Cele's 1997 Columns

It's always fun to look back at the columns I wrote long ago. And 1997 brought the light (see "That is not my pink dog") to the serious. There were a couple Thanksgiving columns … one serious, one not serious. The same for Christmas.

But the one that really stands out is about "A New Bridge Coming … 2001." Ha! It is now 2010 and the bridges are still going up. And, yes, 1997 was the year we decided that the chocolate chip cookie, invented in Massachusetts, would indeed be the official state cookie.

Looking Ahead to the Legislature's New Year

Looking Ahead to the Legislature's New Year

Hundreds and hundreds of bills were left laying on the table when the House of Representatives ended its 1997 session.

But--because of new rules in the House and Senate--the legislation left over is not dead. It continues into the new year. And the new year begins, by constitution, on the first Wednesday in January.

Last year, we met on New Year's Day, when new legislators had to be sworn in. This year, we'll wait until the seventh day of the New Year. And, while you were shopping, putting up the tree, and wrapping your presents, and trying to be productive at work in December, the legislature was working, too.

As the year ended, a lot of hearings and committee meetings were held to line up the agenda for 1998. New bills were introduced. Budget preparations were started by the Governor, as well as by Ways and Means.

What will you be hearing and reading about in the weeks to come?

Tax cuts. The Governor, and all candidates for the corner office, both Democrats and Republicans, have endorsed personal income tax cuts. Most agree on a cut from 5.95 to 5 percent. The time frame varies, with immediate decreases ranging to cuts over several years. If the legislature doesn't get it done (legislation is in the tax committee now), there'll be a referendum on the 1998 statewide ballot.

Other tax cuts would put Massachusetts' life, property and casualty insurance companies on a level playing ground with out-of-state insurance companies. Still another would cut the diesel fuel tax to the lowest level charged by our bordering states.

As a member of the Insurance Committee, I am impressed with the omnibus insurance managed care bill we've drafted with the Health Care Committee. There are enough changes in the way your HMO's operate to warrant an entire column. Watch for it.

Other health care legislation would require health insurers to provide medical coverage for mental illness just as they do for physical illness.

Closer to home is the $685-million Courthouse bond bill, which both House and Senate approved in May. Former Governor Weld vetoed the bill, because it mandated union labor. But the House rejected the veto, and the legislation is waiting for action in the Senate. Funding for the Western Hampden District Court is in the bill, thank you.

Banks would be prohibited from charging fees to use automated teller machines, if another measure passes. Even banks are divided on both sides of the issue, and debate should be lively.

The House approved $50 million for Foxboro infrastructure, but the Patriots aren't sure they want the money because they'd have to pay it back to the state. The Senate is still debating the matter. Meanwhile, it looks like the Red Sox are lining up a request for money, too.

We'll also be discussing special education reforms, with a study commission set to release their recommendations next month. Teachers want, and deserve, the Rule of 90 (retirement when your age and retirement years total that number).

Single-gender health clubs, approved by the House, await action in the Senate. Brownfields legislation to ease hazardous waste clean-up rules and allow development on land polluted by industrial waste is pending.

Another bill would allow partners of state employees benefits, and allow cities and towns to do the same.

And, that's just a small sampling of the hundreds and hundreds of bills still pending in the 1997-98 session.

As the only state where any citizen can introduce legislation, we see about 8,000 new bills at the beginning of each session. So, there's plenty more to come.

We Wish You a Merry...

We Wish You a Merry...

You always think, or hope, that holidays are going to be special, memorable.

And, then, they all kind of blend into one year, one Christmas. You can't remember if that was 1978 or 1984, or the year that Grandma fell in the garage, or the St. Bernard ate all the Christmas cookies while you were at church.

But, in the long run, I guess the year really doesn't matter. You can always check the back of the photographs, hoping that you dated them, if it's really important. And if you didn't, you can always say, well, "Cathy looks about 4", or "Chris was just a baby."

