Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the Busiest Time of the Year

Ah, yes... the "holidays". That mythical time when life becomes a whirlwind of parties, concerts, family gatherings, shopping, caroling, cooking, and sipping giant mugs of hot chocolate. In real life, it's perhaps not quite so idyllic, but the air around us does start to whirl a little.

Tonight I came home and immediately went to work in the kitchen. On top of this evening's dinner, I made sauteed a couple pounds of ground turkey and also made a fresh batch of tomato sauce, all because I know that it may be the last time I have to properly cook anything resembling a meal this week. And to me, meals are important. Eating homemade food is important. Just because the holidays are coming, that's no excuse to let the vital things in life slip.

Starting with tomorrow, there will be concerts and organized cooking baking and decorating, visits from family and work parties, putting up decorations and maybe even sending out Christmas cards, not to mention cooking up a new batch of chili for our friends' annual cook-off and watching It's A Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time at the Grand Illusion's Christmas party. And, not forgetting the spiritual side of the season (Jesus is the reason, after all), church services and hopefully some volunteering, too.

I'm looking forward to it all. Bring it, Christmas. I'm ready.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas is Coming

"It is no longer Thanksgiving, it's now Christmas!" my friend's mom announced tonight as some visiting cousins draped the final strands of tinsel over their Christmas tree. She was speaking to the fact that since her daughter and son-in-law would not be around on the actual Christmas day, Christmas day would come early, and it was time to open presents.

As unexpected as it was to find myself in the midst of a mini-Christmas celebration with a family not my own, I did start to get into the spirit of things earlier this afternoon, when a few friends cam over to cut out paper snowflakes and Swedish paper heart baskets. We sipped mulled cider and snacked on shortbread, but I kept the music selection to strictly non-Christmas albums. I may be shifting towards Christmas, but I'm still just dangling my toes in the water, not quite ready to take the full plunge. Snowflakes taped to the window pane are a sign that more is coming, and when I bring home the advent wreath tomorrow, I may just break down and pop on a Christmas CD.

Compared with last year, I feel more mellow about the whole holiday season. This is probably due to the fact that I have not yet visited a single mall for any Christmas shopping. Perhaps I should try to keep it this way.

For now, I'm enjoying the sight of snowflakes on the window and none on the roads. That, and another piece of shortbread before bed, are enough to make my season bright.

Closet Thanks

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we are already looking towards Christmas. But go back a few days to the Thanksgiving holiday itself, and you will find Michael and I surrounded by Rubbermaid tubs, stacks of paper, and an assortment of odds and ends in the living room. For us, Thanksgiving turned into a day to organize. More specifically, we were organizing a lifetime of Michael's memorabilia.

The project began last weekend when, upon realizing I had an entire Saturday free up until 6pm or so, I decided to ignore my first instinct ("I should make plans with friends!") and follow my second ("I should use this windfall of time to get things done around the house!"). I pulled out drawers and bins, compiling socks without mates (there were more of those than the ones with mates, I fear), thinning out the rag collection, which was growing to Blob-like proportions, and filling the recycling bin with the empty cardboard boxes I have inexplicably held on to for more than nine years ("But they were nice boxes!"). A large portion of what remained to be sorted were bin after bin of Michael's stuff - the stuff that parents like to hoard and then pass on to you when they see that you finally have a house of your own. Then, instead of taking up precious space in their home, it can eat up room in yours.

I had this same experience with my childhood remnants, and last year managed to pare them down to one small filing box of mementos to save, one smaller box of items to pass on if I ever have a daughter, and one not-so-small dollhouse that my father made me for Christmas as a child. It's not easy, but I can honestly say that I do not miss a single thing I threw out. In fact, I can't remember what it was that I threw out. Well, with the exception of the German beer coasters from college. And I have to admit a small part of me does kind of miss those.

But with this experienceunder my belt, I girded myself to help Michael through this arduous process on Thanksgiving day. And in the end, Michael had to admit it felt pretty good. He, too, has pared down to a small filing box, along with one smallish Rubbermaid tub for items that won't fit in a file box. Our living room is back to normal, and not only that, but several of our closets are noticeably neater and emptier. Our bedroom is the cleanest it has been in years.

