After a successful and enjoyable cross country drive in mid-December, I was back in Massachusetts and I awoke on the morning of the 24th to find a thin coating of snow covering everything outside. As I was taking in the scene from the window of my little rented cabin in the woods, I got a text message from my friend Joanne saying, “You did it again! Where did this damned snow come from?”
I have a history of having my wish for some snow at Christmastime come true, much to the chagrin of my friends who must contend with the stuff all winter. I ran outside to get pictures of snow on the holly bushes near the cottage, and then baked scones for Joanne and her mom, Norma, lifelong family friends of mine, who came over for a late breakfast. They loved the scones, but to me there was something odd about them and they were most definitely not the right consistency. Oh well, as long as they enjoyed them, I was happy. Once they left, I went out and did a bit of Christmas shopping and then returned to the cottage to bake some pumpkin breads. It was then that I discovered what had happened to the scones: the measuring spoons at the cottage were rather confusing and I had used the TABLESPOON instead of the TEASPOON for both the baking powder and cream of tartar. I almost screwed up the pumpkin breads too, but thankfully caught the mistake in time to save them!
Meanwhile I watched corny, but still heartwarming Hallmark Channel and Lifetime Channel Christmas movies. If you have never watched a few of them during the holiday season, you are truly missing out, as they are so ridiculously predictable, with cookie-cutter plots. A young woman who is caught up in big city life and a fast paced career and/or who is dealing with a break-up goes back to her hometown for Christmas, often inheriting a home or a family farm in a rural area. There she comes upon a cranky or eccentric, but absolutely hunky caretaker/neighbor/old flame and after spending an hour of the movie fighting with this guy, falls head over heels in love with him and finds the true meaning of Christmas! And still, despite my attempts not to, I still feel pangs of sentimentality by the end of the movie! The one that really entertained me this year was Lifetime’s A Very Nutty Christmas, in which a woman who owns a bakery buys a magical toy soldier from the NutCracker at an antique shop and places it under her tree. In the morning she finds a 6 foot tall, handsome soldier wearing the exact same uniform as the toy soldier sleeping under her tree and it seems to take her 1 hour and 45 minutes to realize that he is the Nutcracker Soldier come to life. (One big clue: he goes to her bakery and cracks about 5,000 walnuts barehanded so to help save the day so she can make her famous walnut flour!) I was rolling on the floor with laughter! Alas, (spoiler alert) her solider vanishes at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, and she is heartbroken, until Christmas dinner when a friend brings along an unexpected guest to the Christmas dinner, and – wait for it – he just happens to be a handsome, uniformed soldier back from duty and obviously is instantly attracted to our heroine. Who would have ever seen THAT coming?
When I could pull myself away from the Hallmark Channel, I looked outside to watch as snow flurries swirled outside and although the snow didn’t accumulate, it provided the perfect atmosphere for doing my Christmas baking. That evening, my friends Joyce and Michael hosted a Christmas Eve dinner for their family and we had French meat pie – a local French-Canadian specialty popular at this time of year – along with all the fixings of a typical turkey dinner. Joyce’s home is so warm and cozy and her tree was simply stunning. It was just a peaceful, quiet way to usher in Christmas.
On Christmas I made a pear pie and went to Joanne and Norma’s for 1:00 PM. Along with a few of their family members, we had a full turkey dinner and everything was great, though my pear pie had not baked quite long enough to make the interior bubble and set, so we had some only semi-baked pears with a lovely top crust. Sigh. My chef skills seem to be challenged this year; It is hard baking in a strange kitchen and unfamiliar oven and I didn’t have a hunky nutcracker soldier to help me out…
I then went over to Joyce’s mother-in-law’s for dessert and coffee and after visiting with them for a while, returned to spend a couple more hours with Norma. My friends Maggi and Carol Lynn were both very sick over the holidays, and while I missed seeing them on Christmas, I have to say it was one of the quietest and most peaceful Christmas Eve’s and Christmases in recent memory.
The day after Christmas I had planned to just have a quiet day and maybe go for a hike, but Joyce called and wanted to meet for lunch, so we tried a new place in Tiverton, RI, a down-homey place called Four Corner’s Grille, and we shared an amazing order of fish and chips, and a gourmet tuna melt made with Vermont cheddar, black olives, and guacamole. What a great find! For dinner I met Joyce’s daughter Katherine for Italian food. Returning to my peaceful refuge in the woods, my viewing of another Hallmark Christmas movie – something about a young woman who had to return to her hometown to take over a family business, which was being managed by, you guessed it, a handsome but difficult old flame of hers – was rudely interrupted with text messages from my credit card company. Someone attempted to get a cash advance of $1000 with my card number, and when that was declined, they tried five more withdrawals of $200 each, which were thankfully, also declined. So they closed the card and planned to issue a new one and send it via overnight mail to Joanne’s address. Crisis averted.. until the next morning when I got a text from the credit card company texted to say that my card would arrive later that day to an incorrect address that was NOT Joanne’s. Oh my gravy! Back on the phone to sort that out, and they promptly canceled the NEW card and reissued a third one that they promised would be sent to the correct address.
