Family

I’ve been twice blessed, well, more than twice but when it comes to families, I hit the lottery. My ‘core’ family was as close to Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best or the Cleavers in Leave it to Beaver than most.

My Dad was the head and sole bread-earner, Mom stayed home, managed the household and took care of my brother and me. Steve was more the ‘hand-full’ than I was, at least, that was my take on it. We were expected to do our best in school, be obedient, and, most important, respectful of everyone, especially adults, grandparents and anyone in uniform to include police, firemen and the milkman.

We ‘wanted’ for nothing however our whims weren’t indulged, our activities weren’t planned and if you broke something, like your bike, you learned how to fix it or it was given away to ‘someone who would appreciate it’. We played outside, had family dinner together every night, completed our chores before playing and were loved, cherished and safe.

Time marches on. We grew up and things changed. College, weddings, children took the place of play, family dinners around the red Formica table and that ‘forever’ home. We all stayed connected whether by phone call, letters and visits especially on holidays.

My ‘married family’ life was more like the sitcom All in the Family. After divorcing, I swore I’d never again sign my name on a marriage license – then I met Jeff and his family. If I fell hard for Jeff, I fell even harder for his family from the first day I met them. They had no idea Jeff was dating anyone special and then they all found out at the same time! On a beautiful weekend we ventured to MD for Sunday dinner. We walked into his Mom’s kitchen and he said, “Mom, I’d like you to meet Rosanne. We’re getting married.” My first thought – I hope she doesn’t faint! No problem. Dot walked over, put her arms around me and said “Welcome to the family.” Similar reactions were received from his Dad, two brothers and their wives. I was hoping this was real and not some Twilight Zone episode.

Time marches on. Things change. Today my ‘core’ family now consists of one uncle, nieces, nephews and a few cousins. Everyone else has gone to their eternal rest. Most have gone up and a few, I’m sure, have gone down. 

As for Jeff’s family, his Mom has passed however his Dad, Al Taylor, is still with us. At this writing he will be 97 July 16, 2020. There isn’t a person this man has come in contact with who hasn’t learned something from him whether it’s by his example, his abilities or his ‘wise sayings’. He ‘walks his talk’, treats people with respect whether they’ve earned it or not and always lives within his ‘means’. He has his points of view, mostly black and white, and is ready, willing and able to debate them with you at the drop of a hat.

I consider Al Taylor a second Dad and someone I will always remember and love. You see, Dad is currently on Hospice and VA care. His wish is to ‘go home’ and our wish is whatever he wants.

Someone once said “Any man can be a Father – it takes someone special to be a Dad.” I’ve been twice blessed. I’ve had two Dads.

Words

One beautiful Wednesday morning I was golfing with the 9ers. The 9ers or 9 holers are a fabulous group of women who love to play golf…just not 18 holes. For most of the round, we enjoy nature while socializing, encouraging and sympathizing with each other on every hole and every shot. On this particular par 5, I hit my drive about 200 yards…okay maybe 125 yards! As it’s flying through the air, Charlotte, my friend and golf partner shouts out, “Nice shot. A shame your ‘towards’ was off.” As a golfer, I’ve become familiar with many terms such as ‘chili-dip’, ‘shank’, ‘hook’ and LPGA…’last putt goes again’ not the Ladies Professional Golf Association.  ‘Towards’ was a new one. I looked at Charlotte with a ‘what does that mean’ look and she said, “It’s a southern expression meaning the shot was off line…nowhere near the hole.”

This got me thinking…how many words or terms do we use that we understand but are head-scratchers for others?

In my family, one of those words is ‘becky’. I apologize if the following is a little indelicate but it is what it is! From the early age of 4, I remember when someone made a ‘stinky’ someone else would pinch their nose and say, “Oh, becky”. Kids are sponges. Absorbing, repeating and imitating words, phrases and actions they hear and see. So it was with ‘becky’. When I was older, having been questioned many times by my friends as to what’s a ‘becky’ and where did it come from, I asked my Mom. First thing she did was take me to another room, closed the door and swore me to secrecy. Before I was born, someone in the family had an ‘accident’ and Mom was tasked with bringing the soiled suit to the cleaners. After getting her receipt and before she could make her escape, the owner of the store came out from the back and bellowed to his wife, “Becky, what’s that smell?” Hence, ‘becky’ was born.

Remember your first jalopy? The other day while talking with a friend, we started to reminisce about the past and growing up. She said she was sharing with one of her grandsons, who had just gotten his first car, that her first car was an old jalopy. She said, he looked at me quizzically and asked “What the heck is a jalopy?” Words.

Language, words and phrases are constantly changing. New words and phrases are slipping into our daily vocabulary while others are falling out of use. Technology has had an impact on expressions that have become obsolete. Remember ‘don’t touch that dial’, ‘carbon copy’ and ‘you sound like a broken record? Today, TV’s don’t have dials, carbon paper is seldom used because typewriters are seldom used and, though vinyl is making a come-back, records are few and far between.

Back in the ‘good old days’ if you had moxie you were going like sixty and considered the cat’s meow. If all was good and life was swell, you were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley and no one could accuse you of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill.

So as life changes, let’s remember to wake up and smell the roses and, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I hope to see you in the funny pages.

Frugal

My Mom, a homemaker for as long as I can remember, handled the daily budget, shopping and taking care of our family of four…not always an easy task. Dad was a car salesman whose monthly income was a combination of a small salary and commissions based on the number and models of the Buicks he sold that month. Because of this, Mom’s budget varied from month to month hence turning her into a class-one coupon clipper and an eagle-eye for sales.

She combed the papers every Sunday clipping coupons and marking on her calendar upcoming sales especially at Gimbels and Lit Brothers. These were two of her favorite stores. Why? Because they were within walking distance from our home. Very important since she didn’t drive and public transportation didn’t go in that direction. The main reason however were their sales. She could purchase three pair of shoes for $10, get cloths for all four of us at a fraction of the price of a Wanamaker’s or Strawbridge & Clothier and she usually found very pretty costume jewelry to stock her ‘gift closet’. She mainly purchased earrings and pendants but avoided the bracelets. They were pretty but left a pale green stain on your wrist if you wore it too long.

One thing Mom never compromised on was food. The quality was always good while the quantity depended on what was on sale at the neighborhood corner butcher shop, which was run by my Uncle Frank, and how good Dad’s commission was that month. If the month was really slow we had spaghetti. If it was an average month, she added meatballs and sausage and if it was an excellent month, T-boned steaks or, even better, lamb chops were the meats of choice with two sides, a salad and dessert.

My parents weren’t frugal just careful. I’ve known many frugal people in my life. I admire their persistence in getting the most out of every dollar and their logic or justification behind their financial and purchasing choices. Hands down, the most frugal person I’ve ever know is Al Taylor, my father-in-law. To the penny, he can tell you the balances of his accounts and the interest he’s owed, the cost of a specific bolt from three different stores and how long a fan belt should last before it needed to be replace. If the belt broke earlier than he calculated, he’d bring it back to the store and gets a new one – for free. He planned for almost everything including the births of his three sons. Jerry, Jeff and Roger who were born seven years apart. Why? So Dad would have three years to save between one graduating college and the next one starting. A good plan that worked.

Dad’s ‘planning’ didn’t always work and sometimes, it even backfired. He was a dispatcher for the MD transit company. His schedule was fluid, shifting between days and nights. Regardless of what time he got home, eight at night or two in the morning, Mom had a hot meal on the table waiting for him. One day, Mom told Dad that she’d like to get a microwave. This was in the late 1960s when microwaves were still fairly new. Dad, of course, said “no”. After all, it was luxury item and the oven worked just fine. Mom said, ‘okay’ and dropped the subject. Time marched on. Many months later, Dad returned home in the wee hours of the morning, looking forward to a hot meal. He sat down and Mom place a frozen dinner in front of him. He looked at her and said, “It’s frozen. How am I supposed to eat it? Mom smiled sweetly and replied, “Put it in the microwave” turned and went to bed. That week, a spanking new microwave found a home in the Taylor kitchen.

According to Jason Chaffetz, “A dash of frugality is a good thing for everyone.” However, if you squeeze a quarter and the eagle cries, perhaps you’ve gone too far!

Common Ground

It started with a simple request from Lyndon Johnson. On this particular Saturday, demonstrate your support for the troops fighting in Vietnam by driving with your headlights on. Always a supporter of our military, I complied with the request. On that Saturday, I had volunteered to take my two younger cousins, Michelle and Patrice to the King of Prussia Mall. We piled into the car and as I backed out of the driveway, Michelle, the fifteen year old, demanded that I turn off my lights. I refused. After all, it was my car and my opinion. She argued. I pushed back and turned my high beams on. She protested. I ignored her. By the time we were close to the Mall, the windows were steamed, the tension high and both of us holding firm to our points of view. She gave me an ultimatum, turn off the headlights or let her out of the car. As a 24 year old adult, I did the only mature, responsible thing I could think of. I stopped the car, let her out and told her to be careful walking home. She got out and I drove away. I wasn’t worried about her getting home. It was only a 2 mile walk and one that she had done many times.

After spending an hour in the Mall, Patrice and I headed home. The drive back was much more enjoyable – quiet, civilized and my headlights remained on. The tranquil atmosphere didn’t last long. As I pulled into the driveway I noticed that the mailbox had been newly painted with a huge ‘peace’ sign on each side. Obviously Michelle had made it home safely, found some paint and left her statement for all to see! I shook my head wondering what this younger generation was coming to as I repainted the mailbox red, white and blue. 

Time marched on. We all grew up and matured…well, I’d like to think so anyway. Michelle and I both learned to pepper our black and white views of issues with a lot of gray and we became more friends than cousins. To this day, we still hold opposite opinions on issues and, many times, are still the loudest voices at family dinners, gatherings and events. However, even in the most heated discussions, something is different…besides mailboxes being safe, we find ourselves listening to each other rather than just talking at each other. I can only speak for myself, but when I stopped ‘pontificating’ and started listening, I realized that there was a lot of common ground between us…we merely took different paths to get there.

Today my cousins are making their mark. Michelle is a critical care pulmonologist, who dons her work scrubs, N95 mask, goggles, face shield, gown, booties and picks up her Clorox wipes every day to go into Philadelphia to help fight this pandemic war. As a surgical nurse, Patrice is fighting the same battle in Vermont as part of the ‘swab squad’. To both of you, I love, respect and admire you for the strong women you have become, proud of the work you’re doing and so glad we’re in the same family tree. No arguments here!

Perhaps the world would be in a better position, if we sought common ground by listening more and talking less. Maybe that’s why we have two ears and one mouth.

Appreciation

I was watching MeTV the other night. Familiar with it? It’s the channel that hosts all the old shows – Leave It to Beaver, Perry Mason, My Three Sons, the Carol Burnett Show, and Gunsmoke to name a few. This particular evening The Andy Griffith Show came on. The show’s plot – a stranger’s car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday. Try as he may, he couldn’t get anyone to fix the car because – well, it was Sunday. People were in church, spending time with family or just sitting on the front porch strumming a guitar and singing like Sheriff Andy and Barney Fife were doing. This stranger, who had an important meeting to get to, ranted, raved, threatened and cajoled everyone he could to fix his car but to no avail because, well, it was Sunday. Hollywood ending – the car got fixed but the stranger learned an important lesson of the value of kicking back, relaxing and just ‘enjoying’.

COVID-19 has changed our lives. Do we wish it never happened? Of course. But it has and we will survive it, learn from it and maybe, just perhaps, be better because of it. How can a pandemic make us better? What have these weeks in quarantine done FOR us? They’ve taught us, among many things, to appreciate.

We’ve learned to appreciate the people in our lives – spouses, kids, parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors. If we can hug them – we do and feel so lucky to do so. If we can’t, because we’re socially distant, we look through windows, blow kisses, form hearts with our hands, mouth ‘I love you’ and anything else we can think of just so we can touch them…even from a distance.

We’ve learned to appreciate the people we see every day – grocery clerks, long-haul truck drivers, delivery people, fast-food servers, maintenance people, lawn services, cashiers, trash collectors, mail carriers and all those who have been working so we can stay home.

We’ve learned to appreciate the human capacity for generosity. People are digging deep into their pockets and giving what they can. Others are reaching deep into their hearts and ‘giving back’ by doing what they can – sewing masks, smocks, running errands for neighbors and much more. Even businesses, large and small, are stepping up to the plate to do what they can.

We’ve learned to appreciate the selflessness of many professionals – doctors, nurses, med techs, researchers, EMT’s, firefighters, and police who put their lives on the line every single day to help all of us. These ‘heroes’ work 10-15 hours a day, and some, because of the fear of infecting their families, sleep on a cot or in their car but not at home in the comfort of their own bed like we do.

We’ve learned to appreciate the teachers and educators who are using their creativity to keep students, at all levels, engaged and up to speed with their studies. They’re doing their best to make the learning impactful, fun and relevant so, when life returns to normal, students are in front of the eight-ball and not behind it.

We’ve learned to appreciate the entertainers who keep the music flowing; parents who make a mountain out of sheets and a home gym out of water bottles, buckets and poles to keep their kids entertained and all the YouTube ‘creators’ who sing songs, write skits and post messages to help all of us laugh, smile and keep our sanity intact!

We’ve learned to say THANK YOU for every small and large act of kindness.

The stranger was fortunate that his car broke down in Mayberry. Fortunate is not a word I would use with COVID-19 however, we would be remiss if we didn’t learn something during these unique times that makes us better, stronger and more thankful for all the blessings we have. Stay well.

Secrets

Soap Operas like General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives and countless others are riddled with secrets. Someone is secretly married to the daughter of someone who was thought to be killed in a volcano accident many years ago but was saved by a mysterious person who turned out to be the person’s long-lost sister of a fourth cousin! Whew…and that’s all in one episode! SECRETS, for the most part, are the glue that hold most soap opera stories together and keeps the viewers entertained and glued to their TV.

In real life, secrets might not be the ‘glue’ that keeps a family together however it does add a touch of intrigue. Our family had a few secrets. Some were solved easily, some took time and others, to this day, remain a mystery.

My grandfather was a gifted tailor. He could take one look at your body, make a pattern, and within a few days, hand you a custom-made suit, coat or jacket that rivaled any garment in the most exclusive high-end store. He also had a secret or should I say, a secret hiding place. Even during the depression, he provided well for his family of five. He was also smart enough to know that the tides of good fortune can change at any time, so he had a contingency plan. One day, he pulled his son aside and told him of the ‘stash’ hidden behind a specific brick in his sewing room in the basement. His instruction was clear, “Should I die, take care of the family.” When Pop suddenly passed away, the services concluded and life returning to the new normal, my uncle remembered the ‘stash’. When he had a moment alone, he removed the brick, took out the sealed envelope and laughed his head off! The ‘stash’ was $200.00! Pop’s secret and love were revealed.

