Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Time to Bake the Cookies

Cookies. An event wasn't truly celebrated without them. The presentation changed slightly with a different platter or frosting colored to coordinate with the event - weddings, graduations, christenings, and of course Christmas, the high holiday of baking - but the stars of the show remained the same. My grandmother's cookies.

I was a casual observer of my grandmother's baking process. Her kitchen had a small counter top peninsula where the magic happened amidst a stand mixer and cookie sheets. She had banged up pink metal measuring cups, and some odd assortment of measuring spoons that she cast aside preferring to use silverware. The only involvement I really had as a kid with her baking, aside from wandering past the cooling cookies more times than necessary, was getting to use the typewriter or my fancy cursive writing skills to update her recipe cards. There was no "helping" my grandmother bake. My suspicion is that she anticipated the potential mess that likely would have occurred, and did not even entertain extending the invitation.

As an adult, the first cookie recipe of hers that I borrowed was for a simple delight called Italian Cookies. These were the favorite of many and most often requested. I was apprehensive about trying to make the cookies on my own because her reports often detailed the dough giving her trouble by being either too sticky or too dry. The only problem I had was the sizing as I had not accounted for any rising, and I am not sure if cookies being too large even really counts as a cause for alarm.
This year I made them almost too small
One of my grandmother's last Christmases living in her home, I was trying to go through some motions of holidays gone by, so figured we would make some Italian Cookies. I was hoping to get a few pointers as I expected something to click once all of the ingredients were out, or at least once the dough mad been mixed; a sort of muscle memory type of thing. I was mistaken. We got through the task together in a bittersweet fashion. 

It seems like each card I pull out of her recipe box looks simple enough, but I get jammed up every time I try one. My grandmother never struck me as an infinitely patient person, but she must have found some sense of satisfaction and peace in what strike me as the most tedious of tasks. I remember watching her finely chop any number of ingredients. My first swipe at the date bars? I almost bailed at the first step trying to work my knife through the sticky mess I was making. I tried to remember what her process looked like and could only come up with a vision of a much larger knife than I typically allow myself to handle. 

My grandmother's passing left me even more drenched in nostalgia for the holiday season than my fairly saturated base level of the past few years. Cookies, there had to be cookies...more cookies than usual, more of her recipes being made, more people being reached, individual favorites accounted for. 

Walnuts? Did everything she made call for walnuts? Mincemeat? Let's not get crazy! (That being said, I have eyed that big old Nonesuch jar my past two trips to Wegmans. I also nearly put the $16.99 tin of Charles Chips in my cart. The comfort of memories is a dangerous game.)

I was ready for the dates. Big knife, take your time...
...just keep chopping! Maybe a bigger cutting board next time. On to the chocolate crumb bars! Checking things off the list, pretending these were done once out of the oven... no attention to the corner missing on each as I procrastinated actually cutting the bars!
Oh how did she decide how big to cut the cookies, and what knife did she wield so it wasn't a glorious mess?! No point dwelling as there were thumbprints to make!
That's not what hers looked like, and why was the thumb part so difficult? Why on earth did she not want help? (Obviously because she probably had a better system and I only would have been holding her back.) My mom made the nut tarts (more walnuts) and the Mexican wedding cakes snowballs Russian Tea balls (or whatever your family calls those powdered sugar coated walnut balls, yes, MORE walnuts). My daughter then had to weigh in with what have become her own holiday baking traditions of peanut butter blossoms and spritz cookies, and then we do like those chocolate crinkles, and how about some molasses because nobody else here likes gingerbread so I settled. (She also makes herself chocolate chip snowballs, but does not allow those to be given away.) How about some caramel corn to fill in any blanks! We still have cut outs to get through for the one person on our list who would probably turn down a cookie platter without them.

Then what? Well then comes the part where I don't even know how to give away the cookies. I don't know how many to set aside for the four of us to have here because any other year we would just nibble for days on what was left after company departed. This year I am trying to ration and worry I am failing at being generous about it. What if I give away too many cookies? I couldn't possibly just make more in January of whatever I wanted. 

