Cele's 1999 Columns

Sometimes, there just wasn't enough going on in the State House to write about. Try the New Year's column, "We're Buttering the Cats." Or, "Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart and Cele" or "Cold Fried Chicken and Chiggers." Better yet, "Don't Tell My Husband." Also a personal tribute to our son, Chris, and his new wife, Jen ("Today's the Wedding Day.")

Silver Pantihose, Yes -- Hawkeye Casket, No

Silver Pantihose, Yes -- Hawkeye Casket, No

Okay, I admit it. I did buy the silver, limited edition, millennium pantyhose to wear tonight, New Years Eve.

They're probably called limited edition because they'll turn into shreds during the first wearing, but I bought them anyway. Perhaps my only concession to the New Century.

You'll be happy to know I did not invest in the limited edition casket.

The casket offered by my alma mater, the casket with the University of Iowa Herky the Hawk in bold gold and black on the casket lining. I don t care if it was Enduroglas, or the strongest burial idea in history, or will provide timeless protection, or that it would last a lot, lot longer than the limited edition pantyhose.

I did not buy it this year and I will not buy it next year either. I do not want to go to my great reward with a dead bird staring at me, forever.

And, since this year, this century, is now ending, is Massachusetts Y2K compliant, you may ask. Well, I m told that it is. And has been since December first. Now, if< something stops working, don t blame the messenger.

Not too long ago, I was told every state department was ready except for the Legislature and the Courts. The Judiciary branch has been, slowly but surely, making< progress, and should be ready by midnight.

The legislature is ready--The House of Representatives even got a new computer system to be sure we were Y2K ready. (Believe it or not, we can now actually access the Internet. However, we can only send faxes to people in the 617 area code.)

Everything else in the Commonwealth seems ready to go.

The state promises no disruption in fire-related services when it comes to communication between separate fire departments, or requests for back-ups, for example.

The State Police are Y2K compliant, including everything from their fingerprinting database to their parole board. The emergency 9ll system is ready as well. As are the Sheriff s and Department of Corrections.

Massachusetts Emergency Management has been spending most of its time telling the public and public officials how to handle unnecessary fear and reassuring local officials and the public that everything is ready and that disruptions are expected to be minor and isolated.

If you're expecting a check from the state, you should get it Treasurer Shannon O Brien s office has been ready since June. They're ready in all departments from the Pension Reserve Investment Management Board than handles $3-trillion in funds to their phone system, from their State Street Bank accounts to lottery machines.

The Department of Public Health monitored all of Massachusetts 107 hospitals for Y2k and reported that all are compliant, and 98 percent have contingency plans, including dry ice for medications and backup generators, in place.

Yes, everyone from banks and water departments, to railroads and legislators, are ready for the new year, new century, new millennium.

If you're on a train, in Washington, DC, for example, you'll probably make a 10 minute stop at midnight. Your train will stop with their doors open, at a station, just in case of any last minute glitches.

Amtrak will do the same but delays may be 15 minutes to an hour. Amtrak's spokesman said (according to Reuters) We will stop at the biggest station along each route, so that if, God forbid, anything goes wrong, we can get those people off as necessary.

The cost to the state for all this compliance in Massachusetts alone? An estimated $103-million. And we've been working on it since 1995.

Want to know more? Go to <http://www.state.ma.us/consumer>www.state.ma.us/consumer and you'll find the Virtual Neighborhood Tour Web site, with reliable and helpful Y2K information about the Commonwealth.

Will your traffic lights work? Will you get mail? Will the coffee pot brew? The site will answer your questions.

Now, I have to run. Going to fill the card up with gas, buy some firewood, go to the grocery store to buy water and candles and ...

Santa Fails to Meet State Standards

Santa Fails to Meet State Standards

Santa had it a lot easier when I was a kid.

He simply took off in his sleigh, landed on roofs, delivered presents, picked up the cookies and milk for himself and the carrots for the reindeer, and went home to the North Pole to have a cup of hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus.

No one thought it strange that he lived with a few dozen elves, and a herd of reindeer, and was basically unemployed for most of the year.

Today he has to answer a lot of questions and meet the standards of a few dozen state agencies before he can bring our presents.

He won't, despite all those idle weeks, qualify for welfare from the Department of Transitional Assistance, I'm afraid. It's two years of benefits and you're out. And the homeless shelters don't take reindeer. Or elves. So he's stuck at the North Pole, which must be substandard housing by now.

