Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

The Never-Ending Wreath

March 2nd, 2013

OK, kiddies, it’s March. When do the Christmas decorations come down. Here are just a few in Hyde Park and Milton I noticed on a walk. I do confess that we kept our tree in the living room through January. It was still good and not shedding much when we took it out.

marchxmas7


 
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marchxmas6 marchxmas5
marchxmas4 marchxmas3
marchxmas1 marchxmas2

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

West Virginia Christmas Right here

December 22nd, 2012

For the life of me, I can’t remember the Christmas tune the white church played in our house. It had music-box works and I enjoyed winding it up, returning it to the cotton “snow” lawn, and grokking the season.

My mother, Wanda, loved Christmas and did it up right. She’s dead, but we have retained much of her joy and rituals.  I’m very sure my sister dumped the oldest fixings and does not decorate as intricately. Here, we almost do.

treemas2012Perhaps like the proverb of dubious provenance, there are no atheists in foxholes,  pleasure in and even obsession with this holiday season may not be limited to Christians. Indeed for me, I was raised as a Christian and was a devoted one when young. I got better. Yet, I generally go to a Christmas eve service, often the old-fashioned New England one, with the fillip of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performing, at the Arlington Street Church. There’s nothing like an apse filled with bald or gray chubby or saggy men in dinner jackets with beautiful voices singing God’s glory to scream, “He is born!”

Wanda though picked up from her father Bill, my Granddad. His often grumpy wife Mable, Baba per my sister’s dubbing as the privilege of the first grandchild (she similarly named the paternal version Bubu) was not such a Christmas aficionado.  Granddad started with the two three-story blue spruce on the front mini-lawn. He festooned them with strands of those gigantic colored bulbs we boomers knew.

Then he and I could get in Charlie Long’s pickup with him — the kind where you had to use a hammer to change in and out of 4-wheel drive by pounding the hub. We’d thump over the fields and across the shallow South Branch of the Potomac to get to his land that had evergreens. I’d pick the tree I liked, as by far the junior man-let in the group and we’d saw it down. They always let me make the last few cuts that caused the TIMBER moment.

Mable never cared for this treasure. It was work to trim, although she was not involved except for huddling, directing and scolding. It always meant she had to haul out the vacuum daily to inhale the needles. It was more trouble to undress, plus shedding seemingly half its tags on the trip out the front door before trash day. Harrumph, indeed.

miltonluminWanda was in Bill’s mode and then some. Most personally obviously, she bought presents, not only many, but exactly what people wanted or would have asked for had they been as perceptive as she. Very much unlike those who wrote checks, gave gift cards, or approximated age-appropriate gifts, Wanda looked to the soul (and lifestyle) of each recipient. She made sure you got what would delight you. Your delight was hers.

Yes, the outside of her house was lit and tarted up with red, green, yellow and white. Inside tough, it as a monument to Christmas traditions. Bookshelves (of which she had many, many and table tops were layered with chorister candles (never burnt, God forbid), creches, scenes of shepherds with angels, ice skaters, lighted model villages and on and on and on.

I loved it all.

We decorate here, replete with a substantial creche molded and painted by my late mother-in-law. My wife does the Martha Stewart deeds of garlands, lights and more. I and one or more of our sons sets out the luminarias. We get a to-the-ceiling evergreen butchered for our pleasure. We as a family and often with a daughter-in-law real or to be, rig it up with three decades of ornaments, chili lights, a porcelain angel topper, icicles and candy canes.

We do Christmas. It seems genetic now.

Holiday Balance

December 16th, 2012

hugewreath

OM

Finally, the counterbalancing display to the Metropolitan Avenue extravaganza appeared. Likely yesterday, one of the mega-houses at the top of Fairmount Hill stuck its annual huge, honking wreath on.

This is maybe 7 feet across, replete with blinking colored lights…and God’s extension cord.

It’s at the top of Milton Avenue, two football fields away from the other big display.

We are humble ground dwellers. I’ll put out the electric luminarias in a day or two…without aid of an aerial lift or even a ladder. Neighbors have small herds of wire-frame reindeer and such. Around HP, alternately flaccid-by-day and alert-in-the-dark inflatables.

We are amateurs.

Pix note: This and the pix in the linked posts are Creative Commons. Do as you wish with them. Just credit Mike Ball once.

HP’s Flat Santas

December 5th, 2012

Hyde Park Christmas inflatables live like vampires — moribund by day and active at night. The sundry Santas, snow guys, reindeer, polar bears, Snoopy as elf, Mickey as St. Nick are flaccid in the sun. They fill, rise, shine, and undulate in the dark.

