Thursday, December 29, 2011


After the frenzy of gift-giving on Christmas morning, we took a break and relaxed the rest of the day. Susanne read a book, and I spent time on the computer, catching up with friends of Facebook or listening to music on You Tube.

 I also snoozed in front of the television as I watched (on and off) the 1960s film King of Kings. I woke up in time to see actor Frank Thring as Herod being laughed at by his step-daughter Salome when he tries to get her to dance. He offers her anything she wants. We all know what she wanted! I am not sure what Herod was doing with that giant pie crust on the right in the picture.
Soon it was time to have a bite to eat before going out to visit with friends in the evening. Susanne had prepared a turkey, and so we decided to have the simplest meal possible -- a turkey sandwich, accompanied by a real delicacy, strawberry applesauce in a little plastic tub.

With still some time before leaving for our friends' house, I returned to my cozy heated man cave to finish watching the movie. Soon Jesus was telling his mother that he had to run down to Jerusalem for a while and that he would fix a broken chair when he gets back. She says the chair will never be fixed as a knowing look passes between them. This was the first movie of the life of Christ in which Jesus was actually fully portrayed. Until then, Jesus was generally seen only from the back or as a shadow, as he did in the 1959 film Ben-Hur. Made in 1961, King of Kings caused quite a stir when it first came out.

We had been excited all day at the prospect of spending some time and enjoying some dessert with our friends Bill and Debbie (you remember them from our trip to Landis Valley Museum). Their two children and significant others were home for the holidays, and Debbie's sister with husband and young children were there, too. It was fun to watch the end of the gift exchanging as we arrived.

Debbie is a master decorator, so we enjoyed seeing their new home all decked out for the holidays. Here are some of the visual delights:

Left to right: Adam, Amy; Bill (with Sebastian), Debbie; Brent, Erin.

I can't believe I did not take any pictures of the food! There were lots of goodies to choose from, and Adam made me a drink with an odd name that turned out to be a combination of liquors and fruit juice blended with ice chips into a sort of slush. It took willpower to limit myself to just one of those!

We had a lovely time with this wonderful family (they are fellow Lesterfans®), and then headed home to our little cottage and its Moravian star hanging on the front porch, another Christmas past.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


My camera refused to focus in the darkness.
Well, in the Christmas story told over the last few entries, we have arrived at Christmas Eve. I spent some time in the early evening wrapping the presents I had bought for Susanne. It is a job I do not care for, so I put it off until the last minute. Thank you, thank you, to the person who invented the gift bag. Tissue paper I can handle! There was one box that required wrapping, and it was messy, I assure you.

As you know, I sing in the choir at Market Square Church, and our contribution to the late service was a couple of anthems and two parts of a newly-written mass based on European Christmas carols. A highlight of the service is the candlelighting at the end where the congregation sings "Silent Night" as individual candles are lighted, followed by "Joy to the World," when the candles are held high up to illumine the church. I attempted to capture this moment on video, and here is the result.

Newman records on Christmas Eve.
The service was recorded for broadcast on the radio the following morning. The morning service is broadcast each week, but because a smaller attendance was expected the following morning, Sunday, Christmas Day, the service was to be held in Geneva Hall, a large and beautiful space on the church's fourth level. (Geneva Hall dates from 1882, I believe.) There is no broadcasting equipment there, so the Christmas Eve service was broadcast as the Geneva Hall service took place. There is a wonderful volunteer named Newman S., who faithfully records and broadcasts all of the Sunday services and is the resident sound technician. We are incredibly lucky to have him.

Following the service, I stopped for gas, then drove home to find a darkened house, as the Mrs. had retired for the night. I checked on the milk and cookies for Santa, and put a cup of decaf coffee I had brought for Susanne in the fridge.

In Geneva Hall we used a wonderful little pipe organ, and, accompanied by an oboe and violin, sang the entire mass from the evening before. It's called Mass of the Nativity by Richard Shephard and was performed on Christmas Morning at St. Thomas Church in New York in 2009 and 2010. Holy Communion was celebrated, and lots of carols were sung. The room was filled, and it was nice to be together in this smaller space.

