What Was That Again?

I know, I know, language is continually in flux, but really, some of the stuff that words flux to…is that even a word?  Eons ago, when I was not yet as old as dirt, the meanings of words were clear as a bell.  When someone said, “I woke up,” you asked them what time did you wake up.  When someone said, “Cool!”, it referred to temperature.  Of course, so did “Hot,” but those both changed quickly enough.  Actually, they became interchangeable, depending on whether you were talking about something really special (I almost said “neat” there, but that shifted too…) or talking about that insanely handsome boy/gorgeous girl across from you in Geometry class.  See, I’m dating myself here, I know.

Some things have been totally absorbed into the culture, like AWOL.  Everybody knows that means Absent Without Leave.  But who remembers what SCUBA means?  Didja figure it out yet?  Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Device.  Both from the military world, where conciseness or speed necessitated shortening wherever you could.  Jeep is another one.  Lots of controversy there.  Some say G stood for that type of vehicle made by Ford, and the P for the specific model.  Most commonly, it’s said to mean General Purpose.  Either way, say GP fast, and it comes out jeep.  Much more efficient.

How many things of my generation have to be explained to the younger set?  Do they know what a manual typewriter is?  I’ve had to explain it’s not electric; fingers make metal letters leap up to create a black mark on paper rolled in by hand, which is moved to the next line by hand too.  My own old standby, until I went to college, just before which we could purchase an electric typewriter.  Gasp!  Such innovation!

As one who lived through three days of constant television when John F. Kennedy was assassinated…Wait, no, not that Kennedy, JFK…the president?  Just a name on a list of memorized presidents for many.  Anyway, I know from that what a catafalque is.  I’ll give you a minute.  It’s not a false cat.  I’d make a joke about it not being related to Peter Falk, but few remember that he was an actor.  Well, maybe they will know the name Columbo, as in the detective from the TV show.  No?  Well, he was very popular.  How about catafalque?  It’s the table on which a casket of a famous person is placed, in order to lie in state.

When I ask, “Who was that masked man?” if I see someone I don’t know, will anyone remember that it was a tagline for The Lone Ranger, a former Texas Ranger dedicated to bringing justice to the wild West?  I can still hear the theme song from the TV show in my head.  What?  Oh.  It was the William Tell Overture by Rossini.  (I confess, I had to look up the composer…)

Now, of course, language continues to evolve.  Although maybe devolve is a better name.  Things are happening as they used to in the military:  things get shortened.  Take LOL.  And therein lies a tale…

A fellow teacher left in a rush one Friday afternoon for a theater vacation out East.  Monday, 5 a.m. came and I checked email before heading off for school.  From the teacher: “Auditioned.  Got the role!  But they want me now, so I’ll see you in a month.  LOL.  LOL?  Lots of Love?  What was he talking about?  As department chair, I needed to make sure his classes were covered.  But he didn’t send any lesson plans.  I jetted off to school.  Once there, I could see the teacher’s door open at the end of the hall.  There he sat, calmly sipping tea.  “What are you doing here?”  “I work here, remember?” he said.  I shook the email at him.  “You signed it, Lots of Love.”  He laughed.  “Not Lots of Love.  LOL.  Laugh Out Loud.”  I wasn’t laughing.  “In my day, LOL meant Lots of Love.”  In my day…brother, I was getting old.  I AM old!

Now, here’s one–or two, rather.  What is a Swiftie?  Yes, yes, I know you’re going to say, “A rabid follower of Taylor Swift.”  You would be…wrong!  Well, yes, okay, I’ll concede that you’re right…for contemporary times.  But for those of us that go back a few more years, a Swiftie, as in Tom, is a pun between a verb and its adverb.  For example, “I like hockey,” Tom said puckishly.  Ha, ha!  Although, the difference is really more obvious, as a Tom Swifty is spelled with a y, not with ie.  Tom said magically.  See there? Spell? Magic?  That’s a Swifty, or Swiftie, if you prefer.  Confusing?  Never mind…

Then there’s cosplay.  That’s short for costume play, as in dressing up in costumes for a Marvel movie or convention, or like Dracula for a Dracula ballet.  How about ghosted?  Have you done that to anyone lately?  As in cutting off communication rather abruptly, leaving the other person wondering if you…turned into a ghost.  Woke no longer means surfacing from sleep.  It’s now an adjective, as in a person alert to social injustice.  We are finally woke people.

