Thursday, March 20, 2014

Recipe: Shamrock Shimmy Smoothie

Mid-morning snack attack at work!
Shamrock shimmy smoothie!
Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm always ahead of the trends.

Exhibit A: Before most people had heard of Nirvana, I had already decided I didn't like them. Billy Joel, people. That's where it's at.

Exhibit B: Prior to "boho chic" being a major trend, I was sporting hippie threads that I dug out of the drama closet at summer camp.

Exhibit C: Prior to knitting becoming a trend, I taught myself knitting from a kit called "I Taught Myself Knitting!"

(Hmm... I'm beginning to realize I may not be as cool as I thought...)

One trend that I just haven't been able to get behind, though, is KALE. Seriously. Why would I want a salad that's made out of wadded up paper towels? My nightmare is being forced to eat a kale quinoa salad at a pop-up restaurant while watching Girls and listening to EDM. I imagine that in ten years, people are going to wake up and be all: why did I eat that? And why did we think that stuff was cool?

Even more baffling to me: putting KALE in a smoothie. A smoothie is supposed to be a bait-and-switch so that you can drink milkshakes and feel healthy about it. Peanut butter, banana, Hershey's. That's a smoothie.

Do you sense that I'm about to eat my words?

I still don't want a kale salad or a big plate of kale or a kale cupcake. My mom got me the Oh She Glows cookbook for my birthday, though, and it has several recipes for green smoothies in it.  Oh She Glows is a blog of vegan, whole foods recipes (when you Google it, the first search that comes up is "Oh She Glows kale salad"). The blog and the cookbook are great because lot of vegan recipes are heavy on soy products and processed fake-meat-like foods, which I try to avoid, particularly because it's the "Year of More" and that means more whole foods

For some reason, I thought I'd give green smoothies a try after every blogger in the world had already decided they were God's gifts to moms who give their kids cute nicknames on the internet. Guess what? 

Reader, I loved it.

So let's come around to the recipe, shall we?

A few days after this revelation, I was cruising on that great recipe-box-in-the-cloud, Pinterest, and there was a recipe for "healthy Shamrock shake - with mint!" I have never had a Shamrock shake, but that sounded pretty good.

For some reason, I pictured "mint" as being, you know ... mint. Like leaves, and stuff. I always forget that a lot of people don't eat natural things. The recipe was made with milk (I'm cutting way back on dairy), chocolate chips (didn't have those), and peppermint extract. Since I have a bunch of mint growing in my garden, I decided that I could make a "Shamrock" smoothie that would actually be healthy.

Below is the recipe my first stab at making my own green smoothie. I think it is SO delicious. At least to me, and I'm the one drinking it. 

A few notes:

  • I've made it with both baby kale and baby spinach, but if you're making it for kids and you want them to forget there are greens involved, I'd go with the spinach.
  • I used honey in this recipe, but if you want it to be completely vegan, then substitute a plant-based sweetener.
  • This is not a cute color.
Shamrock Shimmy Smoothie

1 c. non-dairy milk (I like hemp milk)
3/4-1 c. baby kale or baby spinach, de-stemmed and torn
1 banana, sliced and frozen
6-10 fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. honey

Step 1) put everything in a blender and blend it and drink it. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pop Culture Round-Up: Sick in Bed Edition

Wow! It's been awhile. I can't really blame anything...

Well, I was sick for a week. During which time I watched all the TV. Not only did I clear my DVR, I enjoyed entire seasons of some shows, which are now being added to said DVR. I also watched a bunch of rom-coms, which I only watch when I'm sick. However, I wouldn't particularly recommend any of them. (OK, I thought Austenland was pretty cute.)

So what did I watch?

