Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!
(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)
When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor. How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights. Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!
Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure. My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.
About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.
Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend. There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces. A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was. I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.
It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She cut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.
When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.
I suffer from pen lust—an overwhelming desire to acquire pens. When I go into an office supply store, I gravitate to the writing implements aisle like a junkie to a fix. Admiring pens is an art form for me: what about the size of the barrels (because size DOES matter!), the thickness of the writing tip, the color of the barrel. Is the ink the same color as the pen I wonder? How does the pen feel in my hand—like it has a home there—or is it too think or thick—or does it nestle like a baby to its mother’s breast?
If there is a little pad of paper to try the pen out—well, then I’m in heaven! I write my name, my maiden name and my initials either printing them or using cursive—or even a sort of calligraphy! Oh, what joy!
And it’s not just buying pens that entrances me.
When I get the tab in a restaurant, I feel a tingle of excitement as I open the folder the bill comes in. What kind of pen will be hidden inside? Will I immediately WANT that pen? Or will it be a cheap BIC stick pen? Sometimes I hold the pen just a moment too long—and ask the server where they got such a terrific pen, hoping that somehow, it will be given to me as a perk for being such a delightful customer. I have never stolen a one from a restaurant—although I am sorely tempted on occasion. (Ok, full disclosure, I did take a pen once, but there were dozens of them—and it looked like an advertising gimmick.)
One time, at a doctor’s office, I admired the pen I was given to fill out a form. Imagine my joy when the receptionists said. “You can have it—we get them free all the time!” I walked out of that office with a spring in my step and joy in my heart.
My late husband and I shared this obsession with pens. I had to carefully monitor my favorites to make sure they wouldn’t fall into his covetous hands! And, I must admit, I was not above tucking his pens into my purse when he left them around.
At any given time, I have at least three pens in my purse. I have pens everywhere—all different types. And it can take me a few minutes to decide which pen I want to use to write a check or sign my name. Often, when I’m given what I consider to be a substandard pen (the aforementioned BIC), I retrieve my own pen and use that. And I am delighted if someone needs to borrow one, because I can offer a selection of pens to that person. Needless to say, I always get mine back and I take my favorite one first.
Pen lust—alas, there is no cure!
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Living in Central Florida we sometimes have a visitor who barges in on short notice.
Like any visitor, this one requires preparation. But instead of tidying the house and making coffee, those of us who live here find ourselves filling the gas tank ( just in case) withdrawing money from the bank, stockpiling batteries and gallons of water and foods that can be eaten directly from the package. We also fill the bathtub and have several buckets handy, brimming over with water (to flush the toilet.)
Because this visitor is not a guest, and is not welcome. If he or she decides not to stop by, we all feel relieved.
By now you realize that I’m describing preparing for a hurricane.
Until I moved to Florida in the late 90’s, I had never been through a hurricane. Then we had a trio of them visit us in rapid succession in 2004. And I got to experience firsthand the sheer enormity and terror of these storms. Fortunately, our house sustained almost no damage the year of Charley, Frances and Jeanne. (Weirdly, hurricanes are named, as if they are desirable visitors to an area.)
Last week, we had another hurricane stalking us along the east coast of Florida—Matthew—a ferocious storm, described as a category 4 or 5. For days, we listened to the weather forecast, trying to decide how much preparation was needed. As the hurricane came closer, it appeared that we were in for it—a full blown major hurricane that was capable of seriously altering our lives. After spending what seemed like a fortune, I felt ready to face the onslaught from Mathew. Luckily, my dog and I were able to go to my friend’s home to ride the storm out together.
One of the bonuses of living in Central Florida means that I reside where people evacuate to. And our homes are built to post Hurricane Andrew standards, so they are secure enough to weather most storms. But, I didn’t relish the idea of facing the hurricane alone.
