Saturday, December 6, 2008

Letting Go at Christmas

Christmas has always been a magical time of year for me. This is the time of year, when no matter how dark things are, I still believe in miracles. Its been a sacred family time as well, with many small traditions--some that date back to my childhood, some that I've instituted with our family. We have a seafood meal on Christmas Eve, (in a nod to our Italian ancestors), walk around the neighborhood and view the Christmas luminary, and then come back to exchange "family" gifts (in contrast to "Santa" gifts). Our gift to the kids is always matching Christmas pajamas--a tradition that starting when they were as babies, as a guarantees they'd all look great in the Christmas morning photos. After gifts are exchanged, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" aloud, and then go outside and toss reindeer food (a mixture of oats and red glitter) on the lawn. Then its time for bed.

I've been feeling very sorry for myself these days, as my fifteen-almost-sixteen-year old son will not be with us for Christmas this year--at all. He'll be gone from December 19 through January 4, celebrating the holiday in Edinburgh with his girlfriend. As that puts thousands of miles and the Atlantic Ocean between us, its safe to say he won't be a part of our holidays. I've been wallowing in my misery, and refusing to get engaged in the season.

Then yesterday, my friend Jenny shared a page she'd written for Mahalo with me, on Christmas in Iraq. Reading it, and thinking about all the parents whose children won't be with them for much less joyful reasons than Tom's, broke through to me. He is following is heart...and I owe him not only my permission to go, but my joy. So, I'll pack up a package of reindeer food, a copy of "Twas the Night Before Christmas", and the traditional Christmas Eve gift of pajamas--with an extra pair for Julia.

I hope customs doesn't confiscate the reindeer food.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving on...Saturday?

When couples get married, one of the big issues they face is what to do about the holidays. Do we spend Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other? Do we alternate years? Try to do two Thanksgivings in one day? Ask both families to come to us?

When Tom and I got married, my parents suggested that we celebrate Thanksgiving with his family on Thanksgiving Day--and my family would celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday. For the first few years, that meant that my mother did Thanksgiving twice...but it meant Tom and I didn't need to choose. As the years went by, my father died, my younger brothers and sisters also got married...and my mother stopped doing Thanksgiving altogether on Thursday, shifting the "big celebration" to Saturday. With five siblings, their spouses, children and dogs, it was a pretty big Thanksgiving. Each new family unit in turn would go to their spouse's family on Thursday, and return home for "our" Thanksgiving on Saturday.

My mother's been gone since 2006, but we all still gather on Saturday for our feast-- a turkey that's generally close to 30 pounds, filled with the family recipe for Sausage and Chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes (with marshmallows), green beans, onions, and turnips. (The turnips are probably the most essential item other than the turkey and stuffing--but that's a blog post of its own.)

So tonight I baked my pies, using my grandmother's rolling pin and two of her pie pans...and tomorrow morning we head down to New Jersey to celebrate with family: Susan, Tom, Katie, Jenny, Tom, George, Lori, Dan, Will, Hugh, Victoria, Mary, Tim, Jack, Matt, Kathy, Bert, Caroline, Al, and Eddie.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kindertransport, Saving Children from the Holocaust

During the 10 months prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Kindertransport program rescued almost 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. Their parents sent the children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to foster families in Great Britain. Most of these children never saw their parents again.

Anne Lehman Fox wrote of her experiences as one of the children of the Kindertransport in her book, ''My Heart in a Suitcase''. The following clips discuss the play that was based on her book and include interviews with Anne and her childhood best friend Dorit. Their story is a poignant one--two young girls, one Jewish, one Christian, living through those horrible times.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Before "'Twilight'' there was ''Dark Shadows''...

The current vampire frenzy created by ''Twilight'' reminded me of ''Dark Shadows'', the TV Show that introduced vampires into a soap opera over forty years old. Here's a clip from the episode where Barnabas Collins arrives at Collinwood.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have been discussing a film version of Dark Shadows, with an estimated release date of 2011 or 2012, but Entertainment Weekly reported last month that the project appeared to be dead. Maybe the success of the Cullen vampires will bring the Collins family back to life?

Dark Shadows Store

Sunday, November 16, 2008

California Proposition 8 is Not Protecting My Marriage

Proposition 8 was a ballot initiative that sought to amend the California state constitution to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry in the state. It passed on election night, 52%-48%.