Gimme some TV that
goes down easy!
Arrow, The CW
Over the past few months, I'd slowly been catching up with Arrow (The CW's pretty-person reboot of DC Comics' Green Arrow). However, while sick I binge-watched the end of Season 1 and caught up with Season 2. Yes, it follows the CW's formula: people who all look sort of alike and yet are better actors than you expect, enacting adventurous yet preposterous tales. I like the CW formula, however. It's sort of a less-witty play on the Joss Whedon formula. No one will ever accuse Arrow of being anything but candy, but it's the Lindt truffles, rather than the Whitman's sampler, of teen TV.

The Americans, FX
Last year I DVRed The Americans but never watched it. In preparation for Season 2 (which begins tonight!), the first season was released free for Amazon Prime members. The Americans might be compared to FX/AMC/HBO shows that are about tough people doing tough things, but frankly I don't feel like I'm giving up my feminism to watch it (I'm looking at you, Mad Men.) The show centers on two Russian spies embedded in suburban DC, who pretend to be a clean-cut American family. Keri Russell and Margo Martindale play a couple of TV's biggest badasses, and all the women on the show (even the woman who is seduced into a sham marriage by one of the spies) are more complex than on your average television show.

Plus, it brilliantly evokes the early 80's, and that feeling that the world was balanced on the head of a nuclear pin. I remember how frightening it was too be a kid at that time, how central the USSR was to the news, how many of us worried that the world could end tomorrow. The Americans capitalizes on that paranoia brilliantly, and it's suspenseful even though we know the world didn't end.

True Detective, HBO
Now that's haggard!
What was that about feminism? Oh, hey Emily Nussbaum from The New Yorker, calling out True Detective for its thin female characters. 

I haven't thought in depth about whether I agree with Emily (maybe she's right; but it's also a story told in the voices of White, Southern men in a rural area - so, this criticism seems more like criticism of the POV choice... whatever). I just know that I am absolutely mesmerized by this show. It is, in many ways, about what it means to truly live one's philosophy, even if that philosophy is brutal and nihilistic. Shot beautifully, with a stunning, haggard central performance by Matthew McConaughey, it's one of the best things I've seen all year.

See. Cute as a bug in a backpack.
Looking, HBO
Lots of folks have called Looking the gay Girls. It's totally not. I hate Girls. I want to punch all the characters. I gave up on it at the beginning of Season 3. I might end up watching it (although I resisted all through my illness) because it totally sucks you in, but I'll feel guilty about it.

Looking is not like that. Looking makes me want to hug all the characters, even that poopy-pants Augustin. It is, quite simply, the most romantic show on TV right now. Yes, it's a kind of romance that will make the Fox News crowd uncomfortable (one whole episode centers around whether the main character can get over his shame of being a bottom), but it's romance all the same. Jonathan Groff, as usual, is too cute for words. If only he got to sing!

Speaking of Fox News and feminism...
I'll continue to watch The Mindy Project
as an act of resistance.
Is it just me, or is Fox totally undermining the ideals of Fox News? (The answer is YES). Although they have the same parent company (21st Century Fox), Fox has been quietly filling its prime-time slate with shows featuring strong, diverse female characters. In particular, their programming features women of color prominently: on Sleepy Hollow, The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The New Girl (no, I don't mean Jess), Glee, and Enlisted. The White female characters often come from diverse income backgrounds, ranging from Bones (tough crime-fighting anthropologist who  grew up in the foster system) to Raising Hope (the family matriarch is a house cleaner who is a well-rounded, strong female character and has one of the best marriages on TV). While Fox News is consistently making statements that undercut women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, their sister company is doing something much more powerful: telling stories that portray people from these backgrounds as agents of their own fates. I know that Fox is just trying to make a profit, but it makes me happy that they are participating in the unraveling of the prejudice that Fox News tries to sell.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recipe: Thai-inspired Coconut Curry Soup

The soup at the end of the story.
Tuesday, I hopped on a plane with seven co-workers, heading to Birmingham, AL for a conference. As we began our descent into Bham, the pilot announced that the airport was closed due to ice and snow. We would be able to land as soon as they cleared the runways.

