Lighting the Darkness (again)


For many years, Richard and I celebrated Winter Solstice by inviting friends and family to help us “light the darkness” by filling and lighting dozens of luminarias to glow through the year’s longest night. The little candles on a scoop of sand in a fragile paper bag lined our half-block of reclaimed industrial property, and their light shone until dawn. 


After lighting the luminarias (not easy in the cold and wind!), the crowd trooped inside to sample my Sinfully Delicious Eggnog, which I made by the gallon for the occasion (literally, using four dozen eggs, two pounds of confectioner’s sugar, many cups of dark rum, and a dairy-cow’s worth of cream), and other goodies. The sound of laughter and happy voices filled our house into the night as the luminarias glimmered outside. The warmth and love were palpable for days afterwards. 


Solstice and the Light the Darkness party were a highlight of the year for Richard, and when we had to move to Denver for his radiation treatments during the first year of his brain cancer, he was low about missing the celebration until I decided to throw the party via the internet. Our community of friends, family, and readers of my blog sent in images from around the world, and in Salida, a small crowd gathered to light luminarias and continue the tradition at our house. (Thank you all!)


We told ourselves that we would revive the Light the Darkness party the next Winter Solsice, but it was not to be. My mother was dying that winter, and we commuted back and forth to Denver so I could manage her hospice care and be with my folks through her end.



Luminarias ltght “Matriculation,” Richard’s sculpture in the Salida Steamplant Sculpture Garden. (It’s the slanting stone atop two stones that open like a book on the far left side of the photo.)


The following Winter Solstice, we did light the darkness again, but Richard was only with us in spirit: Molly and I revived the tradition for Richard’s Celebration of Life, a moving and racous remembrance in the ballroom of Salida’s Steamplant Theatre and Conference Center. The luminarias, with messages to Richard written on the bags, circled his sculpture, “Matriculation,” in the Strawn/Grether Sculpture Garden outside. 


I revived the Light the Darkness party the following Winter Solstice, partly because our friends and family loved the celebration and partly in Richard’s memory. But the next year I had just moved into the little house, and it didn’t have the space for the kind of big sprawling party that Richard had loved, and I didn’t have the heart. I did light luminarias on Solstice, and I made a batch of eggnog and gifted it in jars. 


This year, my first Winter Solstice at home in Wyoming, I was determined to light the darkness again. Both for the symbolism of illuminating the year’s longest night as a promise that warmth and life will return, as well as the act of spreading light and love to brighten a dark time in our country and the world.


I also wanted to avoid the divisiveness of today’s discourse and celebrate the winter holidays by being inclusive. It’s no coincidence that winter holidays in the Northern Hemisphere, including Channukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Yule revolve around light. They all fall around Winter Solstice, that “hinge-pin” where the year turns from the darkness of those long nights back toward longer and brighter days and the warmth of spring. Celebrating Solstice itself honors all of those traditions in a spiritual way without choosing just one.



So last Thursday, on a still and cold evening, a couple of dozen friends and I lit the darkness: That afternoon, I poured sand into paper bags, put a candle in each, and set out 50 luminarias. At dusk, friends arrived to help light them. Afterwards, we went inside and drank homemade eggnog and other festive beverages, nibbled on holiday goodies, and enjoyed each other’s company. Just as with the parties in Richard’s day, laughter and love filled my house, blessing it with the joy of the season. The luminarias glowed through the night, casting their light on darkness literal and metaphorical. 


That’s my wish for each of you, our country, and for the world: that the light and love of this holiday season fills your hearts, and that you remember and nurture our shared humanity. That we all make the turn toward the warmth and life of spring, and resolve to share the best of who we are, to behave with kindness and compassion for everyone. No exceptions. 


Blessings to you all!



I saved some of the luminaria bags from Richard’s Celebration of Life. This inscription and sketch is from painter Charles Frizzell

Holiday Treats: Sinful Eggnog and Chile-Spiced Chocolate “Gorp”

For the winter holidays, I like to spread light and love in the form of hand-created food. In particular, two rich and delicious treats I never make any other time of year.

I reserve these treats for the holidays partly because of the effort involved (that's my big mixer in the photo above, working at top speed to whip 36 egg whites!), and partly because I like the idea of some things being so special that I only make them once a year. Their uniqueness increases the anticipation among the recipients, and also my joy in sharing them.

Since I can't give you these treats, I'm doing the next best thing and sharing the recipes. 

First is my homemade-from-scratch eggnog, famous among my friends and my family. If you've never had real (meaning not store-bought) eggnog, you're in for a treat. (Warning: This eggnog is smooth, but very strong! Drink it responsibly in small doses.)

This hand-thrown porcelain sake cup is the perfect size for sipping this rich eggnog.

Susan's Sinfully Delicious Holiday Eggnog

one dozen eggs (free-range eggs with their orange yolks make prettier 'nog)

1 pound powdered sugar

2 to 3 cups dark rum (if necessary, can substitute brandy or bourbon, but the flavor is different)

1 qt 2% milk

1 qt half 'n half

1 qt heavy cream

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and whites in another. Cover whites and refrigerate. Beat yolks until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating slowly. Add two cups of rum (reserving one, if using three), beating constantly. Cover and let stand in refrigerator for at least an hour to eliminate the "eggy" taste. Then add the remaining cup of rum (beating constantly), along with the milk, half 'n half, and the cream. Cover the mix and put it back in the refrigerator overnight (if overnight is not possible, for at least three hours) to mellow the liquor. When the egg mix is ready, beat the whites until they form soft peaks (the peaks barely droop). Fold the whites gently into the egg mix and sprinkle the whole with freshly-grated nutmeg. Serve in a punch bowl with a ladle and small glasses or cups—this is very rich eggnog! A grater with whole nutmegs nearby is a nice touch. (Keeps about two weeks in the refrigerator, but it never lasts that long.)

A large steel bread bowl full of freshly made eggnog, with nutmeg grated on top–yum!

I make the eggnog in batches of three dozen eggs, ending up with  enough to fill Richard's two largest bread bowls. I ladle it into quart and pint-size jars to give away. 

The other treat is the deluxe holiday "gorp" or trail mix I've been making for years. This year's version is definitely the best yet, though I just thought of a small tweak I'll try next year to make it even more addictive… 

Chile-Spiced Holiday “Gorp”

1 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (or another premium kind, 60% chocolate or more)

1 cup Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips (or another premium brand)

2 cups roasted whole pecans (I think organic pecans have the most buttery flavor)

1 cup organic dried sour cherries

1/2 cup organic raisins

1 cup crystallized ginger chunks (I use Reed’s baby ginger)

1 tsp dried red chile powder (I use hot red chile; adjust for your spice tolerance)

Mix ingredients thoroughly in a steel, glass, or glazed bowl (a porous bowl will absorb the chile flavor). Package however you wish; I like to put the mix in pint jars with pretty lids. (A little of this gorp goes a long way, and the chile powder gives a lovely spicy finish that offsets the bit of the ginger and the sweetness of the dried fruit.)

Enough for 3-4 pint jars

May the remainder of your holiday season be full of light and joy, the warmth of love from family and friends, and the goodness of healthy, delicious food. And may you find time to get outside and be awed by the blaze of the stars overhead at night, and refreshed by the beauty and wonder of nature wherever you are. 

Blessings to all!