up, we played a game of Bananagrams (I lost), then Oodles (I lost), and then Scattergories (I also lost!).  I never win these kinds of games, but it’s fun to try!

It wasn’t a terribly exciting Christmas.  There were no big crowds, and there wasn’t a lot of rambunctious behavior, but it was enjoyable just the same.  Truly, it was a joy to be back home for the holidays.

This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge of JOY.