I must confess, one that grates on my sensibilities is the word passed, and not as in football.  When I first heard that someone passed, I asked if the old guy finally passed his driving exam.  Pshaw!  Imagine my…well, my dismay and embarrassment, when they told me he died!  Not in my generation.  That would be passed away or passed on.  But passed, by itself?  Nope.  That’s one shortening that may bother me for a long time.  I have, however, learned to keep my mouth shut.

What’s next?  Will Boomers no longer be a perjorative, a put-down, an insult?  Will Old People themselves need explanation??  Your guess is as good as mine!

Packing Away the Season’s Delights

It’s January, and one of these days I really have to put away the delightful decorations that give me such pleasure over the holidays.  Some of them are directly connected to Christmas, while others hang around the fringes.

Take the nativity scene.  I painted that–how many years ago now?  Many!  The camel driver and his camel were damaged beyond repair as time went on, but the main figures are still hanging in there.  I confess, I did have to take a mascara wand to the robe of one of the shepherds once, because that was the only color I could find that matched.  Must have worked, as no one has ever commented on a strange smudge on his hem.  To tell the truth, I can’t find it anymore myself.

When I unpack decorations, every single one holds a memory.  I suspect it’s the same for you. As a result, it takes me forever to decorate the tree.  I used to have two glass ornaments from my parents’ first Christmas tree, just a few months after they married in 1938.  The white and silver have faded, tarnished, turned translucent, but the basic forms are still there.  The fat little child figure succumbed to time, however, the glass getting so brittle is shattered in my hand several years ago.  We’ve still got the fish, silver-scaled and feisty, with his little black beady eye.  He’s lost the brush that was a tail, but he’s still clearly a fish.  And he now resides permanently in a blue velvet box.  He’s too fragile to hang on the tree.

For several years, we were the beneficiaries of beaded and sewn felt ornaments from my mom.  She and my dad would conjure up wonderful goodies for the annual Women’s Hospital Auxiliary Christmas Fair.  And what an extravaganza it was!  We were gifted with an angel, a single ice skate, Santa, a snowman, a startled-looking teddy bear.  Even George and Martha Washington, in full Revolutionary regalia.  But my favorites are the characters from The Wizard of Oz, all four Yellow Brick Road sojourners, including Toto, the dog.

Later, once the grandchildren arrived at an age to handle macaroni, glitter, construction paper, glitter, scissors, glitter, glue, glitter…well, you get the idea…we received a gingerbread boy covered in dried beans, and an angel with a rather quizzical look on her face.  I’m not too sure angels slathered their lips with ruby-red lipstick, but she’s pretty cute anyway with those googly eyes.  Ornaments made with love are the best.

Years ago, a close-knit group of women ruled the roost of the summer Girl Scout Day Camp, running an art barn, a nature hut, a super-organized kitchen, and various and sundry other areas necessary for a smoothly operating camp.  For several years after we retired from those jobs, we did a winter cabin camping excursion, just for the fun of cooking over a fire again, and being together.  One of the women was a super-duper knitter, and, when I gave her a pattern, she made a miniature Santa set, red and edged in white angora: pants, jacket (including belt with tiny gold buckle), hat, and, best of all, long underwear for those cold winter nights on the sleigh.  Yes, the long-johns even have a drop-down seat!

However, one of the very best things to “pack away” are the yummy concoctions we’ve stocked up on for the holidays.  Hughes Candy in Oshkosh makes the very best chocolate confections.  Snow on the Mountain–oh my!  Think of a turtle with a blob of fondant cream on top, then covered in chocolate again.  Sinful.  Cookies galore, of course.  The Betty Crocker white cutouts, frosted with a simple frosting and some colored sugar are tops.  We have chocolate Santa cutouts too, because we are a mixed bunch when everybody’s here.  My mother-in-law annually made bachelor buttons, and my Bonus Sister and I try every year to reproduce her ping-pong-round cookies.  She’s done it once, and so have I…but neither one of us knows what we did to keep them from flattening.  An ongoing challenge.  (Am I making you salivate yet?)

Bar none, the memories we pack away every year are the most highly cherished.  Memories we can come back to again and again.  When the New Yorkers have set off, when the Chicago duo gathers up the excited dog and heads out, when the Wauwatosa bunch have kissed and hugged their way out the back door…What is left?  The memories.  We can conjure up the laughter around the table every time we peek into the dining room.  We can smell the fragrance of food that seems to still waft through the kitchen.  Squint a little, and we can even see the bodies sprawled all over the living room, bathed in the soft lights from the tree, telling tales and remembering past visits.

