Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

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


#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.

To the Real Dads

June 19th, 2011

WLMCome Father’s Day, I miss my mother and her father. They were my real fathers. Both are gone.

My own biological father was both absentee and deadbeat. I did not see or hear from him from after their divorce when I was about five until he and his replacement wife visited Manhattan where I was living when I was in my 20s.

Amusingly, he had been an artillery commander in WWII and Korea, but personally was, as the Europeans are wont to say, under the slipper. He did whatever his second wife told him. That included stiffing us on child support and never sending cards, presents, money or a call. Nothing of physical or emotional value was to go to his first two children, my sister and me.

Yet, I am a product of what was and is so disparagingly referred to as a broken home who ended up with more and better dads than nearly everyone I knew. I would hear teachers and chums’ parents condescendingly telling me how sorry they were for me. What I noticed was the many homes with one or both parents heavy drinkers, kids regularly verbally abused and beaten with hands, paddles, sticks and belts, and degrading insults for the least or no offenses. None of those was part of my upbringing.

Moreover, Granddad, William Benjamin Michael, my mother’s father, was a great dad to me. We spent summers and holidays with my grandparents. He was older and wiser than most fathers, wiser and gentler than any dad I knew, and was a great role model as well as teacher. There were also six great uncles nearby who made it a point to father me whenever we were together.

Granddad died in his 70s though — killed by blood clots after a hernia operation, dying 20 years too soon. From that point, my mother redoubled her effort at parenting.

When Granddad was around, I always gave my Father’s Day presents, cards, hugs and thanks to him. After he died, they went to Wanda, my mother (shown above in a college picture). She graciously accepted both Mother’s and Father’s Day acknowledgments. We’d laugh at how she somehow managed to serve both functions. She too was amused by the lack of self-awareness in the many who’d sigh when they said broken home and try to make my sister and me feel unfortunate. We knew better.

Today, I’m the old man, the father. I have neither William nor Wanda to praise and thank, except in my heart and with these electrons. I remain grateful and love them both.


Pol Roast on Juneteenth

June 18th, 2011

As a disclaimer, I’m prejudiced in favor of Juneteenth. It is, after all, my birthday as well as a holiday in 37 of our states. The first state to recognize it as such was Texas, where on June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger announced the Civil War was over and slaves were free.

If much mellower, the sentiment remains, even a couple of thousand mile east northeast. They’re still at it in Roxbury and did it again today at Franklin Park, a day early. As charming loudmouth activist Alfreda Harris said on stage at what is of the cricket pitch there, “We started with peanut butter and jelly and now we have steak and chicken.”

Indeed, we did. The massive field had a tight necklace with family canopies as the jewels all around. Huge sooty smokers and many dozens of grills burned all manner of animal and vegetative matter to the joy and sharing of all comers. It’s a fun day every year and more Asians, whites and Latinos should show. Good food, good music, good feelings, good times.

Probably the most serious attendants were the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Company A and Colored Ladies’ Christian Relief Society. Replete with canvas tents, heavy uniform and period firearms, they remained in good spirits in the heat. They explained their educational goals and pointed to their website for updates on upcoming encampments and events.


I suspect you can discern in the pic which are members and which are politicians LG Tim Murray, and City Councilors Tito Jackson and Felix Arroyo.

I’ve attended several of the local Juneteenth parties. Today, I was looking unsuccessfully for Ayanna Pressley, who had been pitching her attendance. I did not find her and hope it was just because  there were so many tents, grills, people, and locations.

While Bruins fans stood open mouthed hoping for a glimpse of the One True Cross Stanley Cup, hundreds were in for the afternoon in Franklin Park. Many likely missed the ephemeral pleasures on the main stage. Pity.

HarrisMurrayHarris is a delightfully self-absorbed emcee. She introduced the City Councilors, Felix Arroyo and Tito Jackson, the members of the Roxbury Homecoming Committee (hosting the event), LG Murray, and members of the 54th Infantry.

Murray read a proclamation by Gov.  Deval Patrick dubbing tomorrow as Juneteenth, independence day, for Massachusetts in honor of the freeing of slaves.