Proponents of Prop 8 used phrases such as "defend" and "protect" in justifying their enthusiasm for the measure. That sounds great, right? Who wouldn't want to "defend marriage"? The family is the bedrock of society, and it certainly should be defended. Well I'm a heterosexual woman living in Massachusetts, and I haven't felt that my marriage has been under attack, or needed "defending" since same-sex marriage was legalized here in 2004.

Life is short. We are on this planet together for a very brief moment. What matters is that we love--not who we love, or how we love--but that we appreciate, support, value, and commit to be there for each other--while we are fortunate enough to be together.

There are plenty of things that people who want to "defend marriage" could be spending their time on. Marriage is certainly under attack from many things in society today. People concerned about protecting marriage could work to eliminate the source of financial stresses that rip people apart. They could work to stop the cycle of domestic violence, so children of abusers don't grow up to be abusers themselves. They could work on providing support to women caught between caring for children and aging parents. There's lots that can be done to "protect" marriage--but preventing two people who are ready to commit to each other in this wonderful, difficult, life-affirming journey of matrimony is not one of them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Frank Woodruff Buckles, Last U.S. WWI Vet

Updated February 23, 2009
November 11, 2008 marks the 90th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. There are only a handful of veterans of that war still alive; the U.S. has only one -- 108 year old Frank Woodruff Buckles of West Virginia. In 2007, his local television station interviewed him:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Deval Patrick, John Kerry, and Politics as Usual in Massachusetts

In 2004, the Massachusetts legislature, concerned that then-Governor Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican to fill John Kerry's senate seat if Kerry won the presidency, took action. They replaced the law that permitted a governor to appoint a replacement to serve out the term of a senator who left office before his term expired, with one that required a special election to fill the seat. As we all remember, John Kerry lost the election, so no replacement was needed. Fast forward to 2008, where the very same John Kerry is being talked about for a position with the Obama administration. Republican Mitt Romney has been succeeded by Democrat Deval Patrick--and the Lowell Sun reports that Governor Patrick would like to change the law back--so that he can personally appoint a replacement for Kerry, if needed

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Day Musings

This year will be the first year that we will have 4 voters in the family for the presidential election. Katie's 20, lives at college, and has voted in previous elections--usually by absentee ballot. This will be Jenny's first election. Katie made her selection early, and is still supporting the same candidate she backed in the primary. Jenny supports the "other side". There are three controversial ballot questions in Massachusetts as well, that we each have a different opinion on. (The youngest also has opinions--but has 3 more years to wait before he can cast his first ballot) Its been an interesting election season in our politically "divided" family.

On Saturday, Katie called, and wanted to know if I'd be home on Tuesday. She said that she was coming home to vote. When I asked why she hadn't voted by absentee ballot, she said that in this election she felt it was important to go to the polls and mark her choice in person. (If you read my earlier post on absentee ballots, you'll understand why this was a big deal to me). She also suggested that we all go out to dinner after we voted, before she went back to school.

So, tomorrow, on this uniquely American holiday, my family will cast our very different ballot choices, expressing our individual opinions--and then unite for dinner together.

Our divided family--united in what's really important. Just like America.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Zeituni Onyango Asylum Application

Barack Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango is an illegal alien, living in South Boston. "The Times of London" reported that she is disabled, and impoverished. Obama has denied knowledge of her immigration issues, according to CNN:

''Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, issued the following statement..."Senator Obama has no knowledge of her status but obviously believes that any and all appropriate laws be followed."''

The Associated Press alleges that Onyango applied for political asylum in 2004, and that her request was denied. Obama, Onyango, and their family are members of the Luo tribe, as is Kenyan prime minister and former opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Odinga has claimed to be Obama's cousin. Given the political instability in Kenya, it is possible that Onyango used the tie to Odinga as a basis for her claim for asylum.

I find it difficult to believe that if someone was applying for political asylum and had a Harvard Law school graduate in the family, who was also a government official, that she wouldn't have asked him for advice, if not support, when she was preparing the application. The Chicago Tribune reports that she attended the senator's swearing in ceremony in January 2005, after her asylum petition had been declined.