I long to see my grandmother's freezer stacked high with tins filled with cookies waiting to be delivered or picked up. Having a better understanding of what went into that end result is fascinating to me, as once again, this was not a woman who had infinite patience or an affinity for messes. Maybe the key is that for that time she was baking, she put everything else aside. I know her house wasn't a mess to begin with, so that wasn't hanging over her head either. She probably didn't have a daily meltdown over what to make for dinner. I think she took her time. What was that like to feel like you weren't rushing? I need to try harder to remember her lesson to slow down once in awhile, or at least keep my house in better order on a regular basis (literally and figuratively).
Before I end this ramble, I want to update you on the villages from this post! Our cousin posted a photo of her village, that my grandmother contributed to, on the blog's facebook post... cousin posted a picture of hers there as well...
...and then my aunt set up hers!
This filled me with such joy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Just a quick random

The next time you are upright, dressed and feeling relatively reasonable about yourself, I hope my husband doesn't hand you a fanned out display of hair color coupons. So subtle. 
Truth be told, but I am reluctant to say "in his defense", I did end up using one of those coupons, and after turning our bathroom once again into a low budget crime scene, the "washes out in 28 days" color apparently washed out during the rinse process. This was a new and different occurrence, and one I am obviously not pleased about! Let's move on to party tips from Crispix cereal... I am left to dispute whether I would call a gathering successful if I was only offered two snack options. I am not disrespecting snack mix of the Crispix or Chex variety, but I need more than one other bowl of something to make leaving my house worthwhile. (Let's not even get into the fact that right now all I can ponder is trying to sit alone in a corner across the room from my host trying to cram seasoned dry cereal from what I hope is my own personal baggie into my mouth behind a mask.)

And now, a brief moment of silence for the fallen lawn inflatables...
...and perhaps another moment for whatever I am guessing a bird swooped down and carried off?!?!
I have never seen tracks like that before! 

I guess now I should try to finish up the other post I was working on, after thinking about starting it for three days. I am almost positive it will not reflect the effort made.

*After seeing that coupon larger, I just want to confirm that I do own emery boards, and understand how they work.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Home Away From Home

This post is merely a brief summary to help get you caught up on some of what went on around here. There will be other equally scintillating tales to follow.

Sometimes I need a distraction. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that at some point in the last nine months you have needed one (or far beyond double digits) as well? It was June, so three months into bumping into the same four walls and three people. We were one month past my son's bittersweet driveway college graduation and knee deep into his unsuccessful attempts to put that newly minted engineering degree to work. We had become more proficient at the weekly zoom calls with my grandmother, but longed for the simplicity of just sitting next to her. I had tried to restore some order around the house in a Tazmanian Devil type of frenzy. Sewing masks had become disenchanting as the fabric started to lose its charm as the novelty wore off. I panicked. 

My temporary job at an insurance company was drawing to a close, and while I had applied for a permanent position there, I was having a hard time mustering up any enthusiasm about it. I needed to feel more useful in the face of the pandemic, put a different skill set to work maybe. I applied for a position at a nursing home as an activity leader, including a very matter of fact cover letter that explained how my life experiences positioned me as qualified for the job in ways my resume may not have conveyed. I was quickly granted an interview, and offered the job hours after that meeting. It is almost amusing to me now as I look back on just what my state of mind must have been when I accepted the offer...for less money per hour than if I was starting at Dunkin Donuts, that would necessitate being tested for covid once a week, working every other weekend and some holidays, in a germ factory, oftentimes surrounded by a general sense of hopelessness. 

Maybe I thought I was going to save the world, or at the very least, my sanity? In an ironic twist, I was assigned to the dementia unit. I was able to accept that none of the residents were my grandmother, but that did not mean that I was not willing to play the part of their granddaughter. I found people who would tolerate my singing, be content just walking hand in hand with me, comment on my weight/hairdo/outfit with no filter. I gave my best. The rewards were typically small and personal with no gold stars, but I was convinced that I had found something I was good at. I was not blind to the parallels running in my life, and not just because I literally had to drive by my grandmother's facility on my way to work. In some ways it just made me want to run even harder trying to not only find joy for myself, but to bring whatever spark I could think of to my newfound friends. I also kept trying to find the humor, no matter how dark it could be, to bring those stories home to my family since I was the only one leaving the house. I kept wanting to share the stories here, but often worried I wouldn't be able to translate them well to print.

I think I started to get burnt out about four months in. The schedule was not great, the families were growing weary as the virtual visits fell short of filling the void, sundowning started even earlier with the time change and less daylight, and even figurative bright spots in the day were quickly cast over by shadows. As one nurse simply stated, it was sucking the life out of us. I hate cliches, so it bothered me to feel like I was falling into, or becoming one. I tried to rally with some autumn craft ideas, and then tried to keep my game face on when the supplies started to disappear less than an hour after I put them on tables, or the bulletin board was disheveled after one swipe by somebody in a mood. I did not want to give up, and could not fathom how I would walk away.

When my grandmother died, there was a part of me that wanted to march right back into work and make a valiant attempt to do SOMETHING for SOMEONE, but there was also a part of me that wanted to run screaming from the building. One week after my grandmother's funeral, I was on my way to work when I got the phone call that my covid test for that week had come back positive. Maybe some of those mild symptoms the week before that were easily explained away by stress and allergies amounted to something. I had no choice but to turn the car around and go home to hide under my covers in "isolation". I had to stop. I had to sit with the fact that my elderly dementia person was gone, and maybe it was time to close the chapter of my life, at least temporarily, that dealt with that diagnosis.  I did not return to work, and I am strangely okay with that.

