2012 Christmas edition

It seems like less than a year since I wrote my last Christmas letter. Oh wait – it is less than a year. In fact it went out last January, which makes me realize how well-organized I am this year. When last I wrote, Jay and I were off to South America with friends. We took a ship through the Panama Canal. It’s not so much a canal as a series of very large locks which take a very long time to navigate, largely because the ships that go through it these days are designed with about a foot of leeway on each side – going through it reminded me of trying to put my jeans on after last year’s Christmas dinner. But I digress.

It was a wonderful trip. We went to Cartagena, Colombia, and though I looked around for drug cartels and similar miscreants, all I could see were pretty houses and ladies in traditional costume who wanted a dollar if I took a photo of them. Then on to Ecuador, where the port cities sat glumly under grey skies and tried to look enticing, rather like streetwalkers who’d been at it too long and had lost hope. But Peru made up for it all. Beautiful country with lovely people and a lot of potatoes. Some 300, sorry 3000 different kinds, and it seemed every one of them was to be found in a local vegetable market in Cuzco, high in the Andes. They even had a freeze-dried potato, pure white and weighing next to nothing, which you can store for years until you need it. (Frozen on a glacier and then left in the sun to dry – amazing). Cuzco is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu, at least I was jumping, and Jay was proceeding at a stately pace with his bionic knee. We took a train to the site, and I told Jay not to wear any clothing that gave him away as a Yale man, since a hundred years ago one such Yale man ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu and walked off with a huge amount of swag, which the Peruvians are now demanding back. Quite right, too, but I didn’t want anyone demanding it from Jay or his friend Tom (another Yalie who was traveling with us).

In late February I was planning a trip to England to see my mother, when she had a stroke. I spent most of February and March over there, and at the end of March, my mother had a heart attack and did what she always said she would, and left this world when she decided to. She also said she’d never go into a nursing home and by golly, she never did. She was an amazing woman who lived through some of the most important moments in history, grew up rich but learned to manage on very little, brought up five daughters and helped bring up sundry nephews and grandchildren. There were a hundred people at her funeral representing all the different interests my mother had. Nephews and nieces came from South Africa, Poland and Italy, as well as her grandchildren from the United States, Geneva and elsewhere. It was quite a party we gave her. I’m sure she was sorry to miss it.

Talk, talk, talk…

And speaking of parties, later in the year we got together with more former Yalies and their wives, Jay’s old classmates, in Charlottesville Virginia, where we sat around and chewed the fat for 72 hours straight. We also talked quite a bit.

Moving right along…Bertie our youngest, was lucky enough to be able to go to Geneva to study for his Spring term. Geneva is home to the CERN Hadron Collider, which…um…collides atoms or something to make even tinier particles. Point being that Bertie was there when they discovered something they’d been looking for for a while, the Higgs Boson… I have always told the boys that if they can’t find something, they should move something. (Whatever they’re looking for is always beneath, or behind something – usually their dirty clothes.) Apparently this works in astrophysics as well. So Bertie is becoming an astrophysicist. Scary, I know. But if anyone can find a way to live on Mars, Bertie can. So be prepared.

Fred is one credit short of graduating as a Bio-medical engineer with a side order of electrical engineering. The course starts in January, and so in the meantime he’s working for Sears, a huge department store company, unloading the trucks full of household appliances that wives everywhere are going to get for Christmas instead of cashmere and perfume. He’s also on an organizing kick, so their filing cabinets have never looked so good…

As a reward for the boys sterling academic work and because they didn’t go on last year’s Caribbean cruise, Jay and I decided to take them on a cruise round the Adriatic this summer. It was either that or travel around Europe with them, which sounded like hell on earth to me (trying to make them get out of bed and see the sights, trying to make them do things when we wanted to etc). The cruise was a great compromise, since it visited a lot of places they wouldn’t have got to on their own, and gave us all a bit of space while sailing so that we weren’t tripping over each other all the time. We went back to Istanbul where the smashing guide we had 4 years ago was persuaded to take us around that fascinating city. The boys loved it, partly because Ziya is such a fount of knowledge and could answer every one of their questions, of which they had many. We almost lost Jay in the Grand Bazaar, where he was being welcomed by the stallholders with open arms and cries of “Effendi!” which I believe means “Sucker!” in Turkish. They may have recognized him from our last trip…

A couple of ruins flanked by Bertie and Fred

A couple of ruins flanked by Bertie and Fred

Ephesus, Montenegro, Santorini, and a few rugs etc later, we ended up in Venice, just before it flooded. It was my first ever visit to Venice, so of course I loved it. Jay had a wonderful time at Murano where the glass-makers understand the art of haggling as well as they do in Istanbul. With the result that we ended up with a glass model of an Americas Cup yacht (practically life-size) and a Picasso head of a woman with two noses. Really, we need a bigger house to store all this stuff in. But weren’t we planning to downsize last year?