All her life, my Aunt Kay lived in the same house with her parents. She was a smart, beautiful and professional woman who worked as an Executive Secretary to the CEO of a clothing manufacturer. Kay was a private person, seldom sharing, even with my Mom, her sister and closest friend, whom she dated, where she went and details of her ‘personal life’. When she died at the age of 92, Jeff and I were tasked with cleaning out her home. In one of the drawers in her office, we found her calendar. Notations were made on all the important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, and doctor appointments. Also noted, every Tuesday, was a shorthand symbol. Kay had a secret. My mind went into overdrive. Could she be meeting someone every Tuesday? Where did she go? What did she do? I wanted so much for there to be an exciting tale to go along with the shorthand for you see, Kay never married and devoted her life to her family, friends and profession leaving little time for self-indulgences. We kept searching and found another calendar with similar notations and her shorthand ‘code’. The secret was revealed. Every Tuesday was re-cycle day. Sigh.

The most perplexing family secret that has never been revealed and probably never will be, is why cousin Louise had a rusted revolver hidden in a china cabinet and eight headless ax handles hanging in her garage – all discovered upon her passing. Secrets!

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret.” What are your secrets?

Being a Couch Potato

EXERCISE – love it or hate it – it’s important. The benefits of exercise had been known since the days of the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates wrote of the benefits in 400 B.C. as a way to ensure good health. However, it wasn’t until 1953 when Dr. Jerry Morris, credited as “the man who invented exercise” published his research findings in Lancet magazine in which he made the connection between exercise and health – thus launching an 80 billion dollar industry.

Like the internet, Reality TV and taxes, exercise is here to stay. “Good things come to those who sweat.” “The only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.” “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do. Not a punishment for what you ate.” These are three of millions of quotes about the benefits of exercise…attributed to ‘anonymous’. I guess these folks didn’t use their names because they were afraid of being tarred and feathered by those who aren’t quite as sold on the concept of exercise as they are.

There’s an exercise spectrum with couch potatoes on one end and Jack LaLanne, the Godfather of Modern Fitness, on the other. In years past, I was one of ‘those people’ – up at 5:30, in the gym by 6 spending at least an hour grunting, lifting, and sweating a minimum of four times a week at the YMCA, or Planet Fitness or Joe’s Body Building Torture Chamber. My attendance at these temples of body perfection started strong with strength, aerobic and group exercises. As the years passed and my joints got a little cranky and the metabolism slowed to a stop, I found myself leaning towards the couch potato. The alarm seldom got set, the covers felt warmer and the thought of a bacon, egg and pancake breakfast lulled me back to sleep. I still liked working out but the thought of driving 30 minutes overpowered the will to get up, get dressed and go do it. “How can I exercise without the pain of driving?” I asked myself and the answer was obvious a home gym! The next investment in the pursuit of the perfect body was exercise equipment. Tread mills, elliptical machines, weights, kettle bells, jump ropes, and elastic strength bands became part of ‘Rosie’s Gym’ as my husband affectionately called it. I did however, refuse to purchase exercise videos. Who would ever want to watch someone who have never lost a battle to a piece of Death by Chocolate cake, a bag of Vinegar and Sea Salt chips or a pint of Rocky Road ice cream? Overtime, the treadmill and elliptical were pushed in the corner used only to hang clothes, the weights moved into the garage and the rest donated, tossed or given to others along with the associated guilt.

We can’t deny the importance of exercise. Dr. Morris lived until 99; to celebrate his 70th birthday, LaLanne swam 1.5 miles along the California coast from the Queen’s Way Bridge to Long Beach Harbor wearing handcuffs and shackles on his arms and legs while towing 70 row boats holding 70 people and today and, just in the US, there are more than 55 million fitness center members. So I’m back on my new rower resolved to do more than wrestle with my conscience, run my mouth, take leaps of faith, and jump to conclusions. Jane Fonda, eat your heart out!

Curb Side Service

Jeff and I pulled into the parking lot and parked next to the wrought-iron fence and waited. All of a sudden, the door opened. Finally, we were going to be helped. If you think hamburgers, fries, and chocolate milkshakes were being delivered, you would be mistaken. Coming out of the door was a young woman wearing a blue smock, matching rubber gloves and a fashionable white face mask. Our dental hygienist. This was curb-side service taken to an extreme. You see, Jeff’s 96 year old Dad had been with us for three weeks, while his brother and wife, with whom Dad lives, were in Arizona celebrating their son’s 50 birthday. A few days before, Dad started to complain about his gums being sore. We removed his dentures and examined his lower gum – they were a bit red and a little swollen. We didn’t want to take a chance of an infection so we called our dentist. Because of the COVID-19 fear, their mode of operation had drastically changed and both Dr. Randy and his son, Dr. Philip were only seeing emergency patients and swollen gums didn’t really qualify as an ordinary emergency. But then again, the Eckmans aren’t your ordinary, run of the mill dentists. They are exceptional people and excellent dentists – probably why we’ve been patients for over 30 years. On the phone, Dr. Philip thought for a minute and said, “Bring him in around 1:30 and park outside the front door. I’ll come out to the car and check him…and he and his hygienist did just that. Suited up in protective gear, they shuttled between the car and their lab checking and fixing his denture that turned out to be the cause of Dad’s distress. After giving him instructions, a sample tube of denture cream and thanking him for his service, you see, Dad’s a WWII vet, we pulled out of the parking lot while they went back into the office, disinfecting as they walked.

‘Thank you for your service’ is a common phrase spoken to servicemen and women you meet in the airport, railway station, restaurants or just walking down the sidewalk. Perhaps what we need during these pressing times for all those ‘stepping up to the plate’ are ‘moments of gratitude’. Words, phrases and actions that let them know WE ARE GRATEFUL to you for putting me before you, and going to work every day while many of us sequester at home. ‘Thank you for your service’, thank you for being here’ or just plain THANKS may mean little to us but may be just the right words at the right time for these heroes of the hour.

Lastly, when 19 is a faded memory and we’re out and about again and we’re touching without fear and not glued to our TVs watching the stock market in panic mode, let’s remember the sacrifices of those who got us through. Let’s be kinder, more patient, tip better, smile more, complain less and every day, EVERY SINGLE DAY, be grateful for all we have. Gratitude changes everything.

Fear

At least one time in our lives we have all experienced fear. You know the feeling – your heart beats rapidly, you sweat in places you didn’t know existed and your face is frozen in a deer in the headlights look. Simple things can cause it. A person jumping out from behind a tree yelling BOO, red flashing lights appearing in your rear view mirror when you’re only going 7 miles over the speed limit and spiders. My brother Steve was 11 and I was 7. Our bedrooms were next to each other on the second floor of our rowhome in South Philly. One day, as I was coming out of the bathroom, he pushed me into his room, slammed the door and screamed SPIDER! There, in the middle of his bed was the largest spider I had ever seen. I screamed so loud that the neighbors on both sides of our home, called to see what was happening while my parents set all time speed records running up the stairs from the basement. While catching their breath, they stepped over my brother who was now rolling on the floor laughing hysterically and opened the bedroom door. Mom scanned the room looking for me while Dad armed himself with the biggest shoe he could find intending to save all of us from the gargantuan spider. While Mom pried me out of the closet in which I was hiding, Dad approached the spider. He stopped mid-swing when he realized the spider was a mound of raisins. After assuring me the threat was over, giving Steve a tongue lashing, Mom called the neighbors to let them know everyone was fine. Thank goodness she caught them before they called Child Services. Brothers!

Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous and likely to cause us harm, pain or something worst. Many of our fears or phobias have names. The fear of spiders is arachnophobia. Arachnophobia is a rational fear with the distinction of being the oldest and most common fear in the Western culture. At least if I had to have a fear, I picked a popular one!

Fear is paralyzing both physically and mentally. During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, our fears have driven us indoors, forced us to look at others with suspicion and have increased the number of steps we take by at least 1,000 due to the wide berth we’re giving people. All understandable precautions however, don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do. Step outside your front door or onto your balcony and take a deep breath, wave to your neighbors, or start to prepare your garden. Among all the things we can do, one of the most important is to count all of your blessings…big and small. In the words of Victor Frankl, a doctor and Holocaust survivor, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” During these turbulent times, let’s choose growth and freedom.

In case you’re wondering…

Months after the ‘spider’ incident, my brother was shocked when opening his bedroom door it came off its hinges. Is there a phobia for ‘fear of sisters’? The French had it right when, in the 1800’s, they originated the phrase, “revenge is best dished when served cold.” Sisters rule!

Thank You

“There are some things money can’t buy…like manners, morals and integrity.” I wish I knew who first said this because I’d like to thank them. Growing up we had house rules and expectations. If you open it, close it; if you use the last one, replace it; if you turn it on, turn if off; if you unlock it, lock it; if you break it, fix it; if you borrow it, return it; if you make a mess, clean it up and many others. Everyday rules for a family of four to live, survive and exist in supreme harmony, well most of the time. These manners stemmed from mutual respect for each other, common sense and the fear of retribution from Mom & Dad…more Mom than Dad.

Politenesses, like the magic words ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, seem to be on the verge of extinction like elephants, rhinos and lions – oh my! Why is this happening? Are people just rude? Have they forgotten lessons they were taught as a child, or even worst, were never taught?

Am I being overly critical or sensitive if I send a gift and expect the person to acknowledge that they received it? My grandmother once said, ‘expect nothing and you will never be disappointed’. I tried. It doesn’t work. Nothing drives me up a wall quicker than sending a gift and still wondering, weeks later, did they receive it? Whether you liked it or not, let me know that you got it and then re-gift it to someone else.

In this age of technology it’s so easy to send a tweet, an email, or a text message. Heaven forbid we should expect a written note, phone call or a letter tied to the leg of a pigeon! When a sent gift goes unacknowledged and I complain about it, as I usually do, and my husband, the voice of reason will say, “That was your generation, this generation is different.” Poppycock! Certain courtesies like saying ‘please’ when you ask for something and ‘thank you’ when you receive something should transcend generations. But have they? Maybe Jeff’s right…so off I went to conduct my own secret study.

First to the supermarket. When checking out the young cashier looked me straight in the eye, handed me my receipt and said “There you go”. Excuse me! When did “there you go” replace ‘thank you’? I wanted to scream but held my tongue and took off for my next secret study – a restaurant. During lunch I asked the server for a bottle of ketchup and was answered with a “no prob”. Now maybe my age is showing but I wouldn’t think that getting a bottle of ketchup should be any sort of problem to start with. It’s not like I asked him to tell me what the stock market was going to do! Now THAT might pose a problem!

My third and final stop was a local department store. I stood in the check-out line behind an elderly woman who was paying for her purchase. Ten minutes later after a sundry of questions, she finally walked away. The two sales clerks turned to each other and started to mimic her. I stood ramrod straight, biting my tongue and willing the vein in my neck to stop pulsing! After they took my payment and bagged my purchase, I looked them straight in the eye and ask, “Are you going to make fun of me when I walk away?” Before either could answer, I asked for their names and told them I was the new corporate customer service trainer and I’d be seeing them soon. Then I walked away. FACT – I am a corporate customer service trainer. FICTION – just not for their store!

Maybe good manners and courtesies have changed and mean different things to younger generations. I do believe however, that certain courtesies are just plain common sense. Of course, in the words of Mae West, “If common sense were common, men would ride side saddle.” For taking the time to read this story, here’s a sincere THANK YOU!

The Best Doctors

Like most doctors, my doctor has multiple letters behind his name, numerous certificates on his wall and patients of all ages. He spends the time needed when I visit, seldom looking at his watch every two minutes like others doctors I’ve seen over the years. As good as Dr. Sean is, I have others who are even better. My best doctors are: Movement, Sleep, Moderation, Family/Friends, Stimulation and Attitude. Let me introduce you.

Movement. I prefer ‘movement’ to ‘exercise’ because it conjures up a different visual. With exercise I think of grunting, sweating and people in size 2 spandex. Movement, on the other hand, can be anything – walking, skipping, swinging your legs, waving hello or goodbye and millions of other everyday actions that gets our bodies going in one direction or another…all without a gym membership.

Sleep. While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults, including seniors, need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Sleep comes easy to some and is elusive to others. I’m one of the lucky ones. I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and sleep for the required number of hours. I have my mother to thank for this. Even before all the research determined that teens need more sleep, my Mom let me sleep on weekends. When she thought it was time to get up, she never woke me, she just ran the vacuum under my bed and then asked, “Did I wake you?” Clever woman.

Moderation. “Everything in moderation” was my grandmother’s motto whether it pertained to eating, sleeping or talking. She was ahead of her times. Today, researchers and scientist promote moderation as a principle of life reflecting that too much of a good thing is bad and too much of a bad thing is worse. Can you think of something done in excess that is more beneficial than done in moderation? If so, please let me know.

Family/Friends. Yes, family can be stressful. If you doubt this, come to a large Italian dinner where Guido can’t sit next to Joey and someone’s feelings are hurt because their favorite dish wasn’t served. Regardless of the highs and lows, family is an important element in our lives. Those who realize this early are very lucky. Those who come to this realization later are hopefully, blessed with good memories. Friends- these are the family of our heart. People we’ve chosen and, who have chosen us. They’re the forever constant of support, acceptance and a reality check. They love us enough to tell us we’re wrong and the first to defend us when others say we’re wrong.

Stimulation. What gets you going? What causes the light behind your eyes to shine brightly? What makes you smile, think and cheer? Whatever ‘stimulates’ you it should be fun, engaging, and interactive as well as helping you think, learn and understand. My Aunt Kay was 85 when she got her first computer or should I say, graciously accept the computer my brother and I purchased for her. At first she resisted then discovered the Solitaire game. It wasn’t unusual for her to spend 3-4 hours playing and enjoying her ‘stimulant’.

Attitude. A positive attitude, or POSITUDE as my husband and I call it, is the best ‘doctor’ and one of the most important factors in getting you through the highs and lows of life. By changing the inner thinking of your mind, you can change the outer aspect of your life. The best thing about attitude – you control it. Not your spouse or your neighbor or your kids – only you. You take the positive or negative ‘picture’ of situations you want to. Imagine, the ability to be happy lies within you. Now that’s power!

An Alligator

Jeff and I have been blessed. Born to good families, enjoy good health and have the opportunity to live an American dream of owning our own business. For 30+ years we traveled to exotic places abroad, 47 of our 50 beautiful states and a dry-cleaners in Camden, NJ where we trained customer service at 4am in the morning.

One of our trips to Florida found us staying at a resort with a well-known golf course and a free afternoon. NO BRAINER! We headed off to play on this beautiful Jack Nicklaus Signature course featuring 18 holes stretching along the ocean and river. Clarification – Jeff is a golfer and I’m a golf tourist – that’s a person who understands the rules, demonstrates golf etiquette and shoots a score more respectable for a bowler than a golfer and yet, still enjoys the game.