*It is my assumption that I contracted covid at work as it had finally entered our facility, and I had spent time with some of those residents, while wearing a mask, before their test results had come. I had been able to overcome most of my fears and felt adequately protected until that phone call came. Having to tell my family, especially my children who I am supposed to protect, that I tested positive was awful. My daughter tested positive as well (she had been home from school a mere twenty-one hours for the funeral). We both had very mild symptoms, and I am grateful every day for that. It was very scary and I did not think I could go back to work and keep that risk factor in my life, as well as attempting to appropriately grieve while doing so.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Draft Day #1-Malted random

I confirmed that it is in fact Tuesday...the eleventy-seventh (or actually eighth) of a 'ber month. No need for specifics. I checked my phone for any questionable items that needed sharing, and didn't come up with anything urgent. I am afraid if I don't at least mark this space, I will fall out of the blogosphere again, and the truth is I rather like it here. I decided that I could still do something a little random today, so I looked at my list of "draft" posts. I guess they serve as sort of placeholders for thoughts I may have that made it farther than others that were far too fleeting. I have seven such drafts, and 1053 actual posts, so apparently these pieces of unfinished business are rare specimens. Please do not mistake that as my suggesting they are fancy or of such magnitude that they could not possibly have been completed. I did not view each one, as that seemed like it would spoil the fun, so let's just bite into this one from October 29, 2016...
...that's it. It was just these two photos hanging out. I remember intending to document my quest for the malted milk balls of my youth, while voicing my disappointment in the ones I was finding. Does anyone else remember when they had more of the malted center? Look at that beauty up there! That was fancy candy store merchandise there. Certainly there was going to be a bounty of powdery goodness in side? But alas, ew. Can you taste the disappointment? What is that layer in between the inside and the outside? I should have never trusted something so shiny. 

Every now and then there is a Whopper in the box that comes close to what I am looking for, but without the carton, the experience falls short right from the beginning. Plus, there is also usually a ball of disappointment in the box and then you have to search for a better one to end the session with. The Robin's Eggs at Easter are the best option in my opinion, but I am not sure they have gone the way of the Cadbury Mini Egg and dressed themselves in other colors to be available at other times of year. Is this a mission I want to sign up for, a trail I want to pick back up? I know, and if you've been here for awhile you know also, that I can get pretty passionate about candy, but I think I am going to put a pin in this one until the new year. It is not just because I have been drained of nearly every last ounce of optimism, but I also just found the bag of Harvest Mini Cadbury Eggs I purchased, which is distracting, as is the fact that I fell of the wagon with regards to peanut m&m's.

Thank you for being here! I'll be back soon!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

It took this village

I gathered some photos and set out to write a post about our history with the Dickens Village. One paragraph in I remembered that I meant to check to see if I had already written such a post, as it seemed fairly familiar. Sure enough, I found it. 

There was a small part of me that did not want to partake in the project this year, but I knew in my heart that was not really an option. Here is my village this year...
...and here is my mother's, as thankfully she followed along...
...and here is the post originally published on December 7, 2015...

In 1992 my grandmother started all of us with Department 56 Dickens' Village pieces for Christmas. Each of her three children got a church, believed to be vital to village functioning, and the grandchildren received a store of some sort. My first acquisition was the Poulterer, as it was part of a set of five stores and their were five grandchildren. I had visions of some day bartering with my cousins to collect the other four vendors. I embraced the start of this tradition, not necessarily because I was an aficionado of porcelain collectibles,  but rather a fan of traditions. I still am. There are plenty of things that I do, taking more pleasure in the comfortable familiarity and predictable expectation than in the event itself. This new holiday happening held a double bonus as I would get to help set up the buildings and look forward to receiving a new one.

My grandmother was so fond of her plan and of the houses themselves that she started a collection for her and my grandfather's house as well. Suddenly these very hard to buy for people were an urban development team looking for growth, and we had so many options to assist them. While my grandmother was focused on the houses themselves, my grandfather's interest had to do with the mechanics of displaying them. He started by electrifying the hutch, like literally put outlets in it with a master switch. Shelves were built, and when the pieces exceeded what could reasonably be displayed on the square footage provided by the hutch, removable wooden side wings were constructed that were screwed in. Some twigs and small blocks of wood were fashioned into bare winter trees to supplement the purchased evergreens.
Never once did I hear the phrase "I think the village is at maximum capacity!" It just magically appeared some time in December, display complete. We were all at our own houses, setting up our own modest towns. Truth be told, I have the makings of a densely populated city, as other people added to my collection for a few years as well.