As we enter yet another new year, I wish you the time to refresh, reconnoiter, and remember the best of the past year, as we all look forward to packing away the best of the year to come.

*Check out the Photos to see some of the ornaments I write about.

‘Tis the Season–Fa-la-la-la-la!

On the secular side of things, we’re coming up on the season of giving.  What to choose for a spouse, or a parent?  Or your siblings, to say nothing of their spouses.  Do they have children?  How old are they?  What do they like?  Not having seen them for several [insert appropriate span of time here], it can be hard to figure out what to give.

My family got a chuckle out of an early present from my husband.  An iron.  The typical I’m-not-paying-attention gift, right?  Wrong!  He spent an inordinate amount of time searching several stores for just the right iron.  Luckily, I waited for an explanation after opening it.  He was very proud of having found a lightweight iron meant for, as he put it, “someone petite.”  (From that, you can tell it was really a lo-o-o-ng time ago!)  That kind of attention was worth waiting for, iron or no iron.

Pair that with my dad’s gift to my mom: an industrial jigsaw.  This time, it wasn’t because she was petite, or even wanted a jigsaw.  It was one of those cases of her knowing what he wanted, but not knowing what to buy, nor how to go about finding one.  So, she sent him out to forage for his heart’s desire.  He returned the favor–sort of–by giving it to her.  A bit of convoluted thinking there, but I think the sentiment is clear.

Our daughter and her husband made up coupon books for their nieces and nephews.  What could be better than a weekend alone with the aunt and uncle who live in Chicago?  They could redeem coupons for such things as a visit to the Aquarium, or the Museum of Science and Industry.  One of the favorite coupons was to a gaming restaurant, where they could play video games while waiting for dinner.  One year, the niece, maybe 8 years old, requested a fancy night out to a restaurant with music.  They took her out for jazz and dinner, so she could dress up in her red satin dress and patent shoes.  A real hit!  Homemade coupon books are wonderful.  As our bonus daughter says, “You’re creating memories.”

Gift cards for car washes, grocery stores (especially for those fancy-schmanzy ones you’d never go to otherwise), gas stations, maid or window washing services.  Tree trimming?  Snow plowing?  Lawn service?  Gardening shop for spring plants?  How about a new garden shovel for the one so dull it won’t dig anything harder than snow?  A new paring knife!  One of those expensive ones from Chicago Cutlery or Williams Sonoma!  Maybe a flower bouquet delivered once a month!  

I’m starting to hyperventilate…

What’s the old saying?  God loves a cheerful giver.  It’s easy to be a cheerful giver this time of year, as we choose things for the people we love.

But there’s a flip side to being a cheerful giver.  And that’s being a cheerful receiver.  That, my friend, is not always quite as easy.  A group of my mother’s friends threw a bridal shower for me, and a kindergarten teacher gave me a cute framed picture of a bride and groom drawn in crayon by one of her little students.  It was charming.  And that’s said with the retrospective of many years.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed, not being a person who really took to little kids.  I did my best to be thankful, and show it, but I don’t think I did a very good job.  I don’t remember her exact facial expression, but I do remember that it didn’t seem to be exactly what she expected from me.  The fact that I can remember that after more than 50 years, shows that it made an impression.  I needed to put out more effort, if not for the gift itself, then for the thought that went into choosing that particular thing just for me.  I’ve done better over the years.  I take the time to consider the giver far more than the gift.

Sometimes we want to jump in when we see a gift that perhaps isn’t what we would choose.  I know of a grandmother who gave her set of good china to her grandson when he set up housekeeping in his first apartment at college.  His mother, the grandmother’s daughter, made him give it all back.  He was broken hearted, and I’ll bet his grandmother was too.  Of course, there were a number of things going on here.  Partly, it was the mother not wanting to see her own mother seeing death on the horizon, and divesting herself of some of her worldly goods.  Unfortunately, that also took away the pleasure from the old woman of seeing her grandson’s joy at receiving something she cherished.  I’ve learned that I’d rather be around to see someone get something, and use it, instead of waiting until I’m dead, and can’t share in the fun. Downsizing can reinforce that feeling of cheerful giving.  What fun to see someone happily receive a piece of jewelry or a kitchen gadget that we no longer need!

This season, be not only a cheerful giver, but revel in being a cheerful receiver.  Sometimes it’s even more important to cheerfully receive something we’re not sure about, than it is to open something expected.