That's Jay beneath the umbrella

That’s Jay beneath the umbrella

Yes, we were. And yet, once Jay started fixing all the little things that tend to go wrong with houses (like no beach, for example) he decided he loved it so much we would stay. So he put in a beach. Of course. (If you’d like to know more about the beach, check my blog here.)

This encouraged Fred to begin putting in a lawn, creating new stone steps in the garden and generally beautifying the place. Once all this had been done, there was no point in moving.  Having run out of things to buy abroad, Jay decided to buy a house in Phoenix, Arizona. Now there’s a place with a beach. Actually, more of a desert. A friend was looking to sell his house at a bargain price, and so… About six months after we’d bought it, I actually got to see it, and allowed Jay to buy two tiny lions to grace the front doorstep. It’s delightful, of course, and the weather in the winter there is pretty much perfect – it’s just that I don’t know when we’ll have time to visit, because we have so many other travel plans. I fully expect we’ll be the proud (or possibly suicidal) owners of a kangaroo by this time next year, because we’re going to Australia in April.

Our Fairfield home, for those of you with less than stellar geography skills, is about a mile from a real beach, which proved to be interesting when Ultra Storm Sandy arrived in October. The water came up to the end of the driveway and then evidently thought better of it and retreated, but we were without electricity for 5 days, which wasn’t as much fun as I thought it might be. I finally had a ceramic sign in the shape of a lemon made for the front of the house. It read: 33 – The Lemon. Naturally, it was doomed, and, true to the nature of the house, fell down during the storm and smashed into several pieces. TangoBut to console myself, I was able to read Tangerine Tango by flashlight. It’s a small pocket-size anthology of women writers, in which three of my memoir pieces and a poem were published in October. It’s selling quite well (considering) on Amazon. (Thank you to those of you who bought copies. And those of you who didn’t, will be buying them soon, won’t you? All proceeds to benefit research into Huntington’s Disease.) Now I’m finally revising the novel I wrote last year with the help of my writing group, and writing Christmas letters in my spare time.

We’re expecting my sister Jane and her friend Sheila to arrive for Christmas any day now, and once again we’ll be hosting the hordes over the holidays. Here’s hoping you’re planning a restful and happy holiday season.

Give someone a tangerine (and some fudge) for the holidays: 2

As my regular readers know, some of my personal essays and a poem were published recently, along with those of 11 other writers, in a great little book called Tangerine Tango. Great, because it’s the perfect size holiday gift for a hostess, mother, stocking stuffer or just because. So I thought I’d share some of the pieces with you between now and Christmas. The book’s available at Amazon in either paper or digital form.

The writers represented in Tangerine Tango come from different parts of the country and have different outlooks on life, which is what makes this book so much fun. Since the holidays are approaching, I thought I could do worse than to give you a taste (Ho. Ho.) And today’s topic is fudge. At least three of the items in the book mention fudge.

Along with writing her blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause Roller Coaster, Barbara Younger is the author of 21 books for adults and children. She lives in a 180-year-old house in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband Cliff and collections of everything from old toys to hat boxes. Here’s one of her contributions to the book.

Fudge Prayer

Dear God,

I can’t decide if fudge,

Is good or evil.

Cocoa beans, sugar, rich butter,

Confection of good delight

Or calories of evil to the body temple.

The fudge is gone,

Swallowed,

Not unlike the cat and canary.

And now I offer this

Grateful Prayer of Thanksgiving

Or this humble Prayer of Repentance.

Amen and Amen.

You can follow Barbara on Twitter and Facebook.

Patti Winker , author of an online cookbook  Memory Lane Meals tells the story of how she came to own a fudge store, and what happened once she started making fudge:

I learned how to make beautiful pans of fudge.   I made sheets of pecan turtles, lovingly constructing each one with my own hands, decorating each with a little “S” swirl on the chocolate top for “Sweetie’s.”  Chocolate-covered cherries and fudge-filled chocolate cups.  I mixed batch after batch, late at night, and lined them up attractively in the display cases.

Then came the morning,  time to open the shop. And in came the customers.

I couldn’t deal with sending my creations, even if I was paid, away, to be eaten and destroyed.

My husband, in contrast, loved seeing the boxes and bags going out the door every day. He became puzzled at my increasingly sullen mood as business improved.  The more fudge and turtles I sold…(buy the book to read the rest!)

And our editor, Lisa Winkler, included her favorite fudge recipe. (Buy the book etc…)

Bon appetit!

