Saturday, December 27, 2008


Everybody likes to hear about a Christmas miracle, especially in these not-so-merry times, so I’m going to share three that happened locally, close to our hometown of Grafton, MA.

First miracle
: On the day before Christmas, a former firefighter named Lee E. Chauvette of Athol went to Town Hall to pay the food permit for his restaurant. But he discovered that he had left the check at home, so he went back to get it When he pulled into his driveway on the edge of a lake, he noticed a woman and her two young children on the ice. When he pulled out of his driveway a moment later and looked toward the lake, he saw the mother and children fall through the ice. He called the fire department and tried to get onto the ice but it was too weak, so he shouted encouragement until the firefighters and their ice rescue sled came and saved them. They were treated for exposure and released.

Mr. Chauvette told the local newspaper, the Telegram and Gazette, that it was just lucky he had to return home when he did to get the forgotten check. Luck or a Christmas miracle?

Second Miracle:
Andrea Clancy of Holden was having a terrible year –her two-year-old Seamus had been constantly ill, the family lost their power in our famous Ice Storm, all their food rotted in the refrigerator, and Andrea had done no Christmas shopping by Friday Dec. 19 when her little boy got an earache and she had to take him to the hospital. She stopped at an ATM to take out $40 so that she could pay the valet at U Mass Memorial Medical Center. As she carried her crying toddler into the elevator she realized her wallet was gone with her credit cards, her gift card for toys and a memory stick with all her family photos.

Later that day the police called to say that someone had turned in her wallet. When she picked it up, everything was still in it, including the $40 plus two HUNDRED-DOLLAR BILLS.

Mrs. Clancy (as interviewed by reporter Dianne Williamson) learned from the police the name of the man who had turned in her wallet. She called him to thank him. He wished her a Merry Christmas and, when he heard about the extra $200, he insisted he didn’t put it in the wallet. He said the same thing to the reporter: “I was just trying to be nice by returning it, but I sure didn’t put any money in there.” He also asked that the paper not reveal his name. The reporter concluded it must have been Santa Claus who added the extra money.

Third miracle
–Daughter Eleni, who discovered a week ago Friday that she had lost her passport with her Indian visa in it, (as reported in my last entry) has finally managed to replace the passport by going into Boston last Monday. Then on Tuesday and Weds. She visited the Indian consulate in New York and, although it looked problematical at first, she managed to get a new visa and make it home to Grafton to put the angel on the tree and go to church with us on Christmas Eve. There was joy throughout the Gage house.

Today (Dec. 27) Eleni and I are scheduled to fly from Logan to JFK and then from New York to Mumbai to begin the odyssey to India which Eleni has been preparing for so many months. Her sister Marina has already landed in Paris and will be joining us in India on New Year’s Eve as the three-day wedding festivities of Neela and Dave begin. And after today, I hope, even though I’m a novice at this blogging, to share our adventures with you via “Arollingcrone”.

Holiday greetings and here’s to the adventures (and miracles) that 2009 will bring!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It’s the day before Christmas and all through the house the bustle of wrapping gifts has been replaced by the drama of our holiday trip to India – it’s been in the planning stages for a year, but lately has suffered a series of setbacks.

First there was the terrorist attack on Mumbai which led to a State Department warning that U.S. Citizens should not travel to India right about now. (It’s in effect until Dec. 30.) Saturday, Dec. 27 is when daughter Eleni and I are supposed to fly to Mumbai and then to fly the next day to Jodhpur where Eleni’s former roommate Neela Pania, is getting married in a three-day series of parties and ceremonies beginning on New Year’s Eve. Eleni has worked hard all year to plan for us the world’s greatest trip around India, including a camel safari into the desert, visits to the Taj Mahal and a boat trip on the Ganges.

Although most everyone we knew advised us we should NOT go to India just now, we stubbornly stuck to our itinerary. Marina, Eleni’s younger sister, even expanded it into her own trip around the world -- leaving Boston the day after Christmas to stay with friends in Paris, then joining us in India for the wedding, then on to more friends in Sydney, Hawaii and back home to Los Angeles.

Next glitch – Eleni lost her passport with the Indian visa in it. She came home on Friday (during the massive snow storm) after three days spent in NYC on jury duty — days of living out of a suitcase and staying with friends because boarders had moved into her apartment for the month she'll be away. Then, when she got home to Grafton, she discovered that the passport had disappeared during her wandering about New York.

So on Monday Dec. 22 she spent all day at the emergency passport line in Boston and then Tuesday Dec. 23, she traveled with her new passport back to New York City in hopes of getting another visa from the India travel visa folks. She couldn’t get an appointment because they’re all jammed up now, but she stood in the walk-in (no appointment) line. She burst into tears when told she’d have to come back on Christmas Eve, then someone took pity on her and said that if she went to the Indian consulate around noon on Weds. Dec. 24, she could probably get her visa then, which meant, with luck, that she might get back to Grafton in time for joining the rest of the family at a Christmas Eve party followed by the traditional church service (with the children acting out the nativity scene). After church we'll put the angel on the tree and each open one gift and then it’s really Christmas. Let’s hope she makes it back from Manhattan in time.