After the service, I headed home for Christmas brunch and gift exchange. When I got there, the table was set beautifully with the old-fashioned turkey-patterned china Susanne had bought at Replacements last year, new placemats to match, antique pink glassware given to us by our late Aunt Dot, and silverware her sister Robin had recently given to Susanne. A very pretty sight.

Susanne was busy in the kitchen fixing ham and eggs, toast, and sweet potato pancakes. Peaches were served as an appetizer. Soon it appeared on the table and was mightily enjoyed. The volcano cheese bread was great with the "dippy eggs."

Even with sugar-free Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, the pancakes were delicious.


After clearing the table, we went into the living room and got comfortable for the fantastic gift-giving orgy that was to follow. We sat by the fire and listened to it crackling as the embers glowed. See the fabulous array of gifts surrounding the poinsettia in its Turkish olive bucket?

As we settled in, I surveyed the decorations that Susanne devised single-handedly this year. This little tree has lights and little strings of stars and mirrored circles sold at fair trade prices by their makers in third world countries.

These old mixing bowls become special with greens and sparkling lights.

We enjoyed the glow of a star-shaped candle floating with cranberries in a mixing bowl of water.

Okay, enough of this sentimental balderdash...on to the paper-ripping exchange of goodies! John got a wooden birdhouse, styled as a church, for the back porch or in the newly-planted garden.

Susanne got some Hershey's dark chocolate.

So I would be more surprised, I agreed to keep my eyes shut until this gift was totally unwrapped. It turns out to have been a "SodaStream" gizmo that turns ordinary water into carbonated water to which you can add various flavors to make your own soda pop! Susanne knows how much I like sparkling water. CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE.

Susanne got a new wireless mouse for her laptop. They are so cheap now, there is no sense in fooling around with the old one, which just gave up the ghost.

Now it was Susanne's turn to close her eyes as she unwrapped my gift. I asked her if she had any idea what it was (a hand-held blender), and she said no, but she knew what she hoped it wasn't -- a hand-held blender! CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE.

I also gave Susanne Chris Matthews' new book on John F. Kennedy, which she has been wanting to read. It's garnered very good reviews.

Susanne also bought me a whoopie pie "kit," and so did my sister, Rachel! You're all invited to the viewing after I have consumed them all.

In our next installment, we'll let you know what happened after the gift exchange! Yes, there is food. It was Christmas, after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


On the Friday before Christmas Eve, we were entertained royally by my sister and her husband at their home in Enola.

I enjoyed my first gin and tonic of 2011 and dates stuffed with goat cheese. Delicious! Who knew? I think Susanne may even have had a glass of champagne!

The meal featured Beef Wellington, pictured at right, served on Rachel's elegant Lenox Christmas china. How beautiful is that? Fit for a king. I wondered where the name came from and found the following information on the Internet:

"The origin of the name is unclear. There are theories that suggest that beef Wellington is named after Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington.

"Some theories go a step further and suggest this was due to his love of a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pâté cooked in pastry, but there is a noted lack of evidence supporting this.

"In addition to the dearth of evidence attaching this dish to the famous Duke, the earliest recorded recipe to bear this name appeared in a 1966 cookbook. Other accounts simply credit the name to a patriotic chef wanting to give an English name to a variation on the French filet de bœuf en croûte during the Napoleonic Wars. Still another theory is that the dish is not named after the Duke himself, but rather that the finished dish was thought to resemble one of the brown shiny military boots which were named after him."

Believe me, this dish bore no relation to a boot. It was a delicious piece of meat and a crisp pastry. It was so large, in fact, that I ate only half and enjoyed the rest the following day. Other dishes were a pineapple casserole from Jack's mother; baked corn from our mother; green beans; and small white potatoes. Rachel and Jack's friends Bob and Carol were there, too, and we not only enjoyed their company but a delicious salad of greens that Bob had made.