We were diverted to Nashville, where we spent the day waiting for updates about those runways. As we sat in the airport, much of the South was plunged into a state of emergency, with people abandoning their cars on the side of the road, kids sheltering at school overnight, and people sleeping in Publix. Houston's strategy under even a threat of ice is to close the schools and a lot of businesses pre-emptively, People make fun of us for it, but as a Northerner who now lives in Texas, even a wee bit of ice is no joke in the South. There are no plows, no sand trucks, no studded tires. It's best to keep as many people off the roads as possible. The fact that some cities didn't is partly why there was such a problem on Tuesday.
Here we are - we made it home!
(That's me, second from right)

We were pretty lucky in that we were safe and warm in the airport, and by evening our flight was finally canceled. Nashville was chilly but there was no severe ice or snow, and the airline gave us a discount on a hotel. With Birmingham airport remaining closed, we turned around and headed home.

What does this have to do with food? you might ask.
I'm like Ponyo when I see a bowl of noodles.

Well, two days in an airport leaves one feeling kind of funky. On the way home, I began thinking about what I could cook up that would be warm, comforting, and healthful. Of course, I landed on the idea of chicken soup... but not just any chicken soup. Since making chicken pho from Smitten Kitchen last week, I'm sort of obsessed with warm, slurpy bowls of noodly goodness (well, truth be told, I'm always kind of obsessed with this, as any fan of Miyazaki should be).

I learned some new techniques from the chicken pho - namely, how to make a good chicken broth - so I decided to use those to make tom ka gai, which is a Thai version of chicken soup. On the way home, from the airport I stopped at the store for ingredients, and by that evening I was slurping away.

Tom Ka Gai (Coconut Curry Soup)

For the broth:

3 1" x 1/2" pieces of ginger, peeled
2 Thai chilies, halved and seeded
1 lime, quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs or drumsticks

Add all ingredients to a soup pot and add 6 cups of water, or just enough to cover. Bring to a boil, and lower heat to simmer. Simmer 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot. 

Remove the chicken meat from the bone and set aside. Return the bones and skin to the pot and continue simmering for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the broth from heat, and strain, discarding all the solids.

While the broth is simmering, prep:

1 red pepper, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 package of dried wild mushrooms. Pour boiling water over them to cover and let sit for 20 minutes, then slice thin (you could also use sliced fresh mushrooms)
1 package of thick rice noodles (pad thai noodles or rice sticks) - prepare according package directions

To finish the soup:

Return the broth to heat, and whisk in:

2 cans of coconut milk or lite coconut milk
3 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce (if you can't find fish sauce, add a tsp. of salt)
a squeeze of Sriracha (Thai hot sauce - optional)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
the juice of 1-2 limes
pinch of black pepper

Let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add the chicken, red pepper, mushrooms, and shallots and continue to simmer until the chicken and veg are heated through.

To serve:

Put some of the noodles in a deep bowl, and ladle the soup over them. To garnish, add chopped cilantro, basil, scallions, and a wedge or two of lime.

If you have left overs, refrigerate the noodles and the soup separately so the noodles don't break down in the liquid. The coconut milk may separate somewhat in the fridge, but just heat it up and give it a stir!

Monday, January 20, 2014

More Whole Foods Means Less White Flour (sob!)

More whole foods.

That's part of my focus this January as I begin the Year of More. Here's the problem: I don't always like whole foods - especially whole grains. I mean, just give me a fluffy white flour tortilla, OK? A whole wheat tortilla is like an insult to all tortillas, like a tough, chewy middle finger to the whole idea of a tortilla. And don't get me started on a whole grain English muffin. Why? Why? For the love of Queen Elizabeth II and all that's holy, an English muffin should not have seeds in it!
In the words of Mindy Kaling: "Gluten is my favorite food."

I decided that if I was going to persist in eating whole foods, than I was going to have to give up the idea of eating "healthy" whole grain versions of foods that I only really like when they are made with white flour. I've cut way back on things like tortillas and English muffins, but I'm not substituting anything for them. I'd rather eat a delicious white flour tortilla rarely, than eat a dirty-sock-tasting whole wheat tortilla every day. 

