Category Archives: Christmas

Thought for the Holidays

Well, we are certainly in the swing of the holidays now. So I thought I’d share this gem that was sent to my by my daughter, L. I could not have said this better than Leisl Shillinger in her article in the New York Times did.

The winter celebrations are upon us, bringing with their glee the return of insecurities like: Is your centerpiece of the right niveau? Should you drape the banisters with balsam fir, or is boxwood more current? Which breed of artificial bird is trending to clamp among the boughs? And will you be able to hold your head up if you have not personally raised from poulthood the turkey that graces the holiday table (as Martha Stewart suggests) or hand-pressed the apple cider with which you braised the brisket?

Never before have so many worthy options for decorating and entertaining presented themselves to conscientious householders. Long ago, our grandmothers unhurriedly flipped through Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s to update their eggnogs and hunt patterns for tree skirts. Ebenezer Scrooge contended with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who forced him to witness only a handful of other people’s fetes. But modern-day hosts are subjected to thousands of images of strangers’ holiday rituals, through television and magazines but especially on social media, where every fireside post competes to be merrier than the last. All of which serves as a constant reproof that, perhaps, we’re not nearly as festive as we mean to be.
Today’s revelers can find themselves treating the season like the year’s ultimate performative act: evidence of our prowess at directing the theater of home, proof to ourselves and others that ours is indeed a wonderful life. But in the quest to make the occasion camera-ready, we can lose sight of the fact that the personal is more important than the perfect this time of year, and that established traditions are more memorable than ever-escalating fabulousness. You can scour Kinfolk to come up with a thrillingly austere ‘‘vegetal garland wall,’’ or check out YouTube for how to create a gingerbread house as intricate as an Uffizi fresco, but in the end, these punctuations won’t create memories for your kids. What they’ll remember instead is the festal continuum — the idiosyncrasies and permanent patterns of each household’s tradition that give the holiday both meaning and resonance.
In other words: Not only do holiday preparations not have to be back-breaking, it can be better when they’re not. One of the most warmly remembered American Christmases on record took place in a modest cabin in the Midwest in 1870, without dove-studded white pine garlands or candled wreaths. Laura and her sister Mary woke that holiday morning to empty stockings at the fireplace — until a family friend knocked on the door. He had intercepted Santa, he told them, and forded the raging waters of the Verdigris River to bring the girls their gifts: two tin cups, two candy canes, two little cakes and a ‘‘shining bright, new penny’’ each. ‘‘There never had been such a Christmas,’’ Laura Ingalls Wilder exulted. An equally memorable American Hanukkah took place a century ago amid similar simplicity, in an apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — described in Sydney Taylor’s ‘‘All-of-a-Kind Family’’ series. Five sisters grated potatoes and onions for latkes, and polished the brass menorah to await the lighting of the candles. Each of them got two pennies — an absolute fortune, in their eyes. ‘‘It was the time for gladsomeness,’’ the author explained.
So, as you muster your décor, mixing in, if you wish, some — but not too much — innovation, keep your focus on the gladsomeness. The memories you make have more to do with spirit than substance. That which is recorded on the heart is, alas, not Instagrammable.

Be thankful, be thoughtful, be merry, be happy, be calm.


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Filed under advice, Christmas, holiday

Merry Christmas

May you enjoy all the blessings, closeness and love of this season.

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Filed under Christmas, family, holiday, Uncategorized

what should not have been

This should have been a post about Christmas traditions or cookies, Christmas concerts or decorations.  Maybe something about music or diet or driving home from work in the dark or even one about the lousy flu bug that’s got a lot of people sick or the big storm that’s gripping the midwest.

This should have been a post with funny stories and family secrets, friends and future ponderings.

This should have been a post about anything else but 20 dead first grade children and 6 dead elementary school workers.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook horror, everyone took to their corner and the long rehearsed lines began – gun control! mental health! arming teachers! resident evil! –each argument more emphatic than the one before, all trying to make themselves feel better.

