Posted by: deadmousediaries | March 31, 2014

The Invisible Woman – a rant from Mitchell Kyd

What a load of crap! A whole group of angst-filled women flew into the personal space of my Jeep as I was driving home last night simply to tell me that a $49 jar of face cream had rescued them from being  invisible. They weren’t the XX  chromosome complements to Wells’  Invisible Man, mind you, and it wasn’t grease paint they had purchased. They were doing a radio spot for the latest lifesaver to be tossed by the beauty industry to middle-aged women everywhere.

Their tortured vignettes all recounted how men had stopped looking at them admiringly, that strangers now looked right past them, and that the physical signs of aging in their appearance had rendered them invisible. How sad! Invisible? Really? What image do we hold of ourselves that allows us to believe that simply because our faces reflect the stories of our lives, we are invisible? Lucky for them, they had been assured they could mask their authentic selves and appear on a stranger’s radar for a paltry $49  (plus shipping and handling, of course).

I was raised by a mom who always said that she loved her gray hair. “I earned every one them,” she still jokes.  I agree. And I view all my little creases and laugh lines the same way; the face I see in the mirror is like the well-worn pages of a well-loved book, a best-seller of which I am the  author.

Women shine from the inside out and our light only grows more glorious with age. Sure, it’s wonderful to have great packaging but that doesn’t diminish all the great stuff that’ s inside. Why is it such a struggle to appreciate that?

“We think in our youth that are bodies are identified with ourselves and have the same interests,” said British writer Rebecca West, “and later realize they are heartless companions who have been accidentally  yoked to us.”

Pablo Picasso proclaimed there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats. I’m guessing if you need face cream to ward off  invisibility, you can’t see yourself as a goddess.

I can’t track down who coined this distillation of how women view themselves but I love the quote:  “Women will never rule the world until they can walk down the hall naked with a bald head and beer gut and think they’re beautiful.” Amen, sister.

This rant might seem like a huge contradiction from a woman who dyes her hair purple but I assure you it’s right on track. When you’ve been purple on the inside for a very long time and it finally makes an outward appearance, that’s a good sign to the universe that you refuse to be invisible.

I say make the most of your assets and do whatever makes you feel best but don’t ever diminish who you really are by relying on your body to convey that.

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented fabulous,” asks contemporary writer and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. And then she asks: “But who are you NOT to be?”

Do we really need new  face cream to save us from invisibility? Let’s hope not.

 

Never trust an arachnid to keep a promise. After rescuing and safely removing my itsy, bitsy Volkswagen-sized spider back in July, who do I find hanging out alongside the bathtub today? He’s baaaccckkkkk! How did that happen?  We had quite a chat about him NOT making a second appearance when he first surfaced in PVH News Episode #5. I thought I had made my expectations clear.

I know it was the same spider; he had a little dimple above the second joint in his third left leg so don’t start thinking I have a whole herd or spiders running amok here. Lucky for us both, he fell for the ole’ glass cheese dome trick again or he would  be wrestling dust bunnies in the bottom of my vacuum cleaner bag by now. To my credit, I performed this removal all on my own this time and deposited him on the other side of the driveway. If he shows up again, my pet-store manager daughter says he’s going into a terrarium. Sometimes you have just have to go with the flow.

Although I know my repeat visitor is a wood spider, I’ve been doing a little research this summer after watching a friend recover from the bite from a brown recluse. Not pretty. Not easy. Not fast. One of the defining characteristics of the recluse is that it has only six eyes, not eight. And the famed black widow has a red hourglass marking — on her stomach.  I don’t know about you but if I encounter a new spider on the block, I’m not going to stoop down to see how many eyes are gazing into mine nor am I going to ask her to roll over so I can check for any suspicious markings on her undercarriage. File that kind of scientific info under “not helpful” –unless of course you are a squasher and just want to make sure once the deed is a fait accompli.

In addition to the fact that most of us don’t know how to identify the venomous spider species from the harmless ones, I’ve decided that another reason spiders are so damn creepy is that there are so many scary words to describe what they do. For instance, my beta fish swim, flutter, fan and glide. My cat purrs, pounces, plays and poops. All of that sounds pretty safe and ordinary. But what do spiders do? They dangle, scurry, entrap, lurk, entangle and inject. That’s the stuff that nightmares are made of — as well as CSI episodes.

