Monday, December 19, 2016

A Gift of Music

I don’t have time to write this. I have out of state company coming tomorrow, at least six events happening this week and food shopping to do. But I can’t let the week before Christmas go by without wishing joy and love to you who celebrate.  As much as I’m able I try to have music in the background as I buzz around the planet doing and doing more. So here’s my gift to you, my readers, and I hope you take just a few minutes to enjoy.

From John Rutter – One of his newer Christmas pieces and a great love of mine. The words get to me as they do in so much of what he writes. Listen to “All Bells in Paradise” here.

From Heinrich Chaim Goldschnmidt and the Faroe Islands Philharmonic Orchestra  - Listen to “Gabriel’s Oboe” here. I only recently found this and like to imagine it as a prelude to the angels appearing to the shepherds on a Bethlehem hillside to announce the coming of an event so profound that it would change the way we think and act for centuries to come.

From Pentatonix – This version, in a cave no less, is a haunting rendition of "Mary Did You Know?" I have a feeling she did know, but not until near the end of His life. Listen to it here.

Have a blessed season. I’ll be back in January.




Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Christmas Memory

When I was a teen our church youth group was invited to sing at a Christmas concert at Disneyland.  The choir director read the invitation and we went ballistic. The event would be televised and a noted celebrity would speak before we performed. And the best part was having the run of the park afterwards. For a kid from a family of seven children, this was a great big hairy deal. And one of my sisters was in the choir too, so I had someone to pal around with in case no one wanted my company.

After the initial shock we didn’t waste any time getting our voices into shape. “Noel, Sing We Clear” was to be the spectacular opening number, and I can still pretty much sing the lyrics. It brings to mind the narrow step I had to stand on and my dark blue choir robe tickling my ankles. Our final practice was at the Disneyland Hotel with all the other choirs. It was all so good.

This is the part of Christmas we romanticize. I mean, Disneyland, come on. The lights, the glitz and shine of it all along with the monster Christmas tree in the square, free rides, famous people and maybe getting noticed by members of the opposite sex – what could be better? Well, there was one fly in the ointment.

Her name was Naomi; shy, freckled but friendly, and almost invisible to the rest of us. I liked her but her personality type was so different from my own outgoing cheerfulness that I didn’t pay her much mind. I didn’t even know what had happened until a week after our wonderful Disney holiday romp. And it came sailing through the church grapevine – to my mother.

After school one day I flopped on her bed, where she was reading.

“Was Naomi at the concert?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“I spoke with her mother this morning.”

Uh oh, what was this about? I remembered seeing Naomi, but that’s all.

“She’s dropping out of youth group and the choir.”

“Wow, she is? Why?”

“After the performance when all of you kids went off into the park, she was alone. She walked around all by herself for hours until her mom picked her up.”

My religious upbringing came on like gangbusters demanding I feel guilty.

“Is there a reason you didn’t ask her to go around with you and your sister?” Mom asked.

“I thought she’d go off with somebody else.” Somebody nerdy like her.  Nice but nerdy Naomi, who was definitely no boy magnet. A guilt cloud hovered in the corner.

“Her mother said she cried for days about it. She never wants to see any of you again.”

Yikes. That cloud in the corner came in for the kill, and in my mind I frantically reached for excuses. Had I’d done anything overtly to hurt this girl? I kind of remembered her standing alone after the concert, not sure of her next move as the rest of us partnered up, happy and excited. Did I smile at her? It would  have been so easy for us to invite her along. But that nerd thing – ugh.

“Imagine if that were you,” Mom continued.

“I always try to be nice to her, though” I countered. “Maybe she’ll come back.”

“I don’t think so.”

As the days closed in on Christmas the episode faded. I felt bad but stuff happens, you know? None of us saw Naomi again.

I know what Christmas is really about. I knew it then, too. As much as I enjoy the secular glittery part of the holiday, I know its origins lie with a man whose lowly birth went unnoticed – like Naomi. He grew up to teach love, humility and grace to those around him. And he would have been disappointed in my dismissal of a girl who only wanted to have the same adventure I did. To this day I am ashamed.

I will always love Christmas both ways; the romance of it, the glitz and shine of decorated trees, wrapped packages, jolly red Santas and every other bit. But what I learned from that particular Christmas – that there are lonely people everywhere and at Christmastime it hurts extra – is now hardwired into my brain. And let me tell you that what I learned from that experience has traveled down the years.

I wish there was a way to let Naomi know that she had a part in deepening my understanding of  love, humility and grace. That the Boy in that manger gently and miraculously reached out and touched me through her. My hope and prayer is that she has many friends now and that she hasn’t had a single lonely Christmas in all the years since.

I hope the same for you.  


Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, November 28, 2016

While You're Out There

Oh, boy, here it comes. Shopping season. That time of year when businesses hope to boom, thereby carrying them through the winter. And the time for each of us to wonder what gift or gesture will delight a loved one as a token of joy reflecting His gift to us. I’ll be in the fray soon.

In the meantime, might I suggest a way to see this happy season and other people in a different way? Here’s what I mean.

I was hopping back into my car after loading the trunk, when I saw a familiar face. Young, know her mom and dad, and if she’d turned my way I would have called hello. As she headed for the big glass doors at the grocery I noted her clothing. Saturday attire, like mine, knit pants, a light jacket, sneakers. Hair pulled back and no makeup.  Then I wondered if anyone she would encounter, maybe in hot dogs, would know about her gift. Her voice. That when she opened her mouth to sing on Christmas Eve out of it would come a most beautiful rendition of “Pia Jesu” or maybe “Oh, Holy Night”. Would anyone know that as they indulged in light banter with her over chicken or all beef? Probably not. But the person next to you in line could have just such a gift. So cool. 

