Monday, December 31, 2007

Saying Thankyou

“To have striven, to have made an effort, to have been true to certain ideals — this alone is worth the struggle. We are here to add what we can to, not to get what we can from, life.”
- Sir William Osler (1849-1919)

It's an obsession of mine. Searching for quotes where great truths are turned out in just a few words.

It is a clear pattern I have observed, those who are most thankful are the most generous. Those who are most generous with two little words, "Thank you" give encouragement to how God made mankind to live. In a state of giving grace.

The link below has a quote from a young man who just wanted to say thank you. To no one and to everyone. He happens to be a soldier. Serving far from home. A man who has fed captains and kings and seas of grunts in tents.

Martin Luther King had a dream about not seeing the color of one's skin. I would like to add to that dream not seeing the content of one's bank account. The young man featured in Diane Hardisty's column in The Californian on December 27th exemplifies the ideal.

Read the story in its entirety at

and make it a resolution for the New Year to say thank you to someone every day next year. You will be happy you did.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Quote

Simple words strung together have power to change a life.

My father quit his job when I was in sixth grade. He thought with over twenty years of experience in his field, it would be easy to get an other job. It wasn't.

My mother came to the mainland from Puerto Rico in her twenties. Fortunately, she came here an educated woman. My mother went to work as a teacher when my oldest sister was looking at college catalogs. While there were financial concerns, we were certain that my mother would not be laid off. The mortgage, the grocers and the doctors could be paid. We were far from rich, but we were safe.

But my father's extended unemployment left me with an almost irrational fear of poverty. From the day I was 12 I worked at any job I could. I babysat for a wealthy Realtor who once actually offered to pay me in jam: his wife made sure I got cash. Fifty cents an hour. I cleaned houses and ironed for other people. It was honest work and honest pay and I liked the feeling of pride that came from being able to pay my own way.

It also left me over-concerned with financial stability at the cost of all else. By the time I was a junior in high school I managed to land a job as a waitress for the now-defunct coffee shop, Sambo's. Working for tips was pleasurable. There was a direct relationship between the work performed and the money I earned. It was very good money for someone still in their teens. At the time I lived at home, had a car that was paid for and made more money than my mom did as a teacher. I had a cushy savings account.

I was quite full of myself. But because I never said "no" to an extra hour pushing pancakes,I worked myself in to a lonely position. During a time when I was growing dangerously sad, an other waitress, Becky, gave me the gift of a little parchment with the quote on it, "The Lord Respects Me When I Work, But He Loves Me When I Sing."

That little piece of paper changed my life. Before her gift, I was a Pharisee, trying to earn God's respect. I still worked hard. But I also took in the meaning of what it means "to sing". I learned to express joy and gratitude and to be loving. I took days off of work and didn't rush to fill them with chores. This new attitude resulted in a richer life than I could ever have earned. For when we "sing" we make room for God to fill our lives with grace.

I kept the quote with precious mementos through my life. Thirty years after Becky gave me this quote, the words in typed calligraphy, a local stone carver wanted to do something for me because of a story I wrote. I told him that I had always wanted this saying engraved where I could see it. On my anniversary, the stone carver unloaded the boulder with the powerful words carved in to the side. It sits prominently in my front garden, a reminder of keeping priorities straight.

Every time I read the words, I think of Becky and how precious her friendship has always been to me. Even when we have been separated by miles and years. She has always been there when I needed a friend or a reminder of God's love.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Brandied Fruit Bars

Don't you love the holidays? Even now, as this festive season is being put away for next year I think about how we can be practical roughly 360 days a year. And on the remaining days, we can celebrate with abandon. As proud as I am of my children, I am even more pleased for these breaks when we can just be freinds and enjoy each other's company.
There is nothing that does me more good than to see my oldest son, Trevor, and his wife, Leslie, look so happy and relaxed on Christmas Eve. Every year, as many as can make it gather at my mother-in-law's for dinner gather. She coordinates the "pot luck" so that the feast is traditional and the joy of all that cooking is shared.

This year my contribution would be cookies and candies. Christmas is not about practicality. It is about loving abandon. Personal favorites had to be remembered: Chocolate Chip Cookies for Kenny. Snickerdoodles for Trevor. English Toffee for my husband.Something rich, something spicy, a bar cookie and some gluten free treats for my mother-in-law to indulge in. Orange Cinnamon Cookies and Peanut Brittle. Holiday Bars for sheer opulent indulgence.

Nineteen hours in the kitchen and my feet doubted my sanity. But then I see my niece's face light up as she helps me pile the plates on the counter high with sweets.I don't feel my feet anymore. I only feel my heart, and it is happy.