I told you about the year the St. Bernard ate all the turkey drippings and belched about the time the static electricity hit her, causing the gas that had built up inside to explode, burning off her eye lashes, and whiskers. We remembered that holiday, if not the year. So did Brandy, if dogs have memories.

Christmas trees sort of all run together, too, after awhile. The same decorations, collected year after year. The tree with the birdsnest in it. The tree that had long needles. The tree that lost all the needles before Christmas. The year it fell off the top of the Jeep in front of Daly Chevrolet.

The years when we ran fish wire from the top of the Christmas tree to the ceiling, so the cats wouldn't fell the tree when they attempted to climb it. The year we didn't wire it, the year the tree fell, crashing across the glass coffee table.

There was the 20-foot Christmas tree the year I told the guy to deliver one that went to the highest point of the Cathedral ceiling. He called the office and said he'd delivered in the driveway, but he sure didn't know how I was going to get it in the house.

It weighed more than any two, or three, people could possibly handle. So we recruited our neighbors, strong teens, to help us shove it into the house through the sliding glass door.

The borrowed boys helped Curt and me get it upright, and it did, indeed, touch the top of the cathedral ceiling. A Christmas tree stand just wouldn't hold it. So we got a bucket from the garage to stand it in, and Curt sent me off to the hardware store, while he and the helpers stood by holding the tree up, to get sand, to weight the bucket down.

The closest hardware store didn't have sand. Being creative, I bought a bag of sacrete. And hauled it home, and into the house.

Never send a woman to buy sand. Curt was not happy. Sacrete was not the answer. It would get wet, it would clog up the bottom of the tree, you couldn't water the tree, it was a dumb idea. He wanted sand. I could either hold up the tree, or go get sand. Off into the darkness to the next hardware store for sand.

"What kind of sand?" the young clerk asked.

"Any kind of sand, please, and fast," I replied, as the clerk started listing options.

"Coarse sand, fine sand, sandbox sand...what are you going to use it for."

"Any bag will do...heavy sand! But make it a big bag. Maybe two bags. It has to hold the Christmas tree up. And, while you're getting it, get me a half dozen 8-inch bolts, at least 8 inches, longer if you've got 'em."

"Lady, I won't even ask why."

Home again, with sand, lots of sand, and the precious bolts. We filled the bucket with the sand, but the tree still wouldn't stand alone.

I held the tree. Curt constructed braces, big ones out of long boards, in a teepee effect, which he bolted through the carpeting, right into the floor.

We decorated that mammoth tree with every single decoration we'd ever collected, and it looked magnificent. Visitors were awestruck. We enjoyed every minute of sitting around on the floor near that tree. We had to sit on the floor because we had to move most of the furniture out of the living room to make room for the tree.

Reality hit, shortly after New Years. Hauling the tree in was a lot easier than it was going to be to haul that tree out. The branches had been tightly bound to the trunk on the way in. Now they were full and billowing. And, well, it wouldn't, couldn't, go out the door.

Santa to the rescue! He'd left a chainsaw for Curt, and it was put to use sawing the tree into manageable pieces. In fact, the entire family spent most of the day sawing the tree into pieces and hauling it to the curb, then vacuuming the remains.

No, not this year. One of those was enough for a lifetime. So we'll just make some new memories this year. I know it will be special, a Christmas we'll remember forever. Just like your Christmas.

Did I tell you that all animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. If, and only if, there aren't any people around to hear them?

It's true. I learned it, well I think it was about 1945, and....

Merry Christmas!

Please pass the lutefisk and limpa

Please pass the lutefisk and limpa

I always blamed my Norwegian friends for lutefisk. It's a traditional holiday fare in Scandinavian homes--and one of the few Scandinavian customs that we had growing up.

Yes, I blamed the Norwegians for lutefisk. As Swedes, we always blamed the Norwegians for everything. Even if it wasn't their fault. After all it was my friend Suzy's Norwegian mother who cooked it for us every year. And we would go to their house after church Christmas Eve for this traditional meal.

Unfortunately, we had to eat it.