Eventually, the task of bringing the hutch to life got to be too much for my grandparents, but their desire to have this centerpiece of holiday decor did not fade. I signed up, along with my mother and aunt, to do the heavy lifting so to speak. We had no idea what we were in for that first year, so many cords, so many bulbs, so many accessories. My thoughts quickly went from the nostalgic "aw, I remember when I gave them this and that" to "oh my gosh, did we really give them all of this". We had obviously seen the final product year after year, but had not committed any of it to memory. Our own set ups had more of a "what might look nice this year" approach. We quickly found out that my grandmother's claim that different was not a bad thing actually meant as long as everything is the same. At one point a photo was offered for guidance, but it had been taken before the eastern and western extensions had even been added. My grandmother kept offering "gentle" suggestions and eventually the job was done.

Strategies were discussed with regard to how future endeavors could be streamlined and less maddening. I might have suggested a scenario in which my grandmother was taken out to lunch while the other two elves magically whipped up the scene. Instead we just muddled along, refining our method as we became more familiar with all parts of the operation. Eventually I found peace in doing the job myself, while nodding politely in response to the chatter. My grandfather passed away, and my grandmother was not necessarily in a position for me to ask her for assistance. As I sat on the floor, balancing those side wings on my head, while trying to screw the tiniest of hardware in to the underside of the hutch, I always assumed my grandfather was watching me and smiling...or laughing at me. I was fine with either.

As my grandmother's dementia progresses, it seems there is comfort in the familiar. Considering the very warm temperatures and lack of snowfall, it was almost plausible for her to not be able to keep track of the time of year, despite it being heralded as "the most wonderful time of the year". I made brief mention of getting her houses set up, and thought I saw a vague look of recognition on her face. I looked at my calendar and picked a day to set up her houses. She didn't express much interest at all in what I was up to, even though she was in her usual prime viewing seat on the couch. No opinions were offered. I wasn't sure if I was going to have time to finish the project in one session, so I made sure to keep everything put away as to not look messy. The mayor looked like she needed a nap, so I quit for the afternoon. There was an entire box of people and accessories still in the closet that I had planned to tackle on my next visit. 

When I was discussing my afternoon with my husband, he asked me if my grandmother had asked to have the houses put up. When I responded that she had not, he asked why I did them. I started to sputter and stammer out a response that as long as my grandmother lived in that house, those houses would be up for the holidays, she loves those houses and what if she asked about them at the last minute. Clearly it was my grandmother's best interests I was considering...clearly.

The next day I returned to bring out the heart of the exhibit, the people. My grandmother remarked that the village looked really nice, not "overdone". Not overdone? But that was the theme of Hutchville. I asked if she wanted me to put some more of the accessories out, and her answer was no.
Yes, the village looks nice. In fact, my husband can't really see much difference between the two photos. Meanwhile I was seeing that the schoolyard had no children and merry-go-round. The church had no gate and nuns. (Gads, and those crazy little tombstones my grandmother had made back in the heyday.) The animals weren't on the farm. Where was the hustle and bustle? It was all packed in styrofoam and cardboard. I forced a smile and we sat on the couch to watch the birds at the feeders outside.

I realized I had made this completely about me. My wish to find some sense of familiar in her house that is changing. My wish to cling, not only to traditions, but also the memories that she is ever so quickly losing. 


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Wrong day random

Is there ever really a wrong day for the random though? As I scrolled through my phone to gather some "substance" for this post, I saw the accompaniments for so many (like at least three) other things I need to tell you about. However, if I am going to get back into this thing, I might be better off just striking whichever iron seems hot. I guess that is to say that doing a random Tuesday post on a Wednesday seems like an accurate representation of where I am.

Remember when I used to go to the Fair to wrap up each summer? Here are one, twothree, four and five reminders. (Take those links or leave them. I don't know what kind of free time you have.) Well, the New York State Fair was cancelled for 2020. In an attempt to ward off severe disappointment, I got up early and assembled the Great New York Fake Fair...
I tried to account for all of the favorites-the animals, fresh squeezed lemonade, chocolate milk, the taffy and the "goldfish" we never usually tried to win. Oh, and of course, the butter sculpture...
...nailed it!
Now that we are all caught up with those festivities, let's move on to a few things I saw once I left the house. Maybe these are not the perfect toys for cooped up folks...
...although that unicorn looks more sleepy than anything. If those don't liven things up enough, why not try some micro-sensations...

...royal jelly AND honey? I mean, I might need a NEW BUTT...
...and yet I still don't know how I feel about this turn for children's literature despite understanding what probably sells...
...tempting just to find out the plots twists. This last one is my own personal problem I realize, but I cannot not read these signs without the first word having a long e sound, making the rest of the advice just silly pandemic humor.