After dinner, we enjoyed dessert that I had made earlier in the day. It's a concoction I call Madame Albert's (Al-bairz) Cream Puff Pie, after our friend M.A., who introduced it to us. It has a puff pastry base, which I baked in our new all metal 12-inch skillet (from Ollie's, of course). The pastry is then spread with a mixture of cream cheese and vanilla pudding, then whipped topping. For the holiday, I added colorful cherry pie filling.  You can use fat-free and sugar-free pudding and whipped topping, skim milk, and low-fat cream cheese, so it is not as deadly as it looks!

After some sparkling conversation, we took our leave and headed home to bed so we could get up in the morning and go to our friend David's house for his annual Christmas/birthday brunch. We look forward to seeing old friends from our teaching days and meeting new friends of David's.

We started with a mimosa, then chowed down on all sorts of goodies. A stand-out for me this year was Lee S.'s noodle kugel, a wonderful dish of Jewish origin. Lee "forced" me to top it with cherry pie filling. Yum. There were so many great things to eat, we could have stayed all day and not tried everything.

David's a great host, and we enjoyed conversation with him and his best friend, Ernie.

Wishing David a happy birthday, we headed home, no doubt to enjoy a nap!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Lee waiting to add his part to 'Still Simple Gifts' at Bistro.
Today is the second day of Christmas, and it's been a pleasant holiday so far. The season pretty much started on Sunday, December 4, when Market Square Presbyterian Church held its annual Bistro, where exotic soups and breads were served at noon (and again at 5:00 pm.) to the accompaniment of Still Simple Gifts, a folk music group of talented musicians. My choir partner Lee plays a number of instruments with the group. You can hear him and the other players over the din of diners enjoying the meal. The group played two numbers while I recorded them. Excuse my poor video editing!

In Wednesday, December 7, the Historical Society of Dauphin County sponsored "Deck the Halls," a major fundraising event. And each year, a prominent person in our area is honored for contributions to the community. This year's honoree was Benjamin Olewine, III, whose family has lived in Harrisburg since the 18th century. The Olewines have given generously to educational and cultural organizations for much of that time.

I am on the board of directors at the society, and my job was to do the publicity for the event. It was well attended and offered hors d'œuvres and drinks, as well as the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion dressed to the nines for the holidays.

We call it "the premier holiday event in the region," and pretty much anyone who is anyone is there. Plenty of us nobodies there, too.

My brother-in-law Jack volunteered to play the historic Steinway piano, and he filled the house with holiday music as only he can. Jack can play any song he has ever heard. He turns them all into great-sounding arrangements and was much appreciated by the party-goers.

Jack at the Mansion's historic Steinway.

My sister Rachel was there, too, and Susanne, as well. Rachel met for the first time since high school the guy who took her to the junior prom! He was Benjamin Olewine, IV, son of this year's honoree. I can still recall young Ben in our house on Sixth Street, posing with Rachel against the door from the living room to the dining room, the traditional "portrait location" and the only time the door was ever closed.

Rachel volunteered to wrap nearly 200 small books of vintage Harrisburg photos as holiday gifts for those in attendance at "Deck the Halls," and everyone was exciting as they retrieved their gift on their way out the door. Thanks again, Rachel.
Rachel and Ben Olewine in the Mansion's library.
Here I am with fellow board member Alyce S.

Rachel and I pose in the Victorian parlor.
On December 11, the Alleluia Choir of our church sang an Advent song for the 11:00 a.m. service. I am the "congregational partner" of one of the boys in the choir and have been enjoying keeping in touch with him, encouraging him in his choir participation, and generally letting him know that we adults appreciate what the kids do. I gave him a harmonica for Christmas, since he seems to like learning how to play different instruments.