It takes me 2 strokes to get to Jeff’s drive. He’s waiting on one side of the fairway while I’m walking up the opposite side of the fairway searching for my yellow ball. All of a sudden he yells out “Heads-up.” I immediately drop to a crouching position expecting to feel a ball wiz by my ear. Nothing. I look over at him, shrug my shoulders and continue searching. A few more steps and he again yells “Heads-up.” No ducking this time, I merely turned and gave him the ‘wife look’. Two more steps and he yells “Alligator.” About 6 feet off to my left, sunny itself, is an 8’ alligator. A few thoughts immediately crossed my mind – stand perfectly still, should I use a wood or an iron as a weapon and I wish Jeff had shouted ‘alligator’ rather than ‘heads-up’! I would have stopped sooner!

There are many words or phrases we grew up with that made sense to us but when repeated, gets others to give a “what the heck are you talking about” look. Case in point, my in-laws. At one of our family dinners a subject came up that Al and Dot held opposite points of view. After 10 minutes of back and forth, Al said “case closed”. I looked at Jeff and he just smiled. Growing up when his folks disagreed strongly on a subject, Al would say “case closed”, meaning drop the subject and never bring it up again. Jeff said it really meant Dad was losing the argument and he just wanted it to stop. Years later we were having an enjoyable dinner with friends when Nancy said, “Let’s go bowling.” Jeff and I stopped mid-bite and looked at each other. Her husband, who was passionate about the topic we were discussing, didn’t realize his voice had elevated, he was slapping the table with his hand and the neighbors above where banging on the floor. “Let’s go bowling” was Nancy’s way of telling Stew to calm down…and he did…immediately!

Whether you’re having “a pair of drawers” or a glass of “dog soup”, thanks for reading this article. Perhaps it’s added to your “claw sharp”. If you’re going out today, bring your “rain napper” – I understand it’s going to be wet and the temperature “colder than the hinges of hell”. If you’re “fly rink”, wear a hat and, gentlemen, make sure “the horse is in the barn.” My wish for you – may “happy cabbage” to be in your future, you never find yourself “in the ketchup” and you keep the “pine overcoat” away for a long time. Believe me because I wouldn’t “sell you a dog.”

Translation: Whether you’re having “2 cups of coffee” or a glass of “water”, thanks for reading this article. Perhaps it’s added to your “knowledge base”. Going out today? Bring your “umbrella” – I understand it’s going to be wet and the temperature “cold”. If you’re “bald”, wear a hat and, gentlemen, make sure your “zipper is up.” My wish for you – may “a sizeable amount of money” be in your future, you never find yourself “in the red” and you keep the “coffin” away for a long time. Believe me because I wouldn’t “lie”.

A Red Crystal

Recently, while checking in at a resort hotel in Cancun, my eye was drawn to a beautiful cut crystal chandelier. It was at least 4 feet in diameter with hundreds of tear-drop crystals suspended in each of the five tiers. The type of chandelier you would expect to find in massive ballrooms in movies like Gone with the Wind or Beauty and the Beast. While admiring its beauty and design and thinking how glad I was not to be the one who had to clean it, my eye was drawn to one red crystal nestled among all the beautiful clear ones. I looked around and noticed a single red crystal in almost every crystal light fixture that adorn every room. Was this a statement made by the designer? Crystals left over from previous fixtures? A mistake on the part of the manufacturer? Now my curiosity was peaked and I made it my purpose, along with eating, drinking and golfing at this beautiful all-inclusive resort, to find out.

The first person I asked looked at the fixture and said, “I never noticed that before.” I moved on quickly. The next person I approached looked at me then looked at the chandelier then back at me, shrugged, smiled, and said they’d ask someone. I didn’t wait. Being a forever optimist and a believer in the ancient saying, “third time’s a charm”, I reached out to another. This time to a gentleman with an official sounding title, hair tinged with gray, meaning he must know something, and, the dead give-away, a desk-plate that read, “Ask me anything”. When I pointed out the red crystal, he smiled, led me to a group of over-stuffed chairs and told me about Rosa.

Rosa was the grandmother of the two brothers who developed this exquisite resort and the only ‘mother’ they ever knew. She instilled in them integrity, values and a work ethic that made them successful businessmen and multi-millionaires. The red crystal served as their daily tribute to her memory, her love and her life.

Mementos and keepsakes, objects kept as a reminder of a person or event, seem to be losing their appeal – at least to the younger generations. Several years ago when my Aunt Kay died, my cousins and I were allowed to go through her home before it was put on the market. Every nook and cranny held a treasure and we all reminisced as we selected a picture, a piece of furniture, and even the drinking glasses my grandmother collected using S&H green stamps, to keep and treasure. Times have changed. When we were downsizing, I offered many of our ‘treasures’ to a sundry of relatives to include our daughter, nieces, nephews and grand-children. Each had a similar response – thanks but no thanks. “We don’t have the room.” “Doesn’t fit with our ‘décor.” “We’re minimalist.”

Perhaps one day they will realize that the treasures they consider ‘stuff’ serve to keep alive the memories of their heritage and the people who are the framework of their lives. They’ll want them then.

Remotes

This isn’t easy to admit but my husband has another woman in his life. It started a few years ago. Short conversations at first, then a bit longer and now, it seems like they’re talking all the time. She holds his attention like a moth to a flame and he seldom, if ever, takes his eyes off of her. Her name is Siri, his phone’s voice-actuated artificial intelligence. Sigh.

Years ago when artificial intelligence (AI) on phones began taking over the world, turning people into zombies, and reducing human communication to a Nano second, many ‘seniors’ criticized, judge and rolled our eyes every time we encountered kids with their heads down and eyes glued on their devices. Now my husband is one of them. Not that he’s turned back the hands of time, he’s just caught up with technology. This is a life learning lesson. Be careful about early judgments because it might just come back and bite you or as my grandmother would say “Never spit up cause you never know where it’s going to land on the way down.” Well, it has landed…on us!

Jeff can sit for hours searching, talking and listening to Siri. If I were a jealous woman, I’d be a permanent shade of green! How can anyone compete with anything that’s always ready to do whatever you ask, is smarter than the Encyclopedia Britannica, has the answer to almost every question, plays the music you love, can tell you the weather conditions on any golf course, recites stats for every major sport, and most important, can be silenced at any time. On top of all these ‘powers’, Siri doesn’t shop, get upset if her birthday is missed or complain…about anything. I’m just thankful that she can’t cook, do laundry or keep his toes warm at night…at least for now!

What got us addicted to these objects of convenience? Where did it all start? The ‘parents’ of Siri, and other voice actuated devices was the remote control. Remember how excited we all were when the remote became available? No more getting off the couch to turn the channel or raise the volume. We were in technology heaven. The first remote, intended to control a television, was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950. It was called “Lazy Bones” – now that’s appropriate! Today, air conditioners, alarms, garage doors, TV, sound systems, home cinema, CD players, radios, toys, drones, lighting, and fans all have remotes that turn them on, off, up, down and make operating selections. And many of these talk to you.

So what does the future hold? Talking cereal boxes? Self-washing cars? Food that makes itself? Crystal balls that accurately pick investments? Husbands who communicate? Kids who clean up after themselves? Grandkids who stay in touch? Okay, maybe some of these are wishful thinking. Regardless of what the future holds, we can all agree that technology will be a vital part and is here to stay. We must however remember, it’s still just a tool.
Alexa, where did I put the remote?

Photos

Cameras, like the type professionals use with large lenses, shutter settings and more filters than you can count or the common everyday phone camera the rest of us use, are very picky. They either like your face or they don’t. Some people when photographed always look good and others aren’t as fortunate.
I believe people are born with ‘camera faces’. Those who have the ‘face’ can’t take a bad picture whether posed or impromptu, they always look like they should be on the cover of some fancy magazine. For others, like me, it’s better to stay behind the camera. Remember when Glamour Shots were the big thing? I decided to surprise my family with a Glamour Shot. They were always complaining that there weren’t any pictures of me. They were right. I destroyed most of them. It took the Glamour Shot photographer four tries with several outfit changes to get one that we both agreed that was the picture. He said it was ‘on the house’. It’s wasn’t the camera’s fault and it wasn’t mine. I just don’t photograph well. Either my eyes are closed, my face crinkled up, or I move. Behind the camera is where I’m most comfortable.

Besides taking pictures, I love sharing and displaying them. When I lived in El Paso Texas, I took rolls and rolls of pictures, especially of the mountains – the Franklin Mountains being one of my favorite subjects. I sent dozens of them to my Dad to show him where I was travelling and to keep him in the ‘loop’ of my life. His response – “It’s a rock. Where are the people?” From that day on I made sure someone, whether I knew them or not, was in the frame.

In our former home, we had close to 975 photos. They were in the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and, in particular, one long hallway wall that acted as the ‘gallery’. When friends or family would come, inevitably they would make their way to the ‘gallery’ and search for their photo…and it was always there! You see, I learned a valuable lesson from my Mom in making people feel important. In her tiny kitchen, the side of the Frigidaire was Mom’s ‘gallery’. When someone was coming for a visit, she would dig their picture out of a drawer that was filled with hundreds of photos and attach it the refrigerator with a magnate. She prayed that not too many people would visit at once since she had only so many magnets. Her visitor would sit at the tiny red-topped Formica kitchen table, talk a bit and within minutes their eye wandered to the frig looking for their picture. When they found it, they beamed, drank another glass of wine and told Mom how much they enjoyed visiting with her. When they left and their car was pulling away from the curb, Mom would take down their picture and put it back in the drawer. When asked why she did this, she’d smile and said, “Everyone, no matter who, likes to feel important and special and their picture on my fridge makes them feel that way.”

When downsizing and preparing our home for sale, we tackled the ‘gallery’ first. It took hours to remove all the pictures, deciding what to keep, what to store and what to give away. However, it took even longer to fix the wall. There were so many holes, it looked like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds where the focus of the birds’ pecking was our wall. There wasn’t  one square inch that didn’t have a hole. Next home, I promised myself and, especially my husband, no ‘gallery’. Well, that promise lasted about a year before a picture went up here, then another picture there, and then a small grouping and that’s when I realized that the memory ‘holes’ the photos filled where much more important than the holes they left. Where are your photos?

A Money Tree

When it comes to thumb colors, mine isn’t exactly black but it isn’t green either…it’s somewhere in between. According to James Underwood Crockett, the term a ‘green thumb’ comes from the fact that algae growing on the outside of earthenware pots will stain a person’s thumb and fingers if he/she handles enough pots. Hence, a person who is always working with flower pots has a ‘green thumb’.

My thumb turns color depending on which gardening I’m doing – outside or inside. It tends towards the darker shade of black when planting, landscaping, grass-growing, mowing or finding deer-resistant anything. Longwood Gardens has nothing to fear and my husband would be a happier man today if the money I spent on plants, bushes, shrubs, trees and the ever elusive, shade-loving grass seed had been invested instead.

Success with indoor plants is the exact opposite. There isn’t a Peace Lily, Jade, or Philodendron that has died under my watchful care. My secret? Always look for plants whose instructions read ‘This plant can’t be killed, maimed, or destroyed. It requires no sun, little attention and can go weeks, if not years, without water’. Okay, that a bit of an exaggeration but ‘low-maintenance, hard-to-kill’ plants are definitely a priority for me. That is with the exception of the Money Tree plant.

The Money Tree is a plant that has many legends and beliefs originating from China. There are many tales and stories as to its beginnings, however, two seem to appear more frequently than others. The most common story is that a truck driver in Taiwan had decided to braid the trunks of five small trees in a single pot. A more legendary tale features a very poor farmer who was down on his luck and spirit. One day, he found a very curious looking plant with braided trunks. Upon inspecting the plant, he found it to be very hardy and resilient, and took this as a lesson that he as well should learn to be resilient and strong. From the seed of this miraculous plant, he grew more of them, sold them and became a wealthy man.

Whichever origin is true, the popularity of the Money Tree cannot be denied. They are a favorite, home warming and new business gift because they proclaim to bring wealth and prosperity to whomever they are given. They are also highly idolized by those who practice Feng Shui. This traditional Chinese concept links the destiny of man to his environment. For example, in order to promote harmony, your bed should not face the door, the head of your bed should be against a wall but not sharing a wall with any electronics or a bathroom. Well, in our home what promotes harmony is the laundry being washed, dried and folded by someone other than me, the dish washer emptied and being served breakfast in bed. Now that’s harmony!

The six Money Tree plants gifted to us over the years have all met the same, dark ‘black thumb’ fate. No matter how they were cared for whether low light and minimal watering or full sun and drenching, in a few months their leaves turned brown, the twisted bark unwinds and a croaking sound can be heard throughout the house. I suppose this has been the universe speaking and finally, this older and wiser me has listened…orchids!

A Near Disaster

Smoke, flames, and fire engines. Three things, when linked together, send a shiver up anyone’s spine. As the leaves turn brown and start to fall covering the ground like a mosaic and the autumn weather turns cold, those fortunate enough to have a working fireplace start hauling in their seasoned wood, cleaning the hearth and checking the chimney to make sure it’s clear. It’s time to light the fireplace for its warmth and ambience.

Always cautious, a dear neighbor followed her checklist of fireplace preparedness even taking it one step further by asking a local resident to check it out. “All is in working order”, he said while reminding her which way to slide the flue handle.

My neighbor was excited as she got things ready for her family who were coming to dinner that evening. The table was set with her best linen, china, silverware and glasses. The turkey was in the oven, the vegetables peeled and ready to be cooked and her guests’ ‘drinks of choice’ lined the counter. “I’ll get the fire going so all will be ready when my family arrives” she thought to herself. She opened the flue, placed paper under the logs as she has always done and lite the paper. Just then her brother and his wife walked in the front door. He sniffed the air smelling the faint scent of smoke. Disaster is a quick thinker and seldom hesitates when it strikes. Within seconds the house filled with smoke and fire started climbing up the chimney. Quickly, she grabbed a fire extinguisher and doused the flames while someone called 911. Within minutes, 3 fire trucks and a rescue vehicle with flashing lights and sirens appeared and took control. They checked the fireplace, opened all the windows and turned on their large fans to help disseminate the smoke. Within a half hour they were on their way back to the station.

Seeing the red flashing lights I went outside to check. I saw my neighbor and asked if everything was okay. Taking a deep breath, she said “No” and preceded to tell me the story. The rest of her family had arrived and were helping as much as they could after the firemen left. The turkey was minutes from being done and she was considering what to do. I offered to move the dinner party to my home however, everyone agreed they wanted to stay there. I turned to go home when, she asked me to join them for dinner. You see, that’s how she is, always looking out for other people  even in the middle of a near disaster. Never one to refuse a dinner invitation, I went home, changed, selected a couple bottles of wine and returned. What a delightful evening. We laughed, told family stories and solved the problems of the world all while getting to know each other. Spending time with her family, I soon came to realize where her compassion, intelligence and caring came from.

An evening that could have been a disaster turned into a delight. Yes, there’s a little smoke residue on the couch, a wall might need to be repainted and a lampshade vacuumed but these were countered with laughter, caring and the forging of new friendships.