The Turning of the Seasons

This time of year, I get a bit nostalgic, if nostalgic is the right word.  Perhaps pensive works better.  Fall means all sorts of things, but for many people, “bare” and “dark” come to mind first.

The trees are bare of leaves, the skies are often bare of sun, the gardens are bare of tomatoes and beans.  The moss roses and impatiens are bare of blossoms and, truth be told, they look pretty funky, what with those fleshy stems frozen and shriveled up.  Blah!

However…there should always be a however…even though we have to do something about that two feet of leaves on the driveway, take the time to look at them, now that they’re on the ground.  The colors are spectacular, of course, especially if they fell from that nearby sugar maple that turned florescent just a week or so ago.  Yes, rain (or snow!) might have brought them down, sometimes all at once, but take a look anyway.  Every vein is visible, like a road map.  Whether you picture it as spreading out from the stem or coming together at the stem, it’s a vascular map.  It reminds me of my own journeys out and back, carrying all sorts of replenishment, or bringing sustenance home.  For the leaf, it’s like a delivery from the botanical grocery store to every lobe of a leaf.  Did you know that a good-sized tree can move a ton of water up to the leaves every day?  That’s a wow!

All right, I’ll grant that the tilt of the earth doesn’t do any favors for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  If you’re way the heck up there in the north, then maybe the deepening darkness seems more like a malevolent force that a simple change of seasons.  The equinox is still more than a month away, but I secretly believe that November is when we hit the 12-hours of dark mark.  When I worked, getting up at 4:30 a.m. meant the sky was dark, even if it wasn’t fall.  After I retired, I slept in until perhaps 7:00 a.m.  No problem, right?  Until fall.  When suddenly, that hour of the morning felt like the dead of night.  And then, the real dead of night came by seven in the evening.  What’s with that?

In the autumn, the daylight hours are shorter, but usually still very busy.  But when Mom Nature turns out the lights in fall, I’m forced into a slower mode.  I guess “forced” is too strong, considering I’ve learned to look around and slow down.  Consider the books I want to read.  Now is the time to get the fire going, curl up on the couch, and settle my mind for an enjoyable, yes, pensive, hour or two.  Time to read, write, bake bread…Ah!  Such a gift!

We blame it all on the sun.  We say the sun has moved south, rising later, setting sooner.  But shift your thinking.  The sun doesn’t move.  The earth turns away.  Still orbiting our sun, the earth tilts back, as if flirting with a lover who wants to steal a kiss.  We know that, come spring, the earth will lean in to accept that kiss.  Earth and the sun’s time is not our time.  We want fast, quick, spontaneous.  But the earth, dancing with the sun, sways and tilts, taking us, its passengers, along for the languid, but deliberate, ride.

Fall is a fine time to remember we are voyagers on a terrestrial ship following a solar map.  That’s the big picture.  Fall may be the time for things to fall, to decrease, but it’s also a time for things to rise, to appear.  So look around and see the small things too.  The veins in leaves.  The lone migrating bird, the sound of rain on dry leaves, the wooly bear caterpillar’s fuzzy band…the lack of mosquitoes!  Take time to be pensive.

Fall Purge

For me, Fall is the time to purge.  Not my stomach, or anything like that.  But time to purge the garden, among other things.  Once things finish blooming, or the vegetables stop producing, I take up my clippers and head out to provide haircuts.  I can’t bear to cut everything down to the ground, unless it’s the squash vines, which have withered away to rather slimy stems anyway.  But the flowers and a few other things really are due for a trim back.

Usually, it’s the phlox first.  Those gorgeous floral heads of fuschia, pink, white, and lavender have provided plenty of weeks of beauty.  But when they go to seed, they turn…well, rather gray and ugly.  So, I cut the flower stems back far enough so the greenery hides them.  I look around, and spot the peony leaves, which are turning a deep shade of magenta. But that will turn quickly to black within a day or two.  Yuck!  Snip.  Gone.

With a gentle tug, I pull out the remaining allium flower heads that I spray painted purple once the blossoms set seeds and dried a bit.  Some of them are so tattered that they need to be tossed in the woods.  But some are still pristine globes, worthy of a winter arrangement that will remind me that those long cold days and nights will eventually lead to a spring with fresh flower stalks springing up and reaching for the sky. 

