With love …

My Christmas ask for 2020 is a mantle for above our fireplace. I’ve already submitted my special request to Santa that he build it – and bring it early for placement THIS year. There’s still time; cross your fingers for me. 🤞🏼

I don’t know why this is my want this year. We’ve gotten by with creative stocking placement forever. But this year … well, it’s certainly different and requires all the comforts one can find.

Today, specifically, marks the birthdays of my sister and my sister-in-law. We lost them both just months apart 11 years ago. One anticipated and the other unexpectedly, both leaving voids never to be filled – losses subdued through the years but that pull you back and can sweep your breath away with a sudden memory.

They were each the older sister of our respective sibling groups, just as I and hubs are each the baby. My sister and I were 10.5 years apart almost to the day, and she always told me she suffered through three brothers waiting for me.

Selective memory idealizes our time together, I’m sure, but she absolutely mothered me when mine was absent and literally took me in when my relationship with my father finally crumbled. For me, my sister was home.

The timeline of our relationship together would resemble Morse code, but she was a constant in life’s significant moments for me. She stood as a by-proxy parent much of my 2nd or 3rd grade year. And in my junior year of high school when I joined her family, she made a stocking for me to seamlessly add to their mantle. The first year my boyfriend now hubs spent Christmas with us, she stayed up late to do the same – Santa was always a night owl.

The year she died, I couldn’t bring myself to delete her last voicemail to me. While I never listened to it again, it was a comfort knowing it was still there. And when we returned home that first Christmas without her, my oldest’s forever stocking hung in my sister’s home.

The following year I conjured her knack for craft to painstakingly but lovingly sew my second son’s stocking and hang in our home his first Christmas. My husband, a hands down better seamstress than myself, was there to lend a hand and a hug as I laughed, cried and cursed through both the sewing process and the flood of memories. I did it again three years later after my daughter was born, this time with a lot less crying but probably as many choice words.

I’m sad my littles never met her, and that my big really only recalls her through photos. But this winter solstice, what would have been her 54th birthday, I’m eased by the memories I do have of her. I smile knowing that this year – her and my sister-in-law’s birthdays align with the first sighting of the “Christmas Star” in more than 800 years.

While I realize it’s due to the power of celestial science, I like to think it’s their way of reassuring us that the coming year will be brighter and they’re still with us through all the firsts.

Happy Birthday.

Cocoa Bombs for Christmas

Baking came to me late, somewhere in my mid-twenties I think, when I and my now hubs moved to Seattle together. Chocolate chip cookies and banana bread were obvious staples, but after we bought our first house I wanted to christen the kitchen with a major culinary attempt (for me): lasagna and tiramisu. These were from scratch and not-so-sadly neither have been revisited. They were tasty, I think, but the time they took this novice to create was terrible.

I wasn’t deterred, though, and still enjoy baking today – although my tastesbuds and visual appetite crave more sweet than savory. I’ll take the challenge of a rainbow unicorn cake over dinner any night of the week. Even the most imperfect pastries are just cuter. 🤷🏽‍♀️

Spontaneity is in my soul, and random acts of baking simply make me happy. I’ve only recently realized it’s one of my love languages – most often showered on my children because they clearly inherited my sweet teeth. I think they therefore have more appreciation for my creations than my savory-spicy-loving spouse.

I usually like to attempt a new-to-me treat around this time every year. Last Christmas it was eggnog logs my friend addicted me to gifted the year before. Do you know there is ZERO eggnog harmed in that recipe?! Anyway, in this the year of the bummer, I jumped on the hot chocolate bandwagon at bedtime-thirty and tried my hand at cocoa bombs. 🍫💣

It seems like these things exploded on the scene this year (in my social circles at least), adding a bit of jazz hands to a traditional seasonal treat and a fun way to present it. Yes, please!

I did need to order and patiently wait for the silicone molds that right now are as in demand as a roll of TP in early 2020. There’s also such a thing as an acrylic mold, but since I had to look that up to know what it was, I deemed it unnecessary. You do you!

With my 2-inch silicone mold finally in hand, I used a makeshift double boiler to melt down a bar of bakers dark chocolate, a full Hershey’s bar, plus three minis left over from Halloween and tossed in two handfuls of chocolate chips. Probably completely unnecessary, but I mentioned spontaneous, right? If using a microwave, heat in 15-second increments until almost melted, stirring in between each set until smooth.

