Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays to Everyone

As everyone makes their final preparations for their holiday celebrations, I wish you the joy of stillness.  Take just 5 little minutes from your day and breathe.  Breathe in wonder.  Breathe in beauty.  Breathe in a moment of Grace.  It is in the silence and stillness that miracles occur.  Those moments when we connect with all there is.  Be grateful for all the abundance in your life, the kids bouncing off the walls in giddy excitement for the days to come - know in your heart, that all is as it should be.  Take those little minutes to remember, we are human beings - not human doings.  Have a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gift Of Being Present

Have you ever met someone in your life that left such an impression on you that you will never forget them?  I have met several in my life but the one that comes to mind this morning while watching everyone running around, stressing out, and worrying about one day - one holiday that is supposed to be about light, love and hope is a wonderful lady named Shirley Michaelson.  You see, she had a gift that few people I know have.  She had the gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in her life while she was with you.  What made it even more special, is that I met her when we did a bid on a kitchen remodel in her condo.  I can honestly say that she was the only customer that I ever had that treated me with such love, care and above all, respect.  She genuinely cared about people and gave them her undivided attention while they were in her presence no matter what else was going on in her life.  She had the gift of being Present.

Shirley was the embodiment of not just the word compassion but of being compassion.  I learned from her that to live in the present moment and to have compassion for another is a way of life, a way of being in the world that offers comfort to whom ever is in your presence.  How much of the time are we somewhere else?  We are thinking of something that happened yesterday or two hours ago or anticipating what we have to do next or the rest of the day, week, month.....but we are not there.

Shirley helped to start the adult education program at our community college, she also started the displaced homemakers program to help women get back into the work force.  She also had a serious battle of her own with extreme Diabetes.  She never complained.  Even after a fall that injured her shoulder that made it so she couldn't lift her arm above her waist.  She went to Seattle for corrective surgery after nearly 2 years.  She finally said that if they didn't finally get it fixed, she just might have to get angry.  The gift of patience and grace.

Shirley died a few years later but left such a lasting legacy to all who ever came into contact with her.  The legacy that we can all aspire to give to each other.

So my wish for everyone as we enter the notorious 2012 year is that we all have the gift of being fully present.  That we can actually BE with those we are with instead of running around to the buzz in our heads.  So we can honestly say, "Yes, I can hear you."  and those in our presence will know without a doubt that yes, "I can see you."  Let us become compassion and not just throw a quarter in a kettle (although that is important too) and consider our work finished.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy St.Lucia Day!

It's December 13th - Happy St. Lucia Day for all the Scandinavians out there.  One thing is certain, we do up the holidays in style beginning with St. Lucia.  Here is a picture of me at age 15 doing a Lucia program for my parents VASA group in Lake Tahoe where we lived.  So much joy and pageantry and practices to learn to sing in Swedish. Not just St. Lucia but a whole plethora of Swedish carols.  Fast forward about 10 years....

My daughters first grade teacher was really into the St. Lucia story and had been talking about it to the class.  My daughter piped up and told her teacher that I had a St. Lucia dress.  I get a call from the teacher - would I come and do St. Lucia as a surprise for her class.  I don't have a head piece I told her but I will let you know.  Enter my father to the rescue.  No way would this one go - nothing was too good for his grand daughter.  Out came the tin snips and he made me a crown.  Ok - now what if the dress doesn't fit....2 kids does stuff to ones figure you know....I pulled the dress out of the bottom drawer and slipped it on.  It fit.  Hmmm... no eloquent way out of this one.  Several phone calls later and it was all arranged.  The day before, I baked a huge batch of Lucia Buns to take to the class.  I get to the school and head into the restroom where I donned my gown, tied up my red sash, placed the wet handkerchief on my head to protect my hair from dripping wax, placed the crown on my head and matches in hand made my way to the main reception area of the office.  "Would you mind lighting my candles?"  I asked the secretary behind the desk.  She looked up startled and took the matches and lit my candles.  I slowly made my way down the hall and into the classroom with my tray of Lucia buns, singing the St. Lucia song - in Swedish.  My daughter had no idea this was going to happen.  The teacher was reading the story to the class and when she got to the appropriate page, I came through the door with all the proper pomp and circumstance.  Ah...the things we do for love.  Good times creating magic moments for small children.  Hard to believe that my youngest just turned 26.

  So Happy St. Lucia Day - the kick off of the holiday season.  I hope you make some magic for the young ones in your life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are You a Noun or a Verb?

I don't know if anyone else is having trouble capturing the Christmas/Holiday frame of mind this year but for some reason it seems to have escaped me this year.  It just doesn't feel like Christmas for some reason.

