21 December 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Dysfunctional Christmas

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth;
that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away,
back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
~ Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836

One of the “delusions of our childish days” is that everything will remain the same: we will always have snow on Christmas morning, there will always be a freshly cut pine to decorate, the fire will always be lit, the ham will always be coming right out of the oven when we walk through the door and no one ages ~ the entire family will always gather together this time of year.

Then one day you realize that your parents have more white in their hair then you remember [and you have a few strands yourself!]. Your siblings cannot make it for Christmas because they live too far away or they have to work the next day. The Christmas tree is plastic because your father is frail and your mother is too tired. Christmas dinner has to be hosted in the city because your tired mother is terrified of being snowed in with your frail father with no way to get to the hospital in case of an emergency. And it hits you how precious and limited our time together is.

When I first began writing this post, I thought “what a strange time of the year to be meditating on grief and loss and the blues!” But given the huge burden that so many carry around during the holidays, it’s not so strange at all. No family is picture perfect ~ most are dysfunctional, if not downright psychotic! Yet a good many of us spend three hundred and forty-one days of the year either ignoring or denying that fact. Something inside of us hungers for the security and comfort of unconditional love and the warmth of human contact. The hunger is there all year long, lying dormant, controlled or suppressed. But it becomes unbearable during those twenty-four days in December leading up to Christmas Day ~ the season of unconditional love and family.

Grief is an awkward and ungainly emotion, no matter what time of year it is. And somehow our society has this mistaken notion that grief is related only to death. But there are many types of death and loss: the death of a relationship; of hopes and dreams; the loss of a job; the loss of normalcy; even the death of denial [which though painful, is healthy].

The family member of a dear friend of mine was a tragic accident a couple of months ago. He ended up losing part of his right leg. The family is now dealing with rounds of surgeries, decisions about long term care. And my friend is grief-stricken. She is mourning the loss of a normal life for her family and possibly herself. She is mourning the loss of a traditional family Christmas. Instead, they will be celebrating Christmas in the rehab hospital. And it’s all very well to say what a great miracle it is that he’s alive, etc, etc. There is still a loss to be mourned!

One of the biggest complaints of the grief stricken is that friends and family act strained around them, don't bring up the cause of the grief for fear of giving offense or making the grief worse, and some ignore them completely out of awkwardness. When one is grieving, just be there. Even if you do nothing but sit in silence with your friend, they understand and feel your care and concern.

Sometimes we get caught up in our Christmas dramas. We forget that one of the surest ways to assuage our own hunger for unconditional love is to feed someone else’s. [Therapy is another way, but more on that in a later post!] So in the midst of my grief that this might be my father’s last Christmas [although I pray it is not!], and my pique at not spending Christmas in the country with the entire family, I am going to see my friend. We will bake cookies, decorate a tree and hopefully bring some sanity to her insane world of doctors and rehab and family dysfunction. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is that unconditional love is the gift that eventually gets returned. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

May your Christmas be filled with joy, peace and unconditional love!
~ Mikaela

29 November 2010

The Art of Letters

Because sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone's door.
~ Brett McKay

Recently I joined The Letter Exchange. It has been a wonderful experience thus far ~ I have several new correspondents. This evening I was answering a couple of their letters and I casually browsed the 'net for more on my favorite subject. I came across two delightful websites, each with an old post about the lost art of letter writing. My dears ~ do visit The Art of Manliness and Red Ravine ~ both are absolutely inviting!

All I can say is that Kate McKay is one blessed lady! They do not make gentlemen like Brett McKay anymore. Well, actually, they do...for there he is! Are there any more like him out there? Good heavens, gents, stand up and be counted ~ and drop me a line! ;)

Now off to finish my correspondence.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

It's a Commercial Christmas, Charlie Brown

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.
~ Lucy Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown Christmas

I think Charlie Brown would fall over in a dead faint if he could see how truly commercial the holiday season has become. Now I remember why I have avoided shopping malls for the past few years. I feel sorry for the sales people and am a push-over for a good sales pitch ~ a combination which puts retail companies in the black and me in the red. I should leave my wallet at home!

A friend and I were discussing how simpler Christmas shopping was when we were younger. Ten to fifteen years ago, there were only four large shopping malls to choose from here in the greater D.C. area, and most of our shopping was done at local stores in real yet quaint historic downtowns. And that was fine. We were satisfied. We didn’t feel deprived, we didn’t feel rushed and the gifts we gave and received were unique and personal; chosen with love and care and opened with genuine joy and thanks. [Yes, even the socks!]