Most discussion of this issue has been focusing on the fact that Onyango is living in a housing project in Southie, while Obama is wealthy. Well, that happens. What is more concerning to me is his statement, through a spokesman, that he has "no knowledge" of her status--that's about as believable to me as his statement earlier in the campaign that Bill Ayers was just "a guy who lived in his neighborhood"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin

When I was little, my mother would sprinkle cheese on cauliflower as a treat. This recipe is a more sophisticated version of that childhood favorite. It's a great way to use up leftovers -- either as a light vegetarian entree for one, or a side-dish for two. You can easily double, triple, or quadruple the recipe to prepare an awesome make ahead Thanksgiving vegetable.

What you need:
*About 2 cups of cauliflower, cooked.
*3 Tablespoons of butter, divided
*1/3 cup of parmesan cheese -- freshly grated is best

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Step 2: Spread 1 Tablespoon of butter liberally on an oven-safe baking dish.
Step 3: Arrange the cauliflower in the dish.
Step 4: Sprinkle the cheese on top of the cauliflower, making sure each floret is well coated.
Step 5: Chop the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in small pieces, and dot the cauliflower with the butter
Step 6: Place in oven and bake until brown and bubbly, about 15 - 20 minutes.
Step 7: Remove from oven and enjoy with a glass of Pinot Grigio

Monday, October 27, 2008

Massachusetts Question 2: Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession

Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to vote on November 4 for a proposal that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, replacing the current criminal penalties with a $100 fine. Although not specifically addressing the Massachusetts proposal, I found this program, "It's Time for a Conversation" helpful in providing context and perspective on the issue.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008 Voter Turnout

By all accounts, voter turnout in 2008 is expected to set records. Most of the discussion in the media has been the effect that this higher turnout, and the influx of first time voters, is expected to have an impact on the presidential election.

There are other ramifications, however. In Massachusetts, we have several initiative proposals on the ballot. Question 1 proposes eliminating the state income tax, and Question 2, if passed, would reduce the current penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Question 3 would ban greyhound racing in the Commonwealth.

Question 2, in particular, will be affected by the number and demographics of the voting population. Young, liberal voters would be probably be more apt to vote for decriminalization than older conservative types.

The ballot questions generally get little press--and its not unusual for voters to show up on election day not having read or researched the issues that are behind the questions.

So the question I have is--are all these new voters conscientious enough to do their homework on the questions, as well as the candidates, before November 4?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Princess Nudelman

Did you hear about the dead goldfish that was sent voter registration materials? Princess Nudelman, late of Illinois, received registration materials in the mail.

Back in the dark ages, when I registered, it needed to be done in person, at Town Hall-- and I needed to produce a sealed copy of my birth certificate to prove that I was a citizen.

My daughter turned 18 a few weeks ago. In September, she received a form in the mail, filled it out and mailed it in. A few days before her birthday she received a confirmation back in the mail that she was now a registered voter in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts -- no evidence required.

The Nudelman family chose not to attempt to register Princess to vote--after all, as the Daily News noted
"The only "agent of change" Princess ever supported was the person who freshened the water in her fishbowl."

...But you have to wonder how many "Princess Nudelmans" did wind up registering?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Drive-Through Voting

When I first saw the title, "Fries With That? O.C. Offers Drive-Thru Voting" , I was sure it was a hoax--drive through voting? Sure enough, in the latest variation on early voting and absentee ballots, voters in Santa Ana, California will have the opportunity to exercise their civic responsibility without leaving their car on October 20.

Voters will also be able to register without leaving their car. October 20 is the last day to register in California. Election officials estimate that approximately 3,600 people will register on the last day, either traditionally or by car.

The drive-through facility will be open until midnight.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Next Bailout

If I seem a bit obsessed with student loan debt, it could be because of the ages of my children -- financing college is a big topic in our house. Discussions about "name" schools vs. affordable schools occur frequently--almost daily these days with a high school senior in the house. Last week I blogged about my concerns about what the levels of student loan debt would do to the economy several years out-- but it appears that it may exacerbate the current crisis, as well.

The New York Times has an article this morning, discussing the job prospects of graduates from top business schools. They mention one student who expects to graduate with $200,000 in debt. Think about that--$200,000--generally repayable over a 10 year period, at a 6-7% interest rate...with payments starting shortly after graduation.

