Monday, December 31, 2012

Out Building Snowmen

I have lived in San Francisco for just shy of 25 years, but every time I catch the United Airlines flight from SFO to Cleveland, Ohio, I still say I'm going home. Home to mom and dad, to the family members still living there, to longtime friends, to the old stomping grounds.

So what is it: Home? Is it 15401 Macauley Avenue, the tiny 3-bedroom/1 bathroom house where for 25 years my parents raised seven rambunctious children? Is it the elegantly modern ranch-style on Wonetta Parkway, bought and remodeled so my parents could live with grandma Big DeeDee after her husband died? Is it 1090 Orchard Park Drive in Rocky River, the house I now visit when I return to Ohio?

Home is 52+ years of memories new and old. It's found in much of the artwork strewn about my apartment in San Francisco. It's the jar of Turkish red pepper flakes in my kitchen cupboard. Home is enjoying that first morning cup of coffee with mom, she snuggled up in a lifelong procession of favorite bathrobes. Or the last and final cup of the day, which in her case can be 11:30 p.m. Home is the lingering sound of  my father shuffling out from the bedroom every morning and saying, like clockwork, as he takes in the scene at the kitchen table: "Computers, computers, computers..." Or watching as he walks about and turns off all the lights. It's teaching my Bay Area friends how to play Four Square 2,000 miles from where I first learned. Home is, most assuredly, the traditions with which I grew up. Home is grilled cheese sandwiches and stuffed cabbage, Greek walnut cake and sourdough waffles, English plum pudding and oxtail stew. A Canadian Club manhattan, no bitters and just a touch of cherry juice. My sister Anne's baklava and my sister Thea's raspberry ribbons, no matter where I happen to eat them. Home is the scent of freshly mowed grass the world over, of lilac bushes that perfume the air on a warm, still night. Home is violent summer thunderstorms and occasional tornado warnings, blizzards and heat waves. It's the breeze off Lake Erie, off all freshwater lakes. Fireflies, anywhere and everywhere. It's the sound of my brother Art's voice, calling from New York City on Christmas Day or any other day; an email video from Ed, my sister Susan's devoted husband, chronicling some new development in their son Matthew's continuing recovery from the tragedy that took her life. Home is white ducks as pets and purple living room walls. It's some of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen: fantastic finger paintings of blazing red and pink and orange. Home is the smile that lights my soul every time I think of Stephen, our youngest brother. Home is my 50 year old Christmas stocking with the sequin "P" on it, now tucked away for another year in a box in a closet in the City by the Bay.

Home is apparently where I go to build snowmen.

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The logo I designed for my mom and her business partner Donna. CCX, as we fondly call it, was founded in 1986 and became northeast Ohio's largest holiday arts and craft fair. The two women owned and ran it for 25 years, then 2 years ago sold the whole shebang. (They never did use the logo.)

Snowman 2012, following a solid 3 inches the day after I arrived in Cleveland. It took me two hours and got so big I couldn't lift the abdomen section by myself. Luckily my niece Eleni and a friend came to the rescue. For days afterward my knees were sore, and my butt was too.

My sister Molly celebrating her 12-12-12 birthday, the last one this century. Her art teacher buddy Mike made the present; not sure what was inside, but I think it was some stuff he had borrowed from her.

Birthday dinner for Molly (12-12-58) and Thea (12-13-57) on the night I arrived: crispy butternut squash gnocchi with kale pesto, plus a hefty side of steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

A year+ reunion: Our band of four intrepid travelers to Quito, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands in 2011.

Out to Lorain, Ohio, for my sister Anne's and her husband Itri's annual Christmas party on December 23, 2012.

Me and Anne, the hostess with the most-est. It's an intimate affair: 120 or so family, friends and acquaintances, including a slew of high school and college kids (present and past).

This year the three Navy Seals were in town from San Diego: Niko, Taner and Zach, obviously dressed in their finest west coast duds.

The shindig in full swing.

Anne in the basement, not for beer pong (although she did almost make her first and only throw) but to check on the shenanigans.

 Shenanigans like this.

 Nieces Samantha, Eleni, Stephanie and Allison.

Christmas Eve at mom and dad's house. For as long as I can remember the tradition has been New England fish "chowdah", prawn cocktail (we called them shrimp back when), smoked salmon with the fixins, sometimes oysters and crab, Christmas carols, Greek walnut cake and kourabiethes, and always a house full of love and good tidings.

George and Ginger Palmer at the start of the festivities (she with her 1940's era enamel colander).

Dad: the master of his smoked salmon domaine. Let's just say it's a complex affair.

The smoked salmon makes it's debut with Myia, Allison and Samantha.

The goods. And it was!

Sampling the 2012 New England fish chowdah: Eleni's boyfriend David, with my niece Myia. By the way, I made it this year, and with minimal angst as dad looked over my shoulder the entire time.

Niece Samantha with the veggie offering: endive spears and white bean schmoo, made with Olive Scene olive oil (of course), Turkish red pepper flakes, scallions, parsley and minced red pepper.

Dad and mom with his sister, my Aunt Ruthanne, a part of the Toledo contingent in town.

My mom's Christmas presents: hand made pottery from an art class she's taking. We all received one.

Christmas morning always finds us at sister Thea and hubby Pete Z's house in Cleveland Heights for coffee, presents and the traditional candied fruit roll.

And now that everyone's of age, mimosas.

Mom and Allison at the Zimmerman house.

Dad with his holiday favorite: the candied fruit roll. He now asks for it several times a year (over and over again); to no avail, tho, as Thea is in charge. And quite adept: It was the tastiest version I've ever had.

Christmas dinner with Itri, my sister Anne's husband, carving the traditional standing rib roast. Also on the holiday menu: Aunt Mimi's mashed potatoes, Uncle Pete's caramelized onions, crispy Brussels sprouts, saffron rolls, the traditional Green Mold of our youth (lime Jello, cream cheese, crushed pineapple and mini marshmallows), and Mrs. Fligner's delicious spinach casserole.

Nephew Kemal, mom, and a surprise bottle of 1978 Bordeaux: Chateau Mouton Rothschild. No idea where she got it or how long she's had it, but the wine was pretty darned tasty, and much older than most people at the table.

The morning after snowstorm #2: seven inches in seven hours on December 26, 2012.

A snowy hike in Rocky River Reservation, part of the Cleveland MetroParks.

My parent's neighbor Rosemary out doing her civic duty (for mom and dad).

Nighttime shot of the blizzard (almost) on 12/26, with Stevie's tree and the week old snowman/snow-shrimp/snow-larva/snow-alien.

Another shot of Snowman 2012, in better days.

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Home, as they say, is where the heart is.
Happy New Year, each and every one!