No matter what the argument, 20 first graders and 6 adults are dead.

The answers to preventing another American style massacre are right in front of us if we have the wisdom to be honest and thoughtful and come to the table to listen and not just to talk.

We’re all smart enough to figure this out.  We seem to have forgotten that this is the same nation that landed men on the moon and brought them home safely with the computing power less than most of today’s smart phones.

26 people have been silenced forever.  20 little lives will not be fully lived.  6 dedicated professionals lost their lives serving their community.

We all lost 26 pieces of our future.

Maybe we can all just quite down long enough to speak civilly and in-depth about how this nation wants to proceed.

To do less is to not honor the memory of those lost.

Silent night.

Merry Christmas.

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Filed under Christmas, crimes, death, family, Heroes, holiday, politics, terrorism

girl wars

was christmas always a competitive sport?

okay so the whole lights thing i guess started with clark in christmas vacation and has now taken off with all this computerized lights and music nonsense.  i guess is a guy’s way of showing pride of place but i would hate to live on any of those streets.  apparently all the rest of what’s associated with christmas is fodder for girl wars — cookie swaps, shopping marathons, interminable christmas card lists, annual christmas newsletters, festive sweaters and anything else tv producers, bloggers and magazine editors can think up that must be added to a christmas repertoire.

if you’re like me and can never find your copy of the christmas edition of the girls wars handbook, learn from my mistakes.

cookie swaps:

i’ve only been to cookie swaps twice and i’ll never go again.  first, i’m a snob about baked goods and if they’re not utterly delicious with top ingredients, i not wasting the calories because i’d rather spend my calories on a few delicious alcoholic beverages.  second, i don’t share most other people’s preferences for christmas cookies and i’ve come to learn that they don’t share mine.

the first time i went to a cookie swap i completely missed the mark in almost every possible way.

i misread the part about “a dozen of six different kinds of cookies” and thought i was supposed to bake a dozen of each of six different cookies instead of how i would be leaving with six different kinds of cookies having only baked six dozen of one kind of cookie.  i felt like an idiot and most people laughed, but one person got positively angry about my mistake and accused me of many crimes only the least of which was being a showoff. She spend the entire rest of the cookie swap telling everyone that she usually baked a dozen different kinds of cookies but because she followed the rules of the cookie swap and only brought one kind, no one would get to experience what a great baker she was.

when you attend a cookie swap you are supposed to bring along copies of the recipe you used to bake said cookie.  now most of my recipes are family recipes and are mostly lists of ingredients without directions except for temperature and “bake until done”.  i labored over revising the six recipes i used to include proper directions for someone else to properly recreate the cookies.  but here’s the secret i only found out later: don’t ever share a recipe without leaving out an ingredient or messing up a measurement so that no one else will ever make your recipe as good as you do.

I love to bake, especially Christmas cookies, but for this and other reasons i have sworn off of cookie swaps.

christmas cards:

apparently having a large number of people on your christmas card list is the same as having a ton of friends on facebook.  this number is to be dropped as often as possible in casual conversation, usually in the form of a complaint about how hard it is to find time to write all those hundreds of christmas cards.  i am an inconsistent and unreliable christmas card sender, probably because i often work jobs that require me to complete hundreds of christmas cards for someone else and get sick of doing it before i ever got to our own.  then again, it takes me a long time to pick out cards because if i like the illustration i usually don’t like the message and if i like both, i’m appalled by the price.  but i very much enjoy receiving christmas cards and am grateful to anyone who puts in the time and effort to send them. i don’t get a lot of them because i am not good at sending them.  it’s a karma thing i guess.

annual christmas newsletters:

i thought these were an efficient way to deliver news to family and friends and personalize a christmas card without having to write the same things 20 times.  i have learned i have been participating in one of the most hated christmas traditions known to humans.  not only are annual christmas newsletters prime territory for comedic fodder, they elicit downright ire.  what i thought was friendly news was supposed to be a tool to brag about your kids and their accomplishments, your spouse, your jobs, your trips and your stuff.  i still enjoy writing these and reading them and though no one has ever mentioned that they were annoyed by my annual newsletter, i’ve kind of begged off.  makes it easier to be a failure at christmas cards.