Even though there was almost no hope of avoiding the wrath of Matthew,at the last moment he “wobbled” to the east just enough to spare us! (That’s another strange part of hurricane culture—meteorologists use words like wobble to describe its motion.) Of course, other areas were not as lucky, and they received a full blast from this enormous storm and sustained a lot of damage.
I think I’d prefer a good old snow storm. I understand snowstorms, and now that I’m retired, I don’t have to drive to work every day. The aftermath of a snowstorm can be a beautiful blanket of fresh, clean snow and ice that glazes the trees and makes the world seem mystical.
Unlike a hurricane which leaves downed trees, damaged roofs and homes, ruined beaches, destroyed roads, and sometimes lost lives in its wake. (Of course, I have experienced killer blizzards that have held a city in its frigid grip for weeks at a time and resulted in deaths.)
Hurricane season is starting to wind down—although I learned a few years ago that hurricanes can form at any time of year. Summer and Fall are just the most likely times for them to do so. Needless to say, I hope I never have to go through the anxiety of preparing for a hurricane again—although I think there is little hope of that.
Image from Pixababy
I just returned from one of two visits to my hometown of Buffalo, New York this summer—the first to attend my brother-in-law’s funeral and the second, to celebrate a family reunion. I reworked this blog post from four years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
Buffalo, my home town. Name by French trappers, according to legend, after the river that flows through it. The Queen City of the Great Lakes, famous for snow storms, chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres Hockey team.
Buffalo is becoming an “It” city–with a newly revived waterfront that includes busy Canalside ( a terminus point for the Erie Canal), and the Inner Harbor. The lakefront is crowded all the time, as is Larkin Square, another historic area that is jammed with concert-goers, food truck aficionados and people enjoying the lovely summer evenings Buffalo offers. Travel through the Elmwood Village and admire the wonderful gardens that are lovingly tended, making Buffalo’s Garden Walk in July a highlight of the summer for garden enthusiasts from all over.
Buffalo is the place where I was born, attended grade school, learned about the world, came of age and earned two college degrees. The place where I made my first communion and was confirmed. The place where I fell in love, married and raised a child. The place I spent my happiest days and some of my saddest days. It is where my parents and one of my brothers are buried, and where two of my seven siblings live now.
It is also a city of uncommon beauty—wide boulevards lined with mature trees that are crimson and gold in fall, elegant public buildings—some designed by the most famous of American architects. Situated on Lake Erie—one of a chain of inland seas—cooled by breezes from Canada, it is circled by a necklace of Olmstead parks—green oases for the working class. Populated by the children of immigrants who came here to find the Promised Land and by the descendants of slaves who found refuge at the last stop on the Underground Railway.
I ran away from its harsh winters fifteen years ago looking for endless summer which I found here in Florida.
And now I wonder if I am called back to that place I never stopped loving.
I see a city rich with opportunity, full of the promise of intellectual and spiritual growth. A city where I can attend theater, concerts, and visit art galleries easily. (There is a saying in Buffalo that everything in the city is twenty minutes away…and it’s true.)
I can sit in bistros and watch the bustle of the world go by—and eat wonderful food and not have to mortgage the house to do so. I can drive through neighborhoods and admire Arts and Crafts style homes next to Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
I can be soothed by the rhythm of waves rolling into the marina, enjoy a sandy beach or drive to the undulating hills south of the city.
And I can be among those I share a history with—who have known me all of my life—who love me for who I was and am now. People whose memories I share, who loved the same people I loved. I can be among the next generation in our family, and revel in their beauty, intelligence and goodness. I can see our family’s heritage and the future in their eager faces.
Buffalo is aptly named. It’s is an earthy name—unpretentious, it isn’t a beautiful sounding word, rather one that jars a little. The same way we are jarred by the real thing—by reality. It is a genuine place filled with people who feel authentic.
The moment I arrive in this city—my city—I feel the joy of arriving home, like returning to the warmth of a mother’s embrace.
Image of Buffalo skyline at night courtesy of city-data.com
It happened again—I had a great topic (I thought) for a blog post—and there was another national tragedy, the shooting and murder of police officers in Baton Rouge.
