Tradition, Tradition

Holidailies 2007

From the Cafe Writing December Project: List seven traditions – big or small – that you and your family observe. You don’t have to explain them, but it’s more fun for readers if you do.

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As it’s December, and I’ve just strung my house with lights, and my lit tree is resting in the window, as yet bare of ornaments, I offer seven of my family’s Christmas traditions.

  1. Resting Tree: We generally let the lit tree sit undecorated for a few days, even though it’s plastic, just so we can get used to where it is, and get a feel for the best side and worst side, etc.
  2. Ornaments: From childhood, my mother and I would take out all the ornaments and talk about each one as we hung them on the tree. Most of our ornaments are hand-made or specially chosen, and none are plain glass balls.
  3. Pfefferneusse: My mother and I share a box of pfefferneusse cookies every Christmas. These spice drops are perfect with coffee, and represent a shared history.
  4. Aglio Olio: It’s a garlic and olive oil sauce that you toss with fettucini, and it represents our family’s Italian heritage. For most of my life, my mother always made it on Christmas eve.
  5. Stockings: As we’ve grown older, we’ve pretty much stopped with huge presents (except between Fuzzy and myself) and embraced the challenge of only buying items that can fit in a stocking. Some years, this is extremely easy, other years, rather difficult, but it’s always fun, and it limits the amount we spend, as well.
  6. Brie: I am a cheese fiend, and one thing always in my stocking is a small round of brie. Yay for runny cheese!
  7. Tinsel: We no longer use it on our tree, either at my own house or at my mother’s in deference to the memory of my deceased uncle Merrell. I wrote about it in 2005 for that year’s Holidailies. The entry is here.

Be it Resolved

I’ve never been one for posting lists of resolutions. Witness my post from December, 2004, in which I said:

o, just as I’ve tried to make it a rule that I do at least one productive thing every day, I’m going to resolve in very vague forms: to learn something new, to make a new friend, to help someone, and to do something to improve myself. Is this cheating? I don’t think so.

I didn’t post anything even similar at the end of 2005 or beginning of 2006, choosing to stick to the same goals. And truly? I think I’ve succeeded, though sometimes my “one productive thing” has been stretched to include “take a shower” or “get dressed,” but when you work from home these make all the difference.

In any case, I’ve learned many new things over the last year, made several new friends, and connected with a couple old ones, joined a group that helps me help others, and am taking small steps in the arena of self improvement. While these goals are still in place, maybe it’s time to be more specific?

So, while these aren’t really resolutions, as much as GOALS, here’s my obligatory “Things to do in 2007” list:

  1. Use my camera more. I have a fancy digital camera that I almost never use, and I’m so envious of the pictures posted by people like Carmi, Utenzi, Janet, Rana, and Klae, that I have to do something about it. I’m not sure if I’ll have the nerve to share the results, but I’ll be snapping away anyway.
  2. Publish something. I’ve lost site of that goal over the last year, and let fear keep me from sending queries. No more! I will not let myself get distracted and push stuff aside, and I will face my fear of sharing my work.
  3. Spend more time outside. I’ve never really been an outdoorsy person, but I’ve been taking that to extremes lately. So, it’s time to get re-acquainted with things like sunshine and wind and pavement.
  4. Read more. I haven’t been reading much lately, and what I’ve read has been fluffy mind candy, and not challenging or provocative. I’ve also pretty much ignored my bookblog since September. This must change.

And there you have it. Not very lofty goals, and actually they’re being layered on top of the list from 2004, because I think it’s a good list to keep, but goals nonetheless.

Check with me in a few months to see how I’m doing.

Happy New Year

If my title is less than original tonight / this morning, at least the sentiment is sincere. We spent the evening hanging out at ComedySportz where I was NOT on the liners, but came just to help out. Technically we’re required to, and honestly, it was fun to watch the show for a change – the last two months I’ve either been away, on stage, or the show has been dark.

