Thursday, February 26, 2015

Aunts We Love

I wrote this post back in 2013 and I think it bears repeating. I dedicate it to all the wonderful aunts out there, but especially to Cindy McCabe who is an aunt extraordinaire and a true blessing to all who are privileged to call her “Aunt Cindy”.

Her name was Marie, but it was easier to say Mimi when we were little. She was our favorite aunt, red haired, freckled. She loved us without conditions. She always had gum in her purse and sometimes she’d let one of us stay the night. She had two children of her own so it was an undertaking to have even one of us over.

At the time they lived in a small bungalow and I remember one overnight that lasted into the next day until mid-afternoon. That morning, after my uncle went off to work, Aunt Mimi piled her two and me into the car because she needed milk. I even remember the name of the place where she got it, Luken’s Dairy. She bought milk and then to our delight asked if we’d like Creamsicles. Boy, would we!  My mother, her older sister, never would have done that simply because she couldn’t afford it – not with seven mouths to feed. I felt like a queen as we drove away happily slurping my frozen delight. I couldn’t wait to tell my brothers and sisters and maybe gloat a little. At home that night I cried into my pillow because I missed my aunt. It was a strange kind of longing I’d never experienced before. Unconditional love does that to you even if you’re only a kid.

Aunts. What a delight they can be. Slightly like grandparents but not as old. Slightly like siblings but not in competition like a brother or sister. Aunts often come bearing gifts. Food treats and small toys or maybe a cute summer top. They treat you differently than your mom. They never tell you to go clean your room or quit hitting your brother, but ask instead about school or tell you your hair looks nice. It made the three hours preening in front of the bathroom mirror well worth it.

I have a friend whose granddaughter was just escorted through London and Paris by her aunt. A graduation gift. How cool is that? Yet another friend consistently remembers the birthdays and special celebrations of nieces and nephews who sometimes seem ungrateful. She’s absolutely wonderful to them. Another friend, never married, is the aunt dropped from heaven to her nephew. She’s helped him in every phase of his life and recently made his wedding cake. She’s extraordinarily talented with batter and frosting. My list of loving aunts is as long as my arm.

I regret that I’m not closer to my nieces and nephews. They all live on the west coast and here I am in the east, having married a sailor from New York and all. Fortunately they have aunts and uncles galore so they don’t miss whatever it is I would add to the mix. I keep up with them through Facebook and feel a little sorry for myself that I can’t be at their ballgames and dance recitals. I’m there in spirit and ask for the highlights from their grandmothers, my sisters.

My aunt Marie has been gone for many years. She died too young of a horrible disease. But I’m hoping to grab a seat next to her at the Great Banquet in heaven. I’ll remind her of how much I loved her sense of humor, her willingness to understand a dumb kid, the Juicy Fruit she shared – stuff like that. And I know I won’t have that seat long as many others will want to have a word. She’ll make room for all of us, I’m sure. ‘Cuz good aunts are like that – yeah, they are. 

 Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, February 23, 2015

Please Read to Them

I hope everyone reading this has had the opportunity to read to a child. Be you mom, dad, aunt, grandma, sibling or teacher, I have to say, it’s the assignment of a lifetime. There is so much to know and remember.

Location – It must be comfy. I read to my two youngest granddaughters on the big bed in the bedroom/office. I grab a pile of books, plonk them on the bed and spread them out.

“Okay, pick three each,” I say, knowing I’ll probably read more.

Then we arrange the blankets and pillows just so, pick the side of grandma each wants and off we go. This is the nerve wracking part for me as I think of . . .

Tone – Different stories require different tones. For instance, if we’re reading a story starring Elmo the appropriate voice is expected, soprano. If there’s tension building in one of Mercer Meyer’s Critter stories that tension needs to build. There’s a expectation on the part of the listener that must be risen to. Get it right, Grandma, zips through my brain.  I’m telling  you, it’s a tough gig.