I m happy to report that my creepy-crawly tolerance level has been greatly expanded thanks to this summer’s little adventure but I wasn’t always this open-minded.  My husband and I visited friends for a cookout over the weekend and in the midst of a lovely late-night conversation, an errant katydid landed on a young woman sitting next to me. To say she freaked is an understatement. It brought back memories.

I can remember one early fall day in third grade when we were sent to the fourth grade classroom to watch a film strip. (Yes. A film strip. Definitely not a movie or even a film which was the vernacular of the day.)  The third graders were instructed to sit on the desk tops. There was no such thing as air conditioning in schools in those days so all the windows were wide open. In the middle of the big event, a grasshopper flew in and plopped down in my lap. There I was surrounded by teachers and  “big kids” but alone in my absolute terror. I was paralyzed by the fear he would hop again and touch my arm or heaven help us, my face. And as kids back then, we all knew that grasshoppers spit tobacco juice so I sat motionless to ensure he wouldn’t do such a disgusting thing on my dress that would be a reminder all day long of those agonizing moments I had been held hostage by a bug.

In some weird kind of way, I’m grateful for the snakes and spiders I’ve encountered in my life and especially this year on my stay-cation.  They have made for great stories. I like being reminded that ordinary moments accumulate to make extraordinary memories and what is a tale weaver without memories worth retelling? MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | March 5, 2014

The Gratitude Penny – a request from Mitchell Kyd

Today, March 5th, would be my husband’s birthday. This day falls as a deep and raw  reminder of our empty place. It will be the beginning of a long parade of “firsts” that we will face without him – prepared or not.  We have been surrounded by friends and wrapped in the comfort of knowing so many people continue to think of us.  Everyone asks: What can we do? How can we help? I have an answer for today. I would ask that you consider expressing gratitude for something you appreciate in your life by honoring and  sharing this request we printed for Doug’s Celebration of Life service last week:

The Gratitude Penny. Some people pick up lost pennies and make a wish. For many years, our family has been finding lost pennies and instead of wishing for something, we pick them up and express gratitude for something in our lives. Doug would often fill extra moments at malls,  restaurants, etc. (while waiting on a woman) by walking through parking lots looking for pennies. He nearly always found one.

Our daughter now often “plants” gratitude pennies in odd places for others to find.  Today, I am making a special request; I  ask that you hold a  penny in your hand while you express gratitude for something in your life you appreciate. Then toss your coin in a random parking lot or other public place for some other treasure hunter to find. Take a moment then to smile and think of Doug.

It would appear this blog is getting read by other bloggers in many places around the world. I would love to hear from everyone who chooses to be grateful for something today by tossing a small  coin with this request in mind. Then let me know what is in your life that fills your heart with gratitude.  You will help us through another first. MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | March 1, 2014

News from the Path Valley Hotel – Episode #9 The Family Album

If you have skeletons in your closet, you may as well make them dance.”        George Bernard Shaw

Scoundrels and scallywags. Heroes and heartthrobs. Floozies and philanderers. Life would be such a snooze without that cast of characters we call family. I was very fortunate to have grown up in a loving, nuclear family with (extra insulation from a passel of  greats and grands as well) but no matter how strong, buttoned-up or high-brow the heritage, there are always stories to tell.

My fireplace mantle is now lined with freeze-framed moments of all the lives that have created mine. I love being reminded that everyone I have ever loved has been in this cabin at some point in time.

My most scandalous stories are a few generations removed or are rooted in second cousin-dom, but it’s all there: murder, suicide, madness, lost fortunes. And that’s just my side of the family. I can’t wait to hear the tales my kids will be telling their kids as they weave in all their dad’s legacy.

My favorite stories though, are always the ones where I can picture the people involved because I knew them. Even though its hard to imagine your grandfather as a young banty rooster in pursuit of his prize, you know he wasn’t born a grandfather when you find a photo. I uncovered one of him I never knew existed, tucked inside an old candy tin that had belonged to my grandmother.