On Christmas Day, we were invited to join my son's in-laws for Christmas Dinner. Steve and Lisa are not just perfect in-laws. They are perfect hosts. The feast continued with prime rib, ham and lute fiske. The second half of my bake-a-thon was set on the table. Lisa asked for the recipe for the bar cookies. Here it is.

Holiday Brandied Bars
1-1/2 Cup Golden or Ruby Raisins
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
1 Cup Dried Apricots, chopped
1 Cup Brandy
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine is Saucepan. Stir over medium heat until boiling. Turn the flame off. Let mixture stand for half an hour to absorb the brandy.
2 ¼ Cups Flour
3/4 Cups Brown Sugar
3/4 Cups Butter
Mix together flour and brown sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until texture resembles loose grain. Lightly pat in to a 10”x 15” x 2” cake pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes or until this crust golden brown.
1 Cup Chopped Pecans
Drain off any excess moisture from fruit mixture by using a slotted spoon to spread the brandied fruit over the crust. Sprinkle the nuts evenly on top.
4 Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
Beat with electric mixer on low for about 4 minutes.
1 Cup Flour
2 Cups Brown Sugar
Stir together flour and brown sugar. Blend in with egg-vanilla mixture. Spoon evenly over filling.

Bake for about 1 hour more, or until toothpick in center comes out clean.
Powdered Sugar- Generously sift over the top. Cut in to bars. Allow to cool.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Orange and Cinnamon Cookies

“ The first time I saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953, in those days it was all flat land- no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships- just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees.”- Walt Disney

Things were simple when I was a little girl. Driving through Orange County, Disneyland loomed large from the moment it could be spotted on the horizon. As the family station wagon zoomed past on the 5 freeway on family car trips, I believed that Disney’s Matterhorn was the tallest mountain in the world and that the castle was real.

Now that I am an adult, there are not-too tall buildings that dwarf all of Disneyland. If the off ramp wasn’t so well marked, The Magic Kingdom might be missed without knowing it.

But the magic of living in California is never diminished. I just close my eyes and think of the generations of Europeans who were satisfied at Christmas with a single orange as a present. Just outside my backdoor, the navel orange is loaded with the fruit and waits for me to pick of it in the morning.

Now that the evenings are cool and crisp, the fruit on the tree is first a feast for the eyes. In the morning light they are now that same day glow orange vintage post cards advertised them to be.

Before I pick any, I weigh the globes in my hands. The heaviest globes feel full of juice and are chosen to harvest. Their delicate stems are twisted and the fruit falls from the tree in to the large pocket of my apron.

I bring in the daily harvest to warm slowly in the basket on the kitchen counter. The fruit is allowed to rise to room temperature. Before using, the oranges are rolled on the counter so the pulp within will release more juice.

In perusing the internet for recipes to use some of my oranges for, I found this nice cookie recipe that marries the brightness of the orange’s flavor with the holiday tone of cinnamon. Imagine: a Snickerdoodle cookie with a California twist. Here’s the link so you can print it out and enjoy it yourself. With all the heavy and complicated food, this cookie is a nice light accompaniment to finish off a meal or even just with tea.

I would normally post the link here, but there seems to be a technical issue that is keeping it from inserting. So here is what you do. Go to - then search for "Christmas Orange and Cinnamon Cookies". She posted this on December 7,2007. I promise, it is worth the few seconds this will take.

For some reason, the link is not uploading. So for now, go to and to to her December 7,2007 post for "Christmas Orange and Cinnamon Cookies" recipe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When one is A Christian

By Reverend John Scharlemann,

One is boggled by how a God who created billions of galaxies, each encompassing millions of stars swirling through billions of light years of space, could volunteer to become a human baby:

One is awed by the kind of love which would reach down from such unimaginable heights and choose sinners such as you and me for eternal life:

One is uplifted by the realization that because God became a man, He empathized with our suffering and pain:

One gives gifts to others as a reflection of the great gift which God gave us in His Son:

One sees in all the Christmas lights the symbol of the light of Christ which brings grace and mercy to a sin-darkened world;

One sees in people’s holiday happiness a foreshadowing of the joy which believers will experience into eternity when we live with the Lord in heaven:

One finds great comfort and joy in fellowship and worshiping with other brothers and sisters in Christ. We know something special, after all. We are bonded in a unique community under the Lord.

John Scharlemann is the pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Diamond Bar, California
excert from The Hilltop Herald.
reprinted with permission

Friday, December 14, 2007

Taste of Summer in the Middle of Winter

Imagine: the taste of summer in the middle of winter. The wands of African Blue Basil were soaked overnight in the warmth of the kitchen. In the morning the bouquet looked refreshed. The colors were deeper, the leaves more supple, the arch of the stems slightly stronger.