Now, everything is gargantuan; the large shopping malls of fifteen years ago seem small and paltry compared to the ones that take up several city blocks. The stores have become like some macabre side show: each trying to entice shoppers with their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. “50% off!” “Free shipping today only! Buy now!” And all the commercial hoopla has increased at an exponential rate. Seriously ~ it really was not this harsh fifteen years ago. But what is truly frightening are the attitudes that have crept into our souls, in part, as a result of it.

For one thing, gifts are impersonal: “tell me what you want or I’ll just get a gift card so you can get what you want.” Not to toot my own horn, but most people enjoy my gifts because I take the time throughout the year to listen to them, dialogue with them. Inevitably I found out what their likes and dislikes are; what new hobby has intrigued them; what they wish they had. I listen and remember and usually I find something that is uniquely them [and within my budget.]

Not so with most people. There is no interpersonal dialogue. In our super-techie world, we have gained the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere and in a myriad of ways. But we have lost the ability to communicate, to connect, to be intimate. Technology is only partly to blame ~ the human psyche in pain will always find ways to hide, ignore or run away from itself and those that cause it pain, real or imagined. [More on that later.]

The second attitude is truly insidious: if you can’t find something at one store, you can drive all over creation to another big mall and look for it there. Even if you do find it, there is something inside that says: “I bet I could get it for less at such-and-such a place.” And the reason this attitude is so wretched is that it has crept outside of the retail boundaries and into our personal lives. “Well, this was fun, but you bore me now; I’m going to look and see if I can find a better “deal” somewhere else.” “Someone better might come along, so why commit now?” Or my personal favorite as a hostess: “There are so many events happening that day ~ I’ll wait to RSVP until I decide which one offers me a better networking / dating / fun venue.”

Both attitudes lead to dissatisfaction and aimlessness. At some point, you have to make a choice, you have to make a decision. If you keep wandering around looking for a better “deal” and never commit to anything, you wind up with nothing.

This holiday season, stop running around looking for “a better deal.” Unplug, unwind and truly listen to your loved ones. The gift of intimacy and reciprocity ~ your emotional and physical presence ~ is the gift that is wanted and remembered most.

And the one you need returned the most. :)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

25 November 2010

Heritage Turkeys: A Breed to be Thankful For

Cooking is one of the oldest arts and one which has rendered us the most important service in civic life.
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

is the season for eating. Starting with today’s groaning buffet table ~ loaded with a perfectly basted turkey, butter and cream mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, bacon-sauteed green beans and pumpkin pie ~ there is something about this time of year that makes even this serious foodie extra gleeful.

And this in spite of developing an intolerance for dairy products of any kind! But just because I can’t eat it, doesn’t mean I no longer cook it. After all, a real chef does not live to cook just for herself ~ although I confess there have been times I have bought and prepared and eaten in luscious solitude some delectable items that most of my friends would not have appreciated fully.

Generally speaking, however, this time of year is about practicing the culinary arts in order to feed others. Honestly, I can’t get that excited over a melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin unless someone else is there to eat and moan over it with me. Good eating is a lot like love or sex ~ meant to be shared with someone in order to reach maximum pleasure and emotional health and growth. Doing either alone is just. . .well, sad.

So what did you serve today? Turkey? Ham? Roast goose? A Filipino friend of mine and his family had salmon for their Thanksgiving dinner. My family usually has both a turkey and a ham. As a foodie who is also into sustainable and organic living, I constantly research and read up on sustainable agriculture and what products to avoid in the supermarket when I can’t buy from local farms. This year, I found out some horrific facts about turkeys. And although you have already bought yours and are busy consuming it, I hope that you might think twice before cooking a turkey for Christmas.

Have you heard of Heritage Turkeys? Aha! Didn’t think so. Neither had I ~ until I read an article in the Boston Herald online. It profiled a couple of Heritage Turkey farmers in the northeast and provided some interesting and horrifying facts about the turkeys that will be gracing the majority of American tables today.

“The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization devoted to preserving historic breeds of farm animals, defines a heritage turkey as one that grows slower, lives longer and — perhaps most importantly — can mate on its own without human intervention, something the mass-produced turkey can no longer do.”