May the officers who lost their lives rest in peace, and may their families find comfort. I pray that the wounded will heal fully.
But, as I said the last time, maybe we need a distraction—or a reassurance that life, indeed, does go on and yes, we will survive.
With those thoughts in mind, I offer this blog post.
TV in Restaurants
I enjoy TV. I like watching favorite shows, and DVR many of them so I can enjoy them at my leisure.
First of all, I am highly visual, and I find TVs perched high on a restaurant’s walls to be terribly distracting. When I go out to eat, it’s not only because I don’t want to cook, but because I like the sociability of eating out. Conversations with friends, enjoying the restaurant’s ambience, and eating tasty food should be part of the experience. But, for me, those pleasures are diluted by the ever-present TV show that plays just above my companion’s heads. And because I am so visual, I find myself quite distracted by the TV. I assume that other people feel the same way.
I wonder who thought that folks who are eating out needed the stimulation of TV. I can understand it in a Sports Bar, where people go to cheer their favorite team, but are they necessary in a restaurant that doesn’t necessarily cater to a sports crowd? And having a TV in the bar section of a restaurant might be a good idea—but placing TVs in the room dedicated to dining makes no sense.
There’s another problem with TVs in dining areas. In my most frequented local restaurant, the choice of programs can be questionable. First of all, I resent being forced to watch Fox News, but more than that, I hate to gaze at a dining companion, and catch sight of a gory “criminal procedural” program. What is less appetizing than pictures of the wounds someone sustained when being murdered? Or the reenactment of an autopsy? Why should I, as a patron, have to get the attention of a server and request that the station be changed?
I am not the only one who finds TVs distracting. Friends have been diverted from conversational topics by whatever is on the nearest TV—sometimes appearing to be more interested in the TV than their dining companions.
Wearing blinders when I am dining in these restaurants seems extreme— so maybe I need to think about eating in more upscale places!
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Recently, I was talking to a friend who enjoys reading my blog. She mentioned that it had been a least a month since I updated it. There’s a reason why. When I started this blog, my main goal was to attract a following for my writing. I promised that it would not be political because I subscribed the old fashioned notion of avoiding talking about religion and politics.
But somehow, writing a blog like mine in the midst of mass shootings, including sniper attacks on police officers and the death of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement seemed frivolous. Every time I thought I had a good topic, another national tragedy would occur—so I decided to wait a week or so. The week turned into a month and threatened to become six months and then a year.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that especially because the news is so grim so much of the time, perhaps a blog entry that brought a smile or a nod of recognition to my followers might be cathartic.
This revelation came to me while I was perusing Face Book after the mass shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, which is the nearest big city to where I live. Even though I personally didn’t know anyone who died that horrible night, I still felt deeply saddened. Face Book was full of memes about “love winning” and posts about the night of terror. The news was brimming with stories about the perpetrator and most importantly, the victims.
Then my brother-in-law died. It was a tsunami of sadness and shared grief.
I found myself seeking out Face Book posts showing pictures of children, dogs and kittens—and gardens, rainbows and waterfalls and—well, you get the picture. I was seeking an antidote to all of the sadness around me.
So, I decided that it was time to get back to the blog and writing about the sometimes silly and quirky observations about my life.
I hope you understand. See you tomorrow.
(And here’s a picture of a waterfall and a rainbow!)
Picture courtesy of Pixabay
Our lives are filled with time saving gadgets. We have dishwashers, washing machines, leaf blowers, lawn mowers we can ride, computers and printers—and my favorite, the DVR. What a great gadget! I wish I could thank the person who invented it personally.
While we’re busy living our lives, doing necessary chores like grocery shopping or more enjoyable things like attending a child’s dance recital or graduation or just hanging out with friends, the DVR is there, making sure that we don’t miss any of our favorite TV programs. It even allows us to watch one show while it dutifully tapes another show that can be accessed later. We can even read the newspaper or a book basking in the glow of the red light that tells us that yes, our beloved TV program will be ready when we are.
