28 December 2007

Photo of the Day: South Haven Lighthouse

The day after Christmas, my dad and I took the kids out to the pier in South Haven, MI. Because of the winter storm a few days before with really high winds, everything on the water was totally frozen. Even though I walked all the way down the frozen pier to get up-close pictures of the lighthouse. This one, shot from a distance was my favorite.
This was taken with my Sony Cybershot 7.2MP

22 December 2007

Peppermint Bark Fudge

I snapped up this recipe from the blog Coconut and Lime. This is a foodie blog that I've just discovered, but the recipes are not only accessible and easy to make, but also incredibly tasty!

Since the fam was coming over for a family game night/ pre-Christmas gift exchange, I whipped up this fudge earlier in the morning. This is the recipe as C&L wrote it on her page.

14 oz sweetened condensed milk

12 oz high quality semisweet chocolate chips*

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup peppermint pieces (about 4 candy canes)**

Directions:In shallow, heavy pot, heat the butter and chips over low heat until melted. Stir to occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the condensed milk and candy canes until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Pour into a buttered 8x8 inch baking dish and allow to cool 15 minutes. Then refrigerate the fudge for 2 hours or up to overnight. Unmold (if it sticks, run the point of a knife along all four sides and slide a thin spatula underneath to remove) and cut into 1 inch squares. Store at room temperature in an air tight container.Yield: roughly 40 squares

*C&L recommends the use of a high quality chocolate here. For me, this didn't really make a big difference. Besides, I'm a big fan of Toll House semi-sweet chips anyway.

**C&L also recommends breaking the candy canes while they're still in the plastic. I did not go this route. I was quite anxious to get some use out of th mortar and pestle that we got recently, so I promptly tossed the canes in there and ground them until they were mere flakes of peppermint. When I tasted this fudge, I think I am much happier with the outcome than I would have been with bigger chunks of cane.

This recipe was quick and easy, and everything worked out great! The only suggestion that I have is that once it's in the pan and has been in the fridge for a couple of hours, to toss it in the freezer for 30 minutes or so. This seemed to help the fudge harden very quickly since I was pressed for time in getting the fudge to actually set up. Also, because it gets so melty once it's at room temperature, I recommend storing this fudge in the refrigerator until just before you eat it. Don't worry, it won't be too hard. It softens VERY quickly once it comes to room temp.

So try this fudge. It's fantastic! Thanks to Coconut and Lime for sharing!
PS: I'm at home in Michigan, and I managed to get my hands on several photo albums of old family photos (mostly of me, naturally!). Over the next few months, I will be posting some of the most memorable in the collection. ;)

20 December 2007

A Norman Rockwell Christmas

This is what Christmas at our house looks like every year:

Andrea and I get a real tree and trim it together. We've made it a tradition that she single-handedly carries the tree up the stairs to the house (I'm afraid of being poked by the needles) over her head. I can't find the picture for it, but it's usually quite the sight.

The general celebration of Christmas at our house is pretty awesome thanks in no small part to Andrea. She single-handedly puts much of the Christ back in Christmas, with great big gobs of generosity. Over these last few years, she's managed (probably without really knowing it) to make me want to celebrate this holiday again with all of the excitement of a child, and stop complaining about all the commercialization of it, because there are people (many, in fact) out there who don't really buy in to the commercial parts of it. Rather, it's about love, family, giving, and celebrating old [and making new] traditions. Over the years, and between the two of us, we've managed to create traditions of making and sharing candy, giving to charities, donating toys, invoking the spirit of St. Nikolas, hanging (and filling!) stockings, trimming the trees (with a pickle!) and even sprinkling lots and lots of warm Christmas cheer onto the cold hearts of a couple of ersatz Scrooge McDucks (even if Christmas cheer does come in the guise of Gluehwein and hot, mulled spirits!). It's a great time to watch people come around to our version of celebrating the holiday. It's a beautiful thing.

So here's to Andrea for always making Christmas into the stuffs of Rockwell.
On second thought, we're way better than Rockwell!

Merry Christmas to all!

07 December 2007

Self Portrait in Gingerbread

Lauren and I spent Wednesday night making Christmas cookie. Well, really Lauren was making the cookies; I only helped to decorate while I watched Mickey's Christmas Carol on her laptop. Her mom sent her a bunch of old fashioned cookie cutters, the great copper and tin ones that she used as a kid. We made angels, santas, reindeer, bells, trees, stars, and gingerbread.

Decorating was ever so much fun especially since we used inappropriate colors for everything which resulted in blue reindeer and orange trees. We even tried to mix in this gold luster dust that I have. Aside: The makers claim that it is completely non toxic but recommend using it for decorating only and not for eating. My question is if you're using it to decorate food, as is its purpose how then do you avoid eating it? Sadly though, the dust did not turn the frosting sparkling or gold but kind of...salmon. My favorite reindeer is this slightly blurry guy which to me resembles more a slightly deranged bunny rabbit than a reindeer.

