1. A dear friend is expecting her first child, a long anticipated gift.
2. The azaleas are blooming in the backyard. The blossoms are a pretty pink with a hint of blue. I'm sure the creative team at Crayola would call it something like rosy kisses or blushing mermaid. "Blue-ish pink" suits me fine.
3. Karis has been slow to say the word "Mama." In the last few months she has finally mastered the "m" sound. Now, as if it were the only word worth saying, she says it all the time. With a smile from ear to ear, her whole mouth engaged, and a decided nod of the head, she says slowly and deliberately, "Ma-Ma." Every time I hear it I feel parts of my heart melt that I didn't know needed melting.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
1. A dear friend is expecting her first child, a long anticipated gift.
Posted by Alina at 10:13 PM
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
When we first moved into our house last year I wasn't crazy about the paint color on the outside. A drab, washed out blue-gray. I am quickly learning that those neutral colors on the interior and exterior walls make pleasing backgrounds for photos.
Some friends joined Karis and I for lunch at Whole Foods today. Christa says going there is like having a religious experience. The comparison proved true for my other friend Nikki who, as if in a trance, frantically sniffed through the Indian section of the buffet. There was a certain aroma that caught her attention, and she was dead set on eating whatever it was that smelled so good. She settled on the Dal Saag, a lentil paste, only to discover she had chosen incorrectly. We still don't which dish it was.
Posted by Alina at 10:38 PM
Monday, January 26, 2009
Last week I took a real break from this virtual world. Karis and I flew up the coast a few hundred miles to a region that feels like the center of the United States right now, the beltway. We spent the weekend with the "cousins in the north." It was a great adventure, and I was glad for the break from my daily routines and habits.
In the time away, I spent some time reflecting on this little corner of the cyber world that I inhabit. I like blogging, and I hope people feel welcomed to sit back and enjoy the stories and pictures. I guess it's kind of like story time, but instead of a rocking chair and a persnickety librarian, you have me, in my pajamas, wielding my mouse and keyboard.
Well, there is also this other little goal. It's personal, but I'll share. In fact, I already have shared a little bit here. I want to improve my writing and photography skills. Eventually I would love for these homegrown passions to flourish into a financially satisfying gig.
Photographer and blogger Peter Carey is passionate about traveling and capturing the beauty he sees around the world through photography. I've been checking in on his travels for some time now. He is generous with his advice (having left a few kind and helpful comments on my blog). He is also a photographer's photographer--he is really out to help other photographers reach their highest potential. A few weeks ago he offered to feature one photographer's work for a whole week on his site. Seeing that the risk was minimal (a.k.a. I'd never hear from him), I commented that I'd love the opportunity.
In my inbox last night sat a little email from Peter saying he had decided to feature everyone that left a comment, myself included.
I guess there was a part of me that didn't think my work would appeal to him. After all, his photos are grand, breathtaking views from around the world. I, on the other hand, shoot photos during my daughter's nap time. Truthfully, when she finally stops her incessant squirming and those little eyelids shut, I steal away into my little creative world. I pull out my props and set everything up by the northwest facing window in the home. The light is always gorgeous by that window. I love taking my homespun photos, but these are no panoramic beauties from around the world. They are ordinary glimpses into my ordinary life as a wife, cook, baker, home decorator, and mommy.
I guess that is what has made blogging so wonderful, though. It allows me to find the beauty in my day, no matter how simple and commonplace. If I open my eyes, I can find it...anywhere. Even in my bathroom. Both photos in this post were taken in my bathroom on the day that I commented on Peter's site. I had gone into the tiny, 4x8 'water closet', and as I was in there thinking these thoughts about how my photography wouldn't appeal to a "real" photographer, I noticed the light hitting the shower. The simple, soap scummy, white shower was aglow with the afternoon sun. And then directly across from the shower was the little window from which the sun was beaming in (behind the mouthwash and shower radio!). I ran and got my camera and watched as the sun set...from my bathroom.
I realized that for the time being there will be no South American mountains to scale or European towns to explore. Ancient ruins will go untouched by my feet. Instead, I tread this carpet and tile and capture the beauty in this 1100 sq. foot home. And Peter will share it with you in one of the weeks to come. I'll keep you posted!