“Pap”  must have been in his mid- 20s; I know he had  already lost a wife and a baby before “Nanny” entered the picture. He has his hands on his hips and that James Dean look of defiance on his face that seems incongruous to me based on the old softie I knew. On the back, my grandmother had written: Mason, Tuesday, July 7th.  I love  speculating on that cryptic message. Had they first met on Tuesday? Was the photo taken on a Tuesday? Was the note a reminder about a first date coming up on Tuesday? I like not having all the answers. After all, I’m a tale weaver, not a news reporter…MK

 

It’s a fact; love is a battleground and there are lots of casualties.  The leading cause of divorce in this country is marriage so with a recent fresh assault from Cupid, I think it’s time someone starts asking the tough questions. For instance,  what has happened to the saintly component that was part of St. Valentine’s Day? Who decided that it was okay to have a chubby little naked kid circling around us with a loaded weapon one day each year?  Who really guards our air space every February 14th?

Cupid flew in from  Roman mythology. He was the child of Venus and best known for shooting arrows into his victims, forcing them to fall blindly and helplessly in love — with the very next person they encountered. We’ve all seen the results of this juvenile delinquent’s handiwork; how else would you explain the proliferation of so many mismatched couples or the continuing popularity of  the I’m with Stupid t-shirts.

February 14th truly  started as a way of honoring St. Valentine, a figure in  Christian history. In fact there were three Saint Valentines, all of whom were martyred.  The word martyr already gets tossed around too often when describing the lasting effect of many romantic entanglements so that alone might explain why we’ve come to  embrace a naughtier spokesman for this lover’s holiday.  And besides, it’s obvious that Cupid had more staying power as a marketable commodity.  With his James Dean attitude and photogenic gluteus maximus, he projects a better media image for branding boxes of overpriced chocolates and edible undies than some gaunt, ancient guy who died for his convictions.

So every year, Cupid continues to aim, shoot, score.  The minds of his  victims are reduced to the consistency of cherry cordials by his highly publicized barbs and then the chemically-induced courting ensues. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes insert- name-here with the baby carriage as the old jump-rope rhyme goes.  Well, I have questions about all that, too.

Why do they call it a marriage license? I know why my doctor has a license; it’s a guarantee that she has made a personal investment in getting the right knowledge and experience to deserve my trust. I know why my electrician and hair stylist each have a license; it means they have earned competency in the field where they provide me with a service and they are accountable to some higher authority for regular reviews. Even a driver’s license requires proof of some level of skill and performance, for goodness sakes! But what competency is required for a marriage license?? Zip. Zero. Nada.

When Doug and I first announced our impending marriage to my parents, my dad told my then-fiance about the marriage license.  “It only takes $2 to get married,” he said with a grin.  “And every penny you earn after that.”  Thanks, Dad.

Maybe we should build some competencies into the granting of marriage licenses to make sure we’re all getting what we’ve paid for.  Instead of taking blood tests, maybe we should be able to  pass the blood-tolerance test to find out if a future spouse will be capable of extracting a baby tooth or cleaning up a kid’s bloody nose on the ball field.  Will he/she truly enjoy those romantic evenings snuggled together on the couch watching another episode of CSI after a dinner of steak tartare?

While we’re at it, I vote for including aptitude tests in the marriage licensing process. That will help determine if a future spouse can tell the dirty dishes in the sink from the clean ones or if they can calculate the value of a 20%-off coupon on an $20 item that’s 15 miles away. We will also know if they know what repair jobs require a plumber rather than another length of duct tape.

Motor skills tests will evaluate their ability to properly replace a roll of toilet paper, remove the trash from all the waste cans or operate the TV when the remote is missing. Visual acuity exams will clear up whether they can see the dust rhinos under the sofa, distinguish  fresh hairballs from the bathroom carpet or find the jar of  pickles clouded by conspiracy and hidden behind the mayo.

A few years ago while my husband and I  were on a little vacation to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my matron of honor visited our house and dropped off an anniversary card.  Tucked inside were the original hand-scratched notes from our wedding vows, his and mine, the ones we had both written in secret and not shared with the other until our ceremony.  It was an amazing gift (Thank you, Deborah!) and I’m not sure what amazed me more. Was it that she had the forethought to collect them from us on our wedding day? Or kept them safe all those years? Or had remembered where she had stashed them by the time that quarter century milestone had finally rolled around?

There were a lot of Cupid’s hallmarks in those notes, gooey stuff about love and promises and forever-ness. There wasn’t a single thing in written down where either of us vowed to take turns getting up with a teething baby, or  slosh around in a flooded basement, or get up early to scrape the ice off the other’s windshield, just because.