Wait. Did you just say that the turkey we are eating today can’t mate on its own anymore? That’s right. Since the 1960s, the Broad Breasted White turkey has been genetically engineered to produce large amounts of white meat in a short amount of time: Broad Breasted Whites mature in half the time of Heritage breeds. And since they are mass-produced, most aren’t organic or free range. Well, how could they be ~ they can no longer run or fly, much less mate!

Forgive me, I have a great respect for science, but not when it plays with my food. An animal whose very genetic make-up has been messed around with so that it is essentially trapped in its own body and can’t even reproduce on its own is just plain wrong, not to mention unpalatable. Fortunately, a stalwart minority of turkey breeders were rescued from the Matrix and are now working hard to bring back the Heritage breeds: Narragansett, Bourbon Red and the Standard Bronze to name a few. Because of them, these breeds are experiencing resurgence.

But the real test is in the eating. I for one will be ordering a heritage turkey for my 2011 Thanksgiving feast and I hope you will too. Visit Heritage Turkey Foundation, Heritage Food USA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for more information.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

21 November 2010

The Seventh Annual St. Cecilia Arts Festival: The Party's Over

St. Cecilia, Matthew Alderman

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
~ Romans 7:15
St. Paul was a smart cookie. The evil I did this morning that I did not want to do was wake up at 7am ~ after going to bed at 2:30am. How my exhausted body managed this feat, I have no earthly notion. Yet here I sit, a mug of spiced herbal tea in my hand, watching the sun pour his honeyed essence through the windows.

Last night was a great success. Over one hundred forty guests attended the Seventh Annual St. Cecilia Arts Festival in Old Towne Alexandria and we put on quite a show for them. Faure, Bach, Broadway show tunes, poetry readings, comedic monologues, Monty Python, even a couple of Polish nightclub art songs.

The highlight was our Featured Artist: Michelle Jacobeen. Not only does Michelle have an incredible voice -- strong, passionate, and lyrical -- but she has a wonderful stage presence and an engaging personality that reached out to the audience and won them over. My favorite was Taylor, The Latte Boy. While not a Broadway tune per se, it reminded me of Adelaide’s Lament from Guys and Dolls. "Bring me java, bring me joy!" Ah yes, young love. What a hoot!

Now, I see you tapping your foot and asking “That’s all very nice, Mikaela, but what food did you serve!?” Fair enough. Some of the recipes you are already familiar with: Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Rum, Whisky and Baileys Chocolate Truffles. They have become standards and I cannot escape from having to make them. I tried, but one of my volunteers refused to help out until I promised they would be attendance!

This year, we added chicken skewers. Every other event where I have had them the chicken was dry and almost always served with peanut sauce. Zzzzzzz. Oh, I am sorry ~ where was I? Oh yes, boring chicken. Well, this year I decided to make up my own recipe. I wanted to do a Southern Fried Chicken Skewers [with fried okra in between ~ mmmm!] but my Assistant Caterer laughed at me. Sigh ~ yankees will never understand the sweet siren call of okra!

Instead, I opted to cut up the chicken into bite-size chunks and marinate them in basil, tarragon and wine. In between I placed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Heaven on a bamboo stick!

This year, we served our now traditional Cranberry Punch, along with Warm Spiced Cider. A new addition were four wines from Loudon Valley Vineyards. A few close friends and I had made a day trip out to Virginia Horse and Wine Country. One of the wineries we stopped by was Loudon Valley. The 2009 Route 9 Red was fabulous, as were the 2008 Classic White and the 2008 Viognier. And the 2005 Legacy after dinner wine is a luxurious mix of musty oak and dark cherries.

For dessert, in addition to the tipsy truffles and miniature pumpkin pies, my friend Leslie, who is an incredible baker, brought three delectable type of cupcakes: Lavender Lemon Vanilla Crème, S’Mores and Salted Chocolate Caramel. And no, she doesn’t bake for a living, so your only hope is to either be her good friend or attend next year’s Arts Festival. Mark your calendars now for 19 November 2011!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

P.S. Seriously, I am going to make the Southern version just for myself this weekend! What do you suggest with the okra - hush puppies? Corn fritters? The possibilities are endless! Cheers!

26 October 2010

The Seventh Annual St. Cecilia Arts Festival: Get Your Tickets Now!

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.
~ Stella Adler

nly 24 days until the Seventh Annual St. Cecilia’s Arts Festival!! Broadway show tunes, classical harp, opera, original music, poetry, and of course, everyone’s favorite – Monty Python skits!

