Somewhere in my keepsakes I acquired from my parents’ farm is a box of letters my classmates sent me in the third grade. They are all written in pencil on those chubby tablet sheets with blue lines that were standard issue to my generation of school kids. I received them in February, not for Valentine’s Day, but because I had been absent from school after having had my tonsils removed. Of course, my closest friends told me they missed me but the real news in everyone’s note was that Dana had stepped on a nail and had to get a shot.
The command to send me a letter was surely Miss Allen’s way of incorporating a teaching moment. It was more than another attempt at perfecting the smooth, bold strokes of the Peterson Method of penmanship whose unattainable, flawless alphabet lined every elementary classroom as a giant black and white guidebook. No, Miss Allen was attempting to teach some social graces along with sentence structure and proper spacing. Wouldn’t she be surprised today to find that not only has cursive writing been abandoned for keyboard strokes but that any kind of a snail-mail note with personality has become an endangered species, too.
If you remember the love life of third graders in the days before computers, there used to be a lot of note passing that often included a phrase like: “I like you. Do you like me? Circle Yes or No.” Third grade boys never responded “yes” to that, girls nearly always. I know the notes I received about my dearly departed tonsils were mandatory, not an option, because I have one that reads: “I don’t love you but Miss Allen said I had to.” Now presumably that meant Miss Allen said he had to write me a note, regardless of his romantic intentions, but if she had the power to insist the hottest boy in class love me, where was she seven years later when I was really ready to date?
As a side note, I’m sure I won over a few new hearts a week later when I returned to school. I brought my tonsils to school in a jar of formaldehyde to share at show and tell. They were disgusting enough to have peaked interest from all the boys. Even Spanky, Alfalfa and other Our Gang members of the He Man Women Haters Club couldn’t have turned away.
In elementary school in those days, we each decorated a box where we could collect Valentines from all our classmates. Or only some of them. As I remember it, there was always some kind of unannounced competition among the girls to see who could attract the most cards and the race was on to see which potential marriage partner had dropped us a little card with his dreamy name scrawled across it. Sadly, parents weren’t as tuned in to the importance of inclusion as they are today and some boxes were not as abundant as others. I also remember great contemplation and third grade philosophical debate over the real intention behind the specific, generic, pre-printed greeting a boy had chosen to send us if he was on our radar.
I’m sure classroom Valentine’s Day boxes have fallen by the wayside. Even snail-mail cards to dear hearts are on the wane but in recent years, we’ve added some new February celebrations to share the day. Take a look at the national holidays calendar for this February 14th.
In addition to Valentine’s Day, we now celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day on February 14th. I guess that makes sense. It’s your chance to feel weightless, your heart in your throat and butterflies in your stomach, as you float toward the clouds to be suspended at the top of your Universe and separate from the mundane world below. A Ferris wheel ride means you must also dangle exposed and unprotected, reliant on your partner not to rock the boat or make you feel afraid. Sounds like love to me.
February 14th is also National Organ Donor Day. I mean no disrespect to all the people everywhere who need these gifts and the families who must agonize over decisions that help make sense of tragedy but that day and designation can’t be a coincidence, can it? I mean, National Organ Donor Day has only been around since 1998. Frank Sinatra told us way back in 1967 that unrequited love made him leave his heart in San Francisco. Tony Bennett, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis all suffered the same fate since then, based on their recordings.
Two decades after Tony won his Grammy and claimed Left My Heart as his signature song, 80’s recording artists Wham! confided they, too, had made an organ donation, although at Christmastime. Last Christmas/ I gave you my heart/ But the very next day, you gave it away./This year, to save me from tears/I’ll give it to someone special. I’m thinking that when it comes to organ donation, giving away hearts is nothing new but we do now have two events that celebrate it. (And by the way, February 14th is also International Condom Day for love bugs all across the world which I’m sure is no coincidence.)
When you look at the heart in context with what we now celebrate as an entire National Month if February, it all clicks. President Johnson declared February as American Heart Month more than 50 years ago in 1863. February has since been officially desiginated as National Creative Romance Month and National Weddings Month as well.
I’m not sure how I’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, unlikely it will be on a Ferris wheel or at a Wham! revivial but I do know this. Any day is the right day to tell the people you care about that you love them so I think I’ll make some time for that. And maybe I’ll send a few handwritten notes to renew old friendships, not because Miss Allen made me but because they may find them buried in a box decades from now and be happy with the memory.
I often wonder how many baby boomers like me remember being part of a children’s program in a little country church somewhere at Christmastime. I love the feeling those memories stir up in me.