And, he has to travel a little heavier tonight, with the modern day equipment needed to make the flight. Just to keep track of all the gifts and kids and houses he has to, at the very least, have a Palm and a huge computer system. Probably a cellphone as well. And a GPS--Global Positioning System. There's also the whole Y2K problem.

He has to have the Registry approve his sleigh under the new emissions standards, after paying his excise taxes, and he probably spent a little extra for a vanity plate.

The Division of Insurance has to be certain he insured the sleigh, and the reindeer team, plus bought some pretty good liability insurance in case of an accident. Some attorney about to retire would like to go out in a blaze of headlines by suing Santa for damages of some sort.

The FAA as well as the Department of Transportation, Massport, the Turnpike Authority and Mass Highway all have to meet to decide how to handle the takeoffs, landings and land travel of the old man. Sleigh runway neighbors have to approve the sound level. Travel and Tourism will probably want to attend as well.

Since Santa is over retirement age, Social Security, as well as Medicaid, Medicare and the Senior Pharmacy program will have to complete a lot of paperwork to be sure he's covered, or not covered, by whatever he needs to have, or not have, do or not do, to meet all their regulations. And the Executive Office of Elder Affairs might be able to help get him some benefits that he doesn't even know about.

If his smoke is still encircling his head like a wreath, the state's tobacco control people will want to talk to him while he's here, so he'll have to schedule an extra stop.

Ethics Commission will get involved to make sure those carrots, and cookies and milk, don't exceed the legal limits for politicians, and I think Santa must be one, since he wants to get along with everyone and have everyone like him.

Half of his reindeer, however, will have to be female, half male. So someone has to go explain the job loss to the Donder, Blitzen, Comet, and Cupid. Who would all have to not only meet the new emissions standards, but would probably need the protection of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Environmental Management.

The Audubon Society and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will probably get involved as well, because questions have been raised about making them pull the sleigh, toys AND Santa, and if keeping them at the North Pole year around is a good idea. Even the State Racing Commission has to sign off on their trip, after making sure they wouldn't be competing with the greyhounds or the ponies.

The elves? Department of Social Services might take an interest, as would the labor unions, I'm sure. In fact, the elves have to organize, so Santa can deliver toys from a union shop, using prevailing wage.

He also has to pay unemployment insurance, and workers comp, for each elf, unless he can classify them as "seasonal employees." Health insurance premiums have to be paid, as well, before they can load the sleigh. And if they take the maternity or paternity leave, vacation, sick time, coffee breaks and comp time after the late nights this month, Santa will have to hire additional elves. And elves are hard to find.

Retailers, worried about competition, have asked Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations to investigate, to be sure he's providing a legitimate service.

With a "nose like a cherry," Santa might be imbibing, so ABCC requires a check of his identification, which will be invalid, since it's from out of state. I can't even imagine what the fire and police departments, state Department of Public Safety, or the State Police might demand if they find out he's been tipping a little. Even Massachusetts Municipal Association will get involved in deciding which cities and towns get visited first.

And, Santa has to worry about funding for his whole adventure. If up to the legislature, funding will be late, the Governor will veto it, and Mr. Claus will to wait a long time for the money to actually arrive. If he privatizes, it might be easier.

Santa...Merry Christmas. And I'll see what I can do to make things easier in the next century.

Please pass the Lutefisk and Limpa

Please pass the Lutefisk and Limpa
I always blamed my Norwegian friends for lutefisk. It's 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. 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.

There is a Swedish sausage, flas korv, a delicious pork and potato sausage that I used to make it from my grandmother's recipe, carefully stuffing it into natural casings. Now I buy it.

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.

The year Curt and I ordered an 18-foot tree to reach 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 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.

The year we tied the tree 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 a friend 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 we barely escaped arrest.

We never found 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.

That same Saint Bernard set herself on fire one holiday when 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 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. Sorry, Columbia, but it was a Schwinn. Rose-colored and silver, and big and flashy. Probably around 1950.

Which reminds me of all the family photographs of mom, dad, my brother Gene, and Honey May, the cocker spaniel. 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 new Christmas memories this year. And I wish each and every one a joyous season, filled with love, happiness and peace.

(This Christmas Column by Cele first appeared in the Westfield Evening News in 1996. This year, 1999, she celebrates with a new, her first, grandchild.)

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