I have been making a few ornaments but other than that I have done nothing about the whole thing.  I still haven't put up my tree.  I haven't made a single gift.  I have been watching Christmas movies and doing all the usual things but it just escapes me for some reason.  The whole thing feels artificial, and forced. The more commercials I see that promote retail Nirvana as some kind of requirement to a happy holiday, the more I'd like to ignore the whole thing!  I wonder, does anyone else feel it too?

I used to jump into the whole holiday thing with both feet.  I am the person who started making my gifts in January every year. I baked tons of fancy goodies, made pounds of hand dipped chocolates, and mailed countless jars of jam and bars of homemade soap.  Yet this year, I have no desire to do any of it.  I know I will gear up and get some of it done and I will have gifts finished for the kids and be ready for Christmas dinner.  But it will all be about honoring our traditions.  I keep thinking - it shouldn't be about black Friday, or cyber Monday or acquiring more stuff.  Why do we give gifts to each other anyway?  Because we are supposed to?  The more I thought about this dilemma, the more I looked to spirit for the answers.  If we are giving a gift out of obligation, then it really isn't a gift.  What is a gift anyway?

Well that depends on if you define it as a verb or a noun.  If it is love in action, then you are giving an endowment.  A gift that honors the receiver not with just another object of desire but with a physical manifestation of being endowed with your loving energy.  If that is the case, the obligatory trinket from the big box super store just doesn't cut it, does it?  However, if you look at it as a noun, it's just something given freely without compensation.  Puts a different spin on it doesn't it?  So the question is, are you a noun or a verb?  Hmmmm.....  An endowment or given without compensation?

Now the children in my life, they don't know how to give without it being a verb.  What they give is honesty.  Simplicity. And if I am lucky, a whole heap of unmitigated joy!  Something most of us forget about the age of 13 or so when we begin to care more about what other people think of us than what we think of ourselves. 

So what do I want for Christmas this year?

I want some of that!!! 
Money can't buy it.
Only being a Verb will nurture it.  It's never out of style, it always fits and it grows....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Baking Raisin Bread

For those folks who just love that expensive Raisin Bread that is now nearing $4.00 for a tiny loaf, here is a homemade equivalent.  I came up with this recipe because my family loved the commercial variety and I think for what it is the price is ridiculous.  This bread is really good toasted in the morning or with a cup of tea, slathered with butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.  Yum!

         Raisin Bread                     makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups of raisins            1 cup water
1/3 cup butter                      1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp salt                           1 1/4 cups evaporated milk or 1/2 & 1/2
2 eggs                                   2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp yeast
6 - 6 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour

Step 1:  Place raisins in a medium saucepan, add the water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5min. Remove from heat, add the butter, sugar, and salt.  Stir until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Let cool for 5 min.  Add the milk.  Mixture should be warm but not hot.

Step 2:  Proof your yeast.  Place your yeast in a 1 cup glass measuring cup.  Add 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 cup warm water.  Place measuring cup in a bowl of hot tap water.  Let stand until foamy and yeast is to the top.

Step 3: Pre-heat your oven to it's lowest setting.  Place warm raisin mixture in large mixing bowl, add slightly beaten eggs and cinnamon.  Add proofed yeast and stir to incorporate.  Add 5 cups of flour.  Mix well making sure there are no dry spots.  Add 1 cup flour and mix. (you may have to use your hands at this point)  Dough should be slightly sticky but not wet.  Spray work surface with non-stick spray.  Knead dough until smooth and all flour is incorporated and there are no dry spots.  If dough is too sticky, add small amounts of flour.  Form into a ball and place in a non-metal, greased, heatproof bowl.  Spray dough with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap.  Place dough in oven and turn oven off.

Step 4:  When dough is double (this will take 1 to 2 hrs. it is a heavier dough than basic white bread& raises slower)  remove from oven.  Spray your work surface with cooking spray and dump dough on to the oiled surface.  Divide dough in half.  Being careful to not deflate the dough, form a loaf by folding the ends in to make an even rectangle and then bringing the sides to the center and pinching the full length of the dough.  Place seam side down in a greased loaf pan.  Press dough in the pan if necessary to make sure it is even in the pan.  Pre-heat your oven to it's lowest setting while you form the second loaf.  turn the oven off and place the loaf pans in the oven.  Let rise until dough is almost but not quite double.  Brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash if you want your loaves to be shiney.  Turn the oven to 375.  Set the timer for 25 min.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 15 - 20 min.  Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.

 Cooling Raisin Bread
Cover bread with a tea towel while cooling.  Try to resist cutting for at least 20 min.  Hot bread doesn't cut very well and tends to have a slightly doughy texture.  Enjoy!