Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 1, 2017

All I Want for Christmas – a Reflection from Mitchell Kyd

The holidays are here and they are the perfect time to treat yourself to memories. Memories are always free and you never need a coupon. They are also fat-free, salt-free and low carb so it is okay to over-indulge. Because they are compact and easy to carry, memories can be summoned at a moment’s notice without a DVR or TVO, ready to be freeze-framed and rewound for instant replay.

At Christmas, I find myself recalling memories of memory-making like the year I closed up my parents’ farm. A lifetime of memories flew past me like the pages of a cartoon flip-book. The years had been compressed to fit comfortably inside cardboard cartons. To the observer, they were boxes of junk. To the storyteller who packed them, the contents represented one of life’s little disparities; we often seem to blink and miss the moment but somehow still manage to catch the memory. I suppose it is like the summer peaches we boil away so we can enjoy them spread on toast on winter mornings

In one of the many cartons of memories we transported from my parents’ house to ours was a box of pine blocks that my dad had cut and sanded by hand and presented to my son at Christmas 25 years ago. On the lifelong happiness scale, the blocks outscored every other gift he has ever received.

This simple toy far outlasted the hockey table and the Nerf bazookas. It trumped the slot car track, the swing set and his first two-wheeler. Even as Santa turned tech-savvy and dropped off a Game Boy, an iPod and eventually a PlayStation, our kid still had great adventures exploring the mysteries of balance and the physics of fulcrums with his wooden blocks. No single thing has ever entertained him more consistently. What’s more, the blocks have survived the journey in grand style are still in great condition, ready to be passed along to whoever wobbles onto the scene as my first grandchild.

It seemed my dad had once again remembered a gift-giving truth that often eludes the rest of us: simple joys endure.

As I think back on the power of that classic gift, it has made me stop and remember my best Christmas memories. It is the feelings that are created by family, constancy, and comforting tradition that stick with me now, decades after the gifts have been discarded. It has caused me to spend some time reflecting on what I might really want this Christmas and I think that it is this:

I want to keep creating new stories that will be told at Christmas Future. I want to open my Christmas stocking and find it filled with more magic and less plastic, more wonder and less reality. While I’m waiting, I want to experience that sense of happy anticipation that is just as good as the having.

I’m asking Santa to bring me fewer batteries and more things powered by imagination. I want my grown children to remember forever that we can travel to the green-cheese moon on a giant slingshot or just grow wings if that is more convenient.

I want us all to be reminded that the December world has natural beauty. I’ll suggest that we tone down the glitz and replace the razzle dazzle with some old-fashioned winter splendor. I’ll ask Santa to give everyone permission to cut back on the lumens so we can enjoy more landscape luminescence. When I look back on the Christmas card my mind is painting of this year’s celebration, I want it to be timeless.

I’m also asking Santa to give us all more face-to-face time and less Facebook friending. I think it might be nice to have more moments where we are present and fewer where we are texting TTYL. If he has time, I’ll ask that he drop off some mail for each of us with actual handwritten notes inside and make the phone ring with calls from friends who are far away.

And finally, I’ll be saying, Santa, if you can bring me just one thing, please fill my head with the sweetest dreams of those of who will be missing at this year’s Christmas table. My memories are a simple joy and an enduring Christmas pleasure.

 

Advertisements
Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 1, 2017

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 ofsegments 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?

I remember a Thanksgiving season a few years ago as 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 120 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 | December 1, 2017

And a Merry Martha Stewart to You!

Have your ever bought a magazine or craft book with the intentions of doing more with less for the holidays based on the advice of the decorating gurus? And how did that work out for you?  This year I’m working on my own schedule and with my own ideas and I am doing just fine, thank you. In fact, I’ve even had a few minutes left over to put a little Christmas greeting together for my friend, Martha Stewart. I’d like to share it here with all of you:

Happy Holidays to you, Martha Stewart! Now back off! Isn’t it enough that you’ve become a holiday icon? Do we really need more guilt about failed past Christmas souffles or increasing angst about whether our vinegar-dipped chandeliers will burn as brightly as the neighbors’? I love the holidays more than most but I long ago gave up your vision of the perfect season filled with little nativity scenes crafted completely of hand-formed marzipan. I don’t expect to be making seven dozen stained glass cookies to depict each of the 78 characters from The Twelve Days of Christmas plus six carolers to immortalize them in song.

In fact, I have given up on most of the things you’d like me to believe are essential to a beautiful family holiday. I am no longer drying fragile blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace in the summer so I can place them on my Christmas tree like the parasols of tiny faeries. I’ve stopped gluing my fingers together with pine pitch while trying to weave a charming wreath from my leftover Christmas tree branches. And I’m not baking any dog biscuits topped with bows made out of bacon bits.