Here are snaps of a few flat versions today. The effect can be like the morning after the orgy. The players lie on and seem to hug each other as well as remained passed out on the lawns.

Like drunks the morning after the BIG party, these characters are flat on just one side of this lawn.
Some flat Santas fall over on themselves and anything else handy.
Some flat ones have solid, but horizontal buddies.
Those more solid guys are no more stable than the inflatable holiday clichés.
Deflated animals are less distinctive than guys in red or green costumes.
Many of the lawns had multiples, typically Santas or reindeer, and here differing snowmen.
Others mixed metaphors, such as including the Grinch.
Flat Santas came in all manner of size and ornamentation.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

Lights, I see the party lights

November 24th, 2012

And the winner of this year’s Fairmount Hill Decorating Race is at Summit and Metropolitan!

The day after Thanksgiving, the guy on that corner who does the amazing light display was up in his rented aerial lift at the tippy top of his trees.  He doesn’t have that many trees on his smallish lot, but he strews multi-color lights down every single limb.

Then closer to the ground, he does every bush, shrub and apparently anything that doesn’t move out of the way. The woody plants are brown now, but won’t be much longer.

Truth be told, the neighborhood is in awe. This is an order of magnitude beyond those seasonal cloth signs on poles by the door ordinary mortals hang.

Chatter up here is that we are glad he puts on the show and gladder still that he is the one willing to put up with the planning, hanging, time, energy and expense. We’ll enjoy.

Meanwhile, the seasonal contender is at a lower, but still impressive level. At the very top of Milton Avenue, the big honking light-yellow house hangs a wreath that must be 7 or 8 feet in diameter on the front at the top floor. Jolly indeed.

However, they were relative slugs this year.  Their rented lift is in the massive driveway, but no wreath in sight. To the early decorator goes bragging rights. Let the season begin.

 

 

Free-dumb on the 4th

July 5th, 2012

Visiting #1 Son and DIL around Independence Day of course has been full of obvious and subtle examples of freedom and restrictions. While the Fourth is ostensibly about casting off colonialism and occupation, we boomers go far beyond that.

Growing up with WWII parents and WWI grandparents, we are filled with grand and even naive ideals of cultural and personal. Those were reinforced by that newish TV, movies and all around us. American exceptionalism and frontier concept of freedom characterize and drive us.

My curmudgeonly comment today includes exasperation with 20 and 30 somethings who would try to excuse ignorance and lack of analysis saying they weren’t born when this or that occurred. That shows only a lack of knowledge, curiosity and perhaps intellect. The world did not begin spinning when you nor I arrived.

With my hoary head, I noticed our airport experiences and the heavy symbolism of a trio to Alcatraz.

For the former, recap it with removing shoes and belts keeps no one safe. We are both delusional and sheeplike pretending otherwise. Chants about sacrificing for safety or even that the mere theater of arbitrary and ineffectual TSA regulations and procedure dissuaded terrorists from plying their hellish aims are sad and un-American.

More to the metaphor on the Fourth, ferrying to the Alcatraz tour was an object lesson in freedom as well. Ceding all liberty as punishment for crimes is an Independence Day meditation.

We coursed through our day and night until early on the Fifth, interacting with other revelers, residents, citizen, cops barkeeps and such. We experienced the relative liberty boomers idealize in most places. We did show our papers – train, and boat tickets, credit cards and such on demand. Some instances were silly overkill, like three times each in the snaking, cordoned ferry line for The Rock, but in the main, we perked and went at will.

As a nation, we definitely have freely ceded too many liberties to feed our collective post-9/11 insecurities. We’re not likely going to regain those soon or easily.

Dye, dye, dye

April 10th, 2012

To us non-Catholics (Roman or Eastern Orthodox), the fixation on Christ’s blood, wounds and suffering may well seem bizarre. While raised as a devote little Christian,  I was a Protestant and without all the figurative and literal gear.

Yet, many years ago, I picked up a dye envelope in a Greek grocery and reveled in the true blood color it produced on eggshells. In contrast, the silly pastels in my childhood Easter baskets were insipid and unmemorable.

This year, I swung by the West Roxbury’s Greek International Food Market (great place). Selecting a basket of cheeses, olives, taramasalata, retsina and bread, I was pleased to see dye packets by the register.

Alas, with my eggs handy, I was stunned to find the offering was pink, pink I say, in the water. Even had I used a small portion of the water it called for it would not at all resemble blood.

