Sunday, December 22, 2013


As I have mentioned elsewhere, we decided not to go to the trouble of putting up a full Christmas tree this year. It's not the first time I have made this choice, but it's the first time in 15 years, and it probably will not happen again.

CA has boxes of ornaments, each one with it's history and bag of memories that must be told every year. It's very much an epochal ritual. I suppose it is a kind of validation - a connection to or honoring of who we are and who we have been. This year we decided not to go through the routine and opted for a minimalist presentation as far as the tree thing is concerned. It feels right.

There is a reason for this, of course. It's the season of CA's retirement. She works as a hospice nurse and works 12 hour shifts at night. Her last two nights to work are Christmas Eve and Christmas night. This was a conscious choice that fulfilled, a week earlier, her time in service obligation, and since it is just us two, it seemed the thing to do. It's not a sad thing, it's our chosen reality, and we are quite excited about it. Of course, it would be nice to be with family. Yes, it would be wonderful to be home together with a big bird in the oven on Christmas Day. Yes, it would be fun if it were some kind of Currier & Ives thing with dozens of people, horse drawn sleighs, reindeer and skating on the pond. But it never was that.

We'll celebrate our Christmas on the night after Christmas. I mean, it's already an arbitrary date. We'll go out for Chinese. They don't do Christmas and are always there. Furthermore, we love Chinese. We'll have cocktails and great food and drive home through the woods to our fireside and feel blessed.

Second only to Thanksgiving as a family day, Christmas holds for many of us a great host of memories and traditions long gone into the dusty bins of our past. I've grown used to that tape player in my head that goes off on those same songs, scenes and scenarios that make up my remembrance of decades of Christmases past. It's a kind of comforting sameness.

It's different when kids are around. Kids thrive on myth and festival and Christmas is bursting with myth and festival. There is always that unpredictable, spontaneous quality of life with children. If things go as we think, we'll be surrounded by kids next year. Perhaps, at times, we'll secretly yearn for the quiet warmth of our remote fire.

It's who we are - at least those of us who happened to muddle through life in a Christian tradition. So we'll have our table top tree. There will be presents and a warm fire. We'll do a "FaceTime", or at least speak with distant family and hang on every word. We will feel truly blessed and pleasantly stuffed with spicy Singapore rice noodles.

Jerry Henderson

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Seeking forgiveness for yielding unto temptation and making a batch of sugar cookies toward the tail end of an evening, I stumble across an ancient stone given to me by a traveler who once passed through that holiest of lands - that spit of earth called Cornwall.  On his way he came upon this old man sorting odd looking stones which he said came from the sea but had been found deep in a cave known only to the few who ventured into those tidal regions where the endless sea molded that coast into its signature façade.  He told how there were ancient glyphs on those cave walls that have never been completely deciphered, but which many believe were by the hand of Merlin himself.  These stones were laid out in a rough pentagram and covered with the dust and grime of ages.   

When asked what was special about those "rocks" the old man  said that if these stones were touched by the hand of Merlin, that sage advisor to Author, born of mortal woman but sired by an incubus, then they possessed many powers that transcended our physical world.  

As I now hold that stone in my hand, on this longest of nights, I think, surely among those powers would be the gift of forgiveness especially when it came to making a batch of sugar cookies.  It is well known that Merlin had a particular affection for sweetmeats and therefore could possibly find reason to make room for others who like himself find themselves powerless beneath the spell of a well made sugar cookie.  

It came to me that such a construct was not altogether unlike others upon which entire systems of belief are built.  I began to feel the weight of guilt slide from my shoulders.  Perhaps, I'm thinking, there is room for just one more cookie before turning in for the rest of this long night. 

Behold! The Light Cometh!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


You know how it goes.  A friendly recapitulation of the year.  It's not a candidate for the Pulitzer nor is it a literary achievement.  It's a simple, folksy, unadorned, informational letter.  It's sometimes called the Christmas Letter.  I always learn something from these epistles.  I love to get them.

CA mentioned earlier that she was thinking of doing one.  Today she showed me the finished product. I liked it and felt she did a good job of it.  She didn't tell me anything I didn't know, but she did capture the entire year, and there was even a line or two about me.  It's surprisingly comforting to know you are worth a line or two in someone else's recollection of the year gone past.

I got to thinking about it and concluded that I don't think I have ever tried to do an annual letter.  You know, the kind that goes through the year relating events for the family.    Except for my immediate family, and I am not sure about them, I can't imagine anyone being the least interested in what my life was like every month this past year.  When I actually think about it, I can come up with entire years that I would just as soon forget.

I don't think this years will be forgotten. This year I became fully invested in my ninth decade - an accomplishment not afforded to a lot of people - and for that I am grateful. This is also the year that my partner in this life, Carol Ann, has chosen to retire from nursing. Yes, there are many details, sideshows, detours and distractions, but those two things pretty much sum up the year for us both.