How many of these kids are there? And without jobs, how will they pay these loans? And will taxpayers whose children have made trade-offs so they don't need to assume the level of debt required by a big-name school be expected to bear the burden of loan forgiveness for these bad choices?

We live in scary times, I think.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pumpkin Cupcakes

While Jenny over at The Inner Bean has been working on her great Halloween Tombstone Project, I've been thinking about food. Halloween presents a great opportunity to "play" with food, and one of the easiest ways to do this is with cupcakes. Halloween cupcakes can range from simple desserts--topping a cupcake with candy corn, for example, to elaborately constructed monsters. Pumpkin cupcakes are a quick and easy variation-- you can put them together in about the same amount of time it takes to frost a plain cupcake.

What you need:

*Cupcakes of your choice, cooled and ready to be frosted
*Container of vanilla frosting
*Orange food coloring
*Orange decorating sugar
*Pretzel rods, broken into short pieces about 1" long

Step 1: Scrape the container of frosting into a mixing bowl.

Step 2: Add several drops of food coloring, and combine with an electric mixer until blended. Repeat if the color isn't dark enough, continuing until you're happy with the hue.

Step 3: Mound frosting on the cupcake, smoothing the top as much as possible.

Step 4: Roll each cupcake in decorating sugar.

Step 5: Use a bamboo skewer to draw segments radiating out from a bit off center of the cupcake. (A toothpick will make too thin a line).

Step 6: Insert a piece of pretzel rod where the segments meet.

If you feel like branching out into more elaborate productions, decorated cupcakes are fairly simple to reverse engineer. Here are some great photos that might inspire you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Absentee Ballots and Civics Education

I don't always agree with commentator George Will, but he has a thought provoking piece in Newsweek about absentee ballots. He concludes that the increasing emphasis on voting early is eroding the national institution of Election Day.
"The great national coming-together that Election Day has been and should be is a rare communitarian moment in this nation of increasingly inwardly turned individualists who are plugged into their iPods or lost in reveries with their iPhones....The coming of the public into public places for the peaceful allocation of public power should be an exhilarating episode in our civic liturgy."
I agree with him. While absentee ballots are important to ensure that those who will not be geographically located near their assigned polling place on election day will not be disenfranchised, something is lost when voting is made too easy.

One point that Will doesn't make, however, is about the role election day plays in the education of children. I can still remember accompanying my mother to vote as a child. She took the opportunity on the walk to and from the polling place to talk to me about voting, about what it means to be an American, and the responsibilities we have as citizens. I did the same when my children were young. Of course, parents could talk to their children about these things at any time -- but election day is a structured opportunity for civics education.

By making the choice to treat voting as something that needs to be done hurriedly, without gravitas, we're missing an opportunity to impart our civic values to our children, and leaving that job to MTV.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Comfort Foods and the Financial Crisis of 2008

Yesterday, when the markets were in a death spiral, I wrote about Chicken Pot Pie. Well, it appears that I was on to something. Charlie Gibson did a segment on the nightly news tonight about comfort food. It appears there is not only an economic reason that people turn to basic foods in a financial crisis, but a biological one as well. Scientists have found that fatty-carbohydrate-laden dishes reduce stress--that in times like these, the "bad" foods are actually good for us! He didn't cite authoritative sources on the air--but if Charlie says it, its good enough for me.

The other interesting point mentioned in the segment was that amid the massive stock declines yesterday, one major company's stock actually went up--Campbell's.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Comfort Food for Crazy Times --Chicken Pot Pie

When the Dow falls almost 800 points, its a good day to focus on comfort food--specifically Chicken Pot Pie. What do you need to prepare this delicacy?
*Leftover chicken carcass, with some meat on the bones
*Leftover gravy
*One onion
*One box frozen mixed vegetables
*Pie crust
*Seasonings--I use fresh garlic, cardamom pods, pepper and rosemary.

Step 1: Prepare your crust. This can be as simple as taking it out of the box, or making your own. Place the bottom crust in a pie plate and set the top crust aside. If your kitchen is warm, put them both in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Chop the onion, and start it sautéing in one tablespoon of butter on medium-low heat.

Step 3: Take the meat off the chicken carcass, and set aside. You're aiming for about 2 cups. If you have less, you can add a few more vegetables.

