Monthly Archives: May 2014

Which Way Do We Go?

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I used my Google Maps app yesterday. I don’t use it often, and I’m not very adept at using it, but it is handy under certain circumstances. As I was driving along, watching the blue arrow that was me move along the highway, it made me think. What would it have been like to have this handy little device when we were kids?

We used to use something called maps to plot our course on a trip. They were made of paper, and folded up into a small rectangle. You unfolded them to the section you needed, and turned the map this way and that as you traveled to keep track of where you were and where you were headed. We even learned map reading in school as part of our social studies classes. The map showed the highways and towns, and had little numbers to indicate miles between towns. There was also a handy scale of miles to help you determine longer distances, maybe using the first joint of your pinky finger to represent 10 miles on the map. Now it seems rather barbaric, but this was the finest technology we had at the time.

When we would go somewhere, we would get out the map before our trip, and look to see where we were going, and what roads we’d be traveling. It was a lesson in reading, direction, and math. As we traveled, we were constantly calculating how many more miles we had to go. We could tell Dad where to turn (not that he didn’t already know, because he had this amazing sense of direction, even in places he’d never been before.) And, if necessary, we could help calculate where we would need to stop for gas, based on how many miles we had to go, and how empty the tank was getting. As I said, highly technical calculations.

So, as I was following that blue arrow on the Google Maps app yesterday, I wondered what my dad would have thought of such a device. A smartphone. With not only the capability to make calls from just about anywhere, but to also plot your course and show your vehicle on the map as it moved along the highway. Oh. Emm. Gee. And what would it have been like for us kids to use that smartphone to do the navigating, and so much more, as we took those long car rides?

And now, what are the old paper maps used for? Crafts. Yes, people cut them up and make notebook covers, gift wrap, jewelry, and all sorts of other stuff out of them. Or they appear in antique shops. Old relics. It’s kind of sad. I always liked those maps. But I have to admit, I do like that Google Maps app, too, and find the whole gadgetry aspect of it pretty amazing. And, Dad, it’s better than a Polaroid camera! 

Snake at the Spigot

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Since spring has finally arrived, everything has come to life. The flowers are poking up out of the ground, herbs are in, a few veggies in pots, hanging baskets of flowers on the porch, and now, my fairy gardens. All of them are beautiful, but all of them need watering. And watering means wrestling with the garden hose. I know you’ve all been there at some point in your lives. I just want a hose that hooks to the spigot properly, uncoils on demand for dragging around the yard, delivers water when you need it, and not when you don’t, and then recoils easily when you are finished with it. Not asking too much, am I?

Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of hoses. The good old light red rubber hose of my childhood, with a sturdy brass nozzle. Indestructible and well-behaved. Then came the age of the plastic hose. Lighter, but not as sturdy, and not as easy to tame. The soaker that does all the work for you, until you mow over it because you left it strung across the yard to the flower garden. Then all sorts of “easy-coil” models, that were anything but.

I’ve tried the hose hanger, the hose reel, and just laying it on the ground in front of the spigot. Nothing seems to make it any easier to coil and uncoil that darned hose! Oh, sure, you may get it to uncoil and stretch out in the sun across your yard, but when you try to return it to its nice ringed pile, you are met with the snake at the spigot. It takes on a life of its own. It springs, it sproings, it snaps, and it NEVER again looks like it did when you bought it.

And the nozzles of today are totally worthless. Each one has its weakness…leaks, easily broken, can’t turn on, won’t shut off, doesn’t screw tightly to the hose and constantly drips. They all LOOK so inviting…12 settings, totally adjustable, the last nozzle you’ll ever buy! Yeah, right. The disappointing nozzle only adds to the springing hose monster’s power to undermine your gardening.

Today, after I fought with the serpent, and finally got it all coiled back into a neat little pile, and walked away, I looked over at the hose and saw a section of it had sprung loose from the pile and was laying across the nearby bush. I give up. I’m going back to the good old-fashioned rubber hose and brass nozzle, if I can find one.  

