‘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!


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.

Practical or Practically?

We made it through another April Fool’s Day!  (Or should that be a plural Fools’?)  “April is the cruelest month…” as T.S. Eliot said.  It certainly is for those on the receiving end of an April Fool’s practical joke.

Somehow, whoever translated from Sumarian or Greek or Indo-European or whatever, they got the word wrong.  Should “practical” really have been translated as “practically”?  As in a “practically joke,” rather than a “practical joke”?

Let me explain.  If the translation really meant practical jokes, then some jokes had practical value, right?  When my mom threw a surprise party for my dad, that was both fun/funny and practical.  Unfortunately, I was upset that we kept it a secret from him.  So, I set off down the road, determined to waylay him and spill the whole story.  So, okay, I was three.  Don’t hold it against me.  (I only got to the front sidewalk.)

When I threw my mom a surprise 80th birthday party, that too was a practical joke.  Especially as it involved gifts such as 80 M&Ms, 80 sheet of toilet paper, 80 pretty paper napkins, 80…you get the picture.  We all had fun with those jokes.  Harmless, and a great deal of laughter to go with.

However, when the big boy pushed me, as a practical joke, into the swimming pool on purpose, before I could really swim–I was three–then I did indeed learn something practical.  I could automatically hold my breath underwater, I could open my eyes underwater, I could, like a dog, paddle my way to the ladder before either someone scooped my out or before I ran out of air.  Good practical lesson.  Not a good practical joke, however.  Not even a good practically a joke.  Just so you know, I was scooped out by a lifeguard, but my folks were outside the fence and I remember the frantic looks on their faces when I surfaced.  They were with me in person in a flash, but that one moment is burned in my brain.

I think I developed an aversion for practical jokes at that moment.  When a friend hosted a Halloween party years late, her mother set up a wonderful story, complete with props designed to chill the blood:  peeled grapes for eyes, cold spaghetti for blood vessels, whole peeled tomato for heart, dried fruit for ears, piece of cooked cauliflower for brain…  You can find the whole list, and the story to go with it, online, of course.  Anyway, by the time the party came around, I was so averse to such things that I wouldn’t play at all.  I stood aside and laughed as everyone else shivered and screamed.  Sigh.  What a party-pooper I was.

A good practical joke came about when I turned 50 years old.  My bonus sister (read sis-in-law) drove 45 minutes after confabbing with my principal in order to festoon my classroom with banners, garlands, and signs.  The students were delighted, of course.  She went even further by putting a beautiful cake in the faculty lounge, so every single staff member knew it was my birthday.  I had no trouble rolling over into a new decade, so that day was great fun.  She’s very good at those kinds of practical jokes.  Far beyond practically.

With permission from a fellow teacher, I stole her thunder about teaching Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” to my high school juniors.  I burst into the classroom, snarling and hollering.  “Put all your books on the floor!  Put your feet flat on the floor!  Fold those hands on top, and sit up straight!”  I ranted and raved about the trouble that teens make, and on and on.  The kids got more and more restless, and exchanged glances that said, “What’s with her today?”  Someone asked me if I was okay.  “Of course,” I snapped back.  Finally, one of the boys stood up and said, “I’m gonna get the principal.  You’re not usually like this.”  (So glad they noticed!)  My response was, “Who’s she gonna believe?  You, a student?  Or me, who’s worked with her for eight years?”  I waved at him and added, “Fine, go ahead.”  He sat down.  I was devastated!  This whole thing took about ten minutes.  It was time to debrief.  They always said they would step in to help someone in trouble, or stand up strong in any situation.  However, my little demonstration showed them that many times people don’t, which makes Thoreau’s refusal to pay a poll tax, so much that he was put in jail, so much more dramatic.  That was very definitely a joke that was quite practical.

But my favorite isn’t really a joke at all, but it usually ends up being one anyway.  I’m often asked to spell my name.  That’s when the fun starts.  My response is, “Mary Ann, two words, no E.”  Because there is no E on the end of Ann.  “Okay,” they say, “What’s your last name.”  When I answer, “Noe [pronounced NO-EE],” they say, “Yes, that’s what I wrote: two separate words with no letter E on Ann. ”  “No, that’s my last name,” and I say it again.  “N-O-E.”  That gets one of two reactions:  Either they send me a blank look, or they burst into hysterical laughter. Some get it, some don’t.  For some, a practically joke that falls flat.  For others, great fun.

Practical jokes really don’t have to be strictly practical.  But at least they should avoid the trap of being practically a joke. Good luck with that one!

