We’ve lived in New England now for almost exactly 2 months and have been in our house for about a week less than that. In that period of time I have gone to St. Louis twice to be with my mother and for Thanksgiving. I’ve unpacked and worked on finding things around Salem, New Hampshire. I’ve started to look for things to do in the area; I’ve prepared for Christmas and Hanukah and now I’m enjoying the company of my children and my husband as we wait to welcome in the New Year.
But, there is a very big city about 45 minutes south of here, and except for a few trips to the nearer suburbs for sushi and Chinese, I really haven’t been there at all. I keep saying I’m going to go, but it just seems like a daunting prospect. Do I drive and pay $30 or more to park for the day? Do I take the train? Do I take the express bus? I’ve managed to think up an excuse not to try it almost every day.
However yesterday we had our first tourist to entertain (Sarah)! So off to the city we went. It was easy to decide where to go. We let our individual needs, desires and curiosity determine our path. First stop was Faneuil Hall. It was easy to find and even easier to park as long as we were willing to pay the price, which we were. Lee wanted to look at a jacket in Orvis. He’s been pining after one in their catalog but doesn’t want to buy it if he can’t try it on first. Unfortunately the store didn’t have one either, so he left without making a purchase.
We walked around the hall and stopped into a few interesting shops, including a pewter store where we compared their wares to the items that we own. When we got married we asked for pewter instead of silver. I’ve glad we did because pewter doesn’t tarnish so our pewter service has stayed on display throughout our married life and doesn’t need anything except an occasional dusting.
From Faneuil Hall we walked over to the Boston Commons. Lee and I had been to Boston once before many years ago, before we were even married. It was in the spring I think and the city was green and beautiful. We followed the yellow “freedom trail” and walked all over the city, visiting all the historic neighborhoods. This time things were pretty cold and grey, with an icy wind. I was not dressed warmly enough. I had on a sweater and a down vest and gloves, but my arms and head were very cold.
From the commons we walked over to Chinatown. There were not a lot of people out but the shops were bustling. We saw roast duck in the restaurant windows, pork buns and other Chinese pastries, fish swimming sluggishly in their tanks. The signs were in Chinese and the language on the streets was mostly Mandarin. I pricked up my ears, hoping to hear a bit of Cantonese somewhere but no such luck. We are determined to go back for dim sum sometime soon.
Chinatowns make me feel happy and sad at the same time. They are ghostly reminders of a distant city that has forever captured my heart. I want to be reminded because I don’t want to forget, even though it hurts sometimes to remember.
From Chinatown we hopped on the ‘T’, Boston’s subway system, to head to Cambridge. It’s easy to use and the trains run frequently, even on a Saturday, but the cars are creaky and old. They have a bit of a historic look to them, which I guess is fitting for a city like Boston. Since Sarah had never been to Boston before we made sure to walk around Harvard Yard, which always looks just like a movie set to me. I halfway expect to see a young Meryl Streep walking out of one of the buildings or something.
The cold was really beginning to get to me, so we headed to a discovery of Daniel’s: a hot chocolate shop in Harvard Square. http://www.burdickchocolate.com/stores-and-cafes-cambridge.asp. This place serves hot chocolate that is a little like drinking candy. We all got a small hot chocolate and after a couple of sips I wished I had gotten the demi. It was delicious but very, very rich.
One more subway stop to a place called Porter Squareabout which my Japanese manicurist in Salem had told me . A little bit down from the square is a place called Porter Exchange. Inside are a bunch of tiny Japanese restaurants and a shop selling various Japanese items. Apparently there used to be a Japanese grocery store too but it has just closed, which is a shame.
By now we were all thoroughly frozen and tired so we headed home. But I feel encouraged. I picked up a brochure for the Cambridge Adult Education Center and it looks like they might have some classes I would be interested in. I feel more confident about either driving and parking or trying the train or bus. I’m hopeful that this will be a turning point for me in the process of making this place my home.
I have to apologize for the lack of pictures but it was just too cold!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Like most American Jewish kids growing up in the 50’s every year in December I was envious of my Christian friends. Hanukah just can’t compete with Christmas no matter how hard it tries. Candles, latkes, driedles and all just can’t compete with Christmas trees, decorated houses and Santa Claus. My parents did a good job of making Hanukah special but it wasn’t the same, and we knew it.
It was impossible to avoid Christmas, of course. We’d usually drive around one night and look at all the lighted houses. And yes, I’d stand in line to sit on Santa’s lap. When it was my turn and Santa asked “and what would YOU like for Christmas little girl?” I wasn’t shy at all about telling Santa “well I don’t want anything for Christmas but I’ll tell you what I want for Hanukah!” and then I’d proceed to do just that.
Christmas day was always a little strange. Everything was closed and there wasn’t any school or work, but we’d all just laze around, and maybe go to a movie later in the afternoon or something. It was weird and a little sad.
When I was in high school we moved out into St. Louis County. There weren’t as many Jewish kids at my school and the Holiday Concert had more overtly religious songs. I was in the choir and I loved the music. I just really enjoyed this time of year and was happy to have any chance at all to participate in the festivities. I know it made my parents uncomfortable to have me singing all those Christian songs but I reveled it.