Or how about the little girl and her mother I saw at the craft fair the weekend before? Karen and I were strolling down an aisle full of handmade earrings, embroidered sweatshirts, and doll clothes when we heard the screaming. Every mother’s been there. The girl was on the floor. Mom had attempted to pull her up and that kid had withdrawn her arm into her coat leaving Mom with an empty sleeve and a growing wrath. “Oh, I am so glad those days are over,” I said averting my eyes so that poor mother wouldn’t be too embarrassed. She had my heart. 

And then there was the humorless Kohl’s cashier. Whew, Frosty the Snowman must have been her dad. You know, before he got the magic hat that made him all jolly with Jimmy Durante singing about it in the background? Here, let me say that I pride myself on being an out-of-the-ordinary customer to every employee in any store I visit. Remembering the good, the bad and the ugly customers from when we had a retail establishment, I go out of my way to be hearty and – dare I say it – charming. But not with this chick. Despite my best quips and witty comments, I did not win her over. Huh.

These three examples are all of women. They bear the brunt (with a few men) of whatever needs to be done to ensure a good time is had by all during any given holiday. Christmas is the big one. You will encounter them this year as you’re out there being a friend of many merchants. Any one of them could have a beautiful gift, the patience of a saint, or a really, really cold upbringing. So here’s your mission. Be on the lookout. You can be a bit of light for at least a few of them. Offer your smile, your good cheer or a silent prayer, and may the spirit of the season be upon you.



Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, November 21, 2016

We Need Pollyanna Right Now

Busy week ahead - we're hosting Thanksgiving. But, like many of you, I've watched and listened to the  post-election hubbub among the citizenry. My stars. In light of that I'm re-posting this short missive. I hope you will find it of some worth as you ponder all the blessings of  your life - the ones you give and the ones you get. Maybe even be a Pollyanna for someone yourself. 



I remember the day exactly. Four years ago on December 26th all I could do was sit in my recliner, exhausted. It had been our turn to do Christmas dinner (for 19) and I’d gone the extra two miles to make it perfect, but it took a toll. The next day was the most tired I can ever remember being. And that’s why we watched the movie – Pollyanna – starring a very young Haley Mills.

I didn’t really want to watch it, but nothing else seemed any better so there I sat. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a little orphaned girl who goes to live with her rich, tyrannical Aunt Polly in the small town of Harrington in the days of long dresses, horse drawn carriages, and idyllic small American towns.  

Pollyanna is full of good cheer, sass, and a very clear sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. She also plays the Glad Game that she learned from her missionary father explained in the following quote.

 “Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about--no matter what 'twas," rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly. "And we began right then--on the crutches."

"Well, goodness me! I can't see anythin' ter be glad about--gettin' a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll!"

Pollyanna clapped her hands.

"There is--there is," she crowed. "But I couldn't see it, either, Nancy, at first," she added, with quick honesty. "Father had to tell it to me."

"Well, then, suppose YOU tell ME," almost snapped Nancy.

"Goosey! Why, just be glad because you don't--NEED--'EM!" exulted Pollyanna, triumphantly. "You see it's just as easy--when you know how!"

 Pollyanna alternately charms and shocks the townspeople and even makes inroads with the sourpuss, Mrs. Snow (played so well by Agnes Morehead), who is bedridden.

About halfway through the movie I was a little sick of Pollyanna’s solution to everything. Sort of like listening to yet another little girl screeching out, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom . . .”  Sorry, but that song brings on the gag reflex in me. Because, you know, sometimes the sun Doesn’t come out tomorrow or for days even.

But my state of tiredness kept me in the chair weakly sipping coffee and watching. I was being pulled in. Finally the whole crux of the matter was presented in the form of a fund raising bazaar that Aunt Polly was against. Pollyanna in her eternal optimism sides against her aunt. When things are finally at their worst, we find Pollyanna sneaking back into her attic bedroom via an old tree on that side of the house. Just as she’s reaching for the window sill, she loses her balance and plunges to the ground. And lays still.

My heart almost stopped. I began to tear up. Because it could have been one of my granddaughters laying there. A little girl who’s buoyant innocence only wanted to see the glad in things. Someone who could look at you and see through whatever mask you’re wearing and get to the heart of the matter. The wide open soul who listens to your story of woe and hugs your arm saying, “Don’t be afraid, Grandma. I will be with you.” So said our little Melodi after I told her how frightened I was one day as a child when I got lost coming home from school.

I also realized that the world would be that much more miserable if we let Pollyanna die. We can’t leave her there on the ground to perish. We can’t let the crushing forces that so often intrude keep her down. For if Pollyanna dies, Despair wins, corruption triumphs and evil will slowly become the norm. We can’t have that, can we?

Those few tears I shed in my exhaustion were cleansing. And Pollyanna did get up and was healed along with her Aunt Polly and the little town of Harrington. A little town that just might be like our whole nation is right now.

Look for the Pollyanna in your life. She is a gift from God and you need her. So do I.


Image: Free Digital Photos




Monday, November 14, 2016

An Awesome Woman

I’ve always been fascinated by stories about people who seem to have been dealt a nasty blow in life, but rather than shake their fist at God, somehow they find in Him nothing but love, solace and purpose.

