Once upon a time.

For my fortieth birthday 40 years ago my then-significant other, now husband Peter, surprised me with a trip to England. He’d planned the trip in minute detail. All I had to do was get a passport and bring my own spending money. A lifelong Anglophile, it was a dream come true.

This year, for my eightieth birthday, daughters Carolynn and Leslie planned a special weekend in Washington, D.C.  Granddaughter Samantha, who lives there, was tour guide, arrangement-maker, Uber-getter, personal chauffeur and laugh-inspirer. The three of them planned everything perfectly. All I had to do was pack my bag. I wasn’t even allowed to spend my spending money for anything!

From Friday check-in at a pretty boutique hotel to check-out Sunday afternoon the weekend was perfection. While my daughters got the room keys at the desk, I made friends with a miniature golden doodle named Bronx on the opposite side of the lobby. Suddenly, Look at our mom. She’s eighty today! echoed across the marble clad lobby. My raised left eyebrow didn’t shush them, but they are now 57 and 55. My evil eye hasn’t worked in years.

Our room, indeed the entire hotel, was sleek, sophisticated and so comfortable. I felt like a princess sleeping in a bed so soft. The bathroom mirror even seemed to have similar properties to Snow White’s magic one. Such luxury was a far cry from the motels we stayed in years ago where we shared towels and took our own soap.

Our early dinner, at the Kennedy Center’s Rooftop Restaurant, prior to seeing the New York City Ballet, was golden. No, really, I swear, the light was liquid gold infused with pink. Helped that Carolynn and Leslie, unbeknownst to each other, both wore shocking pink. They glowed. Our waiter, a sweet little man with an eastern European accent, took special care of me, probably cued by Samantha. Not only did we get an extra bottle of champagne, but he brought me a chocolate confection with a candle.

The curtain-up lights were blinking as we dashed through the crowds to the Opera House and our third row orchestra seats. The performance was an eclectic program that featured music from Bernstein to Chopin to Kanye West and Jay-Z. I loved “The Night” danced to Chopin. Though I am a traditionalist balletomane, I shocked myself, my daughters and granddaughter when I actually enjoyed “The Runaway,” featuring the two rappers’ music!

Saturday morning during a walking tour of the D.C. neighborhood near our hotel, we ogled beautifully refurbished old houses, strolled quickly across Meridian Park, then zipped off to a tasting and tour at the Guinness brewery in Halethorpe, Maryland.

Nearly ten years ago, I developed a taste for Guinness when Peter and I were in Dingle, Ireland. Samantha, who loves Guinness too, organized the trip to the brewery. That creamy delight, stored and poured the way it should be, was the perfect accompaniment to my brunch entree, avocado toast with a poached egg. Carolynn enjoyed the same entree, but with a tiny glass of Guinness Garnet, an experimental brew.

That evening the four of us, plus four of Sam’s good friends,Lydia, Clare, Hannah and Bridget, met for an earthy Ethiopian meal in Georgetown. Carolynn and I opted not to join the others for after dinner drinks at a nearby wine bar. It was already after eight, nearly my bedtime!

A cherry blossom pink Sunday.  After brunch and books at one of my favorite places in the D.C. area, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, we “Ubered” to the National Mall to bask in warm pinkness. The cherry blossoms did not disappoint, nor did seeing the Martin Luther King monument for the first time or one of our favorites, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial,again. Goosebump-making! We were four among thousands enjoying the perfect April spring day.

That once-upon-a-time fairy tale April weekend had a happily ever after vibe. Turning 80 wasn’t so bad after all.

Thanks to Carolynn and Samantha for the photos. For a woman who has always taken hundreds of photos on trips, I was too agog, and possibly too old, to take many on this adventure. Thanks, too, to grandson Miah who called, as he’s done for years, to sing “Tommy Turtle” to me. Maybe you’d need to be there, but he makes my day.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

‘Sweep of easy wind and downy flake.’

To awaken yesterday to snow, HOORAY, was as much a thrill as if I’d fulfilled the last item on my bucket list: go to Antarctica.