I turn to the daisies, their stems and tips drooping in weakness.  They look pretty messy, leaning every which way.  Those too get trimmed off, but the greenery is still vibrant, so that stays untouched.  After I’ve snapped off the dead geranium heads, leaving the full blooms, which still look proud and full, I’m almost out of choices.  The Solomon seal have set berries for the birds, and the carpet of moss roses is glorious, a riot of color.  Overall, the garden looks a healthy green, with shades of emerald, celery, and kelly.  But…

I feel a wash of ruthlessness arise.  My arms akimbo, my clippers ready, I hunch over, lower my chin, and probably resemble something out of one of those serial killer movies as I contemplate moving in for the kill.  The plants are trembling, and I don’t think it’s from the light breezes.  They see the blood on my hands from their compatriots, and know their time is coming.  I want to mow them all down!

But not right now.  Too early.  I stand up from my crouch, let my arms hang loose, sometimes even loose enough to drop the clippers.  The fire in my eyes dies and I smile.  “Don’t worry,” I reassure them.  “Your turn may be coming, but I’ll allow my partner in crime, Jack Frost, to do his worst before giving you an appropriate burial in my compost pile.”  Dirt to dirt, as it were.  There’s an almost audible sigh as I turn away and head into the garage to hang up my clippers and lay down my leather gloves.  Saved, all of us.

Guess I’ll go in the house and…hmm.  Purge my closets!

Flowers in the Wrong Place?

Someone, I don’t know who, said that weeds are simply flowers in the wrong place.  I beg to differ.

Yes, I will concede that some weeds have lovely blossoms, but when they rear up in spots that overwhelm my poor tomatoes, or peek surreptitiously between the fronds of hostas and ferns, I will classify them as invaders.  Unwelcome invaders.

Most of the time, I blame the birds.  They feast on all sorts of field flowers, where those “flowers” are where they belong, and thus can rightly be called flowers, rather than weeds.  But then the birds head for my garden and lawn.  Like B-26 bombers, they home in on the target and then let loose of their bombs.  I’m convinced that they hold everything in until they reach the zone that will sustain the most damage, and then relieve themselves.  Any seeds that can survive a bird’s digestive system will certainly be able to land and thrive, seeing their chance to sprout and root amid my carefully tended flowers and vegetables.


That part of the cycle is beyond my meager control.  I say “meager” because I have little control in any phase of this scenario.  I am left with only the seek-and-destroy part.  This involves several levels of approach.

1.  The Morning Coffee Approach.  This is the most simple, and the one that should be repeated on a daily basis.  It allows you to survey your domain at the same time as purporting to conquer the weeds.  In reality, there is no conquering.  Only monitor and manage.  Step outside the door in the morning, mug in hand, and look down.  There will always be one or two…or ten…plants (to be generous) out of place.  Pluck them out!  Throw them in the garbage, or in the woods, if you are fortunate to live on such a piece of land.  Done on a daily basis, this ensures the illusion that you’ve conquered the weeds.

2.  The Knee Pad I-Almost-Waited-Too-Long Approach.  As the title implies, this involves actually getting down on your knees to pluck out the offending plants.  Best done shortly after a rainstorm when those little buggers can’t protest by leaving roots behind.  Or even during a rainstorm.  As long as there’s no lightning, of course.  That would be Mom Nature plucking out her weed–you!  The soil is soft and offending plants will slip right out of the ground, probably screaming all the way.  But luckily, their decibel level is far above human hearing, so it will not bother you in the least as you dispose of them.

3.  The I-Did-Wait-Too-Long Approach.  This approach resembles warfare, in that the weeds have grown to perhaps epic proportions, either crawling along the ground where they can hide for many feet before you spot their migrations, or rising up like Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors.  Neither of the earlier plans will be sufficient.  Here, you must first procure some brand of plant killer, making sure you read the directions from top to bottom.  Then, dress accordingly.  Long pants, long sleeves, long rubber gloves, high garden boots, goggles, hat.  Go the extra step and use a face mask.  You know you have plenty left over from the two or three years of Covid.  Here’s a chance to use them, before they expire.  Oh, never mind that they won’t expire.  You are now outfitted for battle.  Get out there and spray away.  Quit when you discover that, in your madness, you’ve accidently sprayed that $100 rose bush.

Clearly, the best approach is to attack early, when you only need one hand and a bucket.  For me, I’ve used most of these approaches.  My summer starts out with the best of intentions, and I can feel a sense of triumph that nature is not winning, that all of my flowers are actual flowers, my veggies actual vegetables.  Early on, I have no “flowers in the wrong place.”  Usually, the second approach crops up (excuse the pun) sometime in August.  I forestall the third approach entirely by simply ripping out the entire garden right after the first frost.