One such person was a woman named Fanny Crosby. Ever heard of her? Me neither. I first read about her in a book my friend, Marie, gave me a few years ago at Christmas. Let me tell you about her.  

Fanny was born in Putnam County, NY in 1820. When she was 6 weeks old she developed a bad cold causing inflammation in her eyes to which a doctor applied mustard plasters. Fanny believed this was what damaged them but It may also have been congenital. However it happened, Fanny lost her sight.

At 15 she was sent to The NY Institution for the Blind where she eventually became a teacher. That's where she began to write song lyrics for Dr. Geo. F. Root and also some cantatas for which she received not even a nod of recognition.

While there she also met many famous people including President Martin Van Buren. Sound familiar? I wonder what she thought of the Red Fox of Kinderhook. She also had the honor of becoming the first female voice heard publicly in the US Senate Chamber in Washington. She even read one of her poems there. Pretty cool, huh? 

She became a prolific hymn writer racking up an astounding eight thousand of them in her lifetime. She was most famous for her Sunday School songs and gospel hymns. In 1858 she married a fellow scholar, Alex Van Alstyne, and they had one child. But when her child died in infancy Fanny grieved so badly she only rarely spoke of her little one. Her hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” is believed to be the result of that grief. How many other grieving mothers were comforted by that hymn? I'm sure there were tears all over the paper as she wrote. 

She was an astounding woman for whom things could have turned out so differently. Instead of choosing the path of self pity or despair, she chose God. The next time you hear “Blessed Assurance” or “Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior” remember the woman who wrote them, Fanny Crosby, and whisper a prayer of thanks.   



Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10831775

Monday, November 7, 2016

Background Noises

It’s that time of year. Grand schemes are being drawn up. I’m not talking politics here. I’m talking holidays. In a few weeks hubby and I will be hosting Thanksgiving in our home. The invites have gone out and I’ll put pen to paper soon to make my food list while pondering all I have to be thankful for. My preparations will have in the background beloved noises like . . .

Clanking dishes – The built in corner cupboards in our dining room are chock full of all the good dishes. The big platters, ceramic Easter bunnies, Christmas mugs, and Noritake China my sailor bought for me in Vietnam. I pull open the doors, stand back and decide which pieces will best serve for this particular holiday. As I remove my choices the bowls and plates clink clank against each other in the familiar tune that accompanies my thoughts of our grateful joy in God’s bounty.

Grocery bag tango – This is a whole other kind of music. When I haul in the grocery bags loaded with stuffing mix, apples, heavy cream, brown sugar, fresh parsley and a big honking turkey those bags make a distinctive “thunk” as I set them down. I buy so much special food I sometimes forget I needed hamburger for that night’s dinner (head smack). But the rustle of filmy produce plastic, the crinkle of the chocolate chip bags as I pull them from the tote, and that “finally done unpacking” sound as I fold up my shopping bags, is a happy tune to hear.

Sizzle and Pop – The morning of, the first thing I  make is stuffing. Into my big frying pan goes a lump of butter, a splash of olive oil, diced onions and chopped celery. What a nice sound and aroma comes from that combo. When these are all translucent I throw in the sausage – always use Jimmy Dean – and then doesn’t that pan sizzle and pop. If the man comes in from the barn those bits of sausage, well browned and fragrant, are in great danger of being fingered out of the pan. And I’m such a good wife I let it happen – maybe twice. The “Mmmm” I hear is worth it. Finally I add spices and breadcrumbs and the deed is done.

Parades and Football – Gotta have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on while that sausage is ‘a sizzlin’. Gotta hear the refs whistle, the buzz of the crowd, halftime band, and a silken voiced commentator making sure we know that this fullback’s wife is due to give birth any minute. These sounds all add a big human roar to the day. I have one or the other on in the living room, turned up a little, as I bustle about in the kitchen.

Movie – Oh, how I love Miracle on 34th Street. The one from 1947 featuring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, with Edwin Gwenn as Santa. The best version in my view. The opening scene is at the Macy’s parade and fits right in with turkey and stuffing. It also sets the tone for the upcoming wonderful season. I could cook all day with this in the background.

Clanking dishes – And we come full circle. But now the dishes are loaded with good food, forks are scraping the plates, and big spoons are dipping into bowls of mashed potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing. The kids want Grandma’s homemade applesauce and their moms tap, tap a bit onto their plates. Someone always says, "Save room for dessert!" A part of me pulls away to simply watch and listen and my heart nearly bursts.

So here I sit, weeks away from all of this, but glad for the days moving toward it. What happy background noises lend richness to your thankful hearts and busy days?

Image: My “dish closet” as some would call it.



Monday, October 31, 2016

A Halloween Memory

This is a story I wrote several years ago and it appeared in Prairie Times. I've edited it slightly for length. It's a way back when story and maybe some of you will relate. You may even have an angel show up at your door tonight!






My Blue Angel Gown 

I wanted to be an angel. Fifth graders get ideas in their heads about what or who they want to be for Halloween and this time it was an angel for me. It was back in the days when most costumes were homemade. Mom was more practical than creative, but something must have struck a cord in her that year. Perhaps she longed to be the kind of Mom who came up with something brilliant for her daughter, as she’d seen other moms do, but I’m only guessing.  

The reality was that there was no money for such things. With five children it was hard enough putting food on the table let alone buying material and whatever else might be required to turn her oldest child into heaven’s envoy. I don’t remember if I bugged her endlessly to make my costume, but I sure had my hopes up. I even offered a few ideas in case she ran out of her own.