Focus – This is big. While you’re reading you  assess your listeners. Take notice of any eye wandering or pinching of a sibling or, worse, going off topic to tell you what the dog did once in a situation similar to the one in the book. This causes all minds to go off topic and throws your timing to the wind - especially if your trying to maintain that soprano voice. The remedy? The story illustrator has worked as hard to get the idea across as the writer, so call attention to the colorful visuals they’ve provided. It enriches the story for everyone and keeps the little ones from going all dog on you.

Wrap Up – Perhaps the most important thing of all. If you’ve read Cinderella more than once your listeners know what’s coming. Two things will happen. Sadness. A good book is over. Time is moving on and that story is in the past. Awww. But wait! Let’s . . . “Read it again! Read it again!” This is what all writers of children’s books long for – that eager response from a child. The second thing is when the child is glancing around for the next book and way past ready to quit the first. Yeah, that happens, too. In that case you should be brisk. Toss book one aside and go on. Just don’t ever tell the writer.

So you see, there’s a heck of a lot more to reading to a child than you ever imagined, right? And if you do this you may be rewarded , as I was over the weekend, with one of your dear ones reading back to you.

Yup, it happened on Skype when eleven-year-old Lillie read to me yet another chapter of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafer. She in Washington and me in New York.  It’s especially meaningful because of all our grandchildren Lillie is the only one I was rarely able to read to. She was born far away from me. But I’m so glad her mom, dad, sister, teacher and others read to her so she, in turn, could read to me in her sweet, clipped voice coming through the ether to Grandma’s house. I’m so blessed.

Read to a child. You won’t ever regret it. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Boy, Those Ancestors!

After months of painstaking research, my sister Elizabeth finally found the name of the ship our grandfather came to this country on from Sweden almost ninety years ago. The whole family was behind her as she researched names, dates and places that our ancestors had attached themselves to. She was even able to post pictures that she’d requested from yet other relatives. It was astounding to see the family resemblance in those old black and white photos where folks must have been told "now don't smile!" This got me thinking . . .

Of all the things my ancestors didn’t have; insurance of any kind, appliances, electricity (my maternal grandparents didn’t have electricity until the 1950’s) and countless other modern conveniences that we think we need or deserve. And yet they survived and even thrived. That same maternal grandmother bore six live children and with the exception of my youngest aunt, they were all born at home. How on earth did these people make it? I have to laugh when I compare the years in which we’ve lived.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love modern life. I mean, after all, I’m writing about all this on a computer, a contraption my grandparents wouldn’t have had a clue could even exist. I can keep in touch with family just by going on Facebook or Skype. But harkening back to the brave souls who lived their lives trusting God and each other that things would work out makes me realize my own frustrations are nothing, like gnats on a banana or something. So here’s what I’ve resolved to do.

Keep my chin up. Nobody likes seeing a down-in-the-dumps face all the time. Where I can give cheer, I will. Where I can cut down on consumption, I will. Where I can pass up   a bargain, I … okay, okay that’s going a bit far. But at every turn where I start to feel weak and whiney, I’ll think of my dad’s Mom, who came over from Sweden quite young on a ship to a country where she couldn’t speak the language. She had no money and probably only one good dress. I’ll think of my mom’s Mom, who spent countless hours in her sweltering rural Minnesota farm kitchen canning vegetables from her garden every summer so her family would have food all winter. Both of these women woke up every morning with a list of chores as long as my granddaughter’s licorice whip, and I’ll be darned if I’ll complain. After all, I can plop my dishes into my dishwasher and drive off to Kohl’s with my 30% off coupon and then have lunch out.

We can all look at those who have gone before us and gain from them a sense of what  makes life good. It’s taking care of your own and giving them as good as you got. My husband is semi-retired and I work three part time jobs so we can get the bills paid every month. This would be nothing to my grandparents and great grandparent's generation. Part of the good life is the hardness of it. Good grief, how could we rise to the challenge if there were none? We give our children so much when we share with them our struggle stories, the ones that let them know you can get through hard times and come up okay on the other side. And in time they'll add tales of their own to help forge a unique family heritage. I thank my sister, who is 16 years younger than me, for caring enough to delve into our ancestral archives to find little golden bits of our past. She'll be in the family story book for sure.  