I realized how much I like—no love—my DVR recently while watching a playback of a network TV show. First of all, I was able to watch a half hour sit-com (my favorites) in 22 minutes. I was thrilled when I realized how much time I saved! I was able to skim over all of the ads which saved almost 10 minutes. That meant that I could watch almost three sitcoms in the time it would have taken to watch only two. What a time-saver!
But the best part for me was that I was not forced to watch any ads with Matthew Mc Conaguhy driving high-end luxury vehicles while talking to his dogs. That alone made using the DVR worth it.
Yes, The DVR is a great invention—easy to use, convenient and reliable. And it is my all time favorite gadget. It has saved me time and I have been released from the tyranny of Matthew McConaguhy!
Thank you, DVR.
One of the great conveniences of the modern era is ordering stuff online. Because I live a healthy 45 minute drive from any decent retail (the nearest stores are Publix (groceries) and Wal Mart, the expediency and ease of looking up whatever I want on Amazon.com has hooked me. In addition, I bought the Prime membership a couple of years ago primarily for the free shipping which was a money saver at Christmas—and now, of course, I enjoy all the perks of the endless TV, movies, and music that membership entitles me to. And getting the stuff I order delivered to my front porch in two days or less with FREE shipping –well, how can you beat that?
In addition, I don’t really enjoy shopping. First, there’s the drive to the store, finding parking, and then browsing through the thousands of items that populate a typical retail outlet. Temptation lurks all around and it’s easy to buy something because its cute –or it might be nice to have. Then you have to drag the bags or packages out to the car and then haul them into the house. Shopping eats up the better part of a day.
Online shopping eliminates many of these problems. You search for the item you want, read a description, decide whether or not to buy it–and then sit back with a good book.
Lately, though, I think that I’ve returned more stuff to Amazon than I’ve kept. The list includes a Kindle Fire (which was a duplicate of an order), a pan, a Kindle Fire cover, and two jackets.
It occurred to me tonight as I was printing yet another return label that I’ve become quite the expert at returning things to Amazon.
I wonder if the experience of having to schlep the re-boxed and re-labeled items to a UPS outlet or a post office so frequently will convince me to drive to the nearest mall and shop in person.
Nah! Ordering on-line is just too easy!
Picture Credit Pixabay
After my recent shoulder surgery , I went to a rehabilitation facility to hasten my recovery. It was an unusually pleasant place—attractive, clean, with attentive staff.
During the ten days I stayed there, I experienced something that shook me to the core of my being.
I was much younger and healthier than the typical resident at the facility. It was like being a teenager at your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary party.
Like most facilities of this nature, the staff provided stimulating experiences: entertainment by local people, bingo games, and movies. I attended several of these functions because the days often felt incredibly long. I soon realized that most of the people who attended these functions were “long-term residents”—a euphemism for people whose memories and personalities had been ravaged by aging.
I went to a community birthday party one afternoon. (The draw for me was the cake and ice cream!) I chose to sit at a table with a man and his wife—people I saw every day. They appeared to be in my age range so I thought that we might be able to visit with one another. The woman resembled me somewhat—she was obviously of Irish descent, with dark, wavy hair, dark eyes and fair skin.
But when I attempted to chat with the couple, it soon became obvious that the woman had dementia. I watched as the husband tenderly attended to her, spooning ice cream into her mouth, and wiping her lips and encouraging her to take sips from a cup of punch.
At one point, I looked at him and smiled. A tear trickle down his cheek. I wondered if I reminded him of his wife in better days; and that my presence was a reminder of all that had been swallowed up by his wife’s illness. It felt like entering into his private hell.
Looking around, I realized that the staff who took care of the long-term residents could have been me at the height of my teaching career. And the long term-residents could be my future.
It was chilling to see my past and (possibly) my future.