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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Tis the Season to Support Community Social Service Agencies

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

by Nancy Werking Poling

Habitat For Humanity volunteers constructing a...

Image via Wikipedia

author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman

and Out of the Pumpkin Shell

I think it was the Grinch who lately complained about the requests for contributions that social services agencies send through the mail this time of year. Why, here we are still recovering from the pressure of really important problems: what tech gadget to buy Cousin Robert, the newest toy fads to put under the tree for Justin and Hannah, and what to give the grandmother whose needs are few. Then in the mail come these pesky reminders of our community’s needs.

Without such mailings my husband and I might forget to put a check in an envelope so the MANNA Food Bank can feed our hungry neighbors, Helpmate can provide a safe place for battered women and children, and Habitat for Humanity can build homes for families. Ours are modest contributions, but such donations add up.

We’re still in the season of good will—not that good will should be limited to the weeks around Christmas. Especially during these difficult economic times, I encourage readers, even if you’ve thrown the envelopes away, to make a donation to one or more of the many worthwhile agencies making a difference in your community.

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Stranded in New York City

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

by Jian Ping

Christmas Lights in NYC

I went to New York City (NYC) over the Christmas weekend with my husband Francis and daughter Lisa. I lived in NYC for five years in the late 80s and early ‘90s and have always cherished a special feeling for the Big Apple. Ever since I moved to Chicago in 1994, I have visited NYC two or three times a year.  

This time, we made our plans for a short excursion to NYC in early December, flying over on Friday, Christmas Eve, and returning on Sunday, right after Christmas. As time drew close, we heard the forecast of a snowstorm, but took off as scheduled nevertheless.

Snow Started to Fall on Broadway

Manhattan always generates a kind of unique buzz and vibration, one that always make me feel excited the moment I enter the city. The pace of people moving in streams, the noise of speeding cars, and the voices of different languages heard on the streets—nowhere else is as dynamic as NYC. For me, I also loved the sweet smell of roasted peanuts, chestnuts and almonds, permeating the air from street vendors’ wheeled carts.  

We set out to walk along Broadway right after checking into our hotel in midtown. The sky was blue and the sun casted a nice golden glow on the buildings. The Broadway theatres all went dark on Christmas Eve, so we had a casual meal at “Korea Town” on 33rd St, followed by a couple of rounds of bowling games at a midtown bowling alley, and finished the day by watching How Do You Know, a newly released film at the AMC Theater on 42nd St. The following day, the sun disappeared, but the day was pleasant. I jogged along Fifth Avenue early in the morning and checked out Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and ice skating ring and made a small loop in Central Park. We watched Brief Encounter, a Broadway play, in the afternoon and had a wonderful dinner at a French Bistro on

Korean BBQ

Spring St. in the evening. On Sunday morning, the clouds were low when I went out jogging. By the time we walked out of our hotel shortly after 10 am, flurries of snow began to dance in mid air, seemingly non threatening. With each passing hour, however, the snowfall intensified and the wind picked up speed. We enjoyed a wonderful Broadway Musical: Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, behind closed doors. At the time, I didn’t anticipate I would soon reach that point of near breakdown, albeit for totally different reasons. Several inches of snow covered the ground when we came out of the theatre. Before we finished our dinner that evening, we received United Airlines first notice of our flight cancellation. Lisa called United and after 40 minutes, rebooked our flight on Monday morning, which, before the end of the day, was cancelled again. Back at our hotel room, Lisa used two cell phones to call United, trying hard to reach a representative. 30 minutes later, she managed to book us on a 3 P.M. flight, also on Monday. The city was buried in snow the next morning when I went to an off-site gym to work out. Since moving around the city was difficult, we went to watch another movie, King’s Speech, during the day. However, soon after the movie started, I checked my vibrating BlackBerry. Sure enough, just as I feared, another notice came from United for our flight cancellation. When I finally got hold of a United representative over the phone two hours later, I was told we couldn’t get booked on any confirmed flight until Thursday, December 30th! No begging or plea or breakdown would get us anywhere. Since I had meetings lined up both for Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago, we decided to take an Amtrak train to Washington D.C. and fly back to Chicago from there. Lisa decided to work out of her company’s New York office and stay with her friend until Thursday, so we took her and her friend Yeye to dinner at an Italian Restaurant before heading to the Penn Station.

