Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Maureen here. Merry Christmas, everybody.

These cookies arrived in the mail yesterday from my sister Pat. The mail carrier left the package at our door before we were even up. Knowing what was in it, I ripped it open and Leslie and I had cookies for Christmas Eve breakfast.

These are, as you can probably tell, chocolate cookies. They also contain chocolate chips and raisins. Pat used our late mom's recipe, so I could tell the special ingredient was there. There's a hint of brightness or freshness that most people can't place, but I know it's a pinch of cloves.

And there I was, so many years ago, at my mom's kitchen table, helping her roll the individual cookies. Mom made a several varieties of cookies for Christmas time, most of which are recognizable to Italian-Americans. There were these, then three more of the same shape with white dough: one with chocolate chips and walnuts, one with chopped maraschino cherries, and one with lemon chips. The lemon ones were my utter favorite, but I can't find the lemon chips anymore. Each batch of batter made dozens of cookies. Little did I know that rolling all those cookies would prepare me in my adult life for making polymer clay beads. People see the beads and ask how I get them so round and even by hand. Pictured above is the method by which I learned! There were also pinwheels with fig or chocolate filling, candy cane shaped cookies with an almond flavor, and the traditional American sugar cookies (my least favorite).

Mom also made chocolate bourbon balls with a texture much more like a truffle. Despite the well-known fact that I do enjoy a well-made cocktail, bourbon has a scent I cannot abide. When I was living on my own, I converted the bourbon balls to rum balls (Myer's Rum is the best) and taught them to my best friend Deb. One December night, Deb and I went crazy, and in one marathon session we made rum balls, schnapps balls, Grand Marnier balls, and Chambord balls. There was plenty of tasting and testing. When we finally finished, I slurred, "Leshts go out for a nightcap." Deb replied, "Mo, it's a quarter to three." So wisdom prevailed. I went off to her couch for a long winter's nap.

My Aunt Amalia, who was born in Italy, makes these delightful honey balls that I do not know the Italian word for. They are quite small and mounded together in a pyramid. They are set in the middle of the table, and the happy consumers sit there, picking off honey balls and drinking strong Italian coffee and anisette. I always knew when the parental generation was going off into juicy gossip; they'd switch to Italian, so that we kids couldn't understand. This worked until my sister Sheila went to Spain for a semester. She became so fluent in Spanish she could pick up enough of the Italian to understand. My mother was horrified when Sheila interrupted one of these conversations to remark in English, "That's not a very nice thing to say."

The cookies I just photographed are on that plate next to the computer. If I look at them for very long, I'm sitting at the dining room table with my mom and my Aunt Frances, or even my late Aunt Jean. We're eating cookies from a beautifully composed tray, they're drinking coffee, and I'm drinking eggnog. They're laughing about my grandmother's latest drama or I'm complaining because my parents switched to an artificial Christmas tree. And it being Rome, NY, in December, snow is falling outside the frosty windows.

And so I wish (along with Irving Berlin) to anyone who reads this blog: May your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be white.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Festivus

Maj. Kevin Romano in Bagram, Afghanistan

Maureen here. Hope you all survived the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength.

My Line of the Day`

Tonight I am singing with my group, The Songbirds at The Landing in Manchester by the Sea. Being able to do this comfortably is new for me. I am loving it! I am talking to Donna Dussault, a fellow Bird, about how we are literally singing for our supper. I make her promise to signal me if there is spinach in my teeth. The exact words are used were "check for garlands in my gums" God, I love alliteration!
Blog On,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jack Wind 1919 - 2007

Exactly one month ago today my father died. He was two weeks shy of turning 88. The death of my mother 6 years ago was as painful as anything I can remember. We were known for our difficult relationship and her death signaled the end of any chance that it could feel resolved on this earthly plane. My relationship with my father was not that fraught. He was passive in his dealings with people. It might be said that his motto was "Peace at any price". It was not until he developed dementia that I saw the side of him that was willing to aggressively stand his ground and do so with words I did not know he knew. How I wished he had stood up to her like that rather than the caregivers who did not deserve it.
Michelle, the closest to a sister I will ever have, called to say he would not last the day. I arrive in Brockton by 2:30 and go straight to the hospital. I spend the time talking to him, singing softly every old song from his era I can remember. I am in a time warp. By 7:45 my two brothers, Dad's caregivers and Michelle and her husband Jay arrive. The room is filled. A nurse comes and takes Dad off the respirator. In minutes he was ...........no right word comes.
We file out. They all seem so sad and yet, I am not. What is wrong with me? I am relieved for him. I am relieved for my brother, Rick who has born the task of managing Dad's care. He lived fourteen years longer than Beverly, his wife. He got to stay home. He ate wonderful home cooked food. I read the obits and I know that eighty eight (minus two weeks) is up there and then some.
I am shocked to realize that I feel freed from my childhood negative imprints. I have seen a life end and I know that in time it will happen to me. From now on I need to make sure that I minimize decisions made that are colored by fear.
And so it is, a month later. I feel more relief than grief. I have a heightened sense of making sure I experience the fullness of each moment. And more than anything, I want to make certain that the rest of my life is more about gratitude and less about fear.
Blog On!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Light Grows Ever Shorter

Folly Cove, December 10, 2:40pm

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

-Christina Rossetti

Maureen's back. Today is one of those days that never quite brightens beyond a grim twilight. We have been subject to mixed precipitation since about 9 last night - rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain. Leslie called it "sleezing."

