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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Martini Effect

My son-in-law makes a mean martini. It’s not the first attribute one looks for in a son-in-law; let's just call it added value. He tended bar during his college years, and the results of assiduous practice are clear. He makes me a perfect martini every time: dry, no olive (bleh!) with a lemon twist. He taught me how to do it, but I still come up with only an adequate drink. .

I wish I had his touch because every other Monday night, my husband goes to his men’s group meeting. I make myself a martini and enjoy it while I watch TV. The men’s group has been together for almost 20 years. They are a remarkable group and meet in an equally remarkable space, the bell tower of the National Cathedral. They share philosophies, tragedies, child rearing stories, marital difficulties in the strictest confidence.

I never call Steve during these meetings. To be fair, when the group first met, cell phones were non-existent, but even since everyone in the country has a minimum of one cell phone, I have always respected their physical and metaphysical space. I have no idea if other partners also refrain from calling or if, like me, once a fortnight they sort of enjoy the quietude. In any case, a couple of weeks ago I infringed on their seclusion.

Did someone die? Well, no. Was there an accident? No. An illness? A birth? A disaster. Um, no. Here’s what happened.

I made my martini and turned on the TV. I can’t remember exactly what I was watching for reasons which will soon be made clear. I sipped on my cocktail and enjoyed a little buzz. I decided that I would like the buzz to continue. I made another martini.

Be forewarned: gin creeps. Oh, yes, you are half way done with your drink, and you feel fine. You finish it up, and you think, I’ll have another, thank you. Then you have another, and oh, my! Yes, after the second martini, I was very happy. I wanted -- and this part I remember quite clearly -- to share just how happy I was. What’s the point of being married if you can’t share important information with your spouse?

I dialed; Steve answered.

“I called to tell you I’m drunk,” I announced and proceeded to explain the martini effect. Steve chuckled, and we ended our call.

The men’s group does nothing if not offer support and advice. When Steve relayed what I'd said to him, they rallied round. What was he doing still standing there? Get out of there fast, they told him; stop on the way, buy flowers and get home immediately.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Night Before

We have a holiday tradition that takes place only on certain, magical years the grand confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. Early in the evening, as darkness falls, we light the Menorah. No one wants to be the one not to give the blessing, so we sing it all together. We seem to have varying natural pitches, but that’s part of the charm, right? We proceed to a light supper, then, YAY, it’s Christmas Eve!

The stack of books has grown pretty big over the years. At one time, I limited my voice to reading two per child, but once they became readers, the sky was the limit. Next to the stack is the tray overflowing with cookies: chocolate chip cookies, iced gingerbread men and women, and sugar cookies shaped like dreidles, Santas, stockings and, you know, dinosaurs.There won’t be many left by the end of the night, but we’ve gotta keep our strength up while we read.

“Dibbs on Mr. Willloughby’s Christmas Tree!” the older one shouts, diving for her favorite.

“I get Tosca’s Christmas,” exclaims the younger.

“Oh, I want Frosty.”

“I’ve got Morris’ Disappearing Bag and Max’s Chocolate Chicken!” The last is an Easter story that has become inextricably entangled with our Christmas fare, Max and Morris being virtually the same little boy -- our little boy. From this standpoint, he nabs Max’s Dragon Shirt, too

My children are grown and flown, but one time we all gathered on Christmas Eve, I remonstrated, “You’re in your 20s. We don’t really have to spend all night reading all the stories.” I was met with stony looks.

The Berinstein Bears Meet Santa Bear, Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, the tall stack becomes two shorter yet not inconsiderable stacks.

By now, we’ve grown to more than immediate family. Spouses, having turned down the high treat of selecting a book to read aloud (or not risking the flying elbows), look on mesmerized by amazement or disbelief as their adult partners regress a good 15 years.

Then the reading begins, the glorious Christmas stories of sweet surprises and love and happiness. This year, while everyone leans to hear, two Perfect Grandchildren will snuggle close when I close the evening with our 1942, Everett Shinn illustrated copy of Clement Clarke Moore and begin, “’Twas the night before Christmas . . . .”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Close to Paradise

Need one small cake? Need a cone form for charcoal on your grill? Christmas plates? Hanukah candles, truffles (I mean real ones), Wine Away, weird cheese? If you live in the northeast, you know where I’m going with this, or more accurately, where to go.

My husband comes from Buffalo, and his mother lived there for somewhere around fifty years (oh, lord, is that right? I think it is.) As long as Steve’s Dad was alive, he took her to Wegmans every single day. Every day.