I ended up with eggs that had a color that likely never appears in nature. I have to admit though, the pink is so garish we all liked it.

Next year, I’ll shop around a bit and make sure to get the blood version.

Not So Wee Sark

December 26th, 2011

andro

#1 Son gifted me a splendid biking jersey. It’s from his company’s store, replete with the Google Android bot biking. He’ll have to upsize it.

He asked last night when he called whether it fit, adding that he worked next to where the Google store is. I thought it would, after all reading XL in the tag. Hmmm, not so.

I tried this morning and it didn’t go over my large-animal shoulders, much less cover the ox-like chest. XL, you say?

It turns out to be the cycling/European jest. If you put a Tour or Giro rider next to a man of human proportion, you’ll see the model here. Professional riders tend to be short and extremely thin, ectomorphic types. Ever gram they carry on their body and bike is more inertia to overcome climbing mountains or pushing for fractions of a second in a time trial. As long as they don’t faint, they alone can’t be too thin.

That shows my prejudice. I know you can be too thin. The touchstone for many woman was Nancy Reagan, who was so frail and wispy that she was treated for anemia for decades. The heroin-addict model look and the androgynous clothes horses do and should creep out healthy people who got the right natural hormones during puberty. For me, I’ll go with a woman like my wife, with real hips and actual breasts. Pointy pelvic bones are dangerous!

So what was an XL in this jersey? Well, first keep in mind that these jerseys are made to wick away sweat. So, they are to be skintight. Moreover, they are in the European style, with accurate measurements. That is, American clothiers are generous. Women in particular like those impossible sizes of 0 and 2, so the makers of high-end women’s dresses tend to mark a size 8 or 10 with a 4 or even a 2, to allow for enough delusion to inspire whipping out the charge card. Men don’t quite get that, but there’s a two-inch sponge. A man’s 34 trousers are for a 36-inch waist and a 42 sports jacket is for a 44-inch chest.

Not so with cycling jerseys. Inches are inches and centimeters centimeters. Combined with the sprayed-on effect, it makes for amusing letters.

Looking at the Google store for U.S. customers, you can see first, pix of employees of various somatotypes and sizes, and second, the amusing size charts for men. For the latter, pants seem reasonable, where a large is large. Shirts on the other hand are European. An L can be 40, XL 42, 2XL 44 and 3XL 46. Each allows a two-inch range.

I inherited big honking bones from my maternal grandmother. Even docs have said in effect, “Jesus, your bones are big!” I come with big feet (size 13), shoulders like a draft horse, and a 48-inch chest — 3 inches bigger expanded. Those are professional heavyweight boxer specs. I don’t recall anyone ever calling me dainty.

I’m used to XL shirts and buying 46 American or 48 Brit/European suit and sport jackets, altered down in the waist. Sometimes, well-meaning relatives who think of me as this cartoonishly large-shouldered critter have wrapped up 2XL or 3XL shirts, which I could wear as a tarp or tent. Those are actually made for 400-pound porkers.

Yet, here I am, looking at the Google store and seeing that their largest size in a cycling jersey, this one I really like is in fact a 3XL. That’s for chest sizes 46 to 48. So the maximum is sized so that I should be able to jam myself into it at the top of its range.

A good change here since I was in high school and college is that such fun and colorful shirts are available at all. Plus, they are not limited to M, medium. Back then, we athletes groused among each other that we had damned little choice in clothes.

However, it’s going to take a meditative moment to assimilate the reality that in this particular line of cycling jersey, I’m 3XL. What’s in a name? What’s in a number?

Big Tree in Small Town of Hyde Park

November 27th, 2011

I know small towns and attended a lot of parades, tree lightings, and speeches in childhood. This afternoon’s tree lighting in Hyde Park’s Logan Square had that feel.

Yeah, yeah, there was Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino on stage with Police Commissioner Ed Davis, state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, Councilor Rob Consalvo, Council President Steve Murphy and a local bank head. Fact is though, it was pretty small town…and delightful.

HPTM Da Mare loves this stuff. He’s at his best working crowds and going one on one with present and future voters.
An unusual appearance by his shy wife, Angela, got her a reward of a posy. HPmeninos
HPtree This was the 31st lighting of one of the few living Christmas trees on Boston property. The 45 footer was grown from its original 8 feet. Who’s counting, but the MC read that it has 1200 lights.
The one-way guys, Murphy, Consalvo, Menino, Scaccia HP1wayguys

Pix Notes: These are far and without flash. You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons.

