Sunday, December 28, 2008

I hope all my faithful readers (I think I am up to 6) had a lovely Christmas with loved ones.

Christmas morning was warm, calm & spring-like. Huh? It's the end of bloody December, for crying out loud! Where is the frosty air, the drift of newly fallen snow, the fog of your breath? It was 70 degrees that day. 70! And it was 75 today.

Happy dogs were frolicking on the beach. And the owners didn't need jackets.


I want snow. I want Christmas to look like this...

But noooooooooo, some people don't like snow.
Some people are Scrooges.
So there.

At my mother's place, each floor has Christmas trees at each end of the building,
with the residents outdoing each other to make them lovely, colorful,
and festive - kind of like the madre's tree.

But one floor, or rather one end of the floor, has residents with a delicious sense of humor.
They did a tree that is the best ever!!


This was my very
favorite of all the trees.



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And now that the apex of the holiday is over, here is something for the new year:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the wise men have returned to the East,
And the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins...
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To comfort the suffering, to rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.
– adapted from Howard Thurman

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Every year, our local symphony does the annual Messiah sing-along. This year we were at the new performing arts theater in Virginia Beach, the one that my group, the Virginia Beach Chorale, performs in.
It is a marvelous theater with terrific acoustics.

Here it is from right to left:

And in full song:

If you ever get the chance to hear a thousand voices singing the Hallelujah Chorus, don't miss it. It will send chills up your spine. It is glorious.

But wait, there really is an interesting bit to this story. I was in the alto section, all the way in the back, and there were some empty seats around me. A woman who looked like an old hippie asked me if she could sit next to me because she didn't know the music very well. I said 'sure', and as soon as she sat down........


She reeked, absolutely reeked of
(And, no, it wasn't patchouli)

Or rather, the dried, cured, rolled version of the above

In other words, reefer, weed, Mary Jane, pot, cannibis, that little cigarette that sounds like hissing when you inhale.

I was starting to feel pretty mellow just sitting next to her. Yeah, baby

I admit I messed with her a bit and jumped back & forth between the alto part & the soprano part a few times. She looked a little confused. Heh.

She is going to have a merry Christmas. I can tell. Even if it isn't merry, she won't care.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Those Christmas cookies bring the Yuletide cheer

That's a line from one of the songs my
Chorale performed at our Christmas Concert this year.

Today was cookie day at the Mom's apartment-on-the-bay. We decided on 4 types this year, and we got to choose our favorites. Actually, I chose 2 of them, brother chose 1, and BS got his favorite. Luckily, 3 of the 4 are also my mother's favorites as well.

Cookie #1: my mostest favorite of all - Russian Teacakes. I know the link took you to the Betty Crocker website, but this is the recipe my mother has been making for about 50 years. They are the best I have ever had, and trust me, I have sampled a lot. I think one of the keys is the way we grind the nuts (ooh, sounds painful). We have always used a Mouli grinder, and it grinds the nuts fine, but not too fine. And this is the same orange one she has. I have one too. A food processor would be easier, but the texture would suffer. Trust me on this.

Anyway, we don't call them Russian Teacakes. Since she has been making them since my sisters & I were little girls, we have always just called them Round Balls. Because I love balls, and I love them round. Heh, I'm 12.

To my mind, making Round Balls is akin to picking crabs (see previous post) - a complete pain in the ass, but oh so worth it. Buttery, tender, heavenly. It was the first dough made because it has to chill before you can roll them out.

A drift of snowy sugar to roll your balls in

Cookie #2 - Raspberry Bars. This is a newer addition to the family line-up, since we have only been making these for 10 years or so, but it quickly became a favorite. I mean really, can anything bad come from Land o' Lakes butter?

I patted the dough out all by myself. Of course I licked my fingers first, since I had just finished the Round Ball dough.

Ready for the oven

Golden brown and delicious

Cookie #3 - Toffee Squares. This is another one from my wee childhood, so it has become, with my beloved Balls, indelibly connected with Christmas for me. They came from one of the Bibles of cookery from the 50's as well, I just can't remember which one, but this is pretty close. Of course, we had to modify them just a bit by putting way more chocolate on them than the recipe calls for.

Did I tell you that the family motto, when it comes to baking Christmas cookies, is "More is better".

My mother spreading the ooey gooey chocolately goodness

Mum spreading more Mouli'd nuts.

Cookie #4: BS's favorite. Peanut Butter Blossoms are part of my history as well, but have never been my favorites.
The kids love 'em though on account of the Kisses on top.
There are about a jillion recipes for these, so I don't know from whence ours came, but I can tell you that, after looking at some of them, no cookie containing Crisco will ever pass our lips.
It's all about the butter baby!!!

Rolling these out is pretty much a pain in the ass too.

Oh, and I want you to see where we performed these culinary wonders...

I know people who have closets bigger than my mother's kitchen, but we make do.

It was also a beautiful day whilst we slaved over a hot oven.
Icy blue skies and icy cold temps.

