Clearing the past helps manifest the future

          It’s helpful to begin the new year with a clean slate. However in order to do that, it is important to deal with any situations or setups that are connected with or derived from the past. If I don’t clean up what I need to from the past, I will have created a big mess that impedes my progress in the year to come. I learned this the hard way one year when I accumulated a huge pile of items that needed to be filed because I had never found the time to do it conveniently. Thus I had an inconvenient task to deal with. This year I have been dilatory about filing new poems where they were meant to go. When I have done this a little at a time organizing them is much easier.

          The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah begins with a thorough cleansing and refurbishing of the entire home, most especially the kitchen. This is a symbolic way of wiping the slate clean for new beginnings. I now know the value of this. Being thorough  with this process, however does take time. Though I have accomplished some of my cleaning up, much remains to be done. For instance, I have yet to go through and scrub down my refrigerator. While I have every intention of tackling this task soon, unfortunately I haven’t found the right time just as yet.

          Still, nothing in there has developed an odor to alert me to an inedible substance that must be discarded. As far as I can tell I have kept up with my leftovers, and there is nothing lurking in its back for me to dispose of. Sadly, my refrigerator does not hold as much as I wish it did. Whenever I do a big shopping I usually have to reshuffle whatever is on the shelves in order to fit in the new items, and that tends to keep things current. I need to do this especially when adding to my freezer which needs to hold things like shrimp on sale as well as an assortment of the good frozen organic vegetables we like so much.  

          I have gone over my desk, organized it and thrown out the various lists, notes and other accumulated paper that were not current. I also threw away a bunch of pens that no longer wrote and put away the ones that did. In addition I purged my wallet of coupons that were not valid because they were past the expiry date. We still have some Christmas gifts that we have not yet managed to connect with their recipients; however I am confident that this will happen in good time. There are still drawers to tidy, and my filing cabinet to go through.

          I can think of more and more if I try. There are writing projects on my computer I haven’t looked at in some time. I could discard them or continue to consider them. There are old poems I could look at and decide whether to keep, revise or eliminate. Yet where do I stop? I might go on cleaning and clearing until summer if I kept at it. At some point I must decide what is enough and what will be too much. Soon I need to stop and decide it’s time to move forward. The space garnered by elimination will help me and that’s a good reason to do so.

I’m Not Making Any New Year Resolutions This Year


          I’ve been writing the Good Earthkeeping columns since I moved to Grafton and joined the garden club. Two friends I made in the club shared my enthusiasm to write a column for the Grafton News. I proposed the title, approached editor Charlie Bolack, and voila, my friends and I had a column to enjoy writing. Only it turned out they didn’t have as much fun doing it as I did, and soon turned the whole column over to me. Eventually I joined Word Press and began posting here.

          I began this column in the early nineties when the trend toward holistic and natural goods and behaviors was beginning to crest. At that time, the content and direction of my column was primarily informational. It concerned healthy cleaning solutions, book reports on helpful texts, ways to recycle, and occasionally, something from my point of view. After some time I discovered that many of my readers preferred the more personal columns, so I trimmed my sails to the proverbial wind, so to speak and focused more and more on perspective pieces.

          Since some of my perspective is a reflection of my experiences both as a child and as an adult, pieces of my personal history began to creep into my writings. Many readers have since commented on how much they like that aspect of it.  Once again I have seen the way the wind blows and acted accordingly. It’s fun for me to share some of the memories I have of times before computers and cell phones, not to mention 24 hour television programming. Some of you may remember the test patterns on the small black and white TV we watched as children. They began when the evening programming ended.

          So where do the New Year Resolutions fit into this picture? Quite simply I’m not making any this year. My resolutions do not seem to survive the first few months, and they usually have to do with projects not behaviors. If I could say that the projects I resolved to complete were finished or the behaviors changed,  I might still make a resolution or two. Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe making a resolution about something to accomplish or even work on for the new year jinxes the project. And that worries me, so this year I resolve not to resolve, I will instead welcome any surprises that the year has to offer.        

The way things have gone in my life, it seems that everything falls together the way that ultimately works best. So why should I meddle? I do know that there are things I once wished for that I am relieved I didn’t get, and things I never thought to wish for that to my delight have. I will leave the resolving and long term planning to the Powers that Be and focus on the present moment in the new year to come. Wait…does that sound like a resolution? Shh no that’s not a resolution, just my focus for my life. Happy New Year to all, I wish you, my dear readers every joy in the year to come.

The Carols of Christmas

          One of my most precious childhood memories is of my mother with her violin tucked firmly under her chin, playing Silent Night on Christmas Eve. We sang it in German, the language of the land of her birth as well as the one it was originally written in. We also sang Oh Tannenbaum in German, and in English other carols we knew and loved. When I was very small, there were real white lit candles in holders that clipped to the Christmas tree branches.  My mother had brought them with her from Germany when she married my father.

