Monday, December 30, 2013

Where the wild things are

My niece and nephew got the best stuff from Santa. They got wild animals!

I visited them the other day and their room looks like a jungle. The picture above does not do the lion credit. He is laughable, unphotographable. I mean, the first time I saw him, he looked real!

The leopard came over to see what was going on.

The giraffe poses with his keeper.

To think that when I was a kid I just had an ordinary bear!

The lion is Leo and I think I am going to suggest Leonard for the leopard. In tribute to Pennario over whose discography I have been slaving. Plus there is only one letter difference.

Wow, look, there is another little critter to the right of the giraffe. I think it is a baby giraffe.

It is a jungle out there!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silent night

Don't you hate when you want to go skiing but then run into slush and your skis get clumpy and you have to carry them home?

Happened to me!

However the sky looked great and I took these pictures.

A beautiful Christmas Eve. It was so silent and calm.

This is why winter is my favorite time of year.

I can bask in the silence.

Get my book done!

Monday, December 23, 2013

O little town of Kaisertown

Behold four of our photogenic carolers singing in Kaisertown!

We had a good group heedless of the wind and weather, which is a phrase I seem to be using a lot lately. Kaisertown was not our easiest audience but the adventure is part of the fun.

Our Kaisertown set list included but was not limited to: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," "Silent Night," "Adeste Fideles" (which we sang in Latin in a Pakistani deli), "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," "Joy To the World," "Deck the Halls," "The First Nowell," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Ding Dong Merrily on High." We did not attempt "In Dulci Jubilo" on this particular trip although in Black Rock we sang it on a street corner with great gusto. Kaisertown also did not get to experience our "Here We Come A-Wassailing." We did not get to that and the locals are the lesser for it.

My friend Lynn attempted later sensibly to point out that really all we need is four songs. She announced, "Next year we have decided we need to learn only four songs, because --"

I said, "We did not decide!"

That would be sensible! And Christmas is not about common sense.

Behold, I bring tidings of great joy, that next year our repertoire will at least double. I am of the mindset of Leonard Pennario who played something like 25 different concertos in a season and chafed if he was made to play the same thing more than twice in a row. I need variety.

Next weekend on our forays in Allentown and Williamsville I will be more organized as far as the sheet music and we may well attempt to sing all 12 of our carols.

One for each of the 12 days of Christmas!
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shopping in my closet

Reason No. 1,340 why it is fun to be me:

Because I am going Christmas caroling tonight I finally began thinking today about what I would wear. And I had completely forgotten that I own an authentic Victorian coat!

OK, actually it is worse. I had completely forgotten that I own TWO authentic Victorian coats! Well, they might not be authentic but they look it. They are floor length, both of them. One of them trimmed in fur. The other one with a belt with a silver buckle. We have several gentlemen who have put together Victorian outfits so these coats are most welcome.

Only I could forget completely that I owned these coats. Here I had been thinking of wearing my medieval cloak. At least I did not forget I owned a medieval cloak.

I remembered the coats when I was driving home from Valu Home Center where I went to get flashlights so I could see the Latin words to "Adeste Fideles" which, not having a photographic memory like Leonard Pennario, I am still sketchy on the second verse. First I remembered the one coat, with the fur, and then I thought, don't I have another one, too?


Now that I see these coats I remember where I got both of them.

The one with the fur came from Ed's Warehouse up in Toronto. I went there with my friend Jacquetta and other girlfriends and they were selling off costumes for some historic Toronto theater. Technically this could be a costume but it is heavy enough to work as an actual coat. When I got it, this was a long time ago, I remember what I did was, I wore it to Midnight Mass at St. Louis Church. I made my entrance while the choir was singing the pre-Mass concert and it seemed to me that everyone in the church turned to stare at me. Which I loved. I was about 25. I sashayed up that aisle in my Victorian fur-trimmed coat and ostentatiously took a seat.

So that is one coat. The other one, with the silver buckle, I got at the dear departed Trinity Episcopal Church White Elephant Sale. They had them twice a year and I was so ubiquitous that I was named an Honorary Trinity White Elephant Worker even though I am a Papist. It is an honor I still treasure! Anyway, one year, when all I bought was this coat and an evening dress and a string of pearls. I walked out of there saying to myself, now I am set. This is all I need in life.

