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Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

Recently I spent the night at a dear friend’s house on the way home from visiting my son in the Bay Area. Her house, a gorgeously appointed home, reminds me of an aerie. It sits perched high on a hill offering up a view of the San Jose valley stretching all the way to the Santa Cruz mountains. Typical of such a nest, birds seem to be visible anywhere you look. This, most likely due to the multiple bird feeders dangling from the branches of the prolific fruit trees lining the property. While sitting on her patio, it would not be unexpected to have a hummingbird stop by to check out who is hiding behind the sunglasses you are wearing, It’s a favorite hangout of mine. When I visit, we begin our days seated across the counter from one another in her bright, welcoming kitchen. There we discuss shared interests such as cooking and art, solve the world’s problems, and generally catch up on family news. While seated at that counter she has tried and failed miserably on numerous occasions to teach me to crochet. Crocheting is something she is exceptionally gifted at, and I, as my track record will attest, am not. This we always do over a cup of hot tea, served properly in a delicate china cup and saucer. Like me, she was born in Canada. You’d never catch a traditional Canadian serving tea in a mug. She was born on the west coast, namely British Columbia, while I arrived in the world all the way to the east in Nova Scotia. Though we’ve both kept a lot of the basic substance that makes us Canadian, she migrated to the U.S. as an adult, instead of coming here as a child as I did. Perhaps because of this, she has retained more of the Canadian colloquialisms in her speech. Eh, comes up often in her conversations, where in my case, you would rarely here me say it.

Cleaning up after dinner, I noticed her washing out a resealable bag. I asked why she would not just toss it in the trash. I didn’t think it would be a hardship for her to purchase a new box of bags should she run out. She explained, though financially comfortable at this time in her life, she grew up, as she put it, “church poor”. The clothes she wore were either hand me downs from her older sister, often missing a button or sporting a jelly stain on the collar, or something picked up at the church rummage sales formally worn by someone else’s child in the congregation. Once, she said, her mother got her a pair of shoes that were several sizes too big. In spite of the fact they didn’t fit her feet properly, she was thrilled because they clop, clop, clopped as she walked along, making her feel very grown up. That being said, she learned not to waste what she was given, lest a replacement wasn’t forthcoming anytime soon. Made me think about how much our childhood experiences are tightly woven into the fabric of our adulthood. Good or bad, our formative years, though they do not define us, do help to shape us into who we are as adults.

It’s funny how all the things we are taught as children seem to stick with us like flies to flypaper throughout our lives. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast, but I make my bed every morning before coming out for the day just as I was taught to do in my first tiny bedroom. Traditions honored in our homes growing up, are often carried along with us when we have established homes of our own. Traveling across the U.S. in my earlier years I was privy to a lot of different traditions and ways of doing things. Some which I packed in my bag and brought along with me, others I sampled and left behind. While living in the south and in West Virginia, it wasn’t always possible to travel to the west coast to visit my family when the holidays rolled around. If in town, my husband and I often shared holiday meals with friends and their families living nearby. Traditions clearly illuminate themselves during such occasions. At each household where we enjoyed either a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, their families customs would be evident first and foremost in the kitchen. If a turkey was to be the main course, the stuffing (or dressing, depending on your preference), was usually a recipe handed down from the previous generation, who it turn had gotten it from the one before. Each house had it’s own approach to the same recipes. Do you add the giblets or leave them out? Is yours a mixture of cornbread and white, or do you stick with one or the other? Where some cooks stuff the bird before popping it in the oven, others cook the dressing separately. This followed on down to how they cooked the turkey, or if they had turkey at all. For some families it was ham or prime rib that was to be the star of the meal. However it went, it all seemed to align with what their parents had done at their tables and how they had prepared it. I know I often say if complimented on my potato salad, “thanks, it’s my mom’s recipe”. I know she learned it from her mother, because I heard her often say it when complimented herself.

Certainly there are recipes my children will ask for when I’m under their roofs. For my son, it would be twice baked potatoes, and my daughter often wants me to cook poached eggs. Funny, I end up doing poached eggs for friends as well. Interesting, it’s really not rocket science, but for whatever reason I seem to have developed a knack for cooking them well. A latent talent there really isn’t much call for in the current market.

