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.

A Tangerine tangle of subjects for you

I promise this is the last of the promos for Tangerine Tango, the bright orange little book that all your friends are hoping to get for Christmas. (They may not know that they want it, yet, but the minute they see that you’ve bought it for them…) All the proceeds from sales (not just a measly 10%) are going to help fund research into Huntington’s Disease, so you can feel virtuous about each copy you buy.

This last set of extracts is pretty much a catch-all. Hope you enjoy them. You know where to find the rest of each article!

Stacey Caron is an antiques dealer and appraiser in New Jersey. She happens to love cooking and has her own blog devoted to food. She writes about traveling abroad via recipes and gives a wonderful recipe for a tart from Seville, Spain.

I love to travel.  Every night I travel to Italy, Spain and France – via my computer.  I guess you can call me an “armchair traveler”. I could tell you every good hotel in Piedmont and fabulous château in Bordeaux. What airline flies direct from New York to Milan and how many miles between Paris and Provence via the high-speed train.

I am always planning my next vacation, years in advance. Though we only take 1 trip a year, I make it worthwhile. I do as much research as possible, using  Google maps, best places to eat, neighborhoods, Tripadvisor, Yelp reviews, word of mouth, blogs, etc. In the end, it makes for a memorable vacation.

Try it. French, Italian or Spanish.  Open a good bottle of wine from the region, a cheese from the same region and make a simple recipe from that same place, and for an evening you are transported to somewhere special. 

I have just saved you a lot of money on airfare.

Judy Ackerly Brown works at a retreat center in North Carolina, and writes about nature:

There’s a new type of therapy called Green therapy or Eco-therapy. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Even the name sounds soothing.

Green therapy is said to help children with ADHD, reduce stress and pain, increase immunity and even help nursing home patients who suffer from dementia-type anxiety.

I find this concept ironic but affirming. It is so basic. Our ancestral hunter-gatherer relatives are probably shaking their heads in disbelief, Fresh air and absorbing nature is now a therapy!

Barbara Chapman is one of life’s survivors, having beaten cancer and lived with MS for years. She works at a hospice in Connecticut, and thinks it’s the best job ever.

I have the dream job. I work for Hospice.

I immerse myself into the life of someone who is in the process of making that final surrender and immerse myself in the lives of the loved ones gathered bedside; haggard, sleep deprived, and in tremendous emotional pain.

I am often asked how I could do this kind of work because it is so sad.  I tell them. Yes, it’s sad but also  a time of great honesty and vulnerability. I am invited into the tight circle of a family when they are spent. No one cares what they look like; no one remembers when they last ate. I plunge into the midst of it. It is an honor.

Take Merrill. He is listening to his favorite country western singer, Johnny Cash. In the final stages of Huntington’s Chorea,  Merrill’s body flails around in his bed uncontrollably. I sit beside him and initiate the same conversation I have had with him for several weeks. He doesn’t recognize me, so the conversation is always new. “Merrill”, I say, “Is it true that you were a paratrooper in the Korean War?”

 Leah Singer is a writer and blogger. You can read her other work on her blog, Leah’s Thoughts, but here’s something from the pieces she wrote for Tangerine Tango:

It has been a year since my husband , Bryan, and I said “I do.” It was a beautiful wedding. We stood under a chuppah adorned with flowers and there was just enough of a breeze to keep the July evening from becoming too warm.

While the wedding was certainly lovely, getting to the chuppah was not an easy task. Especially because Bryan and I were an interfaith couple looking to plan a wedding that was welcoming to our families and held to our own religious beliefs.

I was raised in what I would call a culturally Jewish family, but certainly not religious. We celebrated the Jewish holidays at home but never went to synagogue. As I grew older and went to college, Judaism became much more important to me and I began to seek out ways to bring it into my life. Bryan’s family was Catholic, and like me acknowledged holidays and little else.

 

Give a Tangerine for Hanukkah: 4

I’m still showcasing the writing in Tangerine Tango, the nifty little book edited by Lisa Winkler and perfect for a small gift during the holiday season. Since Hanukkah gift-giving is largely about children these two selections are on that subject.

Dawn Quyle Landau blogs at Tales from the Motherland and lives near the sea in the Pacific Northwest. Her daughter lives a long way away, and here’s some of Dawn’s article on that topic…

Kids are wired to grow up and shake the tree, right?  

So when our daughter threw us a curve ball, it was bound to be something truly noteworthy.  It was; and it all comes back to Israel. Yep, that tiny country that everyone seems to fight about is where my girl got interrupted. It’s where our solid relationship took a hard right. First, she went on a two-week trip with Birthright, the winter of her freshman year at college. There, she fell in love with an Israeli man. She returned the following summer and fell in love with the country… And then she fell deeply in love with her faith. Our daughter told us that she was going  to study in Israel her junior year, and she came home deeply immersed in a faith that we barely recognize as our own.  

 My husband, who I’ll call Smart Guy, is Jewish, and we’ve raised all three kids in the Jewish faith, but our faith is the Reformed brand. The watered down, less strict, simpler brand of Judaism, which (I admit) does what’s easiest, while still remaining Jewish.  We raised our kids in a Jewish faith that called for years of Sunday school, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and attendance on the High Holy Holidays.  Our faith leaves room for bacon, Dungeness Crab, driving on Fridays and Saturdays, using light switches, and calling ourselves Jews even though we do all of those things. (More in the book!)

Madeline Taylor is an elementary ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland. The relationship she forged with her siblings as a child is still very strong, as you’ll see…

When I first joined Facebook, I  wrote my  “25 Random Things” list to tell readers more about me. Communicating on the telephone with my siblings came to mind. 

I wrote:

I speak to my sister, Lisa 4 times a day. I speak to my sister, Naomi 4 times a week and I speak to my brother  4 times a year.