Buried in Snow

Postings of delayed trains covered the board and the crowd in the train station made me feel as if I were in China. Our 8:05 P.M. train to Washington D.C. arrived after 10:30 P.M. and on our way to Washington D. C., it continued to get further delayed. By the time we arrived at the Capital, it was 3 o’clock in the morning. The line for taxi appeared to be half a mile long and there were not enough taxi available at the wee hour. I watched in disbelief as cab drivers picked customers, leaving behind those who were not going longer distance. We had to team up with two other passengers—also travelers stranded in NYC, and like us, took the detour to go to Chicago—to convince a driver to take us to the Reagan Airport. Eventually, after on the road for nearly 10 hours, we boarded the first flight to Chicago at 6 A.M.

Crowds at Penn Station

What was most unbelievable for the trip was not only the intensity of the blizzard, but also the inefficiency of the city government in dealing with it. 48 hours after the storm hit, I didn’t see a single snow removing vehicle on the streets in Manhattan. I’m not talking about side streets, but major avenues and squares such as Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Times Square! Everywhere I turned to, I saw cars spin or stuck on ice and snow, and pedestrians transverse over slush of icy water and compacted snow. Despite the warning, the city didn’t seem to have made any preparation. Two days after the storm, flights out of the three nearby airports continued to be cancelled. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he took responsibility of the city’s slow response and committed to remove snow from every street by Thursday. What was he doing earlier? I wondered.  

The experience made me appreciate the efficiency of snow removal in Chicago so much more!

by Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. visit,

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Christmas and the Death of Beauty

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
Toys-R-Us store at United Square shopping mall...
Image via Wikipedia

by Nancy Werking Poling

author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell

I’m not an expert on beauty. When it comes to aesthetics, I have no definitions to contribute, no profound knowledge of the arts. But I recognize beauty when I see it. Right now I see it out my study window: leafless trees against a brilliant blue sky; snow clinging to the drooping leaves of rhododendron; tall pine trees across the street swaying in the wind.

Perhaps because I’m old, out of sync with contemporary practices, I find Christmastime depressing. Toy stores are full of cheap plastic things intended for racing or building or pretending, none of them beautiful. It has become a season of artificiality, from trees to clichéd carols in the malls to commercially baked cookies and candies.

Few manufactured items can compare with what nature offers. The view of a lake from the top of a mountain trail, flowering bulbs in early spring. The silence of snow falling, the song of a bird, the gurgle of a stream, the roar of a waterfall. The taste of fresh strawberries or corn on the cob that’s just been picked.

There’s beauty too in the ornament a child made for the tree, a musical composition, a poem, a coffee table created by a craftsman, a hand-made quilt, cookies fresh from the oven.

A new generation with its Toys-R-Us wish lists, its i-pads and game apps, who spends time looking at screens (even when travelling scenic routes)—what will their idea of beauty be? If they are not exposed to it, if they are programmed to prefer the artificial over the genuine, what is to become of beauty? Who will make sure the forests are preserved, waters kept clean, mountain tops kept intact? Who will protect pandas and tigers and other species?

Beauty is in danger. If our children grow up in a mall world, isolated from the natural beauty beyond the acres-wide parking lot, who will love the planet enough to protect it?

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A Visit to Spain–Madrid (2)

Friday, December 17th, 2010

By Jian Ping

My life saving clam entree for dinner!

I was warned that Spaniards ate late and no restaurants would open for dinner until after 9 P.M. I didn’t take it seriously until I was starving at 7 P.M. and couldn’t find any restaurant that would serve dinner. We searched up and down the streets and eventually settled with some simple tapas and pastry. The following day, despite a late lunch, I still couldn’t wait until 9 P.M. for dinner and ended up having a light meal of lentil soup and clams, consumed with a freshly baked roll of bread!

Metropolis Building at Night

I was amazed, however, to see Gran Via came alive at night, after 9 o’clock. Streams of people at all ages dressed smartly and strode the streets—it was so crowded that I sometimes had to say “Excuse me” to pass by. People appeared patient and good natured and all the shops were open. There was a Starbucks and a MacDonald by our hotel and each night before going to bed, I took my NetBook to one of these places—I was too cheap to pay the hefty fee charged at the hotel for Internet access. I used the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks or MacDonald to get online and check my emails. Both places were packed with so many people at night that each time we stopped by, I had to look for an empty table like a hawk while Francis stood in line to buy pastry and drinks. There was no sign of Spain going through financial crisis in these places or the crowded shops along Gran Via.   

