Sunday, December 08, 2019

Breaking the rules

For bloggers, there is one cardinal rule: avoid religion and politics. Tonight I am breaking that rule because those two subjects are what’s on my mind, so closely intertwined that I cannot separate them. As I have often said, my faith dictates my politics. And roughly quoted from Richard Rohr, my faith compels me to speak out.

Our minister’s sermon this morning took as text the words of the angel to Mary, from the Book of Luke: “Be not afraid.” It is so easy in these trouble times to be governed by fear. Indeed, fear is a tool used by others to shape our lives, from the politician’s mouth to the commercial world. We are afraid of change, of wars with which we are continually threated, of climate change which surrounds us, of disease, of immigrants. For heaven’s sake, in this age, I am afraid of traffickers who kidnap innocent teenagers. There is plenty in today’s world to fear.

Perhaps it is because of that fear that the underlying message of Christmas resonates with me particularly this year. Christians have heard all their lives that God’s gift to us of his son brings hope. And in spite of the fearful world we live in, I find that I am filled with hope. I am sure that we are going through our own Dark Ages but will emerge triumphant on the other side. Rohr says that the dark is necessary to the light—we must know fear to recognize hope.

For me, hope has a particular meaning tonight—or target, if you will. I hope for the preservation of our democracy, the defense of our Constitution. For that hope to become a reality, some false gods—read Republicans—are going to have to topple. And it may take every American to make that happen.

As the Congress moves forward with impeachment proceedings, I am baffled by the Republicans and the cult followers who defend Mr. trump. It seems to clear to me that the House Committee, under Adam Schiff, has proven his culpability beyond a doubt. His defenders have no defense so they resort to empty arguments, like ignoring the will of the people who elected trump. As Stephen King points out, he lost the popular vote by some three million and is only president because of the antiquated electoral college, which King likened to a one-mule wagon in an age of jet transport.

Because they have no solid defense, Republicans resort to several empty arguments, among them the accusation that the impeachment proceedings are illegal, a witch hunt, a politically motivated attempt to remove the president. The proceedings, however, are following the dictates of the Constitution and are, far from a witch hunt, a legal proceeding. As someone pointed out this morning, trump is not being impeached because most Americans hate him—he’s being impeached because he has violated his oath of office and abused the power of his office. Whether or not obstruction of justice is part of the final articles of impeachment remains to be seen, but he is also clearly guilty of it. But it is not hate—being booed at a ball game is hate.

If the Senate votes to acquit, as they may well—another thing that boggles my mind—we will have no recourse except the voting booth, and a fervent prayer that the elections are not so corrupted as to sweep trump and his henchmen into office for another term.

Another thing that is not mentioned on either side of the aisle but seems increasingly clear to all who will recognize it: the president’s mental state is rapidly deteriorating, a judgment confirmed by mental health professionals. But that’s a whole other bag of worms.

I guess this is where hope comes in—hope backed by faith and supported by the actions of every American. Time to be proactive.

Forgive me for breaking the rules. I don’t do it often. Usually I am Pollyanna.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

A day of domestic disasters

Diner tonight: lamb meatballs from the freezer, with an
impromptu tzatziki sauce, and fresh 
beets and greens with butter and lemon
Only thing that went right all day

Ever have a day when everything seems to go wrong? Nothing big, just little stuff. Today was such a day for me.

It started with wrapping Christmas gifts. I targeted four large, heavy gifts that would be my goal for the day. Too big for bags, each required wrapping the old-fashioned way.  I thought it would be a relief to get them done, but whatever could go wrong did. I dropped the scissors or Scotch tape repeatedly--bending down to get them from a seated walker is sometimes an iffy experience. I had to cut the paper on the coffee table, the only surface I have that is large enough, except maybe my kitchen cutting board, and I was afraid that would get the paper greasy. But the paper, too long wrapped around a cardboard tube, had a life of its own and rolled up and fought back as I tried to cut it. The result was uneven jagged edges—not pretty on a wrapped package. For at least one package, I cut the paper and then realized I had not measured correctly--a wasted piece of paper unless I find small packages that need to be wrapped.

Bending over the coffee table from my Rollator made my back ache, so when I got the paper cut, wrapped around the package and secured, I moved it to my desk where I can work more comfortably. Except the one breakable package slipped out of its wrappings and crashed onto the floor—I didn’t hear the tinkling of something broken, so I just went ahead and rewrapped it. We’ll see on Christmas morning if it’s intact.

Inevitably the scissors and tape would be on the coffee table when I needed them on the desk, and vice versa. It took me an extraordinarily long time to wrap four gifts. Then I decided I would wrap a fifth one—lightweight but an odd shape, as tall as it is wide. My best effort, after three or four tries, was a mess. I gave up and put it aside for Jordan.