My special Christmas program was held at my grandmother’s church in little train stop called Richmond Furnace. I attended with my cousins, only for the Christmas program, but decades before that, my grandma had herded my dad and his seven siblings down the family’s long dirt lane and off to services on countless Sunday mornings. In those days, Grandma and Pappy’s little white church drew folks from up and down our valley for hymn sings and oyster suppers. The church never had running water but it was no great hardship; when it was built, everyone led lives of “making do.”
By the time I came along, services were held just one Sunday night a month when the minister from the church in the little town nearby would extend a visit. The church and the congregation were well aged by then and the whole crowd of a dozen or so people would wait patiently below the single light bulb on the church doorstep until the designated caretaker brought the key to let everyone inside.
One night a year, in December, the pews would fill again and all this little church had ever been wrapped her arms around her loyal congregation and their offspring as we gathered for the Christmas service. This special Sunday also drew my other grandparents to this church for a holiday tradition, the night that I would say my Christmas piece.
Recitation was the word teachers used in school when we had to memorize a poem or quote a few lines from a story but that’s a hard word for five-year-olds to form. At Grandma’s church, a poem you worked so hard to memorize was simply called your Christmas piece. Beginning in early December, my mother oversaw the learning of it and my dad endured the countless practice runs.
The church pews were well dotted with visitors on program night and it was years before I came to realize that all of us children were not related. I always thought “The Bricker Girls” who joined us were just two more distant cousins who I only saw one time a year. In truth, the connecting thread was the church itself and it called us all back that time of year just like a family reunion.
Long before we would crunch across the gravel parking lot in our ’41 Chevy coupe, a faithful volunteer would have been busy at the church, firing up the coal furnace and setting out the Christmas greenery. The little tree always wore two strands of multi-colored lights and a mismatched collection of glass ornaments. How any of that had survived a thousand curious fingers of all the other children’s programs was a Christmas miracle all its own.
There were usually ten or so of us children, maybe a dozen, who waited not-so-patiently for our turn to shine. No matter how short the service or how moving the minister’s message, we squirmed and fidgeted, mouthing the words to our own Christmas piece one last time before we’d be called up from the pew.
When our big moments came, we would each be announced to take our places behind the altar railing. Just one step up put us at the center of the universe in that sprawl of loving faces. I remember pinching the fabric of new Christmas dresses and swishing my crinolines from side to side as part of my nervous ritual. My words always flew out at lightning speed so I would not have time to forget my piece. No amount of consolation could outweigh the shame of being prompted by your mother or worse yet, being coaxed back to your seat if your mind went completely blank.
In truth, the real excitement of the entire night never set in for me until the program was over. As families filed to the back of the church, my aunt would turn on the lights in the Sunday School room. Behind the partition was the thing a thing of great amazement, the old pump organ.
In my first memories, I only got to listen and I watched fascinated as my mother or my aunt pumped air through the bellows and brought the 0ld organ back to life. Later I was allowed to play whatever simple tune I was learning at Miss Dixon’s while my aunt worked the treadle. As I grew taller and put more piano lessons behind me, I was able both to pedal and to play.
While the organ huffed and wheezed, I would do my best to make my daddy proud as I coaxed out my latest rendition of Little Drummer Boy from the yellowed keys. For me, the treadling was a novelty that required complete concentration. For the little church, I suspect it was the comfortable return of a familiar heartbeat once again. That part of the evening was never long enough.
At the end of the night, I would be buttoned, tied and wrapped in wool far too long before my parents said their final goodbyes to family and the December cold hit us again. As we stepped out into the winter night, a bright and dimpled orange and small cardboard box with a handle made of string would be passed into each child’s waiting hand. Little fingers poked around the hard candy ribbons and pushed aside the sour balls in search of the one or two creamy buttons of chocolate that would also be inside.
As I remember it, it was always snowing when we stepped back into the darkness, a perfect ending to a child’s perfect night. The church bell and the candlelight, the tiny cedar tree and the fresh pine on the window sills all blended one night a year into indelible childhood magic. Even now, more than 50 years later, the old carols don’t reach the place in me that those untrained voices touched when they melted together in my grandma’s church. I can conjure up those images without the slightest hesitation. They were glorious traditions that still anchor one corner of my clearest Christmas memories.
I remember how safe and constant those days seemed as a kid, days when my parents and grandparents were the center of my universe. I don’t know when I decided I was too old to be part of the children’s Christmas program but at the time, I know I couldn’t wait to grow up. I wanted to wear lipstick and high heels and be one of the big kids who were excused from that annual ritual. Even though I recognized that I was changing, I never gave a thought to the idea that things around me would change, too. I had faced no losses and had no experience in knowing that time would eventually unravel all my most familiar comforts. I didn’t know it then but I was living in a state of suspended bliss, a feeling that will always be entwined with my memories of that church.