I hope none of those weeds dropped seeds that are hunkering down for the winter.  Because that means, between the bird-sowers and the hidden seeds, I’ll be in the garden come spring, getting flowers in the wrong place out of there again.

Reunion Musings

A while back, I was asked to put together a bit of a family tree for my husband’s direct lineage, so the younger members of the family could see from whence they came.

Before we got married in 1971, I wanted to know about my husband’s family so I could recognize people at our wedding.  My own family did a lot of genealogical research, so that line was secured…sort of.  Of course, there are lots of holes, such as who was the father of that one ancestor?  A secret taken to the woman’s grave.  Well, that meant I didn’t have to dig around on that line!  Sometimes we were sure we made a connection with another family, but then discovered the timing was a little off, or the name wasn’t recorded at the right place.  Such is trying to trace family tree branches.

When I began on the Noe side, I was directed to the matriarch, Hattie, who would sure to be a font of information.  I can still see her standing in her garden when I went to meet her.  She had on her floral housedress, protected by a full apron. You know the kind, the ones that slip over the head, cover the skirt and chest, and tie in the back.  She had on her big straw garden hat, its wide brim protecting neck and face from sunburn.  When she stepped out of the garden to greet me, I was delighted to see old-fashioned white sandals coupled with white anklets, a sure sign of grandmas of that era.  She strode…yes, strode…though in her 80s at the time, I think, or close to it, she radiated energy.  As she came across the lawn, she stripped off her gardening gloves and set them on a bench by the garage.  Propping her hoe alongside, she said, “Let’s go!  The cemetery is where I can tell you everything you want to know.”  And off we went.  She took me to two cemeteries and pointed out the Who’s Who of the family, adding stories about all the people, most of whom she’d known.  We had a great time.  By the time the wedding came around, I knew where everyone was slotted into the tree.  I shall ever be grateful for her taking me under her wing.

I was lucky to be absorbed wholeheartedly into that family.  Most of my blood relatives on my mom’s side were either dead by the time I was born, or had children so much older than I was, that I had few close relatives.  Because my father was from Germany, all of his family were still there, which meant I met my grandparents only once, when I was a child.  A dear friend of my mom’s “adopted” us for holiday celebrations and such, and I was always considered one of the grandchildren.  I loved the years with those cousins, some of whom I’ve written about before.

But when I married, I became a Noe, and the extended family treated me as one of their own.  I would be in it for the duration, attached thoroughly and forever.  Which every once in a while, leads to a flurry of “We should get together more often,” and “Why do we see each other only at weddings and funerals?”  Then, someone puts themselves in gear and organizes a reunion.  Recently, this led to a Gathering of Our People in Oshkosh.  Bring lawn chairs, a dish to pass, and something to drink.  One woman (thanks, Mary!)  rented a park pavilion, emailed everyone, and designated a rough idea of what to bring.  (Personally, all desserts might not have been a bad thing…)

I looked around and felt a deep satisfaction.  Four generations.  Some needing help settling, others zooming off to the wading pool or playground equipment.  Some clustered, chairs pulled close, laughing over some past foible, or catching up with others’ lives since the last time they were together.  Some off by themselves, immersed in sketching, writing, recharging.  But all with the same ancestors.

Sharing food and stories is so much a part of who we are as a culture, no matter what our color, political leanings, religious views.  We all yearn for a good today and a better tomorrow.  Looking around, the support we have for each other was evident.  From marveling over a recipe (“Make sure you email that to me!”) to the satisfaction of hearing stories of success (“They really turned out marvelous, didn’t they?”), the bonds of family are sticky enough to keep us coming back again and again.

Musing over the diversity of the many family types, family stories, or family rifts in the world, I can’t help but give thanks that the family I am a part of is tolerant, loving, understanding.  The ebbs and flows of all our lives, individuals as well as family groups, pull and push us.  Sometimes all we can do is wave at each other as we move along.  But we’re all in this together.  So, as long as someone is within reach, we’ll be okay.

Ah, July!

It’s finally summer.  Time for early morning walks to beat the heat.  Time for hikes through the woods at Lapham Peak State Park.  Time for languid afternoons on the patio with a good book.  Time to reap the fruits of labor as the garden plants and flowers become more robust.  Time for crackling summer storms…

And power outages.

