blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Mothers and Cookies

Every year I make sand tarts. I mixed the dough last night. Today I begin to roll, cut and decorate them by myself. My mother and sister and I made sand tarts together for years, but I do not miss them today. I spread and turn the cold block of floury butter, sugar and eggs. I can make them my own way, not Mom’s way.

In Christmases past, the cookie baking would start well. Our best intentions arrived every year in spite of the year before. Mom would roll the dough so thin that it had to be floured enough to come away, or the stars would lose their points and Santas their hats. Mine will never be that thin, I vow, and stop rolling. When I cut them they pull away with the cutter and drop solidly onto the parchment paper. Mom would have started over and her nerves would begin to fray.

Perfectionism. That was her problem. She would hand over a tray and my sister and I would do the decorations together. First the egg wash, then the cinnamon sugar, then the chopped peanuts. Today I do the egg wash and sprinkle colored sugar. It saves two steps. I wonder what my grandmother used for decoration when she taught my mother. I see my mother helping with the cookies. In my imagination she is six years old, it is 1930, and her mother yells at her. “We can’t waste that sugar! If you can’t do it right, get out of the kitchen.” I cringe for Mom, raised during the Great Depression by a woman who refused to raise her. I shake the sugar sprinkler harder. Green flakes bounce off the tray and pile up on one tree more than the others. So there.

I put my first tray in the oven. We always burnt a tray. We tried not to by having one person watch the oven. Usually me. I would be looking out the window when Mom would notice. For several years that was when she would explode, her anger pouring over us. Anger out of all proportion. I think I was 13 or 14 when I finally got her to laugh at the burnt tray. “Well, we got this year’s burnt tray out of the way.” I pull my first tray out. It is perfect.

What was she so angry about? I wondered if it was me when I was young. Now I know better. She had a miserable childhood and was determined to create a loving home for us. It didn’t work out the way she thought it would. As a wife and a mother, I have felt the lack of appreciation, the constant expectation that my husband and child should come first. I start cutting stars and they stick. I leave the torn ones on the counter. I will squish them together and roll them out again. I know my sister and I didn’t think of Mom as a woman with a life. My second tray goes in the oven with all stars sprinkled red.

Rolling dough again, I think about those early years and the party Mom would have between the Christmas Eve services. We would go to the family service, come home and have 20 or so people drop in until we went back for the candlelight service. I pull my second tray out of the oven and half are too brown. I rolled them thinner than the rest. Mom wouldn’t have served those at her party.

I start the third tray by letting the dough soften before I roll it. In hindsight, it seems crazy that my mother not only sang in the choir but entertained them with perfect cookies the same night. There was a basis for her need to impress the churchgoers. She had gotten pregnant before meeting my dad and left town to have the baby. Fighting the judgment of others with cookies is as rational as being a Christian who condemns single mothers in my mind. I take the third tray from the oven. This one might have earned the forgiveness of the Pastor and the acolytes.

The late service was my favorite. It was a service of carols. “Silent Night” and “What Child is This” sung by candlelight gave me goose bumps. And Mother Mary was the image I saw most clearly in my imagination. No wonder we are perfectionists. The perfect mother got pregnant without having sex and never burned a tray of cookies.

I had planned on making 6 trays of sand tarts, but I’m getting tired with the fourth. Some of the trees in this batch look like they were in a blizzard, bending sideways in the gale. It has taken decades for me to shake off the idea that I wasn’t “good enough.” I know I learned a lack of self-esteem from my mom, but we both came by it easily. As good Christian ladies, we were worshipping a man born to a woman who went through the pain of labor without having had the orgasm. As my mother would have said, “What a crock.”

I roll out my last batch in record time. In honor of women everywhere, I smear the egg glaze around with my fingers and sprinkle the trees with red AND green sugar. I am a child again, not a lady-in-training. Mom is going to love these sand tarts. We will forgive ourselves and each other and feast on sugary goodness. The taste will make up for all the trouble.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Solstice Song
The place of dreams,
Of ancestors and bones,
Of chalk and flint,
Of long-lost ceremonies and
The sacred hares’ circle dance.
Beneath Grandmother’s silvered rays,
We breathe magic
Charms of frost.

