My Necklace Rack

This is definitely a project, but more of a family project than an individual one. When we moved to Pasadena in August, I asked Eric to build me some kind of necklace rack so I could see my glorious bling, which was languishing in a cardboard box with no place to call its own. I have kind of a lot of necklaces, but that’s because most of them are plastic:) I drew up a few sketches for Eric, he did some calculations, we bought wood to build it…and then we got really busy. Dissertation busy, new job busy, new house busy. And we never really got around to it. Eric’s sweet parents came to visit us for New Years, and one night before they arrived I said to Eric, “Hey, maybe your dad could help us with the necklace rack.” Eric said, “Don’t think I hadn’t already thought of that!” Eric’s dad is a mechanical and carpentry genius. He loves fixing things, taking them apart and making them work. It’s a joy to watch him at it. He did fix many a thing while he was here, for which we are supremely grateful (hey, now our front door closes again!), but the sweetest and most beautiful thing of all was how he built this necklace rack for me, carefully and expertly and lovingly, and how the whole family joined in. It was an overwhelming reminder of how very much I am loved, and I will treasure it forever.

Here is my rough sketch on a paper towel, scrawled out after dinner one summer night. I think that is some plum juice in the corner.

Here is a sketch Eric made, with actual measurements and things, and then some notations in the sweet hand of my father-in-law. It turns out that we had bought exactly enough wood: only two inches to spare!

Eric’s dad sawed every piece of wood by hand, and then sanded them all to smooth perfection before drilling the holes for the screws. He did all of this on the hard stone of our entry hall. And it took about three days altogether. He is too sweet.

When the rack was put together, it looked a lot like set of bleachers, and I like that about it:) It seemed appropriate, given that we were going to the Rose Parade to sit in just such a structure.

After he drilled all of the holes for the hooks for my necklaces (72 in all!) he and Eric’s mom lovingly screwed each one in by hand, to keep from creating grooves that might snag my necklaces.

 My sweet husband got in on the action too, and it was so wonderful to see them working together, father and son. (In other news, yes, this is the blog premiere of my handsome and charming yet photographically elusive husband!)

Here is the finished product! Magnificent, is it not? There are three different sizes of hooks, and there are hooks on the front and the back of each beam. Amazing.

Now that is some fine craftsmanship.

While Eric and his dad were finishing things up, Eric’s mom helped me untangle all my necklaces. There were some tough ones!

Everyone helped bring the necklaces into the bedroom to hang. Going through them all was a lovely trip down memory lane, and I realized how many stories are locked up in these beads and baubles of mine. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me at all, but I think it’s an abundance of narrative worth celebrating. Once again it’s the everyday objects around us that hold our lives, our stories.

Every time my eyes fall on this necklace rack, I can’t believe it exists and belongs to me. It is such a precious treasure, such a pure product of the labor of love.

We had such an incredible time with Eric’s parents, and I am so glad to have this daily tangible reminder of our happy end of 2011 and still happier beginning of 2012. I could never count, even on the hairs of my head, how many things I am grateful for, but having such a wonderful family, including a new set of parents who truly love me as their own, is definitely very high on the list. 🙂

Return of the 80s

Maybe I shouldn’t say “return of the 80s” because the 80s never truly left us. We all continued to awkwardly bob our heads to Prince and Michael Jackson (or…maybe that was just me…) and now the glorious bright colors, football player shoulder pads, and, yes, even frizzy hair are back in our midst. For those of us born in the 80s, it will always have a special place in our hearts. And on our shoulders. And in our frilly scrunchies (ah, those were the days!) I got this bright blazer at the Bargain Barn, my favorite thrift store of all time, and I apparently stumbled upon someone’s entire collection that day: I bought variations on this theme in yellow, red, and orange as well, and I *love* them. When I was teaching Russian, I used to dress them up with skirts and boots, but today I went for jeans and a bit of a layered effect. The (backwards) belt is one of my faves.