In fact, I’d like to invite you to be part of my world; come on over and see how Christmas really gets done here, outside of TV Land. We’ll tackle something simple, like gift wrapping, and see how well you’d do without your set director and a staff of 47. Follow along, please, Martha.

Step 1: Clear a large, flat work space such as a kitchen or dining table. Lay out your rolls of gift wrap that you wisely bought on sale after last year’s holiday. Assemble all of your related supplies that have been carefully stored in plastic organizers since last Christmas. Arrange everything on your workspace within easy reach to save time.

Step 2: Drive to the nearest WalMart or Dollar General to buy new tape and scissors because someone pilfered these items from your supplies since last Christmas. While you’re out, pick up the dry cleaning, and your husband’s prescriptions; stop for milk, get the oil changed, pay the sewer bill and drop your final Christmas package at the Post Office.

Step 3: Remove gift-wrap and supplies so you can set the table for dinner.

Step 4: After dinner, lay out all your gift-wrapping supplies. Return to the car to search for the one plastic bag containing the tape and new scissors. While you’re in the car in the driveway in the dark, pick up the french fries that fell under the seat two weeks ago. Find last week’s mail that slid between the seats including the electric and water bills that are now past due.

Step 5: Clear gift-wrap and supplies from the table so you have room for last week’s mail, your checkbook and the calculator. Pay bills, balance checkbook and text yourself a reminder to stop at the Post Office again tomorrow to buy more stamps.

Step 6: Now that everyone else has gone to bed and the house is quiet, lay out all your gift-wrapping supplies, tune radio to Christmas music and brew yourself a cup of tea.

Step 7: While in kitchen, pull chicken breasts from freezer for tomorrow’s dinner, empty trash and wash coffee mugs left over from late night snack.

Step 8: Rush to hallway to answer another automated telemarketing call. Return to work table. Discard the length of wrapping paper you had already cut so you can dispose of the hairball your cat presented on it in during your extended absence. Move sofa and recliner in search of the ribbon spool he gnawed, the one that triggered the hairball.

Step 9: Accept your situation. Let the dog out, scoop the cat litter, feed the fish and go to bed.

Step 10: Set your alarm for ten minutes early so you have time in the morning to remove gift wrap supplies from your workspace to make room for breakfast. Then drive to the nearest WalMart or Dollar General and buy two dozen gift bags.

Alternate Ending: If you are on a budget, do what my husband used to do. Buy one fits-all gift bag. Keep all gifts in their original bags. At gift exchange time, transfer one item at a time to the gift bag and present to the recipient. Ask that the bag be immediately returned so the next recipient can be equally delighted.

So there you go, Merry Martha Freakin’ Stewart. I don’t need your ideas or your merchandise to make my holidays complete. I have my own creative brain, a decision making process and now, a nearby Dollar General.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 1, 2017

News from the Path Valley Hotel: Christmas Trees I have Known

I may be the luckiest woman on the planet at Christmastime because I am smack dab in the middle of the place that has been the center of nearly all my holiday memories. Despite the moves, the additions, the departures temporary and forever, over the past 50 years, the Path Valley Hotel has welcomed in and wrapped its arms around every person I have ever loved. In these rushed and transient days, that’s a powerful ah ha.

   For decades, holidays have brought all the components of my original and extended family to this little spot in the woods. As the years passed, more branches of the family tree sprouted and we added new faces at the table as we honored the empty spaces left by others. But no matter who gathered, the showpiece for every Christmas has been a live tree.

   I remember the days of tree lights that failed to work if one bulb went bad. I remember fragile glass ornaments that fell to the floor and shattered to bits because their fickle metal caps went kerflooey the instant our fingers trusted they had been hung securely. I remember angel hair and tinsel and the year our cat Twink ate the shiny strands of icicles from the lowest branches, They were indigestible as you might imagine which meant she sometimes paraded past with a decorated derriere on her way to add a little holiday pizzaz to her litter box.

   We always cut our own trees and I remember the cedars and the soft and long-needled white pines.There were Scotch pines, Douglas firs and blue spruce, always tall and mighty. A wire and screw eye are still anchored in one of the hotel ceiling logs as a reminder that there was a year (and only one) when the tree toppled over.

   There was the year when our tree looked so beautiful on the landscape that we failed to notice until we got it home how sparse the branches were without the benefit of its surroundings. We used lots of icicles and even hung gift tags to fill in that year; we also decorated the wire.

   While the official Christmas tree was always the grand and fragrant one we enjoyed at the PVH, everyone kept some kind of wannabe tree at home. My great-grandmother had a gumdrop tree, a little plastic tree that would be assembled every year and decorated by pushing plump, colored candy onto all the little barbs on its branches.