Becoming an Octogenarian is more than surviving.  It's an epiphany.  The bush is indeed burning and is not being consumed. It's time to pay attention.  I hear a voice coming from within the fire saying,  "Whoa there pilgrim, sit down here beneath this Bodhi Tree and study about things a while".  I don't believe that particular tree grows in my neighborhood, but other trees do and I have spent a fair amount of time beneath them.  So?  Nothing.  I don't feel enlightened or transported into some Nirvantic existence.  I do feel comfortable in my skin and very happy to still have it.  That's got to mean something.

For both of us to be fully retired beings up a whole set of conditions, opportunities and challenges that will take some getting used to.  Just being aware of the shift in our situation beings up some anxiety.  You think about it a lot.  I mean, what are we going go do with all that time - together?   We've about decided to just let it happen.  Take a trip.  Hang out with it for a while.  What's the rush?

In other matters - we both lost significant weight this year. I thought I'd turn out to be prettier.  CA did but guess what?  I did NOT!  The same ugly wrinkled old guy stares back at me in the bathroom mirror.  But I feel pretty good and for that alone I am thankful.

Any time you can look back at a whole year and realize you survived it in one piece, you can be thankful.  I am thankful.  Any time you can feel able to hope into another year you can be thankful.  I am thankful.

Maybe I'll have more exciting things to report next year.

Be well, and stay tuned....

I'm Jerry Henderson

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Thousands have asked for my recipe for making a pot of red beans.  I never think in terms of a recipe, but what follows is pretty close - close enough that if it is used to make a pot of red beans it will probably work.

Bear in mind that individual tastes vary and what this formula produces may not be to your satisfaction. That's when it must be remembered that a recipe is only a guide.  Follow it once, then deviate.  See something you don't like, don't put it in there.  Think of something different all on your own - go for it.  

Here's what's in it:

2 cups dry red beans.  You can soak them over night or boil them two minutes and then simmer until done.  I have done it both ways and don't see much difference.  Here's what I do:

I cover the beans with water  and bring to a vigorous rolling boil and let that go for 2 minutes.  Cover and reduce the heat to a nice simmer.  Be sure there's enough water not to run dry.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan sauté the vegetables below until the onion becomes transparent, then dump that into the beans. ( You can sauté the vegetables in the bean pot, then put the beans and water in and go from there if you want to )

1 large white onion coarsely chopped.  Any kind of onion will work, just so it is a big one.
2 or 4 cloves garlic minsed. ( If you want, you can use garlic powder.  You won't die and go to hell. Nobody will know. )
1 medium bell pepper coarsely chopped.
2 stalks of celery sliced longitudinally and thinly sliced - on the diagonal, of          course.

Once all this is combined I like to add some vegetable stock - if you have veganistic tendencies - or chicken stock if you don't give a hoot about such things.  By the way, I have always wondered that if I use animal manure to fertilize tomatoes can a vegan or vegetarian eat my tomatoes with a clear conscience?

Many times I also chop up a fresh pealed tomato or dump a can of diced tomatoes into the pot.  Be flexible.

You will notice there is no meat in this.  The reason for this is that I didn't have any.  I know, you thought I had some deep seated spiritual reason for this omission but I just didn't have anything.  I like some smoked flavor if possible.

I would liked to have had a smoked ham hoc to throw into the pot and or some andouille sausage.  If you use the hoc then when it's all done you'll need to pick the meat off the bone.  It'll fall of easily.  The sausage should be added toward the end of cooking so as not to dry out.  At least that's my experience.

Now let's talk about seasoning.  I used approximately:

1 t salt
1 t freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper. 
1 T Pickapeppa pepper sauce.  If you don't know Pickapeppa Sauce you need to go get some.  It's Jamaica's finest contribution to your pot of beans and many other bland foods in your pantry.
1 T Tabasco regular.
1 T Tabasco Chipotle sauce.
1/2 t smoked paprika.

I didn't add any herbs but I sometimes do.  Oregano, Marjoram, Basil or something else you might think of.  

Taste!  Adjust.

Here's the thing about beans:  You have to decide if you want bean soup or beans that are a little thicker, to put on rice.  If you are thinking red beans and rice then they need to be cooked down and become "creamy" thick.  It really doesn't matter, it's just the way I like them.

If this doesn't work out for you, don't call me.  I'll be out of town for a month or so.  It it works out to your ecstatic satisfaction, then I'll be happy to receive your praise any hour day or night.

Jeeze, I forgot to mention epazote.  It helps to reduce the possibility of gas production.  Popular in Mexico.  It is, however, a renewable source of energy.  Be well, and stay tuned.