Goodbye to 2017, and There We Are

If you are in my era, you will remember the break-out show called “*That Was the Week That Was.” Long story short, it was a brand new TV show that provided a new look at the weekly news.

For me, this year has been “That Was the Year That Was.”

With that in mind, there were many changes and life events during 2017. Some were great, others not so much. We moved my dad into our home on March 21, and loved the time with him. He died peacefully on April 22.

Dad, who thought that all his friends were gone and that no one would be there to “see him off” at the cemetery where Mom, and both his parents sleep—dozens showed up on a cold rainy day to honor him. Many hugs and tears and funny stories emerged that day.

There was all the kerfuffle about selling Dad’s house, which finally changed hands on August 4. There were weeks and months of settling the estate, and mounds of paperwork that went with it.

Somewhere in all of this, we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.

There were biopsies and surgeries and doctor and dental visits, and one ER event; life goes on.

There were old friends and some new friends who became a lifeline for me. I will never forget their kindness, compassion and strength.

There were numerous trips to our wonderful vet for all the cats; nothing too serious. But each and every cat universally hated it.

When our old “computer fixit guy” retired, we found a young and savvy computer guy who conveniently lives in our neighborhood. He has been a lifesaver and teacher, and puts up with our near-Luddite life style concerning technology.

There were trips up north to visit the Crankee Yankee’s daughter and family. Our grandgirls, Ava (6 1/2) and Juliette (almost 2 years old), are a joy. As Christmas was too cold and snowy to go up, we had a second Christmas this weekend. Ava proudly read a book to me and only had to sound out two or three words. Juliette is babbling a mile a minute, and for the first time, she raised her arms for me to pick her up!

There were ups and downs all through the year, but these are things that we all experience. There has been so much more good than bad this year, and I am more happy than I can say. I don’t know how I deserved such a wonderful and amazing life, with so many wonderful people and pets in it, but, as Dad would say, “there we are.”

Happy New Year to us all!

*That Was the Week That Was, informally TWTWTW or TW3, was a satirical television comedy programme on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost. An American version by the same name aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, also featuring Frost.

The programme is considered a significant element of the satire boom in the UK in the early 1960s. It broke ground in comedy through lampooning the establishment and political figures. Its broadcast coincided with coverage of the politically charged Profumo affair and John Profumo, the politician at the centre of the affair, became a target for derision. TW3 was first broadcast on Saturday, 24 November 1962.


The Once-A-Year Chowder

Last night as I made the last pot of Christmas Chowder, I thought of where the recipe for it had originated. “Christmas Chowder” is really a fabulous seafood chowder, and every Christmas Eve my grandmother, “Ba,” put it on the dining room table with a proud flourish. We ate it with oyster crackers, her homemade watermelon pickles, and my mother’s homemade Parker House rolls.

I realize now that Ba saved all year long to buy the expensive ingredients for that chowder. She never mentioned it, never complained; she did it out of pure love. The look on her face as we all moaned with happiness over that magnificent chowder was enough for her.

When she died, my mother made that same chowder every Christmas Eve. It was always wonderful, and it was a beautiful remembrance of Ba and her love for us all.

Now that I am the last survivor, I make the chowder each year. And each time I make it, I remember with gratitude all those loving hands that made it for me for so many years.

Food made with love is love in action. It isn’t just the food itself, it’s the time and love and generosity that goes with it. I cannot count all the hugs and kisses my grandmother bestowed on me; but I remember how it felt to be loved so unconditionally.

I remember especially that first Christmas without Ba; it was hard in so many ways. Ba was Christmas for me. She made Christmas magic like no other; I think that she became a child again herself at Christmas.

So, in honor of all those wonderful Christmases past, I make the Christmas chowder as my grandmother and mother did; with love, with joy, reverence and remembrance. Making this chowder is a beloved tradition; as I put it together, I am back with my grandmother and my mother. I like to think that both of them are looking over my shoulder, murmuring ‘yes, that’s right; let all that seafood get used to each other—don’t rush.’

Here is the recipe if you’d like to make it yourself. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Christmas Chowder Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 c. butter

bacon (as much or as little as you like)

1 pt. oysters

1 pt. whole clams and juice

1 can minced clams and juice

1 pt. of good scallops (if large, cut them in halves)

1 pt. shrimp

1 pt. crabmeat

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. flour

1 T. paprika

1 cup light cream

2-3 cups of whole milk

salt and pepper as you like

Note: you can add lobster meat, but it tends to get tough easily.