   My grandmother often put up a little cedar tree which my Pap and I would cut from the fence row. She also had a tree made of a blue paper cone that balanced delicately on a sharp metal rod. The cone had wavy, decorative cuts that gave the illusion of branches and it was covered with big crystals of glitter. Underneath, a single light bulb, painted blue, created heat that caused the cone to circle slowly and hypnotically on its precarious pin point. I was fascinated. Little did I know what a great idea that was to put within reach of a kid: a heat source in such close proximity to a flammable material. (Of course, that was the 50s so maybe it wasn’t made of paper after all, maybe it was asbestos.)

   I also remember the year we joined the chic and trendy families of the 60s and purchased an aluminum Christmas tree for home. What were we thinking?? We hung Styrofoam balls covered in red and green threads which I’m sure were all the rage in House Beautiful at the time. We had never had a Christmas tree that came with instructions before that one but that paperwork clearly indicated we should not put electrical lights on a metal tree. Ever ingenious, my dad created something with an old fan, some tinted plastic and a spotlight that projected an ever-changing display of color on it from a safe distance.

   The first year in our new house, my husband had to put up a second tree three days before Christmas when it became apparent the first tree had been steadily undecorating itself after having been put up too soon and too close to the radiator. In between, we have done the theme trees with teddy bears and mono-chromatic elements. We’ve done the hand sewn Christmas ornaments and the Hallmark collectibles. The year my dad died and my mom was hospitalized and my daughter totaled her Jeep and my husband had heart surgery all in the span of three months, we managed to get a tree up but let it stand pristine as nature intended.

  For the most part, the dozens and dozens of perfect trees that stood tall all season in their majestic grandeur have faded in our memories. The ones that we remember were magic in their imperfections and in their quirks; they were the ones with character and authentic staying power.

   And so it strikes me that’s the truth about our holidays. The moment may be mistaken as a crisis but those are the events and stories that make our best memories, the ones that knit us together as families and as friends. At this time of year especially, wouldn’t it be great if we could let go of elusive expectations of the perfect tree, the perfect gathering, or the perfect family and simply give in to the joy of Christmas presence?  MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 1, 2017

The Forgotten Holiday – Extra Mayo

People have started calling it the Forgotten Holiday. I agree. Thanksgiving is suffering from an identity crisis. Still, it is my favorite holiday because it has all the best components: family, food, gratitude and naps. Folks tend to linger at the table longer and have real conversation at Thanksgiving when the meal is the centerpiece of the day. That holds true even though a stopwatch could capture the time that elapses between finishing the dishes and hearing the first fridge raider slapping a sandwich together. Nothing beats cold turkey slathered with mayo if you’re preparing to watch a little football with your eyes closed, a trick I learned from my husband.

Yes, I choose to honor Thanksgiving. I pledge to protect it from the hub-bub and overshadowing events that are soon to follow. Those events are, of course, Black Friday and the first day of deer season.

Now that retailers are promoting Christmas before Halloween and tempting shoppers with pre-pre- holiday shopping discounts, we apparently needed something more for Black Friday. As a result, our annual day of thankfulness now includes a new blessing: malls and superstores open at midnight. We no longer have to get up at 3:00 am to satiate our need to get the best and newest at the cheapest price of the season; we can just stay up after our tryptophan-induced nap on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m proud to say I’ll be out there on Black Friday. If I have an objective, I like earning my stripes by standing in line. I hum Christmas carols and clutch my prize, knowing my status will soon read: mission accomplished. I realized long ago that shopping is a competitive sport. It’s no small feat to be able to combine an early bird special with a coupon on top of a preferred customer discount but after that first trophy, I’m out purely for the entertainment value. It’s nice to get caught up in the official start of the season but better yet to pause for some hot chocolate and watch the crazies as you let the Christmas rush rush past you.

At the end of the day, Black Friday night signals the start of some family traditions. We slap together some big turkey sandwiches and pop in a movie that we watch only once a year, a reserve for just that occasion. As a kid, I found the less-is-more concept hard to grasp but it is a secret my parents passed on to me and it’s one of the keys to Christmas magic. And Black Friday night sleep is the best. After the wee-hours shopping, the leftover carbs and a movie, it takes no time at all to go comatose. If Santa came on Black Friday night, he could crash through the roof and no one would ever hear him.

Saturday is a nice catch-up day with time to send some Christmas cards and maybe wrap a few gifts. To jazz up my day, I like to play a little game with myself called “What’s in here?” because I never put tags on my gifts when I wrap them. It’s impossible for me to think that after all the love and care I’ve taken in selecting and wrapping each special item that I won’t remember which one is which. But without fail by the end of the day, I don’t. I realize now that just adds to the anticipation of Christmas morning; at least I can surprise myself.

By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a new frenzy begins in anticipation of the first day of deer season. The divorce rate among socks and gloves must surely be the highest at the end of deer season so each partner must be found and reunited with its mate. Other outdoor clothing that fit a year ago sometimes shrinks during those long dark months in the closet and may require alterations –or the scramble for a giant safety pin. The house smells of Hoppes and damp leaves as the hunters traipse through after sighting in their rifles.