About 20 years ago the church was sold and the contents sent to auction. My husband bought me two ancient wooden folding chairs from the children’s classroom and I gave my dad one as the perfect Christmas present. It made me smile. I love to think that decades before that, he had been sitting on that same chair, squirming and fidgeting, learning his Christmas piece.
I love these pre-holiday holidays! Starting the week of Thanksgiving, the days unfold for me like a long string of Friday afternoons leading up to the weekend. They are full of possibilities without making any withdrawals against the time available for the actual Big Celebrations. They are days filled with music, lights, magic, friends, food — and shopping.
This time of year, shopping should be left to the pro’s. If you want to cherry-pick and gobble up the bargains, it’s a full-time job that can be overwhelming. It’s more than the crowds and costs and traffic; it’s those troubling questions like: did I buy him this same power drill attachment last year and why did I wear these shoes today. Although my Christmas list has fewer names on it these days, I continue to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. And I still have lots of questions.
As we head into Shopping Season 2016, here are the top five questions on this shopper’s lips.
Question #5: Can I use my coupon? The answer lies in the fine print. Exclusions apply. Exclusions include the top 25 items on your shopping list. Also, there is a line at the bottom (written in invisible ink that requires the additional purchase of a special decoder pen) that reads: Our best deals were actually available yesterday, in our pre-sale sale. Sorry you missed it.
Question #4: Does this shirt, sweater, nightie, etc., come in medium? Yes. It came in medium. It came and went in medium with 200 other shoppers who got here before you did. Sorry you missed it.
Question #3: Where did I park my car? Ok, So I get distracted. It happens to any true shopper who has ever been on a mission. Deny it and you’re an amateur. Tip: use your phone to photograph the outside store entrance you are facing so you can reference it as true north when you emerge later. And remember, you’ll have to find your way back out of the store, too. Photograph the merchandise display as soon as you step inside so you’ll recognize your exit on your return. If you can’t take a picture, you could tie a big purple balloon to your car antenna but what if that catches on? Every parking lot will soon look like Barney is hosting a giant used car sale.
Question #2: Where did I put that gift I bought on sale this summer? Summer logic does not apply in December so unless you’ve left yourself a clue (where you’ll remember to find it), you may be SOL. Tip: the moment you stash that first surprise, put a reminder on your phone calendar to pop up with a message around November 21st. Otherwise the holidays will come and go and you’ll be sorry you missed it.
And the #1 question on my lips this holiday is: Where is the restroom. There is no short answer. If you ask before lunch, the salesperson to whom you’ve directed this time-sensitive inquiry sends you winding through the displays of decadent chocolates and gourmet cookies in hopes you’ll give in to those impulse buys on your way back. If it’s after lunch when you’re weary and ready for a nap, your store tour guide sends you past the plumpest mattresses and softest sheet sets before branching off onto a side road into the open arms of all the comfy recliners. If you have a toddler in tow, the restroom is on the other side of the toy department, of course. In short, the only consistent answer to the restroom question is: you can’t get there from here.
The good news is, all this potty talk has inspired some gift giving ideas, too. I’m not talking about the toilet paper dispensers that play some tinny version of classic rock as you unroll, or the TP that’s printed to look like $100 bills. Below are three actual, great ideas that will surely work for someone on your list.
Let’s start with toilet lids that have a second little toilet seat latched inside. Yes, if you have ever traveled with kids or been through the ups and downs of potty training, you’ll be delighted to know one seat can now fit all. The smaller seat is secured in the lid with magnets and folds down easily to align perfectly over the bigger seat opening. That makes toddlers feel more independent because less parental hovering is required as they balance their tiny heinies. Kids also feel more secure when their little bums fit the brim better and who among us doesn’t remember at least one scary kid moment filled with the fear of being flushed away?
Need stocking stuffers? Another potty product that’s been a long time in the making is the personal deodorizer. Although it’s a growing market, the first product to catch my eye was Poo Pourri. In short, spritz a bit of these natural oils into the bowl before being seated to create a barrier across the surface of the water that traps odors. Better yet, the family-sized product now comes in convenient, lip balm-size spritzers packaged in attractive little boxes that can travel discretely with you for any occasion. (And, gentlemen, you’ll note I said lip balm,-size not lipstick-size, which means you should carry them too.) With scents like Royal Flush, Lavender Vanilla, Poo La La and Merry Spritzmas, the next guest in the busiest space in the place will actually appreciate your efforts to turn their stop into a spa-like experience.