The Lynnhaven fishing pier

The first channel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel,
one of the
7 Engineering Wonders of the modern world.

In this aerial view of the bridge-tunnel, stolen from Wiki, you can see my mothers large brown brick building at the top, just right of center.

And now......... drum roll please.........the money shots........

The bay in the background

The Christmas tree in the background. Ain't the yummies purty?

Bucket List Again

Did I talk about this before? I can't remember, but I made a promise to myself that I would get back in the kitchen. As some of you know, at the current time, BS works for the largest seafood distributorship in the area. And that's saying something, since we live where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and there are seafood stores on every street corner.

But, speaking of the Chesapeake Bay, it is the home of one of the most delicious treasures on either coast - our little friend the Chesapeake Blue Crab , whose succulent, tender, sweet meat has it all over the overrated, oft-tough lobster.

And you know how they say that anything worth having is worth working for? These little buggars are a lot of work. They are small, compared to some of their gigantic cousins, so there's not a lot of meat in each one. Hence the pretty price. Now, having a son who works for a seafood company has its tasty compensations. Blue crab season just ended, so a few days ago he brought home one of the last pounds of deliciousness they will have until spring.

I got out my new apron, a gift from the Red Cross.

Aside - Our group from the Home did our quarterly platelet donation Friday before last, and we usually get a t-shirt with our Panera $10 gift card (worth it right there).
But this time they gave us an apron. And not just any old apron. A Paula Deen apron ya'll!
Some of you will know why this made me ridiculously giddy.

But I digress. I got out my big pot and made soup. But not just any soup. She-crab soup, aka crab bisque.
A bowl of pure heaven. And I did it with nary a can of cream o' soup in sight.
No sir. This aromatic goodness was homemade:

Old Bay seasoning
bay leaf
salt & pepper
seafood stock

Holy toledo, was it good! I added a dash of chipotle hot sauce to mine. Yum.
BS scarfed down 2 large bowls, proclaiming it to be perfect.


Tomorrow, I go to my mother's house to make Christmas goodies. Maybe I'll take pictures.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas at the Home, part 2

Sheesh, so far, as of this afternoon, there have been AT LEAST several caroling groups, a company whose employees brought tons of food and a DJ for wheelchair dancing (I wish I could show pics of that, but too many kids' faces are visible for my comfort), smaller groups all bearing gifts, and 4, count 'em 4, Santas. EVERYONE wants to come to the Home this time of year. All wanting to bring a smile to our kids' li'l faces. So many that we have to make them take a number.
Not really, but you know what I mean.

I told you about our best secret Santa in my last post. In addition to all those gifts, every group that comes showers us with more generosity. We are grateful for all the assistance we can get. Here is just a small (seriously) sampling of the bounty our kids will receive...

All this in the midst of rampant illness among the children. Until this week, 2 of the 4 units had these signs on the doors...

Gown, gloves, and a mask just to go in, no matter what you need to do.

Now, the sign is only on 1 of the 4 units, but all of the others still want to keep their doors closed as a precaution. We don't mess around when there is flu and strep in the building. Our kids are too important.

Today was a highlight for us. The Norfolk office of the Army Corps of Engineers has a group of employees that has formed a chorus, and they have been coming to St. Mary's (Hey Sonja - Google Alerts!!) since long before the first time I worked at the Home back in '92.

They are excellent, singing carols in 4-part harmony, but the best moment, the moment that makes us all feel that Christmas has really come, is when they sing their last number. "Someday at Christmas" (you can hear it here). I cry every time. Here are the words, by Stevie Wonder, in case you want to take them to heart:

Someday at Christmas men won't be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we'll see a land
No hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
A world where people care

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no man has fears
One shining moment my heart ran away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
Someday a new world where we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime
Someday at Christmastime

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas at the Home

The holidays are always fun when you work at a pediatric facility.
Lots of stuff going on:
visitors caroling, parties, Santa's visit, gifts galore.

Let's face it, disabled children are pretty irresistible at Christmas. I don't mean that in any cynical way at all, that's just the way it is. I'm glad though, because our kids need so much.

Let me tell you about the best secret Santa of all.

Click here and you will see our kids' wish lists for Christmas. So many people want to donate and give, but in well-meaning benevolence, some of the gifts that we receive are not
appropriate for our population due to their medical issues, hence the wish lists.

Anyway, here is the story I got today.

An anonymous benefactor, who obviously has some knowledge of St. Mary's, saw the wish lists and told her husband that she didn't want any gifts for Christmas. She just wanted to get gifts for the kids. So she got gifts for the kids. She got each child everything on their list.


I want to find this woman and hug & kiss her.

That kind of humbling generosity is rare & precious.
Our kids thank her.
I thank her.
The entire staff thanks her.

Merry Christmas Mr & Mrs. Claus.

ps - if you want to see more about the Home, click here and go to the video at the bottom of the page. Our parents say it better than I ever could.