But all of that and more has manifested over the years and surprisingly, with just a $2 license and a blood test. We first  met in April so I suspect we had escaped the zing of Cupid’s arrow.  Perhaps that explains why we’re still together when so many other fires have burned out.  (And we would most surely have failed a competency test  all those yeas ago.)  We got to where we are one microwaved dinner and leaky faucet at a time so we’ve had lots of time to examine the invisible ink on that marriage license.   For those of you still in Cupid’s sights, make an informed decision about donning the chainmail.  It’s the little things that matter; the devil and all rewards are hiding in the details.

Valentine’s Day is upon us once again, a season of delight — or disappointment — for women everywhere. For men though, it’s a time of angst when they live in fear of cold nights alone on the couch if the correct romantic thought eludes them.

Women already know how to get the gift they’re after; if you’re earring-impaired and need some new bling as an example, don’t hint.  Don’t tell. Take him downtown by the hand and press his trembling fingers against the plate glass of the jewelry case as you describe the coveted item in detail.  When you get back home, put a sticky note with the jeweler’s number and a copy of the inventory tag on his checkbook.  But what fun is that?

Women like surprises. And some evidence of effort.  And a sign that romance and creativity are not really dead but only in a coma.  With Cupid’s arrow already knocked and ready to fly, I offer this perfect teaching moment that appeared as I gazed out my back door.

At first I thought it was a hairball. Through the screen door that gray, furry mass on my doormat lay waiting  just like those night deposits anyone who shares living quarters with a cat learns to anticipate.

Not familiar with that of which I speak?  Well, here’s how it goes.. . First you hear a little cat cough somewhere outside your bedroom. If you’re new to cat cohabitation, you may think this retreat to the hallway by your feline is a charming courtesy because only seconds before, that tiny cat face was just inches from your own.  But experience teaches you that what follows next is nothing close to charming and involves a full range of cat gagging. This inevitably ends well for the cat but badly for the human who has just been awakened from a deep REM sleep. The aversion to stepping barefoot into the dark and squishing onto that cold, wet roll of recycled cat fur can only be overpowered by one other thought: the undeniable urge that once awakened by cat gagging, you must now instantly get up to pee. But I digress.

What lay before me on the doormat was not a hairball; it was a dead mouse on my doorstep. Yappy Sue was poised there, too, head tilted, motor running, and wearing a big calico grin that said clearly: I brought this just for YOU!

Wow. What a token of love. My cat had laid her version of fresh lobster at my feet at the sacrifice of her own meal and probably at the expense of true personal injury. I contemplated the tiny creature for a moment and realized it had been presented with great care – and totally intact – her version of gift-wrapped.  That’s quite a feat when you stop to think what all might be involved in catching a mouse when you have to use your mouth to do it. Yet here it was, preserved only through constant vigil until I would awake and she could offer it up simply for my sheer delight. She must have been up all night thinking of ways to make me happy. And she had done it all without any expectation of sex in return.

So, to recap all this as insight about why cats are in the dog house less frequently than some men:

-Women want gifts that require no work on our part. Bring us dinner reservations, not a crock pot. Give a gift of housekeeping services, not a vacuum cleaner.

- Women like nice surprises, especially those that show evidence of planning on your part and a little personal sacrifice.

- We love gifts that are delivered free of reciprocal expectations (which BTW, also makes us more inclined to provide you with a little spontaneous reciprocity…).

-And finally, we adore gifts that make great stories, the kind where you are the hero and we become the envy of all our friends.

Find a gift that reflects three of these four components and you’re guaranteed at least one get-out-of-jail-free card to play later at your discretion. Create an expression of love that incorporates all four feline-like approaches and you’re golden; you’ve found your own version of the dead mouse on the doorstep.

This achievement has advantages; you will be treated as well as the cat. That means you will be well-fed, always summoned in a tender voice, awarded all the prime napping spots and invited to sink into our bosoms where we will stroke you lovingly until you fall asleep.