And my final gift suggestion for just about anyone on your list? The motion-activated toilet seat light. That’s right. Finally, like a reassuring homing beacon, your toilet seat can now guide you safely across the room for that late night mission. It must surely improve one’s aim. I choose to think of it as runway lights for those who need external guidance to accurately hit the landing zone without skidding off the tarmac. And it’s great for those of us who, like the very best pilots, can immediately sense we are on target and could land our planes flawlessly in an open field in the dead of night. For us, this innovation answers the age-old nighttime question: is it up or is it down. It’s a great convenience feature and it protects us from that cold, ceramic reality of sorry, you missed it. Happy shopping!
She’s a great-great grandma now and as I celebrate more birthdays, the more true it becomes when I say I’ve known her nearly all my life. Yet that’s still less than half of hers. I call her my other mom and my kids grew up as her extended family in a way that brought them no distinction among her other 10 grandchildren. How that came to be is too much story for this little space but know that it has given this only child a second family of more than 40 to love and know and with whom I’m growing older.
Let’s face it, there’s a fine line between being an animal lover and being an animal crazy. Like most descents into madness, you don’t truly realize your destination while en route despite the mile markers along the way. In my life, it doesn’t help that my daughter is building her career in a place where she is surrounded by critters all day long, many of which find their way onto her radar by default. If something has been abandoned, falls chronically but not terminally ill or seems otherwise unadoptable, chances are good it will end up in a carrier in the back of her Jeep. That explains the iguana, the parakeets, the pair of canaries, the turtle and the rabbit. By design, I’ve also had to babysit her geckos, betas, goldfish, bearded dragon and a darling little puppy that grew into 125 pounds of big, happy meathead.
At last look, much of the summer still sprawls ahead of us taking us
well into September. That means there are plenty of vacation days
ahead. I’ve had some great staycations in recent years but the idea of
getting out of Dodge for a week while it’s hot will always hold some
Let’s agree; going anywhere is not quite the same as when you were a
kid. Back then, your only job was to make sure you were in the car.
Now you are the one responsible for executing all those annoying
logistics before you can even get out of the driveway.
Somewhere in the middle were those glorious teenage years when getting
away from home for vacation offered grand possibiities of late night
adventures and summer romance, real or imagined. The reality is that
if we had known then what growing up was really all about, most of us
would have refused to do it. Author Judith Martin offered this
perspective in her writing as etiquette expert Miss Manners: “The
invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of
life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes
— naturally, no one wants to live any other way.”
But here we are. Thank goodness vacation dangles a carrot, a chance
for us to put some of our grown-up rules on hold for a week and tone
down the stress of adulting. As kids, we could never have imagined how
gratifying the smallest delights could be. Here are eight vacation
perks that might get overlooked but for which we can be grateful.
1. You can be whoever you want to be on vacation; the people you meet
do not know the you you left behind. I pretended to be a celebrity
once with my family as entourage. That was lots of fun and generated
another story in my collection, one I called: Lifestyles of the
Middle Class and Fabulous.
2. There is no “to-do” list on the fridge, and sometimes, no fridge.
If that’s the case, there is zero likelihood that you’ll have any
peucliar odors filling your room from a slab of mystery meat slowly
going south behind all the pickle jars.
3. There is no crammed-full bill drawer, not even a bill basket, in
your vacation fantasyland. I know; I’ve checked. After you make that
one convenient payment during check-in, you’re good for the duration.
4. You get no telemarketing calls. The room phone never rings unless
it’s housekeeping with information you really want, such as offering
freshly laundered towels–or advising you to head to the basement due
to an impending tornado.
5. Every breakfast promises a smorgasbord. It is presumed that you
will eat out on vacation — and often. Dining-in for breakfast could
mean Cheerios and cheesecake, pulled pork and cole slaw or crab
fritters and asparagus.
6. Nap is an actual agenda item — with TV on or off.
7. Sex is frequent, long and languorous– or so it seems based on the sounds coming from the room next door.
8. You can live in your bathing suit for days which means underwear is optional.
Here’s to your fabulous vacation! If you’ve just come back, remember
you are now that much closer to leaving for the next trip. If there
isn’t a getaway on your horizon, you can always pretend. Lie around
without underwear surrounded by fresh towels as you eat leftovers.
I’m back from my annual trip to the beach. Every summer, five women friends and I escape together to unwind for a weekend at a friend’s beach house. The trip is an amazing three days of catching up, slowing down, and most of all, laughing.