The Trinity coat, which has a Bloomingdale's label, is a little snug. It always was, I remember that now. But if I wear a sleeveless top underneath and a skinny skirt and don't eat I can get away with it. The fur trimmed coat is easier to wear but with all this water and slush, I do not want it dragging around. It would be great in snow but not in puddles. I would not want to put that coat through that.

Luckily, being the shopper I am, I have options.

Venite adoremus, Dominum!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stevia strikes again

Remember the stevia in Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea?

It has surfaced again!

Yesterday I stopped at Wegmans looking for tea. I had in mind some of those yummy Christmas brews, but they were all sold out, just a couple of Sugar Cookie Sleigh Rides sitting there forlornly on these empty shelves. So I bought Bengal Spice and a Chai Tea. My sister had told me how great Bengal Spice was.

Upon arriving home I tried it. And there it was! That telltale sort of jolt of sweetness. What is it about this stevia? Those are stevia leaves pictured above. Stevia just jumps out at you.

I looked at the box. Sure enough, there it was in the fine print: "Natural flavors."

Why don't they just put "stevia"?

Why do they have to fib about it?

It's not as if I really mind. Even the Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, I kind of warmed up to that. I have been drinking it and enjoying it. It does taste like sugar cookies, darn it, and if stevia was what they needed to do that, so what.

Now that I am aware of it, I have even detected stevia in my favorite blend ...

... Sugar Plum Spice. Or here is the old box where they used to get to say Christmas and not Holiday.

I still love Sugar Plum Spice. I can't stop loving this tea just because I have learned there is stevia in it.

But why not put it? S-T-E-V-I-A Stevia?

They must figure people don't want it.

But if they figure people don't want it, why do they use it?

This reminds me of my Leonard Pennario book. There are things I puzzle over. I will catch myself sitting there, chin in hand, thinking: "But if this ... why that?"

There was this tea once at the Hoowa Supermarket that I need in situations like this. The box said: "For When You Need To Relax And Put Things in Perspective." I was just laughing about that last week with some friends. I could use that tea now.

I wonder if there was stevia in it?

As the Magic Stevia 8-Ball would say ...

It is decidedly so!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unsilent night

Last night we had the last of three caroling practices at my house. We are a rather freewheeling group but we are getting better.

We are insanely ambitious and have a repertoire of about a dozen songs including two verses in Latin of "Adeste Fideles" and also "In Dulci Jubilo" which is macaronic.

It crossed my mind to sing "O Holy Night" ...


... because Pennario loved that song and I do to. But a woman's gotta know her limitations.

Someone I was reading to or listening to in the last few weeks pointed out what an unusual treasure trove Christmas music is. It is almost all cultures. It is folk music, it is classical music, it is in all languages, it is ancient, it is new.

Give our caroling group enough time and we will sing it all!

But right now we are kind of this fledgling group. We are like the American troops in the Revolutionary War awaiting Baron von Steuben.

In contrast to the, ahem, Sun Valley Carolers, living the Sun Valley Lifestyle.

And the Charles Dickens Carolers. What the dickens, you know??

Oh well, every caroling group has to start somewhere. And you know what, we are pretty damned good. Even if we are wearing Buffalo Bills attire we will make a good showing. Sometime over the weekend we are going to start to take our show on the road and prove that.

Perhaps we will start a fad.

Perhaps next year we will have rival groups!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday driver

Wow, adventures in driving! Today I got stuck before it was even 9 a.m.

Foolishly I had driven out thinking I would go downtown to Mass at St. Anthony's. Even more foolishly I told the organist, Josephine, when she called that I could pick her up. First I had to shovel this drift in front of my garage to get out and then I realized that the side street where my friend Josephine lives had not been plowed. Holy St. Anthony's cannoli, I was stuck!

In the middle of the street!

I was blocking the street but luckily at 8:30 a.m. nobody was around except for a few people with snowblowers. One man, he was like some kind of saint, he helped unstick me. This was after I had gone and gotten one of Josephine's snow shovels and failed to dig myself out.

You got to love Buffalo. Other people appeared on the scene and helped too and I was free, at least momentarily. Howard, wisely as it turned out, insisted that I come home. So I did. Between there and getting home I got stuck one more time, just for good measure. The same good people dug me out. I will never figure out exactly which people were helping me so I think what I will do is, I will go to Josephine's street, Norwalk Avenue, and leave a bag of cookies or something in everyone's mailbox. I owe them big!