A Christmas tale

I entered this piece in a contest called ‘Tis the Season, and came second. So much fun (and there was a cash prize…). Every word is true, I swear. Hope you like it! And you can read the other winning stories here: http://echook.com/

‘THE OUTFIT’

by Gabi Coatsworth

It had been at least thirty years since my husband Jay had last worn the outfit. Well, it wasn’t exactly the same outfit, obviously, because he’d mislaid the original years ago. But this one was a faithful replica, and as he thought about how he would look in it, a slow smile spread across his features. He stared at himself in the mirror, and remembered.
The last time, two little girls had been involved. They had been so trusting, innocent really. But Jay knew he wouldn’t be able to fool them forever. And so it proved. The next time Jay had tried to hoodwink the girls, the older one, Amanda, sophisticated beyond her years, looked him straight in the eye as he lifted her onto his lap.
“You’re not really Santa, are you?” she asked, with an accusatory stare. “You’re my daddy.”
Thirty years later, Jay was ready to try again. Actually, it was I who had encouraged him. He had been feeling grouchy, as he always did with the approach of Christmas. The tree I had ordered was too big for the stand they had used for years. The only string of Christmas lights that was working was the one he hated, the multicolored one that blinked on and off all the time. He hadn’t been able to find any icicles to hang on the tree.
“I’ve had it with this tree. Christmas shouldn’t be so complicated. I don’t know why I bother,” Jay groused as he carried the box of ornaments into the living room from the attic.
I gave him a shrewd glance. “You know,” I remarked, “I think one of the reasons you don’t really enjoy Christmas is that you keep hoping it will be the same as it used to be when the girls were little.”
“Nonsense,” he snapped, and headed into the kitchen for something to drink.
Returning into the living room, where I was now hanging ornaments on the tree, he handed me a glass of Cabernet and sank heavily into the leather recliner by the fire. He balanced his glass on the arm of the chair.
“It’s always some psychological thing with you, Gabi,” he said. “I enjoy Christmas, of course I do. By the way, that silver ornament needs to go higher up. It looks wrong there.”
I persevered. “Well, this Christmas should really be fun – we have the girls coming over. So Heather and Ned will be coming with the children. And Amanda with her fiancé.”
Jay tried to enthuse.
“Sure, it’ll be great. I’m looking forward to it, honestly.”
I let the subject drop.

