Christmas

When All Is Said And Done It Really Is A “Wonderful Life.”

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With all of the problems caused by the pandemic I guess I am like most people in that I have had to deal with bouts of depression and anxiety. My wife and I and our adult daughter who lives with us are all in the category of having serious underlying conditions.

Right to left: Our Daughter Michelle, My Wife Suzanne and me | Photo by Tim Chuey (The only selfie I have ever taken)

That fact has made us even more cautious than the average person. We have kept ourselves away from other people as much as possible and only doing the things that are absolutely necessary. We wear masks, stay at least 6 feet away from others and spend as little time as possible when doing the grocery shopping.

I thought retelling my story that I explained to you in two segments in December of 2013 would help me put things into the proper perspective. It might even give you a more positive attitude. Here goes.

Christmas Presents
Christmas Gifts Under The Tree | Photo by alama.com

Christmas is the time when thoughts turn to presents, giving and getting presents. When we are very young the getting is so much more important to us than the giving of presents. Often we were told to make a list of the things we wanted so Santa would know exactly what would make us happy. I don’t know about you but deep down there was always one present that I really wanted that I didn’t get. It was usually something that was either way too expensive or outlandish like wanting a pony when you live in the city. There was another complication in my life that made Christmas, and all of the holidays for that matter, difficult to live through. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife, we were allowed to use that term back then, and they adopted me when I was just over 2-years-old. The life of a coal miner was difficult at best, especially way back then. Many of them worked their shift and went home to a few beers and collapsed from exhaustion at bedtime. My father had a weakness for alcohol and was an alcoholic who had a just over fifty-year abusive relationship with my mother. As it turns out my father and all of his brothers suffered from the same problem. That leads me to believe that there is at least a genetic component to their alcoholism and that makes me thankful that I was his adopted son and not in that gene pool. He never drank while working but would start when he got home. I think his biggest stressor was that he couldn’t stand up for himself with his bosses so he took it out on his family when he came home. Holidays were worse because he had that much more time at home to drink. The reason I am dredging all of this up is to show how every holiday, especially Christmas, became tainted with his alcoholic episodes. I learned from this experience that Christmas would rarely ,if ever, be good for me if I expected presents to make me happy. We had recently moved and we now lived two doors away from the elementary school I was attending, the school, and the convent. I had a cousin attending that school and she was in their church choir. I was encouraged to join and I gave it a try. I really liked it.  It was a parochial school and the nun who was in charge of the choir, mainly the discipline, told us to remember that singing is praying 100 times because we were not performing but giving the congregation the proper atmosphere to be prayerful.The rehearsals took a lot of work, but were very rewarding. What I learned from this experience was that Christmas for me became the rehearsals and actual singing in church. I could be disappointed if I didn’t get the right Christmas present, but if the singing was my goal I would always feel fulfilled.

Album Cover "The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey
Album Cover “The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey

In February of 1959 we recorded a record album of Christmas music. The price to buy the 33 1/3 rpm record album was $3.00. Any profits from the sale went to support the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. We sang in 7 languages and what made that even more special was that each song was taught to us by someone who spoke the language in which it was written. The languages were Latin, German, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Polish, and of course English.  We sang a French Christmas Carole “Qu’as-tu vu Bergere”? “What did you see, Shepherdess?” An Italian lullaby to the Baby Jesus called “Dormi, non piangere” which means “Sleep, weep not” was particularly soothing. A Polish lullaby “Lulaj-ze Jezuniu,” “Go To Sleep Baby Jesus” dear to my Polish mother. The song that got to me more than any of the others was “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night” sung in its original German. I sang the English version many, many times before but when we sang it in public for the first time the German version literally made the hair stand up on my neck. That was back in the day when the choir sang from the choir loft which was up high in the back of the church.

Close-Up "the Angel Choir" Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey
Close-Up “the Angel Choir” Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey

I was in the 8th Grade when we recorded the album and it was really cool to have all of our names on the album cover.

We zoom forward to current days and I still sing in a church choir. Now my wife, my daughter and I sing in the St. Paul Catholic Church choir together. The choir sings from the front of the church facing the congregation. I particularly like it this way because I can look into the faces of the people while we are singing. I had a Glee Club director in college who told the members to find two people in the audience to sing to. One who is really into the music and might even be mouthing the words we were singing and the second person to look for is someone who appears to be caught up in emotion. I remember while singing in another church choir one time I found someone to sing to who looked so emotional they might start crying at any time. I would glance at her between looking at the director and my music. By the time we were finished singing the hymn I could see her expression change and she actually starting singing with us. It is a good feeling to know you may have helped to change the mood of someone who was feeling some sort of emotional pain. All I want for Christmas is to sing beautiful hymns in church. Now maybe you can see why the singing has replaced the anticipation of getting presents for Christmas, for me at least. I still look forward to and enjoy sharing Christmas presents and time with my family particularly my two grandchildren. The true meaning of Christmas, peace on earth and good will toward all, stays with me the whole year long as I sing in church each Sunday.