If your significant other asks what you’d like for Valentine’s Day, you have an answer: Bring me something that says ‘I love you’ like a dead mouse on the doorstep.  And remember, if he fails to deliver, you can always get a cat.  Mitchell Kyd

Posted by: deadmousediaries | February 6, 2014

15 Ideas for Fixing February – some suggestions from Mitchell Kyd

I fixed February today. Well, at least for the afternoon.  In the midst of the dreariest, least enchanting month of the year, I pried my frozen, mindless fingers from the TV remote and refused to be a victim any longer.  The sun was dazzling and rather than curl up with the cat for another brief basting in the southern exposure, I scraped up all my loose change and headed to the drive-thru.  With a sweet tea in the console, I cranked up the Jeep heat, opened the moon roof and dug out my Beach Boys CD. Singing along with Brian and the boys of eternal summer was wonderfully cathartic and started me wondering.  How can I can fix February on a more permanent basis?

It appears to me that the long-term solution is a move for reapportionment.  Let’s right-size February.  It happens all the time in government; why not on the calendar?  After all, the Romans used to steal and borrow days from other months –which is why February has always been a little odd.

February has no character and no shame to my way of thinking.  In January, we’re still a bit enthralled by the beauty of winter but February only slinks in on its coat tails.  February is selfish and self-indulgent; it denies even the tiniest green buds of snow drops and forsythia that follow in March to remind us that spring will be coming after all.

My suggestion is that we cut February off at Valentine’s Day.  Fourteen cold and bloomless February days is really all we need.  We want to keep Punxsutawney’s celebration intact, of course, because how else would a large, small-town rodent garner continued international attention. The economy also demands we keep Cupid off unemployment but what about the remaining 14 days? I say apply that time where we really need it.

For starters, my plan gives everyone an entire free “floater” week to schedule when they need it.  That could mean an extra week at the beach, perhaps, or just the freedom to just call it on those spontaneous days you’d rather spend the morning in bed. The remaining seven days could be inserted near the other holidays.

Because all the best stuff gets done at the very last minute, I propose adding more last minutes, 1,440 of them to be exact, in advance of the seven major holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s all get another full day on the calendar, a BOGO if you will, to make sure we run out of money before we run out of time for those last-minute gifts.  At Easter, add another day to revel in spring  and there are still enough days left over to plump up Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day to extend our picnicking pleasure.  During leap year, we all get another floater.

I do realize this change poses a fundamental problem for all the folks born in the latter half of February. Rather than over-regulate this process, I recommend allowing the affected population to make their own decisions in picking a new celebration day. On a happier note, my proposal does have the added benefit of cutting your household budget by 4.166% because we would eliminate one whole cycle of bills that need to be paid between the 15th and the end of the month.

It’s started to sound pretty compelling, isn’t it?

I realize this will take some time to catch on and there may be a lot of red tape but every positive change has to start somewhere. In the meantime, here are 15 suggestions I can make on fixing February for yourself right now.

1. Take down your drapes and replace them with beach towels.

2. Make sand castles in the snow instead of snow men.

3. Scatter the shells from last year’s beach trip in your driveway and spray the bottom of the snow mounds with windshield wiper fluid until they turn blue and look like ocean white caps.

4. Gather all your fuel bills into a big pile in the center of the driveway and set them on fire. Pull out the lawn chair and roast hot dogs.

5. Change your screen saver and  ring tone to reflect an exotic escape.

6. Rent Blue Crush or Captain Ron or Couples Retreat and wear your flip-flops with toe socks while watching from your beach chair.

7. Replace your Mom’s Apple Pie and Winterberry candles with citronella.

8. Reset your phone, watch, radio, computer and microwave to reflect Fixing February time. Start today at 5:30 pm and set your clock ahead three hours.  Tomorrow evening it will still be daylight at 8:30.

9. Hang some fake flowers on your front porch.  Wait until the neighbors are watching,  then step outside in your flip-flops to water them. (Thanks for this tip, Paw Paw!)

10. Pour a little corn meal in your bathtub, your bed, your shoes and your undies. Remember what it’s really like to come home after a day at the beach.

11.  Invite five winter-weary friends to share a therapy session with Dr. Margo Rita.

12. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Squeeze the juice from one fresh lime.  (Set juice aside for Dr. Rita.)  Place peels in a small saucepan with 3 cups water and cook on low. Refill water as needed. Place one Tbsp coconut tanning oil in electric tart burner. Open oven door.  Pull beach chair close to the oven, maintaining safe distance.  Toast gently on  all sides while sinking into a good trashy novel. (My perennial favorite is Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.)  Note:  If you enjoy the smell of coastal tidewaters, open a can of sardines one day ahead and allow to come to room temperature on the kitchen counter.