I was supposed to play last night, but felt icky and had NO VOICE so called in sick, which got me some well earned rest. I slept away most of Friday, and a good portion of Saturday, and while I felt a bit groggy this morning, and my back still hurts as it always does during certain times of the month, I had fun helping out tonight. We did two shows, and in spite of the chaos that entailed, our arena was like an island of calm in the even more chaotic West End. Someone had rented the bars in the building for the night, you see, charged $100 / head, and given an open bar and three bands, BUT, they over-sold and weren’t organized and by midnight the building was full of smokey pissed-off drunk people. Mmm, attractive.

My aunt commented that it was interesting to see me in a CSz show on Saturday night and then transition into wearing a cassock and surplice and singing at high Mass on Sunday morning, and I guess it’s true from outside my life, but if she knew how funny and snarky we are in choir practice, and how the ladies of the choir often whisper through the homily, and how much laughter is involved, she might not think it so. What I do know is that Sunday mornings post-show, especially if I was in it, and not just helping, come too soon after Saturday nights, and it’s often hard to find my vocal balance in the mornings. Tonight, however, is Sunday, and therefore there is no issue – our loftiest plan for Monday is that we might catch a movie.

Meanwhile, my mother has emailed to wish me a Happy New Year (she was probably in bed by ten), and my feet are screaming for new sneakers, and I have yet to eat anything approaching real food today – cake at church, soup and a sandwich I couldn’t finish at Panera at lunch, and then chips, pretzels, a coke, and a couple miniature eclairs at the show. I think I may be hungry, but I’m not sure.

In any case, the night is more than half done, and I have nowhere to be in the morning. I might post resolutions. I might not. Either way, I wish everyone reading this the very happiest of new years. May 2007 bring you whatever you want, when you want it.


Pink Frosting

Pink frosting on yellow cake was the order of the day today immediately following mass. We were marking the retirement of Deacon Claire and the leaving of our organist and choir director, Clyde, and cake has never been such a mix of sweet and bitter without involving chocolate or coffee before.

I never really had a chance to know Deacon Claire. She seemed merry and smart, and warm, if not quite as immediately gregarious as Fr. Young. She has a lovely speaking voice, a bit gravelly from age, but still easy on the ears. It was mentioned today that she’s a Franciscan, and for the second time I commented to Fuzzy that I hadn’t realized the Episcopal church had orders, the way the Catholic church does. He merely smirked and said, “You said that last time.” And I never resolved the lack of information. Not very good on my part.

Clyde, on the other hand, is someone who I’d count as a friend. He’s funny – even snarky at times – warm, engaging, and amazingly talented. Consider, he not only plays the organ and acts as cantor but ALSO directs our balky and sometimes extremely amateurish choir. Directed. Acted. Today was his last day. Everyone tried to bribe him to stay, while also trying to respect his wishes, his needs – he lost both parents this year, and work (his day job) and family are demanding more of his time. You can’t really argue with that.

And so today after mass, after singing Christmas carols (because it’s still Christmastide in the church), we met in the parish hall and toasted these people, and laughed with them, and hugged them, and marked their leaving with plaques and cake with pink frosting.

I hope they got the corner pieces with the slightly salty sugar roses.
The corner pieces are the best, after all, and they deserved them.


I spent the day puttering on the computer. Never got around to making the turkey soup I’d planned to make – didn’t feel up to it. Was freezing until ten minutes ago when I woke up sweating. But I’m feeling lucky, even though I’m sick, because I have a warm cozy house to feel sick in.

The dogs left piles of non-returnable presents all over the house today, apparently their statement about the weather. (Chihuahuas don’t like getting their dainty feet wet, don’t you know.) But even though I’m annoyed with them, I’m lucky to have them to cuddle with when I don’t feel well, and to bark at every noise they deem threatening, and to have their sweet faces reaching up to mine whenever I feel sad or grumpy, or come home after an absence of greater than three minutes. And puppy-kisses make everything better.

My parents emailed me to say thank you for hosting Christmas, and so did my aunt, and you know? Even though my family is damned annoying at times, and even though there’s a REASON I live 2500 miles away from my mother, I’m lucky to have parents who encouraged me to be independent and a free thinker, and an aunt who, when she’s not being just a little too neurotic, will listen to whatever I need to talk about. I’m also lucky that Ira, my stepfather, cares for my mother so tenderly and with such patience. I will never have to worry about her being alone in the world.