So does Josephine. When I left, the snowblower guy was telling her he would drive her to church. "But you don't understand," Josephine was saying. "It's downtown by City Hall."

And he was saying, "That's OK. I'll still drive you."

Darn, I wanted to go too! We were having a church party I had been looking forward to. But on the other hand I just wanted to get this behemoth of a car home. I could not leave it in the street or get it into anyone's driveway. Also I admit it, I was just stressed out. First the other night and now this! Anyway, I left Josephine with this snowblower gentleman and as far as I know, they went together to St. Anthony's. I went home.

I took a nap because I had been up really early thanks to Leonard Pennario. Then I went to Mass at St. Mark's. I am lucky in that there is a church I can walk to in about two minutes.

This was another beautiful Buffalo experience, as it turned out. I was walking to church mostly in the street, because the snow was so heavy and piled everywhere. And other people were also walking in the street. When I got to the corner there were other people heading over from other directions, in ones, twos and threes. And I realized everyone was going the same place I was! Everyone was going to church!

It felt like a village in the 19th century!

The Mass was not what I am used to, and sure I miss my Gregorian chants, but it was gentle and sincere, it was so sweet, this snowy day, this church packed with people. Everyone into it, too -- men, women, kids, everyone. A very nice morning, after its dramatic start. A very nice day.

Later my niece and nephew came over and we baked cookies, la la la la la la.

Fa la la la la la la la la.

In my future this week: more cookie baking, more caroling, and a new yule activity, ice skating.

And I think I will ride the bus.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sun, fun and an Aldi ham

Yesterday may have ended with drama but it got off to a great start.

I went to Albrecht Discount!

And not just any Aldi either. It was the one across from the Broadway Market. This is a glorious Aldi, spanking new. I had never been in it, I am ashamed to say. Yesterday after buying honey and a few other things at the Broadway Market, I knew the time had come.

It was a bright sunny morning, not at all like what we would get later. I walked in piously intending to buy butter. They have butter on sale this week for $1.69. Perhaps a couple of boxes, I thought.

Holy Millville Cannoli, I wound up spending $104!

I can almost recite it. Eggs, a pomegranate, chicken, a ham, and seven silos of steel cut oats because Howard loves steel-cut oats and they had them. It is an unpredictable Aldi item.

My little niece Barbara is going to be baking with me on Sunday so that was where Baker's Secret items came into play. Dark chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, a nifty Christmas sprinkling sugar set, plain white sugar, etc., etc. Coffee.

I bought all kinds of cheese, Happy Farms or Happy Valley or whatever it is called.

Anyway. It looks as if in the acknowledgments to my Leonard Pennario book might have to include Aldi. And Aldi should thank me back.

Isn't that a great Santa up above? It is Santa with an Aldi ham! Apparently it was part of a recent ad campaign in Australia where their Christmas is warm, with swimming and surfing. I have never been able quite to figure out how the world's weather works.

Here is the commercial.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Buffalo adventure

Howard and I celebrated our ninth (!) anniversary today.

Yesterday it took us forever to figure out if it was eight years or nine years. Neither of us had been keeping track! But it ends up it is nine years.

We went to Tokyo II and had the Love Boat. And this being Buffalo we used a coupon. There is a coupon to Tokyo II in the phone book. This being Buffalo we still have phone books.

The dinner followed an eventful day that culminated in my two-hour drive home from work in a snowstorm. That was a trip. I will say that. It looked for a while as if I were in a car wash!

You couldn't see and every couple of feet the police were making us detour. I kept being directed away from the direction I was supposed to be going in. The best was when I got to the Delaware Avenue "S" curves. The traffic had been inching along for a mile and all of a sudden you saw he reason: Everyone was being detoured down Rumsey Road.

I never saw that detour coming and when I finally saw it my heart sank. There was another half an hour, easily. Rumsey Road runs through Delaware Park and there was this single file line of cars and this forest of snow. It was like this big whiteout. I was driving through it thinking, "I don't know where I am." Thinking, "I do not blame Leonard Pennario for preferring California to this."

Many many prayers to St. Christopher were said, St. Christopher being the saint among the 14 Holy Helpers who is charged with getting you home in one piece.

He did his job today! I did get home in one piece to celebrate my wedding anniversary. With the Love Boat.

Thank you, Howard!