Grandparents are tasked with passing on some of what they have picked up along the way to their grandchildren. When I was down visiting my son and his brood, I spent some time with his oldest, my granddaughter, Ailish. Ailish had gotten a sewing machine, but had never used one. I have sewn for years. At one time I had an entire booth set up I used for local fairs and art and wine shows to sell both my hand sewn items as well as my artwork. These days I still find myself seated at my machine around the holidays whipping out aprons for my friends or family members, or on occasion doing some quick alterations for people in my life who can’t sew. Other than that, I don’t have the time, nor the energy with everything going on at present to thread a needle. Being able to show my granddaughter, however, was such a treat. To hand down a few pointers to get her started for me was so very special. This was a gift that cost nothing, but gave something both to her and to myself. Loved it.

With our busy lives these days, a lot of traditions have been forgotten, or simply been thrown out the window. We eat on the run, rather than stopping for a moment to come together over a meal. Instead of being seated at the table with friends or family, we often grab something on the run or even eat at different schedules. Perhaps the kids eat at a TV tray in front of the TV or in their rooms with their video games or cell phones, while you find yourself standing at the counter picking at the remains of last night’s take-out order. There is something elegant, even decadent, about sitting down to a nice meal, to me at least. The act of removing a cloth napkin from a decorative ring, lighting a candle in the center of the table, and eating off a lovely plate at a nice place setting makes for a dining experience and not just something to put in your mouth. Several younger women in my circle make breakfast in a blender or bullet. Everything but the cat is dropped in there in there in the morning, and with the push of a button reduced to mulch. Once the caldron has been primed, the liquid is poured into another container, and either sipped or gulped down on the way to work, the gym, or wherever else they might be headed. In my experience no matter what goes in them, these drinks end up a rather uninviting green color. Though I have no issue with green, it is after all the color of nature. However, when offered up in a drink, I find it less palatable. There isn’t a green vegetable I’m not happy to see on my plate, oh, except kale and okra. God knows I’ve tried to like both, but there’s something about them that leaves me wanting less, or preferably none at all. I’ve recently discovered arugula, and find I really like it. Rick used to tell me his grandfather, a scientist, ate arugula every day to keep his mind and body healthy. This was a tradition Rick allowed to fade into the background and disappear. I wouldn’t need to have it every day, but it’s certainly better than kale.

My grandmother gave me so many traditions I still practice in my life. In my drawer the other day I came across a packet of letters written in my grandmother’s hand. Her handwriting was very distinguishable, almost artistic. I would recognize it anywhere. Up until the several years before she died, she wrote me letters. Always I enjoyed seeing one of her envelopes in my mailbox. With her flair for telling a story, she would bring me up-to-date on my cousins in Canada or what other relatives she was in touch with had been up to. It made me feel part of my distant clan rather than having the many miles we had between us. Nobody writes letters anymore. It is another lost tradition, as are thank-you notes. I think the only time I’ve gotten a thank you note in recent years was following a wedding where the bride was acknowledging a wedding present I’d given to them. I guess if they’re not even teaching cursive in the classroom anymore, I won’t look for these to make a resurgence in the future.

Aside from family traditions, we absorb traditions familiar to our area, our religion, our race, and even our neighborhoods. My traditions have at times varied drastically from the people I was associated with. Rick, as I’ve mentioned many times, was born in Cairo, Egypt. Cairo was home, until he came to the U.S. to attend college. Egypt has always held a sort of fascination for me. Growing up, I wrote nearly every essay in geography or history about Egypt. I wanted to be either an archaeologist or Egyptologist when I grew up. As I am not writing this in a tent at a dig in an exotic location, you might guess I really didn’t hit close to the mark. In the nearly twenty years Rick and I spent together, he answered many questions for me about life in Cairo and Egyptian traditions. The fact he had seen the great pyramids, even ridden there on a camel, was enough to make him a hero in my book. He had boxes of pictures for me to look at, and so many details to fill in, I would never had known had not he shared them with me. It was in such contrast to my upbringing in Nova Scotia. Had we planned it, we probably couldn’t have created two more opposite upbringings.

