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Archive for December, 2009

Buon Anno

 Good year!  My new Italian friends, Angelo and Anna, Ricardo and Arriana taught me that.  In Italy they don’t say “new” because it’s implied, and they wish each other buon anno the entire first week of the year.  Dinner was so delightful.  I didn’t understand a word they said, and they didn’t understand me, but with Dawn sitting in the middle switching back and forth from Italian to English with no hesitation whatsoever, it made it easy to communicate.  What we had in common was food.  They came, they ate, they complimented, they laughed and by the time they left, I had an invitation to come be their guest in Tivoli, just  outside of Rome.  This offer was made between cheek to cheek kisses, so it must be valid.   You just never know…it could happen…look where I am now.   I saw everyone again the next day down at the coffee shop and you’d think we’d known each other forever.  Buon Giorno, Michaelene…kiss, kiss.  I looked at William and slipped him a “NeeNerNeeNerNeeNer” knowing that he was dying to try out his Italian and wouldn’t say no to a cheek to cheek with Anna or the gorgeous Arriana.  Go for it, Barista Boy.  

New Year’s Day will find me at Bev and Steve Heising’s home for a potluck.  Bev is the fabulous violin player I told you about…keep up with the archives.  Oh, I almost forgot.  In addition to my new chain saw (thank you, Scott), my real estate agent and friend, Therese, gave me a brand new hoe for Christmas. It’s a tiny hoe with a three prong back and it’s extendable.  I took it for a test ride this afternoon and cleared out all of the frozen bracken ferns in the slope behind the house.  I must say, for a little hoe, it packed a powerful punch.  NOTE:  Never judge a hoe by its size.  Along with the hoe came three pair of gloves.  Perfect timing because I had just worn out another pair. 

I’m looking forward to 2010 and what the new year holds for me here on the island.  I wish you all a year filled with abundant hoeing, the love of friends, laughter, good health, prosperity and a trip to Whidbey Island.  I’m sure I can come up with an extra hoe. 

I took the picture above on Christmas Day.  I was headed back home after my walk on the beach and stopped in the middle of the prairie to take a picture of Mt. Baker when I saw it looming  in the distance. 

Didn’t know I could levitate, did you?

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Move over SoBuFaCi – the Italians are coming – all the way from Italy!   Tomorrow Svetlana, Gunter, the kids, Trudiana, Heiney and their brood will be heading north into Canada for the winter Olympics and on Sunday, the Italians arrive.  Talk about your cultural exchange program here on Whidbey Island.  I’ve got to say I’ve really enjoyed having the SoBuFaCi clan and their Romanian gypsy family here, but it will be good not to have to worry about all those kids under foot. 

On Sunday, my friend Dawn’s daughter Ariana, her boyfriend Ricardo and his parents (all of whom, but Dawn, live in Italy) are coming to the house for dinner.  It’s too late for Italian for Dummies, so all I can beg is that they understand I am pazza completa, completely crazy.  Dawn’s Italian is impeccable and I’m excited to have them at my table and experience the exchange of dialogue through an interpreter.  

Everyone was curious as to what I was going to fix, thinking perhaps I’d prepare something Italian to remind them of home.  Who wants home when you’re visiting another country?  And, besides, I’m not that pazza.   I’m going to start the meal with fresh greens and a simple Balsamic vinaigrette (okay, a little of Italy to be sure).  The main course will be Stifado, beef simmered in a wonderfully rich and earthy red wine sauce with Portabello mushrooms and pearl onions.  I thought I’d throw a touch of the French in by topping the Stifado with a square of Feuilletage, puff pastry.  To end the meal, my good friend Kathy helped me find just the right dessert – roasted pears, and Nathan and the guys down at  Cheese Works, Ltd. came through just in time with moist vanilla pods that layered the sugar with a luscious floral note.  A nice wedge of bleu cheese will accompany the pears.   Good wine from bayleaf here in Coupeville – Pierre Usseglio Cotes du Rhone 2007, Les Brugueres 2006 from the Priorat Region of Spain and a bottle of Cascina Degli Ulivi Gavi 2006 – a biodynamic wine (which goes a step further than organic, to the tune of maybe the horns of the sheep that surround the fields were buried in the northeastern corner of the vineyard when the moon was in the seventh house) will represent the white wines; and Dawn gave me a bottle of L’Ecole No. 41, a Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 that I thought I’d share. Add to that coffee roasted by Dawn’s stepson Emanuele Bizzarri who owns  Cafe Umbria in Seattle, lively conversation and I believe you’ve got the  recipe for a memorable evening.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Ciao!

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When Nathan was a little boy (although I think this tradition went on long beyond his little boy years and may have even taken place when he visited me as an adult at Christmastime – and even when he didn’t) the Christmas tree lights remained on all night Christmas Eve so Santa could find his way to the house.  On the mantle Santa would find milk and cookies (and in later years, cheese for Santa Mouse.)   We knew on Christmas morning that Santa had been there because the cookies and milk were gone and there were presents under the tree.  For 33 years that same sweet, innocent scenario played itself out, even in the most difficult of times.  Tonight, as I sit in my new home on an island nearly 1,000 away, a sweet melancholy embraces me as so many memories and loved ones tug at my heart-strings.