On Thursday Joyce and I headed to New Hampshire for an overnight trip, where we found lots of snow on the ground and got a little snow the following morning. We had a great dinner at Fogarty’s across the border in Berwick, Maine: I had fried clams and a butternut squash and cranberry bisque, followed by the most wonderful slice of chocolate cream pie I have ever had! Tripadvisor reviews actually included statements from people saying they go to Fogarty’s JUST for the pie, and the waitress assured us that when people do so and they run out of the chocolate cream pie – or their summer special, strawberry cream pie, “people get really mad!” I say, who could blame them?
Friday we had a leisurely drive through mostly snowy conditions all the way across the White Mountains. We always enjoy our days away like this, stopping at local restaurants and colorful general stores, driving and talking. At the end of the day I took her back to southeastern Massachusetts, and then drove another hour north back to Boston where I spent the night at a hotel. On Saturday I visited a highly rated gourmet donut shop, Union Donuts of Somerville where I had a dark Belgian chocolate and a Pomegranate frosted, and they were both amazing. I then met my friend Carol and saw the new Steve Carell film, Welcome to Marwen, a very off-beat film, heavy on special effects animation, based on a real life story of a man who was severely beaten in a hate crime and psychologically withdraws into an imaginary town in Belgium during World War II – an unlikely place to seek safety! I really liked the film and Carell’s performance was very moving, as usual. He is such a versatile actor… from the obnoxious Michael Scott in The Office to a wounded man with deep psychological scars. Carol and I then headed to Brown Sugar for some top notch Thai food and then I drove her home before heading over to Providence, Rhode Island to check in at my AirBnB apartment there. Even after driving 3,500 miles to get here, I continue to rack up the miles zig-zagging across New England! The apartment had Netflix and in keeping with the Steve Carell theme, I binge watched a couple season’s worth of episodes of The Office over the next 3 nights!
Sunday I spent a quiet day hanging out at the Marisol, a favorite café in Dartmouth and then went for a long hike at Gooseberry Neck, an island connected to the coast by a causeway located near Horseneck Beach in Westport which is a frequent haunt when I am home. I was delighted to spot a beautiful seal frolicking on the rocks just offshore, the first time I can recall seeing one in this area. Then I got myself a pizza at Riccardi’s, a local favorite that I have been going to since 1976 when I was in college! It was another really restful day; I have found that perhaps because I am not getting any younger, I am really craving more down time, and I guess after all the driving I do, it’s only natural I would need some rest.
On the 31st I finally got to see my old friend Maggi; we met in college in 1976 when she was 44 and I was 18 and she has been one of my dearest friends ever since. She was still weak and had an ugly cough after her bout with the flu over Christmas, but I could tell it did her a world of good just to get out of the and get some fresh air. I took her to Four Corner’s Grille and we had great fish and chips and shared a sticky toffee pudding, which given that she is from Northern Ireland originally, gave her “a wee taste of home.” For dinner I met Joanne and Norma at Gregg’s in East Providence and we shared our last meal of 2018. I toyed with the idea of attending Providence’s “First Night” celebration, despite my loathing of drunken crowds, but it began to pour rain at about 8:30 and it continued, along with gusty winds, all night long. I stayed home and watched The Office and suddenly looked at the clock and it was already 12:22 AM, so I’d missed the start of the new year.
On New Year’s Day, my friend Carol Lynn was finally well enough to see me. She used to be married to a troubled cousin of mine, and though I really am not in touch with him anymore, I consider her to be family. I went over bringing pizzas from Riccardi’s and spent the afternoon with her, two of her sons and her sister Brenda. I learned that my wayward cousin has now lost his auto body shop and wonder what is going to become of him if he can’t get his life together. It’s a sad situation, and I am glad Carol Lynn has extricated herself from it all.
On the 2nd, Maggi wanted to take me out for a New Year’s breakfast at our favorite place, Margaret’s in Fairhaven. We had the Norwegian pancakes with lingonberries and I then worked off the carbs with a nice hike through the salt marshes of a nearby nature preserve in Dartmouth. I spent the late afternoon sipping an eggnog latte at the Marisol Café and grudgingly started to do a little work for next semester’s classes. For dinner, I picked Carol up from work and took brought her to the Four Corner’s Grille in Tiverton, where all the waitresses now know me since this was my third visit in one week! We shared a scallop platter and a lobster roll, and good Lord, it was delicious! It was the kind of day you wish you could just bottle and relive again.
My last full day in Massachusetts was January 4, the twelfth day of Christmas if you start counting on the 24th. I met Joanne and Norma for a terrific lunch of scallops and fried clams at a local seafood place, and then met Joyce and Michael for dinner at Riccardi’s. I stayed my last couple of nights at one of the few remaining Howard Johnson’s hotels in the USA, located in Middletown, Rhode Island. They have a wonderful heated indoor pool and jacuzzi, which I happily had all to myself on my final night’s stay. As I floated in the pool, I tried not to let the sadness that I always feel when it’s time to leave New England take over. Instead I focused on what a lucky man I am to have been able to spend such a beautiful holiday and share such wonderful times with dear, dear friends. If only my stay had ended with me deciding to abandon my life in San Francisco, move back to New England to renovate an old farm and find the love of my life, it would have made a great a Hallmark or Lifetime movie. Maybe next year…