          On Christmas Eve we would come together in the dining room around five or six o’clock to have a light supper with sandwiches, finger food, and sweets. Then we would go into the living room where the newly decorated tree stood in glorious splendor with silver strands of thin shiny Metal tinsel draped over its branches—we saved it from year to year. The small white candles were lit before we began to sing. After that we opened presents. In my home, Santa brought the stocking presents, not the ones under the tree.

          Some of the traditional carols of Christmas date back to the 17th century or even further. Others, like Silent Night  (1818) and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, (1865)one of my father’s big favorites were written more recently. These words and melodies have a magical effect. They connect us with our past, and not only our own personal past but the pasts of our ancestors who sang them too. The old hymnal of my father’s Episcopal church had wonderful histories of the various Christmas carols. Whenever I have sung them I am always brought back to that church with its wonderful stained glass windows.

          One of my favorite hymns, Of the Father’s Love Begotten, has roots in the 10th century, and its majestic chords have a sound that invokes the soaring European cathedrals that predate the discover of America. There is a part of us all which has been called the collective unconscious that embraces the past that is encoded in our very bones and responds to the sounds of celebration throughout the centuries. For all of history, singing has been an important part of universally celebrated holidays like Christmas, New Year’s and Easter.

          These connections and others that we experience with the holidays heighten and expand how we feel. Our customs, too, connect us not only to our families but also to our ancestors as is fitting. Those who join Christmas carolers, for instance, are participating in a ritual that goes back centuries when children would go door to door in their villages begging treats and wishing the home owners Merry Christmas or Happy New Year.

          The word carol actually means a dance of praise and joy. It may be that we no longer dance to any of the carols of Christmas yet they do indeed bring joy to the heart and happiness as we raise our voices in celebration of the season of peace and good will we call Christmas.

Simple Recipes for Good Health and Good Taste

          Many of us probably ate too much over the holidays. It’s easy to do when party potluck invitations bring out people’s desire to celebrate with good food.  There is a temptation to try “just a little” of every dish and that includes the usual array of desserts and tasty treats special to this time of the year. Salads don’t tempt most appetites and hearty soups do, however, what really makes the tongue sit up and take notice are sauces and condiments that can enliven jaded appetites.

          This simple recipe using cilantro is a staple in our ‘fridge. Ingredients are few: Cilantro, garlic, mayonnaise, yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Put a bunch of cilantro into the food processor. (You probably could use a blender but I don’t advise it.) Add a clove of chopped garlic, ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup plain yoghurt, and a a squeeze of lemon or lime. Process until well blended and smooth. I keep a plastic lemon in the ‘fridge to help with this. Serve on any vegetable, chicken, fish, eggs, or whatever you can think of. It is tasty and healthy. I have heard that to some, cilantro tastes like soap. Apparently this is genetic. Check with your family before serving.

          Here is another sauce or pesto I think of as “medicine on the hoof”. It’s extremely good for you. This is especially true during this season of colds and viruses. The raw garlic, the onion and the uncooked parsley all have vitamins, minerals, anti-viral, antibacterial  and anti cancer components. I named it Garlic Whammo. It could also be called Garlic Pesto. A pesto is a thick sauce you can spread on pizza, bread or crackers, or mix with pasta to enliven what you are serving. It is usually uncooked and contains herbs and some kind of oil, preferably olive. It keeps well precisely because of the oil, and may include optional nuts or seeds as well.

          My Garlic Whammo has four main ingredients: Garlic, Parsley, a small onion or half a medium one, and olive oil. You can add other things—grated cheese and/or nuts or seeds, however you don’t have to. You do not need to remove any but the largest stems, and those only if you wish. However to make it you do need a food processor as a blender would not do a good job without your adding too much oil. It is wonderful on anything you want to serve it on: pasta and it is excellent on scrambled eggs, fish, chicken or any vegetable.

          Take a good sized bunch of fresh parsley and place it in the bowl of the food processor. Add anywhere from four to eight  roughly chopped cloves of garlic, to taste. Add 1 small or ½ medium onion, cut into chunks. Add ½ cup olive oil. You may wish to start with half of this amount and then more as it processes. Process until smooth and creamy without any mouth feel of the individual parsley flakes. This keeps well though I would eat it within a few days or so to get the greatest benefit from the fresh ingredients. The parsley keeps the garlic from overwhelming taste buds or anyone with whom you speak.