I’m sitting here writing this in the semi-dark.  The sun is just about to come up.  Mom Nature is laughing at us pitiful human beings who think we’re in control.  So, the sunrise is a bit of a spit-in-your-eye.  See?  Nature doesn’t get power outages.  Yeah, yeah, we get it.  Patience is a virtue, we’re told.  Annie says the sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar.  But until then, we stew in the dark.

How tied we are to our creative and very useful inventions and discoveries!  Electricity was out there in the wild all the time.  All we had to do was tame it.  Thank you, Thomas Edison and Ben Franklin and…  Well, I could look it up, but, guess what?  The power is still out.

Looking it up used to mean hotfooting it to the library, or to the shelves in the den (remember dens?) where the encyclopedia volumes rested.  Wow!  What a concept!  Just as when using the internet, we could go down a rabbit hole while looking up, say, who else is credited with taming electricity.  Volume E could divert us with fascinating facts about elephants or ears or Einstein or…  See?  There it happened again!  Can’t look up more, because the power’s out.  And my parents’ encyclopedia bit the dust decades ago.

No power?  No lights.  That is a real grind if the power goes out early in the evening.  Of course, that takes out the television and sundry other items of entertainment.  It’s actually not that bad to play Clue by candlelight.  Monopoly becomes atmospheric when those dastardly players take all your money because they’ve gone on a real estate rampage after finally acquiring Park Place and…is it Broadway?  I’ll look…  No, I won’t.  Anyway, they load ‘em up with hotels and houses, and everybody else goes broke.  Board games work under lantern light.  So do ghost stories.  Reading?  Not so much.  Lincoln may have read by firelight, but for me, that only increases the chances that my ophthalmologist will be able to send her children to an Ivy League college.  (See that ophthalmologist there?  I spelled it wrong three times, and each time Spell Check caught it.  But how to look it up without power?  I went to the only dictionary in the house: my English-German dictionary.  I now know how to spell it in German as well: Augenarzt, literally, “eye doctor.”  Of course, I could now also choose Ophthalmologe.  Which one would you choose?)

No power?  No clothes washer or dryer.  Those poor pioneer women, down by the creek at first.  That probably graduated to a big copper basin (Is that what they were called?  I’ll look it… Oh, never mind.), such as my grandmother had.  Heat the water on the wood stove, dump into the wash tub (Aha! There’s the word!), then do it again and again.  Then do the same with rinse water.  If they lived in a town that had electricity (Thank you Edison? And others.), they could graduate to a wringer washer.  We had one of those when I was a kid.  The agitator did all the work, although we had a long stick to poke the clothes down when they rose too much to the surface, or got tangled.  Then hand feed them through a wringer…which often caught fingers and squeezed them out too.  Ouch!  But the best part was hanging the clothes outside to dry.  Well, the hanging part wasn’t the best.  But the reward was that the fragrance of the sun and the breeze imbued everything.  I still love to hang the sheets outside.  Making the bed is a frolic with sun-kissed sheets.  I just wish the aroma lasted longer.

I guess power outages aren’t all bad.  Unless you have to worry about sump pumps not working and basements flooding as a result (heaven forbid the power’s out that long!), or medical equipment that needs power to operate (that’s a real heaven-forbid, although I suspect that generators are close at hand, ready to fill the gap).

Power outages spur folks to campfires with food in foil packets and s’mores to round out the meal.  Maybe a bit of hauling out the old camping songs.  Or, to go up one rung on the civilization ladder, cook on the grill.  If it’s winter, maybe sleeping bags in the living room in front of the fireplace.  Maybe star-gazing if the storm is gone and the skies pristine.

That all sounds fine and good.  But I still want my power back on reasonably quickly.  I want to brush my teeth and flush the toilets!

It’s still off, by the way.  Heading towards six hours now…  Excuse me, while I go call the electric company again.  

Update:  Power was out 11 hours!  But now I’d be happy for a summer storm.  It’s as dry as the Sahara out there, with no rain for far too long!

Chores

I vacuumed today.  This was an unscheduled foray, and the carpets really didn’t need it yet.  But still, the windows were open, thank God for that, and that meant the dusty detritus of outdoors was swirling around out there, looking for a way in, just to irritate me.  So, I figured I’d get ahead of it.

But now, I have one eye cocked on the windowsills.  Because, as we all know, one thing leads to another, especially when it comes to chores like cleaning.  So far, the dominoes are still standing, all but that initial one.  But who knows for how long?