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


The world is getting really messy. I know. I watch the news just like you do and my heart sinks when I see what people do to each other. I avoid long harangues about it here because my voice – on these issues – doesn’t need to be heard. Really. No, what I’d rather do is show you the lighter side. That happens, too. Such as.

Last night I Skyped briefly with our granddaughters in Washington (state). We’ll be visiting them in April and Lillie and I are planning a family concert. Oh my. It will be such a big deal with her trumpet playing and my singing. She’s all of eleven and so excited about it. We had a jolly time doing up a program and laying out our plan. There will even be refreshments. Then her big sister, Elaina, plopped into the chair with Lillie cozied up on her lap and the giggle fest began. Goofy stuff that I didn’t understand but had them in fits. I wish I could have reached through my computer screen and hugged them, danced and laughed with them. A moment of pure delight.

Then on Facebook a few days ago my Minnesota cousin, Molly, posted a short video of a little boy, maybe three, conducting a very aggressive piece of music in his pajamas. Wowsa. He had the moves down and for the most part did a wonderful job standing there on a tiny platform in the basement rec room. At the end of his performance he lost his baton and wound up giggling on the floor and rolling around on the carpet happy as a puppy. Some day he’ll be on a real platform conducting in a tuxedo (with maybe his pajamas underneath), I just know it.

I read at night. I’ve just finished a book by my friend Evelyn Kuhns titled, A Simple Murder (very good), and picked up Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. There’s always a good amount of research that goes into Bill’s “killing” books and even though I’m only a few chapters in as of last night, a small bit of history I’d never heard came to light. Hitler was a Class A Farter. That’s right. He had a condition called meteorism which causes uncontrollable flatulence. Even though I, like most people, cringe at the sound of his name the idea of the Farting Fuehrer had me giggling and giggling some more. Couldn’t help it. The man took long walks in the woods with his dog Blondi so he could fart at the trees instead of his worshipers. Just cracked me up.

I hope you have moments in your days that lighten it, in however ridiculous a fashion. The way the world is now we sure need it.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, February 16, 2015

Commercial Break!

No, not about my books or other writing (disappointed?). I’m talking real commercials here, like from television, radio, billboards and social media. Believe it or not I have favorites – and I’ll bet you do, too. Let’s do television.

So – The first commercial I can remember is from . . . augh . . .  almost typed “the dark ages”. But I won’t. Suffice it to say this one is from my childhood. For Ipana toothpaste. Their representative was Bucky Beaver. I think they exaggerated the extent of his buck tooth-ness but he sure made me want to brush my teeth when I was six. The jingle was cute, too. Brusha, brusha, brusha – here’s our new Ipana. Bucky now resides at "the home" known more commonly as You Tube. Take a look.

Fast forward to the 60’s and you have the iconic Coca Cola commercial with all the hippies singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”. In perfect harmony – yeah, that’ll happen. It did capture the nation’s attention, though, and I really do like the song. Coke tried for a re-union type commercial many years later. They should have left it alone. Reminding the hippies that they’re moving along in years sent them over the hills and into the ravine where Pepsi was lurking. It wasn't pretty.

Zipping along into this century I have to say that the insurance companies do it for me. When the Geico gecko first appeared I was pretty sure I wanted to invite the charming little fellow over for tea and scones. The British accent gets me every time and his sense of wonder about insurance is pure advertising genius. Same with Flo, that riveting babe for Progressive – insurance. Whew. Gotta leave politics out of it. Right? If you don’t know what I mean, good. Nobody wants to go there.

There are many others. The Campbell’s Soup commercial where the snowman comes inside and turns into an irresistible little red headed boy slurping his tomato. Love. And some are so obnoxious we can hardly stand them. We have a local car lot whose owner has been saying “it’s Huuuuuggge” at the end of his ads for decades (or so it seems). There are some who secretly hope a huge comet finds him and puts  him out of our misery. And then there are The Pajama Gram girls – no wait – that’s hubby’s fave, not mine. Mr. Hoody Footy I call him.  Whew! Veering off here.