The Expectations of Christmas Time

           I remember a few of the Christmas gifts I received as a child. My favorite was a large brown teddy bear around two and a half feet tall I called Bruin. He became the head of my teddy bear family of five. Another was a wood burning set from my Great Aunt Alice. I never could figure out how to use it. One of my most memorable was a gift from my Uncle Oliver, also the giver of the bear: a large balloon in the shape of a Zeppelin tied with a big red ribbon.

           For whatever reason, instead of placing it under the tree, he set it on the radiator in the front hall. In the middle of dinner there was a loud bang. We ran into the hall.What remained was an empty red ribbon bow and piece of burst rubber. My expectations were dashed. The teddy bear he gave me on another Christmas later may have been his way of apologizing. I don’t remember having expectations as to what I might receive. Most of my gifts were practical.

           The Holiday time carries a big burden of expectations. People are expected to be nicer, to be kinder to one another, perhaps even more forgiving of errors and mishaps.”It’s Christmas,” people say, and that is supposed to be a reason to behave in ways one might not otherwise. I’m not saying that this is a bad reason; it is good to be thinking kindly at this time of year. However, we don’t need to make it a given or to be critical of those who are not.

           Another set of expectations revolves around the giving of gifts. To whom do we owe a larger gift and to whom a token? Is a card enough or need we send or give an actual physical present? Even the difference between an online card and an actual one might be a consideration. Our expectations of what is appropriate, what we”ought” to do may govern our actions and present a need for decisions about what to do, as well as stress us out.

           Perhaps most of all, however, it is our expectations of ourselves that are the most difficult to deal with. There is much to be done and it all must fit into the time we have, regardless of the fact that life does not come to a halt at Christmas time. In addition to the holiday activities we still need to do the cooking, working, shopping and so on that we do anyway. It’s enough to take the fun out of the celebration. We often feel guilty if we can’t manage to do it all with grace and good humor.

           Yet we and others might better benefit if we take some time for ourselves. If we use a gift bag instead of wrapping paper, send a card instead of an actual gift or even offer to take friends out for a treat at a later date or offer to babysit their children, we downsize the stress. Less stress means more holiday spirit,and diminished expectations mean less guilt. We need to remember that what we really celebrate now is the coming of a child of Light, or the Light itself,into a world that needs it. Expectations aside, we can remember the true meaning of this season is about the gift of joy to all of us, from all of us.

The Cookies of Christmas

According to Wikipedia, were it not for Alexander the Great,we might not have Christmas cookies. Not really, but in 327 BC he discovered and spread sugar cane that is the source for their basis, first throughout Persia and eventually Europe. The early little cakes or cookies would probably taste strange to us today. They were spiced with whatever was on hand,including cumin, and either shaped by hand or rolled and pressed on wooden boards carved with cut out shapes. The invention of cookie cutters helped form their myriad shapes.

          Their invention is shrouded in mist, however, we have Germany to thank for the Christmas cookie we know today. They also are responsible for gingerbread houses and the shapes that are commonly used as gingerbread men and women. The Pennsylvania Dutch, as the German immigrants were often called brought the tradition of the Christmas cookie to the US. Today there are many kinds of cookie exchanges. Magazines and books carry varieties of recipes for these sweet treats of the Season of Light. As well, families have treasured cookie recipes handed down to them from past generations.

           Many favorites, like Snickerdoodles, bars and brownies, or plain and chocolate meringues mingle with fancier kinds are served for holiday occasions. However,while almost any recipe will do for this time of year, the most traditional ones are decorated with colored sprinkles, are cut into shapes, or have decorations made of icing. I usually bake up several kinds of bars and cookies to give at the holidays to those who have been kind and helpful to Stephen and me. One of my most successful recipes is Disappearing Caramel Brownies. They do vanish quickly, and are very popular whenever I bring them to a potluck. Busy cooks only need one pan to wash.

 Disappearing Caramel Brownies: IMPORTANT follow baking directions or they will end up as rocks and not tasty bars. Preheat oven to 350 or 325 for glass pans. Grease and if possible use parchment paper to line 8″ square pan Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup butter

¼ cup chopped walnuts (may be omitted but taste good)

1 cup flour

Method:Heat butter, sugar in saucepan.  Stir slowly till sugar is dissolved, then a little longer to have it somewhat liquid. Do not boil.  Cool slightly.  Add beaten egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder,nuts and flour. Stir well to incorporate all the flour.  Spread in 8 or 9 inch pan.  Bake for 20 Minutes to start. Press lightly with finger, If it makes a slight dent, remove, otherwise bake a few more minutes. Rest for 10 minutes then cut into 16 squares cool in pan and remove when ready. These bake up well with alternative or gluten free flours also.

This recipe doubles easily. In which case bake wee bit longer, perhaps 10 minutes more for a 9X12 pan. Remember to test and not to over bake or they will be difficult to cut, let alone chew.