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I loved my parents and they did a good job raising me with the right values and sent me to good schools. They both died many years ago and I had to reconcile my feelings about them. Forgiveness is the only way to get that “monkey off my back” about my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s enabling his behavior. Yes, they had choices in life, but to some degree they both were trapped in those roles due to the social structure of the times. If an organization like “Women’s Space” existed back then my mother’s life might have turned out differently. I don’t regret any part of my life so far because it is all of those struggles that worked to make me the person I am today. I was a better father to my children than my father was to me and one of my proudest things to say is that my son is even a much better father than I have been.

This is not the subject I was planning to write about this week for my column. After weeks of preparation and rehearsal I was poised to worship God with song at Midnight Mass Tuesday night December 24, 2013. It seems another plan was unfolding.

St. Paul Catholic ChurchChoir 2013 |Photo by Pete
St. Paul Catholic Church Choir 2013 | Photo by Pete Kerns

This picture of our choir was taken Sunday morning December 22 and as soon as I found someone to take the picture I put my coat back on and immediately left for the after hours medical facility. ( I didn’t even remember who the person was that I asked to take the picture, but in my own defense I was very sick and not thinking straight. It shows you how oxygen-deprived my brain was if I couldn’t remember the name of the Eugene Police Chief. Sorry again Pete and thanks for taking a couple of pictures for me.)

After the picture was taken I headed straight to a medical facility. The doctor examined me and prescribed an inhaler, but by early in the day Christmas Eve my wife had to take me to another doctor.

Second Doctor's Visit | Photo by Suzanne Chuey
Second Doctor’s Visit | Photo by Suzanne Chuey

This time I got an X-Ray, antibiotics, and a second kind of inhaler along with Prednisone for my pneumonia. Needless to say I didn’t go to church. As a matter of fact I was feeling pretty  sorry for myself as my wife and daughter were getting ready to leave the house so they could sing. I needed something on the television to keep me somewhat aware while I attempted to update my late night weather forecasts for EDN through a very foggy brain. It turns out that my favorite movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” mentioned in a previous column, was on right then.

 | Photo by
It’s a Wonderful Life | Photo by outsidethebeltway.com

As I watched George Bailey go through his doubt of self-worth It came to me in a flash of recognition. I seemingly lost the one thing I really wanted for Christmas. The one thing I depended on to get me through, but if the circumstances were just slightly different it could have been much worse. If I were living in my car or on the street I could have died within 24-48 hours if I hadn’t seen a doctor. Life seems so much more precious when you can hardly breathe. Breathing is supposed to be an autonomic response meaning that it works without us having to tell it to. In my case I couldn’t even take a half breath, so at night you listen to yourself straining to get each cubic inch of air that you can. I guess I am lucky that I have sleep apnea because I’m not sure I could have kept breathing properly overnight without my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine forcing air into my lungs through my nose. It is very humbling to lay there wondering what will happen next and if you do fall asleep will you wake up in this world or the next. I know this may sound a bit overly dramatic, but for those of you who have experienced it for yourself I’m sure you would agree with my description.

Our son, daughter-in-law, her mother, and our two grandchildren kept me in their thoughts and prayers also which helped give me strength. We’ll be able to have “Christmas” with them when I am strong enough. And to celebrate our son’s birthday together instead of over the phone. That would give us the chance to exchange presents and be able to physically hug each other.

I am recovering, much more slowly than I would like, and I am grateful for the fact that I can take a reasonably deep breath without choking on it. It will probably be a week or more before I am back to what I would call “my normal life” but I know my outlook on life has taken on a new perspective for the New Year 2014. I am going to do my best to spend more time with my family and stop worrying about the things I have no control over. So, you see, I didn’t get what I wanted, but I got what I needed most. Happy Holidays!

That’s what happened 7 years ago. After going through all of that I think you can understand why we haven’t been physically to church since the pandemic broke out. Back in 1966 I was hospitalized for 28 days having been taken to the hospital at 4:00 AM with what was called a Fever of Undetermined Origin (FUO) that spiked to 107 for four days. Having survived what they believed was a virus that gave me the fever and a massive blood clot in my right leg you can appreciate my reluctance to physically go to church and sing, even though a mask. Once you have nearly died due to a virus it’s simply a matter of survival. The precautions we are taking now are meant to protect me and anyone that may have contact with me. Until I get the vaccine and most everyone else is inoculated I’ll have to make due by watching the Mass celebrated online. I’m sure God would rather have me alive than to die because I didn’t take every necessary precaution. Have faith. Life will be more normal in the near future and it is truly a wonderful life.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Singing in church is praying 100 times.