A few days later, walking through the mall, my eye was caught by a brightly colored window display in one of the stores. Santa Suits – one size fits all, I read. Heading into the shop, I took a box from the stack near the door. The contents promised to include a jacket, trousers, belt, hat, beard and even some kind of fake boots that would fit over the wearer’s own shoes. I opened the box and took out the scarlet pants, lifting them up to see how much room there would be in the waist. After considering the pants for a few moments, I decided I’d take a chance that they’d fit. After all, if Jay didn’t like the suit, I could always bring it back for a refund.
Early on Christmas morning, Jay crept off to the kitchen to make me a cup of cocoa, while I pretended I was still asleep. He had been bringing me a cup of cocoa in bed every Christmas Day for years. While he was banging about in the kitchen, I took out the suit and laid it on the bed. When he came back into the room, he stared at it, speechless. Putting down the cup of cocoa, he sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hand over the jacket. Then he picked up the Santa hat and tried it on.
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” he chuckled, giving me a distinctly un-Santa-like kiss.
Heather and her husband Ned arrived around three o’clock, towing Natalie, aged three, and the baby.
“Grandpa,” Natalie shouted the minute she was inside the house, “Pick me up! Make me fly!”
Jay laughed and bent down to help Natalie take off her coat. “Okay, here we go,” He swung Natalie around, then gave her a hug before returning her to the floor.
“Hey, Grandpa, what are we going to do now?”
Jay shot me an enquiring look as Natalie hugged him around the knees. I indicated the tree surrounded by presents, with a sideways nod of my head.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Jay extricated himself. “Let’s look over here, shall we?”
Hand in hand, they walked over to the tree.
Shortly after, Amanda and her fiancé arrived. I served hors d’oeuvres and drinks, while Jay and Natalie handed round gifts from under the tree. Soon Natalie was happily playing with a new doll.
Jay drew me aside.
“I think now’s the time,” he said. “I’m going to get changed in the downstairs bathroom, so don’t let anyone come in. By the way, do you have a cushion I could use for padding?”
“Are you sure you’ll need…” I paused. “Here you are, darling.” I grabbed the smallest cushion I could see. “Sure you can manage?”
“Piece of cake. See you at the front door in about five minutes.”
I returned to the living room, and passed round a tray of canapés. Every so often, I would look towards the front door, but no-one appeared. Smiling brightly at our daughters, I excused myself and hurried towards the bathroom.
A series of muffled curses greeted me as I neared the door. I knocked on it. Sudden silence, then Jay hissed, “Gabi, is that you?”
“Yes. What’s the hold-up?”
“Goddamn suit! I don’t know why they design them like this. They used to be much better. This is some foreign rubbish, I bet.” Jay sounded a bit breathless.
“Shh, they’ll hear you,” I was speaking in a stage whisper. “Do you want a hand?”
“Come in for God’s sake. Look at this. I can’t put these stupid boot things on.”
I opened the door, took one look at Jay and stifled a laugh. He was trying in vain to bend over.
“I think perhaps you’re meant to put them on before you put the cushion under your jacket,” I offered. “Why don’t you sit on the toilet lid and I’ll help you with them.”
The curly white beard which covered the lower two-thirds of Jay’s face was thankfully stifling some of his further comments. Glaring at me balefully, he did as he was told, while I sorted out his footwear.
“There, I think that should do it,” I said, straightening up. “Sure you can cope now?”
Jay stood up and looked at himself in the mirror over the washbasin. He tugged at the beard, which had slipped around under one ear. Finally, more or less satisfied with his appearance, he gave me a ticklish kiss on the cheek. “This used to be so much easier, didn’t it?” he grumbled, as he sneaked out of the back door.
In the living room, the grandchildren were getting fractious as the afternoon wore on. As I walked back in, I winked at Heather whose apprehensive look was quickly replaced by a smile of relief.
A bold knocking came at the door.
“I wonder who could be calling on us today?” I said. I looked at Amanda. “You weren’t expecting anyone, were you?”
Amanda shook her head, and pulled her camera out of her handbag.
“Hey, Natalie, did you invite someone over without telling us?”
“No, Grandma, really.” Natalie was looking a bit anxious.
“We’d better see who it is then. Come on.” I walked over to the front door, followed by Natalie and Heather, who was holding her hand.
As the door opened, a large red object with a top covered in white curls suddenly burst into life.
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” it roared. “It’s me. Santa Claus,” Santa added helpfully.
Natalie stared at him, delighted and then appalled. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and ducked behind her mother’s skirt. Heather bent down, laughing.
“Don’t be scared, sweetie. It’s only Santa Claus. Do come in, Santa,” she added.
Santa Claus was over the threshold and dropping a sack on the floor before Natalie could quite believe it.
“What’s your name, little girl?” he asked.
“I’m Natalie.” She looked for confirmation to her mother.
“Delighted to meet you. I think I was at your house last night, wasn’t I?”
“Oh yes! You brought me a My Pony set and lots of other stuff.” Now Natalie was beginning to enjoy herself. “But why are you here?”
“Come and sit down with me and I‘ll tell you.” Santa sat in Grandpa’s favorite chair, and pulled Natalie onto his lap. “The reindeer and I were on our way home to the North Pole, and Rudolph stared to complain that he was hungry. So I was wondering whether you might by any chance have a carrot or two I could give him?”
Natalie looked at me hopefully.
“Do we Grandmama?”
“I’m sure I can find some.” So much for the roasted carrots I had been planning to serve with the turkey.
I returned a few minutes later, to see Santa reaching into his sack.
“Since you are being so kind as to give me some carrots for Rudolph, maybe I can find a little something in here for you, young lady.”
He pulled out a package and handed it to Natalie.
“And here’s something for your little sister, too.” Natalie wasn’t interested. She was busy tearing off the wrapping of her gift, to reveal a pink tutu with matching tights.
“A ballet dress,” she breathed, clutching it to her chest. “Thank you, Santa.”
“Well,” said Santa, sounding regretful, “This has been very nice, but I’m afraid I must get going. Mrs. Claus will be wondering where I am.”
He stood up.
“May I have a hug, young Natalie?” he asked, scooping her up.
Natalie obliged, wrinkling her nose a bit as she landed among the white curls of Santa’s beard. Santa put her down, and turned to wave, before the door closed behind him.
“I wonder where Rudolph and the other reindeer are?” asked Natalie.
“Oh, I expect they’re out there in the woods, looking for something else to eat,” I said.
“Can I look?”
“Of course. Stand up here on this chair. I’ll hold you.”
Natalie frowned in concentration as she peered through the glass. It was twilight now, and there were shadows among the trees.
“I think….I think I see them, Grandmama.” Natalie pointed into the sky.
“I do believe you’re right, darling,” I said, kissing the top of my granddaughter’s head.
“Grandpa, can you see them?” Jay, looking flushed with exertion, was striding back into the room.
“See what, sweetheart?”
“Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer.”
“Darn. You don’t mean to say I missed them? Just my luck. Come here and tell me all about it.”
“Well, Rudolph was feeling hungry…”

The End