Once your chocolate’s melted, begin scooping dallops of that tasty sauce into the mold. I did try using a paint brush to smooth the chocolate along the sides, but honestly I found the back of a small spoon easier and better at leaving a thicker layer inside the molds.

Note two layers helps guard against the chocolate cracking when you pop/peel them out of the mold. Refrigerate for 5 minutes between layers to help the chocolate set up. Also build up that top edge on the second layer so it’s easier to “glue” the halves together!

The halves easily peel away from the silicone molds.

TIP: Using gloves would help reduce the residual fingerprints while handling the cocoa bombs. You can also just decorate the outside more liberally to cover blemishes. 🤪

Fill half the spheres with cocoa.

The options are endless for your choice of hot chocolate mix. Gourmet to organic. I may even try my hand at a diy version eventually, but for now I grabbed a container of Swiss Miss because it was the largest the store offered and my kids are drinking cocoa on the daily right now. I measured about a half tablespoon into my cups; you could go more in larger spheres and more flavor.

Then it was on to the fun of bonus ingredients! Marshmallows are a must, so I ordered a mini dehydrated vanilla version that reminded me of my childhood favorite, Lucky Charms. I also wanted to avoid the eventual sticky blobs my mallows turn into while stored. TIP: A friend said storing them in a freezer helps!

You can leave it at that, or add seasonal sprinkles, candy cane pieces, chocolate chips, caramel bits … you name it as long as you don’t mind it floating in your cocoa!

Give the empty halves a twist on a heated plate to help smooth those edges!

Next warm a plate with hot water, dry it with a paper towel, then run the empty halves over the plate to smooth the edges and help seal them to their filled counterparts by pressing together gently.

Top each bomb with a clue to what’s inside.

Steam or heat about a cup of milk. Place the cocoa bomb in a cup and pour the hot milk over the sphere. The heated milk will help melt the chocolate shell to reveal the marshmallows.

Stir and enjoy!

Ingredients

Makes 6 bombs, using 2-inch mold

• 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate for melting. More if using spheres larger than 2 inches

• 3-6 Tbsp hot chocolate mix

• 1/2 cup mini marshmallows (regular or dehydrated minis also work!)

• 1/2 cup sprinkles or bonus ingredients (candy cane pieces, chocolate chips, etc.)

Equipment

• Silicon Sphere Mold (I used 2 inch mold)

• Cupcake liners (not necessary but helpful to hold the finished product)

Instructions

1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or simply a bowl over a simmering pot of water. Turn off heat but keep bowl over pot to maintain melted texture. *If using a microwave, heat in 15-second intervals and stir between each. Once mostly melted you should be able to stir enough to melt the rest.

2. Paint 1-2 tsp of chocolate inside the molds using a spoon or paintbrush. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.

3. Paint a second layer in the molds. Build up the edge. Refrigerate again for 5 minutes.

4. Peel mold away from each sphere and fill half with 1/2 tablespoon hot chocolate mix and 6-7 mini marshmallows, and optional sprinkles.

5. Warm a plate and twist the edge of the empty halves along the plate. Press gently to a filled half to seal.

6. Repeat with remaining shells. Refrigerate for 5 minutes to set.

7. Drizzle with melted chocolate and decorate with sprinkles, mallows – go crazy!

8. Add 1 cocoa bomb to a mug and pour 8-10 ounces of hot milk over top. Stir until melted.

Calm before the Christmas

Ten days and counting before the big day arrives, and I’m starting the holiday hustle of decorating all things house and gift. This year especially it’s easy to become overwhelmed, so I’ve simplified our to-do list by whittling it down to only the merry must haves.

Our family is pretty traditional, so for us I know holiday cheer means having the tree, decorations, and baked treats to eat. I maintain a simple but firm plan in which our tree is the necessary catalyst for all other holiday activity to commence. This helps set expectations that once it’s in place, kiddos know our much anticipated Elf on the Shelf will arrive the next day, decorations will appear, and the sweet, rich scent of Christmas cookies will soon be wafting through the house.

Our youngest kept us on task to acquire the tree last weekend. Decorating it is a family affair, with me reminiscing over every ornament and them trying to see how many one branch can hold. I’m not ashamed to admit I later relieve overburdened branches.

With the tree come the gifts. This year I’m trying something new by wrapping presents as they’re acquired, rather than my usual Christmas Eve all nighter. I’ve also assigned each family member a secret code name to cut down on gift counting, and honestly, to just drive the children batty – especially the teen. Christmas is a time to enjoy the little things, you know.