Oh yes, why the fire? The instructions of the well-intending local – he said flue left when it should have been flue right. Sigh.

Sitting on the Couch

Peggy and I have been friends for…well, forever. She was one of the first people I met when I joined LeMasters Racquetball Club. We became instant friends. You know how that is. You meet someone and the next thing you know you’re sharing your life stories like you’ve know each other for a hundred years. You instantly formed a ‘forever bond’. Over the years, our bond grew. Through ups, downs, boyfriend drama, job changes, families, weight gain –mine not hers – weight loss –hers not mine, and vacations. Then it happened, she moved. Our daily conversations became weekly then monthly then on birthdays and finally Christmas card exchanges once a year. We were still there for each other – just separated by miles and life.

The other day, Peggy sent an email telling me about the death of her ‘Aunt Bessie’. Bessie, who lived in Philly, was known for being a meticulous housekeeper. Her home was one of those you could eat off the floor. She had many lovely things but one piece held center stage – her couch. In order to preserve it and keep it showroom new, she had it covered in clear plastic which was a 40’s and 50’s phenomena. Her couch was never sat on it by family or friends. When Bessie died, the couch was as new as it was when she purchased it 30 years before. Peggy was sad, by Bessie’s passing but also for her beloved aunt never completely ‘enjoying’ her couch. Peggy vowed that no matter what, she would never leave this life without ‘sitting on her couch’.

This got me thinking. How many things do we cover with ‘clear plastic’ only to be looked at, kept clean and admired? My Mom had 6 cut crystal glasses given to her as a wedding gift in 1939. They were so thin, a heavenly song played when you ran a wet finger around the rim. This special gift was prominently displayed in her china hutch for all to see but not to be used. For years I asked her to designate those glasses to me in her will. I guess I said it so often that one day she gave them to me saying, “I’m not going to die just for you to get the glasses. Take them and enjoy them while I’m still alive!” I took my treasured gift home and put them in…my china hutch, where I could admire them. One day my husband asked why we didn’t use them. That’s when it hit me – I had ‘clear plasticed’ these beautiful glasses, admiring but not fully enjoying them. Today, even after one was broken, we use them every chance we can. And I must admit that everything taste better in them – even my White Zinfindel.

‘Clear plasticing’ isn’t reserved just for things. People ‘clear plastic’ feelings, thoughts, affection, basically anything they don’t share completely with those they love. Maybe it’s time to take off the wrappings.

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Stupidity

Growing up I was taught never to use the word ‘stupid’ to describe a person. People may do ‘stupid’ things but they aren’t ‘stupid’. Jeff’s cousin, might be the exception. The following, in his words, serves as a warning.

“I was looking for a protective device for my wife when I came across a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse-sized Taser. The effects of the Taser were supposed to be short lived, with no long term adverse effect on your assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety. Perfect.

At home, I loaded two AAA batteries and pushed the button. Nothing! The directions stated that if I pushed the button and pressed it against a metal surface at the same time, I’d get the blue arc of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs. It worked however, I now need to explain what the burn spot is on the face of the microwave.

My thinking – I need to try this out on a real target. My cat Leo was looking at me lovingly and for a fraction of a second I thought about zapping him and then thought better of it. But, if I was going to give this to my wife for protection, I did want some assurance that it would work. I removed my jeans, placed my reading glasses on the bridge of my nose and sat in my recliner with the directions in one hand, and the Taser in the other. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; and a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water. Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries. All the while I’m looking at this little device measuring about 5″ long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference, loaded with two itsy, bitsy AAA batteries and thinking to myself, ‘no possible way’!

I’m sitting there alone, the cat looking on as to say, ‘Don’t do it stupid,’ reasoning that a one second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn’t hurt that bad. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and…

HOLY WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION! I’m pretty sure Hulk Hogan ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs! Leo had jumped up on the fireplace mantle in an attempt to avoid getting slammed by my body flopping all over the living room.

A minute or so later, I collected my wits, sat up and surveyed the landscape. My reading glasses were bent and on the top of the TV. The recliner was upside down and about 8 feet from where it originally was. My triceps and right thigh were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, my bottom lip weighed 88 lbs. and I had no control over the drooling. Gone was my sense of smell and a faint smoke cloud came from my hair.

My wife loved the gift, laughed at my experience and now regularly threatens me with it! Word of advice. If you think something is stupid – it probably is.”

Pie

In the 1996 movie Michael, John Travolta starred as an archangel sent to Earth to do various tasks. Andie MacDowell co-starred and sang a country song entitled Pie. In the restaurant scene, Travolta orders two dozen different pies and my mouth watered for the next hour.

What is it about pie? Whether serving it a la mode or a la not mode, pie has a place in our hearts as a favorite comfort food along with meatloaf, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, tomato soup and oil sandwiches. Yes, oil sandwiches. Salted olive oil on Wonder bread. This was my childhood comfort food. Every bite left me with feelings of warmth, love and all is right with the world. If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around an ‘oil sandwich’, just think of dipping breads and oil – same thing just using fancy rolls and not white Wonder bread.

Historians trace pie’s initial origins to the Greeks, who are thought to be the originators of the pastry shell. Even then people disagreed about what constitutes a pie. Some said that any dish that has a crust with a filling is a pie and others said there are only 4 types of pies – fruit, custard, cream and savory. My belief, it’s a pie if it’s warm and smothered with ice cream.

Apple pie still remains America’s favorite but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t an American invention. The first written apple pie recipe dates back to 1381. It was printed by Geoffrey Chaucer and included apples, figs, raisins, and pears in a pastry shell…no sugar.

Recently I made my first pie. Yes, you read correctly. I’m ‘older than my tongue and younger than my teeth’ and never made a pie. Growing up my Mom made all types of desserts but not pies. So why did I decide to make one? An abundance of ripe peaches. We were having friends for dinner and to guarantee a successful meal, I made my specialty – 4 layered lasagna with sweet Italian sausage and meatballs, garlic/cheese bread and Caesar salad. Usually my go-to dessert would be any bakery item from the Amish Market but since I had all these peaches I decided to bake a pie. After all who better to experiment on than friends!

One thing I knew about pie baking was the crust can make or break it. Pillsbury Pie Crust to the rescue. Didn’t want to experiment too much after all, I like these friends. After slicing the peaches, I realized that I didn’t have the five cups that was called for. I looked around and there they were – red, shiny crisp, apples, perfect to fill the peach shortage. After coring, peeling, and slicing the apples, I was still a cup short. Now what? Searching the refrigerator I found fresh, plumb blueberries. Just enough to make the required 5 cups.

The Peachappleberry pie was delicious, the friends didn’t die and I have a new baking passion…Lemon Meringue anyone?

Ok, Boomer

Recently our 20 year old grandson came for a 3-day visit. Needless to say my husband Jeff and I were thrilled, shocked and a little wary. After all, how often does a 20 year old want to spend time with grandparents, let alone 3 days.

The visit went really well. We planned all of his favorite activities – Costco’s, Longwood Gardens, and just spending quality time together. We started with a trip to Costco’s for clothes, hiking ‘stuff’ and, of course, orders of chiros. These are sticks of dough, fried then rolled in cinnamon. Wonderful for a 20 year old’s metabolism but an extra inch to the hips for those of us whose metabolism has left the building! Oh the sacrifices we make for our grandkids.

Next stop Longwood Gardens. I wish I could explain his fascination with this beautiful treasure. We’ve been taking he and his brother there since they were little and the thrill still exists for both, especially during the Christmas season with the dancing fountain display, the animations along the lake and, of course, the hot chocolate and trains. Seeing this specular garden through his 5, 10 and 20 year-old eyes gives us a new appreciation every time. Of course, walking for 3-4 hours has given me a new perspective of just how out of shape I’ve gotten over the years. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our grandkids.

Of all the activities we shared, spending quality time together discussing ‘whatever’ is our favorite. Jeff and I get a chance to share our ‘wisdom’, gentle guidance and sage advice with him. And I know he’s getting what we’re saying because lovingly and respectfully he would say, “OK, boomer” – a phrase he used frequently throughout our conversations.

When he left to return home to Baltimore, Jeff and I relived the visit, amazed at the openness in which he listened to our sage advice. Our ‘glowing’ however, was short lived! That evening we were watching the news and a report entitled “Ok, boomer” flashed on the screen. We smiled at each other and just as we were about to pat ourselves on the back, the report shattered our illusion. “OK, boomer” is a viral internet slang phrase used, often in a humorous or ironic manner by the Gen Z, iGen or Centennial generations, to call out or dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the baby boomer generation and older people more generally. We looked at each other in utter disbelief. Can we be THAT gullible, innocent and out-of-touch? Just then the phone rang. It was the soon-to-be-removed from the will grandson laughing hysterically. He was watching the same report and thought he’d better call and explain. After saying “OK, boomer” several times, he realized we didn’t know what it meant but couldn’t stop himself. He assured us that he took our sage advice seriously. After we hung up, Jeff and I looked at each other and said Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Growing Up Rich

I grew up rich – not wealthy. The difference? According to the dictionary, a wealthy person has sustainable wealth and will always be wealthy. Someone who is rich will only be so for a short period of time – until the money is gone. Well, if this definition holds true, then my family wasn’t rich – not by a long shot.

My Dad was a car salesman. He wasn’t the stereotypical kick the tire, sign here, and move onto the next customer type of salesman. He really cared about his customers and if he didn’t think you should buy the car you wanted he wouldn’t sell it to you. Some appreciated this and some didn’t…especially his boss! Dad was rich with integrity and honesty not money.

Our home was like grand central station with a revolving door. There were always one or two extra people seated at our dinner table whether they be friends, neighbors, Dad’s customers or someone just needing a hot meal. Some stayed for dinner while others stayed overnight. Not sure why they wanted to sleep over since the house was small with one bathroom and three matchbox bedrooms each with a closet that held, at maximum, five-hangers. A mattress pulled off the bed and placed on the floor served as the ‘guest’s’ ‘bedroom’ while the ‘bed’s owner’ slept on the box-spring. Not exactly the Ritz Carlton, Holiday Inn or even Motel 6 but a place people wanted to stay.

One of my college friends frequently asked to spend the weekend. I never knew why and never questioned it. During Christmas semester break one year, I received a call telling me to quick turn on the TV. There was my friend being introduced as one of the twelve international debutants for that year. She never told anyone that her family owned one of the largest companies in the world and they consistently appeared on the ‘millionaires’ list. When we returned to school after the break, she again, asked to spend the weekend. I laughed and said, “Of course, your mattress awaits you.” That evening as I lay on my box spring she looked up at me from her mattress on the floor and said, “Do you realize how rich you are?” I guess I looked surprised at this remark so she continued. “My family owns multiple houses. You live in a home. My parents are always jet-setting somewhere seldom knowing or, at least from my perspective, caring what I’m doing. Though at times it might bug you, your parents are interested in every aspect of your life. You sit down together for a home-cooked dinner. I can’t remember the last time we did that as a family. You’re the richest person I know.”

I learned that night that the true measure of ‘richness’ is in health, faith. love, family, friends and laughter and that I was truly living the wonderful life…just like George Bailey.

Growing Up Italian

The Godfather, The Sopranos, The Green Book – all great shows that portray life in an Italian family. For the most part, they were spot on. Italians have a distinct way of life that’s almost impossible to mistaken for any other nationality. If you’ve truly lived it, like I did in South Philly, or spent time in the homes of your Italian friends, you’ll might recognize some of the food and family ‘traditions’.

Whether our home or my grandparents’, no one understood the concept of ‘being full’. Basically we eat when we were hungry and, because there was enough food to feed an army, we were forced to continue eating. If you stopped and pushed back from the table, the guilt remark was made – “Remember there are starving children…” in whatever country they chose at that time. So we ate. I believe there is no Italian translation for the word ‘calorie’.

Every Sunday after church we made 2 stops – the corner grocery store to pick up cold cuts, ordered in specific amounts like a third of a lb. minus 2 slices of mild Genoa salami – sliced thin. The second stop was the bakery where the scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns with nuts, raisins and gooey caramel added 5 lbs. to your hips without touching your mouth. Besides the cinnamon buns, a dozen fresh, warm Italian rolls were always on the list. White, wheat, rye or whatever bread was sold in the supermarket never compared. My Mom always carried a small container of butter and a butter knife so we could indulge in a buttered fresh, warm roll on the bus-ride home.

Sunday dinners were spent with family at my grandmother’s. Dinners consisted of pasta, meatballs, sausage, roasted chicken, vegetables, salad and, of course, three or four desserts. There was so much food, you were full until the middle of the following week and, best of all, everyone went home with enough leftovers to last until the next Sunday dinner.

Back yard lawns – no bigger than the depth and width of two cemetery plots were the pride of every man. They were the captains of their lawns in charge of raising tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, basil, parsley, broccoli rabe and watermelons. Competition started at the first planting and ended when the last vine died. The winner? Every neighbor who shared in the abundance of crops all season long.

As for family…you probably haven’t met all of your cousins. And the cousins you have met are anywhere from your 1st, to 2nd and 3rd maybe even a 4th. Of these most were named Tony, Joe, Frankie, Rose and Maria. Conversations went something like – “So I was talking to cousin Frankie. No the other Frankie. Not tall Frankie. Short Frankie. You know the one with the blue eyes”.

If you’re single, your relatives were always asking when were you going to meet a ‘nice Italian boy or girl?’ Even if you were married to someone who wasn’t Italian, they always asked when were you going to meet a ‘nice Italian boy or girl.’ Ma don!

Finally, the two most consistent and recognizable Italian traits – our volume dial has only loud and louder settings – no low and our hands have a mind of their own.

Growing up Italian – more a blessing than a curse!

Forgiveness

As a child, I seldom gave my parents reasons to worry, punish or, heaven forbid, ground me. Raised in the 50’s, when the unthinkable included sneaking a cigarette, hiking your school uniform ABOVE your knees or using words like heck and darn, I flourished. Weekends were spent with grandparents, family card night, and watching the 12” black and white TV. The quiet interrupted only when we fought over which of the 3 channels to watch. Faith, family, friends and food were the staples of life

When Dad died, Mom stayed in the ‘neighborhood’. Good neighbors whose hearts were always open, doors unlocked, opinions vocalized, and refrigerators full. Mom blossomed. However, over time the parent-child roles reversed. I became concerned -is she eating, is she safe, is she watching too much TV, well, maybe not the TV. During the 8 years she lived alone she became frail. I kept in touch daily, calling, visiting, begging her to come live us. Her answer was always the same, “someday, maybe someday.”

One evening, I surprised her with her favorite Boston Market chicken. She was worse than I had ever seen her. Her pallor was the color of slate, she could barely speak above a whisper and hunched over her plate pushing the food around rather than eating. Something was wrong. All she said was “I’m tired. A couple hours of sleep and I’ll be fine.”