Joining us this year as our Featured Artist is Michelle Jacobeen. Michelle performed the much acclaimed Girl in 14G at the St. Cecilia Arts Festival in 2009 and is a gifted and versatile mezzo-soprano. She received a Bachelor's in Music from The Catholic University of America and has also attended the London Dramatic Academy. She has performed in many musicals, operas, choirs, jazz bands, a cappella groups, weddings and as a featured soloist at the Kennedy Center.

Thanks to Father Klienmann and Marianne Skees of the Saint Mary’s Young Adults for allowing us to partner with them again so we can bring this popular cultural event back to the St. Mary’s Lyceum, 313 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia.

Tickets are on sale now through November 12 at The Saint Cecilia Group.

Please note: Doors open at 7:15pm and the show begins at 7:30pm. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis; no seating before 7:15pm.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email the Artistic Director of The Saint Cecilia Group at Director (at) saintceciliagroup (dot) org.

Thank you so much for supporting local and regional talent! Your truly will be performing with a couple of English blockes and a dead parrot.

Looking forward to seeing y’all on the 20th!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

12 July 2010

Off the Shelf: A Thousand Days in Venice

When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gatherings, no social harmony.
~ Marie-Antoine Carême

ain knocks insistently on my bedroom windows and thunder shakes the house. I curl deeper into the thick, cotton counterpane as lightening illuminates the pages of A Thousand Days in Venice. I had purchased it awhile ago until, distracted by life and other books, I put it aside and forgot all about it. Armed with more time and opportunity to read on my commute, and a kinder work schedule, I picked it up again and promptly fell in love all over again with Marlena de Blasi’s romance with Venice, its food and her life with a blueberry-eyed Venetian.

She writes with a comfortable passion ~ one that swells and sighs with the rhythm of every day life in Venice. Her description of the farmers’ market in Rialto is especially captivating. She walks “under a tunnel and out into the ruga, stepping directly into the dazzle of the market” and I step out with her, shielding my eyes against the morning sun. As she makes her way past the stalls, I feel the hot Venetian sun on my face and hear the sounds of the market all around me. The hypnotic rhythm of the rain outside my window fades into the background and I halt with Marlena

. . . in front of a table so sumptuously laid as to be waiting for Caravaggio. I move slowly, touching when I dare, trying a smile now and then. . . .I walk to the pescheria, fish market, a clamorous hall full of the stinging, dizzying perfumes of sea salt and fish blood. . . .I look in on the macellerie, butchers, who are cutting nearly transparent steaks behind their macabre curtains of rabbits, wild and tame. . . .
Earlier in the book Marlena talks about her frustration in understanding her Fernando and his Venetian ways: he cannot understand her need, her intense desire, to cook. After a scrumptious meal that includes batter-dipped squash blossoms, stuffed breast of veal braised in white wine, chilled yellow tomato soup with a wedge of Taleggio and a dessert of white figs and Maggion meringues, he says:

You mustn’t think I expect you to set a table like this each evening. . . I’m not telling you not to cook. . .What I’m saying is that your idea of everyday cooking is my idea of festival cooking. . . .Why is it so peculiar that I want to cook, really cook, every day?. . I cook because I love to cook. . . .

It has been months since I cooked a full five or six course dinner. Working a regular nine to five job and having a life just do not leave much time for “festival cooking.” And I certainly had not felt like cooking even a three course dinner for just myself.

Reading A Thousand Days re-awoke long buried desire. The very act of cooking brings me great joy, but in order for that joy to be fully realized, I have to cook for someone. My friend JB [a 3rd year law student] and his wife wanted to meet a UVA 1st year law student to swap stories and clerkship advice. Ah! A perfect excuse to cook! After much inner debate, I came up with the following Dinner for Eight:

Prosciutto & Melon
Feral Boar Prosciutto, local cantaloupe

Corn & Crab Chowder
Local sweet corn, Chesapeake Bay crabs

Heirloom Tomato Salad
Fresh, locally picked heirloom tomatoes, goat’s milk, pine nuts,
drizzled with lemon-basil dressing

Filet Mignon
Organic beef sautéed in a sherry and mushroom butter sauce, served with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus

Lemon-Ginger & Mojito Sorbets
with ginger thins

All ingredients came from the local farmers’ market, Whole Foods, and America Seafood, a local seafood shop ~ all organic and fresh. The scent of the small cantaloupes was an intoxicating mixture ~ musky, earthy, sunny, ripe. The just picked heirloom tomatoes from Lois Produce practically burst their skin to get at the lemon-basil dressing I made from scratch ~ and no wonder! I have not seen basil plants grow so beautiful and bushy ~ especially amazing given how dry and hot this summer has been so far. I bought enough to make a mountain of pesto ~ my favorite summer dish. At the Mushroom Stand, I picked Honey Mushrooms purely for their looks [so shallow, I know!] and Maitake Mushrooms for their flavor and shock appeal.

