Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finally It's Done -- Almost


Several months ago -- in June to be precise -- I had the opportunity to acquire very inexpensively, the office furniture of a friend who was closing down his business. My old and well-worn office desk had serve a useful and cheap purpose, but I had long hankered after something more modern and with more work space. We had to do some figuring out as to where to put stuff we were replacing and also we had to have the time and energy and an extra strong body to do it. The opportunity presented itself when youngest son came home for Thanksgiving.

We started Sunday morning -- This was the dreadful part -- taking everything A-Part! First emptying all the 'stuff' from two desks and a corner cupboard you can hardly see in the picture. The living room and dining room were also in chaos. Father and Son hard at work and me trying to stay out of the way ...

 Sunday afternoon, Monday and Tuesday I waded through file after file and stored anew the paraphernalia of my new look office! Five large refuse bags are waiting to be burned -- some of the detritus of my life. In one cupboard that was overflowing with old files I discovered that in fact there were only three I wanted to keep! If only I could discard some of the detritus in my head so easily! It's a lovely luxury when 'everything' fits and there is even room for more! There is still a bit more to go through -- those 'in' boxes I'm looking at now still need to be gone through and those 3 files that escaped a fiery end need a place to live. Right now though, I'll bid you farewell as I have to go shopping ;-) Ah so the little contradictions of life can be oh so telling!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wachet auf!

"Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme
der Wachter, sehr hoch auf der Zinne;
'Wach auf, du Stadt Jerusalem!'
Metternatcht heisst diese Stunde;
sie rufen uns mit hellem Munde:
'Wo seid ihr, kluge Jungfrauen?
Wohl auf, der Brautgam kommt;
Steht auf, die Lampen nehmt!
Macht euch bereit zu der Hochzeit.

'Wake, O wake!' With tidings thrilling.
The watchmen's cry the air is filling:'Arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! No more delaying.
The hour has come! we hear them saying;
'Where are ye all, ye virgins wise?
The bridegroom now is nigh:
Stand forth! Your lamps raise high!
In bright array this nuptial day.
Go forth and meet him in the way!'
Ihr musset ihm entgegen gehn!

Now, for me, the Holiday Season, begins ...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving for Three

Today's the day we usually celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. This year I  felt somewhat glum on Thursday -- perhaps because of all the recent family get-togethers and also remembering that last year The Man and I were in Connecticut with my mother and sister and her family. It's easy to get spoiled! So on Thursday, in order to feel somewhat part of things, I began preparations for today's dinner -- and for only 3 of us, too!

This year I've opted for a few changes in the normal menu! I found a recipe for cranberry sausage stuffing that I simply could not resist. It has a combination of bread crumbs, sausage, dried sweetened cranberries, apple and spices that gave an aroma that now fills the kitchen. Of course the recipe made a huge amount -- far more than I needed to fill the huge chicken I'm roasting insted of turkey. So I've divided what was surplus into two freezer bags and next time I roast a bird -- or maybe even pork -- I'll be set. The menu also includes honeyed sweet potatoes and parsnips, mashed potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower cheese and cranberry sauce -- which will all be finished off in about 30 minutes.

The other deviation from the normal menu is the dessert. I found a blog with a recipe for apple and pear pie which sounded so yummy that I had to try it. That's what I did instead of feeling sorry for myself on Thursday! What was unusual for me was that this recipe called for you to cook the apples and pears together with the sugar and spices before adding it to the pastry. The liquid that this produced was so divine tasting that the temptation to lick the pan clean was hard to resist (but I did...).

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday. In our church every year there is an Advent carol service and it is a very beautiful way to begin with carols written specifically for this time in the church year. For me this special service marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all. The finishing touches to the cooking are calling me to the kitchen ... Champagne, anyone?

Monday, November 21, 2011

London: A Treasure for the Memories

Tuesday. My niece had invited the three of us to her place for a breakfast of pastries from a local bakery. So after a short lie-in we got ourselves up and dressed and headed off down the Bayswater Road towards Palace Court. We (sister, nephew and me) had intended to catch a bus, but it was a perfect day for walking and so off we trotted to places so far unknown.