Anyway, you get my drift. Go ahead and let me know which pulls-you-out-of-the-kitchen commercials do it for  you. I’d love to know.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Around Town

It’s really snowy around town this week. Yeesh. Hubby’s been out with the snow blower more this year than in the last five all together, I think. It puts me in mind of some things. Like the Winter Olympics.

There’s a zigzag track from the edge of the patio all the way up the hill and back to the compost pile. The man said he was tired of plodding through the snow to empty the compost bucket. I think his perfectly blown track would make an excellent bobsled run. We only need the sleds. Who do I call to make it official?  

The icicles on the edge of the roof are awesome. Dangerous. Beautiful. I just hope they don’t melt their way into the house and damage the inside walls. Don’t need that. I wonder if that chick, Elsa, from Frozen has been sneaking around at night to wreak havoc. She could let those icicles go – but not all at once!

Where do small critters go when the winter is so severe? I mean, it’s going below zero in the next few days. Do they have snug little homes in the hollows of trees like the Brambly Hedge mice in Jill Barklem’s books? I suspect there’s a few feral cats tucked up tight somewhere in our old barn. I never go out there so I probably won’t find out. And if they freeze to death some night I hope the Spring Sanitation Fairy comes to clean them up before they become too aromatic. Maybe she and Elsa could work something out.

On my way out of the grocery store the other day it occurred to me that I can never recall a hot July day while I’m shivering in February. And I can never imagine the shivering when I’m suffering on a hot humid day smack in the middle of summer. What’s with that? I always want the one when I’m experiencing the other. It’s probably why Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons.

But under all that snow and ice are the roses, right? That’s what they want  you to believe in the songs anyway. And we’ll adore Spring all the more this year for the stinking winter we’re going through. Can’t wait.

Just some thoughts for the day. How is your winter going?

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, February 9, 2015

Frankie's Game

I’ve said this before right here that I wasn’t much of a sports fan until I had some skin in the game. Kids and grandkids come to  mind. I’m  now invested with heart and mind and a loud obnoxious grandma voice, especially at the basketball games. We win some we lose some and it’s all in good fun.

But . . .

This past Saturday will be set apart in my mind forever. And it was not our Sam who had me in thrall. No – it was Frankie.

We were twenty points ahead and the coach put him in. Of no impressive height, or girth, or talent and I wouldn’t have known a thing about him if his sister hadn’t plunked herself onto the bleacher behind us.  “Go Frankie!” She began. “Throw it to Frankie!” And then she got louder.

The ball flew. Our best players made more baskets. “Give it to Frankie!” A few other people yelled. Who’s Frankie? I wanted to know.

One of the mom’s pointed him out, leaned in and said, “Poor Frankie. He hasn’t had a basket all season.”


I looked harder at the boy now. And then it began. Every player by this time had picked up on Frankie’s plight. They must have known. They must have conspired for their teammate. Because every player on our side who got the ball picked up the vibe from the crowd. “Give it to Frankie!” And they did. And Frankie took the shots and missed – every time. We groaned – every time.  


What came next – our own CYO Miracle on Ice moment (take that, Russia!). The other team was pounding the court doing their darndest to keep our good players from getting that basketball. And one more “Give it to Frankie!” rang out, the crowd in full cry and his sister the loudest. Frankie zoomed down the court, positioned himself under the hoop and snagged the ball out of the air. He spied the basket, fended of the arms waving in his face like kelp gone wild and took the shot.

The crowd held its collective breath for the three seconds it took for that ball to hit the rim – circle once – and drop through the hoop.

The collective roar from the people nearly lifted the roof from the gym. And Frankie stood in awe of his moment. His face split in a grin and he was a champion right then. As much as any Olympian or March Madness Marauder, or anyone, anywhere who’s overcome the odds and triumphed. It was short lived. The game went on. He missed more baskets. But Frankie scored – it was his game for a bit. Hurrah!

I want to give a nod and a slap on the back to every  one of his teammates who cheered Frankie on and helped him have his moment.  They did it with grace, humor and team spirit. Totally awesome. 