Did a Little Gardening This Weekend

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Today I created my first 3 fairy gardens. A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that fairy gardening is the perfect hobby for me. It’s all about some of my favorite things: gardening, miniatures, themes, and magic. How did I not figure this out earlier? Regardless of timing, I dove into the idea head first. I started gathering items from around the house that could become fairy garden accessories. Fortunately, I already have collected miniatures for many years, so I had quite the stockpile to choose from. I started searching and pinning fairy garden ideas on Pinterest, and created a new Fairy Gardens board. I went and bought several miniature plants…well at least the plants that don’t get too huge. I was all set!

 

As I gathered all the things, several themes started to rise to the top. I had an old wooden cottage, a souvenir I’d picked up on some vacation long ago. I envisioned a cottage by the trunk of a tree, with a picket fence, some moss…a quaint little scene. It came together with the acquisition of some miniature white picket fencing purchased at a garage sale, two small wooden chairs from a free pile at another garage sale, a hunk of tree fungus from yet another garage sale, and several ideas from Pinterest for a bead and wire wind chime, a marble lined pond nestled in a ring of tree roots, a small stone fire ring, complete with a small pile of firewood (twigs), and a path made of white rocks. I got moss off the garage roof and from around the yard, added a miniature chicken in the yard, a wee frog by the pond, a tiny turtle by the house, and a tiny deer. I lined the area with rocks to hold the soil, and planted two of the small plants. It’s perfect!

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The second theme was fairy laundry day. I got a small washtub and a miniature washboard at a garage sale, and added twig posts with string for a laundry line. I cut up a small chiffon jewelry bag to make a tiny tu-tu for the clothes line, and used mini clothespins I had for crafting. I added lots of moss, some plants, a tiny frog and a tiny turtle, and made some beaded wire wands to stick in the yard. This one is built in an old tin pan that has been laying in the back yard for many years.

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The third theme was in honor of one of my cats, Stella Blue, who has gone on to the next stop. Her resting place in the front yard is by a flower bed, just under the wind chimes. I used an old wooden bushel basket lid for a “dish”, and filled it with tiny bird houses, birds, plants, and a small bell on a wire shepherd’s hook. I crafted a birdbath out of an old wooden thread spool, with a bottle cap glued on top, painted blue inside to look like water. I added a twisted, beaded wire wand for a splash of color to attract the birds. I felt the birds were a fitting way to pay homage to old Stella.

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I learned some things about fairy gardening today. It’s addictive. It’s much harder than it seems. It’s a putzey hobby, which I love. It’s a lot like playing with toys when you were a kid…you lay them all out, use your imagination, and set the scene. It’s also evident that the gardens are never finished. I’ve already gone back to each one to add items all afternoon. And although I ran out of oomph this afternoon, I have more plants and “stuff” and many ideas for more gardens. But for now, I wait for the fairies.

 

Mowing Madness

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I finally mowed my lawn today for the first time this season. I’d put it off for as long as I possibly could. But all of the neighbors had mowed this weekend, and I had no more excuses. So, against all that I hold dear, I got up, and before a good shower, got dressed in my nastiest clothes, and went out to tackle the beast. I would have much rather had that shower, a leisurely breakfast, and coffee on the porch this sunny Sunday morning, but instead, I prepared to spend 90 minutes walking in circles, pushing a heavy machine, blowing gas fumes and bits of plant matter back at me.

You might have guessed by now that I do not enjoy mowing the lawn. Not in the least. I can remember as a young girl, begging my dad to let me push the mower around. He was very particular about his lawn, and his mower. His mower was clean as a whistle, tuned up, and topped off with oil and gas. When he finished mowing there wasn’t a leaf or blade of grass left loose on the entire lawn. When he finally gave in and let me give it a whirl, he watched me at every turn, advising me to overlap more, and not go so fast. It was not much fun, and not at all the adventure I was imagining.

Looking back at that, I cannot imagine what I was thinking! WHY would I have BEGGED him to let me mow? As an adult, I’ve mowed many a yard, and used all manner of lawnmowers. I can’t say that I’ve EVER enjoyed it. It’s a homeowner’s (or renter’s) duty…a community commitment…a chore. It’s 90 minutes I’ll never get back…again, and again.