In the end, since the gingerbread man cutter was so large, Lauren only made two and we each decorated one.

Later that night as we put away the cookies I noticed something interesting about our g-men. They were us!! Other than the fact that mine somehow looks like a baseball player with a lazy eye (completely unintentional), our g-men somehow reflected us in the height difference. The proof-us:

(and no, neither is this a perspective issue nor am I standing on a box-that's the actual difference in our heights)

And a second look at the cookies:

Coincidence? I think not.

06 December 2007

First Snow

In DC, many people like to pretend that just because we're south of the Mason-Dixon line, that we're Southern. Therefore, we don't get wintry weather. This is in fact, definitely NOT the case. As you can see below, we got more than a couple flakes last night. The pictures below are from our back yard around 7:00pm. I tried to capture good images of what it looked like coming down. My camera was freaking out a little bit because of the light hitting the flakes. These pictures turned out pretty well though:

And now I will rant:

Usually we get our first significant snow around Thanksgiving. This year, we saw our first flakes fly earlier this week. Those 15 flakes were enough to back up traffic on the Beltway for hours during the morning rush hour. Being a Native Michigander, I scoffed at the idea of going 10 mph on the highway just because there were some flurries. Back at home, they'd still be going 80mph on the freeway, and this wouldn't be a problem at all. Not here though, snow that fails to even stick to the ground will shut down Metro, and leave people abandoning their cars on the side of the road.

Okay...so I'm exaggerating; but only a little.

Yesterday morning, we woke up to more flurries, and even colder temperatures. This time, they actually stuck. My daily commute from DC to Tysons Corner showed itself for the offensive thing it is, even though everyone tells me I'm going "in reverse." I laugh in their faces. Yesterday, my commute took 2 and a half hours. I work 14.1 miles from my job. If I'd know that it was going to take that long, I would have spent my 2.5 hours taking Metro. By the end of the day, there was about an inch and a half on the ground. Surprisingly, my drive home only took an hour and a half. I suspect that lots of people went home early because of the "weather."

This morning, I decided that rather than brave the unsalted, untreated, icy roads filled with "inexperienced" winter drivers, I would spend my first 3 hours of the day working from home rather than wasting it sitting in traffic. It's safer for me to just stay off the roads altogether. Not because I can't drive in it (I surely have the experience of MANY Michigan winters under my belt!), but because the city has no ability to plan in advance for snow that they know is coming. It creates unsafe conditions for everyone because they're "shocked" that we got snow this far south. Hello? It snows like this EVERY year, it's about time that we start to learn how to sent salt trucks and plows out to be ready when the first flakes fly. Period. Put a Michigander in the Road Commissioner's office. We know how to handle weather of all kinds, but especially the frozen white stuff.

05 December 2007

Surprise Ornaments

So Lauren and I are doing our thing tonight (which means mostly that we were enjoying the CBS family classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer while drinking wine) and I decided to take more ornament pictures. In my study of the tree I was quite surprised to find this:

Hello-what are you? "Lauren," says I, "why is there a pillow on the tree?" "A what?" "There's an ornament on the tree and it's a pillow-with fruit on it." Lauren came over and we both inspected this new ornament neither of us had ever seen. "Huh."

Five minutes later, while I was photographing our smaller themed tree in the dining room I hear: "Moglie..." "Si?" (occasionally we speak to each other in Italian but it's pretty limited to: moglie, si, ciao, grazie, and prego). "There's a Hershey truck on the tree." "A what?" (deja vu all over again there). "There's a Hershey truck ornament on the tree!" I went over to her and by gum there was indeed a Hershey Truck ornament on the tree:

So now the big mystery is, from whence did these come? Are there more? Will they multiply overnight? We are rather confused. St. Nikolas does not come until tonight so he didn't bring them; I'd be shocked if J.Fo. contributed them, bah humbug that he is. Perhaps Grizz? She knew we were concerned over the sparseness of decoration on this year's tree (due more to a larger tree than a disappearance of ornaments) but when did she hang them? She didn't do it this morning so perhaps last night? A mystery...

Camera: Kodak EasyShare Z740

Vintage Christmas

One of the first things I did when I moved to DC (well, ok technically I did it when I went back to MI for Thanksgiving) was to nick some of my favorite Christmas ornaments from the cupboard under the stairs. My family's tree has never been one of those ueber expensive 'themed' trees but has always been a real family tree with ornaments of all types, styles, and ages. We have a number of glass ornaments that are on their way to being antiques; those that have survived the years unbroken anyway:

03 December 2007

Christmas Ornaments 06 and 07

Since Lauren posted her new Christmas ornament I cannot but do the same. I love peacocks (at least the idea of them-the actual bird is a loud pain in the ass) but any peacock representation, picture, figurine etc has to be mine.