Step 4: Measure your leftover gravy. Do you have 2 cups? Awesome! If not, add water or broth until you do have 2 cups of liquid.

Step 5: Turn your attention back to the onions. They should be soft, and maybe a little brown by now. If you needed to add liquid to the gravy, add 2 Tablespoons of flour to the pan, and sauté for a minute or so, then add the liquid-gravy mixture and cook until it starts to thicken.

Step 6: Season. I add 2 cardamom pods, a pinch of rosemary, 1 clove of garlic, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Step 7: Add frozen mixed vegetables to the sauce, and cook until thawed.

Step 8: Add chicken to the vegetables and sauce and mix well.

Step 9: Assemble. Place chicken-vegetable-sauce mix in bottom crust. Cover with top crust, and crimp edges. Brush top crust with milk or egg yolk, if desired. Cut vents in crust.

Step 10: Bake for about an hour at 375.

Enjoy! This is one dish that comforts your wallet as well as your soul.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who Will Buy the Boomers' Houses?

During the debate at the University of Mississippi last Thursday, John McCain said, "This isn't the beginning of the end of financial crisis, this is the end of the beginning." The comment itself didn't spark controversy, and the candidates moved on to other topics, but it resonated with me.

I see another perfect storm brewing in a few years. At some point, the baby boomers will begin attempting to sell their houses -- whether because of infirmity, the desire to simplify or the need for cash. Whatever the reason, a fair number of four bedroom colonials will hit the market.

At the same time, college tuitions are spiraling out of control, with more students graduating with large amounts of student debt. When they marry, they'll combine two student loan portfolios. For many of them, the level of debt they've assumed will preclude a house purchase.

So who will buy all the baby boomers' houses?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Butch Thompson, Piano Man

Driving home after dinner tonight, we happened to hear Butch Thompson playing piano on "A Prairie Home Companion". Butch had been a regular on the show a while ago, but he's moved on and is only an occasional guest these days.

When I got home, I went searching (that's what I do, after all!) to see if any of Butch's performances were online. I found this recording of him playing "A Solas", the piece we'd heard on the radio:
I also was able to find a few pieces of him playing in various ensembles. Although his solo piano is awesome, he's also quite an asset to a band -- we were fortunate enough to have him at one of our Blue Tent Parties a few years ago.

In addition to his performing skills, he writes frequently about jazz. He's considered a Jelly Roll Morton expert, and was a consultant for the Broadway show "Jelly’s Last Jam".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Far Above Cayuga's Waters

One of the advantages of parenthood is that your children's experiences help you cycle back and reconnect with parts of yourself that you thought were left behind. I had the opportunity to go back to Ithaca, NY twice over the past few months, thanks to my daughter's college search. This was a particularly poignant journey, as I had been away from my alma mater for longer than it took Odysseus to find his way back to his Ithaca. While there I was struck not only by the changes, but also by how much things had not changed. Cornell University is still one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BlueTent Party Online

I had an odd experience last week. I found myself on YouTube.

We have a party every year towards the end of August. (The kids always called it the "Blue Tent Party", because for years we put up a giant blue tarp in lieu of an actual tent. As of last year, we now have a real tent--but its still the "Blue Tent Party") Anyway, we hire a trad jazz band, everyone brings a culinary contribution, and we relax, kick back, and enjoy ourselves.

The guest list is as eclectic as the food. Friends from all phases of our lives--and friends bring friends. Well, this year, unbeknown to us, one of the friends of a friend recorded the party and posted it on YouTube. I was pretty shocked at first, but it is a great way to expose people to a niche music genre. There are 14 videos, and while not professional grade, viewing them will give those of you who missed this year's soiree a taste of what you missed!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


We have a garden.

I suppose I should clarify that. My beloved spouse has a garden. He rototills, plants, weeds, and tends to a variety of vegetables. I'm tasked with preparing what he produces. For years, we(he) have planted zucchini, without success. They grow, we get a few, the vines get infected with something...and die. Every September we hear zucchini jokes--people leave them on doorsteps and run away--almost like the fruitcake that gets passed around at Christmas--and we never quite understood the problem.

Well, this year--while the rest of the country is suffering with droughts--or hurricanes--or other natural disasters--the weather pattern here in New England has produced zucchini. Baseball-bat-sized-enormous-zucchini. ALOT of them. And they're still growing.