When I was younger, and in better shape, it wasn’t quite so bad. I got hot, I got messy, and I got tired, but I survived it each time. Now that I’m older, and definitely NOT in shape, it’s more than just hot, messy and tired. It’s hell. If I recorded a soundtrack as I was mowing, it would sound something like this: OH! GOD! (heavy breathing) OK…almost ¼ of the way done. I can do this! YES, I can! (more heavy breathing) OH! GOD! I’m going to die right here in the front yard, in my nastiest clothes, with no shower, and the neighbors are going to have to come and stop the mower and call 911. OH! GOD! (more heavy breathing) I can’t do this. Maybe I can just do part of the yard today, and the rest later. (more heavy breathing) GOD! I hate mowing!!! And when I finish, I can hardly walk up the steps to take that shower.

We schedule our mowing around the weather and our free time. I always resent having to give up some of my free time to mow, rather than sitting on the porch relaxing. I’ve even taken serious measures to reduce the amount of grass I have to mow. I’ve put in gardens, flower beds, a fire pit. You’d think that would have reduced my mowing time, but, alas, it has not. Now I have to wind around all of those additions like an obstacle course. It seems to take even more time! I also push the envelope when it comes to how frequently I mow. I set the mower lower, hoping for longer stretches between mowing. I wait until the grass is as tall as possible without making it even harder on me to push the mower and get it to cut the tall, thick blades. It’s all about bargaining.

And what IS the point? Every week, all the good neighbors mow. Every week, the grass grows, and we all have to mow again. We waste gas, time, and can even endanger our health. We buy expensive mowers, fill them with expensive gas, and after we finish hoofing it around and around the yard, we sit and admire our neatly trimmed lawns. And we can hear the grass start to grow.

 

Monopoly on Boardwalk and Park Place

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I recently made a birthday card for my brother out of old Monopoly cards. It’s so shabby chic these days to use old game pieces to make things, I just had to give it a whirl. And I was fortunate enough to come across some bags of Monopoly cards at a yard sale not long ago. I didn’t do this just for the sake of making something shabby chic, because, believe me, my brother couldn’t care less about shabby chic. No, it was more because of the history of Monopoly that my brother and I share.

You see, we played a lot of Monopoly as young kids. I loved it, but my brother was WAY more serious about it than I was. He played for blood, and dragged the game out until I was begging to forfeit. He ALWAYS seemed to land on Boardwalk and Park Place first, and was ALWAYS able to afford them, along with a full set of houses, which then got traded in for hotels. Thus began his reign as Monopoly slumlord.

From there, it was all downhill for me. Even if I had accumulated some properties, he seemed to have an uncanny knack for collecting rent, receiving tax dividends, winning beauty contests, and passing GO. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time in jail, paying taxes, paying rent, and mortgaging properties in order to pay the rent. His stack of colorful money grew, while mine dwindled down to ones and fives.

For those of you who lived on Mars and never played Monopoly, the way you win the game is when the other players go broke. But this standard of victory was not good enough for my brother. Oh, no! He had to force me to write out IOU’s long after I’d run out of money, and mortgaged all of my properties, making it impossible for me to make any money. From there on out, it was just me going through the motion of writing IOU’s until he finally gave in and let me lose, with a sinister chortle.

This pattern went on throughout our childhood years. He was a winner – I was a loser. Plain and simple. But, over the years, I kept that Monopoly game, along with many of the handwritten IOU’s, complete with it’s orange soda stain right in the middle of the board. I used it at a child care program I ran, and then it sat in the closet for years. But one time, several years ago, my brother came to Minnesota to visit. And I had to ask him the big question. Would he want to have a Monopoly rematch, as adults? Of course, he went for it.