Eleni has been to India several times with Neela and I was so amazed at the photographs she took that I’ve painted watercolors based on them. The two photos above show the same woman who sells plastic bangle bracelets in the Clock Tower market in Jodhpur (where the wedding will be held.) The first one was taken by Eleni in January 2006, when the woman had her infant son in her lap.

A year later, the little boy was a toddler when Eleni came back to the same spot and handed the woman her photograph. It caused a sensation in the marketplace. The lady had never owned a photograph of herself and was delighted. All her friends wanted their photos taken too.

I’m in such a fever of anticipation to see India that right now I’m afraid to even start packing my bags until Eleni returns with visa in hand. So Christmas Day will be a frenzy of preparation, packing saris we’ve borrowed along with western clothes. God willing we’ll all find ourselves in Jodhpur on New Year’s Eve. And I hope to photograph and write about what happens throughout our Indian adventure.... unless there’s another storm or electrical outage and we never get out of Logan airport.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I’ve mentioned before that I’m hoping to write a book called “Acing the Holidays” about sneaky shortcuts and ways to cut the time and stress devoted to this season. But when it comes to decorating a Christmas tree, I become irrational and I just…can’t…stop. (If there were a Greek name for this personality disorder I realized, it would be elatophilia)

Yesterday my husband walked into the kitchen and shouted “How many trees are we going to have?” The answer is five – each one with a different theme. And this year I’m trying to keep it down because I’m leaving for India two days after Christmas.

The first and most important Christmas tree is the one in the living room that we generally buy and wrestle into the house around Dec. 6, Saint Nicholas' Day. This year the tree came with a very PC tag that said “Balsam Fir --Thank you for choosing a real tree – a natural, renewable and recyclable resource! For every tree sold, 3 seedlings are planted in its place.”

When our kids were small, we used only unbreakable ornaments, and even tied a string to a nail in the wall to keep the tree upright in case of attack. But the kids grew up and went away and I acquired a whole variety of ornaments over time, so every year I do a different color scheme. Red and gold. Or all white. Or red and white. Or pink and burgundy.

This year I noticed in stores and catalogs that the trendy color scheme is chartreuse and red, but I decided to use some mirrored (like disco balls) ornaments and reflective chains and do the tree all in silver and mirrors with maybe some red ornaments. Then I found at the dollar store some VERY cheap clear plastic ornaments that looked glass. At TJ Maxx, I also found at a discount price three dozen clip-on white butterflies with silver glitter on their wings (which are made of white feathers.)

It always takes me about two evenings to get all the clear mini lights on the tree – about a thousand lights in all. Then I started putting on chains and the butterflies and a couple of ornaments. I know I’m supposed to leave some decorating for when the kids get home right before Christmas, but I got a little carried away.

I was so happy with the monochromatic, sparkling, disco-ball tree that I decided not to put anything red on, except for a single red butterfly that I found at the dollar store. You can see the tree above. (If you click on the photo it will be larger.) It looks like the tree of the Snow Queen, I think. Or like the poor ice-encrusted trees in our yard that have been falling down or losing branches ever since the ice storm last Friday.

This tree is definitely not done – not until we have the ceremony of putting the angel on top on Christmas Eve after church (and then we each get to open one package.)

The tree that I always put up next is the Shoe Tree in my office. It’s a table-top artificial tree and everything on it or around it is about SHOES.

This started back when the Metropolitan Museum decided to sell ornaments based on the shoes in their collections. It was a very profitable idea and soon everyone was selling shoe ornaments. And people started giving me actual shoes – I have antique high-button baby shoes and fabulous Adidas sneakers meant for a baby and some real leather and fur antique baby Indian moccasins. My favorite is a pair of Chinese baby slippers that look like cats.

Now I’ve told you about two of my five trees. Next time I’ll tell you about the wire tree with antique ornaments, the little Mexican tree with five Nativity scenes, and the Kitchen tree that is decorated mainly with edible decorations.

My name is Joan and I'm a Christmas tree addict.....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Last May, when daughter Eleni and I went on our annual culinary tour with Susana Trilling in Mexico,(she’s at, Susana took us to Chiapas and Tabasco to see how chocolate is grown, processed and also celebrated (in the Fiesta of San Isidro). She asked us beforehand to bring some clothing and toys for the children of the Cacao Cooperative we would see, deep in the jungle over unpaved roads in one of the poorest areas of Mexico.

I had packed some bright inflatable beach balls that cost a dollar each, as well as some Matchbox cars, Nerf balls , baby clothes and other toys. When our van approached the village, I saw some children playing catch with an old sandal. I realized then that they really were poor, compared to even the poorest U.S. children, who could usually find a ball to play catch.

That afternoon, the Mayor of the small cacao cooperative welcomed us, the families showed us the small plots on which each grew a few cacao trees and they served us a meal in the central building. And we learned that their children were not poor in family and love. Their smiles were like sunshine, and when we started unpacking and blowing up and distributing the beach balls, they were thrilled. There seemed to be enough matchbook cars and Nerf balls and small toys to give everyone something. They waited shyly without pushing or grabbing.

