Category Archives: Holidays

Trees of Christmas past

The golden years, the empty nest, retirement…whatever you choose to call the time of life beyond middle age…can be an amazingly freeing period of re-discovery and growth.  Embracing the reality in which you find yourself – holding on to value, letting go of what no longer works.  I found these words penned some time ago by Alexandra Stoddard, then writer-in residence at Victoria Magazine, to be both life-changing and life-affirming:

“Traditions that were once wonderful should not evolve into obligations.”

1985

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1988

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1991

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1995

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1998

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Tradition for our family:  big tree, real tree, green tree, hung with all the children’s ornaments – hand-made and gathered……….

the children grew and left the nest; the tradition was becoming an obligation.

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Ornaments were passed to those whose small hands had made them and hung them year after year on the tree.

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last year – family heirloom spoons

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this year – vintage salt cellars and shakers

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Do I miss the tradition (and the small hands)???  Yes…in the core of my being………..however – borrowing from Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

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green and white

 For whatever reason…perhaps because the temperature in my kitchen yesterday was 82 degrees… all things green and white looked soothing – and yummy!

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I feel a green and white Christmas coming on……….with a touch of red!

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Postcard from Maine…the sequel

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Happy Thanksgiving to all !!!!!!

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Postcard from Maine

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an idyllic spot for a cousin’s family Thanksgiving!

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Turkey……the bird

Most of us of a certain age have aspired to the Rockwellian ideal of the perfectly roasted turkey, garnished beautifully, presented on an heirloom platter to a table surrounded by the smiling and adoring faces of family and friends…….

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(images via the internet)

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Though not for the lack of trying; for reasons far too numerous to list, this has never been my experience!

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No longer content to spend hours days in the kitchen, my goal is to honor the culinary traditions we as a family have come to love and expect (plentiful gravy for the son with gravy-scarcity issues, for example), but also to

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Spatchcock:  a turkey (or other poultry) prepared for roasting or grilling by removing the backbone, splitting open and flattening; a method which shortens the cooking time, and somehow puts to rest the angst of old expectations.  Not until reading the article in House Beautiful featuring Tyler Florence, had I ever encountered the technique.

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(image via House Beautiful – see Tyler Florence’s Split Roasted Turkey for details)

Put to the test last Thanksgiving by cousin Gail and I; providing a delicious, juicy result, we plan to use the method again this year, each making a spatchcocked turkey to bring to the table.

(Although he and his family will be missed, the son with the gravy-scarcity issues will be at his in-laws……… so even less angst this year!!!!)

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Connected in time and space…part 12

Arriving home from the Biltmore (see part 11), I break the news…………..!!!!!!!

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Still absorbing the idea of a journey to Russia in less than six weeks, we set about planning our itinerary:

Santa Barbara – San Francisco – Seattle – Copenhagen (3 nights) – Stockholm – St. Petersburg  (4 nights) – Stockholm (1 night)

– Newark – Denver – Santa Barbara

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We’ve enjoyed a great send-off from friends

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and look forward to a few days in Copenhagen, before the final leg of the journey to St. Petersburg.

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A drive north from Copenhagen, along the coast of Denmark closest to Sweden takes us to Rungsted, the hometown of author Karen Blixen, pen name Isak Dinesen.  The family home, her father’s 40 acre estate, Rungstedlund, is open to the public.

circa 1943

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1995

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Karen Christenze Dinesen von Blixen-Finecke is buried on the estate.

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While driving we are treated to idyllic scenery at every turn.

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Cruising the canals in Copenhagen,

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we came upon quirky houseboats,

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and old waterfront warehouses, now luxurious condominiums.

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In St. Petersburg, Rosalyn prefers that we stay at the Nevsky Palace Hotel where she will be….with the caveat:  if you see me prior to the concert, do not approach me – I go deep inside myself….’  With this directive in mind, we have scheduled our arrival for one day prior to the concert – we will be touching down in Russia on

the Fourth of July!!!!

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A day of gratitude

So grateful today for all who have gone before…..

….to those who gave their last full measure of devotion to establish and maintain the freedoms that we enjoy today….

…and to those who came across the sea….the Downs ancestors from England with the Winthrop Fleet in the 1630’s, and the Cresto’s who came from Italy just before the turn of the 20th Century.

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Wishing you a day filled with appreciation and good times.

Happy Fourth of July!!!!!!

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Cut and Paste

I awoke this morning thinking of Valentine’s Day…….a day with a built-in excuse to send loving thoughts to family and friends.  Remember the days of cut and paste, not on the computer…cutting red hearts with blunt-end scissors, then pasting on white doilies with thick white paste from big jars that we all liked to eat!!!  I suppose you have to be of a certain age………

So…….I went in search of bits and pieces to cut and paste together

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of course in those days we never put pink and red together……

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vintage envelopes found at a flea market

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-to be personalized, then sent with love-

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Family history etched in silver

Silver spoons are on my mind.  I’ve just taken down the kitchen Christmas tree (the longest a tree has ever remained!!!).

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Looking at all these spoons and thinking about the family stories they have to tell….

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……I can’t believe it is my turn already!!!  I am now the grandmother with the young granddaughter who will someday use the silver previously passed down to me.  How well I remember my grandmother, Lena, explaining the provenance of teaspoon, demitasse or souvenir spoon; names, initials, dates and places engraved on some, and the story behind others.  Her words are etched in my memory as surely as the engravings on the silver.

S.E.D.  –  Susan Eliza Downs,

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my great grandmother after whom I am named.

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Lena may have received this spoon to commemorate her eighteen birthday in 1908.

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The following year she was married to George Wallingford Downs.

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Quoting Lena from a note she left with this hammered sterling sugar spoon:

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My sugar spoon given to me as a wedding present – by Edith Goodwin.  1909  LMD

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Lena took her maiden name, Miller, as a middle name when she married.  Her mother,

Mary Elizabeth Judd Miller

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passed this set of teaspoons on to her only daughter, Lena.

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My father’s baby teeth marks in the bowl of one of the spoons.

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Mary Elizabeth Judd Miller also passed her mother’s serving spoon (one of six) on to Lena,

M.A.J. – Mary Ann Judd

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the other five given, one each, to Lena’s five brothers:

Benjamin, Thomas, Bernard, Wallace, and Frederick

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Lena Miller Downs

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and this is just the beginning…..

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Italian Feast…..part 2

Being Italian means serving food at every possible occasion and lots of it…Christmas Eve Eve is certainly no exception.

Following the Bagna Cauda, pasta of course!!

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favorite sauces added to the menu by family and guests:

red sauce with Vodka

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mushroom ragout

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red sauce with sausage and vegetables

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red sauce with tuna and peas

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pesto

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puttanesca

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each one delicious!!!

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In my world, no meal is complete without something sweet:

zabaglione: egg custard with Marsala

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and afogato:  vanilla ice cream, with coffee, chocolate sauce,

and whipped cream

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heritage honored – traditions kept alive – memories made

Grazie, Cugini!!!

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