New pajamas from Grammy!
This is a very nice part of London to live! Here you walk where 'the money is'. It inspires within me great ambivalence -- I would venture to say this is the London of dreams and privilege, of great wealth, of movie stars and royalty -- part of my world, but I am not a part of it --  just visiting for a bit of a bit. Palace Court is a lovely old street with lots of character. My niece and her family have a very comfortable 3-bedroomed flat and we had a gorgeous, if very late breakfast of bakery goodies and conversation. While we were there the postman arrived with a package from Grammy in America and it was fun to instantly upload a picture to Facebook, just in time for Grammy to see it at her breakfast table -- the time difference was 5 hours -- as I mentioned ours was a very late breakfast!

Eventually, we all left to wander through the winding streets to Notting Hill and some window shopping -- although, one of us did succumb to temptation and bought a gorgeous handbag. We stopped at a local cafe and lunch for some -- I abstained, realizing we were due soon enough for tea at the Palace! Soon we were retracing our steps and on our way we paused to pick up my great niece, complete with her scooter,  from school! It didn't take long to once again be walking down Bayswater Road and through the gate into Kensington Gardens

Beautiful autumnal day in Kensington Gardens
What a lovely place! Time for tea -- we did spend a lot of time eating! My nephew is only 23 and still of the Age of the Bottomless Pit, which we as related adults feel an obligation to try to fill! My niece led us the the entrance of the Palace, which led us to the tea room. She needed to get home to feed her children and then get ready for us to meet again for dinner (yet more food!) and the theatre!!!
Mother with her Bottomless Pit and Kensington Palace Tea Room
And so we found ourselves in this beautiful building that was once an Orangery. We were immediately confronted with a range of yummy looking cakes and pastries and the unmistakable sounds of tea being served. Very quickly we were conducted to our tables and presented with menus -- this is where confusion and ultimate embarrassment set in ...

What we wanted was tea for three with some sandwiches and cakes. But the menu described several different combinations but only for one person at getting towards 20 pounds sterling a pop -- which seemed ridiculous to me! At the bottom of the menu it said "plate of sandwiches" at 9 pounds. Plus tea. I asked the waitress if they only had menus for one person and she said yes. So we ordered 3 plates of sandwiches and three pots of tea. The waitress also asked us if we wanted cake, we declined.

Oh my goodness! The plates of sandwiches arrived! Each plate had the equivalent of four different sandwiches all cut into fingers. Even Bottomless Pit was overwhelmed. None of us could finish. The waitress returned and my sister didn't say what she was about to say before she heard the words -- we do not have boxes for left-overs!!! We did, however, have serviettes/napkins -- and a few minutes later the waitress returned with more, saying that we had a good idea! The thing that was so embarrassing, was that everyone else there seemed to know how to go about getting little plates of sandwiches and little tiered plates of cakes and tea. I just felt so stupid -- as you do ... and I soooooo did!!! I do wonder though if part of the problem was that the waitress herself was foreign and not well versed in the intricacies of afternoon tea -- it seems obvious to me that we needed some help and advice -- but perhaps I'm being unfair -- over 30 years in England I should have been able to order a presentable tea for 3, doncha think?

Our handbags stuffed with sandwiches, we left the tea room and headed back to the hotel, this time successfully negotiating the catching of a bus and getting off at the right stop, too! We made reservations for dinner -- for six at 6.00 -- at a charming Italian restaurant called L'Arco. This turned out to be an inspired choice, which my sister got from the website TripAdvisor, which we highly recommend for those not in the know. The six of us present and accounted for, food ingested (again!), we had a two minute walk to the Victoria Palace and Billy Elliot the Musical.

About the show, I can not wax lyrical enough! Recalling it now a few weeks later and there are certain scenes that bring goose bumps. It was thrilling, sad, triumphant and awe inspiring. The role of Billy is so demanding that there are four lads playing the part. (No, not 4 on the night!!) What a night to remember for all of us and a family occasion to boot. In fact, the entire day was all about the family and being together and enjoying the company. A treasure for the memory...

A Footnote: none of us ever had another of those sandwiches! Forgotten and unloved we left them in the hotel room's fridge!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