Posted by Alina at 2:18 PM
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I spent yesterday with the t.v. on all morning and afternoon. It was comforting to have the inaugural events proceeding quietly in the background as we went about our day cooking, playing, and chatting with guests. The volume went up for the bigger moments (introductions, speeches, prayers, etc.), and it went back down to a low drone as I hosted some friends and family. Ordinarily I am not one for background t.v. sounds, the incessant dribble of electronic media beckoning me to buy, want, and be mindlessly entertained. But yesterday was different. The endless word on the mouths of announcers, news commentators, bloggers and friends alike is that we are a part of history. We witnessed it in the making yesterday, and that fact was palpable as I watched the events unfold. Many, many words have been used to describe the significance of it all, and I dare say there is not much more I could add to any of it.
Yesterday had me thinking about the great stories of survival and success in my own family heritage. So much talk of hope and hard work and thriving through adversity had me celebrating my mother's immigration to America. Her grandparents sacrificed luxury and comfort for the uncertainty of a new culture, language, and all of this in their old age. They brought her here for something different. I've been to Cuba, and she HAS something different, that's for sure. Her life is vastly different than her childhood friends now grown up and looking 10-20 years her senior though still contemporaries. And so my life is different as well, because of her sacrifices and those of her grandparents.
I also thought of my grandfather (my father's father) and his family who emigrated from Germany to the US. You want to talk about hard work and a spirit of optimism? My grandfather was endlessly optimistic. Even in the last few years of his life, with his health declining considerably, he still spoke so optimistically about life and passions and work. I LOVED that about him. I admired it in awe and wonder. Even in those self-absorbed years of my adolescence, I understood the power of this hard work he spoke of.
Yesterday I pulled out some photos of these people and showed them to Karis. My mom, her mother (now also in the US), and her grandmother who accompanied my mom and lived with her until my parents married. I also pulled out a picture of my grandfather, that man that taught me how important real estate investment is and how wonderful it is to continually keep your mind active.
The inauguration reminded me that Karis will know a world where an African American can arise to any level of employment. Likewise, I plan on telling her the stories of hard work and endurance in our personal family history. These stories are a part of the national and personal heritage passed down.
On to the lighter side of things: cake. The blogger from whom I got the recipe refers to this as an "Apple Tart Cake". She was given the recipe without a name for the lovely dessert, and appropriately named it both tart and cake because it appears to be a marriage of both. I am going to go a step further and call this the "Pantry Apple Tart Cake." Yes, indeed. I have literally penned it on the actual recipe sheet. (Very bold, no?) I made this cake yesterday to celebrate the inauguration. Well, that is what I told myself as I was preparing it and very sternly telling myself I didn't have the time to bake nor need for the extra sugar in my life. But alas, history-making was far too good of an excuse, and so I baked on.
I loved the expression on my friends' faces as they took their first bite. It manages to be crunchy, buttery, pleasantly sweet, and apple cinnamon-y all at once. It is indeed a true hybrid of a cake and a tart, as Molly said, with a crunchy crust topped by baked apples and thin layer of soft cake-ness. But what really sent me over the moon with excitement was the fact that I had all the ingredients. It was a relatively simple recipe, constructed out of items I almost always have on hand. And that never happens. Hence my addition of "pantry". This recipe is going straight away into my "Favorites" file, to be made on an occasion such as: out of town guests, a dinner party, Sunday supper, weeknight dinner, or any "I need something sweet" craving. I think that just about covers any occasion known to man.
Posted by Alina at 2:34 PM
Friday, January 16, 2009
I have done a lot of cooking this week. The aromas drifting in and around the corners of this home have told the story of many a dish and baked good I've created. Free time and boredom equal kitchen experimentation for me. I had a serious craving for steak last night, prompting an evening run to the market and a late night sizzle in my best cast iron pan. I often cook steak indoors following Alton Brown's stove top to oven method. It is usually full proof. Last night was a different story. I managed to put the steak in the oven prior to the oven reaching the proper temperature. The steak was ok, but it hadn't developed the proper crust on it. You know, those delicious little crusty bits around the edges that at first have you thinking you may have burned the poor thing but later realize are the beautiful result of a proper sear? Needless to say, it was a disappointing fate for a pricey craving.
Around the globe::
Cinnamon was the star of the show on Monday, perking up a loaf of pumpkin bread (pictured above) and also Chicken Tagine (click on link, scroll down). This Moroccan stew features chickpeas and chicken in a earthy stew with onions, scallions, and garlic. The first impression this dish makes is clearly ethnic in nature, with a medley of very unAmerican spices for a savory dish. Hints of red pepper, ginger, and a strong presence of cinnamon linger on the palate long after the first bite. It was an easy, one pot dish. I liked the flavors, but my daughter made it clear she wasn't a fan. International cuisine is a guarantee around this house, and she'll develop a taste for it, soon enough.