One more important note: PLEASE do not let this chowder BOIL! You will hate yourself if you do as it will give the chowder a burned taste and you will have ruined a great supper made with some pricey ingredients. How do I know this? Because I did it once. Trust me: if you do it once, you will NEVER do it again!


Fry up some bacon in the bottom of your pot (better make it a large one as it makes a lot). Remove when crisp and put aside.

Fry up the chopped onions in the bacon grease, then add the Worcestershire sauce, the salt and pepper and the butter. Now add in the whole clams and the minced clams and their juice and bring to a boil.

Turn down to medium heat, and add the oysters. When they start to frill, start adding the other seafood (no particular order). Add the flour and paprika and stir, then add the cream and milk, and stir. Let everything simmer gently for 5-10 minutes on medium-low heat. If time permits, let the chowder cool off.

When you are ready to serve, heat the chowder up slowly on medium. Before serving, add some crumbled bacon on top of each bowl.

PS: I like to put a good chunk of butter on in the chowder before serving it; it adds richness to it. Or, as my granddaughter, Ava, likes to say, “everything’s better with butter!”



Cold, Freezing, Cold!

We in New Hampshire are experiencing such arctic cold that we are all in danger of freezing into a solid mass. Should we fall, we would be shattered into frozen people bits. The sheer brutality of the cold is enough to bring on instant cold or flu, so these days when I have to go out, I am literally bundled from eyebrows to toes.

This kind of brutal cold brings to mind one of my favorite poets, Ogden Nash. Pull a warm blanket around your shoulders, sip some hot tea and read his poem, “Winter Complaint:”

Now when I have a cold
I am careful with my cold,
I consult a physician
And I do as I am told.
I muffle up my torso
In woolly woolly garb,
And I quaff great flagons
Of sodium bicarb.
I munch on aspirin,
I lunch on water,
And I wouldn’t dream of osculating
Anybody’s daughter,
And to anybody’s son
I wouldn’t say howdy,
For I am a sufferer
Magna cum laude.
I don’t like germs,
But I’ll keep the germs I’ve got.
Will I take a chance of spreading them?
Definitely not.
I sneeze out the window
And I cough up the flue,
And I live like a hermit
Till the germs get through.
And because I’m considerate,
Because I’m wary,
I am treated by my friends
Like Typhoid Mary.

Now when you have a cold
You are careless with your cold,
You are cocky as a gangster
Who has just been paroled.
You ignore your physician,
You eat steaks and oxtails,
You stuff yourself with starches,
You drink lots of cocktails,
And you claim that gargling
Is a time of waste,
And you won’t take soda
For you don’t like the taste,
And you prowl around parties
Full of selfish bliss,
And greet your hostess
With a genial kiss.
You convert yourself
Into a deadly missle,
You exhale Hello’s
Like a steamboat wistle.
You sneeze in the subway
And you cough at dances,
And let everybody else
Take their own good chances.
You’re a bronchial boor,
A bacterial blighter,
And you get more invitations
Than a gossip writer.

Yes, your throat is froggy,
And your eyes are swimmy,
And you hand is clammy,
And you nose is brimmy,
But you woo my girls
And their hearts you jimmy
While I sit here
With the cold you gimmy.

Here We Go Again….

In 2015, I was diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ). This type of cancer is actually the earliest form of breast cancer, and is noninvasive. This means that it has not spread from the milk duct to invade other parts of the breast. I had a simple lumpectomy, which means removing the tissue with the encapsulated cells, and checking and/or removing lymph nodes.

At that time, I chose not to have radiation or take tamoxifan, the usual backup after such a procedure. My mother was beginning the process of dying from her own metastatic breast cancer, and that was my focus.

However, my mammogram this year showed DCIS in the same breast, and this time I am going to have both radiation and tamoxifan. This of course doesn’t rule out getting it again. Should this happen, my plan is just to remove the breast; maybe even both. But at my age, breasts are so unimportant as to be laughable. For example, these days when I lie down on my back, both my breasts try to slide right into my arm pits; how funny is that?

Plus think of the weight loss of losing two breasts: that’s got to be what, maybe five pounds apiece? I can only hope.