I haven’t done a style post in ages, in part because we’ve entered into the darkest time of year, when it’s hard to catch the light. My sweet husband got some awesome photography gear for Christmas, though, so here are our first indoor shots with his new flash and diffusion umbrella! I love it that it’s a joint project:)

These pretty earrings were a gift from my wonderful friend B. She was a bridesmaid in our wedding, and she totally surprised me at our rehearsal by giving me a bubble wrap bouquet studded with all kinds of little gifts! It was so incredibly sweet. The bubble wrap is a reference to all the time we spent together helping wrap our husbands’ scientific equipment for research trips. I so treasure those memories, and those long days in the lab when B became such a dear friend, when we laughed as much as we worked, when we had the chance to be part of something so important to our menfolk. 🙂

These purple suede boots are kind of my pride and joy, and I still can’t believe I found them at the thrift store in my size. That was a red letter day, for sure. 🙂

I am hoping to be a bit more regular with style posts now that all the dissertation deadlines are behind me! I have been having a blast working on all kinds of projects in my free time, and so far, 2012 has been awesome indeed. Hope you are all having a wonderful new year too!

Santa Monica

Over Thanksgiving weekend, as I was scrambling to revise my dissertation, something unthinkable happened. Our campus email went completely kaput. I suppose it was not entirely unthinkable, since the system had been experiencing some serious hiccups over the course of the semester, but I never could have anticipated the message on our homepage Wednesday afternoon: Calmail will be down until Monday morning. No logging in. No accessing your files. I think many of us felt simultaneously terrified and thrilled: oh, how behind we would get! Oh…how behind we could get! All of my revision notes and emails from the committee were locked away in my email (for the record, steps have been taken to make sure such a thing never happens again), so what could I do? Nothing! I considered it an act of God. A good one. So, what did I do? I went to the beach with my husband!

The weather was insanely gorgeous: sunny, clear, and 75. Sometimes, when you are given a gift, you just have to run with it!

When we arrived, we headed down to the pier, which was predictably crowded, but nonetheless fun to explore. The pier is technically the end of Route 66, which holds a special place in my heart, as does its modern-day cousin, I-40. Oh, I-40, how much time have I spent on you?

The Ferris Wheel looked so lovely against the bright blue sky. We didn’t go for a ride, but admired it all the same.

As were strolling around the pier, Eric noticed this little star painted on the floorboards. So sweet. There is probably only one person in the world who remembers that, for a very brief time in high school, my nickname was Little Star, and that this is a fact of which I was proud. (Besfrinn, I hope you are smiling) 🙂

Since I lived in the Bay area for seven years, I have an unshakable habit of bringing a sweater with me everywhere I go. On this beautiful day, however, I wished I’d worn shorts! For the past few years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving at Sea Ranch with my family, so this is quite a change in wardrobe! But at least I was still at the ocean, even if my family couldn’t be there.

There were even a few brave souls in the water. I will be joining you, say, in July!

I took this shot as we were leaving the pier. I like the happy hustle and bustle. And that pigeon so bravely standing in the middle of the pathway. Perhaps he likes steel drums.

We had just as much fun exploring the city of Santa Monica, and we stopped for lunch at the tiny little Interim Cafe, where I had, hands down, the best veggie burger of my life. I’ve had plenty of doozies in my vegetarian days, but never one so succulent and flavorful as this one. Highly recommended!

When we’d worn our legs out, we headed back to our car, passing this enormous Christmas tree along the way. It was a perfect festive day, full of relaxation. Calmail, thank you for the early Christmas present!

My Favorite Academic Satires

A few months ago, I was having a truly dismal day with the dissertation. I was in such a funk about it when Eric got home from work that he started suggesting nice things I might do for myself to make myself feel better, or at least take my mind off it for the evening. Nothing he was suggesting was really speaking to me until he said, “Maybe you would like to read one of your favorite books?” Bingo! I jumped out of bed and grabbed my favorite David Lodge novel: there is nothing like a good academic satire to heal those in the painful throes of a dissertation. Although the dissertation is, blessedly, behind me now, I have spent the last few months revisiting some of my all-time faves of this particular genre. I know the semester (or quarter) is starting up again soon, so I wanted to post about these glorious novels on the off-chance that someone out there needs a break from Derrida or Foucault or differential equations before things kick into high gear again. All of these books will make you giggle with glee, if not laugh out loud, and they are pretty witty besides. I begin at the only true place to begin: David Lodge. He is completely hilarious, and brilliant to boot, which is a very winning combination. He has written fairly prolifically over the past decades (oh, happy fact!), and I have read just about everything his pen has produced. My all-time favorite, though, is Nice Work, the third book in his Campus Trilogy. I love this novel because Lodge so masterfully places the anxieties of the ivory tower against the backdrop of the equal yet entirely other anxieties of the world of industry, but also because he creates such unintentionally hilarious and memorable characters. He offers a moment of perspective for those of us publishing or perishing, but not without making us laugh along the way (and if we are really just laughing at ourselves, all the better).