London: Fabulous Madness

The Autumnal View from the Room
It had been many years since I’d last spent any time in the centre of London. The intervening years have left a lot to be desired in terms of my stamina, but by the end of the four days I was improving. My sister, Trish, had invited me to stay with her at the hotel, and The Man had agreed with our plan and would stay with his sister in Brentford. But at my request he had also agreed to meet us in London the next day and take not only the two of us, but my niece and her two children to lunch and the London Eye. As he was a Londoner he would be able to point out the sites from the wheel and navigate our way around that part of London.
My youngest sister was visiting England for the first time. In fact she was visiting  Europe for the first time and she was putting everything into it to ensure it was memorable. We stayed in the Lancaster London, a very decent hotel very near to Lancaster Gate and across the street from Hyde Park. The hotel is several stories high and my sister opted for ‘a room with a view’ on the seventeenth floor. Once checked in we took The Man and headed for a nearby pub, recommended by a receptionist. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes after 10 pm and food was no longer being served. But there is nothing like the excitement of being in London for the first time! A glass of wine sufficed until later when we ordered some not exactly excellent room service. Trish had arrived at Heathrow at 8.30 pm and by the time The Man had driven us to the hotel, we’d checked in, etc. food was not readily available.  But the evening was mild and we were able to sit outside and relish the occasion.
Drinks and Smart Phones
The next morning two sisters embarked on their adventure together. We knew that we would be limited in what we would be able to do and see as we are no longer exactly spring chickens – even if she is 11 years younger than I am. The first thing was to find breakfast. Since the weather was so mild it seemed a good idea to head toward Oxford Circus on foot in order to perhaps find a cafe on the way. Well it was a good plan, but we didn’t find anything until reaching Selfridges and then had to make due with croissants and pots of tea.
Once sort of fed, we found our way to the underground station and eventually to our first tourist destination, Westminster Abbey! At the end of October the line of tourists is not too bad and within about 15 minutes we were inside. (I do think the entrance fee of thirteen pounds a bit steep – I know, I know…) I’d not been to the Abbey for 20 years and it’s amazing how fuzzy my memories were – so it was good to see the old place again and to pay my respects to the kings and queens and poets and actors lying around – and the audio phone with Jeremy Irons with his sexiest voice was very helpful. Unfortunately, no time for lunch as we were meeting Husband and Niece at the West Entrance at 1.00 pm. Perfect timing – everyone turned up within a few minutes of being on time.
The West Gate of Westminster Abbey
Time for lunch before my sister perished from hunger! The weather was stunning and before long The Man had directed us through crowds amazing for the non-tourist time of year and onto Whitehall where we found a little restaurant with tables outside: soon all were fed and watered and with sunlight still shining away – away we went toward the Eye. Astonishingly there was no queue once the tickets were bought. The two children were extremely well-behaved and entertaining at the same time! Grand-niece held my hand like a very good girl and grand-nephew did not try to take his shoes and socks off! The Man was an excellent tour guide, pointing out the major sites before our eyes, as well as those parts that reflected his own history as a child growing up in post-war London, where bombed out and often dangerous bombed out areas were playgrounds for the children of his day.

His Royal Highness, the Prince of Cuteness

Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Cuteness captured
by a Knight in Painted and Armoured
Some of my favourite people in all the world

In the eye of the powers that be...
Time now to get back to our hotel. The Man made his way back to Brentford by bus in order to pick up the car and return to pick us all up for dinner. By then 'us' included my nephew who had just landed at Heathrow from and my youngest son. Soon we would all embark through the mysterious streets of London to the East end and the Prospect of Whitby pub. And five dozen gold stars for The Man!

So ended the first day. Tomorrow would have us  Visiting Niece for yummy breakfast goodies, trawling through Notting Hill, being confounded ordering tea at Kensington Palace and a mind-blowing visit to the Theatre! But more about that anon...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Symbol of Remembrance

To put it politely, I feel very cross! I have lived in the UK since 1980 and in all that time I have not heard such a commotion about poppies -- the wearing of them, that is. Each year little red paper poppies are sold by the Royal British Legion. All the money raised goes to the Benevolent Fund which helps to support ex-service men and women in a variety of ways.

This year the media have produced a ruckus by implying that people are being made to feel they have to wear a poppy whether they want to or not. The 'people' they mean are the presenters politicians who are all seen to be wearing them for several weeks before Remembrance Sunday, which is held on the Sunday nearest to November 11. It would seem that the row erupted last year with Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow criticized for not wearing a poppy. He referred to the public demands as 'poppy fascism' and that perhaps was not the wisest choice of words. He chooses to wear his on Remembrance Sunday alone.

But the 'discussion' has escalated. For example, yesterday, Telegraph columnist Vicki Woods wrote about how it 'drives me to distraction' when people wear their poppies too early -- even before November! Here, I must confess to being one of 'those people'. The reason is quite simple -- I saw poppies for sale and I bought one and as they are rather delicate I pinned it on my coat so it wouldn't get crushed and have left it there. Vicki, I ask you, why should that drive you to distraction? And in equal measure, why should wearing one or not cause offence? Surely we do not need arguments about who wears a poppy and who does not, nor argument about wearing it for one day or many.