After dinner she asked if I would give her a bath. I bathed her, washed her hair and carried her to bed. She smiled and asked me to lock up before I left. I waited until she was asleep and left. On the drive home I convinced myself I was doing the right thing. My heart said you’re wrong but my head said you have a TO-DO list to complete. You see, I was a business owner with responsibilities.

When I told my husband what happened, he asked me why I didn’t stay. My answer, Mom said to leave and anyway, I have a TO DO list to complete. His response shall remain between us. The next morning I called but there was no answer. I panicked. Just then the phone rang. It was my aunt telling me Mom was in the hospital with congestive heart failure.

She never returned home. After weeks in the hospital she moved in with us. Every morning for the next two years, I’d bring her a cup of coffee and we’d talk. One day I brought up that night and asked for her forgiveness for not staying. She said, “There’s nothing to forgive. You’re a business owner with responsibilities. It never crossed my mind that you should stay.” To her, leaving that night didn’t mean I loved her less it just meant I had my priorities in the right place. Only a Mother can be that loving, understanding and forgiving. That night I learned about love and forgiveness and to make people the priority. You see, I still have a TO-DO list but I don’t have my Mom.
Who are the priorities in your life?

Bowling

Like many father-daughter relationships, I was ‘Daddy’s little girl’, his princess and the one who almost gave him a heart attack. It wasn’t intentional and I didn’t even know it was happening. I was sixteen and a member of my Mom’s bowling league. Yes they were desperate for bowlers and, since Mom didn’t have her license, I was the only means of transportation since Dad worked. I had a blast bowling with all these ‘old’ people, some even in their 50’s, listening to them complain about my generation with all their crazy Rock ‘n Roll music, dungarees, flat shoes with bobby socks and Elvis. “What is this generation coming to?” was a frequent remark.

This one Wednesday night, our team was fighting for first place. I stepped up and threw my first strike, then came the second then the third. I’ve had three strikes in a row before so no one got excited. Then came the fourth and the fifth strikes. I looked around and realized the bowling alley had become quiet and bowlers from the other lanes had started to huddle around the back of my lane. Among the crowd was my Dad, pacing, wiping the sweat off his brow and trying to remain calm. I waved but he gave me ‘the look’ meaning, pay attention, concentrate and stop talking! Strikes six, seven and eight followed. Now you can hear a pin drop and my Dad was gripping the rail in the back so hard, I could see his white knuckles from where I was. Strike nine and then the tenth and final frame. Dad stood ramrod straight clutching his hand to his chest, eyes closed in prayer. Tenth frame, first ball a strike. Two more strikes and I would achieve the ultimate in bowling – a perfect game of 300. Next ball – a strike. One more. I stood on my mark, aimed at the board I’ve been hitting all night, and made my approach. The ball rolled over the board, hit in the pocket and 9 pins flew while one stood upright, never wavering…299. I turned to walk back to the bench to the sound of people cheering, my Mom crying and my Dad with the biggest grin I think I’ve ever seen. The game wasn’t perfect but the night was.

Over the next thirty-five years I bowled on and off on various leagues even making it to nationals before finally giving away my ball and shoes to another perfect game hopeful. Time has marched on. Our 55+ community has a bowling league and with visions of that 299 game still in my head, I jumped at the chance to be a substitute. First game, first frame – 6 pins, then a gutter ball followed by more pins standing than falling down. First two games I didn’t break 100. In the third game however, when I strung two strikes together I looked behind me and swore I saw my Dad grinning ear to ear.

Worry

Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t worry…be happy” was a big hit. Don’t you wish it was that easy? At one time or another, we’ve all worried about something – health, finances, kids, a broken nail…something. Don’t laugh about the broken nail. Long before fake nails were so readily available, I met a hand model who had just broken a nail before a photo shoot and worried she would lose the well-paying job.

 I come from a long line of ‘professional worriers’. Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles – we worried about everything – children, the neighbors, money, the weather, potholes, cracks in the pavement, the roof, how we looked…no subject was off limits. We even made up a name for it – ‘worget’, loosely translated meaning a worry target.

For years I fooled myself into believing that worrying was a good thing. If my family was my ‘worget’, that must mean that I’m a loving and caring person. If something is wrong, the more I worry about it the more likely I’ll come up with a solution making me a problem solver. Worrying can even promote intelligence. How? When I worry constantly about something, I read up on it therefore increasing my brain width. Okay, that may be pushing it.

 Worrying has no age, nationality, gender or racial boundaries. Everyone worries. Recently my husband Jeff and I had the opportunity to go to Arizona and work on an Apache Indian reservation. What an experience! We learned so much about their culture, how to make ash bread and how to ‘basket’ worries. In the Apache culture, as in many Native American cultures, you are not allowed to bring your worries into another person’s household. It was deemed improper to bring negativity to the home of someone else. Because of this belief, many of the homes hang a little “worry basket” outside. Before you set foot in the home, you place your worries to rest in that worry basket. Today, a worry basket hangs proudly next to my front door. My only request of our guests is that, on the way out, please take your worries with you otherwise that’s more for me to worry about.

There are a number of other ‘tools’ to help let go of worry, reduce anxiety and solve the seemingly insoluble problem. These include a God Box, the Higher Self Box and the Angel Box. Before going to bed, you write down your ‘worget’, place it in whichever box you’re using and request that God or a higher intelligence take care of it. A good night’s sleep hopefully follows.

If you’re a worrier and your ‘worgets’ are out of control, take the advice of an Irish proverb found on a tombstone.

Why Worry
“In life, there are only two things to worry about, either you are well or you are sick.
If you are well, there is nothing to worry about.
But if you are sick, there are only two things to worry about, either you will get well or you will die.
If you get well, there is nothing to worry about.
But if you die, there are only two things to worry about, either you will go to heaven or hell.
If you go to heaven, there is nothing to worry about.
And if you go to hell, you’ll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends, you won’t have time to worry!” Problem solved!

WD-40

My Dad had two go-to tools when it came to doing handy work around the house, WD-40® and Duct Tape. He once read “if it moves and shouldn’t, use Duct Tape, if it doesn’t move and should, use WD-40®.” He took this to heart.

He used Duct Tape so often, for years we thought it was wallpaper. This miracle of the tape world could be found anywhere in the house – on chairs to support a wobbly leg, on pants to hold up a ripped hem, shoes, gloves, sports gear and even on the dog! Sheba, our Scotch terrier, had a loose nail and Dad duct taped it until we could take her to the vet. It worked.  She did however, get a little grumpy when the tape was pulled off her fur. We use to make fun of Dad and his Duct Tape obsession until it was validated years later when the TV show MacGyver hit the air. MacGyver could fix anything with Duct Tape, a paper clip and some old fashion ingenuity.

Dad’s use of Duct Tape was only exceeded by his fascination with WD-40®. He used it to clean, repair, unsqueak, lubricate, untangle and fix anything, anywhere in the house.  He even kept a can of it on his bed stand just in case something needed his attention during the middle of the night. I understand WD-40® has many uses but Dad took it to an extreme.  Why? Because he wasn’t a handyman. He was good at many things, but handyman wasn’t one of them. His red toolbox contained 10 screwdrivers, all the same size; 3 hammers, one without a head and a sundry of other tools still in their original wrappers. The one power tool he owned was more a lethal weapon than a helpful tool. WD-40® always made him look like a hero whether he was unjamming a zipper, opening a rusty lock, cleaning a stain off the carpet or crayon marks off the wallpaper. It didn’t however, work on the ketchup and mustard that, by accident, landed on the dining room wall after a food fight between my brother and me. But that’s another story.

 In his pursuit of making a home repair, a simple turn of a screw could result in a 3 hour disaster. Try as she might, Mom could not convince him to call a repair man until the day the seventh wonder of the world happened. The washing machine in the basement in their small row home was out of alignment. It shook, rattled and banged like a 50’s song. Dad, armed with his WD-40® went into action. He sprayed everywhere he could reach but the ‘song’ continued. As the last resort, he took out the red tool box. We all shuddered and ran for cover. In a half hour he called us to see his accomplishment. The washer sounded more like Silent Night than Shake, Rattle and Roll. Dad gloated with an ear-to-ear smile until we heard my brother shout from the third floor, “The sink in the bathroom is leaking.” Yes, Dad accomplished the impossible, he caused an upward leak! Mom called the repairman. An hour later, the washer ran smoothly, the bathroom sink was fixed and Dad relinquished his red tool box.

 For the most part, our beliefs are formed by our experiences and, based on this, I thought all Dads were hammer and nail klutzes and the main reason repairmen existed. I was so wrong. My husband Jeff comes from a family of repairmen, tinkers, do-it-yourselfers, handymen and handy women. I’ve never met so many people who could make something out of nothing, transform a solid wall into a book shelf or move a kitchen from one side of the house to the other. Even more amazing, nothing collapsed, leaked or forced you to walk on an angle. All of these abilities stemmed from one person, Al Taylor, Jeff’s Dad. Al has never met a tool he couldn’t master, or a project he couldn’t handle either inside the home or outside. He’s the first person we call when a motor needs fixing, a blade sharpened or a downspout replaced. Jeff happily follows him around making the repairs under Dad’s watchful eye and supervision. Jeff can probably make these repairs on his own. His talents aren’t as bad as my Dad’s but not as masterful as his Dad’s. However, can you think of a better way to spend time and make memories than working side-by-side with your 96 year old Dad?

Unexplainable Bonds

Connection. Bond. Link. Not sure how to describe what my Grandfather and my brother had but they had it. Worlds apart in every aspect yet, linked so tightly nothing could come between them. My Grandfather was an Italian immigrant coming through Ellis Island at the age of 13. He had no money, no trade and only the address of a family he was to live with. This family were friends of his parents and Pop was told their daughter, Annie, was to be his wife, an arrangement forged when they were toddlers. Pop lived with my Grandmother’s family, apprenticed as a tailor and married when she was 17 and he was 19.

Pop’s heart was golden, his manner mild and the connection with his first grandson, my older brother Steve, was unexplainable. For hours they would sit and talk about baseball, politics, and food. How they understood each other, no one knew. You see, Pop’s English was poor and Steve’s Italian was nonexistent. A favorite subject and common interest was fishing. When Steve was 15 he persuaded Pop to leave his Singer sewing machine and join him at FDR Park in South Philly for a day of fishing. Pop jumped at the chance and they make plans.

As with most fishing, some days the fish bite and some days they don’t. Steve, always prepared, after all he was a Boy Scout and later a Marine, packed a fish in a cooler just in case the lake fish weren’t cooperating. His goal was to have Pop catch a fish. They got to the park, set up their chairs, baited their hooks, said a prayer that something other than the bugs would bite, and settled in for a day together. It was sunny, warm and perfect. A nibble here and a nibble there got their blood pumping but never resulted in a catch. As the day came to a close and before heading home, Pop excuse himself to use the restroom. Steve jumped on the opportunity to put the fish on Pop’s hook. He hooked it and then threw it back into the lake. When Pop returned, Steve said, “Pop, I think I saw your line bob up and down.” Pop reeled in his line and, low and behold, there was the catch of the day, a 2 lb. large-mouth bass. Steve took the fish off the hook, put it in the cooler and they headed back bringing the ‘catch of the day’ home for my Grandmother to cook for dinner.

Proudly they brought the fish into the kitchen where my Grandmother was getting ready to make dinner. She opened the cooler, took out the fish and exclaimed “What’s this? It’s frozen!” Neither Pop or Steve said a word. They just turned, arms around each other’s shoulders and smiles on their faces.

Different worlds, different generations, Grandfather and Grandson – a bond forged in respect. A connection made of steel. A love forever linked.

Traditions


When I hear the word tradition, I mentally picture a fiddler on the roof in the opening scene of Fiddler on the Roof where the Papa, the Mama, the sons and daughters did specific things because they were a tradition. Traditions are symbolic in meaning with special ties to the past. Some go back farther than anyone can remember and some begin out of necessity like the chicken’s tail.

I was preparing to roast a chicken using my grandmother’s secret recipe. Jeff came in and asked me why I was cutting off the tail, “Because my Mother did” I replied. When we visited my Mom he asked her, “Mom, why do you cut off the tail of the chicken before roasting.” “Because my Mother did.” she replied.

Not satisfied with either answer, we drove to the source – my grandmother’s home. My grandmother, the oldest of 13 children, was born in America. She was a voracious reader, a midwife, an excellent cook, had a heart of gold and a temper that would flared if you crossed her the wrong way. Her kitchen was her domain and that’s where we found her. After consuming some of her mouthwatering ricotta cookies, Jeff asked her the chicken tail question. She looked at him and said, “I don’t do that. I only did it years ago because the pan was too small to hold the whole bird.” Traditions.

For me, there’s nothing sadder than the ending of a tradition. I’m Italian by heritage and raised Catholic. The number of Italian traditions is only exceeded by the number of Catholic traditions. Combine the two and you can write a 365 day calendar! The Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fish is one of my fondest memories and traditions.

Why seven fish? No one really knows. Some insist it’s a religious symbol and others a marketing ploy to get people to eat more fish. Regardless of the origin, it was a tradition in our family dating back to the early 1900. It carried with it no hard and fast rules regarding what fish to serve however in our home, it wasn’t complete unless baccalà and smelts were on the table. Over the years, the Feast of the Seven Fishes moved from my grandmother’s home to my Mother’s and finally to me. That’s when the change started. The younger generations turned their nose up to the traditional fish dishes wanting only mac and cheese, buttered spaghetti and chicken fingers. The tradition didn’t just die – it vanished!

As some traditions die others are born. Every New Year’s morning my nephew, who lives in Southern California, drives his family of 5 to a specific beach. Here they write the former year in the sand and watch as the tide takes it away with all its good and not so good happenings. They then write the new year in the sand, sharing their hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. Traditions.

In the words of Tevye, the Papa in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Keep your traditions and pass them on.

Reading

WARNING! If you’re not an ‘active reader’, you might not want to continue.

“Can you believe what THAT woman did! If I had been in the room, she wouldn’t be standing. She is so cruel and has no place in that family. I feel so sorry for those two wonderful boys.” This was the conversation my husband walked into when he returned home one afternoon from a round of golf. With me, seated on the coach, were three friends indulging in homemade cookies and store bought wine. From their expressions, words and tone you could tell they were upset. Jeff looked at me with a deer in the headlights expression, apologized for interrupting and, before making a speedy retreat to anywhere but there, asked if everyone was alright and was there anything he could do. My friends laughed, got up, gave him a hug and said, “Oh no, we were just discussing the latest Dorothea Benton Frank’s book Queen Bee.” Now a look of total confusion flashed across his face followed by a shake of his head and a bee line to the liquor cabinet to find his favorite Scotch.