And there was another problem. Mom didn’t drive. In those days a lot of women didn’t and most families only had one car anyway. Our dad did almost all the grocery shopping after work on payday. Our neighbor, Mona, drove, but deep down I knew the chance of Mom going anywhere to find anything like an angel costume was highly unlikely. It left me resigned and thinking of what other things I could come up with on my own.  The odd sheet or pillowcase for a ghost or a well worn shirt of dad’s and a burnt cork to make a mustache were family staples.

Then one glorious  autumn day I came home from school and Mom announced she had a surprise for me. Out of a shopping bag she pulled a filmy blue nightgown and told me she was going to make my angel costume out of it. Oh, my. I was dazzled. I held the nightgown up to my face to feel the sheer softness of it. It was a woman’s size, trimmed with broad satin ribbons and my fifth grade sensibilities were charmed.

“Where did you get it?” I asked.

“Mona and I went to the Goodwill this afternoon and I found it. Do you like it?”

Of course I did! I held against me as she tucked and fussed. She was having fun, too! The nightgown had two parts. The layer underneath was shiny nylon and over that was a filmy layer of soft pale blue. It was way too big, but I trusted Mom would do her best to make it fit. And wings? I have a dim memory of entwined coat hangers wrapped in ribbon and sort of hanging off my back.

The day finally came for me to wear my designed-by-mom costume. She swept my curly hair up and stood back to admire her handiwork. I felt like a true Cinderella and couldn’t wait to go to school. We wore our costumes to class back then and paraded in the school yard to show them off. I was sure I’d be the best angel anyone had ever seen and I wasn’t disappointed. The other girls, Raggedy Anns, ghosts, fairy princesses, and clowns, all loved the feel of my gown. Mom had hemmed it and made a cummerbund sort of thing for my waist where the excess material was pulled up and puffed out. I wore my bedroom slippers to complete my look. I swished and twirled in front of my friends. I loved it and felt loved wearing it.


It’s a moment in time that I hold dear because in subsequent years we were back to ghosts, dad’s old shirts and and garbage bag monsters. There were just too many responsibilities at home with all of us kids for Mom to be able to do something so special every year. But it was one  happy little girl who went door to door that night and whenever I see a drawing or picture of a fairy-like angel, I think of Mom and my beautiful blue angel gown.  



Image: Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

You Never Know

I can’t remember whether I read my first copy of Ideals magazine in my mother’s home or somewhere else. I loved the publication because it was all beautiful pictures, encouraging stories and inspiring essays. One year,1977, I bought the autumn edition because I’d fallen in love with the cover. I still have it. I take it out every September and leave it where I can turn to a beloved page whenever I’m in the mood. I have several of the poems nearly memorized.


Yes, fall arrived this morning
I felt her tangy touch
Persuading me to wander
Down paths I love so much . . .

That’s the first stanza of a poem by Georgia B. Adams. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. It’s my mother’s fault. When she was still in her twenties, she and my father pulled up stakes in Minnesota and with their four children (and one on the way) they joined millions of other Americans in the westward trek to California – the Promised Land of the 50’s and 60’s. It must have been so hard for her. Consequently she never missed an opportunity to remember Minnesota and the days of her youth to us whenever we snuggled up on the bed to listen to tales of the “olden days”. And she would rhapsodize especially about autumn. The chill in the air, the colorful trees and turning over outhouses on Halloween were my favorites. My siblings and I fell in love with an autumn we were pretty sure we’d never experience.

Many years later I married and moved with my husband and son(and one on the way)to upstate New York. Now I had an autumn “seasonal experience” every year just like Mom had in Minnesota. Every bit of what she had instilled in us about the season was presented in my 1977 copy of Ideals. I pored through it and the romance of the season washed over me. I admired each and every one of the writers and artists who contributed to it. How I envied their way with words.

Here’s another thing. Many more years later, when I began writing, I hunted down the Ideals contributor guidelines. I wondered if I could ever be as good as some of the wonderful writers I’d found within the pages of that beautiful publication. Measure up? Probably not. But I gave it a shot. I wrote several simple, rhyming poems and sent them in. I waited for the rejections. I wrote other things. Then one day I got an envelope containing a contract from an editor – at Ideals – they’d like to use one of my poems in an upcoming Easter issue. I was gob smacked! And grateful and gob  smacked! I wish I could tell you how gob smacked I was. You’ll just have to imagine the awesomeness of it. 

And here’s what’s happened since.





I have a poem in each of these issues 2012, 2013, and this year Christmas 2017. God is simply amazing.  Right? 

Image: 1977 Autumn Ideals

Monday, October 17, 2016

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Okay, enough of this lazy business of recovering from out of town guests. Time to get a move on.  Time for a few book reviews, don’t’ you think? Let me tell you about . . .  