With the tree trimmed, I’ve moved onto decorations this week. Here’s another area to pace yourself if necessary. I love pouring over everyone’s holiday squares, always with two questions in mind: how long does that take and where do they store it all? 🤔

Most of our decor can be contained to our main floor area. It’s enough to be exhausting to place it all at once – so I don’t. A room at a time is doable, more if you get the fam to help with this, too. So this year I’m spreading cheer into every space. A string of lights or garland here, some pine cones and snowmen there – just a little extra holiday oomf in a year that’s been full of uff da!

Writing for pleasure

This is me easing my way back into writing. Did you know I was a writer?

It’s been a dozen years since I last had a byline. I left journalism behind when the birth of my first son prompted me to trade in my press badge and notebooks for pampers and nap times.

I enjoyed my job, but I ached at the thought of leaving my 3-month-old, and thankfully not doing so was a choice our young family could afford to make.

My early months of motherhood were sprinkled with some freelance writing, but by the time our second son was born three years later, I’d lost myself in the emotional and mental vacuum of parenting littles. I needed something more. The void has been filled by Usborne Books & More, where my love of all things literature turned into almost 10 years empowering women while promoting children’s literacy.

But I was a writer.

My habit of putting pen to paper began with me filling journals in elementary school. Then in middle school I fancied myself a fiction writer. By the time I headed off to The University of Montana, I decided to weave my love of written words with my knack for nosy. Hello J-School. Go Griz!

My brief journalism career was spent at The Associated Press’ Seattle bureau, with a quick few months in Raleigh. I confess, my confidence took a beating in AP’s rapid fire training ground, but I learned so much and met amazing people, both in the office and out.

Reporter’s notebooks from ages ago. Why I still have them is an entirely different conversation.

More recently, I’ve realized how much I love writing for pleasure. I enjoy storytelling. I crave the challenge of crafting a just-right phrase to evoke emotions and prompt conversation.

So this is me writing again, journaling in the virtual as I navigate the real. My musings of life momming three kids, and sometimes a husband, with a book lady side hustle and a diy addiction.

Afterall, there’s no better time than the pandemic present.

And I am a writer.

Easing into the holidays

Christmas is once again drifting slowly into our home. I’d like to think it’s so I can ease myself into the holiday season, but really it’s because I’m busy yak shaving. And instead I often wait until the lastish minute to do “all the must-do but not really necessary things” before the big day arrives. Yes, even with 2020’s endless amounts of time at home. 🤷🏽‍♀️

So it’s no surprise that yesterday, while hubs had our trio up for their first ski/snowboard of the season, I cozied up with a still hot cup of coffee, the Seattle Times all to myself, and a jumble of ideas for what will go where this Christmas (ideas = yak shaving). I’m envisioning mini wreaths hung on the cabinets this year …  what do you think? 🤔

I definitely had more than enough on my “weekend to-do” list, and based on the endless questioning from my brood, CHRISTMAS IS COMING and that list is about to unravel and roll across the living room floor. The 7-year-old especially this year seems to be keeping diligent track of our Christmas calendar. I’m guessing she’ll have us out choosing a good enough for 2020 evergreen this week – if not just to enjoy at least a couple silent nights.

The tree trip usually ushers in the customary stringing of lights, hanging of stockings and baking of cookies here. It also unleashes copious amounts of snowman decor I’ve collected over the years. I hold firm to the belief that snowmen – like corgis – help keep the Grinch away!

Our tree – once decorated – also marks the arrival of Snowy, our family’s Secret Service Santa Elf who seems to conjure both childhood delight and parental disdain in homes everywhere. But hey, the kids enjoy it – and hubs and I have a not-so unspoken challenge to one up the other on perfect elf placement each night – when we remember.

We actually held out for 11 years on this little tradition that got its start in 2005 with the publishing of children’s picture book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. I don’t recall what prompted us to cave, other than three kids underfoot had us willing to try anything to cajole patience, kindness and the often elusive on-time bedtime from them. I do confess, for Snowy to make his return trip to our home after the first year required an emergency purchase of a Snowy 2.0 … he hides SO well!

Thankfully, for now, Snowy and most of our holiday decorations remain snug in their respective Rubbermaids while visions of cookies and boozy lattes dance through my head. There’s plenty of time for late night decorating, right? Meanwhile, I got to bank some sanity reserves by snagging a little extra me time with a book, a run and even a shower!