And for that, I give thanks.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Falafel-ly Good

I once read a restaurant review of my favorite little Greek fast food joint in Tacoma, It's Greek to Me. The reviewer raved about pretty much every item he tried there, with one notable exception. The falafel, he noted, was "fal-awful". It's Greek to Me has the distinction of being the first place I ever tried falafel, back when I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Puyallup while attending piano camp the summer I turned sixteen, and, as such, it holds a dear, dear place in my heart. Clearly, this reviewer had a palate ill-equiped to appreciate the nuances of such a complex dish.

Fortunately, I was not the only one who took umbrage with the review; the next time I visited the restaurant in question, I saw that they had taped a copy of the offending article to their door, along with a lengthy response from one of their falafel fans, praising their falafel as one of the best he'd ever eaten, even taking into account the ones he'd had in Israel.

It had been a very long time, however, since Michael and I ate our last falafel. I do occasionally make them from scratch, and after a lengthy hiatus I decided tonight was the night to bring falafel back. Armed with a new recipe from the November issue of Saveur, I set about chopping garlic and Persian cucumbers for tzatziki, mixing yeast, warm water, flour, and olive oil for fresh pita bread, roasting red peppers in the toaster oven, and making the blender earn its prime spot on the counter top, grinding away at a mixture of raw soaked chick peas, onions, garlic, cilantro, and spices.

For dinner, we were rewarded with the best falafel I have ever made. What's the secret? You know, I'm not entirely sure, but I will say that having a deep fryer is a real boon. If you would like to try it yourself, you can find the recipe at I did deviate from the recipe slightly, using cilantro rather than parsley, since that was what I already had on hand. Also, I do not own a food processor, hence the iron man workout I put my blender through tonight (be cautious if you try this at home - some blenders may not survive).

Falafel is best served on freshly made pita bread (those cardboard frisbees from the store do not compare), and we like it with topped, rather untraditionally, with tzatziki, preferably made with a good Greek or Middle Eastern yogurt, as well as some Bulgarian feta. It's a real Mediterranean fusion food this way - fal-awfully delicious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hope for All

Last night I made another trip to the Grand Illusion (yeah, big surprise, I know), this time to see a couple of documentaries, one about the history of Faubourg Treme, a mostly black neighborhood in New Orleans, the other about a small group of American surfers who travel to post-war Liberia. Both films had me mesmerized. It's an amazing experience to watch a film and actually feel like you have been changed by it, to learn of horrors committed by man and nature, and yet to feel hopeful at the end of it all that things can change for the better, that people can build bridges to gap the hate, the pain, and the misery. Recent reading and slide shows about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both past and present, have also highlighted the powerful need for forgiveness and love in a world that sometimes feels ruled by revenge and fear.

Lately I feel hyper-aware of the fact that I live in a position of extreme privilege. Not only do I have more than adequate shelter, more than enough to eat, more than enough to wear, and have all my basic needs more than met, but my life is also free from hate, fear, and any truly difficult situations. My husband and family are alive and well, and my relationships with friends and family are a blessing, not a curse. It feels, at times, as though I live in a tight cocoon, wrapped in love, safe from the outside world. Of course, I know this could change in a heartbeat. None of us know what the future may hold. But for now, I'm in awe of this life.

Yet while I'm thankful for all of this, I hesitate to say I've been blessed by God. Perhaps, but what does that imply towards those who are lacking in material and familial comforts? I certainly believe God loves them just as much as me, or any other human, and I have done nothing to earn any special blessings. One thing that stood out while watching the film Sliding Liberia was how many of the Liberians, after having lived through an atrocious civil war, still gave thanks to God for their place on this earth, still looked to God for their hope. It is the only way, perhaps, that one can survive such terror intact. We must look to something beyond ourselves, and give thanks for even the smallest piece of happiness to enter our lives.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, perhaps it's natural to be thinking of our blessings. But I pray that not a single day will go by that I forget to be thankful, or that I forget those in need of love, forgiveness, healing, hope, and a life or their own, free from want and fear. As a world, we still have a long way to go before we get there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


When pondering what to do for dinner on Sunday night, Michael decided that nothing sounded good but Chinese food. And for us, Chinese food means pretty much one thing only: Chiang's.