Readers definitely understand that my friends’ passion is not unusual. Reading has a way of grabbing your attention, pulling you in and holding you prisoner – sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Books are an escape enabling the reader to explore the world, experience wonders and realize how wonderful their life is compared to whatever is happening to some fictional character. There are certain authors I purchase without even reading the inside flap describing the story. Patterson, Baldacci, Scottoline, Coben and a dozen others that line my bookshelf, fill my hours and blow my budget to smithereens. Their characters, especially if recurring in sequels, are my friends. I feel as if I know them, their personal concerns and their life-long dreams. Coming to the end of a book feels like a child leaving home.

My love for reading must come from my Mom. As the story goes, she was reading an Agatha Christie novel when she went into labor. As she was being wheeled down the hall to the delivery room, the nurse tried to take the book away…Mom pushed, the nurse yelled and I was born. It was a happy ending. The nurse did her duty, Mom completed her book, I was healthy and not named Agatha.

How we read books changed with the introduction of the Kindle. I bought one and found myself downloading free books and my favorite authors at a fraction of the cost of a hardback. As much as I loved the convenience of carrying 431 books in this light-weight device, something was missing. Dog-earing pages, writing in the margins but mostly, the smell, feel and texture of the printed page…an experience the Kindle couldn’t replicate. So call me old fashion, I’m back to reading hardbacks, going to libraries and spending time with friends – between the covers.

The Way We Were (1936)

Recently, Jeff’s Dad who is 96, came to stay with us for a week while Jerry, Jeff’s older brother with whom Dad lives, and his wife Sylvia were doing missionary work in Ecuador. Dad’s new hobby is to sleep, nap, take siestas, rest and go to bed. This is more out of boredom than anything else. After he retired he stayed active – working in his Church in varied capacities, fixing small motors, rewiring anything electrical and helping to build houses. A couple of years ago when his sight and hearing betrayed him, his favorite activities stopped and boredom became his constant companion.

On this visit, Jeff asked Dad to go through a box of pictures, certificates and memorabilia that belonged to Dad’s older brother Albert. In this treasure trove, along with a bible given to Albert in 1935 by his mother was a typed letter entitled “The Way We Were.” We’re not sure if Albert, a former Army Colonel, politician, and humorist, wrote this or copied it from an unknown author. Regardless, it describes a time unknown to many of us but well worth reading. Enjoy.

“We were before television. Before penicillin, the pill, polio shots, antibiotics and Frisbees. Before frozen foods, nylon, Dacron, Xerox and Kinsey. We were before radar, florescent lights, credit cards and ballpoint pens. For us, time-sharing meant togetherness not computers; a chip meant a piece of wood; hardware meant headwear and software wasn’t even a word. In those days bunnies were small rabbits and rabbits were not Volkswagens.

We were before Batman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Snoopy. Before DDT and vitamin pills, vodka, at least in the US, the white wine craze, disposable diapers, jeeps and the Jefferson nickel. Before Scotch tape, M&M’s, the automatic shift and Lincoln Continentals.

We were in college when pizzas, Cheerios, frozen orange juice, instant coffee and McDonalds were unheard of. We thought fast food was what you ate during Lent.

We were before FM radio, tape recorders, electric typewriters, word processors, Muzak, electronic music and disco dancing. We were before pantyhose and drip-dry clothes. Before ice makers, dish washers, clothes dryers, freezers and electric blankets. Before men wore long hair and earrings and women wore tuxedoes. We got married first and then lived together. How quaint can you be?

In our day cigarette smoking was fashionable, grass was mowed, coke was something you drank and pot was something you cooked in. We were before coin vending machines, jet planes, helicopters and interstate highways. In 1936 “made somewhere other than the USA” meant junk, and the term ‘making out’ referred to how you did on exams.

In our time, there were five and ten cent stores where you could buy things for five and ten cents. For just a nickel you could ride the streetcar, make a phone call, buy a Coke or buy enough stamps to mail one letter and two postcards. You could buy a new Chevy coup for $600, but who could afford that in 1936? Nobody. A pity too because gas was eleven cents a gallon.

We were not before the difference between the sexes was discovered, but we were before sex change. We just made do with what we had.

And so it was in 1936. This is “The Way We Were” and we loved it!”

The Good Old Days

Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Sublimotion, the most expensive restaurant in the world – $2,000/person – have nothing on the downhome atmosphere and Southern cuisine of a Cracker Barrel. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but there is something about Cracker Barrel that most restaurants would die for…at least in my humble opinion. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. is an American chain of combined restaurant and gift stores with a southern country theme. The company was founded by Dan Evins in 1969; its first store was in Lebanon, Tennessee and they’ve been expanding ever since. So what’s so great about Cracker Barrel? The food sticks-to-your ribs and other parts of your body, the service is good and the prices won’t break the bank…so what makes it special? The décor and the emotions it evokes. The moment you sit down, your eyes are drawn to the pictures, wall hangings, tools, toys and ads of years gone by that adorn every wall. Each store has an average of 1,000 authentic pieces of décor all specific to the local area. A commonality in all 645+ stores in 44 states are the ox yolk and horseshoe hanging over the front door, a traffic light over the restrooms and a barrel with a checker board in front of the fireplace. So why does this hit home with so many people? Nostalgia. Nostalgia is powerful. Studies have determined that nostalgia can counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It also promotes people to be more generous and tolerant of strangers and couples to feel closer and look happier. All as a result of sharing nostalgic memories. I can’t remember a family or friend get-together when someone doesn’t say “Remember when…” and from that point forward the conversation drifts towards reliving times that made us feel safe, loved and happy.

As a teen, I use to roll my eyes and sigh every time I heard my Mom or Dad talk about a current issue and say “That never would have happened in the good old days.” So what are the ‘good old days’? The good old days are defined as a time in the past when it was believed that life was better. Nostalgia has a way of bringing us back to the past quicker than you can blink and, of all our senses, smell is the most closely linked with memory. Scents like a wood burning stove, an orchard in blossom or cookies baking in the oven can take us back to a time that warms our heart, makes us smile and reminds us of ‘the good old days.’

On a personal note – if you find yourself visiting a Cracker Barrel, order the pecan pancakes. Unlike most restaurants who simply sprinkle the pecans on their pancakes, Cracker Barrel mixes them in the batter making every bite a special treat. Drench the one, two or three stakes with the warm maple syrup, close your eyes and return to ‘the good old days.’ Happy trails to you…

Guilt

Jeff and I were cruising the back roads of Chester County one beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was bright, the sky a robin egg blue and the temperature, a perfect San Diego 75. Jeff was driving while I was road gazing. As we came to a bend in the road I spotted an arrowed road sign with the number 1963 pointing up a graveled road. An address? Road marker? Regardless of the reason, all I could think of was the year 1963 and the guilt came flooding back! This was the year JFK was assassinated and the feeling of being somewhat responsible hit me like a ton of bricks. I was a freshman in college, seated in an amphitheater style classroom waiting to take a math test for which I was totally unprepared. I thought, if only something ‘big’ would happen like a tsunami, volcano eruption or earthquake, to postpone this math disaster I would be forever grateful and promise to study for the next test. Just then the professor burst into the room and announced that the President had been killed in Dallas. For a fleeting moment, I thought my wish had come true. Of course it hadn’t, but you need to understand, I’m Catholic, seated in a Catholic University surrounded by portraits of saints too numerous to name with my ‘Catholic guilt meter’ ready to fire at the drop of a hat.

Of course, I had no influence on the dark history made that day but ‘guilt’ has a way of playing with your mind…throughout your entire life! So where does ‘guilt’ come from? Are we born with it? Do we inherit it? Is it something drilled into us by family, teachers or religion? For me I think it was the nuns I had for 16 years of Catholic education. Not a complaint just a statement of fact!

Guilt however, isn’t specific to Catholics. My friend Adele is Jewish and we frequently discuss the part ‘guilt’ played in our growing up and agreed that Jewish ‘guilt’ and Catholic ‘guilt’ are similar. Both are drummed into our ‘being’ from the day we were born and proliferates like a fast growing weed shadowing almost everything we do.

So what does ‘guilt’ look like? It could be a stare, an eye-roll or an innocent statement like ‘You’re not coming to Sunday dinner? That’s okay, I’m sure your Grandmother won’t take it too personally’. This is implied ‘guilt’. Serious ‘guilt’ would be ‘That’s okay, but you know, at her age, it may be her last.’ Either way, you have two courses of action. First, cancel your plans and go to Sunday dinner making each and every minute miserable for everyone around you or second, miss Sunday dinner and worry the whole time that Grandmother will fall over dead, which if she did, would be your fault. The perfect ‘guilt’ trap.

Erma Bombeck summed it up well – “Guilt – the gift that keeps on giving.” Please don’t pass it on.

Rhythm

I love to sing and dance. The problem is I can’t carry a tune in a wet paper bag, and I was born with two left feet. My singing is so bad that my husband asks me not to sing in the shower. As for dancing, that doesn’t bother him so much. You see Jeff is a little over 6’ tall and I’m a little under 5 feet. When we dance, as long as I’m not stepping on the tops of his feet, he’s gazing around looking over my head watching what’s going on while I’m looking at the 3rd or 4th button on his shirt – and trying to lead.

 I credit my parents with my love of song and dance. Our home was always filled with music: pop, swing, rhythm and blues, opera – you name it. Something was always playing on the Victrola console that stood proudly in the living room. As a car salesman, my Dad’s dinner hours varied from an early dinner at 4:30 pm to a later dinner at 6:30. I loved the early dinner, because that’s when ‘I caught Mom & Dad’. Caught them doing what you ask? Dancing. I’d come home from school and opened the front door to Tony Bennett, Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Andrew Sisters, and many others. No matter who was singing, Mom and Dad would be dancing in the living room, oblivious to the world. Dad would spin Mom this way, then that way and always finish with a twirl, a hug, and a kiss. They were the original ‘hoofers’.

 Watching the joy song and dance brought, I begged and begged to take piano lessons. There were two reasons that should have made Mom and Dad stand their ground and say no. First, I’m tone-deaf, and second, we didn’t have a piano. Being Daddy’s little girl and so adorable, if I say so myself, Dad convinced Mom to sign me up for lessons at my school. Lessons were held 2 days a week in the convent at St. Edmonds. Since we didn’t have a piano, I was given a paper keyboard to practice on. It’s not the same. The last straw for Sister Mary-No-Patience was when I got off the left side of the piano bench and walked over to the right side to hit a key. You see, the other student, with whom I shared the bench, was rather large and I couldn’t reach the key from where I was seated so I improvised. I was impressed, she wasn’t.  She called my Mom and told her I didn’t have a musical bone in my body, and she was wasting her money. The lessons were 25 cents a week! That was it.  If Sister Mary-No-Patience said I had no musical talent then I guess I didn’t, because nuns don’t lie.

Time both marches on. It eases pain, lessens sadness, helps anger, fear, and bad memories fade and gives us hope. I can vouch for this because years later my hope to play the piano again raised its ugly head. Why? Because of my husband Jeff’s family. They’re all musical. All three brothers sing, write music and play a variety of instruments. Jeff played five. All this singing and playing got me enthused to try again. Over the next 15 years, we purchased an old upright piano and 3 electronic keyboards all of which were given away. I guess Sister Mary-No-Patience was right about playing an instrument, but she never heard me sing. So off I went to join a local choir. When I was asked to stand in the back and just mouth the words the message was received – I can’t sing.

Not being able to sing however, didn’t stop me from singing. Jeff and I attended a musical production of 50 and 60’s music. I closed my eyes and was back in my childhood home listening to the Victrola. The gentleman next to me must have been having a similar experience as he and I sang along to each and every song. Ugly glances from the row in front of us and kicks from the row behind along with well-placed elbows from Jeff and my fellow singer’s wife only lowered our volume but didn’t stop us. When we returned to our seats after the intermission, my fellow singer and I had been separated with Jeff and the gentleman’s wife sitting between us.

I still love to sing and dance and do so every chance I get following the words of Mark Twain – “Dance as if no one were watching, sing like no one can hear and live life every day as if it were your last.” Good advice.

Retirement

Years ago, it seemed like a dream. Being a small business owner, would I ever be able to turn the page on that chapter of my life? Well, through the grace of God, hard work, diligent financial strategizing and a lot of wishing, hoping and praying, I made the leap – later than what I dreamed and sooner than I expected. Now what do I do? My retirement benchmark was my Dad’s retirement. I remember the day so clearly, so clearly in fact that it might just have been yesterday rather than 1985. I received a panic call from my Mother. “You won’t believe this. It can’t be happening. What will I do?” she said and my mind started to race.  Who died? What black plague had descended upon that row home in South Philly? What member of our family, a very colorful one I might add, did what to whom, when and how did they get caught? Questions like these streamed through my mind while my Mother talked and sobbed simultaneously. When she finally took a breath I asked, “Mom, what happened?”  She paused and in between sobs said “Your father retired! He came home last night and announced that he retired! What will I do?”  WHEW…no calamity!

 A little about my Dad. The first to graduate college, he tolerated a short-lived career as a high school history teacher. He left after less than a year for his sanity but more so for the safety of the students. He just couldn’t understand why they weren’t excited about medieval wars and ancient Rome. His next career – a car salesman!  His knowledge of cars included how to drive them and how to curse at them. Despite everything, he was successful for the 45 years he sold Buicks. He provided a good life for our family including putting my brother and me through 4-year colleges in which we boarded. In the early part of his ‘sales’ career, he worked from 9 am to 4 pm with a short break for dinner, and then back to work until 9 pm. He did this 6 days a week, and a half-day on Sunday.  He was a man we recognized more from the pictures around the house than the person himself. A great man, a good provider and, for the most part, a missing husband and father and now, someone who would home, 24/7. I’m happy to report that after several months of adjusting, my parents settled into a comfortable routine…Mom upstairs and Dad in the basement where he enjoyed his cigars, the Philadelphia Eagles and his Scotch.  They stayed married, sane and best friends until his passing in 1991.

  Now I’m facing retirement. My story is different from my Dad’s. At 40, I married for the 2nd – and last time might I add. At the same time, I became the stepmother to a beautiful 14 year-old daughter, Jacki. She was potty-trained – a good thing however she was FOURTEEN. My husband Jeff & I were building our dream home and I was starting a business. Obviously, I’m a true believer in multi-tasking! Everything was planned with the exception of starting a business.  It sort of evolved when I became a ‘displaced executive’ or fired however you’d like to describe it and was encouraged by the two most influential people in life, my husband and my mother, to ‘do my passion’. When Jeff suggested that I start my business, I thanked him for his support, rolled my eyes and called my Mom. She agreed with Jeff. However, it was her closing comment that started my entrepreneurial journey. She said, “What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll have to go back and work for someone? Don’t look back on your life when you’re 65 and say maybe it would have worked.” She was 65 when she gave me that sage advice. So with a lick and a prayer, RCTaylor and Associates was born. It worked. I sold the business 24 years later…and it continues to this day under the new owner. Thanks, Mom.