shopping marathons:

c and i are fringe participants in this.  we usually shop together, get most stuff and order the rest on line.  we don’t have to buy much anymore because the kids are older and they usually only want one or two big ticket items.  i can proudly say that we have never, ever stood in line or gotten up at silly hours or fought with anyone over a thing to buy.  we are also never the people who have bragging rights on the best bargain or the latest trend.  life is full of sacrifices.

festive sweaters:

over the years i have enjoyed a christmas sweater or two, especially when the kids were little.  i can’t remember the last time i bought or owned a christmas sweater that wasn’t just plain red or black with sequins.  evidently i am unimaginative when it comes to such things.  either you are all in on the christmas sweater thing with all reverence, or you treat the christmas sweater as an ironic accessory. check out,, for laughs.  my fear is that no one will know that i’m being ironic which is why i stick to plain black or red.

christmas girl wars are fought on every front: competing about the christmas activity itself and then competing about who can not do the christmas thing but rant about people who do.  either way, everyone loses.  there are blogs entries and entire blogs, even entire books dedicated to snarking about everything christmas, or moreso aiming ire at the christmasy person in rather angry and unkind ways.

here’s an idea: do what you enjoy and quit worrying about everyone else.  peace.

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Filed under Christmas, cookies, holiday, manners, women

just when you thought (or like C says, thinking is your first problem…)

we were getting ready to celebrate christmas and all the wonderful things that have happened through 2011, when there was a hitch in the plans.  L was admitted to the hospital of the university of pennsylvania three days before christmas (and told to be prepared to stay there for 4 – 5 days)  friday was the worst scary day because the docs were still figuring out what was going on (even though all the recent news from her test have been very good, any turn in a post bone marrow transplant patient still makes everyone clutch).  

like the troopers we all are (this label includes L and her husband, in-laws and all of our extended family), we regrouped and pulled together an alternative christmas.  hey, if you can’t come to the party, we’ll bring the party to you. (in spite of not having any power from friday night until saturday afternoon)  L had lots of visitors, gifts and goodies.  we all had lots of laughs. 

thankfully, the docs methodically worked through all the possibilities and pinned down what was going on.  (don’t you just love smart docs?) soon after they began treatment, L perked up and was able to be discharged on christmas afternoon.  (i believe the doc’s actual words were: “merry christmas.  go home”)  

once she and her husband got home, they whipped up a christmas dinner for his family then invited the rest of us over to finish the celebration.   a good time was had by all. 

maybe I should end the story there, but something else occurred to me.  actually, something else has been stuck in my craw for awhile and got coughed up again because of last week.   

 we’ve all heard the old glass half empty, half full analogy.  (sometimes these old saying are just so very true)  in this case, someone turned our ability to regroup and function (highly) in a crisis into a negative.  said person decreed that we are good in a crisis, but not so otherwise. (this was said when we were in the middle of a terrible crisis (the first few days of L’s bone marrow transplant) 

it would never have occurred to me that rising above a crisis and actually finding redeemable moments would be considered something to criticize.  wtf?  insert sound of head scratching here. or other gestures that may be made with isolated fingers.

Not just was the timing bad on this one, but I’m still trying to figure out what it means.  (i was bothered at the time, should have gotten over being bothered by now, found out i’m still bothered)    

yep, we had a nice christmas.  not the one we were envisioning, not the one we planned for, but the one we made out of what was dealt.  i, for one, was proud of us all.