What’s In the Freezer?

March 2023

The gardening catalogs are out, and my blood is stirring.  Actually, we have one small clump of daffodils that have already sent up a reconnaissance force of about a half-dozen leaves to test the weather.  Of course, those bulbs are planted right under the pipe laying on the ground that expels water from the sump pump; hence, ground water, which is warmer than surface water.  Poor daffodils got fooled, I think, by that warmth.  Never mind, I don’t care, it’s a sign.

But if I’m going to garden, that means I should think about cleaning out the freezer from last year’s produce.

First off, way back there is a bag full of rhubarb, all cut up and ready to go into a pie.  Or I could make sauce.  Naw.  Pie. This year, maybe in two months, I’ll start seeing those fat nubs poking out of the ground, looking a bit like the red nose of an animal that’s decided it’s time to un-hibernate.  Is that even a word?  Then come those ruffled leaves, all curled up together, tight as twins sharing a womb.  Then the stalks shoot up, almost overnight, firm red and green with big umbrellas for leaves.  Suddenly, it’s rhubarb!  Okay, enough rhapsodizing.

What else is in there?

What looks like an apple pie.  It’s not the whole pie, but only the filling.  Those are Ginger Gold apples in there, which brings another memory floating up.  My bonus sister (read sister-in-law) and I make time for apple picking at Apple Holler early every fall, in order to catch the varieties we love.  The orchard trucks us out to the trees, circling around through all the labeled rows.  By the time we get to where we want to pick, we’re salivating.  From the Ginger Golds, we can wander at will and sample.  Yes, they encourage sampling while we pick!  I’ve tried some unusually named fruit that I never see in the stores.  A few years ago, I bought one of those fancy-schmancy apple peeler/corer/slicers.  I could rhapsodize over that, and the apples, but, moving on…

What else is there?

Two pounds of butter.  Okay, those aren’t produce from the garden.  When butter prices started going sky-high before Christmas, I stocked up.  Earlier pounds are already part of cookies, cakes, stollen, to say nothing of being used in the honorable practice of buttered popcorn, and, yes, to top off baked potatoes and hot veggies.  Time to bake Dutch almond bars, maybe.  Stuffed baked potatoes for dinner tonight?  Oh, yes!  Does anybody else remember when margarine was forbidden in Wisconsin?  My uncle, a trucker and overall good guy, would bring back oleo, as it was known then, back from Illinois.  The oleo came in sealed plastic bags with a little button of orange dye in the middle.  It was my job to massage the dye into the oleo, kneading it into every little corner, to turn the white stuff yellow, so it would at least look like butter.  How times change!  I took out one of the pounds of butter and gave it a little pat (pun intended), thanking it for its willingness to sacrifice itself for flavor in my baking and cooking.

Anything else in there?

Besides the bucket of ice cream, of course.  (Though I prefer Culver’s frozen custard, butter pecan especially.)  Yup, several of those frozen slabs of…something blue…to stick in a cooler.  Those can stay, seeing as how they’re not edible, thank God.  We’ve packed plenty of coolers with food and drink to haul off somewhere.  Tailgating at baseball games is lots of fun.  If we go with our son’s family, he brings a little grill, and we can go all out.  But my favorite cooler trip is to Madison’s farmers market on a summer Saturday morning.  Arrayed around the capitol building, the stands are stuffed. We can find anything and everything.  The cheese display is dangerous, because there are so many different kinds to try.  Amish pies and cookies and bread.  Buffalo meat and fish fillets.  A dozen types of mushrooms, subtly colored in pastel shades, reach up from their little boxes,.  Bunches of beets, carrots, flowers, more.  We make one round, just to see what’s there, then go back around to purchase.

My mind spools off to my mom’s big chest freezer in the basement.  My dad used to tease her about the amount of stuff she froze, and how long it resided down there.  She got him good, however, by labeling things as two or three years older than they really were.  Blueberries picked in 1967 were labeled as 1965, or earlier.  He eventually caught on, and they had a good laugh over it.  Unfortunately, the freezer died without anyone noticing, and I was in charge of removing all that thawed fruit, fish, meat…. Yuck!  Buckets and buckets of slushy food went out to the garbage.  One ugly memory for all those other good ones.

Nothing else in my freezer that needs to be used?

I look out the window as I am writing this, and can hardly wait to see grass and sunshine instead of snow!  Wishing won’t make it happen.  However, baking a pie might help alleviate the pain of waiting, as well as begin to make space for new stuff.  Excuse me while I go pull out that package of rhubarb.