Author and person extraordinaire, Debra Prinzing, posts on her blog Shed Style about one of the most important food trends, the movement towards eating in season, locally produced foods.

But what about cravings for off-season produce? I usually avoid canned foods, but the cans of Muir Glen diced tomatoes taste so good, the pressure is off the now spindly vines in my backyard. The can now rest in peace without my trying to force an unnaturally long season upon them.

What makes Glen Muir worth asking for by name? Open the can. Look inside and what do you see? The tomatoes have been insulated from any off tastes ordinarily would have been picked up in processing by the pristine white enamel coating on the container’s inside.

Now that I have discovered the Muir Glen tomatoes, I whip up a batch of Bruschetta in December and taste warm summer breeze in about ten minutes.

1 (14.5 oz) Can Muir Glen ® Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Basil Leaves
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or oregano leaves

1. Stir the above ingredients together.

16 (1/2 half inch slices) of sourdough baguette, sliced on the diagonal.
Olive Oil
2. Lightly brush the slices of bread with oil.
3. Broil until lightly browned

Grey Sea Salt

4. Spoon the topping over the toasted baguettes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

African Blue Basil

The bees dart about the herb walk. No doubt they were drawn there by the African Blue Basil that thrives in the borders, for they dance around tall herb wands.

My first African Blue Basil came home in a 4 inch pot from the nursery section of a little hardware store in a quaint town named Solvang. If you’ve never been to Solvang, just imagine a children’s book vision Copenhagen. Brown half-timbers accenting white building front anchored with brick. Windmills turning on bell shaped building fronts. Shop windows full of blue and white pottery and painted wooden shoes. Colorful blooms cascade over the sides of window boxes and add color to curb side plantings. The smell of apples and sugar and cinnamon cooking beckon you in though the bakery doors.

That trip was seven years ago. The plants I have now are children of that original souvenir. Basil is tender to cooler temperatures, so it is usually treated as an annual. But so far, I’ve managed to keep a small collection growing from the original plant because it roots so easily. On a day like today, when it is crisp, but before any danger of frost, I wander out to the garden with the clippers and return with a bouquet that dwarfs the countertop.

For the next few weeks, the bouquet will get more compact as kitchen shears are run through, shortening the ends. From the outermost leaves and best flowers will be diced a pungent and purple confetti. This will be generously sprinkled over the top of filled omelets and dinner salads.

There is a spot just outside the garage where the rooted cuttings will get plopped into pots while we wait for winter to be over. The heat reflected off the walkway and from the drier vents keeps plants on the potting bench there warm. The walls of the home keep back cruel winds but allow the sunshine in.

The infant basil plants won’t change much above ground. But below where we can see, the roots will grow. When the soil is warm, the pots will be carried out in to the garden. Some will go back into the herb walk. But some will go at the feet of newly planted fruit trees, where the arms of the African Blue Basil, which at their peak will reach out three to four feet, can wave in the bees.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Southern California Winter

About this time each year I begin my- I won't call it my annual garden pruning. I'ts more of the annual garden clipping. I'll take a slow tour around the garden, clippers in hand, for about the next 45 days. Taking it slowly is what makes it a ritual, not a heavy chore.
Taking it slowly also allows the opportunity to create lots of little bouquets to enjoy. Today the delicious cherry red blooms of pineapple sage and the elegant purple indigo spires salvia clippings were taken from the garden. An empty forcing vase that was lonely in my shed is now filled with their sprays.
The Betty Boop roses are charmingly informal. A trio of blossoms plunked into the sage turns the clipplings in to a floral arrangement. Every few days, I'll check the sage and salvia for roots.
Once the stringy roots reach out from the bottom of the stems are spotted, the cycle of beauty from the garden will be set to restart. From garden clipping, to bouquet to rooted specimens: places will be found for them.
I already see the New Year holding out promise to be ever more colorful.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Carolyn Wassenaar shared this poem in a Christmas card.