That's left a few holes in my diet, though. What have I been eating instead? And what can you put in your cupboard to replace white flour goodness? (Check out the Whole Grains Council for even more info on whole grains like millet, spelt, teff, kamut ... the list goes on and on!)

Bulgur: When I was a kid we ate a lot of bulgur. It can be substituted for rice, or used in Middle Eastern salads. Bulgur is wheat that's been pre-cooked and cracked, and it has a short cooking time so it's easy to use and convenient. In the U.S., all bulgur is supposed to be whole grain. You can buy it in the bulk area of stores that still have a bulk section, or in the Middle Eastern section of the grocery store.

Wheat berries: Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels. They cook for a long time - 45-60 minutes in water - so they aren't as convenient as bulgur. However, they have a nice nutty flavor and are a great base for salads.

Whole grain rye crisps: There are are several brands of rye crisps, so make sure you look for some that say whole grain on them. These are a great vehicle for avocado or hummus, or can be eaten plain. (They are pretty dry, though, so if you eat them plain, have a glass of water handy).

Popcorn: Yum! I like popcorn that only has sea salt on it. None of that fake butter for me. 

Corn tortillas: As I mentioned, I don't think there's any true substitute for a good flour tortilla, but some things (like fish tacos) are good with a corn tortilla. Corn tortillas are also good for enchiladas, huevos rancheros, and anything else made with eggs.

Lentils: Lentils aren't a grain, but they can be good for giving you a protein boost, and you can put sauces and toppings on them just like rice. They also cook quickly, like bulgur, and go well with many of the same Middle Eastern flavors.

Food For Life 7 Sprouted Grains bread: I don't enjoy whole wheat bread, but I love Food For Life bread. It makes a nice, firm toast. Since I haven't been buying flour tortillas (you can probably tell by now how traumatized I am by this), this toast has become my primary vehicle for peanut butter. And I just learned they make a cinnamon raisin bread! It's also an excellent avocado toast (Make toast. Smash avocado onto said toast. If desired, sprinkle with a pinch of salt or chili powder.)

Hopefully, these foods will help keep The Year of More from feeling like this:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Water, water everywhere...

... and not a drop to drink.

At least, that's the case in West Virginia, where a chemical spill has contaminated the water supply for nine counties. Like something out of the environmental thriller The East (watch it, if you haven't - most people haven't), the spill will cause massive costs for all of us who pay taxes, since FEMA has been called in to deal with the disaster.

This is especially shameful because safe drinking water is one of the huge achievements of our nation. When clean water gushes out of our taps day-in and day-out, we forget that this is a friggin' miracle. For much of human history, and in many parts of the world today, water-borne illnesses are a huge cause of lost wages and school time, disability and death. More children around the world die from diarrhea caused by unsafe water than from AIDS and malaria combined. Ever hear someone say, "Yeah, I just had cholera last week"? Neither have I - because we don't have to worry about cholera. We also don't have to spend half the day walking to get water to lug home. 

What's happened in West Virginia is incredibly rare in the U.S., and we shouldn't let it scare us off tap water (and we should also ensure that the company, Freedom Industries, has to pay so that these kinds of spills don't become more common).

 I admit, I get a little hot when people say, "I don't drink tap water." 

First off, if you drink bottled water, you probably do drink tap water. The NRDC estimates that 25% of bottled water is actually tap water, and sometimes it's not even filtered additionally. Those companies then profit from our public utilities - the utilities and EPA make sure the water is safe, and the companies who sell the water don't have to worry about it. 

Of course, bottled water contributes significantly to the amount of plastic in landfills, and the plastic itself can leach into the water. 