Cooking in the sky::
I was mid-sentence with my husband last night when I turned and looked out the window to catch this beautiful moment in the sky. With my sentence dangling, I grabbed my camera and ran out to the back patio for an impromptu photo shoot. Setting my camera set on an ottoman (a tripod is at the tippy top of my wish list!), I snapped a few shots of the quickly fading color show. When it was over, I went back in, apologized to my (somewhat amused?) husband, and finished my story. I try not to make a habit of this sort of behavior. It's just plain socially awkward. But she's a pretty sky, isn't she?
Posted by Alina at 12:06 PM
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This week is going to be remembered as hermit week.
A nasty stomach virus has been slowly creeping up on my child. Just when I think it is just a 'little something' that has her down for the day, this bug kicks it up a notch the next day. Well, whatever ails her bloomed into a full blown fever today topping out around 104 degrees this evening, with vomiting and body shivers. Her poor little body was flipping out but she somehow managed to handle it a lot better than I would have at my grown age of 29. We popped her current obsession in the dvd player (Charlie Brown Christmas...yeah, still), fed her ice chips, pumped her full of medicine, and eventually the fever began to come down.
As hard as it is to watch her be miserable, her sickness is doubly hard on me as it keeps me home during the week and wipes my schedule clear of any social activity. This is a typical part of parenting a sick child, I hear. But it's one part I struggle accepting. I need my friend time. It's my recharge time, and I fervently believe it makes me a better wife, mom, and person. Alas, sometimes the call of mothering necessitates such sacrifices. Making these sacrifices with a good attitude? Now that is the ultimate challenge.
I stepped outside of my house tonight to try to capture some of the low flying planes. We live mere miles from the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. I would not have thought this would impact our lives as much as it has. Low flying planes crossing over the house every five minutes, all day long. And lately? Night time flying. I'm way over any charm or curiosity I had the first few days of moving in. I really want to get a photo of one of these planes as it passes over the home. You would not believe how close they fly. A little 9-11 shutter comes over me sometimes.
While outside looking at the planes, I played around with my camera and the slow shutter speed appropriate for night time photos. By focusing on my neighbor's outdoor light, I attempted to write my name (top photo). Can you see it? It says 'Alina.' (Don't judge. Hermit week, in all it's boredom, produces some rather unusual behavior).
Finally, I dug deep into the files of my childhood memory and came away with an awesome find. I got to thinking about something my aunt tells every time I see her. She reminds me that as a child I had a really deep voice, and I would watch Sesame Street and sing, 'Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?' I sang it boldly and pronounced 'first' like 'purst'. I have no memory of this song, but I got to thinking that perhaps it could be found on Youtube. Look what I discovered.
Clearly the brainchild of some stoned, hippie chicken farmers, this video is quirky and fun. My sense of humor was already fully formed by age 3. And am I mistaken or does it sound like they are actually pronouncing 'first' like 'purst'?
I’ve already forwarded the proof to my aunt.
Posted by Alina at 12:02 AM
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Today was a lazy Sunday afternoon. The rain fell gently outside. The babe and man of the house both engaged in some nap time. Thoughts of dinner slowly began to come on the horizon when Matt woke up and greeted me as I was being moderately entertained by a movie. We remarked on what a great afternoon it had been...relaxing and cozy. He looked at me with a sideways glance and sparkling smile, and I knew what he was thinking when he disappeared into the kitchen. He and Jack Johnson both knew the conditions were perfect for banana pancakes.
My husband made the enchanting discovery yesterday that when slices of ripened banana are plopped into pancake batter right after it has been poured onto the griddle, magic occurs. The bananas caramelize and form a sweet and crispy crust on the surface as they cook in the batter. The finished product is a pancake with chunks of warm, sweet banana in nearly every bite. I said it was magic, right? Turns out, this is a great Saturday morning breakfast. And a savory Sunday evening meal. And probably an excellent Monday night dinner, if we're honest. Cause that's how we roll around here.
Karis wanted to show you what the delicious pancakes look like all chewed up. Yeah, you're welcome!
Posted by Alina at 11:16 PM
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
I need more dance parties in my life. That is what my friend heard me say on the phone today. She laughed, as well she should have done with such an unexpected admission. I was serious.