When my mother developed cancer again in her breast (ten years after she had cancer in the first breast and had it removed) and had surgery to remove it, she received no less than seventeen bouquets of flowers. She famously said while still in the hospital, “good grief; they’re only breasts! It’s not as if you walk on them or see out of them!”

Her nurses who were in the room with her nearly wet themselves laughing. They of course were used to comforting women who lost one or both breasts to cancer and mourned the loss. In fact, when Mom was well enough to get dressed, I was worried that she would feel terrible about being flat-chested.

But no—she put on a beautiful skirt and a black cashmere sweater, looked at herself in the mirror and exclaimed: “Wow—I look great! Those damned droopy things made me look old!

I still laugh when I think of this. Therefore, I am gladly going under the knife and having the radiation and tamoxifan, hoping that this will be the end of it. For those of you who don’t know this about me, I have two tattoos; one is a tiny red heart on my right butt cheek, and the other one (which I had done this year) is a small crescent moon with three tiny stars in purple ink.

Just think of what I could have tattooed on my chest if I lose my breast! It would be a whole new canvas. However, I can’t decide what would be best:

  1. A portrait of David Tennant, my favorite Doctor Who
  2. The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland
  3. A great blue heron in flight
  4. “This space for rent” done in gothic script

I’ll keep you posted.



*Tall Food


What is it about the restaurants that serve you tall food? I really thought that this “high rise” food presentation was over by now. If restaurants are going to stack up their food this way, then they ought to have their menu read like this:

The Amazing Burger: “four delicious 8-ounce burgers interspersed with jalapenos, bacon, cheddar cheese, provolone cheese, fried onion rings, lettuce, tomato slices, more bacon, peppers, pickles, roast beef, more cheese, BBQ sauce, more roast beef, and a fried chicken breast, all on a warm bun. Height: 15 inches.”

That way you’d know that you are going to have to eat this sucker with a knife and fork.

The Crankee Yankee and I went out to eat last night at a new place in our town, and while the food was excellent, the height of the entrees was, well—tall. As I like to get a taste of everything in one bite, it’s a real challenge when you are served a scaled down Lady Liberty of a sandwich.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich that came with cheddar cheese, coleslaw, onion strings and pickles on a seriously large pretzel bun. It was about 5″ tall. There was only one way to eat it—I had to deconstruct it. It all was delicious, but I had to spear each of the different ingredients and eat them separately. FYI, the Crankee Yankee fared better with a blue cheese burger with mashed garlic potatoes on the side. Both were really good, but just—tall.

I realize that those who run this nice new restaurant want to make a name for themselves and serve wonderful food so that people will come back again and again. However, they really should warn folks about the height of their food.

Seriously, do they really think that most people can unhinge their jaws like a king cobra in order to bite into an edible Empire State building of food? We were sitting in a great spot where we could watch the chefs make the food. When everything was plated, they put it up on the counter under the lights. This way we got to see a lot of entrees; most of them tall and large.

For example, their nacho appetizer was roughly the size of a small dingy belonging to the Carnival Cruise line. The fish and chips entree featured a fried fish fillet roughly the size of one of the Celtics players’ sneakers. Some of the salads were piled up on a small, teetering plate that came close to touching the lights.

So, yes, the food was great (if tall), and we will definitely go there again. However, we will know next time to wear our hard hats while eating in the “deconstruction” area.




Christmas Aftermath

We had a fairly large snow fall on Christmas day, so we talked with the Crankee Yankee’s daughter and unilaterally decided to visit them on another day as they live two hours away in the wilds of Maine. In the background we heard the grandgirls squealing and ripping open packages, so this way they’ll get a second Christmas.

We never even got out of our pajamas; just lay around the house eating Christmas cookies and drinking endless cups of coffee, snoozing and watching TV (lucky me; there was a Doctor Who marathon on ALL day!), and generally being a pair of slugs.

The cats lay around with us, snoring and sleeping after chasing their new toys. Among all the naughty things we ate were these:

  • “Sweet braids,” a doughnut-like confection made by our wonderful South African neighbors (we gave them a pan of homemade apple crisp)
  • Toasted macaroons
  • My wonderful sister-in-law’s (and best friend) butter brickle cookies
  • A delicious *fruitcake
  • a bowl full each of the traditional **Christmas chowder we make every Christmas
  • various appetizer-y things like crackers and pub cheese, mixed olives and feta cheese and other tasty bits

We contently watched the snow fall, and enjoyed the sight of cats lying contently around the house. Later on when the snow lightened up, the Crankee Yankee put on his snowshoes, and went out back to make “cat trails” for the strays and various indoor/outdoor neighbor cats. There were paths to the feeding station he built; a three-tier structure, plexi-glassed in on three sides.