Fuzzy and I bicker a lot, and don’t go on dates as often as we should, and yes, sometimes we IM or text each other’s phones, or even just call each other within the house, and he can be really stubborn, and I can be really bitchy, but I’m lucky to have someone who supports my ideas, and encourages my dreams and gets my jokes, and even better, helps with the dishes and the laundry, and is RIGHT NOW out buying groceries.

And maybe this post would’ve been better for Thanksgiving, but as the year draws to a close, I’m struck by the thought that luck is what we make it, and that in a world where there’s far too much strife, it’s a good thing to take a moment and count up all the good things we have.

Good friends, good family, good dogs, good home.
Good luck to us all.


Sick with a major cold that has settled in my ears and throat now, I spent yesterday curled up in bed with dogs and tea, alternately napping and surfing the web from my trusty laptop. At times, I flipped the television on, but it was a “500 channels and nothing to watch” sort of day, and anyway, there was entertainment provided free by Mother Nature herself.

Wednesday had been a grey day, but in the soft, innocent sort of way that basically makes you feel as if the entire world is wrapped in pale greyish-lavender candy-floss. Yesterday was aggressively grey, and the rain showed up accompanied by a symphony of wind, thunder, and lightning, as well as its own sound – the slick staccato of drops falling on the deck, on the glass table, different pitches melding together, or the soft hiss of the water landing in the pool, sounding for all the world like a simmering cauldron.

And the lightning, oh, the lightning.

I love lightning, and one of the things I love about living where I do is that we get amazing, tremendous lightning storms. Yesterday was not disappointing. I remember crossing the living room, lit by only the Christmas tree and the bannister lights (which will remain until Epiphany), and turning my head to see long fingers of Dracula lightning arcing across the sky, not once, but three times in succession.

Another time, I’d have been awe-struck, and stopped just to watch, but yesterday I laughed. We have a wreath on the front door that has a motion detector. When someone stands in front of it, it begins to dance and sing “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” and, like something from a horror movie where a child’s toy plays innocently just before the axe murderer comes, each flash of lightning was triggering the wreath.

The dogs did not like any of this.
And my head and throat were achey, still are achey, so I returned to bed, and cuddled them, soothing Cleo so that she stopped barking at the thunder. She finally burrowed under the covers where she was mostly oblivious to the lightning, at least.

And I?
I turned out the lights, lit candles, and watched the flashes of light in the sky until sleep claimed me again.

Smells like Black Phoenix

My good blog-buddy Janet mentioned some really intriguing perfumes a while ago in her blog. She shares my love of all things Snape, and comments were made that if he made perfume, he’d have made these. Or something like that. I meant to check out the company immediately, but forgot, as often happens.

Several months later, I stumbled across another mention of said perfumes, in a totally different blog. This time, I checked out the website for the company: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and read almost every description, coming up with a short list of favorite scents that was 18 items long. (You don’t want to know what the long list looks like.) I mentioned the name to Janet, and she reminded me that this was the same place she’d mentioned.

In the mail on the 23rd was a card from Janet with a sample (BPAL calls them “imp’s ears” or just “imps”) of a scent called Calliope, one of the scents in the MUSES collection, which can be found here. The description reads, in part, “Hers is the scent of creative inspiration, and it is a boon to writers, poets and arbitrators: lavender and bright mint with bergamot, verbena, thyme and a touch of sweet orange and warm almond,” and yes, it smells as delicious as it sounds.

I told my husband I wanted something from Black Phoenix for Christmas, and he printed out their logo and gave me a dollar amount of spending cash, which I used today to order a bottle of one of their Christmas/Yule 2006 Limited Edition scents, “The Winter of our Discontent,” as well as six imps (“Asphodel,” “Dragon’s Heart,” “Intrigue,” “Lightning,” “Midnight,” and “Miskatonic University”), as well as purchasing a mystery pack of imps from a member of the BPAL forum, where there are recommendations based on astrological sign and blood type as well as just ‘preferences,’ swaps, and reviews of the products.