Thank you, St. Christopher!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The good, the bad and the Ugli

 I put up my tree last night and so now I radiate Christmas. It is no wonder it was an amazing day for pre-Christmas presents.

My friend Patrick from church gave me this vinyl album, Christmas with the Oak Ridge Boys. That is it pictured above. It is a classic!

Patrick said, and he is right, that you do not even have to listen to it. Just to own it and be able to look at it is enough. There are some Leonard Pennario albums you could say that about to only with different meaning.

In another magical touch, the mechanic who did my car inspection today and fixed a few things that needed fixing gave me an Ugli Fruit when my car was ready.

Or it may have been a Uniq Fruit. Later I was wondering about this later. I did not want to insult the fruit by calling it Ugli if in fact it was Uniq.

Whatever it was the mechanic did not want it.

"It looks like a brain," he said.

He said another customer had given it to him earlier that day. The customer was some kind of a potter, and he taught kids pottery, and he has an eye toward unusual beauty, such as possessed by the Ugli Fruit. Or the Uniq Fruit. I still do not have it straight.

Now I have my Ugli Fruit and my Oak Ridge Boys Christmas album.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The chickpea chick

We had office cooking club and chickpeas came to my rescue.

It was a last-minute decision. Cooking club in general does not bring out the best in me. I can cook great dishes all week just for myself and/or Howard and our friends and whoever and then comes cooking club, where I am called on to show off my skills, and I tank. Well, it is not as if it is a disaster, not usually at least, but I often wind up thinking, I could do better.

This time around I did do better. I got off to a slow start the day before because although I knew I was making a soup or a stew, I could not make up my mind between chickpeas and black beans. And so, overnight, I cooked up a pound of both, in two crock pots.

I raise indecisiveness to a fine art!

The next day, Sunday we are talking, I was late in the game because I went to Mass and coffee hour and then there were the usual Leonard Pennario-related reasons. And then I went blithely to the Buffalo Philharmonic kids' concert, Jingle Bell Jam. That left me only an hour or so. Then I found this miracle recipe. It is Cinnamon Chicken Stew!

Perfect for the season, I thought. Cinnamon is such a wonderful flavor this time of year. The only thing I did was instead of the stick cinnamon I threw in a teaspoon or something or normal cinnamon. I had stick cinnamon, make no mistake. You can get it at Dollar Tree, a big jar, a great deal. But I did not think anyone wanted to bite into a big stick of cinnamon and the recipe said nothing about taking it out.

Anyway, end result as we say here in Buffalo, success!

For once!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

We air our dirty linen in public

One of these days I have to learn to do laundry the way Howard does laundry. The other day he did something unbelievable. He threw a pound of butter into the laundry along with his clothes!

And the clothes came out fine! The only thing that happened was that he found the butter box and all four of the wrappers the sticks had been wrapped in.

Me, if I threw a pound of butter into the laundry it would be a disaster.

It is not fair because yesterday, I did laundry, and in my haste to get back to my Pennario discography I failed to check all the pockets because a Kleenex got into the mix.

One Kleenex, and you would not believe the mess. The tights I was trying to wash, forget it. They are covered with lint! Anything black was hopeless.

The fie-ness and unfairness of it! Howard can wash clothes with a whole pound of butter thrown in and I forget one Kleenex, just one Kleenex, and, disaster.

Appliances understand Howard. His bread machines treat him better than my bread machine treats me. Coffee percolators like him better. Now it seems he has that gift of communicating with washing machines as well.

His laundry comes out great and look at mine.

It's a wash!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Not my cup of tea

Finally I tried what I believe to be the last of the Celestial Seasonings Holiday Teas, the only one I think I have not tried.

It is Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride!

It is kind of eerie how much like a sugar cookie this tea tastes like. However it is not as good as the great, the hallowed, the iconic Sugar Plum Spice, or Candy Cane Lane. Those are better. I really cannot decide if I like this tea or not. I do not think it is that good.

Let us pause for a group shot.

Hmmm. Come to think of it I have not yet tried Nutcracker Sweet. That will be next! I am remiss in not having tried it. Over Thanksgiving my nieces were impressed by my collection of tea. They are like me. They are crazy about it.

Meanwhile I agree with a reviewer on Amazon who says that Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride is rather watery and not as flavorful as those other Celestial Seasonings teas, plus it has kind of an aftertaste. Plus it mysteriously mentions "natural flavors." What natural flavors? Consumers are saying it must contain stevia and I cannot say that I disagree.

However Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, as some consumers pointed out, can satisfy your sweet tooth. It does feel as if you are drinking a cookie.

Plus it has a great sounding first ingredient, more exotic than any of the ingredients in its holiday brethren. It is Milk Thistle!

What does Milk Thistle do to you? Let me find out. Ah! It helps your comprehension of the art of Leonard Pennario.

Oh wait. I misunderstood. It is good for nothing that afflicts or affects me.

Still it is fun to add to my herbal medicine cabinet!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wassail, wassail!

A bunch of us tried Christmas caroling at my house tonight. We have this idea that we can get passable and take our act to the streets 'round Christmas time.

It was funny because at first we were all shy. We didn't all know each other and there were introductions and people awkwardly sipped wine and cider. I am afraid I looked like a (rein)deer in the headlights. But then we got singing.

By the time Howard got home everyone was all loosened up to the extent that he recorded us singing what were at that point our most successful numbers, "The First Noel" and "Joy To the World."

In harmony! A cappella! With the words together. And there was something beautiful about it because the people who had thought they could not sing, sang. Not only that but they sounded good. Our friend Guy Boleri says everyone can sing and tonight taught us that he is right.

Rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy!

What's next, "O Holy Night"? That was a Christmas carol Leonard Pennario loved but not a great one for amateur singers. However we are improving by the day and so you never know.

We are planning a few more rehearsals and one of our number has gone to Hobby Lobby and made himself a Victorian top hat. That is hard-core caroling behavior. We are going to have our act together so when here we come a-caroling people will sit up and take notice.

Wassail, wassail!

All over the town!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Life after Thanksgiving

This was totally one of those "Non, nobis, Domine" Thanksgivings!

I confess that I am sort of enjoying a more normal week

Holidays play a funny role in your life. They are like traveling to Europe in that all of a sudden you put your usual life aside and instead lose yourself in an array of fresh new challenges.

In Europe it is: Can you count out the right change and navigate the machines to make it onto the Paris Metro? Can you summon up enough German to order tickets to Mozart's "The Magic Flute"? Can you do it while you are jet lagged?

On Thanksgiving it is: Can you find the perfect turkey? Can you roast it properly? Can you get it out of the oven with three little nieces and nephews all jumping on your back and pulling your hair and playing hide and seek in your kitchen?

Can you coordinate the roasted cauliflower and the mashed potatoes and the cabbage and apples? And the gravy. What about the gravy?

Can you get all the dishes washed before you go to bed?

Can you do all that and make it to Mass and to the Nutcracker? I wrote about that kind of thing in my story about It's the Most Buffalo Time of the Year.

Anyway, the world is returning to normal. It is fun to return to Pilates and my other assorted attempted gym classes. Well, it is not exactly fun but it feels better.

The office was frantic for the last few weeks and now for a moment the stress subsides.

The usual talk show hosts are back on the radio on their usual shifts.

I make more Leonard Pennario progress.

Life continues! The only problem is ...

I can't stop eating!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Christmas tree struggle

Today is only the first day of Advent and I am fighting the pull to put up my Christmas tree. Because it is the silver tree that Howard gave to me, it is here and it is in the basement and it is crying to get out.

I tell the tree, "No."

I remind the tree I am immersed in my Leonard Pennario scholarship.

Finally I lecture the tree that Advent is, ahem, a time of preparation and penance. The priest wears violet the way he does in Lent. That is why we are not supposed to put up trees very early.

But still.

As the song goes, it can't be wrong, if it feels so right!

Last year it did not go up until Christmas Eve, remember?

Surely this year I can cut myself a little slack.

I am in the yuletide spirit what with the thrilling readings this morning about casting off the darkness and putting on the garments of light. The night is past and the day is here. To top it off Dorothy, my 90-something friend I pick up and take to church, gave me a beautiful red and white striped scarf to wear. I believe this one is on loan but she is making me one for my own.

So that was a cool yule surprise! And this happened too, a dear friend gave me out of the blue an assortment of beautiful Christmas cards. That was funny because I am actually planning on sending out some Christmas cards this year. Plus, another fine gentleman we know gave Howard and me a basket full of hand bells. That was funny because a few friends and I are getting a group together to go Christmas caroling.

This season is sure shaping up to be merry and bright!

Is it any wonder I can't wait to put up the tree?