While almost all drinking water in the U.S. is extremely safe for almost all people (some with compromised immune systems shouldn't drink it), if you are worried:

  • your utility is required to provide an annual safety report. Just call them up and they must send you one.
  • use a filter. This is also helpful for those who don't drink tap water because of taste.
I've been drinking tap water since I was a kid, and I just fill up my trusty ol' glass Voss water bottle (it's about $2 and then you have a heavy-duty glass water bottle that lasts and lasts).  I've even been known to drink from drinking fountains in public parks and drink water out of my bathroom sink. Still kickin'.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Recipe: Breakfast Brown Rice with Fruit and Nuts

At your work, do you always start meetings with "whip-arounds?" Probably not.

 If you've never heard of a whip-around (I know, the name is vaguely S&M), it's where someone asks a get-to-know-you type question and then the question "whips" around the table, answered by each person in turn. It's kind of like an ice breaker, except everyone knows each other already, so the ice is long since melted. 

Of course, many of this week's whip-arounds have been about New Year's Resolutions. So when I said that eating "more whole foods" was one of my goals, many "who's-on-first?"ish conversations ensued, when folks thought I said I'd eat "at Whole Foods" instead of  "eat whole foods."

(I'm sure that you've by now developed a mental image of the type of workplace I inhabit. Yes, we are a bunch of lovable nerds.)
THIS.......................................................NOT THIS

Anyhoos, one way to incorporate more whole foods is by bringing them into breakfast. I've never been a fan of brown rice, but cooked with spices, it makes a great hot breakfast cereal.

You can cook the rice on the weekend, refrigerate it, and then serve it up throughout the week.

Many people say they "can't" cook rice, so the idea of cooking up a pot and banking your future breakfasts on it might feel a little daunting.  A few tips:

  • I always set a timer for a few minutes less than recommended. 
  • When you put the pot lid on, very slowly bring the stove top temperature down to low. If you do it too quickly, the water can stop simmering.
  • When the timer goes off, slowly lift the lid of the pot, and see - does the rice have a flat surface with several holes in it? If yes, push some of the rice to the side and see if there is water on the bottom of the pot, underneath the rice. If there is, it's not done. Give it a few more minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
  •  If some rice burns and sticks to the bottom, don't try to scrape it up and serve it. Just let it die. Gently fluff the rice on top with a fork so you don't get the burned pieces.
I usually get nice fluffy rice when I follow these tips.

Breakfast Brown Rice

Ingredients for the brown rice:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 c. brown rice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom or nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 c. water

To serve:
1/3 c. vanilla soy, hemp, or almond milk or 1/3 c. skim milk
your favorite dried fruits or berries (like apricots, cherries, raisins, or blueberries)
slivered toasted almonds or other nuts that you like

To make rice:
Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Pour in the rice, and the spices, and stir. Cook, stirring, until the grains begin to become opaque and the spices are fragrant - 2-3 minutes. Pour in the water and stir once or twice. Heat water until boiling, then put the lid on the pot and gently lower temperature. Cook for 38-40 minutes before checking for doneness.

If you're not serving right away, refrigerate rice.

To serve:
Put about 2/3 c. of the cooked rice into a bowl and pour in the milk or milk-like beverage. Add the dried fruits. If the rice is coming out of the fridge, microwave for about 1 min. 30 sec. Sprinkle on the nuts after heating.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Pop Culture Christmas Vacation

Yes, I'm a geek girl, an inside kid, a pop culture vulture. I like TV and I'm not ashamed. Christmas vacation offers mucho free time to indulge in collecting new obsessions.

What did I watch, read, or listen to?

