Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 25, 2016

A Richmond Furnace Christmas 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.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 2, 2016

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!

Posted by: deadmousediaries | November 11, 2016

Honoring My Other Mom on Veteran’s Day

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.

   Mom is 95 now. She married and loved only one man for the rest of his life. She worked outside her home, cooked, canned and baked and kept the household running. She pinched pennies and stretched nickels and raised six children. She lost one as an adult. Like so many women of her era, she finds her life unremarkable. All her life, she woke up every morning and did what needed to be done. Even now, she simply keeps on keeping on, as they say, whoever they are that we always quote this way.
    There are a hundred reasons why she is remarkable but with Veteran’s Day here again, I’ll tell you this one thing: she is a Navy vet. She framed her discharge paper with pride and it hangs on her wall, surrounded by her insignias, a yellowed news clip and a photo of beautiful young woman in uniform. It’s the kind of photo kids find of their mom and wonder who that woman really was because they will never meet her.
    She belonged to the Navy WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, and served in Washington, D.C., during WWII. The true nature of her work was unknown to her and to the entire units of women who first helped build the machines, then operated them. It wasn’t until 1977 when President Carter declassified their information that details of what these women did were released. More than thirty years after her work had been completed, she had permission to break her vow of silence and talk about it.
   During the first part of her service, she soldered wires onto little wheels at a plant in Dayton, Ohio. When she returned to D.C., she saw how the wheels fit in place on a giant apparatus where she sat each day. The work she and other women did was done at the code-breaking machines they had helped build. Their work was credited with ending the war two years sooner than thought possible.
   “We were told if talked about it, we would be shot,” she remembers vividly. “My parents died without ever knowing what I did.”  That’s a pretty big secret for a young woman to keep.
   When we hear any veterans’ stories, especially from the second World War, it’s easy to forget the context of their day. The everyday world for most of them was so much smaller than we know it. Home and family were the centers of the universe, not always by choice but by necessity in a time when resources were depleted and travel was a luxury. The expanse of the globe was incomprehensible for many, who like her, spent their early years in modest houses, small schools and tiny towns. In her case, a move from Black Log Valley, Huntingdon County, to Chambersburg, PA, after graduation was an adventure into the unknown. “Back then, you went wherever you could get at job,” she recalls. In the spring of 1943, weeks before her 22nd birthday, she joined the WAVES. “I have no idea why I decided to go into the Navy!” she blurted with a little grin when we talked about it recently.
   “I signed up in Chambersburg and took a train to Harrisburg and then on to New York,” she remembers. “I went to a college campus for basic training. We lived in dorms and learned to march but were only there for a few weeks and were then sent to Washington, D.C., for a couple of weeks while we waited to be stationed. From there, we took a military train to Dayton, Ohio, where we worked, all top secret work,” she told me.
   After the work in Dayton building the machines, WAVES were sent back to D.C. to work on them. “When we went back to D.C., we would work one week 8:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m., then 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., then 12:00 to 8:00 a.m. There were dozens and dozens of machines. They were large, much taller than we were. Sometimes we had to stand on a stool to reach the top. We would get a message on those machines that came out as printed piece of paper and we would take that to the office. We didn’t go in; a hand would come out and take the message. We had no idea what we were doing,” she added.
   “After we came to Washington the second time, they were running out of barracks and they moved some of us into apartments so another girl and I shared one. We got our own meals and did our own laundry. We got an allowance for rent,” she remembered. “We stayed there until the war was over then got discharged. I served about 26 months.”
   Since her discharge in December, 1945, she has led a tradition in her family. Four of her six children served as well as a son-in-law. A generation later, two grandsons served along with a grandson-in-law. Today my son, another man she includes as grandson, is entering his fifth year of military service.
   On March 26, 2006, my other mom, Dolores Flood. was among local WWII veterans recognized by the PA House of Representatives during WWII Recognition Day ceremonies. Her certificate reads: “In thankful appreciation for selfless devotion to duty in service to our country.”
   I honor her service this November 11 and I thank her every day for selfless devotion to family. Happy Veteran’s Day, Mom.
Posted by: deadmousediaries | September 7, 2016

Five Signs You Might Be Your Neighborhood’s Crazy Cat Lady

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.