The first book in the trilogy is Changing Places, which was described to me, of all places, in a Russian conversation class. It takes place in the thinly disguised locales of Berkeley and Birmingham, England during the Free Speech Movement; the premise: two English professors exchange positions in a faculty swap, one off to sunny yet volatile California, the other off to rainy and damp Birmingham to face challenges of his own. (I have to say, it was an interesting thing to be reading in light of all that went on at my erstwhile campus this past fall.) Our hapless heroes are introduced, and it is so deliciously funny watching them wade through the hazards of their environs.

The second book in the trilogy, Small World, is also a fave of mine; it focuses on the jet-setting conference-going aspect of academia in its earlier days. I read this book in the Minneapolis airport, for the most part, snickering loudly and probably annoying my fellow passengers, but, ah, the perfect appropriateness of this setting! I don’t think I will spoil anything by saying that one of my favorite plot lines concerns a professor struggling to write his conference talk even up to the moment he approaches his podium: who among us hasn’t been there, or at least had nightmares about it? In addition to the incessant humor of these academic transients, Lodge provides a sharp send-up of structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism, and any and all other criticisms filling the rarefied air of the 70s and 80s. It is really good fun.

I will just offer up one more Lodge recommendation before turning to other authors, and this one is another classic, Thinks . . . Once again, Lodge provides us with parallel worlds, as he does in all of his best work: this time he approaches the question of consciousness from the perspective of literature and of cognitive science. The experimental ways in which the characters representing both sides of this coin begin to approach each other and their respective disciplines makes for seriously thought-provoking material about consciousness, which is, per Nabokov, the greatest mystery of all. And of course, it wouldn’t be Lodge without some hilarity thrown in, mostly through the wonderful vehicle of characters’ assessment of their own self-awareness. So lovely.

This list would never be complete without the granddaddy of academic satire, Kingsley AmisLucky Jim. This novel predates the others, and is wonderfully wicked. I found myself laughing out loud on almost every other page at the unexpectedly misanthropic proclivities of the eponymous hero. While Lodge’s characters may sometimes hold a grudge, their revenge is taken mostly mentally; Jim lashes out at those who insult him by pulling faces at them, scribbling on their magazines, drinking all their Bourbon, and, even if accidentally so, burning holes through their bed sheets with his cigarettes. The precipice over which he teeters for the entirety of the novel leads into an event of almost absurdly comic climax, but I shan’t ruin it for you, dear readers. 🙂

And finally, I offer a more recent send-up of the ivory tower, Richard Russo‘s Straight Man, in which the eponymous character is just that. This novel concerns the difficulties of academia from the professorial and administrative side. The realities of the university’s funding problems, detailed artfully in this novel, cannot be far from any of our minds. Why not, then, live vicariously through an English professor who, donning a plastic pair of glasses with nose attached, grabs an unruly goose by the neck and promises, on live television, no less, that he will kill one duck per day from the campus pond until he gets a departmental budget? Laugh away, my friends; it’s the best medicine.


This soup began with a package we received a few months ago. A glorious wedding present, it contained tons of Rancho Gordo beans and grains. This is a sign of someone who seriously knows me well (thank you, K!). We’ve been working our way through them this fall, and I couldn’t wait to make some posole with the hominy. Oh, delicious hominy, I have often been considered an odd duck because I like you so much, but it’s worth it. Serendipity smiled upon me, since the new issue of Bon AppĂ©tit featured a great recipe for this classic soup. So, a few days before Christmas, I set about cooking beans and hominy, roasting meat, and assembling my spices. The house smelled decadently delicious.

This soup starts with a slow roast of the meat: about 5-6 hours at a low heat, topped with onions and coated in spices. Yum. And just in case that picture looks creepy, don’t worry: the meat is in a Pyrex baking dish, and not directly on our counter top.

While the meat was working its magic, I cooked the pinto beans in the pressure cooker. I think our pressure cooker is just about the hardest working member of our little kitchen family, and I *love* it. Going from dried beans to dinner in 25 minutes is a magic I’ll never comprehend, but one I thank my lucky stars for.

Next, it was the hominy’s turn. I love how chewy it is when cooked–it adds a delectable texture to the soup.