Alarms are set for dark hours before dawn in a trend that rivals early shoppers. A lot of clinking, zipping and stomping will ensue as yet another round of turkey sandwiches gets slapped together and pushed down into a jacket pocket that last month held dead squirrels. A steady line of headlights outlines the caravan on its annual pilgrimage, a drive to the perfect hunting spot. Hunters to the east are heading west; hunters in the west are heading east to ensure balance in the universe.

Wherever you roam, nap, shop, haggle or hunt in the days ahead, remember it all begins with Thanksgiving. Celebrate the day to relax, slow down and enjoy your family. Make time to count your blessings but don’t forget the mayo. It’s a critical component of the next two holidays!

Posted by: deadmousediaries | July 4, 2017

News from the Path Valley Hotel: The Best-Ever Potato Salad Recipe

 Some might think I have an issue. I prefer to think I have a talent. I have the ability to press play in my brain and summon some very specific sounds from my life’s greatest hits album. I can replay little snippets at will, including the household sounds on which my childhood was built. They play so clearly in my head that I experience time travel in that moment. 

    With July’s prime picnic day already upon us, the sound I’m hearing now is my grandmother’s chopping knife on the cutting board as she diced celery for her potato salad. It’s been more than 40 years since I’ve had it on my fork but I can conjure up the taste of that summer goodness on my tongue. Her version was the perfect combination, creamy with a tiny bit of tang. The potatoes were always cubed just right and the extra celery added the perfect hint of crunch.

   It’s tough to get good potato salad away from home. When you’ve been raised on a secret family recipe, the potatoes often aren’t cooked to your desired degree of doneness or other versions are too dry. Or have too much onion. Or are too bland without that splash of vinegar in the salad dressing. There are so many things that are just plain wrong about the way someone else puts it all together.

   Knowing I will never taste Nanny’s potato salad again in this lifetime, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’m sharing my fail-proof recipe for the best-ever potato salad with you here. It has only five extra ingredients beyond the basics.

   Starting with any prepared potato salad you can pick up from the deli counter at the grocery store add: 

1. Water.  I prefer lake water but creek, pond, river, pool, hose or sprinkler water works, too. I’m not sure about ocean water but I imagine that would be just as good. The important thing is to have it nearby and in adequate supply so your picnic goers can sit around it, dip in it, and splash, squirt or spray others with it. Substitutions for large bodies include balloons filled with it or ice cubes made from it. That makes it portable and surprise-sized for slipping down the backs of shirts of party poopers who don’t want to get wet by it.

2. Yellow. Great potato salad requires a heaping portion of yellow. Just as you would use pure vanilla extract in your best dessert recipes, I recommend using pure yellow, not imitation, in your potato salad. The preferred source is sunshine, like a kid’s finger-painting, but a bouquet of dandelions or yellow tiger lilies on the table will also work. If the weather or location demands substitution, add a yellow table cloth or napkins.

3. Warm. Warm is good when it comes to potato salad, otherwise you’re simply serving up a side dish at a winter potluck. Authentic outdoor warm is best, not artificially-cooled-to-comfortable inside warm. Tip: warm is not hot. You can tell if you have the correct setting if the salmonella-phobs at your event aren’t rushing to cover, cool and thereby hide your potato salad. That abduction of that Tupperware bowl greatly reduces the enjoyment of grazing on picnic leftovers throughout the remainder of the day.

4. Kids. My recipe calls for blending in a moderate scoop of kids. It’s difficult to provide an exact amount. Like so many recipes, measuring to your taste takes practice and is cook’s choice. My recommendation is that there are enough happy kids to provide a base of familiar summer fun but not so many that they outnumber the adults willing to calm and corral them if necessary.

5. Stories. Nearly all my best recipes call for a generous helping of stories. Stories can include memories of past picnics like the year the third child of the same family fell into the fishpond making the score three for three. You can also stir in stories that never go bad like how Uncle Sophus used to combine all the picnic leftovers in one bowl and enjoy them the next day for breakfast. Stories about previous failed potato salads are good, too, like the year the newest in-law thought it was okay to substitute mayonnaise for Miracle Whip and expect the same results. 

   In truth, you may never be able to duplicate the taste of a grandmother’s recipe but nobody else remembers it exactly as you do anyway. If you add these five ingredients to your deli counter purchase, you will get a shot at serving your own special potato salad, the best-ever kind that your family will always connect with great summer memories.  