I try to rank my chores, but while I’m in the middle of one, something else springs forth as one that deserves higher ranking.  For instance, I really don’t care much for dusting, so I tend to elevate vacuuming up a step or two above dusting.  Those neat soft herringbone marks on the carpet make it feel like I’m really accomplishing something, maybe even something artistic.  However, by the time I’m halfway down the hall, headed for the living room with my trusty Dyson, I’m ready to cash in.  To combat that, I spread it out over two days.  That means no looking back to see where footprints now leave a spoor on my abstract floor art.  Of course, I could do what one of our neighbors did years ago in a different neighborhood.  She chased the kids outside with instructions not to reenter the house until supper.  Then she sat back with a drink and admired her handiwork.  I preferred watching the size of said footprints grow exponentially over the years.  Yet another way of marking a metaphorical notch on the doorframe.

Now, even though dusting is way down the line on my list, there is one part of the chore that is quite fulfilling:  the windowsills.  Even in winter, the sills actually thirst for me to come hither and relieve them of their burden.  What I’m saying is that, when I oil my rag and slide it along those sills, I can actually see improvement.  Voila!  What was dull is now gratefully glowing.  Dusting when you’ve procrastinated long enough means that the chore is doing something visible.  Not like vacuuming, where the satisfaction in getting something clean only shows when you dump out the dust container.  Well, okay, the art on the carpet works too.  But nothing quite measures up like dusting when it really needs it.  That’s when I could sit down with a glass of lemonade and admire my work.  No one’s gonna mess up my shiny windowsills.  I’m lucky if they even notice.  Of course, the other side of the coin on that issue is that if they don’t notice when it’s sparkling clean, they probably don’t notice when things are dusty either.  Win-win.

I told my mother that, until someone says they’re going to put in my obituary that I was a lousy housekeeper, I’m not going to worry about it.  Her response?  You’re not going to be around to read it anyway, so…  Absolutely right, Mom, absolutely right.  (If you think you’re going to mention that at my funeral, well…  Go ahead.  I’m not going to be around to hear that either!)

Clothing Shifts

Do you have a winter closet and a summer closet?  I really don’t, other than for coats.  All seasons reside in my one double closet.  Yes, it’s pretty tight, but that reminds me that if I want something new, I need to swap out something old.  Works pretty well, most of the time,  considering I still have a few things I wore when I was still teaching.  And that was 16-plus years ago.  If I keep it long enough, the style should come back, right?  No, no, no.  I’ve pretty much gotten past that one.  I do want to look in tune with the times, as it were.

But now, I’m in the midst of shifting from cold weather duds to warm weather clothes.

Then again, perhaps not…

A while back, I went through five iterations of pants in one day.  Or trousers, if you prefer.  It all began at 7 a.m. with the donning of athletic leggings, when the temperature was 35º outside.  That meant that, after venturing out to do my usual two and a half miles walking, I needed to add wind pants.  There’s always a breeze around here.

Once home and showered, I upgraded to jeans.  Those worked all the way through the morning, when I was raking and putzing around in the woods.  By lunchtime, when I was ready to come in and shower, the temperatures were up to the mid-70s.  And I had built up a lively sweat.  Which meant that the jeans were sweaty too.  Time to upgrade again.

By the time I got out of the shower, the temps were up to 80º, and a bit more.  Jeans, even clean ones, just wouldn’t do it.  Switch to shorts.  Ah, so much better.  Supper rolled around, and the temperature dropped just a tad.  But my crazy brain fired off a missive to the body: “Danger!  It’s getting cold again!  Time to bundle up!”  I ignored it as long as I could, considering I was not getting cold, not by a long shot.  The temperature was maintaining a very nice mid-70s.  I don’t know what my brain was doing up there, but I ignored it as long as I could.  It got pretty steamed.  Well, not literally, of course.  It’s not a cauliflower.  Although steamed cauliflower is pretty tasty.

But I digress.

Did I give in?  Yes, I did.  When the temperature dropped to around 50º, I figured I’d stood my ground long enough.  No need to be stubborn to the point of stupidity.  That took me to the next upgrade.  Or do lightweight flannel lounge pants count as a downgrade?  You know what?  I don’t care.  I wear them every evening, and they are one of my most cherished possessions.  Well, okay, not one of the most.  But comfort is worth something, isn’t it?  Anyway, I completed my day on the couch, stretched out, in my lounge pants.

Five clothing shifts in one day.  I could be a runway model.

Well, maybe not.  Not with these old lounge pants.