I have no animosity toward my brother. Growing up, we were really close. We’re 11 months apart and shared a room until we were 9 and 10, seeing no reason to be separated except other people thought so.

It’s just that as adults and as parents, we seem to have less to talk about  and I have so much more to say to my sisters, especially on the phone.   We can chat about every mundane tidbit of our lives.  We can multi-task while sharing our stories.  We’ll be on the phone while cooking in our respective kitchens, sharing the steps and outcomes of our endeavors, wishing we lived closer for tastings.   We scrub the tub, load the dishwasher, or make a salad without missing a syllable.

 We talk about everything and nothing. I need advice on SAT tutoring for my daughter, Lisa needs to know why her banana cake doesn’t come out like mine, Naomi shares the latest news about her kids and our cousins. (You know where to find the rest…)

 

Give a parent a tangerine for the holidays: 3

My holiday gift shopping is about halfway done, I think. It’s not easy, with six children, six grandchildren and various other people to buy for. But at least I’ve solved the problem of stocking stuffers, hostess gifts and the like. I have a little stack of Tangerines, so I won’t be caught out wondering what to give the person I forgot about. The tangerines are, of course, copies of Tangerine Tango, the lovely little book that contains some of my work. The book’s available at Amazon in either paper or digital form.

I’ve already written about some of the pieces in the book. Today, I’m going to give you a few samples of the articles about parents. We’ve all had them, and no matter how much we vow we’re never going to become them, it’s amazing how often we find ourselves doing or saying something that could only have been learned from them. I expect my own children have occasional moments like that, poor things.

Donna Barry is a blogger, nurse practitioner and cyclist, among other things. Here’s part of her essay about gardening with her dad:

From the time I was old enough to walk I spent my early days following Daddy around the yard. Each summer evening after supper, he’d leave the inside work behind and tend the flowers and garden. Never mind that he’d just spent all day working in someone else’s greenhouse – this was the work he loved. We’d putter in the yard together. I’d follow along while he carried buckets of water, sifted composted soil and scattered pink fertilizer around the stems of young tomato plants. I learned the names of every kind of petunia, marigold and tomato. Big Boy, Early Girl, beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes, all went into the garden behind our greenhouse. Tiny tomato sprigs that Daddy had painstakingly started in our cellar from seeds back in March were now brave little plants that grew into bushes under our care. At the end of our gardening, there would always be time for a wheelbarrow ride, then sitting in Daddy’s lap in the cool darkness of the porch until bedtime.

Today, I no longer grow tomatoes, but I have flowers. Perennial gardens of Black-Eyed Susan, Sedum and Euonymus edge the house and yard…(the rest is in the book…)

Chris Rosen had this to share about her mother(s):

Born in 1908, Gertrude Smith was a flapper. Barely 5’2” tall, her blonde hair was neatly combed into a Marcel wave ending just below her ear. She told me once or twice, that when she was young she was a “rebel.” Her ancestors were Irish coal-miners, who settled in Scranton, PA. She was widowed three times. Although I wasn’t actually raised by my birth mother, I visited her often and eventually at the age of eleven moved into her home. I was her last child, and these are some of the things she taught me.

“Signs are for sheep.” My mother could always find her way in, around, over or under a problem. She encouraged us to think for ourselves, never to take “No” for an answer, and to always hit back harder when faced with a bully. She did not suffer fools at all. When Nell (who was my foster-mother) and my mother first met as teens, she was sporting a black eye. When asked how she got it, Nell said, “Your mother could swear like a sailor.” They didn’t know then that both women would become my mothers.

“I’ll not only walk again, I’ll dance on your grave!” After losing her husband to a brain tumor, and surviving a near-fatal car accident in that same year, 1949, this is what she had to say to her doctors.

There’s much more to read in Tangerine Tango. Just the book to dip into over the holidays, when a refreshing break in someone else’s world can help pep you up!

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!

The internet yields pumpkin bread and a face-to-face friend

One of the great things about the internet is the people you meet there. One of the downsides is that one almost never gets to meet them face-to-face.  I follow several blogs, and certain of them have produced people of like mind, with whom I share values, comments and all-around goodwill. It was through one of my internet friends that I was asked to contribute to Tangerine Tango, an anthology of women writers. Lisa Winkler, otherwise known as the Cycling Grandma and author of On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America asked me to contribute some of my writing.

The book was published last Monday, and we still hadn’t met, even though Lisa edited the writing, and produced the book. So imagine my delight when I had an unexpected email from her saying that she’d be passing through my part of Connecticut and would like to get together for coffee.

Lisa Winkler and I – having fun!

She came yesterday, bearing a scrumptious loaf of pumpkin bread, and turned out to be even prettier than she looks on her blog, and just as much fun. We talked about the book, and how the promotion was going. (Please buy one!)  She told me about the Scandinavian woman in India who’d designed it, and we mulled over the question of what we might call Volume 2. My son, who happened to be around, came up with a few suggestions, including Pomegranate Papers, Mandarin Memoirs and Kiwi Chronicles, in line with the idea of fruit whose name has become synonymous with a color.  While trying to do this, it struck me how many of the fruit-whose-name-is a-color are in the orange range. See what I mean? Orange, pumpkin, pomegranate, mandarin, persimmon, and papaya, for starters. Lisa fancies the Kiwi Chronicles because she has a yen to produce a green book next time. This is probably because she’s a redhead, and green would suit her perfectly. Even so, any other suggestions are most welcome.

You can tell that we covered a lot of ground over a cup of Turkish apple tea (one of the things I brought back from a recent trip to Istanbul) and I was sorry when Lisa had to leave to get back to New Jersey. But the fact that we managed to meet at all has given me the hope that someday I’ll meet my other internet friends – just let me know if you’re passing through…