A constant long line of people purchasing lucky Christmas lotto tickets!

Another surprising scene that drew my attention every day was the long line of people purchasing lottery ticket. A small store front near our hotel sold a special “good luck” Christmas lottery and every morning, before the store was open, a line would form. During the day, when we came back to the hotel to take a break, I saw the line extended more than half a block to a side street, and in the evening, before the store was closed, the constant line didn’t get any shorter. It was fascinating to see people, young and old, patiently waiting in the cold! Was it a manifestation of optimism or desperation? I wondered.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit,

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary by award winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Where are Christmas cookie recipes for the culinary inept?

Monday, December 13th, 2010
christmas cookies
Image by TidyMom {busy & WAY behind} via Flickr

by Nancy Werking Poling


Ah, now I remember why I don’t cook. Or bake. The cold, snowy conditions yesterday inspired me, for the first time in years, to bake holiday cookies. I wasn’t alone. Though few cars were on the road, six of us meandered up and down Bi-Lo’s baking aisle. I left with almonds, almond extract ($5.99!), and coconut.

Seems like every time I cook, I discover I’m missing an ingredient. I either decide to leave it out altogether or find a substitute. A recipe calls for cream; I substitute skim milk. It calls for butter, I use olive oil. (Before you culinary types gag, I’ll admit to a little exaggeration there.) Yesterday I wrongly assumed I had baking soda on hand. Not to be deterred, I took out the box I’d been using as a deodorizer in the refrigerator—probably for six months or so.

I also have a penchant for taking shortcuts. I didn’t do that yesterday; I just plain forgot to review the recipe. Early in the procedure, the baker was to put in a third of the sugar. Which I did. My negligence in later checking again resulted in my forgetting the remaining two-thirds. When I went to clean up, there was all that sugar in the measuring cup. Needless to say, the lemon cookies are on the sour side.

Is there any wonder why fifteen years into our marriage my husband took over the kitchen?

By the way, the coconut macaroons are delicious. A little on the dark side, but delicious.

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Monday, November 30th, 2009

By Nancy Werking Poling

I’ve been searching for it. Looked at those who profess the loudest to have it. No sign of it there. Governors, senators who use its lingo to get votes—no, they don’t have it either.

But there it was today, tucked in the Christmas advertisement pages of the Chicago Tribune: True Religion. I never would have guessed: it’s a fragrance. And it must be the real thing. A 3.4 fluid ounce bottle costs seventy-nine dollars.

At first I thought the CD-shaped glossy paper had to be somebody’s idea of a joke, but then I opened the glued flap. A strong sweet odor immediately attacked my olfactory system.

To make sure everyone knows you’ve found True Religion, the ad says, you can carry around a brown denim duffle bag with a horseshoe pocket and a True Religion label. The bag comes with every purchase of $79.99 or more. I assume the horseshoe is there in case True Religion doesn’t get you quite everything you want.

I got to imagining the ad team that came up with this idea.

Bob: Did you see the news last night? Rally at Blessed Redeemer Tabernacle. Three thousand people. Sure wish we could tap into that market.

Roy: Yeah, and those folks have got the dough. Who do you think forked over for that humongous building? You seen the gym?

Clarisse: You may have something there. We feature sexy women in ads because we know men are more likely to buy perfume. They think they’ll get what the guy in the ad’s getting. We know too that there’s the guilty conscience factor. And what men are the most likely to have a guilty conscience?

Bob and Roy together: Christian men.

Bob: I see where you’re going Clarisse. A super religious guy—he’s got fantasies just like the rest of us, but he can’t admit it. You add a good dose of guilt to that and…”

Clarisse: You give it a religious look, some name that sounds holy, and I’ll bet my bra he’ll buy it for his wife.

However, not being Believers themselves, no one in the marketing department had any vocabulary to accompany their idea. The only name they could think of for the new fragrance was True Religion.

Since then, Helen, who attended Catholic schools as a kid, has joined the team. Ideas are already racing through her head. Next season’s perfume will be Scent of the Savior.

So long, My Sin