Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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Pop Culture

The Candy Holidays

It’s over.  I can breathe a sigh of relief.  You know what I mean.  The candy holidays.  No normal human being can resist the constant barrage of sugary treats that appear in September and last until April.

It starts with that damn candy corn and the “fun size” candy bars.  You can have a few because they’re so small, harmless really.  Yeah, right.  It’s only fun until you suddenly can’t zip up your favorite jeans unless you lie down on your bed and hold your breath.  Let’s say that by some small miracle you make it through Harvest without gaining any weight.  Now it’s the hap-happiest season and you’re surrounded by candy canes and chocolate Santas.  Be careful here or you might get sucked into the sugar vortex that leads to an obscenely gigantic heart-shaped box of caramel and nut-covered chocolates, and a bag of tiny red cinnamon candies that, if you eat one too many, will burn your tongue and leave the roof of your mouth numb.  Next you’re hopping down the bunny trail trying to dodge those pastel-shelled chocolate mini-eggs, (I refer to as “devil eggs”) and neon-yellow marshmallow chicks.

As alluring as all that candy is every time you go shopping at the supermarket, drugstore, or large retail chain, the real challenge, at least for me, is the day after Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter when holiday candy gets marked down to half-price.  Forget the allure of the candy itself.  Who can resist such a bargain?  Clearly, not me.

Easter Sunday has come and gone and here’s my dilemma:

What to do about those Peeps?   A friend of mine once told me of a long-standing tradition that took place at her ivy-league university.  After eating one or two of the gritty, sticky little things, the rest of the brood got put into the microwave.  To get nuked.  Until they exploded.  I swear I’m not making this up.

Summer’s coming and fortunately, there are no Fourth of July sweets to tempt me.

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Mothers and Daughers

Cookie Day

christmas-cookies

“Gotta stop at the market on my way home and pick up some more butter,” my officemate announced.  “The cookie factory is open for business.”

She was in the midst of a chopped pecan, chocolate chip, sanding sugar, pre-Christmas baking frenzy.  I’ve been there myself many times.  But I’m sitting it out this year.  Because in a little over a week, I’ll be home for Christmas, enjoying my mother’s sweet and delicate holiday treats.

Every year, about a week before Christmas, my mother (picture an Italian-American Martha Stewart) puts on her apron and her favorite Christmas music (cue up Dean Martin singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) and embarks on a baking marathon known in our family as “Cookie Day.”

Her butter cookies are made with a cookie press and decorated with chocolate or brightly colored sugar.  Her almond crescents are rolled in confectioner’s sugar while they’re still hot.  The thumbprint raspberry linzers and Italian sesame seed cookies are especially labor intensive.  And the pizzelle are painstakingly made one at a time on the stovetop.

As a teenager, I loved assisting her in this holiday tradition as she prepared the various types of dough, then decorated, and baked the cookies.  Once we got into a rhythm, there was no stopping us.  The moment a tray came out of the oven, the next one went in.  Carefully, the oven-hot cookies were set on the parchment paper lined kitchen table to properly cool. When we ran out of space on the kitchen table, I got the idea of using the ironing board, so we lined it with parchment paper, and placed the overflow cookies there.

Since he retired, my dad helps out on Cookie Day.  At least he calls it helping.  But my mother’s on to him.  She makes him whistle, so he can’t sample too many of the homemade Christmas treats.

red poppy

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