Then I grew up and met Lee and fell in love and got married. Lee isn’t religious but he loves family holidays, especially Christmas. There was never any question about whether we would celebrate Christmas or not. I was excited!
I loved having my own Christmas tree, baking cookies, opening presents on Christmas day. I didn’t dwell too much on what it was I was celebrating. I just wanted to have this special holiday with my husband, and later, give my kids a bunch of great Christmas memories, Santa Claus and all.
But of course having children made this all more complicated. I wanted our children to enjoy the traditions that came from my husband’s side of the family, but I also wanted them to know about their Jewish heritage. When they were very little this wasn’t very hard. We continued to celebrate the traditions of both Christmas and Hanukah. We did the big presents for Christmas, with Santa Claus. For Hanukah we lit the candles, sang the songs and had little presents. No problem!
But as they got older I started to realize that I needed to clarify for myself, as well as for them, what these holidays meant, both to us as a family, and to the world in general. They needed to know that to Christians Christmas is a religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. They needed to understand that while we didn’t believe that Jesus was the messiah, he was also a very important historical and philosophical figure, and by celebrating Christmas we were honoring his birthday.
I also started to think about what these holidays mean to me. I figured out that I WAS celebrating something, or maybe several somethings. I was celebrating my family. I was celebrating the longing of the human spirit for peace on earth. I was celebrating the miracle of light, shining forth on the darkest days of the year. And I was celebrating the eternal hope within us all for brighter times and better days.
Although it’s good to have this clarified for myself, it’s still not easy sometimes being part of an interfaith family. My kids are aware of the conflicts and have struggled at times to identify who they really are. I have felt the disapproval of Christians who believe that only they should celebrate Christmas, and fellow Jews that look askance at any Jew with a Christmas tree! But I guess that’s just part of being alive, isn’t it? If I lived my life worrying whether my actions met with everyone’s approval I guess I’d just have to stay home in bed. Life is too short to worry about whether others think my family is celebrating these holidays the “right” way. We celebrate them the way that is right for us, and that’s good enough for me.
Friday, December 4, 2009
I’m really using our Thanksgiving trip to Columbia this year as an excuse to try something a little bit different in my blog. Most of the time I am a story-driven blogger. My writing drives my blog. I don’t always use pictures in a blog post, and if I do, the pictures are there to illustrate the writing. I’ve never tried a post where the pictures drive the story and the writing is just there to elaborate on what the pictures already describe, but that’s what I’m going to do.
This first series of pictures was taken at Shakespeare’s Pizza, the night before Thanksgiving. I’ve written about Shakespeare’s before (click here to read that post). It’s the best pizza place in the universe as far as we are concerned. Apparently at least half of Columbia also thought it would be a great idea to go to Shakespeare’s that night. The wait for our pizza was an hour and a half! By standing there being indecisive for fifteen minutes we made the wait even longer. But eventually we claimed our table and started our wait.
The first picture features Blake, my fifteen year old nephew, hamming it up in a picture that was intended to be of Lee wearing his napkin prominently. The second picture shows Blake again, in his gansta imitation mode, with his mother Mary, Lee’s sister. The final picture shows Sarah and Elsa (Blake’s sister). Sarah and Elsa just look normal, if slightly hungry.
The next set of pictures shows a series of very beautiful pies, taken on Thanksgiving Day. I’m not a cook, but I do make great pie crusts, and Mary wanted me to instruct her in the art of pie-crust making. I was not to actually MAKE the pies, just give direction, which is harder than you might think! Mary did very, very well however and I think everyone was pleased with the results. The first picture shows the three pies we had for Thanksgiving. Mary made the pumpkin and cherry; Joanne, my mother-in-law, made the pecan pie (without any assistance from me). The second picture shows a close-up of the cherry pie. Sarah and I took over the making of the lattice crust; it was just too much fun for us to resist. The third picture is a close-up of the pumpkin pie.
The next picture is my frustrated attempt to get a nice portrait of Sarah and Lee. Sarah is as photogenic as all get out. Lee CAN photograph very nicely, but for some reason he was smiling like Calvin that day. It took several tries to get a halfway decent picture of the two of them. “Smile!” “Smile NORMALLY!” “Now you’re not smiling at all!” Sigh.
On we go to the day after Thanksgiving. In Lee’s family this day is usually devoted to making Lep Cookies. We only made a ½ recipe this year, so we only made about 250 cookies. The full recipe makes 400-500. It still makes for an impressive sight. So these pictures show the table full of cookies, with Elsa and I admiring the cookies and one snapshot of me when it was my turn to roll out the dough. It takes a group of people mixing, rolling, watching the oven and removing cookies from the cookie sheets. I can’t imagine doing this alone!
The last picture heads us into the Christmas season I guess. Sarah and I both have J Crew coats. Hers is red and mine is white. Joanne had just knitted Elsa a red and white striped scarf that went beautifully with the coats. Sarah kiddingly suggested that we take our pictures together with the scarf wrapped around us both. She should have known better than to make a suggestion like that to her mother! I jumped at the chance provided by this unique opportunity and Sarah smiled gamely while questioning how much damage this picture would do to her coolness factor once it becomes my Facebook profile pic!