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – Crewing. Whenever I heard the word (rarely) the first thing that came to mind was a crew neck sweater. Or maybe haircuts? Silly me. In this book I learned all about “crewing” as it relates to boats and water. The “boys” were nine members of the University of Washington  crewing (rowing) team and in at the 1936 Olympics they kicked butt. The path they had to take to get there will amaze you. The author focuses on the life struggle of one rower, Joe Rantz, and several of his crew mates. Your heart will bleed for Joe. In one instance he was left to fend for himself at the ripe old age of fifteen. He came home from school one day to find his dad, stepmother, and siblings all packed into the family jalopy and ready to leave – for good. Joe was told there was no room for him so he was on his own. At fifteen. Wait’ll you read about that! Anyway, the stories behind the story made this a terrific read and by the end of the book I was cheering like a crazy woman for that long ago crewing team. And Hitler never saw it coming.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Maybe “unbelievable” would have been a better title for this astonishing book. One of the reasons I read it was because I’d read Seabiscuit by the same author. Hillenbrand is one thorough writer! This is the tale of the Impressive life of Louis Zamperini. The years leading up to his becoming an airman in WWII were harrowing enough (he was also an Olympian – a runner), but as the story progresses, we find him stranded in the Pacific Ocean after his plane went down. He and two other men faced the elements for nearly seven weeks (catching a shark and eating its liver???) and when Louis and his pilot (the other man died) were finally rescued by some Koreans they were tromped off to prison camp. Ghastly. When you read of the cruel officer known as “the Bird” you’ll understand what I mean. So scary. But when Louis died at the ripe old age of 94 he had become a redeemed and forgiving man. He even sought out the Bird to offer him that forgiveness. He was a remarkable human being. Can’t recommend this one enough.

The Anarchist’s Dictator by Eric Sundwall – How smart do  you think you are? Our firstborn son has written this lyrical riddle and boy, ya gotta have some brains to get it. What is the Midgard Serpent and why do dolphins fascinate us so? Epsilon Xi might shed some light on the subject. Who is Uncle Murray – do you think you know? No, he’s not the dictator. Or maybe he is. In July of 2017 your name could be in the pool of readers who have taken a stab at naming the anarchist’s dictator. Big bucks at stake, too. The whole book is only 27  pages long and it may take that many years to figure it out but perhaps you’re up to the challenge. Check out http://anarchistdictator.net/  for more.
  

So, what’s on your book list? 


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sisters



I have five sisters. They all live in Southern California and I live in upstate New York. Two of them were born, twins, after I had already left home and married. Our two oldest sons are older than my two baby sisters. Those boys love having aunts younger than they are.

I miss my sisters. For most of the happy events of their lives I was absent. I escaped a lot of the bad stuff, too, but all of it leaves me out of the conversation loop sometimes during our infrequent visits. I’m very glad I live in a time when communication is, or can be, instant. Those who deride Facebook have no idea what a boon it has been to someone like me who wouldn’t know half of what was going on in my family if I didn’t read it there.

A few years ago I wrote this poem and I feel this way about all of my sisters. As the years have passed we have grown closer – adulthood will do that. I have many common memories with my two oldest sisters, Shari and Wendy. They’ll understand this poem quite well. If you have sisters or someone who is very much like a sister, I hope this will touch your heart.  

For My Sister

Sister, you always took my side
even when I was probably wrong because
something binds us that goes beyond what
may or may not be the truth.
I’ve counted on your unqualified support
in so many areas of my life,
for so many years of my life.

I look at old pictures and smile then sadness takes over,
because we haven’t become everything we always
said we wanted to be and do. Yet here we are still,
giggling, sighing and raging over all the
troubles and triumphs of our lives.
What would I ever do without you?


Two of my sisters, Shari and Wendy, and one like a sister, Elizabeth, will be visiting us next week as will my brother, Tim, and one brother-in-law, Austin. They’re coming from California and Texas. So I’m taking a two week break from blogging. But I’ll be back mid-October to rally you on towards the holidays.

See you then!


Image: My two baby sisters, Stephanie and Pamela, and me during our sisters Southern vacation in 2011.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Adventures in Spider Land

Isn’t it amazing, amazing I tell you, how stealthy spiders are? And, gosh, the places they choose to live. For instance . . .

Yesterday was the day I decided to take down the sheers in the dining room for a wash. These are the lovely, on Sale at Penney’s, sheers I bought last year in anticipation of painting that room. That hasn’t happened yet but I put the sheers up anyway just to cheer myself. It’s been a while so down they came and I bundled them into my arms and even though they were slip-sliding away in every direction I eventually wrestled them all into the laundry room. Unbeknownst to me I had guests.

With water running into the machine, I added the detergent and began to load the first pair of sheers. As I reached down into the basket, which butts right up against the machine, I came up short. There on the white enamel surface, two inches from my nose, she sat. Or bounced. Danced maybe? Scared the poop right outta me. I popped up quicker than our grand dog when someone yells, “Squirrel!” with my hand over my heart. Where the devil had that come from???

Okay, this was no cute little, almost invisible, critter. Nope. Around here we call these Farm Spiders. About an inch long with soul piercing eyes and attitude. I’ll tell you right now, I don’t squish  the big ones. If I have my vacuum handy I often invite them to the party in my Sears 4 HP Arachnid 7, but yesterday I was without my handy spider sucker. Sooooo – I went for my spider rescue kit. Ha! Bet you didn’t know I had one of those, right? Okay, I made this thing myself. It’s a plastic cup and a recipe card I got from an author who sends recipes if you sign up for her newsletter. It’s made of nice stiff, glossy paper and this one was for crab dip, I think. Anyway, here’s what you do.

1.    Approach spider (I know)
2.    Slap the cup over spider (be quick here, spiders are amazing leapers)
3.    Slide card under cup
4.    Hang there for a second and calm yourself
5.    Lift cup, card and spider TOGETHER and carry outside
6.    Release spider onto the ground, not into the air as this can go horribly wrong with the spider perhaps wanting revenge and jumping onto your leg when you remove the card. Guess how I know that?