I think lutefisk is Norwegian for "codfish-dried-in-lye-and-reconstituted-in-a-milky broth-that-is-inedible-and-you-may-get-violently-ill-after-eating-it-or-even-looking-at-it. At least the Swedes doused it liberally with melted butter to make it palatable. Or camoflauge the real taste.

There was also some form of strange meat imbedded in gelatin. Kind of like head cheese. Something like silt. Stuff you wouldn't want to eat. Luckily, it only showed up Christmas Eve.

Maybe lutefisk ranks right up there with pfefferneuse when it comes to holiday food. Cookies so hard that if you drop them on the floor the tile cracks. They're really tough on teeth, too. Aunt Lill supplies them to us every year. We don't eat them, but please don't tell her. Other than a few rounds of "Oh Tannenbaum" and "Ring, Glocken" that's the extent of German tradition in the Hahn household.

And there is a fantastic Swedish sausage, flas korv, a delicious pork and potato sausage. I used to make it from my grandmother's recipe, carefully stuffing it into natural casings. Now I buy it, out in Auburn. Hahn Christmas Column page 2

Limpa bread as well. Christmas just isn't Christmas without korv and limpa.

Actually, we don't have many traditions in our household when it comes to the holidays. But there certainly are a few Christmases I remember.

Just a couple years ago, Curt and I ordered an 18-foot tree to go right up to the cathedral ceiling. No one warned us that the tree would weigh hundreds of pounds, so getting it in the house and upright was accomplished only with the help of a couple strong neighbor boys, a few bags of sand, and some 8-inch bolts. We bolted the tree stand through the carpeting and into the floor.

Worse than the year we tied it to the ceiling to keep it from toppling when the cats climbed it. They did and the wire didn't hold. Lost the coffee table and the tree.

One Christmas I wanted to replace the lost hubcap on the family station wagon. The only thing older than the Ford was the Saint Bernard, and we only kept the wagon running to haul the dog. Finding a match in a junkyard was my only hope, and one of our employees agreed to search for the missing hubcap.

But he needed to know exactly which Ford hubcap I needed. So, wearing our business suits and armed with a crowbar, we proceeded to the bank where Curt had parked the car and stole one of the existing hubcaps. We hadn't thought about the fact that onlookers might think we were actually stealing something, and barely escaped arrest.

My helper never did find a matching hubcap, so I gift-wrapped the one we stole and put it under the tree. Curt couldn't figure out how he still had a hubcap missing after he put the "new" one on the car.

And that same Saint Bernard set herself on fire one holiday! We (not advisable but we did) let her eat all the leftover turkey scraps, skin, fat, and gravy. She belched a great big Saint Bernard belch just as she touched me, creating static electricity and her "gas" caught fire! The Hahn Christmas flash was so fast we didn't believe it, but her burned and missing whiskers and eyebrows were proof.

The same Saint Bernard ate all the Christmas cookies while we were at Church one Christmas Eve.

Now, our cats are the thieves. They've moved the five stuffed reindeer off the piano. I retrieved the three big ones, but they've hidden the tiniest two. Maybe they're holding them ransom for the reindeer-horns made for well-dressed cats to wear for the holidays.

A truly memorable gift, probably the only one I remember from my childhood, was the bike. The Schwinn bike. Rose-colored and silver, and big and flashy. Probably around 1950. What a present! And I promptly took it out on the ice and crashed in the neighbor's driveway.

Which reminds me of all the family photographs of mom, dad, my brother Gene, and Honey May, the cocker. My brother and I were always wearing red flannel or red plaid and Kodak red eyes. Every picture.

Christmas memories. So many over the years. This year, I hope we'll create a few more. I've learned that it's the memories...the trees, the music, family...that is, of course, most important. When all the gifts are used up or worn out, when all the food is eaten, when the cookies are only crumbs, it's the memories that remain.

I hope you'll be creating some Christmas memories this year as well. And I wish each and every one a joyous season, filled with love, happiness and peace.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014