   Although my own menagerie also includes two dogs, a few random fish, and on occasion, a spider in a terrarium, I’m partial to cats because I grew up under the tutelage of other women cat lovers.  Sadly, I  have apparently never read any of the warning labels on my cat food bags alerting me that I might be morphing into a crazy cat lady if I was buying more than one 16-pound bag a week. And because what goes in must come out, there is a reciprocal indicator regarding the purchase of cat litter.
   Because I believe there is a teaching moment in every situation (and because anyone can serve as a bad example), I’d like to share some things that are clear to me in retrospect. If there are others among you wondering why your grocery cart always has cute little cat faces peering back from boxes, bags and jugs, I’d like to assure you that the ride to becoming a crazy cat lady is not an express;  there are lots of stops along the way that alert you it’s time to jump off if you’re paying attention.
    Here are just five of the signs that you might be turning into your neighborhood’s crazy cat lady.
1. Your Cats‘ Names. When you have raised and fostered too many cats, you run out of traditional names like Mittens, Whiskers, Max and Tiger. If you’ve started naming your cats based on their appearance or behavior such as Short Cat, Square FaceYellow Cat or MOYA as in Mother of the Year Award,  that’s a problem. (I have a 10-year-old we now call Bart, short for Badass Rip Terror, a name he earned as a tweener.) Likewise, if you’re on your second or third time around with favorite names and are now adding the word Baby in front, as in Baby Houdini or Baby Hipboots, you’re in trouble. Ditto for adding titles after their names as in: Yellow Cat, III or Bootsie, Jr. Of course the ultimate giveaway that you’ve been riding the train too long is when you’ve assigned proper titles to your little cat friends such as The Regal Mrs. Dupont or Miss Elizabeth Sweetiepuss. 
2. Your Shopping Lists. If you visit the pet store as often as the grocery store and have ever paid $6 a can for an 11-oz can of cat milk replacement to hand-feed kittens with a dropper, you should re-evaluate your situation. At that price, a gallon of people milk would cost you $69.12. Would you spend that kind of money on your human children??? In truth, you’re probably in the danger zone if you even know cat milk replacement exists.
3. Your phone. If you don’t have your veterinarian’s number on speed dial because you have it memorized, be warned. If your photo gallery is filled with your cats‘ pix and all your Google searches are accompanied by cat litter ads, it’s time to slow down. If you spend the hours when you can’t sleep watching funny cat videos in the dark on a three-inch screen, hit the brakes hard.
4. Your environment. If your cats have more playthings than your babies had toys, you’ve gone around the bend. That also means you expect to turn an ankle or otherwise trip and fall because we all know you don’t make your cats pick up after themselves as you required of your kids. Also, if you have ever laid down a towel and a water bowl in your bathtub to safely stow a kitten overnight, you probably host more cats than house guests.
5. Your vacations. If one of the key factors in planning your vacation is determining how long you can afford to pay a pet sitter, you’re probably past all hope. Although cats require less maintenance than their canine companions, most have an innate desire to ignore you at some point in the day and they can only do that when you’re present. The implications of ticking off your cats by staying away too long will be reflected in shredded upholstery, claw marks on door frames and little surprises deposited next to the litter box and beyond.
  So there you have it, my top five signs that you’ve earned a place in your neighborhood’s history. As for the research behind this article, I can only tell you, I write what I know.
Posted by: deadmousediaries | July 29, 2016

Eight Reasons to Get Out of Town Before Summer is Over

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.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | July 11, 2016

10 Reasons to Love a Beach Vacation When You’re Over 50

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

Posted by: deadmousediaries | June 19, 2016

Zuzu’s Petals and Other Acts of Daddy Magic

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It’s Father’s Day, year five for me without my dad, and I miss him. As I was growing up, I thought “Dad” meant man with secret powers. I love this photo of the two of us at the PVH, in part because it was so rare for me to catch a memory of him sleeping. In truth, he was still on duty here because who else but dad could get a kid to take a nap on Christmas day so she’d sleep away the grumpy? On this beautiful June afternoon, I can’t help thinking about him, and us, and Christmas, and Jimmy Stewart and random acts of daddy magic. 

Is there a more poignant look at what the best dads do than when Stewart as George Bailey performs a miracle for daughter Zuzu? You know the scene; it’s from that classic movie  It’s a Wonderful Life. Little Zuzu lies in bed on Christmas Eve with just a smidge of temperature. She walked home with her coat open and caught a chill; her only focus was on not crushing the flower she had won at school. When she hands her treasure to her dad and the petals fall she pleads:Look, Daddy. Paste it.George doesn’t disappoint. He makes daddy magic happen. He gathers the fallen petals, turns away so she can’t see him, and tucks them into his watch pocket. “Here. Good as new,” he assures her and hands a perfect flower back. 

Dads get called on to perform all sorts of magic. I remember a former boss telling us a story about waking to find his son standing at his bedside at 6:00 a.m. The kid announced he needed a gorilla suit by 8:00 for school that day, a small detail he had apparently forgotten. His dad made it happen with black sweat pants, some face paint and a fuzzy winter hat but it took daddy magic to make sure it was convincing.