   The Frugal Gourmet, Chef Jeff Smith, put it this way: “We eat certain things in a particular way in order to remember who we are. Why else would you eat grits in Madison, New Jersey?”         MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | June 8, 2017

Green Riders Bike Across the U.S., Plant Gardens, Raise Awareness

  Storytellers know that on the very best days, a story that needs to be told will simply reveal itself. I had that good fortune Sunday, June 4, 2017, when I passed a string of cyclists on their way to passing the Path Valley Hotel. It turns out there were 30 of them strewn along the major east-west roadway in my county. Known as the Green Riders- Good Deeds on Bikes, they are weaving their way across the U.S. from New York en route to Seattle, Washington. The group converged in New York’s Central Park on Memorial Day to begin their three-month mission to create awareness for sustainable green living and to highlight food waste in the U.S. 

   Although the group has been united by a common cause, most had never met until the ride began on May 29, 2017. Riders hail from the U.S., the U.K., France, Australia, Colombia, Spain, Denmark and beyond. On Sunday morning, June 4, 2017, they pedaled through my little town as part of their daily 50-mile increments in their journey of 3,700 miles. They expect to reach Seattle August 18, 2017.

  They’ll be spending their nights in parks and campground and with hosts who are preparing for their visits. There will also be some surprises with stops in other shelters such as barns and churches. The group is also plugged into Warmshowers.org, a worldwide, hospitality exchange for touring cyclists, as well as the social network known as couchsurfing that connects travelers of all types with short-term sleeping accommodations. Along the way, riders are planting gardens, living off fresh produce and also dumpster diving for food that has been tossed before its expiration date. 

   “About 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes into the garbage,” said rider Sarah Edleman, a statistic that has been backed up by government agencies. Sarah and companions had stopped for a lunch they spread out on a blanket under a shade tree when I caught up with them. Their meal included fresh broccoli, tomatoes and a version of Thai peanut sauce made fresh on the spot in a hand-powered food processor. It was served on a hoagie roll, one from an unopened pack rescued from a dumpster because it had been trashed by it’s sell-by date, not the expiration date. The difference between sell-by dates and true expiration of foods is one of the things Green Riders are hoping to highlight. 

   The U. S. Department of Environmental Protection estimates that the single biggest component of landfills is discarded food and it comprises 20% of all U.S. refuse. A study released by John Hopkins University researcher Dr. Roni Neff confirms that the billions of pounds of wasted food put in the trash in the U.S. each year is enough to supply 84% of the world’s population with a 2,000 calorie diet. 

   While some of the Green Riders are making their first long distance bike journey, organizer Rob Greenfield, environmental activist, has made other cross-country bike trips. His social media appeal for riders to join the adventure included a dose of reality about accepting this challenge where there are no support vehicles and riders had to pack their own food, water and equipment, a responsibility that means bikers are carrying about 80 pounds of gear everywhere they go, including up Pennslyvania’s inespcapable mountains. The true essentials of the trip were defined by riders as the bike, a small pump, patch kit, spare tube and water.

   The appeal to participants was the chance to expand personal knowledge and skills and to get the opportunity to practice sustainable living, including concepts of zero waste, holistic health and learning to live with less money. Organizers promised riders they would come away inspired and informed, leaving each stop along the way better than they found it.

   That promise appealed to Sarah and cyclists Joshua Graveline and Jonathan Nye who offered to share their bounty with me, a random stranger who happened to initiate conversation from my Jeep at the intersection where they had stopped. They passed around everything they had. As we talked, Jonathan and Joshua pulled dandelion and lemon grasses and added them to their lunch.

“The ride is  mostly about awareness, about getting closer to the Earth and living more simply, ” said Joshua, who admitted he has been living a fully nomadic life for more than a year. “I lived in my van for a year and worked as migrant help on farms,” he shared. “I finally gave up fossil fuels and struck out on my bike.”

   When asked how friends and family were reacting to their journeys, Sarah, who grew up in the south of Spain, said her parents had always encouraged independent travel and discovery. When she told them she was considering this trip, they told her to go, enjoy, and were totally supportive. Josh said his mother was terrified. “But I’ve been terrifying her for years,” he added, smiling about his love of adventure and extreme sports which is evident in all his photos.

   As they talked, Jonathan quietly planted cucumber seeds in a small bed of flowers along the roadway, living one part of the Green Rider’s mission by promoting freestyle gardening. Joshua reported he has dropped seeds in random spots in his travels, too, including abandoned flower pots. “Somebody’s going to be surprised to find bell peppers growing in their window box,” he joked.

   Several cyclists from outside the U.S. arrived later at the impromptu picnic spot and were quick to report on the kind hospitality they have received while in Pennsylvania. When asked if they have encountered any angry motorists en route, Joshua took the lead in responding. “For the most part, it’s all been good. Every once in a while people will shout and wave their arms about something. I can’t hear them so I just choose to think they’re saying ‘Hey! You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!’ Then I keep on peddling.”

