Best of Boston, Life Lessons, The Brownstone

Opening a Door

All of my artwork has been removed from the walls, and I stand in a pared-down version of my living room, knee-deep in bubble wrap and packing tape.  Tomorrow when the moving truck comes, I’ll be leaving my home of the past 24 years.  This small brownstone apartment has been a haven for me, as well as a source of pride.

Built in 1888, my condo is rich with Victorian details, from the wainscoting and ornamental fireplace mantle, to the ceiling medallion in the living room.  A young woman has bought my place.  My realtor tells me she fell madly in love the moment she walked into the living room, awash in sunlight from the large curved bay window that overlooks Beacon Street.  The new owner is me, twenty-five years ago, and I am grateful that someone who loves this space, just as I have, will be living here.  To you, my younger self, who is about to cross this threshold with all your hopes and dreams, I say this:  each time you make yourself a cup of tea in your kitchen, watch the sunset from the roof deck, open your home to friends, know that one has come before you who knows exactly how you feel.  If you are half as happy as I have been here, you will be truly blessed.

As for me, I am ready to open a new door. And my new home has unique features of its own.  Two years shy of being a century old, this two-family house has retained much of its original detail and character.  Warm wood trim adorns each window and doorway.  Both the living and dining rooms boast bay windows.  The dining room’s built-in has lovely period leaded glass, and a butler’s pantry adjoins it with the kitchen.

This house needs no time, no holidays, no new memories to become my home.  It already is…  Like many older homes in the Boston metro area, this is a “family home” – with my brother living on the second floor and me on the first floor.

My arrival has my Italian-American next-door neighbors nodding in approval, “That’s nice,” they said, “keeping it in the family.”

“Yes,” I agree, “La familia!”

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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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