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Christmas is the time when thoughts turn to presents, giving and getting presents. When we are very young the receiving is so much more important to us than the giving of presents. Often we were told to make a list of the things we wanted so Santa would know exactly what would make us happy. I don’t know about you but deep down there was always one present that I really wanted that I didn’t get. It was usually something that was either way too expensive or outlandish like wanting a pony when you live in the city. There was another complication in my life that made Christmas, and all of the holidays for that matter, difficult to live through. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife, we were allowed to use that term back then, and they adopted me when I was just over 2-years-old. The life of a coal miner was difficult at best, especially way back then. Many of them worked their shift and went home to a few beers and collapsed from exhaustion at bedtime. My father had a weakness for alcohol and was an alcoholic who had a just over fifty-year abusive relationship with my mother. As it turns out my father and all of his brothers suffered from the same problem. That leads me to believe that there is at least a genetic component to their alcoholism and that makes me thankful that I was his adopted son and not in that gene pool. He never drank while working but would start when he got home. I think his biggest stressor was that he couldn’t stand up for himself with his bosses so he took it out on his family when he came home. Holidays were worse because he had that much more time at home to drink. The reason I am dredging all of this up is to show how every holiday, especially Christmas, became tainted with his alcoholic episodes. I learned from this experience that Christmas would rarely, if ever, be good for me if I expected presents to make me happy. We had recently moved and we now lived two doors away from the elementary school I was attending. On the same property as the the school were the convent and the church. I had a cousin attending that school and she was in their church choir. I was encouraged to join and I gave it a try. I really liked it.  It was a parochial school and the nun who was in charge of the choir, mainly the discipline, told us to remember that singing is praying 100 times because we were not performing but giving the congregation the proper atmosphere to be prayerful. The rehearsals took a lot of work, but were very rewarding. What I learned from this experience was that Christmas for me became the rehearsals and actual singing in church. I could be disappointed if I didn’t get the right Christmas present, but if the singing was my goal I would always feel fulfilled.

Album Cover "The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey
Album Cover “The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey

In February of 1959 we recorded a record album of Christmas music. The price to buy the 33 1/3 rpm record album was $3.00. Any profits from the sale went to support the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. We sang in 7 languages and what made that even more special was that each song was taught to us by someone who spoke the language in which it was written. The languages were Latin, German, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Polish, and of course English.  We sang a French Christmas Carole “Qu’as-tu vu Bergere”? “What did you see, Shepherdess?” An Italian lullaby to the Baby Jesus called “Dormi, non piangere” which means “Sleep,weep not” was particularly soothing. A Polish lullaby “Lulaj-ze Jezuniu,” “Go To Sleep Baby Jesus” dear to my Polish mother. The song that got to me more than any of the others was “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night” sung in its original German. I sang the English version many, many times before but when we sang it in public for the first time the German version literally made the hair stand up on my neck. That was back in the day when the choir sang from the choir loft which was up high in the back of the church.

Close-Up "the Angel Choir" Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey
Close-Up “the Angel Choir” Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey

 

I was in the 8th Grade when we recorded the album and it was really cool to have all of our names on the album cover.

We zoom forward to current days and I still sing in a church choir.

St. Paul Catholic ChurchChoir 2013 |Photo by parishioner Paul
St. Paul Catholic Church Choir In The Church | Photo by Pete Kerns

Now my wife, my daughter and I sing in the St. Paul Catholic Church choir together. The choir sings from the front of the church facing the congregation. I particularly like it this way because I can look into the faces of the people while we are singing. I had a Glee Club director in college who told the members to find two people in the audience to sing to. One who is really into the music and might even be mouthing the words we were singing and the second person to look for is someone who appears to be caught up in emotion. I remember while singing in another church choir one time I found someone to sing to who looked so emotional they might start crying at any time. I would glance at her between looking at the director and my music. By the time we were finished singing the hymn I could see her expression change and she actually starting singing with us. It is a good feeling to know you may have helped to change the mood of someone who was feeling some sort of emotional pain. All I want for Christmas is to sing beautiful hymns in church. Now maybe you can see why the singing has replaced the anticipation of getting presents for Christmas, for me at least. I still look forward to and enjoy sharing Christmas presents and time with my family particularly my two grandchildren. The true meaning of Christmas, peace on earth and good will toward all, stays with me the whole year long as I sing in church each Sunday.

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I loved my parents and they did a good job raising me with the right values and sent me to good schools. They both died many years ago and I had to reconcile my feelings about them. Forgiveness is the only way to get that “monkey off my back” about my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s enabling his behavior. Yes, they had choices in life, but to some degree they both were trapped in those roles due to the social structure of the times. If an organization like “Women’s Space” existed back then my mother’s life might have turned out differently. I don’t regret any part of my life so far because it is all of those struggles that worked to make me the person I am today. I was a better father to my children than my father was to me and one of my proudest things to say is that my son is even a much better father than I have been.

What makes Christmas for you? Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Revisiting My Feelings On What I Expect For Christmas.

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I don’t very often plagiarize my own column, but with this being the Christmas season I wanted to go back to my column at this time of the year in 2013. This column explains my feelings about my past Christmas experiences.