As soon as I caffeinated myself I headed out  along a pretty trail through a strip of piney woods. As I crunched along, I recited phrases from Robert Frost’s “Whose woods these are I think I know,” one of my favorites. I didn’t have a little horse to stop, it wasn’t dark and deep, I had no promises to keep, and I do know who owns the woods: the town does.

Overall, a mere inch of snow fell, but vigorous squalls added to it throughout the day. I was glued to the windows pretending I was encased in a snow globe. Snow and cold make me absolutely giddy, the way sunshine and blistering heat please others.

My collection of snow globes increased by four this year. Daughter Leslie gave me a set of miniatures that depict the four seasons. Winter pictured at the top. The second and fourth photos, moose and bunny, show gifts from daughter Carolynn more than twenty years ago. Our grandson Miah, now 23, made the woodsman globe when he was in elementary school. And the bottom one, a deer enduring an Ivory blizzard, was a Leslie creation when she was a little tot.

Good memories all, these still, silent little worlds where my dreams of winter live. Give me snow any day and lots of it. Please.

 

After the turkey is soup.

As always, for me, Thanksgiving was too soon over, the excellent meal a memory, with leftovers the stuff of Friday’s dreams. I’m not one to rush to Christmas before the November holiday, nor even after the turkey is soup, but this year, the little tree beside the door of Leslie and Martin’s woodsy retreat changed my mind.

Trekking to the river was a bit of a last minute rush. We’d made plans that, in the end, we couldn’t work out and alternate plans changed almost hourly as November 24 approached. I was in a muddle, but not Leslie. The previous weekend she’d planned ahead and, just for fun, added a touch of Christmas beside the front door, in case we ended up there for Thanksgiving.

And, in the end, we did.

It was a lovely holiday, even though we missed family who’d been there the two previous Thanksgivings — Carolynn and Bill, Jayne and Marc.

Wednesday was cold. Would it snow? No-o! Thanksgiving day dawned cool, but bright, and heated up along with the oven. The chef, Leslie, can’t stand the heat but she didn’t have the luxury of getting out of the kitchen. Once again, she engineered a turkey feast masterpiece. For the second time this year I failed pie-making. The from-scratch pumpkin was very good, the mixture of three kinds of apples, yummy, but the crusts could have been Play-Doh and were just as inedible.

Friday was warmer still. Samantha and Martin dug up potential Christmas trees, one for Sam to take home, one for me, and another for Leslie. I didn’t fuss about Christmas-rushing as I usually do, because it just seemed right. Sam left early to visit a friend in town. She drove her dad’s convertible, top down, with the tree riding shotgun. Wish I’d thought to take a picture.

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Travel on a root canal.

The grocery is not a destination I choose willingly. I’d rather go to the dentist for a root canal. The dentist offers lidocaine, but there is nothing to numb the pain of grocery shopping.

Now, though, on-line shopping is coming to a grocery near me. Will I use it? I don’t know. There are passwords and IDs involved. I’ve pooh-poohed most modern day techno-advancements — dial telephones, electric typewriters, computers, cell phones, programmable appliances, smart phones…. I don’t take kindly to change, and I’m a real spaz with my phone.

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Ordering groceries on-line is a new wrinkle in the old fabric of catalog and Amazon ordering: you make out an orderselect a pick-up timesomeone shops for you, you drive to the store at the designated time, your purchases are loaded into your car. But, you still have to unload at home, lug everything inside and  put it away.

Instead of scribbling your needs on the back of an old envelope the way your  mother did, you select them from what looks like a child’s picture-book page, and if you want something unusual, you type it in — black olives stuffed with crunchy peanut butter, for instance.

Many things I buy are spur o’moment, not really a good idea, I know. Will the assigned shoppers know I have a hankering for a bag of peanut M&M’s? Or a pomegranate? Or how about black rice? No, they will not. With this new scheme I’ll have to “pre-know” that I might want a pomegranate and put it on my list.

