Category Archives: holiday

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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Inspired Independence Day Words

I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.

Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.  

May we all celebrate Independence Day together!

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Filed under courage, Heroes, holiday, Love, patriotism, politics, religion

The Zitner’s are Here, The Zitner’s are Here!

for those of you who do not speak regional philadelphi-eze, that means some of the best candy in the world is now available. Zitner’s

i know, i know, everyone has their regional favorites, but i’m telling you that zitner’s is among the best, and c and i have tasted some mighty fine chocolates from around the world. zitner’s makes chocolate covered eggs that have fillings of cocoanut crème, double cocoanut, peanut butter, butter crème (called butter krak), marshmallow and butter crème and chocolate chip. most of the eggs are covered in a thick coating of rich, dark chocolate, except for the peanut butter egg which is covered with milk chocolate.

google zitner’s and you’ll find a wealth of blog posts, articles, reviews, etc. that name these regional specialties among the very best in the world.

but, there’s a downside. nope, not referring to the calories associated with these treats ‘cuz enjoying them for a few scant months of the year isn’t going to kill you. it’s that they sell out quickly and they’re hard to find. it seems that this year they’ve gotten even harder to find.

i can’t find any truth to this, but it seems as though candy giant russell stover has played some hardball with grocery stores and convenience stores and taken over shelf space, which has pushed zitner’s off the shelves. c and i are pretty skilled at the zitner’s game if only because these eggs have traditionally sold out so quickly that you have to be on your game to find them. but this year even the unusually unusual places to find zitner’s, like the local hardware store, have come up empty.

ah, but the famed local favorite convenience store, wawa, was stocked full of zitner’s and peeps (another local favorite). i snatched up a bunch of cocoanut crème eggs and then came home to find an amazon box with two boxes of zitner’s cocoanut crème eggs inside. honestly, i would rather buy these treats locally, but if the local stores won’t or can’t get them, then amazon it is.

the thing about the philadelphia market is that people here stubbornly cling to their hometown favorites – so much so that some large national/international conglomerates have had a tough time wrangle market share away from the locals. one example of that loyalty is yuengling beer. many are the major beer makers who have tried to oust yuengling from restaurants, bars and stadiums with little success.

like i said, i don’t know if it’s true that russell stover is using a hard-line strategy to drive zitner’s off the shelves, or the fact that they are now being sold on amazon has increased demand. one thing i do know is that philadelphians will not do without zitner’s. and neither should you.

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Filed under addiction, candy, Food, holiday, seasons, spring

Merry Christmas

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

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Filed under Christmas, family, holiday, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving State of Mind

there seem to be two kinds of thanksgiving people: traditionalists and adventurers. traditionalists want the exact same food each and every year and in fact, spend most of the year dreaming of their thanksgiving meal. adventurers dream up new meals each year with new recipes and maybe even new concepts. i’ll bet most of us are in-between the two extremes and like some things every year while looking forward to some new ideas.

whatever your food type, thanksgiving is one of a few american holidays that all of us can share regardless of heritage or background. in fact, bringing your heritage or background to the thanksgiving meal is what makes it all that much more interesting and delicious.

people who have lived many places across america already know the concept of a making a holiday wherever you are. i only basically lived in states in my life — california and pennsylvania—but at a few addresses in each state. but no matter where i was on thanksgiving, i’ve always been able to make a holiday celebration out of just about nothing.

my first thanksgiving in pa when i couldn’t get back to california, i invited housemates, acquaintances, neighbors and anyone who wanted/needed a place to go for thanksgiving over and i cooked for them. though they were grateful for my hospitality, it was really me who was the beneficiary because all that cooking and fussing for guests distracted me from feeling lonely and homesick.

i met c in september of the next year, so he invited me to his parents’ house for thanksgiving the next year, which is where we have been going for almost all the years since.

the exception was thanksgiving of 2010 when i was temporarily living in texas with our daughter and her husband while she recovered from a bone marrow transplant at md anderson cancer center. c flew down with our other daughter and son so we could all be together at thanksgiving.

l and i decorated with paper turkeys and crepe paper and tried to set a nice table with whatever this and that was in the church supported apartment. we decided that since we weren’t in pa, we might as well change up the meal and go with some local flair. and, since texas is known for bbq, we bought a smoked turkey from one of the best bbq places in tx and made side dishes to compliment the smoked turkey. we made whatever we could in the tiny, scantily equipped kitchen and bought the rest.

the meal was delicious but the fact of us all being together and that our daughter was doing well in her recovery was what made that thanksgiving wonderful. the smoked turkey? not so much.

so no matter what you fancy on thanksgiving – a traditional feast or an adventurous new twist on classics there is only one wish for the day: a holiday full of thanks and good will, delicious food and most of all a moment of reflection.

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Costume or Candy?

halloween was all about the costume for me. not that i had any good costumes mind you, pretty much we thought about our costume a day or two before halloween and then dug through the house to find something to wear. my mom spearheaded the development of most of my costumes, which was a problem because most of the time i had no idea what i was. she told me what i was, so i would repeat what she said, but it was invariably something obscure or esoteric and people didn’t know what the hell i was taking about. i just felt stupid most of the time.

we never had scary or gory costumes and i really don’t remember that many scary costumes around back in the day. all i ever wanted to be was a princess. we never had any princess-like clothes around, so i never got to be that. same for a fairy, an angel, tinkerbell or anything else pretty. i do remember that we had a tutu in the garage once that a neighbor had given to us for dress-up, but i never wore it for halloween and i don’t know why.

i was puss from puss and boots once and i only know that because there’s a picture of my brother and i dressed up for halloween. he wore something related to the puss (which was me) but i don’t even know what that was. and puss from the fairy tale was male and i was a cat in a blue dress with no boots, so you get the idea of my halloween costume history. one other time i was a gaucho. don’t know what that is? i didn’t either, except they’re male too.
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<img src="gaucho photo:  Gaucho2.jpg” alt=”” />

basically, i found an old pleated plaid skirt and wore my mom’s black straw hat with my white school uniform blouse. i remember saying that i was a south american cowboy and most people made a face and asked why.

i know i did the gypsy costume a couple of times, maybe threw in a deck of cards to make it a fortune teller. i do remember that my mom had some large rectangles of stiff canvas from somewhere and she had my sister paint them like they were a playing card then tied the front and back together with rope and i wore it like a sandwich board. i guess that was from alice in wonderland.

my costumes might not have been the greatest, but at least they didn’t out and out suck like these.

maybe that’s why i really worked to make costumes for our kids that made them happy. i got such a kick out of figuring out how to make what they wanted inexpensively, often having to figure it out myself without a pattern. i made a crayon costume for each one of them with their name in place of the color of the crayon. i saved those costumes for them.

E was a darling pumpkin, a scary over-the-top ghost with teased hair, and angelica from rug rats, among others. she was unmercifully teased for the angelica costume and i remember wanting to punch a couple of kids. but she loved that costume to this day and doesn’t even remember the teasing.

J was a dinosaur, a werewolf, a vampire and his all time favorite, captain hook, among others. i made him a red jacket piped in gold with gold buttons and he wore that for years afterward whenever he felt like it. because there’s always a time to be a pirate.

L was a glitter ghost, a cat with a top hat and cane (her idea and design), ariel, jasmine and a wizard, among others. we couldn’t afford a red wig for ariel, so i made one out of shredded red fabric and she hated it. to this day she still loves the cat with a top hat and cane idea.

there’s nothing like the way a child’s face lights up when they put on a costume that they love. the candy is just the sugar on top.

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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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