The tradition will live on this evening.  There’s a heart-shaped gingerbread cookie waiting for Santa and the lights on the tree will sparkle all through the night.   There will be presents under the tree come morning.  The only thing missing is you.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

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Red Ticket Day

 You’d think they were giving away $1,000.00 the way the crowd started showing up down at the museum…oh, that’s right – they were.  Today was the annual Red Ticket Drawing.  For the last two months, every time you purchased $20 in goods from Front Street merchants, you earned a red ticket.   Complimentary hot chocolate was being served (photo to the left), the town crier walked Front Street calling out that time was near for the drawing, and excited patrons held on tightly to their list of numbers.   This is the kind of drawing that may end on the first draw, or build with excitement as the numbers of those not present to win are called, one after the other.  Unfortunately, it ended on the very first draw; the $1,000 going to a local ophthalmologist.  Wouldn’t you know he’d “see” his way into town for the event.  I must say the crowd disbursed as quickly as it came together. 

The weather was great – windy, sunny, then clouds…sun…clouds.  Don’t believe whatever reports  you read about Coupeville’s weather.  According to the weather online, we’ve had rain every day for weeks.  We haven’t.  A little here, a little there.  Colder nights are coming in this next week in time for Christmas. 

 This photo of Bev Heising, violinist/fiddler extraordinaire with CDs to her name and quite the following is a prime example of the Christmas spirit in her “the last one left, size XL” Christmas in Coupeville sweatshirt.    

Art was being served up at the Rec Hall and I found a wonderful photograph by M. Denis Hall that came home with me (the photo, not Denis) Denis’s photos are a great representation of the island.  If you go to www.cometocoupeville.com you’ll find some of his work in the slide show.  It’s worth a visit to the site.

If you were lucky, you found yourself in a shop when a group of little girls came caroling.  I was lucky enough to be treated to their carols twice.  Red velvet dresses, special occasion shoes and the missing tooth smile of the tiniest made it a keepsake moment.   More than once from behind, an arm came around my shoulder – not to pick my pocket, but to say “hey, Michaelene, Merry Christmas.”  I’m still surprised and overjoyed when that happens.  But then I’m surprised and overjoyed every morning when I wake up and realize “I get to live here!”

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Holiday Guests

I thought my first Christmas in Coupeville would be spent alone.  I’ve got parties to go to, but I saw myself snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate in front of the tree on Christmas Eve listening to the beautiful music my friend Kathryn sent me; eyeing with delight the chain saw that Scott bestowed upon me.  Some people have visions of sugar plums dancing in their head this time of year.  I, on the other hand, have a vision of me with that chain saw in my hand.  But don’t tell the boys down at Local Grown.  Something meditative, quietly festive was what I imagined. 

And then I heard the commotion outside – too early for Santa…no one here drinking Tom n’ Jerry toddies.  I threw down my spatula and dropped three very special, artfully decorated gingerbread men when I heard the squeal of tires and the screech of brakes in my driveway.   I threw open the door and much to my surprise, tumbling out of  a brand new VW Bug were Svetlana, Gunter, the kids – Heidi, Hans, Tony (he’s gotten so tall) and their Romanian gypsy family!   Fortunately, no one was hurt. 

The last time I saw the Sow Bug Family Circus (SoBuFaCi to those in the know – like SoHo – South of Houston), they were traveling out of town in an old gypsy caravan wagon.  Apparently, the European tour was a great success.  Before I had a chance to consider lodging, suitcases were in the house, and the kids – all 23-1/2 (I say 1/2 because there was an accident on the high wire and little Bortok lost his lower body) were climbing on the kitchen counter and nibbling on gingerbread cookies and slipping and sliding across a bowl of chocolate ganache as if it was the ice skating rink at 30 Rock.  Svetlana introduced me to Trudiana and her husband, Heiney, who, with his thick mustache, was a dead ringer for Gene Shalit.  Just as I finished shaking “hands” with him there was a scream from the kitchen.  Poor little Bortok had slid down the drain, and with  his bottom half missing didn’t have the oomph to get back up. I had seen this technique used on the DIY (Do It Yourself) channel to pull hair out of a clogged drain, so I stuck some chewing gum on the end of a chopstick and slowly lowered it into the drain.  At the same time, I heard a voice coming from the phone…”911 – What is your emergency?”  In their panicked state, Heidi, Hans and Tony had taken turns jumping on 9-1-1 on the phone.  Fortunately, I heard little Bortok latch onto the gum at the very same moment.  “Sorry for the inconvenience…everything is okay here.”  Please don’t let me end up in the Police Report section of the Whidbey Examiner was my only thought as the cheers rose up from the rest.

Needless to say, it was a full night of drinking and storytelling, but now the kids, who I tucked into a large match box (sans matches for fear of another Lester mishap) are sleeping under the tree, their little legs twitching from all that sugar.  I set Svetlana and Gunter up in a beautiful brocade box with satin lining. “Comrade, ’tis beautiful,” was the last thing Gunter mumbled before falling away from his busy day.  The last I saw of Trudiana and Heiney, they were headed out to sleep under the stars.  “It’s in our gypsy blood,” explained Heiney. 