When we spoke of Cairo, our conversations often turned to food, and for Rick, coffee. Being foodies both were subjects we had a personal investment in. Coffee houses were big gathering spots in Cairo. At the time he was there, they were only frequented only by men. They would gather there to drink tea and smoke flavored tobacco through a hookah. Strong, turkish coffee was also served in these cafes as well as espresso. When he first arrived in Michigan, where he was to go to school, he was surprised to discover he couldn’t get espresso anywhere. Coffee wasn’t the trendy drink it has morphed into these days. Remember when you just ordered a cup of coffee, and the only additional information required by the server was whether you wanted it black or took it with cream and sugar? The original Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971, so if you weren’t around before then, the answer to that question would no. Now when ordering a cup of coffee, you have to stipulate what blend, temperature, size, and even strength. You need a coffee map to order. When living in Boston, the first time I ordered a cup they asked if I wanted my coffee regular. I had no idea how to answer that question. Was there an irregular? Turned out regular was with cream and sugar, light just cream, and then black, if that was your preference.

Today is definitely not a hot beverage kind of day. The thermometer on the porch reads nearly 100. In spite of this fact, I noticed in the stores the other day Halloween decorations are beginning to replace displays featuring coolers or beach umbrellas. Fall, for me, can’t arrive too soon. With the delta variant of this incredibly persistent virus beginning to set the rules for the nation, it makes me wonder what the holidays are to look like this year. I was hoping with both Covid and the vaccinations behind us, there might be a lighter feel to the festivities this year. This remains to be seen, of course, and I will welcome the holidays with whatever they bring.

A friend asked me the other day if I thought our world would ever look the same. Tough question. Since I’m trying to give up clairvoyance, I didn’t have a good answer for her. Truth is does it ever look the same? It may feel like life goes on without change day after day at times when you’re bored or unmoved by what’s going on around it, but it is endlessly changing and we shift and change with it. Summer melts into fall, fall into winter. We tuck away our shorts in a box, and bring out our sweaters and boots. I thought by now I would have sacrificed my masks and begun a renewal of sorts when it comes to all the Covid reports, but it is what it is. I only have one friend who remains unvaccinated and we had a discussion about it yesterday. Being a friend, is staying on the sidelines often and keeping clean boundaries. Part of that is not butting in when we haven’t been asked our opinions on a particular subject and respecting the other person’s point of view. In this case, I stepped over the line for a moment, and suggested she put her arm out and get a shot. Her family has had theirs, and apparently now vaccinated people can transmit it to those who are unprotected. I explained I love her, and was getting extremely tired of saying goodbye to beloved people in my life. I believe my arrow hit its mark, as we signed off with her going to look for a local place to get the injection.

So, on that note I will look wistfully towards the end of summer and welcoming in the cooler months. Fall being the season of my birth, I have a special affinity for this time of year. There’s something so cozy about walking along a street, bundled up against a cool wind, and hearing the crunching of the fallen leaves under your shoes. When the days begin to draw in, and darkness falls earlier, I like to be tucked in and warm inside with a candle burning and something hot and delicious bubbling in a pot on the stove.

My grandmother used to always tell me “Don’t wish your life away”, if I wished for time to pass more quickly. This year holds so many mysteries yet to unfold, I will settle for being in this day and try to make it eventful and interesting. I wish you the same and a happy weekend.

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I got my hair done today in preparation for the holiday. You learn so much while sitting the salon chair. The girl next to me was getting the works done, hair, makeup and nails for her bachelorette party on Friday. The lady behind me had just lost forty pounds and was having her hair dyed in celebration of the weight loss. It’s not that I purposely eavesdrop, but the chairs are huddled together in a circle so conversations sort of hover in the air. Emily, my hair dresser, was telling me she has to attend three Thanksgivings every year. Seems her in-laws parted ways a decade ago in what was a contentious divorce. Each party has since remarried. So, Emily, her husband and three little ones go to dinner at her mother-in-law and her new husband’s home the weekend before Thanksgiving, then have dinner with her father-in-law and his new wife on the big day, followed up by a big celebration with Em’s family at home the weekend after. On Christmas this is repeated only with her family receiving top billing. After listening to her I was exhausted. I hope she has “fat pants” for the occasion. That’s a lot of turkey.