Mary lived in their family home for several years after it was wise for her to do so, and we finally got her moved down here in a senior’s apartment near us. She thrived with the move but always bemoaned having left Wegmans behind. Then one glorious day the news arrived: Wegmans was coming! She couldn’t have been more excited.The flurry! The bustle! She and her friends had elaborate plans for getting there early on opening morning. You’d have thought it was the second coming.

I didn’t understand until I walked into our local Wegmans. The cheese “room” alone was staggering. Now I’m a true believer. Do you need something, something rare and esoteric? It’s okay if you don’t believe in Santa. You can go to Wegmans.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Which Ghost of Christmas?

When did Christmas become so mean? I look at what is passing for holiday humor this year, and I do not understand it.

Let me begin here with a disclaimer. I am not Christian; I have never been Christian, and I cannot foresee a time in the future when I will become Christian. When people look puzzled and say, “but you celebrate Christmas,” I answer, “But only in its most commercial sense.” I am not extolling the power of the dollar but explaining that Christmas, even -- or perhaps especially--without God or Santa Clause, is a time of pure celebration, untainted by faith or reason. It’s a time when you can bake and decorate and give for the pure joy of it. So if I’m dismayed by what’s going on, why aren’t believers rioting?

Here’s what’s got me shaking my head. I was meandering around a store, and noticed two packages of Christmas napkins. One said, “All I want for Christmas is a drink,” the other, “Saw it, Wanted it, Got it.” There have always been humorous takes on Christmas.   Have they always been this cynical? Not that I recall.

Then there’s the new crop of TV ads. Have you seen the one where a young man comes home for the holidays? As he enters the house, his older parents sneak away through the back door and zoom off in their car saying happily, “He’ll be okay.” This is funny? Really?

There’s the anti-Santa one that displays people buying fancy electronics for their loved ones. They lay in wait for Santa’s arrival Christmas night for the sole purpose of proving their gifts are better. As he fills their stockings with darling gifts, the people sneer at him, “Bring it on, Santa!” What is this, the Ghost of Christmas Scorn? Is it now de rigueur to be snotty to Santa?!

So I hope you’ll forgive me if we sit home on Christmas Eve with a cup of eggnog, a cheery fire and a couple of brightly wrapped presents under our agnostic tree knowing they are exchanged with love if not with the latest of what passes for wit.

I’m a little puzzled, though. I can’t figure out if I’m too much of a curmudgeon to celebrate with the rest of the country or not enough of one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Under the Mushroom

When we knew we were moving to Moscow, a Russian friend promised to show me how to gather wild mushrooms. The Russians are great mushroom lovers, and many, perhaps even most of them will venture into the forests during mushroom season and pick them fresh. They make them into the most wonderful sauces and soups. Unfortunately, our friend’s and Steve’s companies parted ways, and I never got my lesson.

I, too, love mushrooms. I always thought it would be cool to be able to pick the edible ones. As it is, I have no desire to poison myself or my loved ones -- at least, usually I have no desire to poison them -- so I must continue to buy my mushrooms at the grocery store.

This is too bad because during a rainy fall, like this past one, our yard becomes a veritable mushroom farm. Zillions (okay, several) types of mushrooms spring up. I have no idea what they are, so I give them my own names.

Pink Posies

                                          Corn Muffin Caps    

Warted Fungi


                                             Ruffly Wuffley

  Sex Pistol  

                                Mushroom Anemones

Unfortunately, I was just a little too late in the season to get a photo of the most important mushrooms. Steve saw them just a few days before; you know the red ones with white polka dots. They are the ones with Smurfs dancing underneath.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Perfect Gift for the Holiday

I received an early holiday present today.  I use the generic term “holiday” because at our house, we celebrate every holiday that floats along.  We light the Hanukkah candles, we decorate the Christmas tree, and we kindle a Solstice log.  We’re big on snow storms, too, knowing that in celebration of getting snowed in, our neighbors they'll make us incredible Irish coffee.
Anyway, the Washington Post just gave me an early present, and I’m so happy about it, I could write them a thank you note.  If you look at the Metro section of today’s Post (page 2, bottom of the fold), you will see a human interest article by ME (Nana finds everyone wins at Kangaroo Bean Bag Hop).  It has to do with my Perfect Grandchildren, of course, and it sports a by-line by ME.  Sure, they had to cut a paragraph to make it fit, but do I care? I do not. 

I wrote and trimmed the text and submitted it, so how is its printing a present?  It’s the gift of readers, the gift of approval, the gift of an ego boost.  For a writer, a present doesn’t get a lot better than that?   
                                 *If I had a picture of me grinning, I’d post it here!*