So, as always in life, you can make plans, but…

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A Dusting of Snow

Sometime during the night on Sunday the snow returned; quietly, unassumingly.  Do you remember Christmas morning and the excitement you felt?   Well, that’s how I felt Monday morning when I looked out my window.

Okay, I’ll digress here for a moment.  We didn’t have Christmas morning at our house so I really have no idea how that might feel.  Packages were opened Christmas Eve.  As I remember it, Santa didn’t come down our chimney either (and to my knowledge, there was no reason why he couldn’t…I don’t remember ever seeing a fire in it); no, our Santa rang the doorbell and we would find a present at the door.  Mom and dad, Uncle Jerry, Aunt Margie, and a host of shirt tail kin, would start drinking around 5:00 and the doorbell ringing would start shortly thereafter.  The more the grown ups tossed down those Tom n’ Jerry toddies, the more often Santa rang that bell.  Sometimes Santa would get confused and ring the back door bell and the grown ups would laugh and laugh.   That Santa was one jolly fella all right.

I wanted so very, very much to believe that  Santa was ringing the doorbell, but that summer there was an “incident.”  I was trying on my mother’s candy pink stiletto heels one day, dangling the matching patent pink leatherette purse from my arm as I clipped on the fake aurora borealis earrings and spritzed myself with Evening in Paris (which sat on a heart-shaped mirrored plate on the glass shelf of a 1940’s mahogany vanity – the kind with a round mirror the size of the moon) when I realized I needed gloves to complete my ensemble.

Being very small for a seven-year old, I had to open the bottom drawer and then the next one up and climb up to look into the top drawer for the gloves.  Instead of the lovely lace gloves I had in mind, I found Santa’s red suit and his face.  His face?!  It was more of an Al Jolson Halloween mask, but there it was sitting right on top of the most famous red suit in the world.  The one with the black patent leather belt, white fur, big gold buttons, the one that smelled just like those Tom n’ Jerry toddies.   I was so devastated,  my foot slipped and the entire chest of drawers came down on top of me.

I remember the sound of my mother’s footsteps, and that of her own horror as she saw nothing but my two little gloveless hands waving from either side of the chest.  I cried “It’s Santa’s face!  It’s Santa’s face!  Get it off me!”   Mothers have a very cagey, brilliant way of diverting a child’s attention between rapid heart beats.  As she pulled the chest of drawers up, she completely overlooked the Santa situation.  “What are you doing wearing my high heels and earrings?  Have you been in my perfume?”  Now what was brilliant about her tactic was that while she was scolding me, she had somehow removed the old man’s red suit and his face.  When I blubbered that Santa’s face was in the drawer and went to prove it, everything was gone.  Gone.   And then to completely put an end to any Santa suit/face nonsense, she dropped the most diabolical bomb you could on a seven-year old Catholic, stigmata wannabe “You’re going to have to go to confession for this.”   Visions of the loss of gold stars on my chart at school caused my eyes to roll back into my head.  All those 6:00 a.m. masses that I dragged my seven-year old self to slipped right off the pages of Sister Delores’ ledger.

But I wanted to believe in Santa just as much as I wanted to believe that one day if I prayed hard enough, long enough, with great fervor, I would bring on stigmata and lord it over Barbara H (the only girl in class who had red pens and Danish ham sandwiches with the crusts removed and the ham so thin you could see Christ on the cross through it), so every time the door bell rang, I ran to the door (front or back, it didn’t matter) and there would be a present.  But being precocious, I just couldn’t let it rest.  The  next time the doorbell rang, I ran into the dining room and peeked into the kitchen to see who might be missing.  Where was my dad?  And then he appeared, coming through the garage door, out of breath, cheeks flushed, a glorious, mischievous grin on his face.  I loved my dad more than any present that I might find on the porch steps, so I snuck back out to the living room and waited for the doorbell to ring.  And it did, again and again – year after year.

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Multiple Snowflakes Outlined in Blue

Granted, it didn’t last very long, but it was my very first snowfall.  I was upstairs and I noticed the flakes falling, but to be honest, what with the tub (which turned out to be a clog and not a broken pipe) and the light leaking, I couldn’t help but think “now what?”  And then I looked more closely…”Snow!”   Yes, I called out “Snow!”   I ran downstairs to the deck and, sure enough, it was snowing there, too.  On the rail were tiny piles of icy snow that looked like the Mexican wedding cookies I had sitting on the counter.   I drove into town, but there was no snow there…no sign of snow at all, William told me.  When I told him it was snowing at my house, he had that look in his eye, the one that says “pazza completa.”   I learned that phrase from Marlena de Blasi’s book A Thousand Days in Venice.  Completely crazy.   By the time I came home, the snow had stopped, but then it started again and this time it was serious.  I don’t remember snow having a sound, but it did, and it whispered “see what happens when you live the life you imagined.”

I think it might just be the perfect night to have a hot toddy – maybe the one Kathy recommended in her blog www.SophiaSophia.com.   Care to join me?

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