The best dads must be born with talent but it’s possible to learn through practice;  I’ve watched others working at it. If you’re a beginner, don’t get overwhelmed because it’s not difficult. It’s as magic to bring home a random little surprise like a piece of quartz for your kid’s rock collection as it is to surprise her with a bicycle on her birthday. 

I remember my dad’s brand of daddy magic. In my eyes, he was Merlin, Gandolf and Houdini all in one. I saw what he could do on every adventure we took into the woods when he could see beyond the deadfall and show me deer trails. He had x-ray vision, too, like the superheros on TV. He could see right through the leaves and spot the morel mushrooms poking their heads up at the base of the ash trees. For years I was convinced he didn’t find them; I thought he commanded them to pop up thru the dirt so I could fill my bucket

Daddy magic doesn’t always mean you must produce the Presto! moment, either. Sometimes it’s enough to know when to treat a daughter older than she is if she is feeling grown-up or putting an arm around her when she is growing up and wishing that she wasn’t. 

Is it magic when you take a tumble and dads know precisely when to rush in and scoop you up or keep their distance and gently coax you: “Jump up! You’re ok!”? Maybe. Life is full of tumbles and false starts. It’s good dads take the time to teach you can choose to bounce and not be flattened. It is surely magic when a dad can tell if his daughter’s knee, her pride or heart is only bruised and not completely broken. 

For me, the greatest proof of dads’ best magic powers is the way they help us dream about our futures. They don’t need us to see ourselves as doctors, presidents or business moguls but they always help us build our vision as strong and happy people who have been learning to make some magic of our own along the way. 

George Bailey knew about the power of instilling dreams for daughters, too. Even as he is facing the biggest challenge of his own life, at the end of the petals scene he has some daddy magic left.. “Now will you do something for me?” he asks his little Zuzu tenderly.“Try to get some sleep?” 

“But I’m not sleepy,” Zuzu protests, of course. “I want to look at my flower.” 

“I know, I know. But if you go to sleep, then you can dream about it,” George coos his promise, “And it will be a whole garden.” And that’s the real power of daddy magic. 

Happy Father’s Day to all dads everywhere, those with well-honed daddy magic and those who are still working on it. Your kids will notice and remember —and we  love you for it.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | May 26, 2016

News from the Path Valley Hotel, Episode #92: Close Encounters

    The unseasonably cool and rainy weather of recent weeks has put a damper on activities and the guest list here at the Path Valley Hotel. The furnace still grumbles in the morning to chase off the chills and the wood stove has had to step up to supply the glow that’s been missing from that fireball in the sky. But what we lack in sunny spring days we make up for in unusual wildlife encounters. Take last week’s sighting as example.

To set the stage correctly, I need to remind you that the back yard of the Path Valley Hotel is a mountain. Fortunately, the PVH owner holds claim to enough of it to offer guests a fairly wide berth of privacy. At this time of year, the dense hardwoods obscure the neighbors to the right and left and also make the lane from the main road leading up to the PVH hard to distinguish. In the front, the nearest neighbor is a business only a stone’s throw away. It hosts long hours and is patronized steadily well into the night
and even though we can hear the conversations in their parking lot, PVH wildlife is largely protected from view.

   It’s also important to understand that on a particularly chilly morning earlier this week, the innkeeper started errands so early that is was too cold for only a light shirt and flip flops; she tugged on her boots and pullover sweater instead. As the hours passed, the sun came out in full force and it was obvious she had overdressed for the rest of the day. 

   By 1:00 p.m. the heat hit critical mass and she launched into her personal summer in the midst of her pursuit of yet another “important” piece of paper. Her temper flared and body temperature hit broil. She peeled off her pullover in the middle of her kitchen only moments before realized she had left her phone in her Jeep.

  I remember her decision-making process. The Jeep was only 10 feet away, and straight out the back door. Before stepping outside, she made a quick a scan of the woods and consciously checked the clock. It was well past noon which meant any stray turkey hunters would already be out of the woods. She decided then to make the dash outside and went for it, and by she, I mean me.

   It must have been a hybrid. Even the dog alarm didn’t go off it was so quiet. I never heard it until I spun around to see it crunching gravel at the top of my driveway. Our eyes never met. The man in his car sat frozen in my driveway. He had obviously made at least one glance to his right, seen me, and was now praying he wouldn’t be blinded for life. There was absolutely nothing in my Jeep I could grab for cover so I had to make a run for it. In the split second it took me to cross my arms over my chest and better cover the girls who were spilling out over my laundry-day underpinnings, I was amazed and grateful at how intently he was looking away. It was as if Rocky V was playing on the big screen somewhere right up on the mountain. I took three giant strides back to the cover of the PVH (Oh, hell, let’s be realistic. It was more like three bunny flops.) and slammed the kitchen door. Now what?