Tonight I wanted to bake brownies for Jacob, so I asked for an eight- or nine-inch square pan from the kitchen. Jacob arrived with an oblong glass pan, and when I laughed and said, “That’s not a square pan,” he replied, “You don’t have to be mean about it.” Made me feel guilty but didn’t stop me from asking if he’s taken geometry yet. The answer was a mumbled “No.” He didn’t get my joke. I guess thirteen-year-olds are not tuned to grandparents’ humor. Eventually he came back with a nine-inch pan, and I mixed the batter.

Here’s where I’ll whine about aging. I have no strength in my left hand, the hand with a slight tremor. So when I held the mixing bowl in that hand and tried to scrape batter into the baking pan with my right hand, I dropped the mixing bowl into the baking pan, getting a good schmear of batter on the outside of the bowl. With patience and small steps I finally got most of the batter into the baking pan, but it was a chore. The reward was that the brownies are delicious—I’ve had two and had to restrain myself from having a third. I told Jordan she better come get some for Jacob before I eat them all, but she’s gone gallivanting with neighbors and Jacob is at a buddy’s house. Brownies are all mine.

In between my domestic disasters, I finished a mystery I was deep into, had a nap, and fixed myself a good dinner. The day was by no means a loss, but I’ll be grateful if my world goes better tomorrow. Christmas can really be exhausting, but hey! You all know that.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Keeping Christmas

Today is St. Nicholas Day, but it still was a surprise to me to find a beautiful poinsettia, a bottle of wine, and various goodies on the front porch. We have a delightful new neighbor who had told me to be sure to put my shoes on the front porch last night for St. Nicholas to fill with treats. I laughed and assured her I was too old for his treats, but she replied, “You never know.” And sure enough, St. Nicholas apparently doesn’t discriminate by age.

My new neighbor is a busy, stay-at-home mom to four children, two of whom she home schools. She’s a terrific and inventive cook, and she’s undertaken a lot of the renovation of their new-old home herself. I’m not sure she never sleeps.

Last night, the entire family—mom, dad, and four children—went through the neighborhood, leaving Christmas bags at homes of friends. Other treats went in the mail. According to my neighbor, her kids think this is the best part of Christmas.

With  the children’s help, she filled 88 bags with treats. Each student at the small parochial school one child attends was told to put their shoes outside their classroom—sure enough, Saint Nicholas visited the school.

At home, this family keeps Christmas without the commercial aspct. The children get their gifts today, not on Christmas Day when the focus is more on the Holy Infant. This morning, stockings were all full, but she reported that the at-home kids walked by without noticing. Tonight, they’ll pull goodies out of those stockings. Each child will get pajamas, socks, books, candy, and an age-appropriate analog watch. In her words, “No flashy gifts here. That’s a no way for my kids.”

Her whole approach to Christmas gave me pause as I considered the rapidly growing pile of gifts in my bedroom and the time and money I’ve spent figuring out what each of the sixteen might want. Or when I think back to my children’s early years when plenitude was the code of the day. My children’s father was Jewish, so we celebrated Hanukah and Christmas both. The religious celebration got lost in the logistics. I actually had charts—not smart enough for a database—for what each child got on each of the eight days of Hanukah and on Christmas Day. And Christmas morning was liable to be something elaborate, like the set of over-size Tinker Toys that Santa had made into a house big enough for all four of my angels.

And then there was the memorable year they found my stash in the guest room closet Ruined Christmas for them, they admitted.

My anticipation for this Christmas is high—we will all sixteen be together, and Christmas morning we’ll rip through a mountain of gifts with lightning speed. Gone is the lovely, drawn-out tradition of my childhood where we had a big breakfast before opening gifts and then opened one at a time, each person respectfully watching to see what someone else got. Of course, there were only four of us—not sixteen. I barely succeed in keeping them from opening everything on Christmas Eve. If you did that, what would you do Christmas morning?

But as we race through the present opening, I will be thinking of the way my new neighbors keep Christmas. May your Christmas be blessed with love that outweighs the commercialism.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Gearing up for the holidys—and a sour note

“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December/A magical thing. And sweet to remember/We are nearer to Spring than we were in September/I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.”

― Oliver Herford

One of my favorite lines of poetry. Thanks to “Texas Booklover” on Facebook for bringing it to attention this holiday season.

I have a friend who spent Thanksgiving in Santa Fe. When someone asked what they did there, the reply was, “Well, we pretty much eat a meal and then sit around and talk about where we’re going to the eat the next meal.” To me, that’s pretty much what happens in the holiday season as well as in Santa Fe.