By then, the meat was ready, and very easy to shred with two forks. It looked like pulled pork, and I felt a bit closer to home. Wow, I think this is the first time meat of any kind has been featured on this blog. Usually, my sweet husband takes care of it, and this was no exception, but I took over the rest of the dish:)

Once everything was ready, it was time to stir and stew it for a while, letting the flavors deepen and develop. This was our Christmas posole, and we ate it almost through New Years–it makes a big pot! We *loved* it, especially with lime, cilantro, and freshly baked tortilla chips. Even though it has been in the low 80s for the last week or so, I would still eat this soup any day and happily lick my spoon. 🙂

Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit 

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2-pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt) (*We used pork sirloin.*)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 red onion, sliced

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
6 cups water (or broth, if you like)
1 28-ounce can undrained pinto beans (about 1 1/2 to 2 c dried pinto beans)
1 28-ounce can white hominy, drained (about 1 lb. dried hominy)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices, puréed in blender until smooth
1 tablespoon oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shredded mild cheddar
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Tortilla chips

-Preheat oven to 275°. Line a small roasting pan with foil. Mix cumin, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Rub spice mix all over pork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pork in pan and cover with sliced onion. Pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of pan. Cover pan tightly with foil and roast until meat is very tender, 5–6 hours. Let pork rest until cool enough to handle.
-Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-size pieces. Skim fat from juices in roasting pan; reserve meat. 

-Heat oil in a large pot over medium- low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced fresh tomatoes and stir until softened, about 2 minutes longer. Stir in broth and next 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
-Add reserved pork to posole. Simmer uncovered 30 minutes longer for flavors to meld. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding reserved juices from roast pork, if desired. Divide among bowls, garnish with shredded cheese, cilantro, and lime wedges, and serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Corn Kernel Necklace

Eric’s parents are some of the sweetest people I know in the whole world. Having Eric in my life is already a gift beyond belief, but I never dreamed I’d marry into such a wonderful family. I love visiting them on their beautiful farm in Illinois, where the delights of summer include rowing in a boat on the pond, chasing frogs, spotting owls and deer, welding and shooting practice, and some seriously delicious food. Every fall when Eric’s parents harvest their crops, they send each of their two boys an ear of corn from the field, just so they’ll feel part of something that’s very important in their family, and so they’ll know that they’re being thought of back home, even though they can’t be there. When Eric and I started dating, I got my very own ear of corn too. 🙂 This year we received our first joint ear of corn, which we displayed on the table with some pretty pumpkins for the fall. As the corn was drying out and we were shifting into winter, I began to think of other lives this corn might have. A few kernels fell off every now and then, and thus an idea was born: a corn necklace!

Eric wasn’t sure at first if it could be done, but I did a few test pokes with my sewing needle and found that it would indeed go through the kernel! It required just a bit of pressure, but not too much.

Once I had all the kernels off the cob (and isn’t the cob pretty too?!), I sorted them a bit by size and then started threading them onto my needle. I just used my everyday sewing needle and a doubled-up length of silver thread, which I break out a lot for making necklaces because it is unobtrusive.

I had this necklace together in a jiffy, and I *love* to wear it. Sending us the corn is such a sweet gesture, and this necklace reminds me of that.

This is a special kind of corn, I should say, one with an already low moisture, so it lends itself very well to a project like this. I would think you could easily make a necklace with the decorative corn that’s sold in the fall, but probably not summer sweet corn. Popcorn kernels might possibly work, though I think of them as a bit harder, and, of course, your necklace would not be microwave-proof! 🙂

Eric’s parents came to see us for the holidays, and I was so happy to have this necklace ready to show them. I like to have them close to my heart, even when they are far away.

Plans and Goals for the New Year

I haven’t ever been big on making New Year’s Resolutions for two reasons. The first is that the word “resolution” itself troubles me. It seems to have a whiff of negativity to it, like you’ve been very bad and now must reform yourself. I’m all for self-improvement, but (and this brings me to my second issue) I think it’s important to act upon these inspirations as they occur to me, on whatever arbitrary day that may be. I have started some of the most important things in my life on completely random days (this blog, my photo project, learning Turkish), and I am *so glad* I struck while the iron was hot instead of waiting. So January 1 has never been especially inspiring to me as a day, but, on the other hand, because all dates seem arbitrary to me, that means any day can be a special day, a new day. That is an excitement I embrace when I get out of bed every morning. All of that said, I am all for making goals and plans, and there are some ways in which the new year marks some changes for me. As of December 16, I am done with my dissertation, so now I have a bit more free time, and these are some of the things I’ve thinking of devoting that time to.