I followed this procedure precisely and all was well. Until I found the second one. On the kitchen screen. Probably the first one’s husband. Somewhat bigger and able to slip out of the sheers while I was dealing with his wife. I could almost hear him, “Don’t worry, Blanche, I’ll come for you!”  As he’s dodging my feet, looking for the tall grass. Coward. It was the cup for the mister, too. I imagine she's out there right now aiming one of her eight legs at him. "C'mere, Clive, I have something for you." 


Tune in around Christmas for more adventures in Spider Land. Can’t wait to dig into the plastic bins of ornaments. Perhaps Blanche and Clive's children have re-located there. Better have my Arachnid 7 handy.   


Photo: A spider on our garden post in the early fall of 2014. Go ahead and shiver! 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Of Homes and Houses





Last night hubby and I took a trip to Hudson. We needed some boring stuff at Lowe’s to fix the leaking bathroom pipes (don’t ask). I always enjoy trips at dusk and on the way home the sunset was beyond spectacular. It gave a peculiar light to all the homes we passed on the winding roads out of town.

There were three of them in a row. One lavender, one bright  yellow and one a kind of brownish pink. The lavender house was a little beat up, but I had to wonder at the color. Had the paint been on sale? Or maybe the owner had collaborated with the people on either side to make a colorful display for passersby. Impossible to know, but I’m going with the sale idea.

I didn’t have time to think more about it because soon after, on the opposite side of the road was the brown house. This one had obviously once been a church. You could tell by the windows, cathedral style. That and the double front door was a dead giveaway. Every time I go by I marvel at that window. Just inside the pane you can clearly see a tree. Bare branches, don’t know if it’s real or some gone horribly wrong craft attempt of the householder. But a tree. Really.

A little further on was an old grocery store. You know, the kind every small town used to have where the front door was practically on the sidewalk and the big glass window told you what was on sale that week? Plus they had the best cold cuts and potato salad around. The front is all boarded  up now. But in the brief moment we were in front of it I noticed something. Out of the side of the building stepped two women. They shut the door behind them and walked towards their car. I turned as we passed and saw a light beaming from an upstairs window. Wow, someone had turned the back of this old store into an apartment. How cool.

I’m fascinated by doorways. Last June I had to take a side street in Kinderhook to get around the square which had been roped off for the annual craft and food fair. As I rolled down the street the car in front of me stopped. I looked around as I pulled up behind her and on my left I saw it. A doorway tucked in and surrounded by well trimmed vines, all curled and dangling. The vegetation made a kind of tunnel and an adorable “Welcome” sign hung on an old post near the sidewalk. I had all I could do to keep from hopping out of the car to knock on that door. I imagined a gnome or a wise old owl living there.


We live in a very old house. Lots of them around here. I’m sure when people pass they wonder what it looks like inside. I do that all the time with other  people’s houses. It’s a natural curiosity thing, I guess. When we first bought our place I fell in love with the simple but elegant front hall staircase and the big dining room. And I thought we could whip it into shape in five years or so. Ha! Still working on it thirty five years later. But it’s all ours. It’s comfy and has sheltered us safely for all that time. A house that’s a home, ya know?


Image: Our domicile all decked out for fall. I'm painting the porch steps this afternoon. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Kid's Stuff

Yesterday I had two young girls in my charge. One is ten, the other eleven. I was doing what I’ve done for years and years – trying to think of ways to entertain kids. I did it with my own and I’m doing it with my grand kids. I get paid to take care of one of these young ladies so I pay particular attention to the activities I chose. Her mom is an elementary school teacher and part time college professor. No pressure though, really.

In all my years of child care I’ve discovered an amazing thing. Kids will try anything that has even the faintest whiff of fun about it. They don’t care if it’s a game that’s been around since Noah – like kick the can or Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free or whatever we may find on the Internet – like bubble snakes or apple gack. It makes my hours with them so delightful.

The bubble snakes were found and created by our eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Elaina, who stayed with us for the month of July. She whipped up these wonders in jig time and  had her cousins squealing with delight and competing to make the longest snake. Guess who was there with the camera? See instructions below the photo if you want to try this.


Cut the end off a soda bottle, cover with a piece of old sock, dip in solution of dish soap and water. Blow. 

Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free is an old game none of us can remember how to play including Grandpa who is older than dirt. So, yesterday, I had the girls throwing a tennis ball over our low roof and calling out the words to warn the person on the other side that the ball was about to go into orbit. Then they asked . . .

“Why do we yell Ollie Ollie Oxen?”

I had a host of answers in my head like “It’s an ancient Carpathian good luck saying,” or “Cavemen used to yell it when they hurled stones at a really juicy looking mastodon.”  But instead I said, “I can’t remember, just throw the ball!”

We also do milk plates, whip up some colored foam and make funnel cakes. The cakes last about twenty minutes once they’re all sprinkled with powdered sugar or doused with cinnamon and sugar. So far we haven’t lost a single child to the vat of bubbling hot oil that’s required to make them. Might as well teach them when they’re young to be careful in the kitchen. Right?


I’ll see less of all of them now that school has started. I’m a little sad for me but very happy for them. I do have some pity for the poor teachers, though. I’ve set the bar pretty high and smothered it with cinnamon, sugar and love.

I’ll let you know what the kids report. Oh, and if you want to know how to make the foam, milk plates or funnel cakes, I can fill you in on those, too. 





Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Last evening I was at it again, taking an after supper walk. Hadn’t done it in a while – since early summer. But something pulled me outside and I just had to see how things were on Plum Tree, our back road.

The end of summer is like my bedroom dresser. Kind of dusty. And maybe like the leaves are ready, or almost ready, to change clothes. The lawns are weary of being cut and the squirrels dart about, looking up briefly when I pass, and then on with the business of putting by. It hardly seems possible but in a few quick months the wind she will blow and the clouds that once harbored rain will scatter snowflakes instead off raindrops.

A flight of swallows dips and dives above my head as I make my way around the first bend. Gosh, they’re pretty. A distinctive cut to their wings and swift as all get out.  What fun it would be to be up there with them instead of having these earthbound feet. But I leave them behind and forge on. One neighbor has covered his roof with solar panels. I wonder how that works and if we should give it a try. Might take something away from the 200 years of charm in our old place, though.

At the next bend I kick through the thick grass cuttings that were thrown onto the road by another neighbor's ride on mower. It will dry and blow away eventually, but I felt like a kid as the clippings flew from the toe of my sneakers. I couldn’t resist.

I wasn’t alone as I walked. Two people were behind me. A young runner with shorts and flying hair. She passed me twice and said a laughing “hi” each time. Yeah, I was going that slowly. My mind was doing just fine. It’s the joints that complain about being too old for this nonsense. I tell them to zip it.

The other girl had on a bright red shirt and held a device in her hand. I’ll bet she was Pok√©mon Go-ing it. Probably one had been spotted on my back and she’d soon close in for the kill. By the time I’d constructed the whole hunt, capture and victory chant scenario of her chase, however, she had dropped so far back I couldn’t see her. I walk on.

On the last stretch of road I veered off onto the grass twice. Once to snatch a bit of Queen Anne’s Lace to twirl in my fingers and once to check on the bittersweet bush. There was a lot of lace, but sadly, the bittersweet was nowhere in sight. I know it’s an invasive plant and the berries that burst bright red and orange after the first frost are deadly, butI still like it. Perhaps it had succumbed to the blight or something.


At last I turned back onto the county road, on the lookout for traffic and the odd stray deer. Lots of them everywhere this year. Summer’s on the wane and part of me is sad. But I cherish the final busy days of the season. I’m canning and, like the squirrels, putting the garden by for winter. The grandkids are excited for school to start and I wonder where the leaf rakes are. With these thoughts swirling, I reach home, collapse into my recliner and take off my shoes. It was a good walk.



Monday, August 15, 2016

It's Hot! Not For Long

On the hottest day of the year I usually find myself musing about the coldest day of the year. They tend to balance each other out and – yikes – from where I’m sitting right now it looks like we have a doozy of a winter coming. The ancient wisdom goes that way. Hot summer gets you a cold winter and vise versa. I dread both. The other two seasons can be delightful though, right? Here’s why I love them.

Fall – The garden is a weedy, rotten vegetable mess. But the freezer and pantry are full. Shiny jars of pasta sauce, jams, dilly beans, salsa and pickles sit smugly on the basement shelves. Warm stews, cozy throws and pumpkin lattes loom, begging us to hunker down and love life.

Spring – The snow and mud are giving way to little green pop-out-of -the ground things. Old Man Winter is gearing up for his last rodeo. Yay!

Fall – “Even the air is colored!” This expression of awe and delight was uttered by my sister-in-law when she and my brother visited from Texas last October. She’s right.

Spring – Earthy aromas waft up to me as I zip through the rain heading for my car to run errands. It’s enough to stop me in my tracks for a moment or two, inhaling deeply.

Fall – Kids are riding the big yellow bus again. Book bags and crayons. Homework and new sneakers. Pulls me right back into my own elementary school days of oh, so long ago. It makes me smile.

Spring – Hubby starts the garden seeds indoors. We’ll do kale again, but no broccoli raab. That experiment from last season failed. Blech. But by mid April there are little black pots of other good things all over the place, though, eager for their journey into the great outdoors.  

Fall – Please let us get through all the fun of this season before we have to think of Christmas. Okay? I want to glory in the fat pumpkins from the garden and crunch through autumn leaves and watch the kaleidoscope of color in the maple trees before I put the wreaths up. I don't think it's too much to ask. 

Spring – Baseball! Can’t wait ‘til we can get out there and cheer our grandson on. Sometimes we’ve had to huddle under quilts as we watch the boy pitch, but it’s worth it. Hot dogs, ice cream cones and strawberry picking on the horizon, too. What fun. 

Fall is coming. My favorite season until it fades into winter and brings the coldest night 'round for a visit and I begin to dream of spring. Then that’s my favorite.  Wish I could make up my mind.

How about you?



Image: “Sunflower Field” by panuruangjan      Free Digital Photos

Friday, August 12, 2016

We Have a Winner



Congratulations to our winner -  
Karrissa (Trowbridge)Howard of Houston, Texas!




Thank you, Sierra, for drawing her name. I'll be in touch with Karrissa and sending her prize on its way to Texas. 

And thank you to all who entered. Enjoy the rest of the summer while it lasts. 






Friday, August 5, 2016

Enter to Win!


End of Summer Contest!

Just as I promised – here is my end of summer contest. I’ll be putting together a fun filled box of goodies and draw the name of the winner in one week on August 12.

Rules:

None! Oh, well, you do have to leave a comment. That’s only fair, right? Be witty and clever. If you want to enter say something like . . . “I’m in!” or “Please be so kind as to enter my name,” or “ I’ve read everything you’ve ever written” (lying allowed). Pretty easy, huh?