For me, the poppy is not a symbol of patriotism or even support of the military. It is a symbol of remembrance -- for all on either side of wars. It is a symbol of blood and grief and I find the ceremonies on this  Sunday very moving and poignant. The poppies grew on both sides of the battle line ...

The words of John McCrae seem appropriate now:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Comes First/Memories (Part 2)

This picture captures the weather and
mood I associate with Thanksgiving
For me what makes Thanksgiving so special are the memories of so many friends and relatives. I especially remember my grandmothers and my great aunt. My great aunt was Hera Sheghemi Gallagher! Her father was a lawyer. A client and close personal friend of his was Japanese. The story went that she was named for this friend. Originally the Hera was spelled Herra, but Auntie decided one 'r' was quite enough! No one in the family ever referred to her by her given name(s) because at an early age her sister, my grandmother, called her "Hade" and so to all of us she was known as Auntie Hade.

With her nephew
 on his Wedding Day
Auntie Hade was fabulous: always a lady, always  properly dressed she liked nothing better than to take us for long walks through the woods, pointing out wild flowers and especially birds. What was so charming about this was that she would be attired in an afternoon dress and what I considered to be little old lady black shoes with laces and a slight high heel. When the weather was colder she donned her best overcoat and her hat and gloves, the very model of a proper New England spinster lady. And never, ever was a hair out of place or a hint of perspiration on her brow! She also taught us how to play cards. Young and old adored her. Thanksgiving was never complete when she was not there and  since she died in 1971, I have had a sense of her spirit being present with us every Thanksgiving Day.

Katherine Ives Gallagher, nee Thankful!
Her sister, Katherine Ives Gallagher, was my grandmother and I am named Katherine after her. My grandmother was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, 1892. She was 14 months younger than her sister and it would follow that my sister Mary and I would also be born 14 months apart. In all her life she never had need of her birth certificate until she retired at the age of 65. She did not have a copy of the document and had to go to the appropriate department in New Haven, Connecticut. Well, they could not find her in their records. They did, however, find a birth certificate for a daughter born on that day to her parents, Laura and John Gallagher. Everything matched but the name of the baby, which had been entered as 'Thankful' Ives Gallagher!! Now there is a story that remains hidden in the mists of time! But it seems to me that if you can name one child Herra Sheghemi, then "Thankful" sounds like it could be a possibility!

Grammy Eva and Grandpa John

Grammy Eva was my mother's mother and she and her second husband would arrive early Thanksgiving Day armed with boxes and boxes of goodies from her local New Jersey bakeries and delicatessens. Crumb Buns, coffee cake, Danish, doughnuts to die for and my favorite, cruellers!  Then she would set to work helping my mother and we all scampered off, faces powdered with sugar, to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, hoping against hope we would not be asked to help set the table or some such! One year Gram made the yummiest stuffing ever when she mixed in a small amount of mashed potato with the bread crumbs, sage and onion. With the turkey we'd also have brussel sprouts (yuck), creamed onions, sweet potatoes with those sickly toasted marshmallows, green peas, cranberry sauce, cranberry relish and four pies: apple, apple crumb, mince with a lattice top, and pumpkin with whipped cream.

In 1979 I took The Man who was to become my husband home for his first Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving dinner that year was at my brother and sister-in-law's house. Their home was also the house where I lived from the age of 10. So many a Thanksgiving memory there!

Here is The Man and my Mom -- one of the greatest mutual admiration societies to have ever lived! Honestly, the first time my mother met him she shocked me by flirting with him -- and he flirted right back! And her mother, my grandmother quickly decided to do her part to get him in the family by insisting we drop by her house in New Jersey for dinner. "I'll make a pot roast -- her speciality -- and for dessert I think I'll make a Blighty Tart". "Ho,Ho,

Ho," said my father, "that's what she fed me the first time! She's got you in her sights for her grand-daughter!" Blighty Tart, properly called Blitzen Torte is a double layer cake. Each layer made of yellow cake and topped with toasted meringue sprinkled with either almonds or toasted coconut and between the layers is whipped cream. It was !probably my father's all time favorite dessert

And now here on the left are my brother and Dad doing their jobs! Bro is doing the potatoes and against all the odds Dad is using an electric knife! Note the red flannel shirt -- to me this is the traditional men's wear on Thanksgiving Day in most families.  Dad is a bit dressier because he would have been to church earlier and not got around to changing.
Here dinner is finished and the men are back at work -- even The Man seems to be taking orders from me! That didn't last long, but it was nice while it lasted!!! Actually I have no idea what I was going on about, just that it definitely looks as though I am going on ... This would turn out to be the last Thanksgiving Day in America for me for many years -- and it was a very happy one indeed ...