Serving a different wine for almost every course would smooth the flow of conversation so that it was not all legalese: Northgate Vineyard’s Apple Wine with the prosciutto, Viognier with the chowder and the salad, Chambourcin with the filets and Fabbioli Cellars’ Raspberry Merlot with the sorbets from Sinplicity.

The last piece of china washed, the last wine glass gleaming, is put back on the shelf. The dining room table is returned to it’s usual table-for-four state. I crawl into bed, tired but happy. Another successful dinner! I fall asleep thinking that Marlena de Blasi would approve.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

21 June 2010

Writer's Block: Creating Inspiring Moments

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought,
this in turn makes us think more deeply about life,
which helps us regain our equilibrium.
~ Norbet Platt

oday I was leafing through random notebooks looking for yet another misplaced item, and I came across drafts of letters I had written about ten years ago. It was like bumping into a younger version of myself ~ both creepy and bittersweet. A part of me mourned the passing of the younger Mikaela: her hopeful dreams, romantic notions and at times, a naive yet sincere faith, along with the writing style and vocabulary that goes with such an interior.

The memory is such a mysterious muscle: usually it does not let us get on with life completely unfettered from past mistakes [our own] or traumas and hurts [other’s mistakes]. Yet it can also be quite faulty and forgiving ~ did I really make fun of my fifth grade classmate? Even if the memory forgets, the pen does not. And the written word, set down while the event is happening or is fresh in our minds. How else can one determine if one is progressing, regressing or simply surviving? Once it is there in black and white and in our own hand, it is more difficult to deny or simply forget.

As I read through the drafts [yes, drafts. Fine ~ I admit it ~ I am a tad finicky when it comes to hand writing letters ~ I like them to be blotch-free, coherent and readable ~ do you mind?], I envied my younger self at least one thing: the slow pace that afforded me time to pen such lofty thoughts and encouraging scribbles. A slow pace made possible by a practically empty social calendar [as most of my friends were either finishing up college or back home and out of state] and the enclosed garden-like atmosphere that permeated my home town.

Both of those ingredients have been lost to me ~ at least for now. But I realized that if I really wanted to reclaim some of that time and begin writing with a similar, if not identical, amount of creativity and production, than I would need to create those moments for myself ~ even if it means blocking out the time on my packed social calendar and setting an alarm!

The future me depends on it.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

P.S. Do you make time for creative moments? How?

10 May 2010

Responding to Ill-Mannered Boors

The everyday kindnesses of the back roads
more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.
~ Charles Kuralt

oday, on the commute in to work, I saw witnessed two gentlemen [out of thirty men, sigh] offer their seats on the train to ladies standing in the aisle. I wanted to thank them even though I was not one of the ladies needing a seat. It was a great way to start the day with exampled of manly courtesy ~ because the day ended less than stellar. A man who I thought was a friend ~ albeit a casual one ~ said something to me that went so beyond the bounds of decency that I could only ignore him in shocked silence.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are tired of reading my complaints about our insufferable and ill-mannered society. At the same time, something must be done about this epidemic of ill-mannered boorishness!

Now, some of you will ask me why I did not slap my so-called friend. Saying nothing was actually a step up for me. Sad to say, I am not perfect in this regard ~ actually I am not perfect in most regards! At times, when confronted with rude remarks spoken either in front of me or to me, I have responded in an equally most ill-bred manner. There is of course, a time and a place to fight fire with fire. But when one returns a rude remark to a boor with another rude remark, it is safe to say that he will only continue to respond in kind. Furthermore, he will usually take vicious delight in escalating the situation, until one’s esteem lies in shreds around one’s pretty little ankles and later, in the privacy of one’s boudoir, to tears. [This is so much worse for us INFPs/ENFPs.]