When Rick was with me we had turkey on Thanksgiving going with an alternate choice for Christmas such as prime rib or lamb. One year we even had lobster, a nod to my Canadian roots, which was totally decadent and delicious. For Rick, like many  people from what I understand, turkey was not at the top of his favorites list. I’m kind of with my mom in that I like turkey but view it more as a vessel for the stuffing to reside in and not the star of the meal. My day after turkey sandwich however, is a show stopper. Mayo, cranberry sauce, stuffing and turkey with a little salt and pepper. Yum and yum.

The tree will come out of the shed this week along with the sea of red and green bins in which all my decorations are housed. Last year being my first Christmas on my own was somewhat less than jolly, but I have regained some of my holiday spirit this year and am looking forward to putting up all my familiar holiday goodies on the day after turkey day. This is tradition for me, and in keeping with my traditions the day after Christmas they will once again be taken down. I know many people keep theirs up until New Years Day but by the time Christmas is in the bag, if you will, I am done with twinkling lights and wrapping paper. By then I am ready to put my feet up, have some hot chocolate, and take a rest before having to look at the upcoming year.  Some people still have their house lights on well into spring.  Others leave them up year round. Can’t decide whether they are just too lazy to take them down or they really, really, really like the holidays. I have one friend who left her tree up until it was nearly time to turn on the air conditioning.

Used to be a time I wouldn’t have entertained the thought of having an artificial tree. Always I insisted on having a fresh tree to have all the piney aromas in my living room. Flocked trees were my favorite, the type with the real clumped snow look to them that leave a trail of white all over your house both coming and going. I used to keep a lint brush by the front door for visitors who dared to venture to close. On several Christmases we took the children to the mountains to the tree farm. There’s something visceral about using an axe to cut the tree down then driving home singing Christmas carols with the tree tied to the roof of your car. Perhaps it’s left over from when our ancestors dragged home a kill to the hungry villagers.

Finally the weather is catching up with the season here in Northern California. People have been running around in shorts and tee shirts up until several days ago. The first snow is due in the mountain areas over the weekend. I am thankful to be down the hill from snow country this year. As beautiful as the world looks when the snowflakes begin to pile up on the tree boughs, driving in the aftermath is a pain and getting out of the steep driveway in my old house was downright dangerous to my well being. I’ve heard where I am in the lower foothills is occasionally dusted. An occasional snowfall is most welcome. The terrain is flat from here to my car where I live now, so I am far less likely to end up on my face. Twice while up in Grass Valley I went out to the car in the morning only to end up on my behind on the front porch. Now I am not against a good dance once and a while, but not before my coffee, in frigid weather, and definitely not when airborne.

Retailers are beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Unbelievably in the stores I found the Halloween 50% sale items on the shelf with Santa and his entourage. Maybe they should just combine the holidays having Santa riding in a pumpkin, eating a turkey leg?  They certainly don’t waste much time. Some of the Black Friday items were already on sale weeks ago. Pretty soon we’ll be celebrating it after Labor Day. I have so far bought one present and December 25th is one month away.  Though I love to be able to give to my loved ones it can be so stressful trying to figure out what to give and traversing the packed stores and endless lines. Most probably most of my shopping will be done on line. This year will be our little guys second Christmas. Viewing all this wonderment through his eyes will be exciting. That experience I am looking forward to the most. Also, we are blessed my mother is still with us. So many things to be thankful for besides what is wrapped under the tree.s

On a side note, I took my first clay modeling class yesterday. I have been trying to get into such a class since 1988. One thing or another always seemed to block my way. The class was three hours. That seemed like a long time when I signed up but have to say it went by so quickly when I was told it was time to hang up my apron for the day I was disappointed. How fun it was to learn something new and get my hands all gooey in the process. I made a snowman and a bowl which I shall show you once they’re glazed and fired.

Have a great day. Take a chance to learn something new or teach someone else something they haven’t experienced.

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