We couldn't remember the last time we'd been to Chiang's, which is a sure sign that it had been too long. Chiang's is something of an institution in north Seattle, the funny place with the red vinyl banquettes stuffed inside a former A&W Root Beer joint, the sign proudly proclaiming "Chiang's Gourmet", even though it looks more like something you'd find adjacent to a truck stop than a dining destination. But for Chinese food in north Seattle there's no place finer, and everyone knows it.

We decided to branch out a bit and try some new dishes, the problem being that we tend to get the same items each time we go. But I knew that we hadn't really mined the depths of what Chiang's has to offer, and we were more than pleased with what we found: leek dumplings, bursting with an herby, woodsy mixture of... what? leeks? leeks and...? Michael declared he didn't want to know; he knew they were darn tasty, and that was all he needed. We also went for the spicy Szechuan pan-fried homemade noodles, the hotness of the red peppers melding with the numbing quality of Szechuan peppercorns. Wanting to be sure we ate our greens, we also ordered an old favorite, the sauteed pea vines, which come in a brilliant green puddle, wilted in a mound of garlicky goodness.

Of course, these dishes are all pretty pedestrian compared to many of Chiang's other offerings; their Chinese menu (they have two dinner menus: Chinese and American) also includes such delicacies as the tofu of strong odor, jellyfish, and pig intestines. We have not tried any of these items as of yet, and I have to admit we probably won't any time soon, but it's somehow reassuring just to know they're there.

But I still have a few spicy Szechuan noodles leftover for my lunch today, and that is definitely something to look forward to.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Play it, Sam

The 2009 annual casino night fundraiser for Elizabeth Gregory Home has been a rousing success! Thanks in part, no doubt, to my homemade Moroccan chicken rolls. Kidding! But the Moroccan influence seemed appropriate considering that the theme for tonight's event was Casablanca. Michael looked sporty in my great grandfather Allarick Hagglund's vintage hat, and I did my best effort at 1940s glam make-up and kept my stylish, full-skirted blank trench firmly cinched at the waist for the evening.

The blackjack tables were the place to be tonight, and Michael managed to more than double his money, while another guy at our table did far better than double. The fact that he has experience playing blackjack at an actual casino no doubt helped. And we also benefuited from his tips and pointers, something I'm sure no legitimate casino would tolerate at the table.

But that, of course, is what makes it fun. It's about getting to play with no pressure, no money lost, and knowing that every penny you spent on tickets for the event goes to a good cause. Getting into the spirit of things, Michael and I even won all three items we bid on for the silent auction - including a jazz CD (from Leah Natale, the singer who performed for us tonight), a $40 smoothie gift certificate for a local shop, and a day of kayaking for two (we'll wait until the weather improves to take advantage of that one).

But it was our friend Michelle who received the most sought after prize of the night - a pale purple satin clutch covered in tulle rosettes. Despite the desirability of this bag "covered in bling," as Michelle's boyfriend put it, she was actually more than willing to part with it, after we told her we could put it to good use by gifting it to our seven year old niece. I sure hope Katelynn appreciates it!

Most importantly, I hope the money raised to night will continue to keep Elizabeth Gregory Home ative, providing a place for women who have been homeless or suffering in abusive relationships a chance to build their lives again in a safe environment. Fifty women have graduated from the live-in program EGH offers to permanent housing and jobs, a number that will soon be fifty-one. Now that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Reel Deal

I've stated before that film screenings at the Grand Illusion Cinema can be small affairs. And last night, it finally happened: Michael and I were the only people at the show.

"You get a private screening!" the volunteer projectionist laughed nervously while introducing the film, which happened to be the 1947 film Odd Man Out (excellent movie, by the way; I highly recommend it).