Saturday, November 28, 2020


I thought maybe if I just opened up a new post and gave a simple title, the words would just come. I thought I would be able to quickly get you caught up on where I've been, but it isn't that simple. I think I am afraid if I cut to the chase, you won't come back to hear about all the other stuff that happened in between...things like starting a full time job, a summer photo shoot for a header I have yet to try tackling, fostering a chicken for a day and when the 'rona came to visit our home. I mean, I even have some photos I noticed on my phone that are crying out to be part of the random.

I can't just dip my toe in this though. I can't just write all of the posts I kept meaning to write in real-time about things like visits with my grandmother. The joy on her face when we would visit, the selfies I insisted on taking every time I guess to prove that we still had her. And then she was gone. It still doesn't seem real to me three weeks later. I would still like to share the moments that are more precious than ever, but not just yet. For now I would like to thank all of you for the kind comments you left any time I posted about my grandmother, and share with you the words I spoke at her funeral.

I have never been very good at good-byes of any kind really. This one we have said to my grandmother has been long-parceled out as we lost bits and pieces of her. Sometimes these losses made it easy to mistakenly underestimate her strength. Ninety-eight years? I definitely was guilty of underestimating her.

One thing I did see correctly was my grandmother's powerful mind. As a five year old child, I remember a time, when I felt I had been wronged, and stuck my tongue out at my grandmother...behind my hand...from about ten feet away...while she was busily washing dishes at the sink-perhaps a rather cowardly stand to begin with, so imagine the lump in my throat when she said "Andrea, don't stick your tongue out at me."

She was a knower of things, maybe telling us things we weren't always ready to hear. She loved each of us fiercely, wanting what she thought was best, wanting to protect us. Sure, that might have felt smothering at times, until I could step back far enough to feel gratitude. Thankful that she helped us build characters that not only she could be proud of, but that each of us could take our own pride in.

Forgiveness and the importance of truth were values instilled in me when I was very young. Through the years there have been times I have found myself frustrated by my intolerance for lies or for repeatedly suffering the same fools, as they can be such commonplace occurrences. Over time though, I have become ever so grateful to have that demand for truth to be such a large part of me, while I do still struggle with the fine art of forgiveness. My grandmother's standards for herself were no lower-all the way from how she dressed for every occasion to the impeccable house she kept.

My grandmother continued teaching me ways to be my best self even still over the past few years. Much of that time she may have been the only person who got to see that version of me. She helped me find a patience I was not aware that I had, forced me to just slow down to breathe once in awhile, and to choose to find joy even if it was simply a head on my shoulder or a warm hand in mine.

Sadly, I have not exactly been able to emulate her sense of fashion, nor do I keep my house as tidy as I ought to. There are many other lessons that will always stick with me though, such as being wary of hanging icicles and the perils of sleeping with a wet head of hair (bedhead was not the fear, but rather pneumonia). It is also important for each of us to nourish our minds with knowledge, our hearts with love, and our bodies with so SO many cookies.

Perhaps you'd like to join me in finding some comfort in the the thought of my grandfather greeting my grandmother, telling her "We've been waiting for you, Benchie."

This was our last visit, when I got to say good-bye, and could not give up the photo.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The random made me do it

I noticed a bunch of nonsensical photos on my phone and pondered what made me take them to begin with, and then I remembered...THE RANDOM! In an effort to make the not so heralded return even more random, and certainly having nothing to do with my excessive level of laziness yesterday, I thought a random Tuesday post showing up on Wednesday was definitely the be. So let's go for a spin, shall we!

Or maybe we could go for a scenic walk along a creek, stopping to check out the view at conveniently placed benches...
...where we can stare into the weeds that block the view of the creek. Each bench was "better" than the last!
Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Speaking of details of a problem, if 2020 was candy...
...and if it's a joke, I fell for it-and hard! I have looked for these twice at Walgreen's already (because that is where the article says they will be). This is a level of gross I need in my life! What if this is destined to replace my long lost peanut m&m addiction? (Well for starters I will be out of luck before the doldrums of winter actually arrive considering the seasonal aspect of this confection.) I also can't resist the notion that this could be another Willy Wonka Violet moment as I turn into the dinner! Oompa-Loompas, take me away! And as long as we are eating our feelings (and crossing it off the to-do list), it was nice of Baker's Treat to do the hard math...
...just on the very off (insert sarcastic font) chance that I was indeed going to eat the whole  box. 

I have been passing this billboard for quite some time now, and it cracks me up every time. I finally pulled over so I could snap a pic to share with you.
Do you think the hair loss came first, or was the acronym so stellar that he shaved his head? What good fortune he had that the domain name was not already taken! "What do you look for in a divorce lawyer?" "Definitely not a full head of hair!"