What I Watched:

Vikings, History Channel, available on Amazon Prime Streaming
This show is about Vikings. Not Minnesota Vikings, not metaphorical Vikings who kill it in the board room, but actual Vikings. I'm sure it's not as historically accurate as being on the History Channel would suggest, but it has one thing going for it that Downton Abbey doesn't: a truly alien psychology (and axes. Downton doesn't have axes). Most historical fiction has characters with modern psychology living in a historical world - it makes them easier for us to understand. But on Vikings the characters have a truly different psychology, guided by living in a world that they believe is directed by multiple gods. Gustaf Skarsgard has gotten a lot of (deserved) attention for his deeply weird performance as the boatbuilder Floki, but Travis Fimmel, who plays the lead Ragnar Lodbrok, deserves just as many accolades. He plays the rare lead character whose motives you truly can't discern, bringing surprises throughout the viewing. Add in a kick-ass heroine in Katheryn Winnick's shield-maiden Lagertha, some great Viking-Christian humor, and some truly punk rock hairstyles, and you've got a television experience like nothing else on TV.

Plus, I just love this teaser for season 2:

Hemlock Grove, Netflix
Hemlock Grove has vampires, werewolves, a creepy science institute, a creepy Catholic order, a girl impregnated by an angel, gypsies, a phosphorescent giant ... and a lot of vomiting, guts spilling out, and some naked boobs and butts. So, you probably don't want to watch this one with your grandma over the next holiday that comes around. Hemlock Grove is so stuffed with kitschy Gothic tropes that it shouldn't work -- and it probably wouldn't before the era of binge watching. However, Netflix understands how people watch on their platform, and Hemlock Grove goes down easy ... well, as easy as a show can where a gypsy channels a spirit by eating a giant grub that's been feasting on blood. Anchored by a murder mystery and a surprisingly sweet love story, Hemlock Grove is like what the CW would be it didn't have a standards and practices department. And that's a compliment. (Bonus points for great turns by Dougray Scott and (a super-campy and gorgeous) Famke Janssen, two actors that I would watch do almost anything.)

What I Read: 

Cinder and Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
At work, we have a book club that only reads young adult books. Because we're mature like that. One of the books we read was Cinder, a re-telling of Cinderella tales that's set in a future city called New Beijing. In it, Cinder is a cyborg and is trying to save her world from an evil queen of the moon. (Yep.) Scarlet takes off where Cinder ended, weaving in a re-telling of the Red Riding Hood legends. While dystopian fantasy is all the rage these days, most of the hot authors skate over some of the sci-fi influences, so I enjoyed that Meyer seems to jump right into the sci-fi waters, with spaceships, genetic engineering, and half-robot girls. It still has the romance and "chosen one" elements that young girls like, but this series feels fresher than most of what's in the genre.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
This is truly one of the best books I've read in awhile. Set in 1986 (with lots of Smiths and Alan Moore references for geeks like me), it tells the unlikely love story of two young people who meet on the school bus. Eleanor has recently moved back in with her mother and stepfather after being thrown out of the house a year earlier. Park is trying to deal with his identity as a half-Korean comic book nerd in a family where his dad is an all-American tough guy. They meet when Eleanor reads Watchmen over Park's shoulder on the bus (italics used to emphasize that's like the nerd Olympic gold medal for love stories). There are so many relatable incidents and moments in this book; it's sweet without being sappy; and Park's family is truly one of YA lit's best pictures of loving and flawed parents. This is one reason that grown-ups shouldn't pooh pooh Young Adult books.

What I Listened To:

This video is gorgeous, as is Chvrches' full album, The Bones of What You Believe.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Year of More

I've been reflecting on what I want for the year ahead, like most people. 2013 ended on a bit of a rough note for my extended family (or a few rough notes) and so I wasn't digging the idea of imposing upon myself extra rigor, abstinence or challenge. Seems like life serves those things up unasked.

Originally, I was considering that this might be the "year of re-commitment" - to many of the principles that I've espoused on this blog. I've gotten a little sloppy in some of my green practices over the past year as I've been incredibly busy. 

Frankly, "the year of re-commitment" just didn't sound that inspiring to me.

As I thought more about what I wanted the year to be like, I thought about the things I really want to commit myself to: things that make me happy like cooking, writing, and being outside. Unlike most resolutions, these wouldn't be taking fun out of life, but adding it. I thought about the "year of abundance", but that reminds me too much of those churches that say you'll make more money if you pray about it.