The top shelf has a good-sized tray of birdseed and a bowl of water for the birds and squirrels. The middle shelf has two trays of cat kibble and one pan of water. The “ground floor” has a pan each of kibble and water, plus a cozy wooden box filled with warm fleece. This accommodation is for those who are too shy to sleep under our porch.

Under our porch, we keep four wooden cat beds, filled with fleece. On top of each one is a special self-heating “cat mat;” when the cat sits on it, the heat from its body is radiated back up to them from the special insert inside the mat; no wires needed!

This space is walled in so that any visitors are sheltered from wind and weather, and the door is always braced open a few inches so that our “guests” can come and go as they please. We keep food and water under there as well, so we call it the “Fraser Bed & Breakfast.” (And yes, we ARE idiots for those shy but worthy free-loaders!)

So, one more magical Christmas has passed, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. This morning Christmas music is still playing, and it’s a nice counter-point to a beautiful winter day. So, as Tiny Tim (from Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol”) was wont to say, “God bless us, every one!”

*We are some of the few people on earth who love fruitcake, fruitcakes that we are.

**This is a tradition that my grandmother started; it’s a lovely creamy seafood chowder made with clams, oysters, shrimp, scallops, and crab meat.

(Of course, it’s a caloric nightmare; bacon, whole milk and cream, and lots of butter, but since it’s only once a year, what’s the harm?)

When my grandmother died, my mom took over and made it each Christmas Eve. When she no longer wanted to mess with it, I took up the flag. Now it is a tradition and call it  “Christmas Eve Chowder.”


Samuel’s Star, Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of the one-act play I wrote years ago for a Christmas pageant. 


Joshua: “You’ll have to excuse my wife, Abigail. Yes, we had a son, Samuel, our only child. We lost him last year.”

NARRATOR: “I’m sorry,” Joseph said, his kind face sad.

Joshua: “He was 14 years old, and so full of life! The stories I could tell you….he was fishing with his friends, and he cut his foot on a shell. By the time he came home, his foot was red and swollen. Abigail knows how to use herbs for healing, and she did everything she could for him. She never slept for the three days it took for him to die.”

“I know that she still blames herself because she couldn’t save him. But something strange happened the night he died. I’ve never told anyone this, not even Abigail. She had gone to get more water, and I was holding Samuel, singing a little song he liked.”

“Suddenly, he sat up straight in my arms, looked at a spot over my head, and said ‘Father!’ I looked myself, and there was nothing there. His face lit up with joy—and then he was gone. I wish I knew—-”

NARRATOR: Suddenly there was a sharp cry from outside, and Joseph started. “It’s Mary! I must go!” But Joshua held his arm.

Joshua: “Wait—take Mary into our stable. It’s clean and the animals have been fed and will be quiet. I’d be glad to have you stay there.”

NARRATOR:  Joseph thanked him and ran out. Joshua knew that his stable was well-kept and snug, and would at least be shelter from the wind. He remembered well the night Samuel was born. When he picked up his new son from a peaceful and smiling Abigail, he felt as though he held the world in his arms. That sweet warm baby scent, the silky golden-brown fluff of hair already curling into ringlets, and the eyes the color of seawater that seemed to take in everything.

Joshua’s eyes filled with tears, but his grief was mingled with joy at the thought of Joseph and Mary, about to experience all this for themselves. Abigail walked in, and Joshua told her about the coming baby, and where the little family was staying.

Abigail: “Well I hope charged them for it.”

Joshua: “Abigail, it’s their first child. The girl is so young; she needs someone like you to help her. Please, will you help?”

NARRATOR: At this point, Joseph ran in, shouting for Joshua. “The baby’s coming—I need help!”

Joshua looked pleadingly at Abigail. She glared at him, and then at Joseph.

Abigail: “You—go back to the stable. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Joshua: “Thank you for doing this. I know that this is hard for you, but I know you can help.”

NARRATOR: Joshua saw her face work as she bent to pick up the soft bag in which she carried her healing herbs. He put his arms around her and whispered in her ear.

