Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grief, an "interior" decorator.

“I thought I wouldn’t live through it.  But you do. 
You learn to love the place somebody leaves behind for you.” 
Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer

I read this quote at a time I was not really ready to hear it but I was hopeful I would eventually understand this to be true.   At the time, my grief hadn't had a chance to rebuild the parts it took away and all I could see was sadness, but now I have come to think this is pretty spot on.

Today, April 2nd 2015, marks one entire year since my sweet friends passing.  There have been celebrations, and sadness and laughter and tangible loneliness.  And what I know a year in is this,  grief is different for each one of us and eventually, no matter how painful it is, you need to make peace with it.  

I used to think grief was an action or a place.  “She is grieving her lost son.”  “He is in grief since his wife passed away.”   I struggled with this because I thought grief was something to overcome or get out of.  I had heard of the five stages of grief and naively thought of it like a 12 step program.  I thought I would knowingly pass through these stages and suddenly feel better.   And I waited for them; anxious, unsettle and depressed.  When would it hit?  Would it consume me?  Would I be ok?  How could I prep for this to unfold?  How could I be ready?   And most importantly, how long will it take to feel normal again?
What I failed to realize is that by the time I started looking for grief, it had already found me. 

For me grief was not a place or an action or a set of stages to overcome.  While I was searching high and low for grief I was completely unaware it was already here.  Like an unwelcomed visitor grief had moved right into the place my friend once occupied and started its alterations.

The best way I can describe my grief is that it was like a part of me was being remodeled.  I look back now and wonder about the pain I felt in her final days.  What made no sense at the time seems to make perfect sense now.   In the few days before she passed, I spent as much time as I could with her.  I sat by her bedside desperate to capture the last few memories and surrounding her with friendship and love.  During this time there was also so much pain, an aching and deep physical pain that bore into my heart and soul like a drill boring into thick cement.  It was real.  I was completely aware of its presence at the time and I can still remember exactly what that felt like.  It was heavy and hard and empty and it physically ached in the center of my core.  I look back and know that was my grief.  Before she had even left this world grief was moving into the place she once lived.  Her life, our friendship, now fleeting moments of time that would never be new again callously pushed aside by grief.  Deep, heavy, dark, palpable, empty grief.   Yes, I’m sure that is exactly what it was, taking hold all set to re-decorate the place that she occupied for the past 17 years.  With its moving van, tape measure, new paint and sharp edges it settled in.  Measuring the space and making sure to fill every inch with itself.  Grief took up residence with no sign of moving out.   I could feel it changing who I was and I had no control, no say and no input.  All of a sudden tight, dark, suffocating feelings now existed in a place once filled with joy, happiness, light, friendship and love.   Joy and happiness and light never feel tight when they grow, we always have more space for that.  Funny how your body does that, makes so much room for love to expand, but grief, grief is a whole other entity. 
Grief has a job and a purpose and a lesson and it forces you to notice its presence, to acknowledge its existence within you.  And I believe grief lives in you forever, it changes, over time but I think it stays.   I have come to think of grief as an “interior” decorator.  In fact I think grief is an interior decorator with a very important job.  It’s a job that will run into roadblocks and difficulties along the way.   Things will seem like they are coming together just fine and then for no apparent reason there are setbacks.  And grief never tells you when the job will be finished because time is non-existent in this remodel.   I believe grief takes hold in the shape of a black hole that is constantly changing.  And I believe it remains in a state of disrepair until it’s time to rebuild.  It builds walls and knocks them down, it closes doors and opens others and it boards up windows and adds in skylights.  I think it keeps changing until it gets it right.  And eventually new rooms emerge in that vast open dark space and it starts to seem less vast.  And then grief repaints and hangs pictures of your loved one.  It plays cherished home movies, movies you forgot were ever recorded.  And as it re-decorates each room it gilds your sweet memories preserving them in this new beautiful space.  And although grief rebuilds some pretty amazing places, I believe it will always leave one room vacant, black and devoid of light.  This room can be scary at first and you can try to avoid going in there but sometimes the door swings open unintentionally and its dark emptiness can be all consuming.  This room will never change.  I used to be afraid of this room of these feelings but sometimes I have needed this room.  I have needed to sit here and think and remember and mourn and I have come to be grateful for this room to do just that. 

Grief for me was not something I was in, I needed to get over or something I did.  It was something that was born inside me that I needed to learn to live with.  And I needed to make peace with this grief.  To allow it to exist, to know that it serves a purpose and to let it build a sacred place that gently holds my sweet friend and provides me a place to mourn. 

So here I am an entire year in and I am grateful for sharing seventeen years of friendship with her.  There are moments and days that are difficult and I accept those for what they are, real feelings.   But I have come to love the place she left for me, a space filled with bright colors, a little leopard print and lots of gold.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Homemade Cheese Its.

Last weekend we celebrated a friends birthday and luckily for me the boys were cooking! My only job was to just make the cake.  As requested I made our favorite Chocolate Cake and topped it with some flaked coconut and tall candles because who has time for short candles?  I also made these homemade Cheese its and they were a big hit.   Flakey, crunchy and so cheesy.   I followed the recipe exactly and they came together super fast. These will be added to the make this again recipe file.  I am already thinking of how I can spice them up, thyme, rosemary, horseradish, cayenne pepper, white cheddar and jalapeno, oh the possibilities...

Homemade Cheese Its.
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens.
yields 15 dozen

8 ounces of extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs ice cold water
Maldon salt for sprinkling on top (optional)

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the cheese, butter, and salt. Add the flour and mix on low (dough will be pebbly). Slowly add the water and mix as the dough forms a ball.
  2. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10x12 inch rectangle. Using a fluted pastry cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer them to the baking sheets.  Sprinkle with Maldon salt if desired.
  4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until puffed and browning at the edges. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers makes a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Immediately move the crackers to racks to cool.
I would guess these would last up to a week but good luck with that. 