So I settled on "the year of more." 

I want to focus on three things to start:

  • more writing time
  • more whole foods (not Whole Foods)
  • more outside time

I think these things will have positive side effects on my health and well-being, but that's not my main focus currently. Really, I'm just trying to enjoy life more (see what I did there?)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do You Believe in Santa?

Day 24: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

When my sister was about nine or ten, she came to the realization that the presents under the tree that were labeled "From Santa" might actually have been put there by our parents. She stomped around the house, demanding to know, "Is Santa real?"

To which my ever-wise mother answered: "He's real in your heart."

"I don't want to know if he's real in my heart! IS SANTA REAL?"

My mother, like a Buddhist teacher with a particularly stubborn student, continued to repeat: "He's real in your heart."

This, in my mind, is the only possible true answer to this question. 

Sure, scientists and adventurers have been to the North Pole, and lo and behold, they did not find a gingerbread village filled with dancing elves creating lovably quaint wooden toys. Physicists have calculated the speed necessary for Santa to travel and deliver all those presents, speeds which would cause him to be invisible to the eye. The facts indicate that Santa is not real.

And I know many parents who don't "do" Santa (or even Christmas) because there seems to be something fundamentally wrong to them in the idea of intentionally causing their children to believe in a wonderful figure that isn't real. Others, rightly, point out that the American Santa appears to be a fundamentally unjust figure who gives wealthy children better toys than poor ones, tying wealth inextricably to goodness.

I see those points. Yet I don't think the definitions of "true" or "real" can be so simple, and myths like Santa Claus fall into a different kind of category. Myths can be true in a sense without conforming to scientific reality, because they use stories to express essential truths about the reality of the human condition. In a world where children will face disease, war, financial distress, and just plain ol' existential angst, believing in Santa for awhile can teach invaluable ways of being: to have faith in the face of long odds, to persist when faith seems lost, to show grace in cold times.

I "believed" in Santa for much longer than other children, because I saw his sleigh flying past my window on Christmas Eve when I was about six. I didn't "think" I saw the sleigh, or "dream" I saw the sleigh - I saw it, as I sat on my knees on my bed. It flew around the neighbor's house, a comet of light, casting an indelible arc in my memory as it turned to approach our roof. For years after that, my faith in Santa was unshakable. I don't have any explanation for what I saw, and I don't try to explain it. What's real in our hearts is often inexplicable.

St. Nicholas of Myra throws coins through
the window of three virgins who had no money for
a dowry. Santa Claus was born.

Monday, December 23, 2013

24 Days to Christmas: Days 22-23

Day 22: When do you open presents?
Day 23: Favorite Christmas Eve tradition

As I mentioned yesterday, my family opens most of their presents on Christmas morning. However, most of our holiday traditions revolve around Christmas Eve, which is also my sister's birthday.

For lunch on Christmas Eve, we celebrate my sister's birthday by going to lunch at a Spokane restaurant called Clinkerdagger, that overlooks the falls of the Spokane River. The place is always decorated to the nines during the holidays. Usually we eat so much that we aren't really hungry for dinner. Although we've tried over the years to plan Christmas Eve suppers, our current thinking is that hors d'oeuvres and birthday cake are plenty.

In our family we open one present on Christmas Eve. I know that in some families there are strictures on just what can be opened -- Christmas pyjamas seem to be common -- but we can open anything that is under the tree at that moment. This involves some careful thought and planning... you don't want to choose something disappointing (socks!) because it's your only gift until morning. Especially when we were kids, when we wanted to play with our gifts for a little while before bed, we didn't want to choose something that didn't allow for that.

However, there seems to be an unspoken rule that you can't go for your biggest present, either, or something that is going to be the same as your sister's. So, there are usually only a couple of viable options.

After the presents, we usually read some holiday stories - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and The Polar Express. Although this is my favorite part of the holiday, in recent years we haven't always done it because my nephews sometimes want to go to bed (!).