1. Reading my cookbooks. We have a pretty awesome collection of cookbooks, most of which were wedding presents from wonderful friends and family, and I use them *all* the time. But I have been thinking that it would be really nice to sit down and spend an afternoon with them, reading all the way through, marking things that look interesting and enjoying being under their magic kitchen spell. A few Christmases ago, my mom gave me Molly Wizenburg‘s A Homemade Life, and I tore through it before New Year’s, savoring every sweet story and recipe, wiping the tears from my eyes, and being incredibly inspired by her honesty and bravery in sharing her life. I can’t wait to do the same with Melissa Clark‘s majestic In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, and I’d gladly spend all my Tuesdays, and every other day as well, for that matter, with Dorie Greenspan. My sweet husband just gave me The Girl and the Fig cookbook for Christmas, and, even though I use it all the time, I have yet to read all the way through The Cheese Board Collective Cookbook. Oh friends, there are some mouth-watering afternoons ahead of me.

2. Reading my sewing books, sewing from my vintage patterns, and cooking up some projects of my own! Eric’s mom gave me the most amazing comprehensive guides to sewing for Christmas last year, some of which she used herself when she was learning to sew (and she’s a master, y’all), and I *love* them. I look things up in them all the time, but I would love to just slowly work my way through them all, and I think that would be a sewing masters course unto itself. It’s been so long since I since I took a sewing class (um, I think I was 9), and a lot of what I’ve done since then has been self-taught. It would be awesome to brush up on the basics and learn some new skills as well. I also have an incredible collection of vintage patterns that I bought for 25 cents each at the Depot for Creative Reuse. I made a cute dress out of one of them, but this kind of sustained project is exactly the kind of thing I didn’t have the focus for while working on the dissertation, and exactly the kind of thing I am really longing to do now! I also have a million and one ideas tucked away for other sewing projects. To the sewing machine!

3. Keep better track of my reading. My husband, who is wonderful in more ways than I can count, has always impressed me with his system for keeping track of his reading. As soon as he finishes a book, he makes a record of it and writes a little blurb about it, maybe the most salient points for him, maybe the things that annoyed him about it, maybe the things it made him think about and consider. It’s all safely tucked away on his computer, and that is pretty amazing. I have been keeping a list of books I’ve read for the past few years (inspired by him), but I have let it slide this past year, and I’d like to get back to it. If nothing else, I believe that the experiences we have, including the books we read, make us who we are, and having a record of that is a powerful thing. I’ve gotten back to this practice already this month, but I am excited to keep working on it next year, especially since I anticipate having a bit more time to read.

4. Exercising. I say this not because I am trying to lose weight, but because exercising is good for you and it makes you feel good. It’s been especially important for me this past semester, since I’ve been working at home, to get out and do something with my body. I always feel so refreshed and glad I did. This year I have been really inspired by some awesome ladies who run and blog about it, and I love letting my feet hit the pavement (er, track, I suppose) too. My sweet husband takes me along to the gym as his guest, and he even runs slow with me so he can talk to me. That’s love. 🙂 When the new quarter starts at Caltech, I’ll be getting my own gym membership, so I can go swim in their heated pool, pump iron, or pound the track whenever I like. I am excited! So, those are the four big things I am looking forward to in the new year. How about you? I’d love to hear your goals and plans too! Happy New Year!

Pumpkin Currant Walnut Scones

We are still eating our way through the batch of pumpkin currant walnut scones I made for Christmas morning, and I have no complaints about it! These are lightly sweet and spicy, and I love the texture that the currants and walnuts give them.

I’d been wanting to make these scones for ages, and I happened to have plenty of pumpkin on hand from baking chai masala spiced pumpkin bread for Eat My Blog: serendipity! I recognize that October and November are the height of pumpkin season, but I’m usually not willing to let them go until I can get my hands on some spring asparagus.

I love how this recipe yields 12-14 scones, so I have breakfast covered for a while, and I love how pretty they look in our cake dome, sparkling with cinnamon sugar.