However, I'm going to one up Lauren and also post last year's ornament because I really like it too. In fact, after we dismantled the tree I couldn't bear to pack it away so I hung it in my room!

02 December 2007

My 2007 Ornament

Every year, Andrea and I pick new ornaments to decorate our Christmas tree for that year. I know it's a little bit blurry, but I just couldn't get my settings right, so this is the best it's gonna get for now... In any case, this is my 2007 ornament:

01 December 2007


Every year at the Nuernberger Weinachtsmarkt (Nurenberg Christmas Market), it's a tradition to do Christmas shopping while drinking Gluehwein (trans: Glow Wine). The reason it's called "glow" wine is because it's warm, and the alcohol gives everyone's cheeks a nice warm glow.

At our house, it's also a tradition to drink Gluehwein in the lead up to Christmas. Today, I started off the season by making a fresh batch and sharing it with my roommates. In fact, I'm drinking it right now.

2 bottles dry red wine (1.5L)
1/2c white sugar
1/2c water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cloved orange, quartered

Combine water and sugar. Add cinnamon and orange quarters. Heat until boiling. Once the water is boiling, take out the oranges. Pour in the 2 bottles of wine. Squeeze the orange quarters and place everything back into the pot, and stir. Heat the mixture until just warm.

Strain into mugs.


30 November 2007

Death Brings New Life

So as Andrea told you, a few weeks ago we went to St. Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery. It's an extremely old city cemetery that has some amazing art and architecture. I've always been fascinated by the way different cultures revere their dead, and even moreso, how the art and architecture around said reverence changes over time. Since Andrea did such a good job covering all the bases on the different types of sculpture and headstones in the cemetery, I thought I would do something a little less morbid to end the month of the dead.
At the cemetery, there were lots and lots of mausoleums all over the grounds. There were some built into the earth, and many were just freestanding buildings. The majority of them had beautiful stained glass windows that captured the light just perfectly. I was pretty amazed that considering many of the graves went back to the early-mid 19th century, the windows were still in such great condition.

This one was a favorite of mine that day. I loved the way the sun hit the colors and really made them "pop." One thing I didn't notice about the shot until I uploaded my digitals was the cross shadow on the right side of the glass. Beautiful!

Finally, now that we're ending The Month of the Dead, I think that it's appropriate that I leave you with the next picture since we're heading into Advent. The next 25 days are days of hopeful waiting and watching. May this coming season be a time one of hope and joy as we, like the Three Wise Men keep watch for the coming of the Christ Child.

29 November 2007

Photo of the Day: Light and Shadow

There are only a couple of more days left in The Month of the Dead, so I wanted to post this picture while there was still time. I will likely try to round out the rest of the month tomorrow with the pictures that I also took at St. Paul's Episcopal Cemetery. In the meantime, the above is my contribution for today.

I took this last summer at the country's smallest battlefield cemetery-- Fort Stevens National Battlefield Cemetery. There are 40 Union graves there, and it is one of the few where they are all identified. This cemetery is actually around the corner (and a few blocks down the street) from our house, and so is what's left of the battlefield. The battlefield site is the only one where the Commander in Chief (re: President Abraham Lincoln) was present for the battle. Union forces were desperately trying to defend Washington, DC, and as was custom at the time, old Abe wanted to watch. From the letters that he wrote later, they say that supposedly he was almost killed, but mesmerized by the scene.

Sony CyberShot 7.2MP, Digital Format

27 November 2007

Saint Paul's Episcopol

To wind down our Month of the Dead theme, Lauren and I finally paid a visit to St. Paul's Episcopal cemetery. Located on North Cap and Hawaii we've been catching glimpses inside this cemetery for years and have been wanting to pay a visit...well a couple weekends ago we finally managed to do it.

St. Paul's is huge. Like hugely huge. And, despite it's Episcopalian nature, was very diverse in the types of monuments it contained-in particular the very Russian Orthodox crosses and mausoleums. I was especially inters ted in the various human and angel images.

I also spotted the following and I'm not really sure how to describe it...an Ankh with an angel face? And stones? I sure wish I could meet whomever had this erected and find out if the dead person was multi-cultural/multi-religious that so many icons got smooshed together:

And this one was just creepy-haunting

And my favorite which I decided looked best in black and white:

And, as expected in a cemetery as old as this one, there were small sections scattered here and there with old-fashioned tombstones, many of them worn away and smooth, broken, sunk into the earth, or even fallen over.

So, even though the Month of the Dead is ending, my cemetery posts more than likely will not. I got a lot of good shots that I want to share and I'm hoping to visit one of my favorite cemeteries when I go back to Michigan for Christmas.