However, dear reader, you are correct ~ one cannot just let such rudeness continue unchecked and unaddressed. So what is a civilized person to do? I am beginning to believe that the obvious must be stated. “Please do not say such uncouth and disrespectful things to me. I find it degrading and hurtful. Thank you.” I need to practice saying this in the privacy of home, because I would much rather grit my teeth and call into question his upbringing. I can hear my Southern mother saying: “His mama didn’t raise him right!” And it is certainly possible she did not, or it could be that the son refused to listen.

Whether this ladylike retort will have any effect on this particular boor, I know not. But I am convinced that refusing to stoop to a boor’s level keeps up at least a modicum of decency and civility. As they say: “Fake it until you make it!” Continued civility can only eventually beget civility.

What do you think? How have you handled rude remarks made about you, or in front of you about other people?

Hope you have a beautiful [and genteel] rest of the week!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

18 April 2010

On a Roll!

A lot of people are singing about how screwed up the world is, and I don't think that everybody wants to hear about that all the time.
~ Mariah Carey

Well, the Muse is amused tonight, I suppose. Just finished composing a new song! Of course, it still needs polishing, but at least there is a rough form to work with! And stop the presses, fans: it is POSITIVE! [Gasp is heard from the auidience].

It must be Spring.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Writing Tragedy and Hope

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
~ Nathanial Hawthorne

Lately my writers group has been unable to meet due to distance and schedules. So we assigned each other writing assignments via email. Mine was to imagine a conversation between the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a relative of one of the Katyn Forest Massacre victims as they flew to Smolensk April 10, 2010. I am almost at 2,000 words into the project and I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Hawthorne.

This assignment is both difficult and a joy. The Katyn Forest Massacre has always captured my imagination and inspired great emotion ~ as has most of Poland's history. And not just because my father is Polish. It is a history rife with suffering and tragedy and the sheer stubborn will to survive. When I heard about the plane crash on Saturday, April 10, my first reaction was of fascinated horror. Good God! How much suffering can one nation endure? And the irony of the "accident" ~ Polish dignitaries dying on the way to a memorial service for murdered Polish dignitaries from 1940 ~ was not lost on anyone with a knowledge of history.

In doing this writing assignment, I found that I had to fight to keep a certain distance from it. Personal emotions kept blurring the lines ~ literally. It is difficult to type while wiping one's eyes and blowing one's nose. But the emotions and thoughts about this latest tragedy are nothing compared to my other writing project: an intimate story based on my father's experiences during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the 1940s and his time spent in a labor camp in Germany and his subsequent liberation.

This project is born of a deep love and admiration of my father, and the desire to share with others what a great man he is. And writing about the Katyn Memorial plane crash helped to open up some literary and emotional obstacles that were making writing my father's story difficult. God willing I will be able to complete this second project in time for him to read it.

May God be with the Poles during this time of great mourning. St. Stefan, ora pro nobis! St. Vladimir, ora pro nobis!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

02 March 2010

Winter Correspondence

Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath,
for the instinct to be half-asleep all winter is so strong in me.
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

hat is what I have been doing for the past two months: hibernating. Which is why you have not heard from me, dear readers. But try not to scold me too much ~ it was not the snow or even the lack of sun for many weeks that led me to neglect you. In addition to recovering from sleep deprivation, I was also impatiently waiting for not one, but two kidney stones to stop their assault on my person. After many skirmishes, we finally declared a truce with one another, but I am sure they will tire of their immobility and rebel in another year or so.

Well, what can I say? When one is battling kidney stones, one does not have much strength left over to write, much less edit, throw out and re-write. I became a bit like Lucy Honeychurch after playing Beethoven ~ rather peevish. And this writer at least needed the down time. Not that I stopped writing. That would be. . .well, impossible, I think! I once heard that one knew one was born to be a writer if one could not NOT write. As Lord Byron once said: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

For a long time I interpreted that to mean that one must have a burning desire to write poetry or novels 24/7 ~ as if a real writer limited himself to those two genres. But I have a deep need to write everything. So while I have not been as productive on these pages, dear readers, my quill has not lain idle. I have drafted three poems, three songs, a couple of monologues, begun a play and penned several letters.