Christmas is the time when thoughts turn to presents, giving and getting presents. When we are very young the getting is so much more important to us than the giving of presents. Often we were told to make a list of the things we wanted so Santa would know exactly what would make us happy. I don’t know about you but deep down there was always one present that I really wanted that I didn’t get. It was usually something that was either way too expensive or outlandish like wanting a pony when you live in the city. There was another complication in my life that made Christmas, and all of the holidays for that matter, difficult to live through. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife, we were allowed to use that term back then, and they adopted me when I was just over 2-years-old. The life of a coal miner was difficult at best, especially way back then. Many of them worked their shift and went home to a few beers and collapsed from exhaustion at bedtime. My father had a weakness for alcohol and was an alcoholic who had a just over fifty-year abusive relationship with my mother. As it turns out my father and all of his brothers suffered from the same problem. That leads me to believe that there is at least a genetic component to their alcoholism and that makes me thankful that I was his adopted son and not in that gene pool. He never drank while working but would start when he got home. I think his biggest stressor was that he couldn’t stand up for himself with his bosses so he took it out on his family when he came home. Holidays were worse because he had that much more time at home to drink. The reason I am dredging all of this up is to show how every holiday, especially Christmas, became tainted with his alcoholic episodes. I learned from this experience that Christmas would rarely, if ever, be good for me if I expected presents to make me happy. When I was in the latter years of elementary school we had recently moved and we now lived two doors away from the elementary school I was attending, the school, and the convent. I had a cousin attending that school and she was in their church choir. I was encouraged to join and I gave it a try. I really liked it.  It was a parochial school and the nun who was in charge of the choir, mainly the discipline, told us to remember that singing is praying 100 times because we were not performing but giving the congregation the proper atmosphere to be prayerful. The rehearsals took a lot of work, but were very rewarding. What I learned from this experience was that Christmas for me became the rehearsals and actual singing in church. I could be disappointed if I didn’t get the right Christmas present, but if the singing was my goal I would always feel fulfilled.

Angel Choir Record
Album Cover “The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey

In February of 1959 we recorded a record album of Christmas music. The price to buy the 33 1/3 rpm record album was $3.00. Any profits from the sale went to support the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. We sang in 7 languages and what made that even more special was that each song was taught to us by someone who spoke the language in which it was written. The languages were Latin, German, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Polish, and of course English.  We sang a French Christmas Carole “Qu’as-tu vu Bergere”? “What did you see, Shepherdess?” An Italian lullaby to the Baby Jesus called “Dormi, non piangere” which means “Sleep,weep not” was particularly soothing. A Polish lullaby “Lulaj-ze Jezuniu,” “Go To Sleep Baby Jesus” dear to my Polish mother. The song that got to me more than any of the others was “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night” sung in its original German. I sang the English version many, many times before but when we sang it in public for the first time the German version literally made the hair stand up on my neck. That was back in the day when the choir sang from the choir loft which was up high in the back of the church.

Close-up Album
Close-Up “the Angel Choir” Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey

I was in the 8th Grade when we recorded the album and it was really cool to have all of our names on the album cover.

St. Paul Choir
St. Paul Catholic Church Choir Performing At The Grotto In Portland Photo by Lynda Atto

We zoom forward to current days and I still sing in a church choir. Now my wife, my daughter and I sing in the St. Paul Catholic Church choir together. The choir sings from the front of the church facing the congregation. I particularly like it this way because I can look into the faces of the people while we are singing. I had a Glee Club director in college who told the members to find two people in the audience to sing to. One who is really into the music and might even be mouthing the words we were singing and the second person to look for is someone who appears to be caught up in emotion. I remember while singing in another church choir one time I found someone to sing to who looked so emotional they might start crying at any time. I would glance at her between looking at the director and my music. By the time we were finished singing the hymn I could see her expression change and she actually starting singing with us. It is a good feeling to know you may have helped to change the mood of someone who was feeling some sort of emotional pain. All I want for Christmas is to sing beautiful hymns in church.

 

St. Paul Choir 2
St. Paul Catholic Church Choir Performing At The Grotto In Portland (Small Group Featured In Front Row)| Photo by Lynda Atto

Now maybe you can see why the singing has replaced the anticipation of getting presents for Christmas, for me at least. I still look forward to and enjoy sharing Christmas presents and time with my family particularly my two grandchildren. The true meaning of Christmas, peace on earth and good will toward all, stays with me the whole year long as I sing in church each Sunday.

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I loved my parents and they did a good job raising me with the right values and sent me to good schools. They both died many years ago and I had to reconcile my feelings about them. Forgiveness is the only way to get that “monkey off my back” about my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s enabling his behavior. Yes, they had choices in life, but to some degree they both were trapped in those roles due to the social structure of the times. If an organization like “Women’s Space” existed back then my mother’s life might have turned out differently. I don’t regret any part of my life so far because it is all of those struggles that worked to make me the person I am today. I was a better father to my children than my father was to me and one of my proudest things to say is that my son is even a much better father than I have been.