   The Green Riders moved on to Ohio from Pennsylvania. The next routes take them through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota before heading through the Dakotas. Travel through Montana and Idaho will bring them into Washington. Their route was plotted to take them through national parks and campgrounds, creating the chance to enjoy the peace of cycling. Stops include time for planting gardens at people’s homes, at schools, and in the small towns and cities in each state along their route. 

   The group will be visiting organic farms and permactulture operations that work in partnership with natural ecosystems. They will also be visiting sustainability centers and homesteads that choose to live off the grid. 

   Riders install solar panels on the backs of their bikes to power their phones and they use social media to stay in touch with families, friends and followers. “Some of us don’t really want to be that plugged in but that’s where everybody is,” Joshua noted. That’s good news for those who want to follow their progress as they make their way across the U.S. in Johnny Appleseed style. Find them on their public Facebook page: Green Riders- Good Deeds on Bikes, #greenriders. 

   If your town is lucky enough to be along their path, the Green Riders will leave you feeling inspired. As true caretakers of our planet, they are honoring that pledge: Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. The only other thing they might leave behind in your community is some bell peppers in your window box.  MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | May 26, 2017

Pressing Pause on This Holiday Weekend

I love browsing second hand shops. It’s like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you stumble across exactly what you didn’t yet know you wanted. Other times it’s an odyssey and you uncover something you wish you hadn’t found.

I had that kind of encounter two weeks ago while browsing in a vintage jewelry store in Cumberland County. Under glass in the lone men’s case was an artifact that neither of my traveling companions even found remarkable. I recognized it instantly thanks to my friend and WWII veteran Gregg Davis. It was a Purple Heart. When he had handed me the one he had earned, he did it with honor and humility and he shared his story.

Unlike the first one I had ever seen, the medal in the shop had been abandoned by everyone who knew its story. It was meaningless, looked tawdry, set out for sale among the tie tacks and cuff links. I paused only a moment before stepping away. It made me sad. A soldier somewhere had been wounded in combat to have earned that honor and now there was no one left to remember or to care.

By the end of that week, I realized I could have rescued that soldier from obscurity by simply asking to see the back of the medal. Most Purple Hearts have the soldier’s name inscribed. The military engraves it if is presented posthumously and if not, most recipients or the family choose personal engraving after the presentation. The Purple Heart registry would have been the perfect place to start my research and if there had been no inscription, the Purple Hearts Reunited organization could have stepped in to help. 

A few days later I called the store owner to inquire about an engraving and paused again. It had been sold. I wish I had called sooner.

Gregg Davis has a talent for weaving history together in a way that makes it meaningful and so does my son but as a student, I hated that subject. With no disrespect to all my teachers who tried to help me find it fascinating, I didn’t. That’s pretty ironic for someone who has grown into storyteller and can never hear too much now about the way things were. In classes, I studied historical names, places and dates in a way my son studied other subjects, a method he branded R-LETTT, remember long enough to take test. 

We’re approaching Memorial Day again and it’s thanks to my son that I remember some history others probably tried to teach me. Do you recognize the name Hiram Maxim? Probably not but he introduced the machine gun in 1884. In 1897 live demonstrations prompted the New York Times to write about these “terrible automatic engines of war.” The story continued: “These are the instruments that have revolutionized the methods of warfare and because of their devastating effects, have made nations and rulers give greater thought to the outcome before entering…They are peace-producing and peace-retaining terrors.”

Did nations and rulers pause to give greater thought when they saw the potential for devastation? They did think about it but not in the way the Times had envisioned. By the beginning of WWI in 1914, machine guns were in full military use and we all know how that turned out.

Somewhere in class, I was supposed to learn about the Treaty of Versailles, too. What I don’t remember hearing about the final chapter of WWI on June 28, 1919, was the prophecy from French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces. Foch believed the Treaty was too lenient on Germany and was vocal about it. “This is not peace,” he is quoted as saying. “This is an amnesty for 20 years.” Others might have paused to hear him. The world was thrown into WWII on September 1, 1939. He was off by 64 days.

Monday is Memorial Day, a time to honor all the men and women who fought and died for our freedom. Along with parades, ceremonies and the posting of colors everywhere, we also fill the day with beach trip plans, steaks on the grill, summer sandal BOGOs and mattress warehouse sales. What if we all took time to pause and truly honor our fallen this one time a year as they do in Warsaw, Poland?

For one full minute at noon, every August 1st, the entire city of Warsaw comes to a standstill. Traffic stops, workers pause, pedestrians halt in their tracks as alarms blare and flares fill the city with smoke. It happens in remembrance of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest single confrontation waged by resistance forces during WWII. The record keepers tell us that 16,000 Polish resistance fighters died and nearly 200,000 civilians were executed. At the end of 63 days of fighting, 85% of the city had been destroyed.

It’s hard for me to imagine the eerie feeling of radio silence here for one full minute, much less no one on their phones and no agitated drivers honking horns because stalled traffic has delayed them. As an American, it’s even harder to imagine the deafening sounds rolling through my town like the ones that racked Warsaw during its annihilation. 