Now just look into these BEE-you-ti-full eyes!!
Oh, Kicks...
...I feel you, but today was just for nonsense. And just like that, we're least for now...Thank you so much for joining me! I miss you when I'm not here, and even more when you aren't.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

...Everybody knows your name

Well here we are. I thought about trying to kick it old school and dust off some random. Remember those halcyon days? When was the last time I even saw a creepy monkey?! My day started to have a slightly different theme running through it though, so we'll just let those other pics pile up until Tuesday. The word for today is "shame", and perhaps lack thereof. Sometimes we have to look at what lies beneath...the foundation on which we stand. The first time I intentionally shared some of my shame here in this space, back in 2012, can be found here. Sadly those photos look like an unreachable goal for our basement now, as apparently the past eight years have not been kind to that space.

I may never think of the word "panoramic" with the same vision of nature's beauty again after using that setting to take this shot.
I was about to try to explain a few things, like those dolls in the bin, but seriously, what could I say to convince you they are there for a good reason? Aside from the wagon over there being full? Is that old eMac there in case my husband never really does go back into work at the office and I have to seek solace in this space? Let's look away now to a much prouder moment--the second finished to-do list this month! (Shut up fridge light, I bought the bulb and am still pondering just buying a whole new refrigerator.) 
Yes, I happily crossed off the "DO NOT" in front of "eat feelings" one day, had a Hostess snack cake, and happily crossed off the rest. I also had to add the sticky note o my list because I was afraid if I wrote things on the back of the page, I would find them too easy to ignore, and obviously a larger piece of paper was out of the question as well.
Wash "some" windows? Wow, I was really aiming high with this list and am now thinking it should not have taken two weeks to complete. I feel slightly less proud now. Moving on...The storage bins that I had to talk myself into going to Walmart to get were to help tackle that whole basement situation. Perhaps I should have looked closer at the photo before I left so that I would have had a more realistic view of how many bins to buy and what sizes, or whether garbage cans made more sense.

I did it though. I went to Walmart. I took several deep breaths and stepped into what my son referred to as my "concrete prison". I texted him periodically throughout my mission just to maintain some contact with the outside world in the event that I went missing and fell out of contact for a curious amount of time. In order to touch as few things as possible, I made what turned out to be a tactical error and did not get a cart. I was just shopping into the stack of six large bins that I was carrying around. The first sign of trouble was near the checkout when I thought this seemed like a good idea...
...the fact that Hershey is on there clearly meant something as there is nothing else appetizing here. I mean I honestly didn't even open them this evening to try.

I headed out to the parking lot, with no definite idea of where I had parked, pockets weighed down by numerous things that should have been in the purse that seems too cumbersome to carry these days. I guess a purse and a mask are just too many accessories for me. The bins were heavy, as were my pockets, and my shorts were ill-fitting as usual. I tell you this next part, not as a humble brag, but as a testament to an ill-proportioned body. My shorts started to slip as once they find themselves below my ample waistline, there are a lack of hips and cheeks to hold them up under the pressure of whatever I crammed in my pockets, coupled with the downward force of the bins my noodle arms were carrying against my body. I started to feel that unmistakable sense of breeze lower than I typically prefer. I hedged my bets pondering a deep knee bend to lower the bins to the ground versus just trying to walk a little faster in the direction I hoped the car was in. When I got to the car, I grabbed for the back of my shorts, and then had to send this text to my son (with the remaining 7% battery I might add, as clearly this was an important confession, as was the answer about what food coloring options we had at home).
I gathered myself and felt confident enough to stop at Aldi's where I would most surely get a cart. I was armed with a list that I could not focus on while I was talking to my friend on the phone. All of the one way aisles and lack of concentration had me looking like Pac-man trying to find the fruit...back and forth, trying to avoid other shoppers. I hadn't talked to this friend in quite some time, so we had some pandemic woes to share, as well as work and family updates. While I did not have the phone on speaker like that amazing Progressive commercial, I may have chosen a few "comfort of your own home" stories from work* that prompted having to send this text to her when I got home...

Sometimes it feels good to share a little shame and laugh at the nonsense that is myself. Well this was long and rambling, but I do have to admit that it feels like old times here, and I can't complain much about that.

*No, I do not work directly, or even indirectly, with vaginas

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The End of the Alphabet

Today is the second anniversary of my friend Jeff's passing. I have been thinking about the few weeks leading up to that day. The woman down the street from where he lived brought a steady supply of home baked goods to sustain us. There was so much love in the house. 

I also thought about that book we were going to write together, whether Jeff liked it or not. I worked on the introduction a few years ago, and thought maybe I should look at it again. I also thought maybe I could at least pretend I was going to write some more, but Jeff was going to make my story better and I am still not quite sure how to do that without him. Here is the beginning...where most stories start...