Leslie and her friend Kenna mentioned seeing people do their weekly shopping while consulting a list on their smart phones. They don’t, they said, and neither do I. I carry a printed list I devised, that groups items according to the way the store is organized: deli, produce, meat, dairy, and so on.

This new enterprise is almost ready to go locally, and now a large section of the store has been re-dedicated. They’ve reorganized merchandise, and shoved shelves closer. The aisles are way too narrow. I experienced a traffic jam in the pasta and other “foreign foods” lane last week. It took about four minutes to clear — four minutes longer than I wanted to spend in a place where I hate to go.

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High on adjectives!

At the end of the 1950’s, most girls my age swooned over Elvis Presley. I was goggly-eyed over Pat Boone. “Love me tender” versus “Speedy Gonzales.” The popular girls were cheerleaders and majorettes. I played string bass in the orchestra.

Woodstock? Beatles? I scoffed throughout that era. The very idea. I came to love the Beatles, though I never could have endured Woodstock. All that mud! Yech.

Years before we knew each other, my husband went to see Bette Midler in concert. I saw Neil Diamond. Neither of those events were anything like a recent Friday night in our little town.

Roget doesn’t have enough adjectives in his thesaurus to describe the evening: loud, steamy, laugh-filled, hilarious, sweet, joyous, sultry, ribald, brilliant. sparkling, cacophonous, delirious, silly, energetic, sweaty, boisterous, entertaining, and crazy were the words I jotted down.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-9-48-23-amNearly twenty years ago, daughter Leslie gave Peter a Squirrel Nut Zippers “Perennial Favorites” CD. He loved it. Even stuffy ol’ me got into it. I turned into a teeny-bopper fifty years too late. Leslie loved SNZ too, but she was a mere thirty-something at the time. This year, as her October birthday approached, I saw that SNZippers were coming to town. Did she and Martin want to go?

Yes they did.

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Squirrel Nut Zippers reborn and on tour!

There we four were, orchestra seats, eight rows back, and there they were, blasting the theater with frolicsome, earsplitting, eyeball-popping, sweat-streaming musical madness.

Many from the audience crammed in front of the stage, dancing, hopping, jiving, singing. It was ninety-plus minutes of laugh-inducing, foot-stomping, hand-clapping hilarity. My tapping foot wanted to dance, but the rest of me played possum.

When I was as young as most of the crowd, I would have sniffed at the music and the antics. But all these decades later, I got the groove…if that’s how one would say it.

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Rock on, Grandma.

 

Plants well traveled.

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Oranges slices in the early-morning sunshine—poppies.

When we moved from the north to mid-south eighteen years ago, I brought seeds and cuttings from my gardens. Tiny poppy seeds traveled in an envelope, while boxes contained purple, yellow and pink lupins, purple sage, summer savory, daylilies, lemon thyme, lambs’ ears, sedum, succulents, Solomon’s seal, wild daisies, wood violets, even prolific mint.

Everything thrived except the lupins and poppies. But then, two years ago, a troupe of poppies appeared, and this year, in the shelter of a red rose, a pink lupin showed up. Up north, we had masses of purple lupins, but I coveted the few pink ones. I’m thrilled to have one again and I’m babying it with wood ash and alpaca “tea.”

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This beauty reminds me of my grandmother’s quilted satin bathrobe.

DSC01458Now poppies dance in the breeze every spring. Their blooms last just a day, but there are more the next. They reseed with abandon.

As delighted as I am to see the lupin and poppies, I especially love the graceful Solomon’s seal that hugs the base of our sugar maple. They lived in the shadows of two 150 year-old sugar maples at our old home, so I knew they’d love their new situation here. They’ve spread nicely, a rippling, varigated skirt around the tree.

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Solomon’s Seal is culturally significant for its medicinal and restorative properties according to North American tribal peoples.

Orange day lilies? Why did I move a plant that grows like a weed most anywhere? Well, because my parents  brought clumps of them from Ohio to my first home in Virginia, so I moved some on to upstate New York with us. Now they’ve xome back to Virginia. A circle complete.