13. Call you boss and tell her you’re down with a case of the Go Blootz. (You LUCY fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.) Jump on one of those four-day $499 hoppers to the Bahamas.

14. Visit the archives of Mitchell Kyd’s blog and warm up by reading: Oh! Those Summer Nights!, It’s Summertime and the Living is Juicy or Dancing Naked in the Moonlight.

15. Buy a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia if this all seems like too much work. Consume the whole thing and take a big nap. Repeat each day until February is over. Some things can’t be conquered, only out-lasted.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | January 31, 2014

Let Sleeping Groundhogs Lie – some advice from Mitchell Kyd

This Sunday, February 2, 2014, will mark the 123rd appearance of the legendary Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator of prognosticators, or so the ritual says. His only missed year was 1943 when he declined the hoopla in deference to the seriousness of WWII. Every other year since 1887, his groupies have waited anxiously to discover if Phil will see his shadow on February 2nd, predicting six more weeks of winter.

Like a lot of parents, we tried to expose our kids to a broad range of experiences as they were growing. You never know what might stick. Broadway, the ballet, art museums, the science fair, living history encampments, political debates, snake charming, architectural tours: all are on our been-there-done-that list. We once spent a day watching archaeologists amass a pile of dirt, one spoonful at a time, as they painstakingly unearthed the bones of a mastodon from a baseball field. With this kind of background, you can understand why we also felt a moral imperative to pack up our kids for Punxsutawney to celebrate Groundhog Day.

I would be lying if I said that the release of the movie Groundhog Day had no influence on our decision. The lure of a charming little town and the lore of its annual rituals as portrayed by Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray were just too compelling. Who wouldn’t want to stand around in the freezing, pre-dawn hours with thousands of other revelers, waiting for a bunch of old guys in top hats to yank a giant rodent out of a box? We certainly didn’t want to miss out on that.

The little town of Punxsutawney has marketed Groundhog Day into an art form. When we called the Punxsutawney Hotel for reservations, we were instantly accommodated – in a little motel 40 minutes away. It was one of a dozen sleep-over partners with which festival organizers had wisely built deals for the Groundhog Day promotion. Our package included one night’s lodging and transportation from the motel to Gobbler’s Knob and back. Bundled in mittens and long johns, ear muffs and two-few pairs of socks, we boarded an ancient school bus at 5:00 am with other groggy guests. A lot of foot stomping, hand clapping and hot chocolate sipping kept the crowd of thousands warm and under control for the 90 minutes or so as we stood shoulder to shoulder on the frozen Knob waiting for the big reveal; some had partied there all night.

The year we visited, Phil lied. But the enthusiasm was contagious, the anticipation glorious and the town quite charming with it’s all-hail-the-groundhog attractions and window displays. In the end, our little weekend getaway included all the critical elements to make it a happy and distinctive memory. I’m not sure what our kids took away from it, some insight into hotel management or impractical haberdashery perhaps, but who else do you know who has ever done it?

We did learn a lot. As it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil has a last name (Sowerby) and a wife (Phyllis) with whom he shares accommodations in the town library when he’s not on forecast duty. Like all famous movie stars, he has fans. In 1995, Phil was flown to Chicago for an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Until 2009, there was a TY Beanie Baby released annually in tribute, complete with three versions of distinctive top hats. Phil has also inspired competitors and wannabees including French Creek Freddie in West Virginia; Gen. Beauregard Lee in Georgia; and Buckeye Chuck in Ohio.

According to the records dating back to his first pronouncement, Punxsutawney Phil has only predicted an early spring 15 times. His track record says he’s accurate 39% of the time. In 2012, Chicago meteorologist Tim McGill had the audacity to call Phil out. “ Phil is a punk when it comes to weather forecasting,” he declared on the Chicago Tribune blog. All I can say is that Mr. McGill should be glad that Phil wasn’t from Ft. Loudon, Merercsburg, Bino, Lemasters, Nova –or any other small town in Franklin County. We don’t take kindly to the defamation of our local heroes here. It’s now too late to attend Breakfast with Phil . It may also be tough to get a motel reservation – even 40 miles away – but you can still be part of the excitement. Log on to the official website at www.groundhog.org where you’ll be able to plug in to all the latest chatter in Blog from the Burrow. You will also find Punxsutawney Phil coloring sheets, crossword puzzles and lesson plans for teachers. There is even a recipe there for Groundhog Cookies which, thank goodness, are a lot like their Girl Scout cookie counterparts in that they contain no actual components of their namesake.