Remember as a kid, when so much of one’s social circle depended on a name, more specifically, last names. They were the standard way to provide order to an assigned seating chart, and in our high school, homerooms were even broken down this way. People brought together as friends in an alphabetical sense, sometimes with the hope of having something more flourish (or the despair of knowing there was no escape from the like-lettered hooligans). My maiden name started with the letter U...think less”unique” and more “uh, how do you pronounce that”? Truth be told, I miss that jumble of vowels. After twenty-two years, I have yet to fully embrace my being as a C - so average. Maybe the V and Y folk still begin each morning in exceptional  ways. If only there was a way for me to check in.

Facebook. Love it, hate it, pretend it doesn’t exist, but there it is connecting people who may have gone decades without contact. The expectations for developing a Facebook relationship are pretty low - “like” a few posts, leave an encouraging emoji of some sort where appropriate, and pay attention to whatever is interesting. Eventually things can be taken to the next level with actual words as comments on posts, or maybe something bold like a private message. I remember Jeff’s friend request coming, and how I could picture his hair and smile from the 1980’s as I accepted. Simple as that, we were friends, but I never could have imagined where that was going to lead us.

Jeff’s Facebook status was, and still is, a space filled with wit and humor, with an occasional sprinkle of Hello Kitty adoration. I looked forward to reading whatever he had to say, and couldn’t help but wonder what a real life conversation might be like nearly thirty years after graduating together. I did not recall ever being particularly friendly to Jeff during those early homeroom gatherings, not for any personal reasons. (But oh my gosh, did he ever hear me call him “Snooty Venuti”? Clearly I did not come up with that one on my own.) I was an equal opportunity grump. In other words, meeting me for a cup of coffee did not seem like it would be an invite with high appeal. However, when my daughter said she was done with her Hello Kitty boombox, I realized I might have something more enticing to offer.

We met up at a park, and after exactly zero seconds of awkwardness, we went for a walk in the brisk morning air. The conversation was lively and all over the place from what I recall - past, present, this person, that person, including the hilarious revelation that we both had a crush on the same guy back in homeroom. Thanks to alphabetical order, we both got to gaze at V each morning. Jeff bragged that he got to feel the guy’s arm muscle every day as he graced us with his weightlifting prowess. My retort was that I had kissed him...on more than one occasion. Truce. Jeff’s version of what our little cluster of desks in the grand homeroom scheme seemed much more endearing than my memory had led me to believe despite both scenarios being accurate. We each played a role not unlike the cast of any other teen comedy. I found myself able to own my somewhat surly character who I thought only family members had to put up with lovingly. If Jeff could forgive that girl, maybe it was high time I did the same. He met me where I was in life that day, not where I had been in 1987.

Thursday, August 6, 2020


I have been walking around thinking about blogging, then either something else happens that somehow diminishes my initial delusions of grandeur, or causes me to forget them completely. It felt like carrying an armful of apples, fretting while several kept falling to the ground. If I could have just found a place to set some of those down more gently. Maybe I could go back to see if the ones I dropped are still good for anything? Maybe I could come up with a new analogy, or just cut to the topic du jour.

Was I ready to bring my baby girl back for her third year of college? Let's break that sentence down to point out a couple of problems. First and foremost, the words "third year of college" should negate me referring to my daughter as "my baby girl". Second, my level of readiness was and is irrelevant. This house is certainly ready for me to go on my purging and organizing whirlwind coping strategy that I use to try to restore order when my world feels out of my control. You would think Corona alone would have had this place sparkling, but I got distracted after the first few weeks of her shenanigans.

We hunkered down here for months. In the beginning I felt like the supreme protector as I masked up every couple of weeks to head out for essentials like more potato chips and onion dip. We did what we thought we were supposed to be doing to keep safe. As it became more and more clear that my daughter's college was planning some version of campus learning, I felt at a loss for how to make sure that transition was a safe one. The reality is that I couldn't do much more than I have done the other six times...I made supply lists and contemplated a tetris-like strategy to pack cars. 

We talked a bit about if small groups of friends turned into larger parties and mask wearing. I might have mentioned some thoughts on general housekeeping. She knows that if classes all become virtual, she can decide where she is the most comfortable living. I knew that the best way for her to feel okay about what was happening was for me to seem okay about what was happening, but I also know she's no dummy. She read between every jumbled line I uttered and saw every worried crease etched on my forehead. She gave me eye rolls and sighs of exasperation, but she also let me sit on the floor of her bedroom here and in her new place until it was time to go. 