 So what to do in retirement? After moving into a 55+ community I traded my briefcase for bocce, my car for a golf cart, writing proposals for playing pinochle and business meetings, volunteer work, and that was just in the first year! Retirement has given me more time to do all the activities I whined about not doing because of work. More time to try different things. More time for naps. More time for family and friends. More time to appreciate all my past and present blessings. More time to ‘give back’. More time to live life.  I now wear nothing but elastic, and every day when I wake up it’s Saturday.

 In the words of Bill Waterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbs, when you retire “There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”  Amen.

Pets

Hi Max, Lucy, Thatcher – this is how I greet a few of my neighbors. Not the people – their dogs! I must admit, for the most part, I remember the dog’s name and not their human owners. It’s not done on purpose. It’s just the wagging tails and excited jumps give me more warm and fuzzies than a one-word ‘hello’ or nod of the head.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of dogs – big and small. They’ve slept in my bed, shared my food and even took the blame for something I did. Not that they could defend themselves, but they took it on the whiskers and still loved me even after they were banished to the basement, and denied a special treat. I enjoyed the companionship, the unconditional love, and the occasional saving me from eating something I didn’t like. I did, however, and still do, stop at ‘face licks’. It isn’t anything personal against my doggie friends, it was something I learned from Sister Who-Knows-All-Things in first grade at St. Edmonds. In a discussion about hygiene, she warned us to never, never allow an animal to lick your face because you’ll get the ‘rot’. I took her warning seriously and have never gotten the ‘rot’, so I guess she was right.

As with everything in life, certain people, events, and situations are memorable. Of all my pets, including the four dogs, three cats, four hamsters, a rat and two gerbils, Sheba, a Scottish terrier, was the most unique. Small, compact with black curly fur, she came to live with us when my Uncle Anthony retired from the Air Force in Utah, where Sheba was raised. She was lovable, cuddly, and loved airplanes. Forget chasing cars, buses, mailmen, or other dogs. Nothing got her more excited than the sound of a jet engine. It would wake her from a dead sleep faster than the smell of her favorite food. This caused problems. You see, we lived 3 miles from the Philadelphia Airport – under a flight path with arrivals and departures between midnight and 4am. At the first roar of the engine, Sheba would tear through the house, hyperventilating while barking at the ceiling waking both our household and the neighbors on either side of our row home. Dad tried putting her in her doggie cage with a blanket over it however that only muffled her yaps. No amount of doggie training, treats or threats broke this habit. And then one day she just stopped. No more chasing, barking and running into walls in her pursuit of catching a 747. Why? No one could explain it. Perhaps she finally realized she wasn’t ever going to catch one.

Sheba was a loving pet, a trusted companion and I cried the day I brought her to the vet for her final flight home. Pets are miracle workers. They fill our hearts, make us smile, reduce stress, and force us to exercise. Their love comes with no strings and has no boundaries. Maybe this is why I remember their names.

A Niggle

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a common question asked of kids. Research shows that today’s kids have many of the same answers we had – a doctor, a nurse, a dancer, a policeman, a fireman, and a teacher. There also were other answers that were quite different. A video game designer, a master distiller, an internet blogger, a professional bridesmaid, a Walmart cashier and a paleontologist…that’s someone who studies dinosaurs…I had to look it up.

I don’t remember what I wanted to be. However, I was told, since we had so many doctors in the family, I should look to medicine…and I did, majoring in the sciences. My first job right out of college was in a hospital. There I learned I didn’t like the sight of blood, illness made me sad, and I couldn’t pronounce half the terms. Out went medicine and in entered accounting. That lasted less than a year – just about the time I got debits, credits and balance sheets all figured out. Sigh.

Next job stop – a customer service center. I struck pay dirt. I loved the job and was good at it. Calming upset customers, solving problems and leading a team came naturally to me. But there was still a ‘niggle’ in the back of mind telling me that something was missing. That ‘niggle’ gained form years later when, as a corporate trainer, I started writing programs for our clients. It was at the computer, when designing a program, that I felt the most alive, productive and, yes, happy. You see, I love to write. It only took 30+ years for me to discover what I wanted to be when I grew up – a writer, publishing the next great American novel.

To prepare for the accolades I was sure would follow, I took on-line, classroom and self-taught writing courses. Four outcomes: a great title; a half-finished business book; a fabulous plot that would make even the most successful authors green with envy; and a cookbook. No great novel. One day, I received great advice from someone who has written and published over 15 books. WRITE. JUST WRITE. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to make the NY Times Best Sellers list, it just has to be YOU. That’s how the for the Love of…series began. I realized that my ‘niggle’ was sharing stories accumulated over the years. Stories that would bring a tear to your eye, a laugh to your belly or an idea to your head. Stories that inspired.

Recently, while playing cards with three retired, smart, and card savvy women, one mentioned that she always wanted to write a child’s book. She is one of many people I’ve spoken with who has a life-long ‘niggle’. Unsolicited advice – “Just Do It”. Don’t let self-doubt, inaction or thinking it’s too late, the three main reasons people don’t pursue a dream, stop you from releasing your inner ‘niggle’.

My next ‘niggle? Learning Calligraphy.

Marriage

I’m thinking of trading my husband in for a pot-bellied pig. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff. We’ve been married for 35 years. A long time, when you consider that it’s a second marriage for both of us. Another wrinkle…besides being married, we’ve been business partners for 32 of those 35 years. That’s right 24/7 – day in and day out!

 Let’s face it – marriage is tough. In the first few years, it’s considered a celebration of love, commitment, puppy tongues, and chocolate valentine hearts. As the years pass, however, the love turns into a ball, the commitment into a chain, the puppy tongue into an old hound dog, and the valentine hearts start to melt. Admittedly, this is extreme but things do change – bodies, expectations, romance, and communication, to mention a few. All the things that attracted you to each other are now driving you crazy!

I love many things about my husband. He’s kind, caring, smart, comes from a great family and he thinks. That’s right, I married a thinker. He analyzes most everything, thinks before he speaks and when he speaks, he chooses his words carefully and speaks clearly and distinctly. I, on the other hand, speak first and then think. I’m more of the “ready, fire, aim” type whereas Jeff is more “ready, ready, ready….” This deep thinking was all well and good when we were first married, however now, all I want is an answer. I accept that a lot of thinking needs to be done when making major decisions like buying a house, a car, an expensive piece of jewelry for his lovely wife but deciding whether you want tuna or chicken for lunch doesn’t warrant deep contemplation. It’s lunch!

So why am I thinking of trading him in for a pot-bellied pig? Well, pot-bellied pigs are affectionate, communicative, curious and intelligent. They’ve also been described as sociable and funny. Admit it, if someone was cruising a dating site and read this description, they might be tempted to answer! Oh yes, one major drawback, pot-bellies are known to be stubborn. Owners advise those interested in adopting these adorable animals that it is vital to let the pig know what the rules are from the beginning otherwise, they’ll run circles around you. Same might apply to husbands!

 Pot-bellies have very advanced communication skills. Most times communication is the first thing to fade away in a marriage. Pot-belly’s vocal communication includes ‘grunting’, ‘barking’, squealing’ and, the all favorite, an ‘aroo’ sound that means ‘you aren’t getting me what I want fast enough.’ Though not grunting, barking and squealing, marital communication does consist of mmm, yea, okay, and the ever favorite, silence. For this point, husbands may be better than pot-bellies.

  But what about affection? On the marriage scale, affection starts high and drops like the crystal ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Affection is a healthy part of most marriages.  It differs for every couple, and is not to be confused with intimacy. Affection is a touch, a hug, a kiss, a loving look, a hand-written note, flowers, cuddling on the couch, holding hands and thousands of other small, unexpected gestures that say “I love you to the moon and back”. Is affection important? According to research, it’s a real human need – more so for her than for him.  So how does a pot-belly compare? Pet pigs are affectionate animals. They love companionship and body closeness. Many pig owners actually allow their pig to share their bed maintaining that the pig is warm, cuddly and doesn’t hog the covers.  Sounds wonderful except that pigs can grow to an excess of 400 lbs. They might not hog the covers but if they roll over – yikes!

Remember your wedding day? Remember your vows? “Till dead do us part” is a traditional phrase sometimes used. It signifies that the couple intends to grow old together, spending the remainder of their lives with each other.  But what does growing old together really mean? It means each is committing to be with the other for the rest of their lives or 35 years, whichever comes first. 35 years? Did I mention that Jeff had ‘min 35’ inscribed in his wedding band? Being a second time around for both of us we decided to give it a trial run of 35 years.  Why 35? We figured, if it didn’t work, we’d still have enough life in us to find another. I kept the number in my head…he inscribed it in his ring. Every anniversary we laughed about how many years we had left on the impending ‘35’. When we celebrated our 35th anniversary we decided to extend the agreement. Jeff even suggested having a plus sign inscribed next to the ‘35’ in his ring. Smart man.

Like every couple, Jeff and I have had our ups and downs, our better and worse, our richer and poorer…God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll wait a long time for the’ death do us part’. Do I trade him in for a pot-belly? No, I’ll stick with him for another 35…but I’m keeping my options open.

Letter-writing

Recently I attended a meeting.  We were celebrating the conclusion of a yearlong community service project. As I waited for the meeting to begin, the Executive Director for the community organization our team worked with handed me an envelope with my name on the front. Never one to wait for anything, I tore it open and there was a thank you note. The feelings, sentiment, and thanks expressed were lovely, reminding me of just how important and appreciated our work had been.  I thanked her and re-read the note as she walked around the room searching for others on our team to give them their notes.

When she returned, I thanked her again and said the normal things, “Oh, it wasn’t necessary”, “You didn’t have to do this” and then I realized, I’m glad she did and I told her! At this point we both agreed that receiving a handwritten note carried with it a special feeling – one that tweeting, texting, and emailing cannot duplicate. We also agreed that letter-writing is a dying art. 

Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m a baby-boomer. I was raised to write a thank you note to anyone for anything, no matter how big or small. Even if the gift was handed to me and I thanked them on the spot, a handwritten note was required!

There’s something about receiving a handwritten note. From the moment you open your mailbox or pick up the mail from your slotted door and see that envelope addressed to you something happens. First thing I do is look at the return address and smile at seeing the sender’s name. As a kid, the first thing I did was slit open the envelope and turn it upside down, hoping something ‘green’ fell out. Now as a senior, the sentiment inside is worth so much more.

Over the years, I’ve saved many letters, cards, and notes, from family, friends, work acquaintances, and even former customers. I read them often…on birthdays, anniversaries, rainy days, when I’m feeling happy and when I’m feeling down. That’s when the magic happens – the person is there with me, even if just for a few minutes.

After my Dad died, I was tasked with going through his papers. I found notes he received and saved. The treasure for me was a note I sent him when I was nine. In the note, I told him that I was going to become a nun because I was never going to find a man like him to marry.  Well, I didn’t become a nun and the man I married is as special and good as my Dad.

Letters aren’t reserved just for those we know and love. A few years ago, my father-in-law, a WWII vet, participated in an event focused on honoring and celebrating vets. The organization that hosted the event is Honor Flight Network. (www.honorflight.org)

The bus tour included a visit to the WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, and Air Force memorials…all to the cheers of hundreds of volunteers and tourists. For Dad’s group, the day concluded with a dinner at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in D.C. During the bus ride to the retirement home, a special event took place…mail call! This was extremely important during WWII. The goal was to boost the morale of the soldiers overseas by getting mail from wives, mothers, sweet-hearts, children, and others letting them know that they were remembered and to keep them up to date on what was happening on the home front. The Honor Flight mail call consisted of handwritten letters from family, close friends, school children, and a local politician. EVERY vet received at least 1 letter. Dad received over 300! He was shocked both by the magnitude of cards and the sentiment, love, affection and sincere appreciation for the kindnesses he’d extended to so many over the years. In reality, Dad was reading what would be said of him at his memorial service. Recently he celebrated his 96th birthday and still reads those cards.

Do you know how one thing can cause a domino effect? Well, those cards did just that for me. It got me thinking about the people who inspired me in my lifetime. Many people, especially women, impacted, influenced and, unbeknownst to them, acted as role models. Do they know the impact they had on me? Probably not. So I decided to tell them – in a letter of appreciation. Over several weeks I wrote 20 letters to the women who helped me grow as a person, an individual and a business owner. What reaction did I expect? No idea. What reaction did I get? One that was totally overwhelming, heart-warming and humbling. Everyone responded and several have ‘passed it on’ by writing similar notes to those who inspired them. The power of letter-writing.

Is there someone who has made a difference in your life? Someone, you just want to tell how much you love them? If so, tell them in a handwritten note. It will enrich both of your lives and become a treasure.

Grudges

I was talking to a friend who was really upset. I asked her what was wrong and, for the next 10 minutes, she described a conversation she had with her mother-in-law. “She insinuated that I was selfish, self-centered and closed minded. Can you believe that?” I kept quiet as she continued describing, word for word, what she said and what her mother-in-law said. When she finally took a breath, I asked her how the relationship was with her mother-in-law and she said, “Oh, it’s great. That conversation happened when Bill and I were first married – 25 years ago”

As unbelievable or silly this might sound to you, if you’re like millions of people, you can remember an argument you had years ago – one that’s still bothering you. You can probably still recall what they said as well as what you said perhaps adding a few more zingers and remarks that left the person speechless and you feeling victorious.

True confession, I have a grudge…against a Sear’s salesperson. Frequently when I do a load of laundry, I give him a piece of my mind. Why? When we purchased the washer and dryer, the salesperson neglected to tell me that I could purchase the washer with the hinges on the opposite side so the washer and dryer doors opened away from each other making it easier to transfer clothes. How did I find out? The tech who installed the appliance asked me why I didn’t get the washer with the reversed hinges. “It would have made your life a lot easier” he said. That was 25 years ago! Why am I wasting my energy on something that happened so long ago? I have no idea. It’s not that reliving that sales transaction makes me feel any better and it certainly won’t change the hinges. The only thing it does is give me agita!

My husband Jeff isn’t an angel but when it comes to holding grudges his wings pop out and his halo shines. He limits his grudge time to no more than 15 minutes. He may pound his fist and raise his voice but then it’s over and he moves on. No matter what the situation or who’s involved, he forgives, forgets and lets it go. My ‘grudge time’ is 15 days! During this time, I’ll relive and, in my mind, act out whatever happened – to no avail. Nothing changes. I read once that holding a grudge is like owning a worn, ugly, itchy sweater you can’t get rid of. Why? Because it’s familiar and warm and, to some degree, makes you feel better. I use to have a lot of those sweaters, in many different colors but over time I’ve learned that thinking about old hurts and holding a grudge only hurts one person – me. So whether it’s maturity, exhaustion or divine intervention, I’m learning to forgive, forget and move on…life is just too short to hold a grudge. Good bye Mr. Sear’s man.