My friend Cathy is a laughter wellness instructor and she told me recently that 10 minutes of laughter has the same benefits as 30 minutes on a rowing machine and that 15 minutes of laughter a day can help you lose four pounds a year. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather laugh than row or diet. I’m happy to report that our one weekend in June covered two months of aerobic workouts and offset all the calories we noshed, savored or imbibed.
A lot of things have changed since our little group formed 12 years ago, the long-term effects of gravity among them. Dolly Parton put it this way in the movie Steel Magnolias: “Time marches on and sooner or later you realize, most of it is marching across your face.”
But as women often do, we’ve learned to celebrate the changes our life journeys bring and welcome the freedom that comes to women of a certain age. It’s a powerful leap forward to learn to care more about what we think of ourselves than we do about the opinions other people hold of us. It’s also great to know that as the years roll by, you learn to lighten up and let go. That means enjoying some perks of a beach vacation you never saw coming in your 20s. Here are just 10 of them.
#1. The hell with fashion trends. You can finally buy a comfortable swim suit that feels great and has the right coverage no matter how you turn, reach or bend. Love it for the fact that it won’t require constant adjustments and know nothing will ever slide down, ride up or fall out.
#2. Sunbathe with impunity. No one will be looking at you and if they are, it doesn’t matter and you don’t care.
#3. Nap luxuriously and forget the constant vigils. As you lie down, you won’t give a thought to whether the maple butter blondie your ate last night is going to appear evenly distributed across both thighs. You can relax completely and turn off your radar. When a dozen little voices start chirping “Mommy! Look what I can do!” you don’t need to squint, scan and identify the one calling to you.
#4. You no longer have to pretend you enjoy cavorting in the broiling sun to play volleyball, fly a kite, toss a football or otherwise expend any energy that might whip up some perspiration. These are all cruel tricks invented by beach guys to show off their pecs or evaluate the jiggle of beach babes. You are past the point of selling anything so you don’t need to advertise
#5. When you say the maid will do something, you mean the actual maid in your hotel room, not some sarcastic euphemism for you as mom or wife.
#6. You can enjoy watching young families sculpting sand tarts and building sand bakeries knowing there won’t be any grit in your britches at the end of the day. You can relive all your happy memories of beach trips with your own kids without having to clean up anything when you get home.
#7. It’s finally okay to make your own shade by wearing a hat, no matter how dopey.
#8. Your beach accessories are limited to a chair, a book and a towel. You no longer have to drag along a U-Haul filled with sand buckets, shovels, inflatable giraffes and all the items necessary for every kid contingency including Band-Aids, Pampers and a parachute.
#9. It’s expected that you will go bottoms-up when the big wave rolls in so crash with style and roll with it.
#10: When you tell your significant other that you want to feel the earth move while you’re on vacation, he will know you simply want to stand in the surf — and nothing more.
Enjoy your beach vacation. If you’re over 50, flash those senior discount cards. Take full advantage of your status; you’ve earned it.
This stunning image created by Victor Walsh.
Were you on this planet in 1967? Will be you be here in 2062? Tonight may be your only night to join me for a sliver of our luminiescent new dessert, Strawberry Moonpie. It may be your only chance to say you’ve tasted it.
Tonight full moon launches summer on summer solstice, the year’s longest day, and she’ll be scrumptious in her spectacle. It’s been 49 years since she graced us on this night. It will be another 46 before she appears here again.
If you know my stories, you already know I love the magic full moons promise. I’ve written about the buck moon and the harvest moon. I’ve called you to join us on our blue moon-tanning nights. I’ve coaxed you to go outside and dance naked in the moonlight. I’ve invited you to join us on adventures where you can let your best full-moon howl roll down the mountainside. Tonight I say, come join us for dessert; the strawberry moonpie will be delicious.
Native Americans understand and know her better than I ever will and they appreciate her for all her gifts. In June, they name her strawberry moon to honor the height of the strawberry season. She’s also called the “hot moon” or “rose moon.” Whatever name you give her, join us in this celebration.
Will you turn out your lights and step outside with me to accept your slice? We’ll serve up moonpie here on a velvet cloth. We’ll frame your plate with giant trees, and sprigs of maple, ash and white oak will garnish the edge. We’ll decorate with twinkle lights. Sparkles of yellow will dance in the shadows as the lightning bugs perform. Open your throat and indulge all you like. It will not cling to your hips but it will be gone tomorrow. Our strawberry moonpie is creamy, rich, abundant. It’s luscious and it’s free. MK