Filed under Christmas

the not nutritionally correct cookie monster zone

of all the sweet wonders of the world, none send me over the edge like cookies.  December is International Stuff Yourself With as Many Varieties of Cookies as You Can month.  or something like that.  in accordance with tradition and folklore, the making of the cookies is a sacred act wherein recipes handed down by generations of cookie bakers (or not) are baked and served alongside the newest more modern entries (or, many pounds of cookies are purchased from local bakeries).  i’m pretty sure it is illegal on all 7 continents to not taste as many of these wondrous treats as possible.  (okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) 

i have discovered over the years that these labor intensive bites of heaven have to be timed for maximum freshness, which poses a wee bit of a (time) problem when I’m baking 8 – 10 different kinds of cookies.  and i have to show up for work (badly interferes with my cookie making time).  ever efficient though, i’ve developed the art of the one bowl for all dough technique:  ‘clean cookies’ get mixed first (plain butter or sugar doughs), then ‘clean’ doughs with additions (butter dough with nuts flavorings), then finally come the chocolate, coffee or other ‘dirtier’ doughs.  voile!  one bowl, just a wipe out in between.  

and then… the baking begins.  (no matter how big your kitchen, you don’t have enough counter space) 

spritz, russian tea cakes and apricot bars are cookies i’ve been enjoying every christmas of my life.  c and the kids love them, so now we’re on a 3rd generation (here’s hoping they continue on for many more generations). i’ve discovered that some of them don’t play well with outside audiences.  (oh well, more for us) newer additions are cappuccino stars, rugelah, almond cookies, chocolate marzipan cookies, butter cookies with jelly centers and sometimes white chocolate cherry cookies.  new addition this year might be a chocolate bon bon with either a walnut center or a chocolate covered almond center.  (it was the chocolate covered almond center)

okay, so lately i’ve been throwing in chocolate chip cookies, but i consider them kind of bogus as christmas cookies unless there’s an interesting spin on them.  (E came up with a wonderful spin by adding orange flavor) i made them like a bar cookie this year and put a layer of dark chocolate on the top. 

i had a conversation with a friend recently who comes from a rich cookie heritage and she echoed my feelings about chocolate chip cookies at christmas.  (and about the issue of butter, and top quality extracts and flour for the snobs among us)  first time i’ve ever had a serious meeting of the cookie minds.  thanks A! 

there’ve been years along the way, when the kids were little, that gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies (cut with one of the 50 cookie cutters i’ve accumulated) were part of the baking marathon.  i love those cookies too, but without little hands to help decorate, they’ve kind of fallen by the wayside.  i look forward to the day i can bring them back. 

this year’s cookie extravaganza produced 8 kinds of treats, which have now been given away or are nestled in air tight containers waiting to the kids to enjoy.  

another year, another taste of family christmas.    

 Best Wishes to all in this season of holidays!



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Filed under Christmas, cookies, family

Lyrics of an old song dance through my head

john lennon’s happy christmas war is over is playing in my head today.  it’s a sad commentary that that song was released in 1971 after a very long (undeclared) war and forty years later it’s relevant again as the united states pulls out of iraq.  (another long war, 8 ½ years of combat)  

there’s a lot of criticism from one side against the pullout, a lot of statistics and verbiage from the other side defending the pullout.  a whole lot of continued noise from the majority of americans who never supported the u.s. going into iraq in the first place.  a lot of noise from the people to whom the country of iraq belongs.  

not much from the soldiers who are still there or those who fought there.  they were asked to do a job and they did it and 4,400 of them died doing their job.  

some soldiers are leaving iraq to fight in another very long war in afghanistan. this war is less controversial, though the length of the american stay in that nation will become increasingly controversial as the country becomes less of a hangout for al qaeda.  (let’s not even get started on what’s going on in pakistan and iran…) 

those still in iraq have to move themselves and equipment across iraq and get out, an operation that still endangers their lives. there are those in iraq who still hate the united states and would do anything for the sick satisfaction of killing our fellow americans.  

the political landscape is complicated, riddled with bullet holes and bomb craters but the personal landscape is very simple.  no soldier wants to die in combat.  no family wants to lose a loved one.  everyone wants to celebrate something this time of year.  everyone wants to hear some happy music. 

even if it includes listening to yoko’s awful voice.

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Filed under Christmas, terrorism, united states, war