The winner will receive some really good stuff including:

Two signed copies of my books, romance or mystery, your choice.
Chocolate
Some awesome recipes
Kitchen gadgets
One surprise item

All of this in charming tote.

How does that sound? Can’t wait to get your entry.

Have a wonderful weekend.



Monday, August 1, 2016

Summer Things


Well, here’s a dilemma. I’ve been off my blog for a month or so and in that time I’ve thought of several topics that I just know you all would love to read about.  They’re knocking around in my head like an army of demented squirrels and the competition is fierce as I sit here now trying to choose among them. So . . .

Would you like to know about our eighteen-year-old granddaughter who visited all during July? How in her grown up face I still see the giggly toddler, the energetic third grader and the edgy middle schooler in dreadlocks? She was the first of the grandchildren I set up on the kitchen counter and said, “Promise me you won’t get any older.” Each had lived all of three years at the time. Each has defied that direct order and grown on. Some Field Marshall I am! How can I be so sad and so happy about that all at the same time?

Maybe you’d rather read about the black eye. Or eyes, I should say. Our youngest son, a little friend of our Anna and myself each sported one this summer. Son got clobbered by a golf club as he was instructing his five-year- old at miniature golf “Give it a good whack, Sierra”. The following week it was me. I skittered across our patio (thank you slippery sandals!) and smacked into the screen door knob catching it just below my right eye. OUCH! And ugly black, purple, blue and red. Just gimme ice and avert your eyes, please. Little friend also had an eyeball encounter with a golf club and now has her right leg in a cast from a trampoline accident. Yeesh, we live in dangerous times.

Our garden is awesome this year in spite of an appalling lack of rain. I’ll be canning up a storm in August and September. I’m especially eager to see if the grape leaves work. They’re supposed to keep my dill pickles crisp. According to my Internet research, that is. We have wild grape vines everywhere. They often eye the house shutters as a possible bridge to the stars. They do climb.

I taught four of the grandkids Pounce this year. It’s an old family card game I used to play with my mom, sisters and Aunt Marie. Kind of like double solitaire, but gets pretty hairy when four people are trying to get the two of clubs onto the only ace in the middle of the table. Lots of yelling and laughing. We hope to incite a Pounce  Tournament at the family reunion at Rumbling Bald Resort next summer in North Carolina. I’m still pretty good so I hope there’s money involved.

No, no. None of these topics will do. So – I’ll announce the contest I promised at the end of June. Except I haven’t got that all figured out yet. But look for it by the end of the week. K?


How’s your summer going?


Friday, June 24, 2016

Got Toddlers?

I'll be taking July off from blogging. It's going to be a busy fun filled month with company coming and all. But here's something those of you with toddlers, or memories of toddlers, might enjoy. As you may suspect, I wrote it for publication and it never was. Still, the message holds. 

See you in August and I'm thinking Contest! 

Teachable Toddlers

The thing about toddlers is – they don’t know a lot yet. Their lives for the next several years will be a colorful string of teachable moments. Grandparents have an important roll to play in unraveling some of that string. We’ve had six little sweethearts to help along this road. I’ve cataloged some of the moments that you may also have experienced. Here is what I’d love to tell those sweethearts – if only they’d listen. Um – their parents, our sons, didn’t, but there’s always hope for a new generation, right?

Dear Precious Toddler,

If we’re having a great time making a mess with cupcake frosting and I have to step into the pantry for eight seconds – I’m not leaving you forever! Really. If you follow me I’ll be turned around and on my way back before you can blink your big brown eyes and there could be trouble. We may run smack right into each other and get matching  owies – my knee and your forehead. How about I sing “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” for the whole eight seconds while I grab the food coloring. We need more blue. You stay in your chair and sing along.  

When Grandpa is sitting nice and comfy in his recliner, smiling and waiting to read your favorite princess story, you’ll want to dash into his arms. But watch out! Grandpa has big feet and chances are you’ll get to them before you get to his lap. Then, Kawump! Over  you’ll go. Grandpa will do his best to catch you, but it’s better to slow down and stop when you get to his fat laced up sneakers. The story will still be there when you do.

The difference between loading and unloading the dishwasher is very important. What a big boy you are wanting to help me do both, but mostly I’ll need you to help me put things In. We have to put them all in before we shut the door, too, with the rack all the way back. When the dishwasher is all done washing the dishes we’ll take them Out. I know just where they go in the cupboards. There’s no need to unload them onto the floor first.

Dog food and cat food isn’t that good for you. The bag it comes in is colorful and that doggy or kitty on the front is so cute. But it’s for animals. People eat different food. I know the dog sets a particularly bad example of how to eat – gobbling the way he does. It even looks like fun. Pay no attention to him. And you may think the cat is finicky, she is, but don’t try to share the tuna shreds in gravy with her. It won’t end well. She won’t eat them just because you do. How about crackers and juice instead? For you, I mean.  

So, the next time you visit Grandma, we’ll go over this list. Okay?

See you soon!
Grandma

These scenarios happen in every generation. The only joy in them is seeing it repeated with a new batch of toddlers – not mine. The best we can hope for, I guess, is that by kindergarten the little munchkins will have these teachable moments deposited into their memory banks with interest to spare when history repeats itself with their own kids. Yeah, let’s say that’ll happen. 


Photo: What we'll be doing in July. Hope you'll be having just as much fun!