I had packed one Barbie Doll, boxed in her plastic cocoon, as well as a gown for her, and I gave that to the oldest of the girls, in a black tee-shirt with a red heart. She immediately ran to show it to her mother. As the mayor made a speech, describing the little cooperative that had created solar-powered machinery to refine the cacao, the mothers sitting in the back, some of them breast-feeding babies, passed along the Barbie from one woman to another, looking at it in awe and stroking the package almost reverently.

Finally we got one of our group to explain to the girl with the heart that she should take the doll out of the package to play with it. But by the time we left, with all the children waving after our van, Barbie was still unwrapped inside her plastic bubble, an object of admiration for the whole village.

Passing out those toys last May was the high point of our culinary tour, we all agreed. As soon as I got home, I started collecting the cheapest toys I could find: boxes of crayons, Spider Man notebooks, matchbook cars, new baby clothes and dresses bought at a yard sale, counting games, plastic dinosaurs, stickers Rubic’s cubes, colorful socks. When I packed up the large cardboard box, on top I put three more Barbie dolls of various themes and skin tones..

Laura Saldivar, the lovely young woman who had served as our guide and translator at the Cacao Cooperative, agreed to distribute the toys if I would send them to her address in San Cristobal. She has e-mailed me that the box has arrived at her post office and that she’ll soon be taking it to the children of the Cacao Cooperative Voces de Jatate.

This year, as every year, I also bought, packed and delivered toys and clothing for a family in Worcester; a mother and three children who are clients of Pernet Family Services. For the Worcester children I bought much more expensive and elaborate toys and clothing, because I want their Christmas loot to compare with their friends’ gifts. Each boy, for example, is getting a large Hot Wheels fantasy set as well as extra cars and a stunt car as well as a three-piece set of pants, shirt and sweater.

But somehow, although I love shopping for the local underprivileged children — and there are far too many who will find little Christmas joy in this year of economic woes -- I’m having more fun imagining the opening of the box of dollar toys in Chiapas, and especially the reaction to the three new Barbie dolls.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


For those who have kindly asked: I did make it to 50,000 words before the end of the November Challenge of NaNoWriMore (National Novel Writing Month.)

It was exciting to submit my manuscript to the web site’s counting robot and learn that I was a “WINNER”! and had even more words than I thought – the final count was 50,487.

That immediately qualified me for a lot of virtual gratification and even a certificate that I could print out and fill in with such fulsome praise as this:

“Through storm and sun, you traversed the noveling seas. Pitted against a merciless deadline and battling hordes of distractions, you persevered. Your dedication to the high-velocity literary arts is remarkable. Your victory shall be recorded for all time in the annals of the Office of Letters and Light, where it will serve as a beacon to writers hoping to someday follow your triumphant path. You did it, novelist. We couldn’t be prouder.”

That’s the kind of encouragement and undeserved praise that I love.

Then last night our final NaNoWriMo class gathered at the Worcester Art Museum where our teacher Laurel King, distributed champagne toasts, cookies and a button for each of us that says “Novelist”. And she gave us our inner editors back (which we had turned over to her at the beginning) so that we could start revising, which will take a year at least. And we each read a very small section of our masterpiece, to be greeted with applause from the entire class.

However, I will not be wearing my “Novelist” button any time soon, because I realize I haven’t written a novel. I haven’t even written a messy, sloppy first draft of a novel. Many of my classmates have finished their story. (In fact, of Laurel’s 23 students in two classes, 19 of them finished the 50,000 words and became “Winners”.)

But at 50,487 words, my book is nowhere near finished. In fact, I’ve just reached the climax and have to do the dénouement (as they used to say in English class) and tie up all the strings and figure out the ending. And then I’ll be able to start revising.

But I’m not going back to writing until January because there’s all that good Christmas stuff to do now, like Christmas cards and decorating the tree and making cookies….

I hope I won’t be totally out of steam when I next look at my novel draft. All in all NaNoWriMo has been a fun game and it really did teach me lots of things, including that, if you’re racing against a deadline, your characters can take over and do things that leave you amazed and surprised (at what awful dilemmas they can get themselves into.)

One more Christmas thing I’m looking forward to – on Sunday, Dec. 7,from noon to five, I’ll be at Union Station in Worcester for StART at the STATION – featuring “over 75 local artists and fine crafters, as well as food, drinks, music and good times.”

I’ll be sharing a table with friend Kim Cutler who is an amazing potter with some truly beautiful vases dishes and pots for extremely reasonable prices (I’ve already bought two for under $20 for gifts.)

I will be selling copies of my photo book “The Secret Life of Greek Cats” for $10 and will be gift wrapping them for free in cat-themed paper and red and white gingham ribbon. Also I’ll be selling note cards and matted photographs that I’ve taken of Worcester landmarks – ready for framing in a standard- size frame for a great holiday gift for Worcesterites.

Hope to see you there!