I admit, I wanted to buy one of everything, but to do so would require one to be independently wealthy. I confess I also keep going back to read the forum and the descriptions on the actual site. They’re marvellous. Inspiring. Amazing. But don’t believe me. Go check them out for yourself.


I’ve always loved licorice, and its flavor-cousins, anise and fennel. Maybe this is because my Italian grandmother got me hooked on Stella D’oro anisette toast when I was a small child, or maybe it’s because my mother likes Good ‘n’ Plenty candies, but whatever the source, licorice and I have had a long relationship.

Oddly, however, as much as I like licorice (and I mean the strong black stuff when I refer to it, for, though red vines are tasty treats, they are NOT licorice), I never actually buy it, so when my aunt’s last envelope arrived and included a package of Nordic Salty Black Licorice Fish, I was happy to save my parents and Fuzzy from having to ingest them, though my mother and stepfather did each have one. “Too salty!” they said, and admittedly, I thought this as well, but the thing is, those strong salty squishy fish are sort of addictive.

Well, more than ‘sort of.’

In fact, they’re my new favorite comfort food for the time just before that time of the month, because the salt and sweet and incredibly strong flavors combine in a way that is both repulsive and delicious, if that makes sense. Somehow, they were soothing and satisfying, even with their underlying vile-ness, and if I wasn’t giving up sugar after the holidays, I’d totally buy more.

As it is, I think I’m going through withdrawal.
I wonder if they still make stella d’oro anisette cookies.


Morning came softly, creeping in between raindrops, oozing around the windows and doors as cracks of light. The sky isn’t blue, but cloudy lavender, the air is cold and fat with moisture. Will it rain? Very possibly. Do I mind? Not at all.

My ex-Catholic-now-quasi-pagan mother and ethnically-Jewish-but-turned-secular-Humanist stepfather came to Christmas Eve mass last night. The service was simple, sweet, and relatively short. The creche was blessed, incense was smudged and clouded and shared, songs were sung, and at the end, we were given to-go cups of hot chocolate. Standing under the roof of the breezeway sipping hot chocolate a bit after midnight, while the rain pattered on the parking lot, we greeted the new liturgical year.

But it’s the birth of the new year in more secular ways as well. Oh, a bit late, even if the calendar stills says 2006, but really, the day of the solstice nothing changes, it’s now, a couple days later that there’s a feeling of hope and promise underneath the wet cold. A promise of days getting longer. A promise of greenery returning. A hope for a better world – that we can make this year better than the last.

Morning comes softly, in the easing of the hours of night, in the subtle change in the music of the earth, and even as I’m reflecting that if you go back far enough, it doesn’t matter if you talk about a blessed virgin in Bethlehem, or any other figure of motherhood from any other culture, as all are aspects of the same, representative of the same, the birth of the future, the eventual return of spring, I’m still smiling, and uttering the phrase on everyone’s lips today:

Merry Christmas

And echoing the sentiment of my 60’s-radical parents, in my most simple wish for the world:


The Regular Table

Question 16:
What is your favorite Christmas / holiday sound?

Raised glasses clink against each other accompanied by exultant declarations. “To us! To the future. To everything!” The details of the conversation don’t matter. The ebb and flow of voices soft when serious, louder when silly, crashing down like thunder with the group breaking into laughter, and finally tapering off again into stray titters, tells the story without us understanding the words.

We know that the people at this table share a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference, but are also just different enough to add their own spin, so that, like a good stew with its spices, vegetables, meat and broth, there is a melding of thoughts, ideas, opinions, observations.

Sometimes the topic is a weighty: someone has died, gotten sick, lost a job, lost a spouse. Other times, serious, but joyful: a birth, a marriage, a new home. Laughter prevails, the teasing laughter of a good joke, the embarrassed laughter as wilder moments are recalled, the softer laughter reflecting the blush of new love, the baudy sort when risque subjects are touched upon. But always laughter is an important element here, more than a grace note, less than the whole piece.

Friends, family. At the regular table the details of the relationships are not important. The laughter is.