19 November 2007

Belgrade Cemetery

So finishing up the large catch-all cemetery in Belgrade.

I thought one of the best things about the overtly Orthodox sections were the colorful tombs and gravemarkers. Not that we Catholics are terribly plain (although the more modern cemeteries generally are) but the use of color on some of these was really impressive.

I also enjoyed some of the more unusal markers. I would really like to know the story behind this one:

And the yet to be engraved markers were fascinating both because of how shiny and new the marble was but also because even though there may not be anyone buried there yet, the certainty that someone would be was somewhat overwhelming when viewing the rows upon rows of uncut markers.

Maybe even though no one's in there yet people have bought the plots. It's pretty amazing really the forethought that has to go into funerals. I guess a lot of people think some things are a given...if you belong to a church that has its own cemetery that's where you're buried. Not necessarily so I have learned. You do have to buy your plot. My parents already have plots at the family church cemetery in C'ville. They bought them (I love this) on sale. Yep...on sale. I believe this was when St. Mike's first opened their cemetery and were trying to sell plots? In any case, my parents are set for plots but then there's everything else to be considered. I took a Death and Dying course at university and we all had to plan the funeral of a loved one. I killed off my mom for the project and it actually ended up being, not only an interestnig and emotional exercise, but a useful one. I'm pretty sure I've got that saved somewhere as we planned the readings, the music, the stipulation that, should (great) Aunt Tobe still be alive (which by now she's not) she was not to be allowed to sing but that a week after the funeral we are to throw a party and Uncle Tone's band Replay is to play. We've also been instructed to under no circumstances take my mom's body to Throop's Funeral Home in C'ville. And my mom understands if none of the three of us want to speak at the funeral/give a eulogy but she would like it if we did.

13 November 2007

That Brave and Fallen Few

(Ghosts of War, Manassas Battlefield Park)

I believe that there is no coincidence that the day that the whole world remembers their fallen occurs during the Month of the Dead.

At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was forged between the Allies and Germany during The Great War (WWI). The war wouldn't be formally ended until June 28, 1919. November 11 became known as Armistice Day, and today we know it as Veteran's Day. It's a day that the entire world has set aside to honor those who have fallen fighting under their country's colors, for their cause of what they've belived to be the greater good. Because Veterans Day didn't come along until WWI, there were no 'days of rememberance' for soldiers that fell in battle in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is interesting to me that prior to The Great War, there were no real monuments to wars fought in the US. Perhaps when the wars were still fresh in people's minds, they still managed to remember their fathers and sons that were lost fighting in the Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, Civil War, or others. Only the battlefield cemeteries themselves stand as reminders of those who fell during those tumultuous times. What I find interesting is that while our National Battlefield Cemeteries memorialize soldiers from the very different battles that were fought on or near those grounds there, they all have many similar characteristics.

On every battleground, there are placards inscribed with portions of a poem written for Kentucky troops fallen in the 1847 Mexican war by Captain Theodore O'Hara. I have many pictures from various battlefields that display portions of the poem. Just like many of our national parks are falling into disrepair, so are our battlefield parks and their ornaments. Of those that I've seen, I've put them in order below, but since it's quite a lengthy poem, I have not included it in its entirety.
(reinactors, Manassas Battlefield Park)

Where those placards are difficult to read because of age and wear, I have added the words:
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.


Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!

Dear as the blood ye gave;

No impious footstep here shall tread

The herbage of your grave;

Nor shall your glory be forgot

While Fame her record keeps,

For honor points the hallowed spot

Where valor proudly sleeps.


Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor time's remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

(the pictures used in this post were taken in 2005, 2006, and 2007 at Manassas, Gettysburg, and Fort Stevens National Battlefield Parks. All are Civil War-era Battlefields)

07 November 2007

Catch-all Cemetery in Belgrade-black and white

Interestingly enough, directly across the street from the Jewish cemetery in Belgrade is what I’m going to call the catch-all cemetery. When first entering it we thought it was strictly Serbian Orthodox, but the map (the place is extensive and in need of a map) indicated that this cemetery too has a Jewish section and there was a special section for all the French people. That last one left me with a raised eyebrow.

Most of these pictures I actually took in color but later changed them to black and white. I'll do another post in a few days with the color pictures as many of the monuments are painted or mosiaced in such a way as to necessitate color photographs.

I loved this-it's like someone's private version of the Pieta.

I also learned that during a (Serbian) Orthodox funeral, grievers carry wooden crosses to the cemetery to put up at the grave until a proper headstone can be afforded. However, it seems that many leave up the crosses even after the monument is put into place.

A former coworker of ours is buried in this cemetery. We tried but sadly could not locate his grave in the vastness.