Hi from here.

I write to you from the black hole that is my week.  I have been struck down mighty hard by the flu.  Good thing viruses don't travel via internet, 'cause man, it's a doozy.  I intended to write this post ages ago, and even now, still on the couch, not having left the house in days, I wonder if any of it will make sense.  It's set me back on all my last-minute gifting and holiday baking, and I fear in all the illness, I may have lost the Christmas spirit.  But before there was the flu, there was this...

I've been dying to share this recipe with you that my good friend Tricia passed along.  My family celebrated Christmas early this year due to travel, so I made these for our gathering: white chocolate cranberry blondies.  They are amazing.  It sounds almost too simple to be so delicious, but I promise you, they're not. My sister was something of a white chocolate skeptic when I mentioned this recipe, voting for the dark chocolate brownies instead.  Well, I made both and the brownies were quickly swept aside while everyone grabbed for the blondies.  They make a very festive Christmas presentation to boot.  

Adapted from Taste of Home

3/4 cups butter, cubed
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 t. vanilla
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 oz. white baking chocolate, chopped (I just used white chocolate chips)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 T grated orange peel
6 oz. white baking chocolate, melted
1/2 dried cranberries, chopped

In a large bowl, melt butter in the microwave; stir in brown sugar.  Cool to room temperature; beat in eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture.  Stir in cranberries and white chocolate.  The batter will be thick.

Spread into a greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 18-21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool.

For frosting, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners sugar and orange peel until blended. Gradually add half the melted white chocolate; beat until blended.  Frost blondies with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with cranberries.  Drizzle with remaining melted white chocolate (I skipped the drizzle because I ran out of white chocolate...it just for looks).  Cut into bars (you may want to chill before cutting, the frosting will be soft).  Store in the refrigerator.

In other December tidings, I attended an advent-inspired church gathering a couple weeks ago at our local Catholic church.  One of my favorite ways to mark the short season of advent.  We "passed the light", making a pilgrimage to the center of the church with our candles, where they could glow and burn collectively.  

The church's advent wreath is breathtaking.  It hangs, vast and delicate, from the church ceiling, with ribbons draped  down to the pews.  And of course, in time, the candles are lit.  I walked beneath the advent wreath and let my hands brush the tips of the ribbons.  It reminded me of the tassels worn by orthodox Jews.  


Shine bright

There are things, for all of us, that we love and may not readily admit that we love, may even be a little embarrassed that we love it as much as we do.  But we can't help it.  We love it anyway.  Everyone has an album or two in their iTunes library that you'd rather not share on Facebook - you listen to it (loudly) when no one else is home and you're still in your pajamas.  No one needs to know.

Well, I love Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  Always have.  I also, strangely, love the 1994 film version with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder.  I watch it every Christmas.  Susan Sarandon is exactly how I imagine Marmee.  This may have something to do with the fact that I feel I can relate to Jo March.  We are kindred spirits.  I had my annual viewing of Little Women the other night, while baking shortbread cookies, and I was struck as I always am by Marmee's wisdom and insight.  

One of my favorite lines from the film is when Jo is struggling to sort out who she is and where she's headed, Marmee says to Jo, "You have so many extraordinary talents, how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?"

How can you.

I keep thinking about this as I wrestle with my own sense of who I am and where I'm headed.  I don't presume to think I have the "extraordinary talents" of Jo March, but sometimes I do fight with my own self over the desire/fear of leading an ordinary life.  Sometimes I want ordinary so badly, because it is easy to live and explain and put on a resume and your grandparents understand it.  But most of the time,  my out-of-the-ordinary self fears the colorless life.  Even if it means heartache and struggle, endless explanation, an unorthodox resume, and grandparents who will never get what you do.

Ah well.

I have this book that I always pull out right about now.  It's a collection of readings for Advent and Christmas called "Watch for the Light."  There are some really amazing poems and stories and excerpts from some really amazing writers.  I love this one from Sylvia Plath, Black Rook in Rainy Weather (it's a little long, bear with me).

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then - 
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love.  At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow.  I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.  With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts.  Miracles occur,
If you dare to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles.  The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For the rare, random descent.

I love how she finds light on the wing of a rook, enough to capture her attention and offer respite from fear of the unremarkable.  Miracles occur.  I love the waiting and anticipation of the season of Advent.  I think it parallels so much of what we've experienced in our own stories, as we watch for the light.  You, me, Sylvia Plath, Jo March, Scout Finch, Asher Lev.

Sending you love and light in this season.  
Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, as they say.
I hope you will return the kindness, in some way.