Being older and wiser, I maneuvered my purchases wisely, acquiring enough properties to collect some rent of my own, even if he were to get Boardwalk and Park Place, as usual. Let’s just say that things didn’t go as they used to go, many years earlier. We were neck and neck for quite some time, but eventually HE started losing money, and I started collecting quite a stack of colorful bills. When he got to that point where he was mortgaging properties to pay his bills, I started smiling. I was WINNING at Monopoly…against my BROTHER! He did not choose to write out any IOU’s. He just gave up. I even took pictures to have proof of this monumental event. It was priceless!

So, now you know why that card was so significant. He got a kick out of it, too. On the front were the deeds for Boardwalk and Park Place, and inside were a Get Out Of Jail Free card and a You Won the Beauty Contest card. I even enclosed two golden $500 bills for spending money for his birthday.

 

The Birthday Cake

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At our house, there was only one birthday cake. No one ever requested any other kind, and Mom never made anything else. It was always THE chocolate cake. And by that, I mean the chocolate fudge sour cream cake, that contained more fat and calories than any other cake on the planet. It was divine!

My mom was a really great baker…she made not only THE cake, but all sorts of other baked delights. She used to do her best baking late at night, and on occasion, I got to stay up with her and “help” her. I remember her making pan after pan of apple strudel. Grating the mounds of apples, making the dough, rolling it out, oiling it, filling it, rolling it up, slicing the top of the dough, and sprinkling the tops with cinnamon/sugar mix. It took hours, and she made huge batches of the stuff for our temple sisterhood bake sales. Of course, several pans stayed home for us, though. It was tedious work, but she seemed to enjoy it, and did everything just so. And it paid off, because it was delicious. She also made fruit cakes, fruit cake cookies, pound cake, pies, coffee cake (which we called stolen), and a triangular cookie with poppy seed filling (called humantashen) that was a special cookie for a Jewish holiday.

But THE cake was my favorite, and it was the family’s favorite, too. I’d watched her making that cake all my life. The recipe called for lots of eggs, butter, and unsweetened chocolate. It was baked in two round pans, which were then cut into a total of 4 thinner layers. I remember she would cut the rounded tops off of each cake with a very fine, serrated knife, and put each one on a paper plate, and give them to my brother and I with some of the frosting, so we each had our own little cake! It was all part of getting the layers perfectly smooth and straight, so they could form a perfectly shaped cake.

After the layers were cooled, she would frost them with this heavenly, thick, fudgey frosting. She used a cut glass cake plate, which I still have. Then the whole thing went into the refrigerator, so it cooled into this cylindrical hunk of very rich fudge. When it was time to eat the cake, she would run the knife under hot water with each slice, to help it cut through the thick fudge frosting. She always cut THE cake in half, and then in slices…never in wedges. This cake was so rich, you could only eat a slice, anyway! I remember Dad always wanted the rounded ends.

So, our family was hooked on THE cake. It was expected for every birthday, and Mom delivered, perfectly every time. And then, when I was a Freshman in high school, my mom died. And there was no longer anyone to make THE cake for our birthdays. I don’t remember if my dad asked me to give it a try, or if I decided to try it on my own, but I do very clearly remember the first time I attempted to make THE cake. I’d watched Mom so many times, surely I could do it.

I got all the ingredients together, and studied the recipe. Although I wasn’t as smooth in the kitchen as Mom, I tried to do it just the way she would have done it. The slicing of the layers was a bit tricky, for two reasons. I didn’t have the patience to wait until the cakes were quite cooled, so they were still warm and soft when I dove in with that serrated knife. I got the tops off, but the slicing of each layer was not so smooth. They were a bit crooked, and since the cake was still a bit warm, the knife kept dragging bits of cake with it, taking divots out of the layers as I cut. In shifting layers back and forth to cut and stack them, more crumbling occurred. And spreading frosting on a slightly warm cake layer isn’t easy. Cake crumbs were getting in the frosting, layers were breaking, and I became nothing more than a spackler.

After being near tears several times, I finally got the damn cake pieced together, glued with frosting. Who would know what I’d had to do on the inside to get it to form somewhere close to a cylindrical shape? As long as it looked sort of round on the outside, I was ok, right? I just had to get it to stick together and get it in the fridge, and it would all set up, just like Mom’s. Well, I still have the Polaroid shot that Dad took of that cake, crooked and sad as it was. Once my dad and brother got a look at it, they laughed and teased me endlessly. I went on strike and didn’t make another attempt at THE cake for quite some time.