Ahh, letters. I believe they are my favorite genre of writing. And winter is the best time for it. The crisp air. The slip and swoosh and crunch of snow under one’s feet. Any excuse to curl up in front of the fireplace with a steaming cup of coziness ~ and by cozy, I mean with a splash of Jack or Jim or Remy or my personal favorite, Chaucer. Winter is made for correspondence.

Or reading other people’s correspondence. Currently, I am snooping in the private letters of various people via Thomas Mallon’s Yours Ever: People and Their Letters. Very well written, but I cannot quite call it a delicious read ~ more an appetizer. Every other page, I am writing down the name of yet another character whose flamboyant correspondence I want to delve deeper into. Mallon offers up morsels to whet the appetite, some with surprising twists. For instance,

it is in truth my fear, that, as soon as I should meditate a letter to be sent you, it should suddenly come into my mind by what an interval of earth you are distant from me, and so the grief of your absence, already nearly lulled, should grow fresh, and break up my sweet dream

is not something I would have expected from the dour John Milton. Yet there it is, the inner workings of a literary master preserved in his own hand. Mallon offers several such literary tidbits, including snippets of the love letters of William and Mary Wordsworth, Woodrow and Edith Wilson, the correspondence of George Sand and Flaubert and Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

There is something about a handwritten note. As Mallon says, “it has an intimacy and force that can never be matched” by either e-mail or even that recent ancient artifact: the type-writer. Writing a letter by hand forces one to slow down, to think through what one will say, how it might come across to the reader who cannot hear tone or see our facial expressions. E-mail, of course poses the same problem, but how many of us really think long and hard while we are tap, tapping away? I have been the recipient of so many electronic missives where the author did not even bother to hit the spell-check button! Not that “snail-mail” is protected from such mistakes ~ but the nature of the medium is such that the artist wielding the fountain pen is naturally more careful in the brush strokes their word choice creates.

As for my own library, this afternoon I ordered a collection of John Donne's letters and another of John Muir's and I already own a book of Tolkien's letters, the correspondences of Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford and Diana Cooper, and a book of letters from George Bernard Shaw. And of course, my desk is crammed full of stationary, several bottles of ink, a large hoard of various writing implements, among which are my highly prized fountain pens.

And now, back to my cave for more writing and inspiration. Sigh. Mr. Donne and Mr. Muir cannot get here quick enough!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

01 March 2010

March Already?

First, I suppose, come letters; then adventure.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

oodness gracious me! Can it be March already? My apologies, dear readers, I have been hibernating. I promise to come out of my self imposed cave of silence tomorrow ~ swear on my collection of fountain pens!

For now, I simply MUST share with you website I have only just now discovered: The Letter Writers Alliance. Feast thine eyes! As an ardent devotee of the art of letters, I was shocked that I had not thought to Google to see if other faithful were out there. Hooray!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

07 February 2010

It's a Marshmellow World in the Winter!

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
~ J.B. Priestley

I love Winter. The sharp steely air that rips the breath out of your lungs and creates foggy sculptures in mid-flight. The ground, frozen and hard that crunches underneath exploring feet wrapped in warm woolly sock and pragmatic boot. And if one is really lucky, the magical dance of a snow storm.

Washington, D.C. has had its third snowfall since our white Christmas and they are calling for more this coming week. With all the problems that a large-for-this-area snowfall causes, I am still ecstatic. For the sanguine in me, the snow has put a damper on my social butterfly doings, but the melancholic-phlegmatic in me is relieved to take some time to just rest and be myself.

Oddly enough, it is during storms like this [and especially huge thunderstorms in the summer] that I miss my life in the country. Rachel Carson once said that a rainy day was the perfect day to walk in the woods. So is a snowy day. There is something truly otherworldly about a landscape that you know like your face covered in an icy white mask. The earth is like a person ~ no matter how long you have known them, or spoken to them, there is always something you have not learned, some aspect of their personality or a hidden dream you have not yet discovered.

That tall majestic maple you napped under in June, how different she looks in February! In June, her majesty was almost casual and hidden. Now, stripped of her leafy clothes, she shines like a precious gem with her evening cloak of white ermine. The summer garden, beaten down in late fall, has been laid to rest with dignity under a funeral veil of ice.

Winter lays things bare and then dresses them up in white, bringing out hidden beauties that the other seasons cannot call forth. The snow may be an inconvenience but take it as it comes and use it as an excuse to lay bare your hidden dreams and loves. Get out and rediscover a well-loved landscape. You may be surprise at what you find out.

Oremus pro invicem,