   What could I do? My attire had been at least adequate if not appropriate. It was too late to be embarrassed and too late to pretend I wasn’t home. I pulled on my sweater and headed back out just in time to see him backing down the driveway. I watched him turn around in front of the PVH and as best as I can describe it, hightail it out to the highway. I suspect he may have been off in search of one of those emergency eye wash stations, you know, the kind you seek when splinters of glass or metal fly into your eyes or when a chemical splash threatens to dissolve your retinas. But some things can’t be washed away. They can’t be unseen, either.

   Readers, if your husband, father, son, brother, boyfriend, fiance, nephew, friend or neighbor returned home earlier this week unable to speak or walked in speaking in tongues as from an alien encounter, I hope that you were gentle. He did the best thing a gentleman could during an encounter with unexpected wildlife but he suffered trauma nonetheless. Judging by the muddy ruts he left in his turn-around spot, there must have been a moment when he wondered if he would even get out alive.

   And to that guy if you’re reading, it’s more than Victoria’s Secret now and I thought it best to get the truth on record for both of us. Thank you for the courtesy of not hanging out long enough to be recognized or trying to conduct whatever conversation you first intended.

   In the end, there is an important lesson here for everyone and it is very simple: Do not drive up to the PVH without a reservation. We are not responsible for encounters with our wildlife.

Posted by: deadmousediaries | May 2, 2016

News from the Path Valley Hotel, Episode #89: The Maternity Ward

It’s Spring and baby-making season here at the Path Valley Hotel. In an attempt to get one more stray mama cat under control, I opened a maternity ward for a sweet little tabby we call Baby Jack. The American Humane Society reports that the geometric implications of just one busy mother cat could result in 420,000 kittens being born in only seven years. On the chance that Baby Jack is that one cat, it’s good to know she’s off the streets.

It was obvious she was already full of baby cats when I brought her home but she made an amazingly smooth transition to hotel life. After two days in a large pet crate where she learned about indoor plumbing, she made herself quite comfortable on the sofa in my front room. I watched her belly wriggle while she soaked up the morning sun and I imagined her kids jostling for position. More likely, they were conspiring to keep her from napping too comfortably as babies often do. She radiated that zen-like smile that cats can get, signaling a level of contentment we humans rarely achieve. We simply don’t know how to let it happen and fail in our attempts to buy it at spas or on cruises. We even turn it into work and hot pursuit as we meditate our way toward it with the help of gurus. But my cat had only to embrace it.

Two weeks after checking in at the PVH, she presented me with three mounds of fur, two miniature variations of her striking pattern and one little all-black guy (or girl) tipped by a white paintbrush. I had explained the living arrangements to her after I offered her the master suite; she had a great box and clean blanket away from the litter box, all tucked away so she would have some privacy. When the babies came, she changed the rental agreement and I had to play hide and seek to find the trio. I found them wound around each other inside another box, plopped on top a pile of dog toys. How appropriate.

Needless to say the other PVH permanent residents, two dogs and two cats, have not been happy. (And for those among you who cohabitate with cats, youknow exactly how they show you their displeasure…)

Meanwhile on the back porch, a bird couple decided to set up residence in an old nest above the back door. For two days, every trip out the back door triggered a flurry of feathers. The birds flitted from perch to perch inside the porch, failing to find or choosing not to exit through the tear in the screen when they entered. The dogs loved the idea of pursuing aerial chew toys every time we went out. The two cats knocked everything off my counters in their scramble to watch that show from the window sills. In the end, the constant commotion must have been to much for the birds  because the couple moved off my porch without starting their family.

There are kittens in the front room, birds in the back, and in the attic? It wasn’t the patter of little mice feet I heard last week when the dog alarm went off. I caught the dogs watching the ceiling before they quieted down enough for me to hear the unmistakable rough scrapping of another critter sliding above me. I’m choosing to think it was only my blacksnake, not any of his more notorious relatives. I know how beneficial blacksnakes are and have even removed a few of them from harm’s way in recent years so I tried not to get too excited. Frequent sitings outside at the PVH and years of hearing them in my husband’s garage and shop has probably made me a little too comfortable with the thought of a blacksnake roaming overhead.

But there’s always a wrinkle. My friend Cathy rattled my confidence. “But what if it’s a mama snake?” she asked me. Hmmm. I Googled snake traps and am considering buying one after all, catch-and-release, of course. But baby snakes this summer?  That sounds like more great stories from the maternity ward waiting for another day!

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