What makes Christmas for you? Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

The Best Things To Do With Your Christmas Vacation

Best things to do before Christmas

So December is upon us and it’s time to start getting in the mood for the festive period. If your one of those people who literally count down the days till Christmas, you might want to get organised sooner rather than later, making it easier for you to enjoy this festive period! However sometimes the Christmas season can fly by and it will be over before you even know it and in the run up to the most wonderful time of the year, there are always tonnes of nice things to do. Cities around the world put up Christmas markets, huge fairgrounds, grottos, ice rinks, and so on. So in this list, instead of you running around, acting all frantic in regards to enjoy this season, it will do it for you. Here are some wonderful things this holiday season:

Ice Rink at Natural history museum (London)

Ok, this isn’t local, but still an adventure.  What a beautiful and scenic place to ice skate whilst getting you in the mood for Christmas, its glittering with fairy lights and whats better than being next to some actual dinosaur bones! The gorgeous rink is open until 8 th of January, so even if you miss out before Christmas there’s still time, or maybe you just want to go again and again. Seriously though, you’ll really enjoy Ice Skating around of the most gorgeous spot in London.  If you’d rather try it a little more locally, check out “Christmas in the Garden” at Oregon Gardens.

Go to the Holiday markets

Still in world exploration mode: all over the UK, and here, you will find Holiday markets. Here you can enjoy everything related to the season, whether its gifts, food or drink, Holiday markets are welcoming throughout the entirety of the day and provides a really lovely atmosphere. Spend time with the loved ones, It’s the season where your supposed to spend time with your loved ones, spread the joy of unity across the whole family. Usually, work suffocates us throughout the year, however with that extra bit of time off during this festive holiday, spend time with friends and relatives that you’d hardly see during the previous part of the year. The season is about making memories.  Eugene’s last Holiday Market is Saturday the 24th!

Volunteering

Being homeless is a terrible situation to be in any time of the year, but it can be particularly difficult at Christmas, there are a lot of charities such as The Eugene MIssion and Hosea Youth Services who provide hot meals and some warmth to people sleeping rough over the Holidays period. However for this to happen, they need volunteers. Before the year ends, donate some time and make a change in people’s lives; a little help goes a long way.

The Odd Bits

Along with the traditional Holiday Lights tours, Santa at the Mall, local Champagne Brunches and EUGFun!, there are also some silly, entertaining bits.  If however, you’re looking for a fun and less traditional way of spending Christmas, then head down to a casino like Three Rivers in Florence. Before you go, you can study some of the games and learn the best casino betting systems to help you play the game to your advantage and capitalize on your winnings. If you’re good at the games, then you may even walk out with a jackpot!

Christmas, Hernias and Bowl Games

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out With the changes at FishDuck.com, the Three-and-Out hasn’t gone away. It’s just been laid up with Christmas, a hernia and bowl games. And that’s the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out. 1. Christmas. On my last trip to...

Growing up Italian: My Little Christmas Story

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I am a September baby. That means that, by the time my first Christmas rolled around, I was barely 3 months old. Clearly, I don’t remember a thing. Fortunately, my Dad was wise enough to take pictures.

DSCF4869
December 1966. My first Christmas and tree

It seems to me that some ornaments we used well into my 30s were already in existence in this photo.  Also, our Nativity scene has been a staple in our household. None of the figurines ever got broken, lost or mishandled. Year after year, each decoration emerged from the darkest spot in the attic, carefully wrapped. It was always a surprise, like we had never seen those pieces before.

DSCF4789
My second Christmas. Mom is pregnant with my little sister, due in February. It is 1967.

Within a few years, the family expanded. I got a sister in 1968 and shortly after a cousin, Carlo, and his little sister Chiara.

In the early ’70s, Christmas became really fun, and I was old enough to remember!!

My  aunt Pompilia’s house had a huge living room with textured ceramic tiles floor, fancy tapestry on the walls, paintings and ceramics.

She would decorate a huge Christmas tree with lights so bright we, the kids, would be mesmerized.

Then, there was the long communal table that would accommodate the family… and then some.  Aunty would bring out the best of linens and starch them to perfection. She would also use the dishes she had received as a wedding gift. A grand-occasion sort of thing.

The food was great, homemade Tortellini with capon broth, a roast, vegetables and of course the kids favorite: Pandoro or Panettone for dessert.

pandori_panettoni
Typical Italian Christmas desserts: Pandoro and Panettone

After dinner it was “play time”! The sugar overload didn’t help our parents. Mom, being a teacher was always the most patient. We had a  Bingo game without numbers but with animal pictures. It was our favorite.

DSCF4862
After dinner Animal Bingo. Me, Mom and my little late cousin Carlo.

Those were the happiest times as a child. Then, this big night tradition faded over the years.

We took for granted the fact that no matter what, our little world would always stay the same, so we decided to explore…

DSCF4871
Celebrating with a fancy dinner in Ostra, Ancona, with the late Luca and his family.

When we were old enough to drive and cook, we decided to join different parties. In my twenties I dated an eclectic gentleman, Luca, with a natural sense of elegance, eloquence and an innate passion for food. We didn’t know it back then, but we were “growing up foodies”.