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Well-traveled day lilies.

 

 

Oh-h say can you see?

 

IMG_0551Thank goodness my morning walks often inspire ideas for my blog posts, and, thank goodness, this morning was no exception once I spotted fog blanketing the turf grass research fields.  The Fourths of July in my memory are steamy and blindingly sunny. Today, not so much.

Even though posting new blogs is at the writer’s whim, I pile guilt upon myself when I don’t give equal time to both my sites. June was Alzheimer’s Awareness month and with Father’s Day thrown in, I concentrated on “Dementia isn’t funny.” The heap of guilt on my shoulders resembles the shoulder pads 1940’s movie stars sported.

But as I walked, I thought, ah, July 4 and it’s not blazingly, meltingly hot. An idea blossomed. I looked at my garden when I got home and realized how striking the colors are by dawn’s early light. While I took these photos, the sun was a flashlight — on, off, on, off — but it was the gentle mist that made the colors glow.

 

July Fourth brings memories of  homemade strawberry ice cream, parades, blueberry pie, my dad’s birthday, and always, the stars and stripes forever.

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Plumbago’s brilliant blue, white daisies and a tiny flag brighten my desk.

 

 

 

Become! Believe!

This is a post from last year when I was laden with humbuggedness. Scrooge, actually moved over!
But then I discovered the movie “Becoming Santa” and my spirit was renewed.
Mother Nature isn’t promising snow for southwest Virginia again this holiday season, 
and the weather, to my mind, is frightful — rainy, gray, almost balmy.
So it’s time to watch my new favorite Christmas movie again…tonight!

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As I sat down to try to write a jolly Christmas post yesterday, there was a huge swath of snow and blustery weather swooping across the middle of the country and up into Canada. That stretch of North America has looked a lot like Christmas for several weeks already.

Here? Well, I had the windows open and my fa lala was more off key than ever.  But, within the hour daugher Carolynn and  husband Bill arrived from the little village in upstate New York where we’d lived for seventeen years, me ever glorying in the deep, cold, snowy white winters, husband Peter, not so much.

In the previous post, “Deck my halls, please,” I groaned and humbugged about my severely diminished, ghostly spirit this year.  But more than an hour past my bedtime on the shortest day of the year, if I could have gotten onto our rooftop I would have shouted, “I FOUND IT!  IT’S BA-A-ACK!”

We’d all just watched a wonderful Christmas movie.  Believe me when I say it’s better than any version of Dicken’s “Christmas carol,” “It’s a wonderful life,” “Love, actually,” “Christmas Story,” “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” or any other holiday movie you can name.

“Becoming Santa” (2011), is destined to become a classic, mark my words.  I found it buried deep in the “Documentary” heading on Netflix, but a quick search on-line showed that it’s available on iTunes and Amazon as well.  Treat yourself, stop what you’re doing, watch it now!

Writer/actor/star, Jack Sanderson, is a young man — mid-forties is young to me — who lost his Christmas spirit after his mother died a few years ago.  She was an enthusiastic Christmas-lover, so her death, followed not long after by his father’s passing, threw Jack into a tailspin. Then, he was inspired by a photo he’d never seen of his father playing Santa for neighborhood children.

He decides to become a Santa too, to give back, in other words.  He has his hair and beard professionally bleached and styled, gets fitted for a suit and goes to Santa school,  a film crew in tow to record the experience.

This movie has everything — laughs, sweet tears, adorable children, inspiration, dedication, hope.  What “Becoming Santa” does not have is violence, mayhem, war or foul language,  I could’ve watched it right through again, it was that good.

Jack seems determined to become Santa, but occasionally he expresses doubts.  He goes to Santa school to learn the basics — always say “children” instead of “kids,” for instance, and always “Ho, ho, ho,” never just one “ho” nor more than three.

You wonder as he wanders, musing, reflecting. Will he last, or won’t he?