When I lived farther inland, it was easier to ignore what was happening in the natural world, being surrounded by trees, wreaths, Santa hats, scurrying pedestrians, rushing cars. Here in Rockport, the contrast between Christmas and winter solstice is clearly evident. On the inland side of Granite Street, it's all brightly lit and beribboned. Turn your head and look out to sea. It's all shades of coldest gray. The ocean itself is barely moving; the waves are small as though the sea were huddled in on itself, trying to retain warmth.

It is an ancient custom in our hemisphere to acknowledge the dying and rebirth of the light. I wonder about my pagan ancestors in Ireland and the winter solstice. What were their fears? What did they think when they looked out to a sea as gray as Folly Cove is today?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Light Lurking or Maureen's Rules of Christmas Lights

Photo Credit: Heidi A. at http://www.uglychristmaslights.com/

Another reminiscence from Maureen about Rome, NY. As soon as I had my own car, the McMahon and Samson sisters started a new Yuletide tradition: light lurking. We'd drive around Rome, looking at Christmas light displays. In those days, Rome's population was mostly of Irish, Italian, Polish or German descent, therefore overwhelmingly Christian and mostly Catholic. Hence, lots of lights. Being the opinionated discerning person that I am, I came up with my own rules governing the design of the displays. Everytime we'd see a house with lights that clearly violated my rules, Sue Samson would sigh, "Oh, dear." She knew I was about to spout off, and it was especially annoying if we knew the people in the offending house. So for your edification, here are my rules for Christmas displays, and I'm warning you, I'm strict:

  1. Choose your color scheme and be consistent. If you're going to have white lights, then you should have all white, not white on the house and colored on the bushes. And yes, I can see your Christmas tree through the window, so don't think you can get away with white on the house and a fiber-optic tree.

  2. Your lights should be of a consistent type. I remember when the mini lights were first coming in and people would mix them with the 1950's type big, fat lights. People, were you color blind? The colors were not complementary at all. For example, the old lights had red and blue; the new ones hot pink and teal. And the size difference was jarring. 2007 addendum: you cannot mix white mini lights with white LED lights. The white minis are a warm hue, the LED's a sci-fi blue.

  3. Discovery made by a certain friend in Irondequoit, NY circa 1978: all red lights make your house look like a bordello. Don't do this. Even if your house is a bordello, do make an effort to be subtle about it.

  4. Re-read the Gospels of Sts. Luke and Matthew before planning your life-size Nativity scene on the front lawn. With my 12 years of Catholic education, I can assure you, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph were not in attendance at the manger.

  5. Another consistency issue: if your lights are going to blink, travel, or otherwise behave as though they are on the Vegas strip, please make sure you don't have some blinking at different rates, some traveling east-west, some traveling north-south. Trust me, you're better off just leaving them on steady. (I remember the one Christmas my dad decided to make the porch lights blink and Aunt Frances told him it looked like Joe's Bar and Grill. And the battle was on!)

  6. If you're going to violate the rules, then don't just add one strand of LED's to your all white display. Go all the way! Need inspiration? Rent National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or go to http://www.holidayinflatables.info/ . If in the Boston area, take a drive around Somerville, Medford, and Malden after dark. My sister Sheila and I used to do that for our Massachusetts light lurking and, to our delight, once found a house completely decorated with magenta lights. It was oddly dim and depressing.

  7. Your display should be over no later than January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany (the 12th Day of Christmas). If you have excessive snow and ice buildup, I will allow you to leave the ladder in the garage and the lights on the house for the sake of safety, but they must be turned off. Don't try pretending they're still lit for Valentine's Day.

  8. Any display is better than none, even if Rules 1-6 are violated. There's no excuse for ignoring Rule 7.

Two final notes: No, Leslie and I do not have lights up yet. That will happen on Sunday. And I welcome new rules from any commenters who would like to contribute.

Happy Larry Bird's birthday, Celtics fans!


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Grand Ol' Right and Left

One of my favorite square dance moves is "the grand ol' right and left". Woman face in one direction while the men face in the other. The square has now become a circle. First you take the hand of the person facing you, then you extend the other hand and move foreward in the circle as you drop the hand of the first person. You have to let go of a hand to allow the dance to progress. I think that one dance move contains the point of life. The is no movement without the trust that another hand will be there. There is no growth without letting go.
Blog On!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It Worked!

What worked? Well, in truth I don't know since I just took everything. In addition to what I mentioned in my previous entry, I also ate lots of whole cloves of pickled garlic in oil with hot peppers, purchased from the salad bar at Stop and Shop. I have had success with garlic and hot peppers in the past. Really! In fact I discovered the healing benefits of garlic by mistake. Years ago I had another horrible cold. After a day of feeling like I had snorted cement I was determined to eat something I could taste. The turn around effect was undeniable. So I started investigating garlic. Turns out it has legendary curative benefits. The end result of my blitzkrieg Friday was that I woke Saturday morning, cured.
Nuff' said.
Blog On,