In three more days, we will be looking with promise to Phil once again. I say nothing good about the weather can come from rousting a giant, winter-weary, rat from a coma. If we expect a better outcome, use a better process. Remember this old bumper sticker: “Some days I wake up grumpy. Other days I let him sleep.” If we don’t want Phil to see his shadow, then remove the opportunity. Maybe we should simply let sleeping groundhogs lie.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | January 11, 2014

Sleep in Heaven, Eat Peas

We are in the midst of a wonderful season. Wouldn’t that be great, if it were wonder-full the way we remember it? It seems to me that we have been working very diligently to squeeze all the wonder and the magic out of the holidays. Not everything needs an explanation.

I start watching my Christmas movies in November and even though I’ve added new ones to my favorites like the original Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, I never choose to watch those new behind-the-scenes commentaries or making of segments that come with my DVDs. I don’t want to know how a film director made reindeer fly. That’s Santa’s job.

Decades ago, my grandfather toured a film studio and saw some of the sets that were used in the making of westerns. Even at 70-plus, his enjoyment of his TV favorites like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Bonanza faded after he had been given the “privilege” of that behind-the-scenes look. I remember him describing how those huge, roiling rivers that kept us riveted as we watched the good guys struggle to cross them were nothing but little gullies of water on a film set. I knew then the magic was gone for him. As we sat watching after that, our heroes seemed less heroic and their perils not so perilous. Their good deeds and their stories had been diminished by too much reality.

When our kids were four and six, we did a December day in New York City. The thing our son remembers best is how weird it was he couldn’t see the sky. I’m not sure what our daughter remembers best but I still have film running in my brain of her reaction to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. Before the curtain had even opened, she bounced to the edge of her dad’s knees and sat perched there from the moment the giant dancing teddy bears appeared in the wings. Her little jaw dropped and she never recovered; she sat entranced through the Rockettes as tin soldiers and past the performers who magically ice skated on that grand old stage. She was transfixed from the moment the first music note sounded until the final curtain call. None of us wanted to know about cables and pulleys and snow-making machines on that day. It was the wow that had mesmerized the whole lot of us, not the how,

In mid-November I had tickets for a fabulous holiday music event where the performer told us all – once again- that it would have been impossible for the three kings of the Orient to have been present at the Nativity because it would have taken them a year to travel there. So what! Who among us hasn’t hit heavy traffic, been given bad directions or made a wrong turn somewhere that made us late for a baby shower?

At Thanksgiving, I was cruising the web for broadcast plans for that great holiday tradition, the Macy’s Parade. The first items that came up in the search were about the political controversy that was bubbling up over some of the floats. Animal rights activists were upset that SeaWorld planned to feature whales on their float because they charged that the facility didn’t treat their orcas well. Rocker Joan Jett was moved from her assigned position in the parade because the sponsors of her original float, the South Dakota tourism department, were responding to pressure from ranchers who declared that her presence sent a bad message about their meat-producing state; she’s a vegetarian.

I didn’t need to know any of that and I certainly didn’t care. I also didn’t see anybody anywhere in the parade line-up or in the crowd noting that Joan was proactively not gnawing on a rack of ribs as she passed by.

It’s hard to believe that 115 Christmases have passed since a man whose name few of us recognize penned a very famous letter that has become a hallmark for Christmas magic. That writer was Francis Pharcellus Church and he was an editor at the New York Sun when he responded to an eight-year-old girl in 1897 with his famous lines: Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. If you haven’t read that beautiful and inspired response to a child’s simple question, this might be the year to return to it.

If there is some luster missing from our holiday trimmings, maybe it isn’t that we need new ornaments, Maybe we all need to remember that less is more when the real gifts of the season are involved. There is no need to analyze or correct it if you or your kids aren’t getting all the inside scoop. Who’s to say Christmas doesn’t include Olive, the other reindeer, or Harold, the angel?