There’s a lot more to the film than Jack’s own quest — Santa experts, historians, professional Santas weigh in as well. Two common threads tie it into a beautiful package: a genuine love for children and an understanding of how important Santa is to them. The “sneak and peak” segment near the end is tear-inducing, but in a good way.

This morning I’m revitalized, imbued with spirit and holiday glee.  All I need now is seasonal — make that North Pole-like — weather.

Carolynn hadn’t packed a snowball in the large cooler Bill lugged inside yesterday, but it was filled with all-important special ham and Polish sausages.  She did bring a big carton containing dozens of special cookies, and the astounding surprise of homemade peppermint marshmallows her friend Robin sent along for us.

Believe, believe!

 

Knifed and forked.

Screen shot 2014-11-07 at 2.23.10 PMRemember electric knives? They were the go-to present for brides back in the 1960s. As far as I was concerned they were just another gadget to clutter my tiny kitchen, plus cleaning the blades was a pain, and the gadget, like many “tools,” was designed for a right-handed person. That gave lefty-me another reason to dislike it. Electric knife indeed!

The knife ranked right up there with an electric can opener in my estimation. I could open a can way quicker with the old “turn-key” type.

At some point during that decade I was on a quest to find really different present. I went into store that had gift ideas displayed inside the main entrance. And right in the middle of the table was…was it…an electric fork?  I laughed.

“What does it do?” I asked the salesman.

“It heats up,” he said, trying to hide his grin.

“And…?”

“That’s all, it just gets hot.” He laughed with me.

I had better things to do with a hundred bucks than buy a hot fork!

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If this fork is electric, that swan is in for a big surprise! Installation: Swiss artist Jean-Pierre Zuragg, 10/17/14.

My electric knife didn’t last long in my kitchen, but I did use it for non-food related activities over the years. It was great for slicing slabs of foam rubber to make Halloween costumes or new “throw” pillows, and I remember using it to nip errant threads off the edges of tablecloths just before company arrived.

Turns out, though knives for kitchen use were a short-lived fad, medical and forensic science adapted them, in smaller and more refined sizes, for use in operating rooms and morgues. Who knew? Electric knives for home use are now available again for another generation to try and then discard.

Another gadget remotely related to an electric knife is a musical cake slice. I found it on a list of ten weirdest appliances. The thing plays “Happy Birthday,” “Jingle Bells,” “The Wedding March” and “For he’s a jolly good fellow” while you slice the cake. Presumably there’s a way to choose which tune.

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Top ten.

But who am I to laugh? I have a birthday candle holder that plays “Happy Birthday.” Three years ago I couldn’t find it. In a panic I dashed to the grocery and bought another. It wouldn’t be a birthday with out my musical candle.

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No laughing matter.

Plastic nightmares.

Guess what these dimensions define? Cardboard: 21-5/8″ x 6-7/8″ Clear plastic cover: 9-7/8″ x 7″ x 1-1/8″ Zipper: 9-7/8″

Give up?

It’s the packaging that encapsulated the two standard-size, 20″ x 30″ pillow cases I bought this week.

Don’t ask me why pillow cases, and indeed sheets, blankets and any number of other items need to be zipped up in plastic. True, the ones blankets come in can be re-used to store out of season clothes, for instance, and I’ve used the smaller sizes to keep things sorted when I travel. But really, why can’t we just purchase such things “unwrapped,” so to speak?

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Still on my shelf.

My mother made sheets and pillowcases from muslin. Sometimes she prettified the pillow “sheets,” as she called them, with embroidery. The thought of buying something she could make for “half the price” was scandalous to her. To be truthful, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven the first time I slept on store-bought sheets. There’s a world of difference between unbleached muslin sheets and soft, combed-cotton ones.

Five decades ago I remember buying sheet sets that were wrapped only with a pretty satin ribbon tied in a bow. Back then, “off-the-shelf” meant a sales clerk took the items off the shelf behind the counter and showed the items to you gently, almost reverently.  Today, sadly, the term means the customer takes it off a shelf herself, handles it, makes her decision, and often, if she decides against the purchase, she shoves it back any ol’ where.