I think these will be the last scones to squeeze their way into the Great Scone Explosion of 2011, but I also think there will definitely be a Great Explosion of 2012. And also possibly a Cookie Explosion. 🙂

Pumpkin Currant Walnut Scones
Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Cookbook 

1/2 c heavy cream
3/4 c buttermilk
1 c pumpkin, puree or canned
3 1/2 c AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
3/4 c sugar
1 c cold unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 c currants
1/2 c chopped walnuts
For topping:
1/4 c sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon

-Heat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat).
-In a medium bowl whisk together the cream, buttermilk, and pumpkin.
-Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer.
-Add the salt and sugar and mix until combined.
-Add the butter and cut it in on low speed for about 4 minutes, until it is the size of small peas. (If mixing by hand, use a pastry cutter or 2 dinner knives).
-Make a well in the center and add the pumpkin mixture, mixing briefly, just until the ingredients are combined.
-Mix in the currants and walnuts.
-Gently shape the dough into balls about 2 1/4″ in diameter and place about 2″ apart on baking sheet.
-Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle on top of the scones.
-Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool, and then enjoy!

Maps of Love

Now that Christmas has passed, I can share one of the presents I gave Eric: maps of love, showing all the places we’ve lived and traveled together. I had seen some similar projects on Pinterest, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull them off. I used to work in a frame shop, so I know exactly how hard it is to cut a mat, and especially freehand, and I had no idea how I’d pull off the heart shape. So I just tucked these little ideas away and thought I’d tackle them later. But then I found these heart-shaped frames, and I knew I was back in business!

Maps are so important to me, and so is space, really: the frame in which we live and love. I adore the concept of personal geography, and that is what I was trying to capture in this gift: the routes we carved between our two apartments, the miles we drove between his parents’ house and mine, the places we made our home. I have been collecting maps for a while now for projects like these, so finding these frames was the golden ticket to making this happen! They are inexpensive unfinished wood frames, and, once again, here I am laying them out on the NYT. Old habits die hard.

There is no glass in these frames, but there is a hefty cardboard backing, which I used to cut the maps to size. The hardest part was deciding which part of the map to include. With the map of Kauai, I decided to go with the parts of the island where we spent most of our time on our honeymoon.

I did a bit of scrambling trying to find maps of Tennessee and Illinois, but then I remembered that I still had my tattered old road atlas in my car. The replacement of such items with GPS and other newfangled things is another topic for another day (oh, how I used to love to trace my finger over all the tiny little towns we passed by as a little girl!), but for today, I was just glad to have it!

In the meantime, I painted the frames white to create the look of a white mat. Then, I popped the maps into place. That’s all there is to it!

The first map is of the Bay area, where Eric and I met four years ago over coffee on a rainy night, fell in love and began to build our lives together. We spent Saturdays in San Francisco and lived in Oakland, biking and busing in to campus for work. I lived there for seven years, and Eric for six, and it will always hold a special place in our hearts.

The next map is of Illinois, where Eric is from. It’s beautiful farming country, and I have so many incredibly special memories of the time we spent there with his parents. Going to the farm is always a treat, and I will never forget how magical it was the first time he took me home.

Memphis is where I’m from, where I had a blast showing Eric the sights and feeding him barbecue, and where we were married in June. It’s home, and now even more so. 🙂

We went to Kauai for our honeymoon, and we spent a week and a half exploring, relaxing, and eating lots of tropical fruit. It was heavenly.

Pasadena is where we live now, and where we created our first real home together. Wherever we may wind up in the future, I think Pasadena will always have that newlywed glow. 😉 This isn’t all of the places we’ve been together, but definitely the most central ones, and I bought extra frames so that we can add new maps for places we travel and live in the future. I like to think of our love extending out over the country, putting up little road signs in the places we’ve lived and loved.

Our First Christmas Together

This year Eric and I celebrated our first Christmas together, and it was the sweetest and most wonderful day. We talked a lot about our family traditions, and we added some new ones for ourselves. It was beautiful to see our families melding, and our new family being born. In my family, Christmas traditions begin on Christmas Eve, but we had a serendipitous experience on the 23rd that I hope will become a new tradition. Eric usually goes to lunch with his group on Friday at the Athenaeum, a gorgeous and delicious club built when Einstein came to Caltech, so he’d have a nice place to eat lunch and be his brilliant self in style. I’d been out doing last-minute grocery shopping all morning, and I was surprised when Eric called around noon to say that his group had already dispersed for the holidays, and asked me if I’d like to join him for lunch instead. My answer was something along the lines of “YES!!” (It was sort of miraculous already that I hadn’t eaten lunch, since I usually get hungry by 11 or so). The Ath is beautifully decked out for Christmas, and I was so glad I got to see it, since it was their last day open before vacation. They were handing out free eggnog in the lobby, which made it feel all the more festive! I hope this is something we’ll be able to do every year, at least as long as we are here in Pasadena.