Ever cool, he could have teased her (passing behind him in the pic) for misnaming his Lieutenant Murphy with something about how all those Irish-Americans look alike and how their names are so similar. Instead, he kept in the spirit of the day and did his do.

She may been at her best in preparing to introducing the pols on stage. She said there were politicians, “And you are politicians, aren’t you?” with slight derision. When Arroyo tried to outquip her with, “We’re community leaders,” she was quick with, “No, I’m a community leader. You’re politicians.”


All three pols were charmed and amused. They laughed.

The takeaway is that Juneteenth in Boston is worth the visit. It’s annually pretty close to my birthday. It’s been in Franklin Park for quite awhile and likely will be next year.

Parking is tight. Be there early (starts at 8 AM or be prepared to hump your tent and grill gear). If you just show, people will be friendly and feed you, but you’ll be in their debt and less civilized.

By the bye, Worcester will have a serious version next weekend, June 25th, from noon to 8 PM.



Lilac, Mom’s, Pond Jam Sunday

May 9th, 2011

Sure enough, we did snort some lilacs in the Arnold Arboretum. Sons 2 and 3 also shuffled with me around the bonsai house in the year’s most crowded day there. However, we were there for something else.

Uxorial unit Cindy joined her regular acoustic jam crew at the largest of the three ponds for an afternoon music fest as part of the program. Normally, the Sometimers (sometimes the show up and others…) are at Gerard’s restaurant/bar/convenience store in Dot in cold seasons and at the Jamaica Pond band shell in nice weather for Sunday jams. This was about the same time, but a command performance at an unusual venue.

dobro As usual, the Dobro resonant guitar brought a welcome twang. Normally a single is in the group, but a second showed up yesterday.
Uxiorial unit, a.k.a. Cindy, handled one of the mandolins. CTpick
Pondjam2 The circle of musicians took turns suggesting and leading the songs.
Of course, there’d be no acoustic folk jam without the requisite banjo. Pondjam1
dobro2 The second Dobro was a welcome surprise.
Let there be sing-along and clapping accompaniments! Pondjam3

And there were a variety of stringed instruments, as well as a concertina. Upright bass, guitars, mandolins, dobros, even a uke were in the mix. Likewise, a sundry audience joined the dozen or so pluckers, strummers and squeezers, singing the folk, country and occasional protest or rock tune.

Toddlers beat tunes on their parents’ heads from perches on shoulders. Others little and big hummed, sang or vocalized nonsense as befitted their knowledge and age.

The Sometimers pronounced it a success.

On the 3rd Day, They Fudged

April 22nd, 2011

balanceFor well-meaning equivocation, it’s hard to outdo UUs on Easter. The wings of many Unitarian ministers stretch and strain as they try to include all, offend none, and somehow blend Easter, Passover, and jelly beans and Peeps.

Frankly, UU jokes are too common, too easy, too cheap. Having been a UU for decades, I attended and joined knowing what was up with liberal religious sorts, both in history and present. I also came from the stereotypical return-to-church-and-become-UU profile. Raised as a serious Methodist,  I was a devote little Christian, but as the Monty Python character says, “Got better.”

Younger folk should be aware that this was before the United Methodist Church. There were separate white and black churches, plus the white ones had both Southern and Wesley branches. Members of the former looked askance at those of us in the latter, also known as high-church Methodist. We were considered almost Episcopalian, which was almost Roman Catholic. Oooooo.

Regardless, my small self always attended both Sunday School and church, joined the youth fellowship, was in the choir and on and on. I knew the comfort of belief in a personal savior, an all-powerful, everywhere present God, life everlasting, Christ’s resurrection, and transubstantiation. To this day, I recall my young self rolling in the mystical sense of transformation in my mouth and throat during communion.

Now I am more typical of American UUs. Few are Christians and around here many of those are former Roman Catholics psychically roughed up by the clerics of their youth. Many say they are or were Jews. Others came from the camp of the amusingly condescending term of UUs unchurched.

Many UU churches specialize in social action, contributing self as well as money to good causes for the life, betterment and comfort of others. Most UUs I have known are not just write-a-check-and-praise-yourself types.