I suddenly had all kinds of appreciation for how difficult a feat Mom had pulled off each time she made that cake. And, by the way, I can now make THE cake pretty darned close to how Mom did it. My methods might not be as neat and tidy, but it looks and tastes pretty darned fine, if I do say so myself. And, my brother, who once had such a good laugh at my first attempt, has since made THE cake himself, and did admit that it was pretty challenging. But it’s the taste that really matters, and I wish you could all taste it, because it is the ultimate chocolate experience!

 

The Human Touch

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Over the years, I’ve had 12 cats. Each one has had its own unique personality and habits. Cats are known for their independence, and some might even call them aloof and disinterested. But all cats have the need for human contact. They may spend most of their time on their own, entertaining themselves, hiding, or napping, but eventually, they will seek out their humans for some hands-on time.

I have had some cats who like to sleep with me. One even used to like to get under the covers and curl up behind my knees when I slept on my side. I’ve had some who are lap cats, and like to sit on me whenever I sit down. I had one cat who was an avid reader, and every time I’d open a newspaper and spread it out to read, she’d get right in the middle of it and lay down, just to spend some quality time with me.

Then there are the pushers. Some get on top of you and do what I call the pusha-pusha, or the kneading that they might do with their biological mothers. The head-butters will push their noses against you very aggressively, begging for pets. And the slinkers will walk past you and rub up against you as they pass, turning and going back and forth until you pet them.

I have one cat that visits me in the bathroom, rubbing up against my legs for pets. That same cat will come and try to sit in my lap as soon as I put my laptop in my lap, making it impossible to continue using the computer. I once had a cat that liked to get into the tub as soon as I finished my shower, and lap up the drops of water left behind. I also had a cat that was curious about bubble baths, and would come very close to jumping right in with me on occasion.

I also have one particularly fickle cat. She meows and rubs against you, begging for pets. Then as soon as you start to pet her, she does the MEH! meow (translation = Stop touching me!) and swishes away, turning her butt to you. Then she comes right back around and repeats the whole routine. She is also the hair chewer. She gets up on the back of the sofa and chews on my curly locks. Talk about quality time together! Another one likes to come around as soon as I put food on the island in the kitchen, and turn and swish her tail over my plate. In case you are not a cat person, cat hair IS a spice! And a cat turning his or her butt to your face is the highest compliment, I assure you!

Riveting Journalism

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I love watching shows like 48 Hours, Dateline, and 20/20. I also enjoy talk shows and the nightly news. I’m fascinated by people and their stories, and like getting the behind-the-scenes details. But sometimes these shows can really annoy me. I was under the impression that good journalism was all about getting a good angle on a story…like finding a way into the mind of a serial killer, asking just the right questions to bring out the story behind the killing. But apparently, the standards for good journalism have relaxed.

I can’t believe how many dumb questions I hear on network interviews. It must have been devastating to find your mother’s body on the kitchen floor. Were you anxious while being held captive by the terrorists? How thrilled were you to see those firefighters when your house was burning down? Were you surprised when you won the Miss America pageant?

First of all, how are the people involved supposed to answer questions like these? The interviewer really doesn’t leave them anywhere to go with it. It becomes a yes answer, and there’s no more to say. Would it be so hard to ask How did you feel while you were being held captive by the terrorists? Or What were your thoughts as the fire grew larger? It’s almost as if these journalists didn’t prepare questions, and just grabbed something out of thin air for the interviews. Or they were working from question lists written by 3rd graders. Actually, most 3rd graders could write better questions!

What is the point of the interview, anyway? Questions should be asked to get answers that we don’t already know. I’m waiting for someone to answer one of these obvious questions with sarcasm, or to just roll their eyes. No, Phil, I LOVED the hurricane! It was wicked cool watching it rip my home from its foundation, killing my dog, and leaving me with nothing.