Several hundred HP’ers milled around the stage when they weren’t at the kiddie rides or grabbing fried dough. It really was a small-town event.

The steps and plaza of the municipal building had maybe 100 kids from elementary through high school. There were carols and Broadway holiday tunes, a local version of the Rockettes, and sincere singing all around.

The minister giving the invocation went oddly on and on about 9/11 and the hopes we retained afterward. It ended up not being so strange.

The local tie-in was when the emcee and the mayor spoke of Mark Bavis, a local hockey player who grew up to be a pro hockey scout and who died on Flight 175, which hit the South Tower on 9/11. His mother, Mary was on stage, next to Angela. They presented her with a large framed image of the tree.

In a very nice, very Tom Menino touch, he had her pull the  lever to light the 1,200 bulbs.

He is mayor of Boston, but he’s also the unofficial mayor of our shared neighborhood.

My-Hand-To-Your-Mouth Syndrome

November 27th, 2011

mymableMy wife and I each had grandmothers Mable. My version was le chef redoutable, or as she didn’t speak French, the formidable cook. She was famous in her family and town and county for her baked goods and her overall kitchen skills.

Moreover, she so strongly identified with her food, there was no separation. She had three children — girl, boy, girl, and taught none of them to cook. They were born in the 1920 and as understandable for the period, her son was expected to marry a cook, not be one. Her daughters were shortchanged in that Mable’s kitchen was just that. On occasion, such as canning and pickle making seasons, you might be pressed into service as a culinary lackey, but it was almost as though you were blindfolded. It was Mable’s hand to your mouth, the magician keeps her secrets.

In many ways, my Mable was my nemesis. She was often severe to a circle of us — her husband, her daughters, her sister, and my sister and me.

Yet we owe her much. Most obviously, physically I got my big feet, absurd chest and shoulders and bone structure from her. Granddad was more delicate, with size 8½ shoes for example.

She was also demanding in the dining and living rooms. We were expected to participate in conversations…and no jive. She wanted fully formed arguments and opinions based on facts.

She also pressed my sister and me into service in the many summers and holidays we boarded there. We regularly cleaned the windows and storms with ammonia and newspapers, subject to her inspection. Likewise, we dusted each newel and stairpost daily, subject to her inspection. She was quick to find fault.

Now of course, an bit of humor is that I exhibit some of her traits. Foremost is that I am the family cook. Although I eagerly teach to wife and children, I have that emotional tie to my kitchen and the pressures and joys of my-hand-to-their-mouths cooking. I’m good with food, know that I am, and enjoy people enjoying what I produce.

Unlike Mable, I have cooked tens of thousands of unique dishes. She lived by her recipe box, which I own. I combine drawing on what I’ve picked up over the years. I know what will taste good together in what quantity. In another sense of the term picked up, I cook by what I pick up from the Haymarket, farmers’ markets, green grocery and supermarkets. My week’s menus generally reflect what’s available at the food sources, including our backyard and side yard gardens.

For a couple of decades, we’ve hosted a Southern Thanksgiving. At least one member of each couple and family has roots in the big arc from Virginia through the Carolina into Arkansas. Generally, I planned the table and cooked nearly everything. It’s an exhausting death march for 15 to 25, but I love it. Slowly over the years though, my wife and the two sons still at home have become cooks too. They’ve caught the pleasing-others-with-food disorder and want to participate.

This year was thus different from most others. While guests often would bring their families’ favorite pies, and occasionally a side dish, this time was edging toward participatory cuisine.

As I recall the low and high living room tables and the dinner table, we served the following in 2011. I likely forgot a few items, but this is the gist, our version of a groaning board. The remarkable aspect is how cooperative this year’s was. Note the parens with initials of various preparers who are not I.

brie en croutem (EB) kasseri various crackers
hummus (EB) jalapeno mustard pita
baba ganoush (EB) sparkling ciders (various fruits) ales
collards (JL) red wines mashed potatoes
beer still cider white wines
turkey red onions filled with vegetarian stuffing cranberry chutney (EB)
cornbread turkey (CT) green beans almondine sauerkraut
stuffed shells (IB) vegetarian and turkey gravies tea
coffee sweet potato pie (JL) pumpkin pie (TC)
cherry pie (CT) Boston cream pie (IB) pecan pie (KC)

Previously, I would work steadily a day or two before and throughout the entire appetizer period up to the moment of the main seating. Not this year. So much was done by others before or in the prep period that I socialized much more. That was definitely something gained and something lost.

Perhaps I’ve matured enough to share.