Luca’s parties, like his persona, remain unforgotten, long after his premature death at the age of 30.

At Luca’s cooking was fun, but plating in antique ceramics and dressing up for dinner was even better.

Then again, life seems to complete a full circle and end up the way it started.  Getting “older” I longed to spend Christmas with my birth family, again. After I moved to Oregon, I tried to go “home for the holidays” as much as my finances would allow it. The same nativity set would be out and brought back to life by mom’s loving hands.  Mom would also decorate our short, old, beaten up synthetic tree, and place it on the  same spot every year, and  “just because” we would also have a real tree in the atrium.

DSCF4873
Home for the Holidays, the tree in the atrium, 1999. Ready for the new Millennium.

Sometimes, my travel bug would prevail and I got to spend the Holidays abroad. Sadly, even the most exotic of places didn’t feel like real holidays, even with the most adorned tree, I would still miss my little beaten up-synthetic one.

DSCF4874
Oahu: Hilton Hawaiian Village. December 25th, 1998.

Now that most of the family is gone, celebrating doesn’t seem so important, I’m happy having a quite day at home, lazy as my cat, doing what I love the most: cooking.

The recipe I’m enclosing today was a winter favorite of ours.

When time is of the essence, this is still one of my go-to dishes:  Mom’s Zuppa di Ceci. Tuscan Garbanzo beans and bacon soup. ( My mom was born and raised in Tuscany, moved to Umbria for work when she met my father) This soup is so easy to make, and even easier to love. Healthy holiday comfort food, if there is such a thing. The ease of preparation doesn’t sacrifice its flavor, though.

So if you have been a little “naughty” in the food department, this dish is perfect : it will help you make peace with your caloric intake gone sideways.

A good hearty dish, that brings me back for a few moments to my childhood in Italy: to my days at aunt Pompilia’s  living room, to the smell of the fresh Christmas tree and homemade pasta. I meet that part of me that never left it.

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Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 can of Garbanzo Beans or 500 gr of dry beans, soaked and cooked
  • 2 cloves of garlic- whole
  • 3 T of EVOO (divided)
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 slices of thick bacon thinly sliced
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary plus one large sprig
  • Parmigiano cheese and olive oil to finish the dish

Directions:

Drain the beans.

With an immersion blender puree the beans right into their cans. Set aside.

Warm up 1 Tbs of oil in a large pan, add the garlic.(you could remove the garlic later upon serving the soup)

When the garlic starts to brown, add the bacon and saute’ until it starts to get crispy. Deglaze with the wine and let the wine reduce by half. Add the tomato paste and let it cook until turns to a dark burgundy color.

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Now add the pureed tomatoes and fill both cans back with warm  tap water, pour that too into the mix. Add the minced and sprig of rosemary.

Simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and Parmigiano cheese.

Alternatively, you can add some croutons or toasted bread.

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Sometimes simple things can bring us so much pleasure.
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Enjoy! Mangia and Ciao!

The Frugal Wine Gal: Holiday Wine Guide

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The holidays are a time of year meant for family, friends, and good times. The years keep coming faster and faster it seems, and now more than ever it is important to make time for those who matter most. It is also one of the busiest times of the year for most people. Every weekend fills up with parties, celebrations, and shopping for our loved ones. I know sometimes that I can get caught up in all the hustle and bustle of holiday madness, but it is so important to slow down and enjoy the small things. Like a delicious glass of local Oregon wine perhaps?

JD Hancock Flickr
(JD Hancock)

One of the best parts of this time of year though is the food. There is good food everywhere. From the slow cooked stews coming out of our crock pots, to big dinners with all of our extended family. Endless sweets and treats are presented to us on a daily basis it seems! There is of course always good spirits as well. Wine is the perfect accompaniment to any occasion. One of the hardest things to do though is pick wine for many different people. I’ve found that some people only like red wine, or just white. They may even go as specific as liking one varietal – either dry or sweet. There are so many options out there, it can be a tough decision to just pick one or two.

Sam Howzit Flickr
(Sam Howzit)

As a big wine lover, I’m trusted pick out wines a lot of the time. I like to think of it as a great honor. I’ve found that there are some specific guidelines I like to go by – especially for the holidays. My first rule of thumb is always have some bubbly on hand. I really enjoy anything by Domaine Meriwether myself, but Argyle Winery and Sokol Blosser also have some great options in the under $30 range. During the holidays, and especially for bubbles, it is worth going a little bit above the $20 range. The reason why bubbles are so nice is that it is indicative of a special occasion. Sparkling wines are great for any celebration, but especially ones around this time of year. Family and friends getting together is also a great reason to pop that special bottle you’ve been saving and treasure it together. After all, even our most anticipated wines from our cellars are meant to be enjoyed.

Not in the mood for bubbles? That’s okay because there are plenty of big bodied reds that make good options as well. This frigid cold weather really brings out the flavors in those reds and makes snuggling on the couch watching christmas movies that much better. A few of my go to red varieties are Cabernet sauvignon – like the Del Rio Vineyards Cabernet I reviewed hereJ.Scott Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes sourced from Southern Oregon is also an excellent choice. It is a little out of our frugal budget but worth every penny. Another great option to pick up is a classic red blend. Now there are thousands of these available from all over Oregon, it can be a hard decision to pick just one!

Brendan DeBrincat Flickr
(Brendan DeBrincat)

Red blends are a fantastic option for any get together because they bring a few different varietals together and create a very different experience than you might have in a single varietal wine. During the cold winter months red blends are just what is needed to warm up any evening. Although there are many options and quite a price range for these wines, there a few must tries that I have to share. Three Wives “Remy’s Red” is one of my favorite go-to red blends. The varietals chosen vary from year to year, but they are always produced with italian grapes and aged in an old world style. Oaky, fruit forward, and smooth, Remy’s Red is an excellent blend good for any old occasion. Another great option is Grochau Cellars “Tinto” blend of Tempranillo and Syrah. With red blends you can really get a good bang for your buck. It is so easy to find phenomenal wines made within our great state that will add to any holiday celebration.

Planning a big meal with all the fixings is a part of holiday traditions all over the world. Whether you roast a big turkey or slow cook a honey ham, there is a wine that will pair well with your meal. One of the biggest issues that I’ve run into during large meals like this is that sometimes I just want something on the lighter side to go with it. That is where rosé comes in. Rosé is a great choice for any occasion really, but during the holidays it is an excellent pairing. Rosé wines are made from red grapes that have as little contact as possible with the skins. They are light, flavorful, and excellent for nearly any weather or occasion. I could make a list a mile long of my favorite rosés if I’m perfectly honest, but for all intents and purposes there are a couple that I feel pair best with holiday feast and celebrations.


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Adelsheim Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé is one my new favorite finds. Very fruit forward and light, this wine is perfect for a Christmas Eve celebration or a big feast. It will compliment most anything it is paired with. Another fantastic option is the William Rose 2013 Prohibition Rosé. This rosé is 100% Sangiovese. It is crisp, fruity, and good even on its own. I like this one because of its beautiful pale pink color as well.

Wine choice may seem like just one choice in a line of many during the holiday season, but it is much more than that. Wine brings us together, helps us connect, and encourages celebration. After all the craziness during pre-holiday preparation, pop open a bottle and pour yourself a nice glass of whatever makes you happy. Bubbles, big reds, and rosé wines are all great options, but it is all about what you enjoy the most. I wish you all the happiest holidays, and cheers to another great year!

Nick Harris Flickr
(Nick Harris)

 

 

 

 

All I Want For Christmas Is….

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Christmas is the time when thoughts turn to presents, giving and getting presents. When we are very young the getting is so much more important to us than the giving of presents. Often we were told to make a list of the things we wanted so Santa would know exactly what would make us happy. I don’t know about you but deep down there was always one present that I really wanted that I didn’t get. It was usually something that was either way too expensive or outlandish like wanting a pony when you live in the city. There was another complication in my life that made Christmas, and all of the holidays for that matter, difficult to live through. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife, we were allowed to use that term back then, and they adopted me when I was just over 2-years-old. The life of a coal miner was difficult at best, especially way back then. Many of them worked their shift and went home to a few beers and collapsed from exhaustion at bedtime. My father had a weakness for alcohol and was an alcoholic who had a just over fifty-year abusive relationship with my mother. As it turns out my father and all of his brothers suffered from the same problem. That leads me to believe that there is at least a genetic component to their alcoholism and that makes me thankful that I was his adopted son and not in that gene pool. He never drank while working but would start when he got home. I think his biggest stressor was that he couldn’t stand up for himself with his bosses so he took it out on his family when he came home. Holidays were worse because he had that much more time at home to drink. The reason I am dredging all of this up is to show how every holiday, especially Christmas, became tainted with his alcoholic episodes.I learned from this experience that Christmas would rarely ,if ever, be good for me if I expected presents to make me happy. We had recently moved and we now lived two doors away from the elementary school I was attending, the school, and the convent. I had a cousin attending that school and she was in their church choir. I was encouraged to join and I gave it a try. I really liked it.  It was a parochial school and the nun who was in charge of the choir, mainly the discipline, told us to remember that singing is praying 100 times because we were not performing but giving the congregation the proper atmosphere to be prayerful.The rehearsals took a lot of work, but were very rewarding. What I learned from this experience was that Christmas for me became the rehearsals and actual singing in church. I could be disappointed if I didn’t get the right Christmas present, but if the singing was my goal I would always feel fulfilled.

Album Cover "The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey
Album Cover “The Angel Choir A Program Of Christmas Music In Seven Languages | Photo by Tim Chuey

In February of 1959 we recorded a record album of Christmas music. The price to buy the 33 1/3 rpm record album was $3.00. Any profits from the sale went to support the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York. We sang in 7 languages and what made that even more special was that each song was taught to us by someone who spoke the language in which it was written. The languages were Latin, German, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Polish, and of course English.  We sang a French Christmas Carole “Qu’as-tu vu Bergere”? “What did you see, Shepherdess?” An Italian lullaby to the Baby Jesus called “Dormi, non piangere” which means “Sleep,weep not” was particularly soothing. A Polish lullaby “Lulaj-ze Jezuniu,” “Go To Sleep Baby Jesus” dear to my Polish mother. The song that got to me more than any of the others was “Stille Nacht,” “Silent Night” sung in its original German. I sang the English version many, many times before but when we sang it in public for the first time the German version literally made the hair stand up on my neck. That was back in the day when the choir sang from the choir loft which was up high in the back of the church.

Close-Up "the Angel Choir" Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey
Close-Up “the Angel Choir” Album Cover Showing Names | Photo by Tim Chuey

I was in the 8th Grade when we recorded the album and it was really cool to have all of our names on the album cover.

We zoom forward to current days and I still sing in a church choir.

St. Paul Catholic ChurchChoir 2013 |Photo by parishioner Paul
St. Paul Catholic ChurchChoir 2013 |Photo by parishioner Paul

Now my wife, my daughter and I sing in the St. Paul Catholic Church choir together. The choir sings from the front of the church facing the congregation. I particularly like it this way because I can look into the faces of the people while we are singing. I had a Glee Club director in college who told the members to find two people in the audience to sing to. One who is really into the music and might even be mouthing the words we were singing and the second person to look for is someone who appears to be caught up in emotion. I remember while singing in another church choir one time I found someone to sing to who looked so emotional they might start crying at any time. I would glance at her between looking at the director and my music. By the time we were finished singing the hymn I could see her expression change and she actually starting singing with us. It is a good feeling to know you may have helped to change the mood of someone who was feeling some sort of emotional pain. All I want for Christmas is to sing beautiful hymns in church. Now maybe you can see why the singing has replaced the anticipation of getting presents for Christmas, for me at least. I still look forward to and enjoy sharing Christmas presents and time with my family particularly my two grandchildren. The true meaning of Christmas, peace on earth and good will toward all, stays with me the whole year long as I sing in church each Sunday.

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I loved my parents and they did a good job raising me with the right values and sent me to good schools. They both died many years ago and I had to reconcile my feelings about them. Forgiveness is the only way to get that “monkey off my back” about my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s enabling his behavior. Yes, they had choices in life, but to some degree they both were trapped in those roles due to the social structure of the times. If an organization like “Women’s Space” existed back then my mother’s life might have turned out differently. I don’t regret any part of my life so far because it is all of those struggles that worked to make me the person I am today. I was a better father to my children than my father was to me and one of my proudest things to say is that my son is even a much better father than I have been.

What makes Christmas for you? Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Behind The Scenes – The Strangest Reindeer

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When You Find Your Groove Thing

I don’t know how to define my life or even tell you what my calling is but when I hit my “Groove Thing” I know it, I feel it and I love it. We’ve been producing Rick Dancer TV for two years this January and it’s a lot of fun and I get messages from viewers who love it. But this next week we are taking a huge risk. We’re going out on a limb with a show that goes beyond promotion and storytelling and inches its way into the very core of my being.

Billy

For me it’s like taking off my clothes and running through town naked. I’m bringing you into my thoughts and ideas about Christmas. Some of you won’t agree. Others will be challenged but you cannot watch this show without feeling something. We are hitting the streets in search of the meaning of Christmas. Not your meaning or the cultures meaning what we are looking for is simply “meaning.”

I’m sick and tired of the commercialization of a season that is named after a man who came to do exactly the opposite of what Christmas has become. So to find meaning we are going to the people Christ would probably be hanging out with today. Our list includes the homeless, former drug addicts and people who are actually doing something substantial to change, not the culture but the lives of individuals and we visit a local Jewish Rabbi.

We told a local songwriter about our show and she wrote and will sing on the special, that song. We also visit a reindeer farm, why? You will need to watch the show to find out. And a well-known guitar player sings a sassy Santa song in Kesey Square.

Tita
Tita Louisa Freytag

I’m working with Bill Goetz, a former KEZI/KVAL photographer who does amazing work. KVAL “let him go” a year ago and we just hired him. Bill shot the show but I edited it. Yep, my first time editing an entire show and my experts say it looks great.

My business partner, Kelly Asay, is the motivation behind this show. He said: “Rick, you need to do Rick Dancer TV and challenge people. That’s what you like doing, that’s what people like watching and you need to start doing more shows like that.”

So, that’s what this is, a venture into new territory. We’re already planning a Valentine Day Show looking at Love, not chocolates and flowers, but true love.

So join us on Sunday December 22nd and December 29th at 4:30 on KEVU to watch “The Strangest Reindeer” a search for meaning at Christmas.

For those of you paying attention, here’s an exclusive viewing, right here on EDN.

Merry Christmas.

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