Three Cousins, left to right, my nephew, niece, and son.
I can't remember when I was next back in the States for this holiday, but the following pictures may be when. The year was probably 1994 and the weekend was very special. In attendance were my eldest son, my nephew and my niece. All three would have been in college that year. My niece is from Minnesota and was attending college in Maine so it was an extra special treat to have her for Thanksgiving.

One particular event makes this particular year especially memorable: My parents' lived north western Connecticut, which is the most wooded area of the state. As wild turkeys had become a protected species they were now in abundance and it was not unusual to spot them in the countryside. However, I was yet to see any ...

Early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving Day, my mother knocked softly on my bedroom door and said, "Kathie, if you want to see the turkeys come downstairs now! Immediately I grabbed my camera and flew downstairs -- followed by the entire household! Still in our pyjamas all seven of us crept up to the kitchen window and had a look: There they were, seven wild hungry turkeys, bold as they could be!

11/11/11 We Remember

Sidney Davenport was my husband's grandfather.

Rest in Peace, Sidney Davenport. Your daughter and your grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren as well as your country salute you and remember your sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thanksgiving Comes First (Part 1)

Thanksgiving Day 2010
This post is in response to the wonderful Suldog and his annual entreaty to everybody to leave Yuletide preparations and celebrations until after Thanksgiving Day. Of course this American holiday ranks no where with other countries in the world -- so I will suggest until December first -- which is the first day on the Advent calendars so popular with everyone, or Advent Sunday or even better St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6th.

In Britain the Christmas Season seems to begin October first -- for then the TV ads begin and the stores' toy departments are expanded and heavy laden. And my heart begins to sink ... smart ass television and radio personalities joke about how many days or weeks until Christmas and my head looks to bury itself in the sand. The past few years in Britain have seen an increase in paraphernalia pertaining to Halloween -- but so far nothing to dent the early enthusiasm for displays of Christmas Cards, Christmas decorations, Gift ideas, etcetera, etcetera.

But this post is supposed to be about Thanksgiving and so far I've plodded on about is December 25th!

The Man Who Carves and The Sister Who Cooks
I love Thanksgiving. Last year The Man and I hauled ourselves out of England and headed for a grand old New England Thanksgiving Day. My mother now lives in a retirement center, but every year my youngest sister gathers her immediate family and drives to Connecticut from Vermont with all the Thanksgiving fixings! Mom's kitchen may be a bit on the small side, but it is complete and she still has her silverware and enough dishes and glassware to set out a feast.

The Great Day began with sitting down to watch the balloon spectacle Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! This was unusually enjoyable for me as it had been several years since I'd last seen one. Year after year it may become old hat for some, but for once I thoroughly enjoyed it. The sound of the Parade in the background had a genuine Thanksgiving kind of hum that blends magically with the preparations in the kitchen and dining area and the smells which gradually emanate from beyond and are reminiscent all Thanksgivings past.

Nowadays Mom does not do any cooking, but she insisted on preparing the sweet potatoes. We did persuade her to leave off the sickly sweet toasted marshmallows though. I prepared the mashed potatoes and succotash -- for those of you not familiar with this dish it is a mixture of sweet corn and lima beans. Of course there were other vegetables and cranberry sauce and stuffing and pies -- last year there were apple, pumpkin and mince. All washed down with bottles of Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and whatever red wine The Man chose.  In all there were nine of us to make merry and begin the festive season quite properly with this special all American Day of Thanksgiving. All this was followed by the usual digestif  of some American Football and the full flow of a dishwasher in perfect working order!

Thanksgiving is more than one day -- it is a long weekend. The Friday, now known as Black Friday, is the busiest shopping day of the year and for many of us marks the beginning of the Christmas season. There are even members of my own family who I am embarrassed to say put up their Christmas tree on this day! I am now too old to participate in the Black Friday madness when the traffic jams are legendary and the stores are  mobbed. Best to stay at home and eat turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing sandwiches, don't you think? Some people can hardly wait for the shopping to begin though -- some stores started opening at midnight and the lines had been forming for hours -- but at least Thanksgiving came first!