Category Archives: Humor

Grannie Sands, the Surviving Teapot and Sirens with your Supper

They always bombed at tea time.

Not the pass the cookies, pinky finger out thank you very much kinda tea; but the this is the real meal, pass the plate, wash your hands, elbows off the table,  kinda tea.

They always came together, the sirens with  the supper. It was as if Hitler didn’t want the English to ever have a hot meal.

Sirens sounded, chairs pushed away from the table, leave everything,  and remember to close the blackout curtains before you go.

Then with gas masks in hand, the family, the block, the entire city, would walk,  not run to their designated bomb shelters. Not easily rattled, those  English.

The children carried children sized gas masks in little boxes tied with string. Hand in hand, down they would go, each family to their assigned spot, each spot marked with a mattress propped against the wall. The mattresses were lowered onto the floor and they all sat and waited.

First they waited for it to start.

Then they waited for it to stop.

The all clear sounded, the mattresses were propped back onto the wall, and hand in hand they all emerged and went home.

Life went on in Liverpool.

Juxtapose  that with my house,  present day where life just  isn’t worth living if the cable, internet or electricity are out. All three would sign the beginning of the apocalypse. I shudder to think what would happen if everyone should be in the same room, at the same time, talking, and forced to have actual eye contact.

My father-in law, Griffy was one of those children, the ones with the little boxes tied with string.

The night his house blew up, the sirens went off but the supper wasn’t the only thing left behind.

That night, the last night in the house, Griffy was bedridden  and coughing and Grannie refused to go until the tea he had a cuppa tea to sooth his throat.

“We will be right behind you, ” she said as the rest of the family left for the shelter.

Grannie put the kettle on, and as she went to close the curtains, she saw her neighbor across the street writing  a letter at her kitchen table. Her boyfriend was away at war, and afterwards Grannie liked to imagined the young woman’s  last thoughts were filled with love.

The whistle of the kettle and the bombing were simultaneous.  Grannie Sands filled  the Brown Betty teapot with hot water and then collected Griffy from the bed.  Teapot in one hand and child over her shoulder Grannie Sands made for the shelter.

She  made it to the front door before Hitler landed a direct hit on the neighbors house across the street.

Griffy was blown into the alley and landed unharmed. He stood and ran to find Grannie Sands.

He found her in the street, sitting straight up, arms out, with her ass wedged into the street drain.

The teapot  still clutched in her hand.

and she hadn’t spilled a drop.

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Filed under Griff, Humor, Immigrant, Life, My Husband's Parents, Stories, True Life, World War II, Writing

The Night of Two Christmases and the Hassle of Hogmanay

I was 9 the night of two Christmases.

Not two, gotta go to both grandma’s house Christmases. Or two open presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Christmases.

Two Christmases, in one place on the very same night.

It was the clocks fault.

The mantel clock with the Westminster chimes  my Nana got as a wedding present.

It sat on her mantel, then on my mothers, and now it is on mine.

It was  hurry, hurry go to sleep.

‘Cause sleep was like magic.

Magic sleep  is the kid kinda sleep.

The kind when you close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, its morning.

Magic sleep won’t come with wishing or squeezing your eyes closed real tight.

Not tonight.

The sooner you sleep , the sooner it comes.

When you wake, it will be Christmas.

The magic isn’t working.

I am thinking about my stocking.

Stocking are Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Black Cherry and Tangerine.

Stockings are Loves Baby Soft, lavender soaps, licorice whips, Life Savers books, and the little rose flavored candies that come in a metal tin so pretty you can’t ever throw them away.

Stockings are new crayons, trace the outline first then fill in the color new coloring books.

They are new tooth brushes, socks and undies.

But mostly stockings are chocolate.

Chocolate only appeared three times a year in my house.

Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Solid chocolate Santa’s, in milk and white, gold coins and candy canes filled with M&M’s.

That was the American kind.

Then there was the other kind.

The British kind. Cadbury’s and  Fry’s Turkish Delight, Flakey Bars, Roses Assorted, and Black Magic. There was Terries All Gold with creamy orange or strawberry filling. The best part was, you could eat as much as you wanted. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, and chocolate for dinner. It doesn’t get any better, even now.

You could open no presents on fear of death before my mother woke up with her instamatic little light cube  flash camera.

Before parents were up,  presents were piled by recipient, mounded and counted always equal,  always.

But sorting piles and seeing stockings will not come, not until I sleep and wake.

Stop thinking about the chocolate, count things instead.

One minute my feet are seeking cold spots in the sheets and the next magic happens, and I am asleep.

Then it is jump out of bed, gotta be first, round the corner see the tree…

see the  stockings are slack and nothing is wrapped.

The clock, it says 6.  I skip a beat,  feel it stop.. sink a bit…. then start again.