I’ve been dragging one foot reluctantly out of Thanksgiving, still eating turkey-and-blue cheese sandwiches, reheated potato casserole and green bean casserole. Even served a raggedy chunk of cheeseball for happy hour last night. Today, I think I’ll pretty much clean up the leftovers, except maybe for the cranberry cake that turned out to be a delightful surprise. Thanks to a neighbor for the recipe—you can watch for the recipe tomorrow in my “Gourmet on a Hot Plate” column. And yes, I baked it in my toaster oven.

But I’m also looking ahead to all food that speaks of Christmas. Spent a long, happy time last night paging through the December issue of Southern Living and cut out lots of recipes, half of which I will never make. I mean, really, who around here do I think will eat roasted oysters  with bacon-saltine topping? And do I really think I’m extravagant enough to serve beef tenderloin crostini or an eight-pound standing rib roast? Jamie, whose birthday is in January, loves prime rib but he rarely comes home for a birthday dinner. No, beer-cheese fondue is probably more my speed. Or maybe the family would like a good, old-fashioned trifle.

Meantime we have to eat until the big day—or week. Some restaurants are on my calendar—I had a lovely lunch yesterday at Nonna Tata, though my friends chided me for ordering potato salad at an Italian restaurant. “Where,” they demanded, “is the pasta?” Tonight I’ll have a low-key, early dinner with a good friend, and tomorrow night it’s a happy hour birthday celebration at a Clearfork restaurant. I’ll be ready to stay home and wrap packages this weekend. Sunday dinner? I’m thinking a Mexican casserole.

The other all-consuming December occupation of course involves gifts—buying and wrapping. It rarely makes me friends when I announce that my shopping is done, but it mostly is. I think only one grandson is a hold-out. And I have wrapped three gifts—a start. Being as compulsive as I am, I plan to spend this weekend wrapping. Trouble is that in the cottage, there’s precious little room for all those packages. I’d put them on the couch, but Sophie would bat them onto the floor when she wants to sleep there. She barely tolerates the Christmas pillow and bunny, although this morning when I got up, she was wrapped around that bunny. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture.

A decidedly un-holiday-like sour note this morning. We had a leak in our water meter box, on our side of the meter (of course! it’s never on the city side!). The plumber has “patched” it—his word—but warns that the next leak will probably mean replacing pipe (and digging up the lawn) all the way to the house. He speculates the pipe is original to the house, which makes it almost a hundred years old. As I count my blessings, I’m grateful that we can fix this without cancelling Christmas. I know that would be the choice in many households.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Brinner heralds the Christmas season

Two or three years ago a small group of friends got to talking about how good it occasionally was to have breakfast foods for dinner—pancakes, fried potatoes, bacon and sausage, and so on. The upshot was we had a pot-luck meal we christened “brinner.” Everyone brought a breakfast food to an evening gathering.

But then we all got busy, got together less, and no one mentioned brinner—until recently when someone suggested we should revive the tradition. So tonight, there was brinner with Jordan and Christian hosting.

One of the problems with such a meal is that everyone tends to bring sweet or starchy dishes. We had cinnamon rolls, that wonderful hash brown potato casserole, pancakes and syrup, carrot cake, and a cranberry cake. But one person balanced the meal by bringing bacon and sausages, and someone else contributed an egg-and-green chili casserole.

Wine flowed and so did conversation as we caught up with each other, discussed neighborhood doings, speculated about new neighbors who will be moving into our tight little area. We even spent time on changes in local traffic and parking regulations. No wonder one person, who will remain anonymous, broke into bars of “God  Bless America.”

A fitting way to mark the beginning of the holiday season. Jordan and Christian have their Christmas decorations throughout the house and a fresh green tree still in its wrappings, where it will stand in full splendor when decorated. Christian takes great care with decorating the tree, a project that sometimes takes him a week.

In the cottage of necessity I have a small artificial tree and am grateful for it, even though I have spent a long life railing against artificial trees. This year, when my tree came ou of the attic, I realized it has over the years grown scrawny, with a big gap in the middle. Plus half the lights no longer work. A new tree is on order and should be here soon.

Meantime I have touches of Christmas. When I was making the cranberry cake today, I reached for the salt on the shelf where I keep it over my work space and saw that Jordan had put a up Christmas plate, on a stand, that has special memories for me—probably at least forty years old, it pictures a family of mom, dad, three kids, and an infant in a carrier decorating a tree. It is of course me, the children’s father, and my four children. Jordan is the infant.

A glass brick with Christmas lights inside—how did they do that?—sits on an occasional table, a Christmas tree pillow and a soft, stuffed bunny in a Christmas outfit are in a chair (Sophie has a problem with that because it is her chair), and Santa Mac, a Scottish Santa, shares a bookcase top with a folk art Saint Nicolas. I feel very festive, and it’s wonderful to be surrounded with decorations that all carry fond memories.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it is Advent, a time of anticipation, of hope, of gratitude. A special times of the year.

“God bless us, every one.” With a tip of the hat to Tiny Tim.