The real Christmas festivities began on Christmas Eve, though. My family always goes out to breakfast on Christmas Eve, a tradition that began when my parents were on their honeymoon. I love this one and convinced Eric of its great merits, and he was happy to go to Europane with me for breakfast this year. I don’t know if you can tell from this picture, but that scone is as big as my head, and even though I didn’t quite eat the whole thing, I was not anywhere near hungry until dinner time. Classic!

When we got back home, I spent much of the rest of the day in the kitchen, which was just fine by me. I think our oven was on all afternoon, getting quite the workout! Above is the aftermath, in part. I didn’t have a dishwasher for so many years (um…11 years) that I’ve gotten into the habit of not washing dishes right away. Even though we do have a dishwasher now, my brain has not quite made that critical jump, and I often leave my tea things on the counter, forlorn and cold until Eric gets home, and I realize I could have just put them in the dishwasher. On Christmas Eve, though, I washed everything right away because I needed to use it again immediately. I told Eric it was a Christmas miracle!

I baked a loaf of bread for our Christmas dinner (never mind that we had so much food that we haven’t even cut into it yet!), but I was also working on my contribution to another family tradition: Christmas morning breakfast. For as long as I can remember, we’ve always had a special breakfast around the tree: pigs in blankets and cinnamon rolls, and plenty of coffee and orange juice, which we imbibe in between opening presents. I gave this tradition my own little twist by baking pumpkin currant walnut scones (the Great Scone Explosion of 2011 continues!) They made for the perfect festive breakfast, lightly sweet and spicy, and I will share the recipe soon:)

I was also making the dough for our annual Christmas cookies. This year we went with a slightly different recipe than our usual gingerbread–these cookies have a touch of ground walnuts, and it makes all the difference. The first year that Eric and I made gingerbread cookies, we didn’t have any cookie cutters, so we tried cutting out shapes with knives, which turned out just about as hilariously as you might imagine. The next year we fared better, and now our cookie cutters feel like old friends. There are our favorite gingerbread cookies ever, so I will also share that recipe soon.

Eric did a bit of wrapping while I was baking, and our tree was bedecked with beautiful presents! I am so happy with how our tree looked, mostly in that it didn’t look too bare of ornaments!

Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care…or at least by the gas fireplace with care;) We took a few family portraits with my husband’s spiffy new camera gear before heading off to Christmas Eve service. When we got home, it was time for dreaming of sugar plums and sleeping until almost 10am, a luxury we may not have in the years to come!

After breakfast we opened our presents, which was, of course, a ton of fun! Eric gave me lots of sweet and thoughtful gifts, and one of them was this adorable card, a gift certificate to buy some new apps for my phone:)

One of Eric’s presents was this little road bike ornament, which he put right right on the tree:)

Eric had wrapped the gifts so beautifully (it is a running joke in my family that scientists make the best wrappers, and I would say that there is definitely both correlation and causality) that I almost didn’t want to open them. He made these innovative little ribbon pigtails that I thought were too cute for words.

I liked this one too, given my penchant for red.:)

After we opened presents, we were able to talk to both of our families, which was a wonderful treat. Thank goodness for Skype and cell phones to make the distance seem lesser! Then it was time to cook our feast! I contributed the veggies, including these little marble potatoes, which we brought back from Berkeley (yes, I like them that much!) They are amazingly good just roasted in oil and salt and pepper, and I have been known to eat them for dessert. Yum!

We also caramelized some parsnips, a perennial favorite of mine, in balsamic vinegar.

Eric made the crowning center of our dinner, a delicious beef roast with rosemary. It was ridiculously tasty, and I am so grateful for a husband who does not mind dealing with bloody meat instead of his recovering vegetarian wife:) All in all, it was a perfect and beautiful day, one I know we’ll always look back on with joy, our very first Christmas together. I hope you all had a truly wondrous holiday as well!

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