I suppose it’s best that we each claim a different minute to say thank you, but what if our fire sirens sounded and church bells rang out together on the chance we have forgotten? The important thing is that we interrupt our regular programming on a Monday holiday to pause and be grateful, remembering why we call it Memorial Day. Of course that’s only my opinion.  MK

Posted by: deadmousediaries | May 12, 2017

The Motherhood Contract: Always Check the Fine Print

Motherhood. Funny lady Erma Bombeck called it the second oldest profession. Unfortunately, unlike the oldest profession, you don’t get paid. In fact, some would say motherhood is more like a Bernie Madoff promise; you invest, invest and invest, yet your bank account continues to dwindle. 

When I was a young mom and our beautiful baby girl arrived as little sister for our son, people would smile and tell us we had a million dollar family. That expression was intended as a compliment. What it really meant was that it would take a million bucks to raise them.

There’s no shortage of money being circulated where mothers and kids are involved. When we celebrate Mother’s Day again on Sunday, May 14, 2017, the National Retail Federation reports Americans will spend more than $23 billion (23 and nine zeroes), to honor our moms. That’s more than we spend on Valentine’s Day so I guess we know who our true loves really are.

Despite the urban legend, this American tradition was not invented by Hallmark. The event we celebrate today has roots in the Civil War and is credited to Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia and later, her daughter Anna. The duo became champions for the idea of creating an event to honor mothers after other organizers tested a few false starts.

On May 9, 1868, three years to the day after the end of the Civil War, Ann and her committee launched Mother’s Friendship Day, an event intended to reunite families divided by the war. Ann continued her activism and when she died in 1905, her daughter Anna picked up the charge. Anna pushed successfully to establish a national observance of mothers and in 1910, West Virginia became the first state to recognize an official Mother’s Day. Other states quickly followed suit.

In 1914, the U.S. Congress enacted a law designating the second Sunday in May as national Mother’s Day. Six years later, Hallmark began selling Mother’s Day cards. Oddly, Anna Jarvis quickly became a vocal opponent to all the hoopla and lobbied for the event’s abolition, arguing that the day had become too commercial. Perhaps she should have seen that coming when she enlisted the help of retail magnate John Wanamaker and entrepreneur H. J. Heinz to create awareness for her cause and build nationwide support. 

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt commemorated Mother’s Day by approving a new three-cent postage stamp. He sketched the design personally after the idea for a stamp was brought to him by Mrs. H.H. McCluer, a past national president of the American War Mothers. The violet-colored stamp featured an adaptation of the famous portrait known as Whistler’s Mother. It included the words: In Memory and in Honor of the Mothers of America. 

Reports from friends indicate that even now, 87 years after Hallmark stepped in to make it easy, grown kids have trouble making a card and a stamp come together in time for that second Sunday in May. The good news is, Mother’s Day continues to see the highest phone call volumes of any day in the year.

Mothers deserve at least one day of recognition. I remember what I really wanted for Mother’s Day back then was a nap I could enjoy for a week. 

There are a lot of clauses in the motherhood contract and if you’re the party of the first part when the endorphins are flowing, it’s tough to be a careful reader. If you are a mother, you know now there was a lot of fine print at the bottom of the page when you signed on and it was easily overlooked. Here are some items commonly missed:

1. Alone time will be a problem. From the moment babies are born, life as you know it is over. It’s nearly impossible to put newborns down long enough to simply take a shower and before you know it, the only privacy you’ll ever get is if you have a lock on the bathroom door. Even then, little voices will always be outside pleading Mom? Mom! Mommy, mommy, mommy!!!  Fast forward 18 years (and it will be fast forward), and they’re off on their own doing exactly what you taught them: creating their own happy, satisfying, productive lives and finding new people who’ll share them. Then one day very suddenly, you can’t remember why you ever wanted to lock that door. Yes, alone time will be a problem. 

2. You will no longer recognize yourself in the mirrorI remember the first time I looked at my reflection and truly wondered when the middle-aged mom had swallowed the girl I used to be. The sleepless nights and worrisome moments of motherhood take their toll. Crows feet and pucker lines suddenly decorate your face and an unruly silver fringe encircles it. That’s the day you realize you don’t need a mirror to see your reflection; you can see yourself best in your kids’ faces. 

“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you,” wrote H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of Life’s Little Instruction Book.  If you’ve done your job as a mom, your kids will show you a more beautiful image of the real you than you’ll get with any great lighting or magic mirror. Choose to be reflected there.