~Juliet Waldron

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Rant by Orb Weaver

~~~When Orb Weaver has something truly pithy to say, she says it! Here she is, guesting on Cronehenge.~~~

Most of us have been stuck in the morass of pre-pre-holiday planning, and the fact that Chanukah and Christmas basically correspond this year have made it much easier for the two-star families … you know, David’s and Bethlehem’s.  And while our attentions have been elsewhere, shit, as they say, has been happening.  Another Seal Team 6 attempt to rescue an American failed.  Well, they got the detainee, but they sort of broke him during the transfer.  So he died on board ship.  Dead, by any other name, is still dead.  Sorry, Will.  It seemed appropriate.   

In any event, I’ve gone back to paying attention to some of the news, usually BBC and Jazeera, because they really don’t have any dogs in this fight of ours.  It’s interesting to hear how disinterested parties translate our societal ills into exactly who and what they are:  Our leaders, for the most part, are greedy malcontents with enormous appetite and capacity for what I call pure evil, what others call pure power.  They are mad with it, like the Caesars and  the Czars.  And they know the rest of the world hates us.  They don’t care.  Whatever it takes.  Just like Tony Soprano. 

But unlike Tony Soprano, whose murderous tendencies were reprehensible in that they were “only business”, ours are wholesale extermination of civilians, women and children, in what is being sold to the general public as a war against the infidels.  That always worked well in Hollywood, and it works almost as well in everyday life.  Hell, it worked pretty well for the Crusaders, with only a couple of exceptions.  Lie and call it a religious crusade, when in actuality it’s only business.  And we wonder why they hate us, these (to us) strange, proud, devout people who will never, never give up on it, this hatred of us.  And why should they?  We have proven ourselves to be incompetent in the running of our own government, so why on earth would they want to be like us?  But we can never mind our own business, alienate our allies, and there’s all that oil ... So we start a holy war of our own, Desert Storm.  So here we are, almost fifteen years later, and we have managed, with a little help from Africa, to turn the entire middle east as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, into a complete cluster fuck.  As Tony would say.  Israel.  Palestine.  Lybia.  Iraq.  Iran.  Yemen.  Jordan.  Saudi Arabia (on a good day for OPEC).  And the worst part is that even though they hate each other, they are absolutely united in their great distaste for America.  Like we were with the Indians, and then the Chinese, and then the Italians, and then the Irish, and then the Jews followed closely by the Japanese, remember?  Well.  Now we are a tribe unto ourselves, the Americans.  And most days, we kill each other at an average of 44 people per day.  Per day.  How can that not be a national cause of alarm?

And now, to add injury to injury (the insult depends on which side you’re on), the brilliant legal minds of a Grand Jury in the City of New York decided (never mind what continues to occur in Ferguson, MO) there were no grounds to indict Officer Mark Pagano for his successful employment of the illegal choke hold.  Never mind this officer has been censured on several occasions due to civilian complaints.  Never mind two law suits were settled by the NYPD on plaintiffs who sued the NYPD and Officer Pagano in, I believe, civil rights violations.  And so we have a multitude of disenfranchised, underemployed, UNemployed, uneducated and UNWILLING folks ... men and women who are tired of burying their children, their husbands, and are UNWILLING to allow this to continue.  And what do we do?  What answers do we have?  Are human beings in general genetically hardwired to hate whatever is different?  I thought we settled all that shit in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  So here we are again, shades of Detroit, vestiges of Watts, the smoke’s the same, the flames burn as brightly now as then.  Fueled by the same unkept promises.  Enabled. 

I’m starting to be reasonably uneasy with my government.  I’ve had other periods of distrust in the course of the last 50 years, and I’ve witnessed them behaving badly a thousand times, with no recourse in places like Kent State and Chicago, but this is more than that.  This is an ear-to-the-ground kind of thing, like an oncoming train making the tracks hum from ten miles away.  You know you have some time, but not much, before the 3:11 makes mush of you.  That’s what I’m feeling.   You know, the feeling you get when you hear “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story.  Yeah, that feeling. 

Could it be?  Yes, it could.  But it won’t.  This ain’t Broadway, and Leonard ain’t directing.  And what’s coming is way more Sondheim than Lion King.  I hear Wagner.  And a little bit of Schumann.  I want to run into the street, screaming for people to wake up.  But I won’t.  Jail is not a place I want to be.  And so ... the proletariat will once again hide from what they don’t want to see, or hear, or experience.  They will cling to the little electronic gadgets they hold pressed to their very noses, and they will never make eye contact, and they will be safe.  Let me know how that works out for ya.