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This is what the dough looked like prior to the water being added.

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... and after the addition of the water.

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My cookie cutter was exactly 2" across so I used the cookie cutter first then crossed it both ways with a pastry cutter, which worked great.

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Right before I sent them in the oven, I poked the iconic center hole with a toothpick.

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Toasty right out of the oven.

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There you have it.  Delicious!

And here is a picture of the birthday cake. 
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Have a lovely Monday.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Have a lovely weekend.

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Wednesday we celebrated a delayed Valentines date with dinner and taking in the touring Cirque du Soliel show, Kurios.  This show was amazing and left me wanting to swing from the chandeliers, tumble on the giant trampoline and basically run away with the circus.  Hey a girl can dream can't she?  This weekend I'm baking our favorite chocolate cake to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and looking forward to a little r&r. 
I hope your plans include something to celebrate.

10 fun things around the web.
This story on racial identity is absolutely beautiful.  

Wouldn’t you love stepping through a fabulous doorway in your home?  

The Seattle Aquarium made viral news with this cephalopod video.  

Hair envy I love, totally serious about this one.   

Matt Brown starts his European Tour.   

I’d like to believe this is true but I’m just not sure about this one. 

An epic fail at a dog race that made me laugh out loud.  

Mesmerizing art exhibit on family faces.  

Freebies all year long. 

Have a lovely weekend!

Daffodil photo taken in the Skagit Valley of Washington State.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

One morning in Maine; the birth of a new day.

We are blessed and grateful that we are able to spend time in Maine on Bailey Island in a cottage sidled up to the mighty Atlantic.  We actually love this island so much we named our dog after it.  And while I am glad to take in any time of day along the coast of Maine I absolutely love the mornings. Taking in the beauty and quietness of a new day is an amazing scene.  I would imagine it similar to watching a painter craft a masterpiece, it's pure magic.  I wrote this last October moments after another spectacular sunrise.

One morning in Maine; the birth of a new day.

The ocean awakes me.
I can hear the tide rolling in, pushing strong toward the shore.
Waves breaking wildly against the rugged coastline, just steps away from my cozy bed.  
My eyes are weary, focusing on the room which is still dark.
I glance to the window and can see the faint glow of dawn and immediately I'm up.  
The sun always repetitive in its ritual, yet its greeting continually varied.  
I spy the Belt of Venus. 
It's captivating me with its midnight blues and shades of orange, vibrant reds and delicate pinks or sometimes just hazy shadows of grey filtering bright white light to the steel blue water below.  
It's a race, the sun to rise and me to capture it, each stage incredible and fleeting.  
I step out as the coffee is brewing, the October air is crisp and energizing.
I stand alone. 
The sounds of the waves, the gulls, and now my shutter, strung together in a magical rhythm.    
I look to the left and the right at homes hushed with a quiet only known in the off season.  
I think it's perfect.
It's my season.
In what seems like an instant the horizon is awake.
I can see the sun peeking, yawing, and stretching its rays outward.  
The ocean grows louder commanding my attention, reminding me of the direction of the tide.
Soon the sun, intensely bright, will usher me to look away.  
I move to the porch now so warm the sweater I needed moments ago will be shed.  
He brings me coffee, the schedule is discussed, breakfast is requested
…and all of a sudden, a new day has arrived on the coast of Maine.

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Seek beauty, be grateful and have a lovely day. 
~ xo

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies.

Hello, are you still out there???

I've been away but I am back with this amazing Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from Dorie Greenspan.  

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I must confess I have never been a big fan of chocolate chip cookies.  The cookie part usually flattens out too thin when cooking and I don't care for the big hard chocolate chips, they seem out of balance.  These cookies are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with threads of chocolate strewn throughout and the addition of the hazelnut meal adds a faint nutty flavor, much better than biting into a big nut.  These cookies are perfectly balanced. 

My adjustments: I cut out about 1/4 c of the brown sugar, opted for succanat* in lieu of the white sugar and I sprinkled a few flakes of Maldon salt on top, after I flattened them right before the second baking.   I also rolled all the cookie dough into balls, baked some and froze the rest.  Next time I will just need to thaw the frozen cookie balls and then bake 'em up.

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookie Recipe by Dorie Greenspan

Servings: 50 cookies Prep Time: 15 minutes + 2 hours chilling in refrigerator Cook Time: 15 minutes


3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (476 grams)
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
1 cup packed brown sugar (200 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2 cups chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups hazelnut or almond flour (150 grams)


1. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together.
2. In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla.
3. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating for minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the speed to low and add in the flour mixture in 4-5 additions, mixing only until each addition is just incorporated (about 5 seconds for each addition - don't over-mix!)
4. Still on low speed, mix in the chocolate chips and the hazelnut (or almond) flour. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours or up to 3 days. If you are planning to freeze a portion - you can scoop out 1 1/2-inch rounds of dough to freeze.
5. Preheat oven to 350F with rack centered. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out 1 1/2" rounds of dough onto baking sheet, about 2-inches apart.
6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 8 minutes, and then, using a spatula, gently press each mound down just a little; rotate the baking sheet when returning to oven. Bake for another 7 minutes, or so, until the cookies are pale brown. They'll still be slightly soft in the center, but that's fine- they'll firm up as they cool. Transfer to rack to cool. Repeat with remainder of dough, always using a cool baking sheet.

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Have a lovely Monday, wishing you all a week filled with balance.

*Do you use sucanat?  It's a less processed sugar that retains the molasses, vitamins and minerals that refined sugar remove, still the same calories.  The name is derived from SUgar CAne NATural, it's basically pure dried sugar cane juice.
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