3. Your heart will get broken. From the moment they are laid in our arms, our kids begin to battle us for independence. A mother’s heart survives a thousand tiny fractures along the way. I’ve come to realize that’s a critical phase of a mom’s journey, too. Hearts don’t really break. They crack and heal. And whether it’s love that rushes in to fill the gap or just a patch of rubbery stuff like what’s inside Stretch Armstrong, a mother’s heart expands a bit with every repair. That’s an important part of the process. Without that gradual expansion, how would we ever grow enough room to continually love our children more?

Posted by: deadmousediaries | April 28, 2017

News from the Path Valley Hotel, Episode #101: The Big Tree

I don’t know how long I’ve been tree crazy. It’s an inherited condition. One of my earliest memories of adventure with my mom was walking out our back door and making the trek onto the farm lane to visit The Big Tree. That was its name. I have no idea what kind it was and of course, it’s gone now. I do remember it stood as sentinel over a small, family cemetery, the kind people carved out on their personal property to keep their loved ones close.

The Big Tree’s partner was a wild persimmon. No matter what fall day we visited, we never found the little orange fruits when they were truly ripe and no amount of determination on my part could keep their tannins from drawing my mouth into a pucker. That was okay; testing them was an important part of the visit.

Our front yard dropped off to the edge of a very busy highway but in the back, a clover field bordered the lane that ran behind our row of six houses. As I got older, I was allowed to walk as far as The Big Tree alone, and I remember that heady feeling of independence. I was a tomboy and a pilgrimage to the Big Tree always promised the chance to catch a toad or a grasshopper, or once, mistakenly, a little snapping turtle –all without parental consent. It never dawned on me that Mom could see me plainly the entire time from our kitchen window. 

I’ve spent a lot of time under big trees since then and on April 7, 2017, my daughter and I and our two friends drove 200 miles to the Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to honor and say goodbye to one of our nation’s oldest. A six-hundred-year-old white oak towered over the town’s Revolutionary War era cemetery; it had been standing 300 years before the church was built there in 1717. On Monday, April 24, the task of removing it began.

The tree stood 100 feet tall, spread its branches over 150 feet and was 18 feet in diameter. It has been in failing health for decades. A network of weathered cables and ground supports were evidence of the valiant attempts to keep the tree viable for more than a century until finally there were no more fixes.

The tree dominated the view the instant we turned onto Oak Street. Even in its state of decline, there was a presence about it, a complete majesty, that caused a catch in my throat. We parked and walked to visit, observing first, quietly, and then struck up conversations with the people who knew this tree well as their town’s icon. We all took pictures, too, but nothing came close to capturing what any of us had seen with the naked eye. Some views were never meant to have borders.

This has been a tough year for big trees. In January, we lost one of Franklin County’s oldest when a 100-foot tall black oak toppled in Mont Alto. Even closer to my heart was the loss of a big tree on my little community’s ancient school grounds, one that has always been part of my memories and was part of my mother’s playground.

When it split, its broken bones fell onto the roadway. The first round of debris was removed by a resident with a chainsaw. For weeks after the collapse, the rest of the tree stood in partial ruin until a professional service was called in to finish the job. All the smaller sections have since disappeared, presumably picked up for firewood, but the huge pieces of the trunk still lie by the roadside. Every time I pass it, I am sad it has simply been abandoned, It reminds me of the discarded carcass of a Thanksgiving turkey. All the best parts have been picked over and the remains wait to be swept into the trash. There will be no honor it. Yes, I’m tree crazy. And proud of it.

In Basking Ridge, residents have been preparing for their landmark’s removal for months. A GoFundMe account was established to help cover costs of removal and school kids submitted essays about what stories the tree could tell. After 600 years, there would be much to tell, including the conversations between George Washington and Lafayette who reportedly sat in the giant’s shade discussing strategies for the Revolutionary War. 

Community leaders and church officials have also committed to repurposing all the wood from the tree; none will be wasted. The best news is that another 25-foot tall white oak, nurtured from the acorn of the original tree, has been growing on the other side of the cemetery with plenty of room to stretch for its lifetime. To me that’s all a beautiful story that shows how a community has rallied around an old friend and offered a proper goodbye.

Sometime this summer, I have to take down a hemlock here at the Path Valley Hotel and the thought already makes me sad. It was one of two I planted with my dad. It wouldn’t be so hard if it was sick but it’s healthy, having missed the invasion of the woolly adelgid, the insect that has been destroying so many hemlocks in recent years. Unfortunately, it now towers dangerously over my chimney and its roots are pushing their way to the PVH foundation. I won’t be able to watch as it comes down but will plant a new tree somewhere in gratitude for the time it spent here.

On Friday, April 28, 2017, we’ll mark another National Arbor Day, a celebration that has been with us since 1872. It’s the perfect time to plant a tree and a beautiful reason to take a drive and appreciate the native dogwoods and redbuds while they are in bloom.  If you’re tree crazy too, it’s also a great excuse to hug a tree. Thank it for providing shade, clean air and critter homes –and giving us some stories. 

Older Posts »

Categories