No Hell

So imagine being a minister on Easter Sunday carrying that many hearts and minds in your arms, not wanting to harm, damn, or offend any subcategory of congregant.  This exacerbates the weekly problem of including the Christian and specifically Protestant history of Unitarianism and the everybody-can-find-salvation heritage of Universalism with the current reality that most members are not Christians. Some even are affronted by Christ lingo. Too many UU churches give least consideration to Christian members.

I am to terms with my ex-Christianity in early adolescence. I got there on my own, struggling all the way, coming from a church-going family. It became an oft-told tale among my relatives and chums about confessing this to my mother. She was a long-time Sunday School teacher and her father has been in various offices in churches. She smiled broadly when I told her and said, “Finally, I can stop teaching Sunday School!” She had been doing that for me and was a closet humanist in her own right.

So there you are on Easter Sunday, in the pulpit before of the two most populated congregations of the church year. You make the wheezing joke about the church being open on other Sundays. You know that maybe half the folk don’t come regularly, that many have never been there before, that quite a few don’t understand what UUs are about, and that church members want that spiritual ambrosia. They want a sensitive blend of acknowledgement of Judaism/Passover with another joke about bunnies lugging candy about with cautious allusions to the Jesus story.

So the easiest mix has springtime/renewal concepts, equivocations about some believe a Messiah has never appeared, others that one is out of the question, and others that there was what today’s youth have profanely chosen to term Zombie Jesus. No one group will be totally satisfied — the universe in the pews is simply too diverse and stratified.

How much easier it would be to provide a homily for the religiously homogeneous. On Friday, Jews can hear a pure Passover message. On Sunday, Christians get the powerful message of hope for a heaven and permanent bliss.

Instead, most UU ministers stand before an often prickly crowd. They know they are sure to bore some, offend others, and leave out still others. Ministers tell me that typically congregants will let know them how they have failed on Easter Sunday.

Oddly, there seems to be less pressure on the services around Christmas. Even ex-Christians or lapsed Catholics let the infectious joy of the season compensate for loose talk about a savior being born. That rising from the dead to sit at the right hand of God is another matter.

Jews I know who attend and belong to UU churches seem much more flexible about service content. In most UU churches, you’re not going to find a crucifix or Christian communion. Instead, they tend to have highly adapted versions and even water communions, similar to how they name children instead of Christen them. Even Catholics tell me that is a big improvement over the baptism in their churches that intends to drive the devil out of newborns.

I feel for UU preachers come Easter. I do believe most need to show more guts though. In too many UU churches I have attended, there are subtle or plain derision of Christians as though all of them are intolerant and dull-witted. Yet, I know UU Christians and some of the greatest, most generous, hardest working social activists are in that camp. Fortunately for the UU ministers, that splendid set of good souls are, like the UU Jews, forgivable and flexible. I have heard a few mention in passing to a minister or worship committee member something like, “You know, I am a Christian.” This seems not to whine, but just to remind others that the history and shared religion includes Christians, as well as the astonishing range of Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist, and many other traditions often cited.

This sermon juggling pressure falls on the UU ministers or perhaps they take it on themselves. This seems in stark contrast to the fundy churches that openly deride homosexuals as doomed to a hell and shout often that only one man/one women couples are worthy of producing children. I try to imagine how the many couples who adopt or turn to IVF to grow their families must feel hearing such irrational hate. Likewise, I have heard gay black folk I know say the compartmentalize their religion from the homophobic rhetoric they hear so often from the pulpit.

It seems to be the UU preachers who try to accommodate the worshipers in contrast to expecting anyone coming in the door to shut up and do what they’re told…and sing a psalm of praise. As UU ministers have often said to me with a smile and laugh, they don’t have the threat of eternal damnation and suffering to use.

I have never heard a UU minister speak on the deep and simple joys that Christians feel in their belief in resurrection and hope in their belief of a heaven and relief in their belief that Jesus took away their sins by his death. I don’t believe any of that, but I recall believing it all.

I am pretty sure that UUs would not be hurt and might be more tolerant of the Christians among them and in the larger world if they considered life and afterlife from their view and experience.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherEasterUUChristiansJewstolerance