Thursday, December 30, 2010


It is amazing what a difference a good night's sleep can make.  I've had sleep issues for a few years.  The sleep doctor gave me a "sleep hygiene" regimen last year around mid-winter that included, among other things, getting unfiltered sunlight as early after getting out of bed as possible (and sometimes more difficult - stay away from the bright computer screen after 8 pm).  It has mostly worked. My sleep has been much better.

But, during the winter, not only are the hours of sunlight fewer, but the cloudy, cold, and windy weather is demotivating.  Getting outdoors (not in a car) early can be tough.  Whether it is the lack of sunlight or something else, I find my sleep patterns erratic this season.  I feel achy and have rotating pains which make the nights even longer and the days unpleasant.   I get up, sometimes at 3 or 4 in the morning to face the day irritable and depressed.  Everything is a chore, every movement an effort.  This has been frequent this season.  I've had to just "suck it up" and keep going.  I do, but I grumble and moan and swear and curse.

What a difference when I do get a good sleep in.  I have energy and am motivated to do things.  Life actually makes sense.  Especially enjoyable is the absence of aches and pains.  I enjoy being out in nature and cooking for my hubby.  I even enjoy work, (the paid variety) when I get it.  I am pleasant (well, as pleasant as an old grouch can be).  I am more patient.  I'm definitely easier to live with.  Ask Leon.

The next time you run into a grouchy old man, an irritable woman, a nasty person, a grinch, a scrooge, a curmudgeon, just stop to consider that they may be an insomniac or in constant physical pain.  Pain can be exhausting and draining and interfere with sleep.  I know.  I am a different person when I lack sleep.  I am a different person today after getting in a good snooze last night.  

Today's hike in the woods up back - ah, sunlight:

 Benni with a stick

 Some critter's den

 House from the back woods


A wild New Jersey holly tree - dug up from the side of a road when we stopped to walk the dog (Bruno) in a rain storm more than 12 years ago and now growing by the driveway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

It’s Christmas, and time for another reflection on the holiday. When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was always a special day. Catholic tradition did not allow meat on the table. The day was filled with excitement and anticipation and good smells. Grandma would always make the fried dough with anchovies early in the day along with the fried fish (baccala and pesce stoca). Calamari, smelts, eel and flounder completed the seven fishes of Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass followed by coffee and Christmas cookies and opening a gift or two rounded out a busy feast.

For years I kept up the food traditions, sometimes substituting Baked Stuffed Shrimp but never omitting the fried dough. This year, I made the fried dough with anchovies and a few bites of fried fish to pass around. Followed by a very non-traditional pizza with sausage and pepperoni. Mere remnants of a tradition.

Christmas is fraught with contradictions and internal conflicts. You all know I have issues with religion in general and, I suppose, with Christianity and Catholicism in particular. But, in contrast to others who criticize religion with bitterness and contempt, or attempt to refute the validity of religion with science and logic, I take a different stance. One cannot dismiss the stories and myths of religion on the basis of their lacking historical evidence or scientific fact. That is to miss the point and purpose of storytelling entirely.
A public radio personality recently recited an essay on “Why I am an atheist”. While she made her point somewhat sardonically, my response was “The god I don’t believe in isn't the same god that Chion Wolf doesn’t believe in, but that’s not to say there is no god, or that I am an atheist.”

What many atheists and anti-religionists object to is the institutional orthodoxy that has developed to insure that followers of a particular religion or sect all hold to a uniform set of beliefs (and to exercise a degree of control). This, I think, is even true of those who insist on a personal or individual interpretation of written scriptures and stories, insofar as such interpretations results in dogma or fundamentalism of some sort or another. An infinite number of orthodoxies might be possible by mixing literal and interpretive beliefs based on various religious texts.

Just because the sun, earth, plants, animals and humans could not have (scientifically) come into existence in seven “days” does not mean that the creation myth should be dismissed out of hand. Just because virgins do not ordinarily conceive children does not mean that the story of the virgin birth is devoid of meaning.
Perhaps those who wrote the story of Genesis did not mean for us to get stuck on “how many days” it took the creator to complete the job, but the idea that all existence is unfathomable, and that, however it may have come about, “it is good”.  Perhaps the writers of the Christ-myth did not mean for us to get stuck on whether a virgin could give birth, but on the possibility that the unfathomable may be quotidian, and in our midst in the most unlikely of circumstances, and in the most unlikely of persons. Perhaps they mythologized the person Jesus to emphasize a point – this guy had some pretty radical stuff to say about orthodox religion.
Too bad we, as a social organism, need the illusion of the certainty of our beliefs; and that those beliefs create “us’s” and “them’s” and lead to hatred, violence, wars, greed, personal attacks, internal conflict and even murder and suicide. It is hard to believe that those same beliefs compel others to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, and tend to the sick and prisoners. I find it difficult to understand how this is so. I think therein is where my personal issues with religion lie.

The Catholicism that I grew up with was not the Catholicism that condemns me now as a gay man. The Catholicism that informed my childhood and adolescence included stories my grandmother told about having to feed her family but sharing half the Christmas roast turkey with a family next door whose little boy was crying from hunger. Or how she fed the families in the six-tenement house my grandparents owned, even though the tenants could not even pay their rent and though my grandparents would eventually lose the house in the end because of it. When she was in her eighties she would walk almost half a mile to church but sit in the back row because it was so physically difficult for her to go any further.
There were stories my mother told of her (and dad’s) faith despite the many years she spent in the TB sanatorium and through many more years with the aftermath of TB when dad cared for her. There was my grouchy Aunt Stella, who, into her eighties and suffering from severe arthritis, told us that the pain was so intense that sometimes she could not even tear off a piece of Saran Wrap to cover a bowl of pasta, and looking up said “but I ask his help and I do it, I do it with his help.” There was the story of my aunt Mary who asked to move to another room in the nursing home – not, as her daughter assumed, so she could be closer to the cafeteria - but as Mary said “No, so my brother Dom doesn’t have to walk so far when he comes to visit”.

These are stories, not quite so grand as the Biblical myths, that convey faith and values and have meaning for me. I am sad that I do not share the simple faith of my grandmother, my mother and father and my aunts. Perhaps it was too naïve a faith for a college educated fool like me.
And so I pass another Christmas, looking upon all the commercial trappings of the holiday, the artifacts of religion surrounding a celebration of the birth of a Religious Rebel, and knowing that I am not welcome at the table in the home I grew up in; knowing I no longer believe in the dogma or orthodoxy of Catholicism or Christianity; knowing also that the stories of faith, like the fried dough with anchovies, are the last remnants of Christmas.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cuccidati, Coffee, Friends and a Day at Home and Good News on DADT to Boot

Cuccidati are a Sicilian Christmas cookie that I've never made before.  My family is not Sicilian so none of my relatives made this delicacy.  It is a pastry filled with figs, raisins, other dried fruits, nuts, honey, orange rind and other good things.  I spent the better part of two days making them.  I was inspired by Clara (Great Depression Cooking with Clara) although I altered her recipe a bit after googling "cuccidati" and comparing a number of recipes.  She definitely had too many eggs in her dough.  I cut it down to 8 instead of 12.  I also had no dates or yellow raisins on hand so used dried cranberries and other dried fruits that were in the cupboard.  The figs are a must however as they are essentially fig cookies.

The dough - 10 cups of flour, plus sugar, lard, eggs, milk, vanilla, salt, baking powder.
The filling was done yesterday.  Put all the fruit and nuts through a meat grinder and added the other ingredients along with some Jim Beam and let it sit in the refrigerator over night.  

Roll out the dough and put in a row of filling

Fold the dough over the filling and cut off the dough

Cutting the cuccidati and then score them (see photo below)

Just out of the oven

Frost the cookies with confectioners' sugar and lemon/water frosting

Put on some red and green sugar (traditionally you use colored sprinkles (nonpareils) but I improvised and made colored sugar.

On the plate

Cookbook close-up

Yummie - MUCH better than a fig newton.

Albert and David were the first to try the cuccidati and gave thumbs up.

Time to go out for some fresh air

Benni enjoying a stick


Leon's favorite piece of machinery (sarcasm).

No this is not a strand of DNA.  Oh, the holidays.

By the way - DADT is finally history.  Finally Obama keeps a promise.  Another step toward equality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Still Rings True After All These Years

John Lennon - Imagine lyrics

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today... 

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace... 

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one 

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world... 

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Lyrics | John Lennon lyrics - Imagine lyrics

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Still Here

Yeah, I'm still here but I don't have much to say....


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