My feet had not yet recovered from "Deck the Halls" before it was "Second Sunday at the Mansion," also on December 11. I was able to get the Mansion included into the annual Harrisburg House Tour sponsored by the Historic Harrisburg Association, and we expected a small flow of visitors throughout the afternoon. What we got was 400 people, most of whom had never seen the house before, and we board members who were serving as docents stood for another three and a half hours pointing out the features of the mansion and its contents.
Kelley, right, a board member, speaks with guests.
On December 17, I went to the church to help with placing poinsettias in the worship space. David and Wil, two of the men present, handled the task of suspending a giant Moravian star over the pulpit. It's hung the rest of the year in a high-ceilinged room on the church's fourth level and has to be taken down, carried through a double doorway (after one of the doors is removed, of course), out into the street and around the corner to squeeze through the front entrance. Then the long march up the aisle and into place. The star makes a beautiful effect, especially when it's lights out on Christmas Eve.

Big, isn't it?
David lugs the star to the front of the church.

I was inspired to return home and put up our own Moravian star on the front porch. It was a little easier to handle than the one at the church. But I love the story of the star, its connection to the Moravian Church and to Old Salem, where we had just visited, and the fact that we bought it an the estate sale of one of Susanne's friends' mother, who was a delightful lady and always fun to visit in Bridgeville, Washington County.

Our star hangs on a tension rod on the front porch.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The Weathervane Shop.
Last night we picked up friends Bill and Debbie and drove down through Hershey, headed for Landis Valley Museum for its annual Bonfire Night. We stopped for a bite to eat in Hershey and then drove on 322 east to 501 south, through Lititz (one of our favorite towns) and on to Neffsville, where we turned off the highway and soon arrived in Landis Valley Museum's massive parking lot.

We had to circle the lot like a vulture, watching for people vacating a spot and claiming it before someone else did. Finally we pulled in, jumped out (well, sort of oozed out) and headed toward the Weathervane Shop, the museum shop selling all sorts of items related to farm and village life in the 19th century. It stands at the entrance to the open air museum itself.

The shop window.
For the first time since I was scolded at Wegman's a couple of years ago, I was told by a store employee, "We don't allow any pictures to be taken in the store," just as I was about to snap a picture of a display featuring some lighted Christmas trees. You'll never know how appealing it was! I don't know why they won't allow pictures inside. I did manage to take some of the front display windows, however and share them here.

Next we mosied onto the museum grounds, soon realizing that we were late for the bonfire itself. As we approached, it was being doused by local fire trucks, and the crowd was moving en masse toward the Yellow Barn. I thought they'd have kept the fire going during the entire event, but now we know better.

Food in the tavern.
We headed instead through a Civil War-era encampment, where was saw re-enactors gathered around a campfire in front of two wooden huts they had built for shelter. Emerging on the other side of this scene, we came to the village tavern, where museum interpreters were cooking and baking up a storm, proudly displaying foods and baked goods they had produced over an open fire.

In the Yellow Barn.
Next we saw a guide demonstrating spinning on an old instrument and saw other kids of weaving and textile production tools. As we left that building, we came across the Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir playing carols. We stopped to enjoy them for a few minutes, then joined a now shorter line in the Yellow Barn, where long tables of cookies and cider were set up. Many strings of lights decorated the rafters. Debbie and I enjoyed the hot cider, Susanne took a cold one, and Bill just ate the cookies, I think. Hundreds of them! Just kidding!

A tree in the Landis House.
It was in the Yellow Barn that I saw an old friend, Jim, who is now administrator at Landis Valley. We worked together when I was administrator at Cornwall Iron Furnace and he worked at Conrad Weiser Homestead. That was a lifetime ago. I also ran into Scott, from the PHMC's Bureau for Historic Preservation grants and markers program and had a nice chat with him.

After the cookies and cider, we drifted over to the Landis Brothers' house (they founded the museum) and saw two rooms there, one decorated for the season with a wreath and a decorated feather tree. We passed by the general store, the firehouse, and the tin shop on our way back to the car.

The best part was spending time with our friends, catching up on all the news, and having a few laughs.

Looking past the campfire to the tavern.
 A food display. Notice the upside down Christmas
tree. We have seen those in a previous post!

An interpeter tells visitors about the tree. 
Unfortunately, I was not able to hear him.
Here's a photo of a tree from
the museum's collection. Wild, no?

The Yellow Barn is on the left; the tavern at right.

Luminaries lighted the steps of the shop.

Here's the second of two front shop windows.