Image: xedos4                                                        Free Digital Photos

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Cleaner Cat

Boy, oh, boy. I hate to say this but the cat helps me clean the house. Now before you begin imagining a cartoonish kitty in an apron, holding a feather duster, let me set you straight.

Our cat is old, a rescue from feralism (no I don’t think that’s  a word), and of uncertain breed. She has a meow that makes you cringe, kind of low and yet demanding. And she has a tricky tummy. I find evidence of that all over the house – thus the cleaning.

So here’s what happened the other day. I keep a lap size wool blanket on the chair beside my chair and when I went to grab it I noticed a long string of Cat Barf on the edge of the blanket and a dribble on the chair as well. Grrr. I grabbed the blanket and as I was walking to the laundry room I noticed a rather large spot of brownish crud on the tile floor by the back door. On closer inspection it turned out to be a mixture of ice melt and dirt. From hubby’s boots. Sigh. As I charged through the laundry room door something soft wafted past my face. The mother of all cobwebs. Gack!

I stuffed the blanket into the washer along with a few dirty towels. I got a wipe from the bathroom to clean up the barf on the chair. Then I hauled out the vacuum to have a go at the cobwebs, mother and all her children. I carefully climbed up on a stool to slurp them from the top of the kitchen cabinets. You don’t EVEN want to know what I found up there.

I was sort of hoping something cool would happen to rescue  me from all this cleaning – like the Prize Patrol showing up at the door with a big cardboard check or an unprecedented outbreak of world peace blaring from the television. Didn’t happen.

But thanks to Agnes, the cleaner cat, there are less cobwebs and a fresh blanket to cover me while I read in the chair tonight. I still have to mop the floor where the ice melt crud is, but I think I better go check my makeup and brush my hair instead. The Prize Patrol could be coming up the walk any minute. And thanks to the cat no cobwebs will come between me and that check!

Image: Agnes - Feed Me! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ugly Shoe Season

The second Blizzard of the Century is going on outside the window. I’m about a foot from the panes and it’s a comin’ down. Which has me thinking about all kinds of things like baking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies this afternoon, snuggling with my kitty and a good book, and, see the title up there? Yup – ugly shoe season.

I’ve been wearing the same clod hopper pair of shoes for over two winters now. They’re charcoal gray, of sturdy bottom and there’s a cradle I’ve worn into the insole that perfectly fits my foot. But – they’re pretty ugly.

Over the weekend I was privileged to appear on an author’s panel with five other writers. We were in a very nice library and it occurred to me that my shoes would be showing under the table, up front where God and everybody could see them. I briefly considered wearing my cute little flats with the little faux bow on the toe (say That three times fast). They make my feet look small – kind of like Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet. Remember her? Message me if you find out what a tuffet is.  

Anyway, as I dressed for the event, and thought more profoundly about the whole business, it occurred to me that I might be enticing interest away from our panel’s excellent tips and advice if I wore the wrong shoes. Then I thought . . . good grief . . . what if a guy with a shoe fetish sits right in the front row? What if, instead of listening while I tell everyone why I don’t have an agent, he slowly licks his lips while gazing at the bow on my toe? Yeesh. We were, after all, talking about murder and its methods and taking questions about it, too. What if the fetish guy raised his hand? I didn’t even want to go there. So the faux bow toe shoes stayed in the closet.

You know, it’s hard to tell where your shoes will take you these days. You can bebop merrily down the road in your clod hoppers directing everyone’s attention to your books and your witty remarks about them. Or you can tempt fate and take what fate hands you when  you put on your cute shoes. The other road, the one  you clomp down in your ugly shoes, is probably safer. Well, unless you run across someone who can’t imagine wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row nevermind all winter. But that’s a whole other, shoe worshiper, issue. They can get nasty.

As for me? I’ve made an executive decision. For now and for the rest of the winter, my sturdy, gray, salt spotted shoes will get me where I want to go. After all, it is ugly shoe season. And, no, you can’t see a picture of them. Look at my pretty ones instead. I’ll show you my cute summer sandals in a few months. Unless you have a fetish, that is.