Today’s self-serve mentality has redefined both shopping and packaging.

 

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Plastic Bag Gallery Exhibition, London, 2012

 

This week, [9/30/14] California became the first state in the nation to outlaw plastic-film bags. Stores will no longer be able to provide disposable bags to shoppers and they must charge for paper bags. The hope is that people will rely on reusable bags instead. Eliminating disposables will reduce the amount of plastic film that winds up in waterways, on roadsides, in trees and landfills. Of course manufacturers are already planning protests, but couldn’t they retool their factories to make reusable totes instead? Of course they could, they just don’t want to.

These thoughts were tumbling around in my head the day I found the most perfect pillowcases ever! Smothered though they were in zippered  plastic, they promised bedtime solace and no nightmares.

 

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Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions. Edgar Cayce

 

Rock. Hard place.

If your age is north of seventy and south of eighty, let’s say, and you decide to go tubing on a rocky river, you might want consider the saying, “Caught between a rock and a hard place.” I did not and I wish I had.

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This is how we looked when we went tubing in my day.

On Sunday, Leslie, Martin, and Samantha convinced me to go tubing, something I hadn’t done for, oh, sixty years! Back then, I was a flexible teenager who wore a bathing suit and cap instead of baggy water shorts and tee-shirt, and I tubed in a slow-moving central-Ohio river with no rapids, while drifting lazily in the noonday sun.

When Leslie rolled the tubes out the shed door the memories flooded back — the faint sweet smell of talc, the satiny black tube, the comfy bounce that would cushion me. Ah-h!

Sam’s tube veered left out of the shed and, though she gave chase, it picked up speed and bounded down through the woods like a cat with a firecracker you-know-where. My granddaughter inherited her fear of snakes from me and wasn’t about to go after it. Leslie and Martin found the tube and saved the day.

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I’d been led to believe the Smith River’s gentle rapids were Class I, but I’ve since learned they’re likely Class II. The trip was a bit like a kiddie roller-coaster. Getting situated in aslippery inner tube was laughable; getting back into it, after I’d impaled myself on rocks and ditched, was painfully hilarious. Harder still was keeping my bum elevated so the jutting rocks wouldn’t become weapons, ahem, of ass destruction

On Monday, I remembered every rock and hard place I’d met the day before.

 

 

‘Tippy tappy’ isn’t the real deal.

Up until a couple of years ago, husband Peter played badminton once a week with a bunch of retirees. In his younger days he’d played competitively, so he complained that the group played a “tippy tappy” game, not the fierce, killer contests he loved.

When he started playing again he went all out to get kitted up, as he does. Special shoes, new racquet, supply of shuttlecocks. In the end he decided he liked his old racquet better, and he always wore the same white shorts from fifty years ago.

Now true shuttlecocks, “birdies” to casual players, are made from sixteen feathers and a cork tip covered with goat skin. Modern versions are made of plastic, but my fella likes the old fashioned kind, even though they last for only two, maybe three, matches.

For several years most of the seniors went to the state Senior Olympics, and some, including Peter, came home with gold and silver medals. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they were the only ones competing in the seventy-and-older age group, but still, they were out there!

Each year there were the usual schlocky gifts contributed by local businesses. This morning I was cleaning out the kitchen drawer where I keep our prescription medications, and assorted other important things — three plastic grapefruit spoons, stickum to secure candles in holders, mints, sprinkle tops for salad dressing bottles — when I found the rubber grip Peter brought home from an olympics. A grip is the thing you wrap around a stubborn lid so you can get the jar open. It was lurking in the corner of the drawer under a stash of corkscrews. They’re also called “rubber husbands.” I love that.

As my hands and wrists get creakier I use my rubber husband rather often, but until this morning I hadn’t noticed the advertising legend on one side. This handy helper was contributed to the Senior Olympics’ goodie bag by a funeral home and crematory!  What, were they hoping for business from over-exerted seniors, I wonder?

In a badminton match, seems to me it’s the cock and the goat who get the wrong end of the deal.