And then I left. It seems reasonable to immediately start reducing the amount of candy stashed in this house. I thought there was more I wanted to say, but this feeble attempt is reducing the number of tissues I have as well. I will just let that pillow there on her bed sum things up...

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Dress for the life you want

I recently ran across some photos, and it seems like now is as decent of a time as any to share the story with you. (Plus this may lay some ground work for some other bloggy things.)

I was working at a preschool, which of course provided a general atmosphere of adorable. Cuteness prevailed on most mornings, with outfits lovingly picked out and adorned. Within hours, classroom life often proved too much for crispness or cleanliness. There was one girl who didn't exactly strive for princess perfection, but more just for what appealed to her on any given day. She clearly took very little input when selecting her ensembles and coordinating pieces were not essential. Maybe she would have on a princess costume dress with a random sweater thrown over it, or a taffeta skirt and beloved tshirt with sneakers. What seemed to be most important was how she felt about each article and more so how each item made her feel. 

My cohorts and I got to talking one afternoon about elevating our own dress codes, thinking maybe this little one was on to something. What would it be like to just throw havoc to the wind and dress like nobody was watching? What if we donned items that made us feel special, but didn't sacrifice comfort? The next morning, I put on the dress from my senior ball, accessorized with some plastic necklaces, relics from my daughter's dress up bin, that made me smile. I realized that a nice cotton shirt over the top would make me more comfortable, and would also make the fact that the zipper no longer reached the top far less obvious. I grabbed a couple of other gowns I had bought at an estate sale, and two of my coworkers slid that finery over whatever they initially arrived at school wearing.
Nailed it!

We felt what I like to think of as that special sort of joy that only a spark of silliness can bring. It can't necessarily be explained to anyone who asks, they just have to know. It doesn't concern itself with "why", but rather eggs you on by shouting "WHY NOT?!" It doesn't leave room for doubt or embarrassment because you are the one standing there showing the world that you stand by your decision. It is like a preschooler smiling about candy or at a brand new box of crayons before something equally as fabulous flashes by. Those things still bring me a great deal of happiness, but it fades more quickly now as an adult due to the weight of reality.
Dora the Explorer Fan Club
As if we called each other to coordinate
I wonder what that little girl is like now at age sixteen. I hope she still has the spirit of what I will call a sensible princess...feeling pretty, comfortable and confident in her decisions with a spark of silly and so much joy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Material girl

Yes, I am fabricating another post...about fabric. Do you have something else to talk about? If so, I may be slightly envious. 

When we last left my stitchery, I had used up all fabric deemed suitable for mask making, so I made the call. I dialed the number of the one who introduced me to the wall of calicos and led the way to the cutting counter at the fabric store, the one who showed me that fabric scraps weren't to be discarded, the one who paved the way for me to cultivate my very own fabric hoard. "Mom, you still have a bin of fabric, don't you?" The next day I received this text...
...and by later that afternoon I had cut the fixings for another round. While we sat outside that afternoon, with a safe distance and bin of fabric between us, my mom asked if I needed thread. I did not want to be overwhelmed, so I asked her to just bring down a spool or two, but lo and behold the abacus of threads was brought out.
Now you may be wondering why this stitcher isn't toiling away the hours at her Singer? Well, because I have her machine at my house where it landed a few months back when mine stopped working right in the midst of making...quilts. (Yes, it is probably an easy fix, but even easier was borrowing a different one.)

When I picked up both the phone and the tub of fabric, I really just had mask making on my mind. This was just going to be material to work with - no strings attached. It was like I completely forgot why she had fabric to begin with! For starters, it was like opening a container of lo mein as it just kept expanding.
I do see something from someone's pants there on top.
(part of my own personal collection)
A lot of the textiles were from back in the eighties and nineties when creating animals with fancy garb was a big deal.
(part of an 80's craft show set up)
Then I had to touch the fabric, move it around a bit. The first things I immediately recognized...
...on the left we have a fairy trick-or-treater from 2001.
And on the right, my bridesmaids from 1995...
A bag of something...
...the pattern will reveal.
2005 flower girl. Oh dear. There were going to be some feels to be felt after all. Oh I remember you...
...early nineties and the most comfortable dresses ever. I remember thinking this was going to be my wardrobe as a mom someday. Smock dresses flowing in a gentle breeze, matching my carefree attitude, as I called my kids home for warm cookies. The cookie part of the plan had staying power at least. 

Must. Reach. Bottom.
My 2002 trick-or-treating knight in shining...
...not exactly suitable for masks, but maybe with the proper backing?!

Suffice to say, I found plenty of fabric to work with, and still left a full tub. The lid just fits better now, to safely keep those remnants all smushed in next to each other, with no real order to the matter, to be taken out another day to have their wrinkles smoothed out and gazed fondly upon...but isn't that how the best memories go?