Joshua: “Abby, my heart, my life—it was Samuel’s time to leave this earth. You could have done nothing to stop it, and you have to stop blaming yourself. But this little one about to be born; you can help him.”

NARRATOR: Abigail put her hand on his arm for an instant, and nodded her head as she went out into the night. As she walked toward the stable, her eyes were drawn upward by a soft light. It was an enormous star, right overhead! It glowed and danced and almost seemed to throw off sparks. She had to tear herself away; she had work to do.

Joshua was wiping down the long wooden table, and he too saw the light of the star. It seemed to him as if it bathed the entire building and all the land around it with light. He remembered a night when he and Samuel had sat on the roof, watching the stars and telling each other stories about them. Samuel had pointed to a luminous star that seemed to shimmer in the night sky.

“Father,” he said, “that star is special. It’s bigger and brighter than all the others, and it’s coming closer. In fact, one day it will sit right on our roof with us!”

Joshua chuckled at the memory. Samuel could make up the best stories. But wait—what of the large star in the sky tonight? It couldn’t be Samuel’s star—could it? He walked outside and looked up.

There it was—Samuel’s star! Shaking his head at the lurch in his heart, he slowly climbed up the ladder to the roof. The handful of travelers who had made their beds there were looking up at the great star themselves. Joshua could hear murmurs around him, but no one seemed alarmed or afraid.

In fact, he felt strangely comforted by the sight of the big bright star, and felt Samuel’s presence in his heart. He and the other men began talking, and, as time passed, the star seemed to drift closer.

Suddenly Joshua saw Abigail walk out of the stable. From his perch on the roof, he could see that her step was light and her head was thrown back. He scrambled down the ladder and ran to her.

Joshua: “Well? Is the baby here? Is Mary all right?”

Abigail: “Yes, the baby’s here and Mary is fine. I never saw a faster or easier birth. It’s a boy, and they’ve named him Jesus.”

NARRATOR: She began to cry, and Joshua put his arms around her. Abigail felt the stone around her heart soften, and for a moment the searing grief of losing Samuel took her breath away. Then, almost as quickly, her heart was warmed with quiet comfort.

Suddenly they and all those within earshot heard a beautiful voice singing “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

Joshua: “Angels! Look, the sky is filled with angels!”

NARRATOR: They fell to their knees, clutching each other, as their eyes took in the wonderful, impossible sight. The angels were indescribably lovely. They were afraid to look upon them, but they could not look away.

The singing angel was in front of all the others; fair, with golden-brown curls and eyes the color of seawater. He looked straight down at Joshua and Abigail as they crouched there on the ground, and he smiled.

Abigail: “Samuel! It’s Samuel, my boy!”

NARRATOR: Joshua saw that the singing angel was indeed his son—tall, strong and very much alive. As the angels surrounded the stable, Samuel told them who the baby named Jesus was, and why He had come to earth. He told them that they, Joshua and Abigail, were an important part of this most holy of nights, and that their lives’ work was just beginning. Many would come, he said, who would want to hear the story of the birth of Jesus and record it for all time.

They must remember, he said, all that they had witnessed and then prepare for those pilgrims who would pass through their inn in the years to come. Joshua and Abigail, still holding each other, heard the marvelous words and promises.

The great star now hung so close to the roof that it seemed to perch there. The voices of the angels grew faint as they began to drift toward the hills. Samuel smiled at his parents once more, then turned to go with the others. Abigail stumbled to her feet, and put out her hand as if to stop him, but Joshua took her hand and pulled her back to him.

Wordlessly, they clung to each other and wept tears of rejoicing. Hand in hand, they walked back to the stable. As Joshua opened the door, they saw Mary peacefully resting in Joseph’s arms, and in her lap lay a tiny perfect boy, his hands open like stars against her robe. All around them was a soft golden light, and the various contented sounds of the animals in the stable made a counterpoint to the little tune Mary hummed to the baby.

She looked up as she saw Abigail, and said, “How can I ever thank you? You’ve been like my own mother to me. Here, Abigail, hold him—he knows you.” To Joshua’s surprise, Abigail took the baby from Mary and cuddled him close in her arms.

On that same night, in an uncharted land on the other side of the world from Bethlehem, Samuel and the angels appeared to others. They sang to all people this song:

*For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

*From the Bible Isaiah 9:6-7 new King James version.