Feeling grounded

I’ve been scouring the socials looking for a just right replacement rug to ground our dining table while providing a little definition from the parquet flooring. You know, something with that magical mix of pop but practical? 🤷🏽‍♀️

I really do love this table, and wanted to highlight it more in this space. It has become the hub of our family, a sturdy command center where we eat, work, play and collaborate. The room itself does get a bit toasty in the summer. It’s located in the front, west facing side of our midcentury home, with a backdrop of floor to ceiling windows. I figured a lighter rug would also provide the perception of cooler temps.

Originally a sisal rug held this place of honor, but it pretty much matched the floor, and when combined with the table itself, it all just felt like one big unappealing smear.

So, after rehoming the sisal to our living room, we painted this space to tone down the brownish orange hue, dare I say baby poop? I then began my search and settled on this wool rug for its pattern, as well as color that plays well with the #reverepewter on our walls. And bonus that it’s not white or a true cream, but instead already the shade those colors tend to become after a month in our home anyway. 👦🏻👦🏼👧🏼🐕🐶🤦🏽‍♀️ #winning

I finally broke

I finally broke.

Not physically, but mentally and certainly emotionally. The kind of rending that allows years of pent up questions, tears and rage to spill forth – all while feeling there are no answers, and very little hope for healing.

Like much of the world, I’ve absorbed weeks of news, images, memes, conversations, and comments. I’ve also had private talks with family and friends, prompting a deep dive into my own privileges, biases and beliefs.

We all have them, whether we want to admit it or not. They are there, ones to display and hold up as proof of our humanity. And then there are those tucked so far back into the dark corners of our being that we don’t see them. Or worse, we deny their existence.

I am a person of color: black, white, and in true American fashion, countless unknown or forgotten “others.” I grew up with my black father in a white family within a white community, the kind where the slightest brush of melanin and kinky hair ensure that people will either know you or have heard about you.

For the most part, my childhood memories remain unscathed. But there were instances, both innocent and intentional, where my blackness was made uncomfortably obvious. From a young friend’s curiosity over my hair, and the inevitable ask to touch it, to being trailed by a clerk while browsing the local department store.

These experiences were paper cuts, the initial sting and tenderness fading within days. Others were burns, searing, painful and leaving unseen scars to never forget.

Being accused of stealing magazines and subsequently banned from the neighborhood drugstore. A high school peer carelessly shouting “Nigger!” as he and buddies raced by in a truck. Coming home from a weekend stay with my mother to find my father had been brutally beaten by her oldest son when the two clashed while they were out drinking – separately of course. Years later, being hit by that same white son because he thought I had ignored a question from his wife. She came to my defense. He never apologized.

On my father’s part, his guidance to me on all things was “never stoop to their level,” But he said very little about and I remember even less of his actions and experiences, especially for a black man growing up in Mississippi, and later living in a Montana town of a thousand or so. I was either sheltered from it or oblivious to it until I was old enough to hear secondhand stories – and by then I realized the drinking was his way of escape.

I’m embarrassed to say I myself made racial jokes, desperate to fit in, or at times to make others feel, albeit briefly, as uncomfortable as I always felt. I was, and still am adrift, with really nowhere to call home. No safe space.

All of this serves as my platter in the buffet of brutality, hate, fear and ignorance dished up today.

Typically, I’m silent on posts with political, environmental, religious and especially racial ingredients – usually preemptively agreeing to disagree, and then feeding my true thoughts to my husband. Love you, hon.

Now, because I’m unsure of my personal biases, I’m reading everything I can to determine my role here, and what I should and shouldn’t dish up or out.

I’ve slowly started commenting on social media, trying to remain thoughtful and mindful of where others are coming from. Choosing words carefully in hopes that people will one – listen to me, and two – have some understanding of why this is happening. Explaining that not everyone has the luxury to escape hardships, or assume a police officer is safe, because time and again the color of your skin can mean at best, discrimination, and at worst, a death sentence.

The sheer number of family and friends who deny there is a problem, that the scales of equality are broken, is both heartbreaking and frightening. I see what they’re posting and sharing. I see what they “like” and “love.” And now, sadly, I see that they never “saw” me.

If you have ever experienced a day where you were targeted because of your white skin, then please reflect on that. Imagine a life where you have no way of escaping.

Stop being petulant because you also grew up poor, or you didn’t get “any handouts,” or because you too were arrested for no reason. Yes, you had hardships, and no one is denying you that. But they were never made permanent, more difficult, or potentially deadly because of the color of your skin.