I see  the yellow Caterpillar dump truck with the real shovel and bed that dumps, Baby Tender Love, Barbie dolls with the bendable knees, click click see her sit… a pile of books, crayons and coloring books, packages of undies, socks and toothbrushes…

I see and know.

Really know.

I  see then what my parents said, saw the lists and letters I wrote to Santa. The  folded letters I had thrown into the blazing fire…. that is how you reach Sanata..they said.

I see the letters  dissolve into ashes; they rise and fly up the chimney and across the world to Santa’s workshop.

Right.

No more would I wonder why Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents, why his writing looked like the notes I took to my teachers and why Santa always seem to know exactly what I wanted.

No more.

See the wrapping paper, tape and ribbon and  just start. Start to wrap.

I know but the others should not.

I wrap and guess who get’s what until there is nothing left sit back and see, the piles and packages of the first Christmas after, knowing.

The door opened, parents laughing, next door for a drink,  they laughed at my worry laughed and shoo-fly my tears, go to sleep, back to your room, back to bed, back…but I can’t really go back , not all the way.

The kids will be up soon I say, look to the clock, it no longer says 6, but 1230 instead.

The magic sleep comes quickly the second time around.

My second Christmas I do not bound,  I do not want to be- the- first- to- see just what is underneath the Christmas tree.

I have already seen.

My second Christmas, the packages are piled, and the stockings are full the others are laughing, and counting, and the chocolate is just a little less sweet.

Christmas is here Hogmanay yet to come. My father has the giant green Hefty bag at the ready for the boxes, the wrapping he tosses into the fireplace with glee.

Hogmanay.

The time to ready,  the time to clean,  the time when the house must be, what it will be for the coming year.

Every Scottish housewife knows, the house will be,  what ever it is when the New Year comes.

If it is dirty, dirty it will be.

If it is tidy at the New Year, then tidy it will be.

New Year. Hogmanay.

The way you end the year,  will tell you how you will be in the next.

The dressers are cleaned, the clothes folded, the trash taken out.

The laundry is done, and baskets are empty. The fridge is full, the rooms are cleaned, toilets scrubbed, closets cleared, and garbage out, and no stuffing anything under the bed.

The way you enter the New Year, is the way it will be.

Hogmanay meant cleaning, and hassle and hiding out till the work was done.

When the sun went down on New Years Eve, the feast began, the friends came, the scotch flowed, and Hogmanay really happened.

It was ceilidhs…Kailey’s… dancing and  laughter.

Hogmanay was meat pies, and dark-haired first footed strangers after midnight at your door.

The darker the hair the stranger, the better the luck.

A hold over from the days of unlucky light-haired Nordic Viking blondes who raped and pillaged; the darker the stranger the better the luck.

Mom always looked for a dark-haired man enter the door first after the New Year. First foot was not to be ignored.

It meant the best of luck, the best of things to come, even  now 40 years after the year of the two Christmases, and the clock who told the wrong time, I look for a dark-haired stranger to cross my threshold at the New year, and bring the best of things; it means the best is yet to come, in the New Year.

Slainte! (Slan-ja) To your Health,  all you dark- first- footed- strangers, imaginary or not.

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Filed under Children, Family, Humor, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Assembly Required

At the rehearsal dinner Griffith Lloyd stood and put spoon to a water-glass.

Griff then raised his glass and said, “I have a word of advice for the bride”.

The loud laughter quieted those gathered at the table looked up at the man standing at the head of the table,  and fell silent waiting for him to begin to speak.

“I have a word of advice for the Bride”,   he began again, “it was advice I was given myself many years ago upon the occasion of my marriage,”  He looks toward Hilda, his wife. 

Hilda doesn’t smile, a quiet woman, not prone to toasts or jokes, she is serious and she would have made a perfect poker player  if she approved of poker that is.

“Here we are all gathered to celebrate the upcoming event,  the night before my son marries,” he clears his throat.

All within ear shot have stopped what they are doing at the down town Chicago pub, waitresses pause, bartenders stop tending, other diners and drinkers watch waiting. It’s the accent I think,  a standing man with glass raised is a spectacle, but a standing working class man from Liverpool with a rather Beetles like accent tends to draw a crowd. He likes this, and with chest puffed, starts again, even louder this time.

“So this being the night before my son marries, I would like to give a piece of advice to the bride”

“There is something you must do,” he says looking right at me.

“I want you to get a jar,  a big jar, the bigger the better, something like a pickle jar.”

The entire pub is on the edge of their seats, thinking that a worldly  man of wisdom is speaking, and something learned will no doubt follow. I think a few people even put pen to paper.

” SO you have a jar, a big jar,”  He can’t fully  gesture as his Guinness would spill. 