 

 

Quite The Mother’s Day Celebration

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I live across from a little playground and park in my little town. On good-weather days, the playground is filled with parents and babysitters with kids in tow. Play usually sounds happy, save for the occasional screaming tantrum. There are a fair share of arguments over it being time to go home, or settling rows between siblings, but all in all, it’s a fun time at the park.

Saturday was the first day in a long time that it was warm and dry enough to get out in the yard and do some clean-up. I was raking leaves off of my flower beds, and other neighbors were sprucing up their yards, as well. The playground was alive with Mother’s Day weekend families spending time together. I’ve gotten used to seeing some very young parents there who don’t seem old enough to be parents, but I tell myself that that’s part of my own aging. While I’m not against young people becoming parents, I do have issues with any parent who subjects their children to inappropriate behavior, or puts them in danger.

First, I saw one family arrive in their mini van. The guy driving appeared to be very young. He was smoking a cigarette in the van, and the family sat in the van for a few minutes after parking near the playground. In my head, I started scolding this guy for exposing his kids to second-hand smoke. The family finally emerged from the van, got all four kids and their bicycles out, and started playing. Here I was, judging this young, smoking father, when I had no idea how great he was going to look by the end of the afternoon.

A little later, a group of people arrived. There were 2 or 3 young women, several children, and a young man or two who all seemed to know each other. It wasn’t clear whose kids were whose, but they all seemed to be having fun. Then, a young man arrived, and started yelling at one of the young women. When I say young, I mean maybe early 20’s. This “gentleman” managed to scream more foul language at this woman in a few minutes than I think I’ve uttered in my entire life! He just wouldn’t give it up! She started yelling right back at him, and didn’t spare any language for the sake of the children. As the yelling escalated, I started to worry about how the children were weathering this episode. What role models these young people were!

It wasn’t bad enough that they were angry, yelling and cursing in front of the children. The drama was topped off by him hitting her, and her getting in her van and speeding off. But she rounded the block, and came back for more. There was a bit more yelling, and then she sped off a second time. Then he spent some time pacing around, talking on his cell phone. I guessed that he might be talking to her, begging her to come back, most likely. Then he and his friends got the kids together, packed the smallest one in her stroller, and walked off into the sunset.

It’s sad to see how irresponsible some young parents can be. What will those children remember about the day spent with their family at the playground? Now you see why the smoking father, in comparison, looks like Father of the Year!

On a side note, my neighbor called the police during this altercation, but they said they couldn’t really do anything about the situation, unless “something happened.” I have to wonder what might have had to happen for the police to drive by and check on things. It’s bad enough that these dramas have to play out on occasion, but it’s far worse when law enforcement treats it as no big deal.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Mother’s Day!

Guest Post: I Miss Winter by Jenny Hill

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Another fun post from my friend, Jenny. Don’t forget to visit her website to see her beautiful, hand-woven rugs, and more! http://jenneferghill.wordpress.com

I miss winter. I really do. Please hear me out before you get the cauldron of hot oil ready to pour over me.

I think I miss winter because there’s just so much…leeway. In what other season can you go up one pant size and blame it on the weather?  

And snow. I miss the snow, too. What other time of year can you call into work and say, “I can’t come in today because I am stuck in my own driveway?” and no one questions the plausibility of your excuse?

The leeway even extends to social obligations. When else can you cut uncomfortable visits short due to impending storms? “Better safe than sorry,” you say as you bolt out the door. And no one disagrees.

So many people rejoice now over the longer hours of sunlight. Obviously, they’ve forgotten all the benefits of the cover of night. For entire months we were allowed to bask in the flicker of our televisions or computers, while winter raged on outside. 

Are we to turn our backs on our digital friends just because our very bones yearn for Vitamin D provided by the sun? Should we really fill our lungs with some of the sweetest air nature has to offer while enjoying tweets, the real kind, with our ears?

Yes, yes and yes. Because, frankly, I feel like something damp stuck to the underside of a piece of wood which was frozen to the earth all winter. I know what will fix me. Sun. And more sun. For that, I will even brave the sight of myself in last year’s capri pants.