In honor of Hanukkah, and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, we made jelly doughnuts today. This is not a cooking project for the weak at heart. It involves making a yeasted dough, frying in very hot oil, and (the true miracle) injecting the jelly neatly into the doughnut. We did not have the appropriate kitchen implement for that last step (there must be a nice pastry tool out there somewhere) but David improvised by making his own. Interestingly, this involved a fair amount of duct tape, his material of choice for many projects. There are countless recipes for doughnuts, but we found this one from the blog East Meets West Kitchen (based on a recipe from Gourmet) to be just right. If you are brave enough to make these, you'll definitely enjoy them. And they are much, much better than Dunkin' Doughnuts.
We are more than half way through the 8 days of candle lighting, gift giving, and gelt eating that is Hanukkah here at our house. I'm enjoying the lights and the time spent with friends and family. We also celebrated Christmas last weekend at my mother's house, and yesterday friends kindly invited us to join them for Christmas lunch. Tomorrow we'll have another Hanukkah dinner (more latkes!) with some dear friends.
Today was the last day of school before winter break for the holidays. To kick things off early, the kids were released from classes at mid-day due to our first big snow storm of the season. Right on cue, the snow started as I picked them up. We have been home barely 3 hours and we already have enough snow for skiing and sledding. The kids are in heaven!
On the way home from town we stopped at the library to pick up some movies to watch while waiting out the storm. I felt lucky to score Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, but all of the copies of A Christmas Carol were checked out. I'm sure I can catch that on T.V. at some point this week. Even though we celebrate Hanukkah as a family, I find that my memories of celebrating Christmas while growing up are powerful. I have a need to watch these movies, as well as the Rankin-Bass animated holiday movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (I love Burl Ives's voice). I also have a small stash of Christmas music that I listen to obsessively for about two weeks. My family, kids included, roll their eyes at me, but agree that there is really no good Hanukkah music. Whatever you are celebrating this week, many blessings to you and your family.
I've been busily finishing some projects for holiday and birthday gifts. Above you can see some of the dolls I've been making. I am quite focused on the idea of dolls right now and have some ideas for different designs. I love the faces. I think I'll make some dolls with open eyes next.
We just returned home from 4 days in New York City. I don't think I have ever been in the city so close to Christmas. The holiday lights and window dressings were amazing. Some were truly works of art, like those of Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue. Each window was an assemblage, all in white, representing a month or season. Below are some photos from Summer and September. My photos are just a small part of the whole. To see some other examples, go to the store's website here and touch on the thumbnail images.
Our community art school, Northern Berkshire Creative Arts, held a fundraiser over the weekend that featured items made by Tibetan artisans. The items offered at the sale were stunning, and the profits from the sale went to the Tibetan Artisan Initiative as well as to the art school. We were told that many imitations of traditional Tibetan crafts are offered in the marketplace, and that the Tibetan Artisan Initiative is working to raise awareness and promote sales of true Tibetan-made crafts. The artisans work through Dropenling, a handicraft development center in Lhasa. Dropenling is a Tibetan word meaning "giving back for the betterment of all mankind." We purchased these dolls. They are about 18 inches tall and have jointed limbs. The clothing (and incredibly sweet shoes) are made with traditional textiles. These are not for the kids to play with. We are displaying them in our living room for all to enjoy. I love the faces, especially the man's.
In my last post I wrote about how doctors' appointments can raise my anxiety, serving as a reminder of the breast cancer I have been dealing with this year. Yet, after writing that, I found myself thinking about how being diagnosed with breast cancer has FREED me to a certain extent from angst about sickness and death. No, I don't want to be sick, and I don't want to die right now. But, I have a very clear awareness that indeed I will suffer illness, and I will die some day. And I do not run from that truth. I find my freedom in not running, not evading, not denying. Running away takes far too much energy, energy that is better suited to being present right now for my life, imperfect as it might be.
I just read an article about Michael J. Fox, the actor who was diagnosed with Parkinsons' Disease about ten years ago. Of course, his symptoms are painful and often difficult to manage. But, he said a remarkable thing: that he lives a wonderful, happy life WITH Parkinsons' Disease, not EXCEPT FOR the disease. That is a vital distinction. Accepting the whole experience we are given in life, rather than trying to bargain, or close off various parts of ourselves, provides the most peace. And isn't that ultimately what we all want?
Going down to NYC for my appointments at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center can be anxiety producing. These visits remind me that I had breast cancer. Even though I am theoretically disease-free at this point, sitting in the doctor's waiting room I am reminded that by the grace of God go I. I see other women sick from disease and treatments. I hear stories that would break your heart.
So, I always make sure that I see something beautiful in the city as well. During my trip this week I made a point of venturing downtown to purl (yarn) and purl patchwork (fabric). The stores, both painted this lovely robin's egg blue, are just a few doors down from each other on Sullivan Street in Soho. Although I spent a long time looking at, and touching (so soft!), a lot of yarn, I didn't buy any. I am trying really hard not to buy yarn impulsively (a challenge).
I did buy these fabrics. I guess there was a bit of impulse shopping going on as I explored the shelves full of gorgeous bolts of fabric. I do have some projects in mind for these, though. And, more significantly, these are all Japanese fabrics. I love the Japanese design sensibility. I have yet to find a shop in the Berkshires that sells Japanese fabrics, so I felt ample excuse to splurge on these. Japanese fabrics are available online for perusing and purchasing. I really like the sites Fabric Tales and Super Buzzy. Some of the fabric can be expensive, but using even just a little bit in whatever you are making can make a big difference because the designs are so unique.
And to finish with a little more about sewing, I just finished these quilt tops and am about to head upstairs to my sewing space to back and quilt them. The designs are my own. They are for two dear little twin babies who were born to my cousin just this week! The darker quilt is for the boy, the lighter for the girl. These are happy projects to work on.
The December holidays hold a fair share of ambivalence for me. We celebrate Hanukkah, lighting candles and giving the kids a gift each night of the holiday. Because I grew up Christian, we are also quite aware of the Christmas preparations and celebrations of my side of the family. In and of themselves, these holidays are lovely. Family, lights, moving through the darkness, the anticipation of a special baby's birth. But then, in comes the commercialism and materialism. I was so upset to hear about the WalMart worker who was trampled and killed by the mad rush of shoppers this past Friday (a black Friday indeed). I guess the question for me is how to disentangle from the spiritually void material pursuits, and honor this time of year for all its positive aspects. This can be particularly tricky with kids, as gifts are a central expectation.
Here are some ideas that I have:
1. Give handmade or recycled gifts. 2. Make special foods. 3. Spend time with family and friends. 4. Join in community activities that focus on the true meaning of the season. 5. Make handmade decorations for our home. 6. Read stories and listen to music that reflect the season's spirit. 7. Give to those truly in need.
That last idea has been rolling around in my head for a while. I've donated money to food pantries, given to the Toys for Tots program, and supported local charities with year-end donations. I have been talking with the kids about the difference between wants and needs, and asking them how they might help others.