We munched on popcorn doused with "nutritional yeast", which is much tastier than it sounds, and is quite possibly the most addictive popcorn topping ever. The film rolled and we were transported to a chilly night in the Northern Ireland of the 1940s, following an IRA fugitive attempt to escape his dire fate.

Finally, the words "The End" appeared on the screen, and we wandered back out into the cold Seattle night. Popcorn and a movie: $13. Getting our own special show for the price of a typical movie ticket these days: priceless.

Making a Birdhouse in my Soul

Allow me a trip down memory lane. As someone who grew up on classical music (more or less), one of the first rock bands I was introduced to in high school was They Might Be Giants. The quirky, sometimes nonsensical lyrics and unexpected instrumentation captured my imagination, and TMBG, along with the Beatles and R.E.M., opened me up to new genres of music.

So, when I found out TMBG were playing a special show featuring the album Flood on Tuesday night, I convinced Michael to come along and relive the experience live. Probably their most popular album (the Johns joked on stage that it recently went platinum... making it the slowest album to ever achieve platinum status), it's hard to believe that it was released in 1990. Twenty years ago! Man, that makes me feel old - although I can at least say I wasn't yet in high school at the time. After opening with a few of their newer "science" songs, John and John kicked into Flood: "It's a brand new record for nineteen-ninety..." followed closely by the entire audience singing along to "Birdhouse in Your Soul".

I remember the first TMBG concert I went to. It was back in college, and Amy G (Amy S at the time) and I took the bus up from PLU to the Moore Theater in Seattle, fully aware that by the time the concert ended there would be no more buses running to get us back to Tacoma. We toyed with the idea of staying at the airport, but luck was with us , and I spotted someone I knew, a fellow PLU student, in the audience. Would she be able to give us a ride? No, but she knew someone else who could. After the show, we piled into our benefactor's car, and everything went smoothly until we got to the edge of campus and the little car sputtered and died. Talk about timing!

As TMBG worked their way through their songs on Tuesday, I smiled, thinking back on those times. Not about to let them go, the audience called the band back onstage for an encore after the last strains of "Road Movie to Berlin" died away. And then a second encore after that. For their final song, TMBG pulled out another oldie, the infamous "Fingertips".

Ah, "Fingertips". This brings me back to high school again, when spending spring break of my sophomore year on the ferry heading up to Alaska. Three of the girls in our group became obsessed with the schizophrenic song, which is nothing more than a p[atchwork of unrelated song bits and pieces strung together in a way that is oddly effective. On the ferry, they would play "Fingertips" over and over, rewinding the tape (yes, we still had tapes back then) after each rendition to hear it again, never listing to any of the other songs on Apollo 18. The rest of us were mighty sick of that song by the time the trip was through.

But now, I can love it again. And sing along with every single word. Heading back out into the rainy night, I still felt the warmth of the atmosphere from the show. They Might Be Giants hasn't lost their touch.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lucy Come Home

On Thursday night we drove through pouring rain and wind to my parents' place in Oregon. We had one big reason to brave the awful weather and traffic (it took two hours to get from Seattle to Olympia, almost twice the time it took us to go that distance on the way back home): Lucy.

Lucy had been living the farm life since our Oregon trip back in September. As much as she loves running around through the woods and barking at unseen things in the night with my parents' dog, Pepper, she's not exactly cut out for the farm life. She managed to set the cows off and running when she squeezed through a gate and startled them. Even more startled herself, Lucy ran back to the house and didn't dare go near the cows again. We also discovered that my brother RAN OVER OUR DOG when backing up the pickup one night. Yes, although he thought both dogs were still in the back of the truck, he felt the tire drive over a bump, and got out to find that he had run Lucy over. Thankfully, no bones were broken, but she did have some terrible abrasions on her back left leg which have fortunately healed well. But still.

So now Lucy is curled up on the sofa, in a tight, safe little ball. We worry she may miss her country freedom, but hope that the warmth and coziness of the indoor life with us will make up for it. We missed you Lucy; I hope it's good to be back home.