The cd so stubbornly stuck in the player of my car contains a recent Paste compilation. I realized this was not such a bad album to have stuck when I found myself repeating track #2 over and over on my way home from the store last night. I smiled and danced, beckoning my already dancing daughter to join me in an impromptu dance party. She is usually quick to oblige the second a funky beat booms out from any speaker.
Dance parties ran free like water in college. Recipe: grab the nearest hall mates into a room, throw a good cd in the player, lower the lights, and let loose. Many a rug was "cut" with some talented women.
I miss Jessica so much when I think about dance parties. I called her my "sugar plum, cherry-coated, polka dancing, gum drop." Bomb shell blond hair and bright pink lips, she could sweat on the dance floor like no other. It was never anything super graceful, but it was always spirited, energetic, and seriously rhythmic.
Another hall of fame dance maniac is Brooke. Now, you talk about graceful moves and she's your girl. We've danced together in many a locale: Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Eastern Europe. One of my favorite spots we danced together was at her childhood home with her family a couple of years ago. A sometimes family tradition, they pop their favorite Stevie Wonder album in, turn off the lights, hit the strobe light, and everyone goes to town. Everyone. Mom, Dad, siblings, friends all dancing our hearts out in that little home nestled in the central California hills. I've moved away from Brooke, and she now dances with her newly adopted 14 year old daughter. I am sure they still dance to Stevie Wonder.
The rugs in our new home have not been officially christened by dancing feet, and that is a shame. When I explained all this to my friend over the phone, she agreed something needed to be done. I think she and her baby are going to make great dance partners for me and Karis.
My daytime dance partner. I tried to take a photo of her and Daddy dancing today in an impromptu "Daddy/daughter dance off" when he came home for lunch today, but none of them turned out. As Daddy said, "Some things are just not meant to be photographed...like our dancing toddler." Instead I leave you with my favorite shot of her having a wildly good time in the winter leaves on our recent family trip. Oh and that song Karis and I were dancing to? It's "Say Hey (I love you)" by Michael Franti and Spearhead. I have a serious crush on this song right now. Check out the music video.
Posted by Alina at 11:26 PM
Monday, January 05, 2009
Today marks seven years for me and my honey. It’s hard to believe we made such a monumental commitment to one another. We now realize how good it was that we did this when young and naïve. Marriage is healing, exhausting, and constant. We celebrate this commitment to each other today. We also celebrate the end of the most trying year so far in our young marriage. Much lost and even more learned. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Twenty-five days of unbridled writing and photo creativity-- the DPP was a great experience. I can’t believe how much I learned about my camera and myself. I am sort of “worded” out. I find myself having trouble getting started back up. I don’t like feeling wordless.
The definition of retreat is “to withdraw, retire, or draw back, especially for shelter or seclusion”. I like that definition. My family did just that last week as we escaped to our vacation spot of choice on a tight budget: Chattanooga. We had an unspeakably good time. Good friends, savory food, hours of lounging, and even a bonfire thrown in for good measure. Oh yes…and laughter, laughter, laughter. It was so needed. Restoration came in those 5 days of "withdrawing".
While in Tennessee, we visited the college where we studied books (and each other). I had not been back there in years. So many memories came back as we drove up the mountain and strolled around the dormitories and lecture buildings. It made me miss those years and ever so thankful that I was past them. A funny mix of emotions.
One thing is for certain, it was an enchanting day. Gray and gloomy, a fog blanketing the mountaintop. We walked around for hours with Karis, showing her the places where we fell in love. Truth be told, we climbed around that campus. Many flights of stairs, up and down the hills. I relished the dim lighting and moodiness of the day and took around 600 photos. Matt spent time encouraging Karis to maneuver her way up and down all those hills and stairs, mostly without hand holding. It was so good for her. There was such a look of pride on her toddler face as she roamed around on her own, ascending the many stairs and rising to each challenge.
I couldn’t help but think as I watched her just how much our year has been like climbing those flights of stairs. One challenge after the next. Always feeling like we were climbing but getting no where. Exhausted and uncertain of what our future held. But like Karis, I too felt pride and gratitude for reaching the year’s end. Pride that we made it relatively in tact (some bruises to our pride, confidence, and marriage aside). And gratitude to the One who certainly has carried us through.
We will not be the same after this year, this much I know is true. But I like who we are now.
Posted by Alina at 11:37 PM