Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Brunch

I have a lot left to do before I'll be ready for Christmas but I still have to feed my family. And this is one of our favorite recipes. It's great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it reheats well, and it's open to endless variation. Try substituting thinly sliced green and yellow squash for the mushrooms and spinach, ham for the bacon, or leave out the meat altogether. Try it; you'll like it!

Spinach, Mushroom and Bacon Quiche

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
12 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 box baby spinach
Splash balsamic vinaigrette
3 eggs
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried basil and oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheese, mozzarella or Italian blend
4 slices crisply cooked bacon, crumbled
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pastry shell (9 inches)
1. In a large skillet, saute the onion and mushrooms in butter or olive oil. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Finish with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette. Drain.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, parsley, salt, garlic powder, basil, oregano and pepper. Stir in cheese, bacon and vegetable mixture. Spread mustard over pastry shell; add egg mixture.
3. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean and crust is golden brown. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Monday, December 8, 2014

O Christmas Tree

Little things, little things, are much more more important than big things. Big things hit you in the face with their bigness and obscure the little, more important things that really define a life and provide it with delicacy.
― Lauren Roedy Vaughn

Now that my house is painted in Caribbean colors, I decided to go for a tropical vibe as I decorated for Christmas. The starfish tree topper I ordered from Etsy arrived Saturday. 

Now my beach-theme Christmas tree, studded with ornaments collected on cruise vacations, brightly colored glass balls, and paper drink umbrellas, is complete. 

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments. 

Ya, mon.
There is a brass ornament from every cruise ship I have sailed on.
Everyone knows Santa heads south on December 26th. 
Angel carved from a Bahamian conch shell.
I look forward to adding new ornaments to my collection and have lots of ideas for other decorations and accessories I want to make over the coming months in keeping with my theme. A seashell studded wreath for the front door. A garland of seashells to drop across the mantel. A patchwork tree skirt in Caribbean brights. A flamingo tablecloth for the dining room.

Because it really is the little things that add up to make a life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Attitude Adjustment

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.
~ William James

Instincts are "innate, typically fixed patterns of behavior in response to certain stimuli," and I believe it's important to trust them. You know what I'm talking about:  sense of danger about a specific situation, a strong negative first impression upon first meeting someone, a clear leaning in one direction or another when there's an important decision to be made. At times like these, I have learned it's best to trust my body's visceral reactions and leave my conscious mind out of it. Because whenever I choose to ignore my instincts, things don't end well. In the worst instances, it has taken me years to recover from the harm done.

Feelings, however, are an entirely different animal. They are "an emotional state or reaction" to stimuli. When another driver cuts me off in traffic, I might feel angry. Listening to the daily news, I might feel sad and anxious. Facing a holiday without friends or family to share it with, I might feel lonely and depressed. The important distinction, assuming there isn't a chemical imbalance at play, is that while instincts are fixed, feelings are fleeting. And they are largely within our control.

I often joke that I am the queen of denial. But smiling through the tears isn't the same as denial. It is possible to acknowledge the difficulty of a situation and then, rather than wallowing in it, to take positive action towards change. This does more than provide a distraction from the bad feelings. Over time, positive actions lead to positive feelings.

* * *

According to Wikipedia, the "holiday season" runs from late November through early January. For various reasons, the days after Thanksgiving found me feeling someone less than festive. Although I spent many hours during my week off working on a top-secret Christmas project, circumstances prevented me from fully enjoying the task and left me feeling distracted and anxious. I was alone on Thanksgiving Day and sorely missing my family and friends and numbed out on the Hallmark channel Friday and Saturday. Finally bored with my own lethargy, I decided it was time to do SOMETHING.

I dragged myself out of bed late Sunday morning, hauled myself to Michaels and bought myself an artificial tree priced fifty percent off. I cannot tell a lie: my preference is a freshly cut Frasier fir, but while the friendly folks at Home Depot will trim a trunk and tie a tree to the top of my car, I cannot physically haul said tree into my home and situate it in a stand without assistance. And since I don't like asking for help, I decided it was time to go with something I can manage by myself. The hardest part was carrying the large, heavy box from the star to my car. Sliding it up the stairs and into the house was easier, and I managed assembly all by myself. Yep, this 7.5-foot pre-lit tree will definitely do the job.

Then I came home, dragged my three boxes of Christmas tree ornaments out of the closet underneath the stairs, and began sorting. As I carefully unpacked each treasure from its tissue paper wrapping, I made three piles: beach-themed, angels and music-themed, and the rest. The beach-themed ornaments went on the new tree; the angels and music-themed ornaments went on the old 4.5-foot tree I set up in my piano studio.

The remaining ornaments went back in the box for another year. Then I went online and found a starfish tree topper from a vendor on Etsy. As soon as it arrives, I will take a picture of my fully decked beach-themed tree and post a picture. 

Anyway, as I worked, the ache in my heart began to lessen. It's hard not to smile while listening to Christmas with the Chipmunks, a tree-decorating tradition in my family as long as I can remember. By the time the mantel was decorated and the red and green cloth was draped across the dining room table, I had started a holiday to-do list and felt excited about working my way through it.

Yes, my plan was a success. Positive action led to positive feelings. And every time I see the fruits of Sunday's efforts, I give myself an "attagirl" and look to see what's next on my list.

Now I'm putting the finishing touches on that top-secret Christmas project; as soon as it's finished, I'll get started on a couple of new ones. I've ordered Christmas cards, bought wrapping paper and ribbons, purchased ingredients for holiday baking. And I see a Starbucks eggnog latte in my near future. 

Where there is optimism and positive action, there is no room for hopelessness and sorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2014

I'm gonna let it shine

She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.
~ Elizabeth Edwards

Tempestuous November has come and gone. I am not a NaNoWriMo winner, but I started a new novel on November first and have almost ten thousand words under my belt--more words than I had written during the first ten months of the year put together. My piano duo partner and I performed challenging programs at the Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference as well as for our local chapter, and thirteen of my students competed successfully in a local piano festival, all receiving "Superior" ratings with three Winners and three Honorable Mentions. I added several new pieces of handmade jewelry to my Etsy store and sold a few pieces here and there. I did a reasonable job of keeping up with, you know, the housework and the laundry and eating healthy and exercising regularly--and in my "free time," I even managed to read three books for pleasure.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
~ Charles Dickens

Yes, November was in many ways a busy and productive month. But along with the stress of everyday life came some extraordinary challenges: health problems, family crises, financial burdens, and personal heartbreak. The details aren't important. What matters is that there finally there came a night when I questioned the value of pushing through. When morning came, it was all I could do to get out of bed. Around noon.

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself.
~ Harvey Fierstein

Since then, it has occurred to me that besides being a creative outlet, writing is cathartic for me. Writing in my journal is one thing, and I do that almost daily. But whereas my journaling is of the stream-of-consciousness variety, posting to this blog forces me to think through issues, come to logical conclusions, and express myself coherently. This is good therapy. And although it can be risky to speak from the heart in such a public forum, I cannot continue to hide under a metaphorical rock at the price of my sanity.

So I'm back, eager to share my human experiences, my artistic adventures, perhaps even the occasional insight. Because although life can be a lonely road, we are not doomed to walk it all alone.

Thank you for joining me on my journey.