Author unknown

The first Christmas decoration we bought when we moved in to our current home was this nativity. It is the first decoration of the season to come out. A physical reminder of why Christmas is important to us. Even in lean years, when we fretted if there was a reason to celebrate, it was displayed. A prompt that just being able to publicly acknowledge our faith, let alone celebrate it, is something many people in this world would give everything for.
Our manger display wandered about the living room each year, as I sought a permanent place where it would have the most spiritual impact. When my husband returned from Egypt with a papyrus rolled up in his suitcase, we had it flattened and framed. And it was clear that in front of the souvenir art work was the perfect home.
Our papyrus is the pictorial account of the complex thoughts the ancient Egyptians held about the afterlife. As Christians and other monotheists do today, they believed that death is not a final stopping point, that death is simply a transition point to the afterlife.
I like that the papyrus scene rooted in Egyptian culture is behind the manger scene. For shortly after Jesus was born in Jerusalem, its ruler, Herod the Great, was visited by the Three Kings also known as The Three Wise Men. Shortly after Jesus’ birth they sought to worship him. During their journey they came to ask King Herod if he knew where the newly born Jesus,” King of the Jews” could be found. Cunningly, he said no, but asked his visitors to return with the newborn’s location, that he might worship him, too.
The Three Kings agreed. But in a dream, an angel warned them that Herod was insanely jealous and intended to kill Jesus. So after finding and honoring the newborn king, the Wise Men found an alternate route home.
Herod was enraged. He initiated the Massacre of the Innocents, the infanticide in his kingdom of all male babies under the age of two. However, before Herod’s assassins could reach Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ guardian, with a warning. Take Mary and the baby to Egypt, where they would be safe.
At that time, Egypt was a part of the Roman Empire, not subject to the rule of Herod. It was also then, as the United States came to be in modern history, a place of multi-cultural and religious tolerance.
The family entered the country at Rafah, where, according toAl-Ahram, a weekly Cairo publication, a lone and ancient sycamore tree is said to have survived since the Holy Family’s visit. They were relatively safe from Herod while in exile, although they had to keep moving to stay so. It is believed that Joseph took his wife, Mary, and the young Jesus back to Israel, when it was safe. This is commonly believed to be after the death of Herod, when Jesus would have been about four.
The story of the flight to Egypt is found in the New Testament, Matthew 2-16. There are miraculous stories about Jesus’ time in Egypt told within the text of the New Testament Apocrytha, including stories of date palm trees bowing in homage to the baby as he passed by. This part of Jesus’ history is repeated in the Quran (Sura 19:4).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Looking A Lot Like Christmas

Since my friend Glenda Bona moved to Santa Clarita we have made it our ritual to meet whenever we can. Pasadena is the halfway point. Its Old Towne section is a model for taking an older urban area, what is beginning to decay and choosing to polish it up so it has a sophisticated patina that just isn't possible in a new development. But that is a story for an other day.

One of our favorite stops close to the holidays is Stat's Floral Supply. Unless you have the heart of Scrooge, there is just simply no way you can go in to the old brick warehouse filled floor to ceiling with Christmas decorations and wrappings and not end up smiling.

What I adore Stats most for is that if their selection of decorative ribbon isn't the largest in California- it must be close. Wired, sheer, metallic weaves, plaids and themed prints. And these are generous rolls of ribbon. Not the kind like at the local store, where one roll wraps one package.Maybe. Nope. These rolls go on and on.

Throughout the year I keep all my senses open: eyes, nose and tastebuds always on the hunt for the perfect gift. Especially on travel. As soon as I get home with an item to gift: it is wrapped, tagged and efficiently stacked and stored away until the Christmas tree is decorated.

In an envelope with the presents are samples of the papers in which they were wrapped. Sometime after Halloween I take the envelope to Stats and match up the ribbon to the papers. In the best years, Glenda meets me at Stats to share in the fun of just being is a place so openly festive.

The presents are usually far more thoughtful than expensive. Writer's have more time than money. But when the gift is wrapped with care, it is wrapped with love. Which is the only good reason to give a gift.

Stat's Floral Supply 150 So. Raymond, Pasadena, CA (626)796-8255

also in Capistrano Beach and Seal Beach

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Inspired Music Pairing

*The link to the performance of Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy has been deleted from You Tube. However, you can plut the title in to search and find it in several compilations of holiday music.*
Plato wrote that great "Music gives soul to the universe,wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything."

David Bowie- Ziggy Stardust- and the ultra-traditional Bing Crosby were paired in the late 1970's to perform one of the most inspired vocalizations ever.

I would like to dedicate this posting to Elizabeth Miller, who left her family far too soon. Her funeral was yesterday. Elizabeth earned her bachelor's degree in International Relations from Scripps College. Her first professional job was as Program Coordinator for Latin American Affairs at Witness for Peace in Washington, D.C. She then went on to earn her Masters Degree in Corporate Social Responsibility at UNC, Chapel Hill. There she met and married her sweetheart,the only person on the planet with a smile bigger than hers, Donald Miller, in 2005. They both accepted executive positions at Home Depot in Atlanta. She recently left that post to work in environmental programs for Shaw Industries.

What I remember most about the young lady was that when she came home from college, she always left a note for her brothers with inspirational quotes. That left quite a good impression on my sons. Rest well, dear and beautiful Elizabeth. Until we meet again...