My holiday wish for all of us is that we can all slow down and simply wonder our way through the season once again. Let’s invite more wow and decline the how. Allow for more questions than answers and stop explaining the instant your kids stop listening; they are smarter than we are when we it comes to preserving the magic. Be merry and full of bliss this Christmas season. And if a child tells you that her favorite Christmas carol says she has to eat her vegetables, simply smile and believe her. Sleep in heaven, eat peas.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | January 11, 2014

The Cookbook

My favorite holiday is almost here, Thanksgiving. I’m just old and old-fashioned enough to think the Christmas season doesn’t start until the last of the cold turkey sandwiches has been gobbled up. I love everything about Thanksgiving: the focus on family, the emphasis on gratitude and especially the mandatory naps when everyone goes catatonic heads on their favorite sofa or easy chair to watch some football with their eyes closed. I also like that long, sprawling weekend that still lies ahead because I always get some of my best Christmas gifts underway.

   A few years ago I decided to make my kids cookbooks for Christmas. Everyone who knows me well has probably already sprayed hot cider out of their noses at reading that. For those who don’t know me, the truth is: I don’t cook; the kitchen scares me. The appliances are all possessed as far as I’m concerned. No matter how many times I empty the sink of dirty dishes, it is still always full. No matter how many groceries I load into the fridge, the shelves are always empty of anything anybody really wants to eat. Plastic lids multiply behind closed cupboard doors at night while their corresponding cups and bowls completely vanish without human intervention. There’s nothing good or natural about what happens in my own kitchen.

   That’s not say I don’t appreciate a great kitchen and to clarify, I did not say I made cookbooks from my own recipes. I went back a generation or two to the foods they had learned to love at their grandparents’ house. My mom has always been a fabulous cook. She got it from her mother; I remember. Unfortunately, that gene must skip a generation from time to time because when it come to planning dinner, I’m best at making reservations.

   I started my project at Thanksgiving and visited Mom many evenings after that while we sat at her kitchen table and she gave me the kids’ favorites foods without thinking. Ham and green beans, meatloaf, cranberry salad, baked apples, baked ham, scalloped potatoes. The list was not a gourmet menu but each dish was transformed into something special by the way my mom prepared it. By her estimation, she had peeled two tons of potatoes in her lifetime and baked a thousand apple pies, so she knew her way around a kitchen. There were ancient secrets and mystical ingredients I needed her to reveal.

   I wrote things down in longhand as she talked. My plan was to type it all into nice, neat categories and arrange it in an indexed book. As she talked, I would interrupt and ask how many and sometimes how much and that would stump her for a minute.  I don’t know! she would answer, a little annoyed that I didn’t have her intuition for measuring the correct amount of anything which, in the end, was simply “enough.”

    As Christmas got closer, I made the conscious choice not to type but to hand write my notes on pretty scrapbook paper. The vision of a beautiful bound book became more of a looseleaf binder but it turned out okay. It had occurred to me while we sat together at the kitchen table that the simple act of listening to my mother and writing it as she spoke was connecting the generations. Someday my children’s children’s children might find the book and see my handwriting, I remember thinking. Maybe they would linger long enough over my hieroglyphics to shape an image of their great-grandma or ask for a memory of me, too.

   Food and family are often topics in my writing and in a recent column, I admitted here that I missed my grandmother’s pies. Shortly after that story appeared I came home to find a voicemail from a reader who offered me a gift. Decades ago, she had bought a cookbook at my mother’s yard sale. This long-ago friend from our old church congregation had my grandmother’s Montgomery pie recipe.

   When we connected, she told me the recipe had been handwritten. The tears welled up when I realized she was holding a paper my grandmother had smoothed her hand across so many years ago. When I could form the words, I asked if she could copy it to a recipe card and send it to me.

   The envelope arrived a few days later with a personal note inviting me to visit if I’d like to see the entire book. The note was attached to the original recipe; she had cut it from the cookbook and mailed the entire page. My throat got tight when I read it. It wasn’t my grandmother’s writing I was looking at. It was my great grandmother’s script and it was unmistakable. I pictured her in her kitchen where we sat together many afternoons and searched for treasure in her button box or set up dominoes just to knock them down again. I could see her sitting there holding that nubby little pencil with its worn eraser and some advertising on the side from a feed mill, gas station or maybe Sears and Roebuck.  I had to wonder. Had she been thinking then like I had, that her children’s children’s children might some day run across her work and remember the extraordinary moments of an ordinary day spent sitting at her kitchen table?  Thank you, Mrs. Gress, for my early Christmas present.

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