Growing Older

You’ve heard them, read them and, perhaps, have even said them – clichés about growing old. “Don’t regret getting older, it’s a privilege denied to many.” “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

These clichés are all well and good, but let’s face it, aging is not for the faint of heart. It can be so tough in fact, it should be considered for the Olympics! So, what exactly is considered old age? The poet Dante believed old age started at 45. A survey of the British public concluded old age starts at 59, most scientists and even the United Nation define it as any age after 60. The United Nations! Don’t they have more important things to concern themselves with than telling us we’re old!

There are many ways to grow old. The two most common are by your number or by your attitude. Of these two, by the number is probably the most common. We have all met people who are ‘old’ at 60, looking back on their lives with regret, sadness and full of would ofs, could ofs and should ofs. Those who look at age through the lens of their attitude, see it differently. Years ago, in a Time Management seminar I was conducting, an elderly gentleman shuffled into the classroom leaning heavily on his walker. He took a seat in the front row, arranged his notebook, settled in and smiled. I approached him, introduced myself and asked his goals for the session. He said, “I’m turning 93 soon and I want some tips to help me get more done with the time I have left.” Definitely a man aging by attitude. Another example is, Katherine, a family friend. Katherine and her husband John moved to CA fifty years ago to start a Christian college. The college grew and thrived enabling John to realize his dream before passing at the age of 91. Katherine continues running the school in between mentoring young students, going on mission trips and golfing. We visit whenever we go west and, this last visit, she expressed her disappointment that we couldn’t go zip-lining with her the next day. Katherine is 90. Painted on her large toenails are the words, ‘Live life’. That’s aging by attitude.
So, how do you age by attitude? By focusing on what you can do, not on what you can’t. Like the 84 year old gentleman who enrolled in first grade to learn how to read. Why? Because he wanted to read a book for the first time in his life before he died. Another great example is the 95 year old vet who is walking from Florida to California. He figures it will take him about five years. The first time he did it he was 90 and it took him 2 years. Asked why he’s doing it again, he replied, “I can either sit in my chair and do nothing or take a walk.” Aging by attitude

Which do you choose?

Getting Lost

My best friends are Roger Easton, Sr., Ivan Getting, and Bradford Parkinson and I’ve never met them. Why are they my BFFs? They are credited with inventing the GPS, an invention I value more than my microwave. You see, I have no sense of direction. Never had, and probably never will. Mileage markers, maps, and directional signs are Greek to me. Many, like my husband Jeff, can tell you how to get anywhere, even if they’ve only been there once…20 years ago!

It’s exasperating for both my husband Jeff and me. Jeff can’t understand why I don’t remember how to get to a place we’ve been to many times. He tries to make it easy by giving me general guidelines like north-to-south highways are odd-numbered, with lowest numbers in the east, and highest in the west; east-to-west highways are typically even-numbered, with the lowest numbers in the north, and highest in the south. HUH?

Being directionally challenged isn’t limited to driving. At a restaurant. I’ve been known to get lost returning to my table after using the restroom and, on occasion, spending too much time looking for my car in a parking lot. When shopping, I make sure to enter and exit through the same door taking note of what’s near that door. When I see my ‘markers’, I know I’m headed in the right direction. Parking on the streets of West Chester, Media, and Philadelphia pose a challenge and out of the question are parking garages and the Philly airport.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery. Is it medical? A lack of concentration? Genetic? That’s it – GENETIC! Another thing I can blame on my parents. I remembered a story about my Dad at his first Holy Communion. He was tasked with leading his classmates from the pew to the altar and was halfway out the back door before being stopped by Sister Mary-Don’t-Mess-With-Me. Okay, that was purposeful, not directional. My Mom knew Philly like a taxi driver and my Marine brother survived being dropped into a forest with a candy bar and a compass. If not them, maybe other family members.

At a family dinner, I asked “Who considers themselves directionally challenged?”, and thirteen hands went up. Male, female, older, younger – every hand. I shot an ‘I told you so’ look at my husband and breathed a sigh of relief. It was in my genes, not my head.

Everything has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages of being directionally challenged are well known. The advantages, though few, are important. Directionally challenged people are adventurous. Taking unexpected detours can result in finding places you never would have found if you weren’t lost. Into exercise? Getting lost while walking or running can add miles, therefore improving your health. The one I like best – being asked by a perfect stranger for directions, giving them and then watching the person drive off…on an adventure of their own.

Funerals

Funerals play an important role. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things that anyone will ever experience. Unexpected or the end of a prolonged illness, death leaves a void that is seldom filled and leaves us ‘different’.

Funerals give friends and relatives the opportunity to express the love and respect felt for the person who has passed and to show support for those left without them. Whether it’s solemn like a traditional memorial service or joyous as the dancing and music of a New Orleans jazz parade, funerals help begin the healing process.

Years ago, a friend was killed in a senseless and preventable car accident. She left behind a loving family and a business. At the funeral home, with hundreds of others, we stood for hours in a line that snaked from the church to the parking lot. People shed tears, shared stories and agreed that she was too young to die and her death a tragedy for her 5 and 8 year old children. While walking back to our car, I said to Jeff “I don’t ever want that. For my last hurrah on this earth, I want a theme party where everyone dresses in costumes.” He asked, “Like the Wizard of Oz?” I leaned over to kiss him but stopped short when he started singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead…” He was so close to being perfect.

Funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings for thousands of years. Providing an emotional outlet for all involved. This outlet comes in many forms – tears, stories and if fortunate, laughter.

My Dad died suddenly. Taken so quickly, none of us had time to prepare. He, however, was prepared, leaving a list of dos and don’ts. His requests included a ‘cheap’ casket, no viewing and a celebration with red wine, cheese, and crackers. He ended his list with, “do this, or I will haunt you.” Mom went along with the wine, cheese, and crackers but stopped short of his other wishes. As people spoke quietly with Mom and other family members, Pete, Dad’s friend of 60 years, came running in waving a Mass card in his hand. He handed it to Mom apologizing profusely for being late. He was paying his respects at an open casket in an adjoining room when he realized it wasn’t my Dad! Mom laughed as did everyone around her and she thanked Pete for providing some levity during such a tough time.

Life is for the living. After the loss of a loved one, life is different. At a Jewish funeral, a Kriah is performed. It’s the partial tearing of a cloth or ribbon symbolizing, though still whole, life is ‘different’ and continues. When something tragic happens or a loss is felt, our friend Stan says to his wife Adele, “Book it Dano” meaning, book a cruise and let’s live life while we can. Good advice Stan.

Family Recipes

If Cleopatra was the face that launched a thousand ships then “how did Grandmom make those breaded asparagus?” is the question that launched our family’s cookbook. I come from a long line of wonderful and imaginative cooks. A treasured recipe my great-grandmother brought with her to America was her biscotti. Her secret ingredient, we’re told, was red wine. Of course, my family put red wine in everything including my brother’s milk to stop his crying…it worked.

Why a cookbook? Family recipes are a way of keeping our ancestry alive. The smell of most foods can evoke vivid memories of our childhood and the family members who made them. Food itself can remind us of experiences helping us relive feelings of comfort and love. I remember having breakfast with my Aunt Kay at my Grandmother’s home. Her breakfast consisted of 2 pieces of toast, a cup of tea and a soft boiled egg. She would break open the shell with a knife, scoop out the egg leaving a little of the white inside the shells and give them to me. Comfort and love.

I contacted many relatives asking for their favorite recipes. Some included pictures and stories along with the recipe so I decided to use them here and there. One day as Jeff was looking through the mountain of pictures and stories he asked, “Where does this person fit into the family?” This is an example of insanity breeding insanity – I decided to include family trees! The labor of love began and nine months later, “Relatively Cooking” was born. I had 85 copies printed and sent them to family and friends. The response was overwhelming, but not what I thought it would be. You see, I was so excited to get the books in the mail I failed to have someone proof my work. The mistakes and typos were quickly and humorously called to my attention. My cousin Tony asked me if I considered him a ‘bastard’. “Why would I do that?”, I asked. His answer, in his family tree I had him born two years before his parents were married…and he was their second child! Oops. Another relative asked what type of organs should be used to make the Cranberry Relish. Organs? Oh, that’s supposed to be oranges. Oops. My brother asked what year our Dad passed. I replied 1991. I had him dying in 1987, 1989 and 1991. Oops. Finally, my Aunt Kay called in a panic! Her eggplant recipe was wrong. Not only was an essential ingredient left out but the baking temperature was too high and the time to bake it too long! I ended up sending a 3-page revision entitled “Don’t Make the Eggplant”.

Making, sharing and passing down recipes is a wonderful way to honor and immortalize family. The memories and emotions triggered by the aroma of a pot of ‘gravy’ simmering with garlic, onions and tomatoes or homemade bread or cookies just out of the oven have no rival. Sorry TV dinners.

Doing Something Special

The fabric of our lives is woven by many people. Whether family, friends or strangers, all leave their footprints on our hearts, our souls and in our thoughts. For the most part, we never realize, nor do they, the impact a word, a gesture or even a well-placed kick in the butt will have.


I was reminded of this by a good friend. Nancy and I met eight years ago when she started dating Stew. Stew, a business associate and friend for over thirty years is unique, intelligent and, at that time, on the lookout for ‘that special person’. He found her in Nancy. Equally intelligent and unique, she brought to their relationship balance, a beautiful spirit, sanity and an array of talents to include being a gourmet chef, a businesswoman, and an artist. At dinner, she told us a story that, for me, was awesome and an example of her ‘specialness’.
While riding a train to New York to visit art museums, Nancy and her artist friends noticed the conductor. A tall gentleman, with a warm smile, full head of dark head and a beard. He so resembled the postmaster painting by van Gogh that Nancy asked to take a picture with him. He chuckled at both taking a picture together and the idea of him resembling a van Gogh painting.


Later that evening, when showing Stew the picture, Nancy relived the brief encounter and thought I’ll paint his portrait! And that’s just what she did. After it was completed, the next step would be to give it to him. But how? She knew two things – his first name, Brian, from the badge he wore, and the train schedule from Philly to NY, at least for the day and time she took it. The detective kicked in. After many calls, explaining why she was trying to connect with a conductor named Brian, and that she wasn’t a stalker, she found an employee who knew both the conductor and his schedule. As fate would have it, his train would be at 30th Street Station within the next hour. Off she went, picture in hand, to meet the train and hoping she’d be able to find him. You see, the platform at 30th Street Station is a block long and the train stops for only two minutes to board and un-board passengers. The stars must have been aligned because Brian stepped off the train right where Nancy was standing. She gave him the portrait, took another photo and off he went. Nancy did something special and unexpected for a complete stranger. She has a wonderful memory and Brian has an original Gordon painting.


Opportunities to demonstrate our ‘specialness’ are all around us. Perhaps in this year, we should do something special, by our words or actions, for someone we know or a complete stranger. Who knows, maybe an ounce of ‘specialness’ will change the world.

Allegiances

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Recognize these words? If you grew up in the 50’s you probably started your school day repeating them. At St. Edmonds grammar school, every day for eight years we stood, faced the flag, placed our hands over our hearts and pledged our ‘allegiance’. We were taught the meaning of ‘allegiance’ but, I can guarantee you, none of us understood the real meaning of ‘allegiance’. That insight was gained as we grew and matured over the years living through events that would be our continuing history.

My Grandfather was an immigrant. He came to the U.S. from Italy. Why? Because his parents told him there was a better life across the ‘pond’, the woman he was pre-arranged to marry was there and, most important, they already purchased the ticket. Once processed through Ellis Island his life in America began. He became a high-end tailor at Louis Goldsmith Clothier, married, bought a home and raised three children. Life was good but, for him, something was missing. A connection to country. He had fond memories of his Italian roots but, after so many years, America was his country and he should be a citizen. After completing the application, establishing his eligibility, passing an English and civics test he stood proudly with twenty-four men and women of all races, nationalities and religions and pledged his allegiance to the Constitution of the country he had grown to love. One he now considered his home.

After Pop became a citizen, things changed. Being the head of the household, or so my Grandmother lead him to believe, he made two new house rules – only English was to be spoken and everyone, when asked their nationality, should answer “American-Italian.” He put America first because that’s the way it should be. Over the years, he wavered on speaking only English but always referred to himself as an American-Italian. “I will always be proud of my Italian heritage but I am an American. I live here, work here, have raised my family here and have pledged my allegiance. America is my country and I would give my life for her.”

I’m third generation American and like my Grandfather, I love this country. Being granted the rights of citizenship by birth, I didn’t fully and probably still don’t appreciate exactly what that means including the advantages, benefits and responsibilities. Living and traveling internationally gave me an idea of just how lucky I was to be an American and living in the best country – warts and all!

I think we should go back to pledging our allegiance every morning, before coffee, tea and juice. Perhaps then, before all the news about what’s wrong with this country filters into our day, we’ll appreciate what we have and help make her better. “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Christmas Traditions

Jeff and I had been dating for about a year and I thought it was time for him to meet my family and experience a traditional Italian Christmas Eve. I didn’t however, warn him about the Twilight Zone he was about to enter. However, I did give strict instructions to my family. No interrogation, no Rosanne stories and please don’t mention Uncle Guido or the cash hidden behind the wall at Grandmom’s. We’ll save those for his second visit.

Upon entering the house, Jeff asked “What is that”? “It’s our aluminum Christmas tree” I answered. That’s right, we had an aluminum tree proudly adorned with bubble lights and tinsel. My Dad called it the tree of the future – no fuss, no muss, saves time and money. Put it up, take it down and store it. He was right except for the year he jammed the branches in upside down making the tree look like an arrow spearing the carpet. It took Mom and me hours to reassemble.

Our celebration consisted of dinner, singing carols, and reading The Night Before Christmas. Jeff was amazed by the variety of seafood served. I was grateful he liked fish otherwise it could have been a long night for him and a short relationship for me. Fried smelts were his favorite. Smelts are small fish eaten whole – eyes and tails included. They’re delicious especially if they’re floured and fried so you don’t see the eyes.

After dessert, Mom put Perry Como on the turntable and handed out the sheet music. Everyone was singing off key and loudly when disaster struck. Uncle Tony’s false teeth flew out of his mouth and landed on Uncle Fred’s knee. We all laughed as Fred chased Tony screaming “You bit me”. These two brothers were the best people for such a happening. Uncle Tony was a shrewd self-made contractor. Once, to insure payment, he placed a sheet of glass halfway down a client’s chimney. When the home owner called raging that his house was filled with smoke, Tony ask for the payment, got it then dropped a brick down the chimney to break the glass. Uncle Fred was also successful having worked his way from the mail room to the C Suite at the largest bank in Philadelphia. As down to earth as Tony was, Fred was just the opposite and the perfect recipient of a bite by a set of false choppers. As a grand finale, one of my nine uncles – usually the one who could still stand and read by the end of the night, read the classic poem.

Jeff survived my family and learned how to use a spoon to twirl his spaghetti. He also came away with an appreciation for an aluminum tree and the importance of Italian Christmas Eve traditions. Do you have holiday traditions? Continue them, pass them on and hold them in your heart. This is the best present you can give or receive.