 ” what you do next is very important, are you listening?”

I nod.

“I want you to put a penny in the jar every time you have sex for the first year of your marriage. One penny now, no more. But a single penny goes in the jar every time until your first anniversary.”

“And then after the first anniversary, every time you have sex, I want you to take a penny out….YOU’LL NEVER EMPTY THE JAR!” 

The pub exploded with loud back slapping beer spilling  laughter. 

Laughter and Griffith Lloyd reined that night.

Although I never officially had a jar, or placed pennies in it,  he was absolutely right.

There are no toasts anymore, and Hilda left us first.

He sits now, almost always sits. His breakfast, lunch and dinner are carried to the couch.

Through it all he remains seated, but always says, “Oh this looks tasty!”

He rises only when he has too, bathroom breaks, and when he shuffles off to bed.

The couch back and seat remain in his shape, a placeholder, empty until morning when his physical form fills the space and we begin again.

He is melting before my eyes, each smaller pair of pants eventually begin to gather and sag his limbs lost in the folds of fabric. 

His  undies, are the same. I have not seen undies this small since my son,  long now grown,  was in grade school.

It’s the Multiple System Atrophy, arguably part of Parkinson’s, arguably not.

I really don’t give a shit what you call it. I see what ever you call this,  in action. He is smaller and smaller each and every day, with less movement, shuffling steps, curved hunched over shoulders, and such dizziness upon standing and movement that he passes out.

Autonomic Dysfunction. Things that are supposed to work, breathing bladder, bowels, walking and blood pressure just don’t work anymore.

Friday night he stood in the kitchen drinking a glass of water, and his eyes rolled back into his head, and passed out. He was caught, and the glass taken away, and placed upon the floor, choking.

Yes, one can not swallow in the middle of being passed out.

 He regained consciousness and always embarrassed, never seeks an audience now, always says,  “I’m ok… I’m ok..”  he says.

But He isn’t, and he wont ever be again.

A while ago I noticed his small form  is no longer comfortable on the big downy couch, he folds pillows sticks them behind him, under legs and across his neck.

The box came before Fathers Day. Huge sitting on the front stoop, he sees it and says, “There is a box here for you  Mrs.”

“No…that box is for you.”

“Me!”

I open the double doors, slide the box inside, a picture is on the side, a chair is inside, a leather recliner in a european style that spins on a cherry wood base and has a separate foot rest,  all in wonderful toasted brown butter soft leather.

Assembly required.

“Its your Fathers day.”

I know he wants to put it together, I also know he really doesn’t have the energy anymore, nor the eye sight, or strength.

“Why don’t we wait for Gary?” I suggest.

“No, this is easy I’ve done this kinda chair before,” he replies.

Shit. I worry about his frustration, like giving a child a toy way beyond their ability, but he is not a child, he is a man I remind myself.

I know then my days plans have just been put on the back burner, he will not wait for Gary.

6 hours later the chair is together, we had to stop for breaks, lunch and snacks, and I tried to read the instructions in my best  non bitchy manner, but after the first three hours I took the instructions out of the clear wrapper and read them aloud to him.

“Oh I get it now!” he said.

It was done before Gary came home, and he was happily sitting and spinning, in the soft leather chair that fit him like a glove.

No longer does he need the pillows placed, no longer does he have the hanger pain across his shoulders from muscles worn out holding up his head, no longer, for now.

Like Captain Kirk, he sits front and center, his remote and tools at his right, newspaper crossword, eye glasses; spinning and traveling in his chair that fits like a glove.

For how much longer I can not say.

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Filed under care giving, Caregiver, Elder Care, Griff, Humor, Multiple System Atrophy, My Husband's Parents, Sandwich generation, Shy Drager Syndrome, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

Twilight

Twilight is ghost in the graveyard, red-light green-light, hide and seek  mother may I; twilight is magic after dinner time, when the darkness is not yet fallen, and parents sometimes say yes, but  “stay in the yard”. 

Twilight is almost dark, twilight is when childhood fear and play walk together for a little while. 

Laughter chases the scary away, hiding and jumping out, giggles give your hiding place away the always running, hot, fall onto the grass, drinking cool water from the hose,  come in before full dark time. 

Later in the dark,  alone, scary returns and the cool sheet pulled over your head will sometimes keep it away.

Sunlight is alley archeology; the pieces of  glass, crushed metal, empty paint cans, wooden planks and bottles our bounty,  our work for the day, scouring the rocky roads between the houses, behind the gates, behind the backyards were treasures abound.

Everything can be found here, everything is thrown out in the alley.

The alley is an  in-between place.  

Our bounty is large and important finds, each has a place, a usefulness and our mission is to get each treasure home, over the fence, and into the yard before anyone sees. The mission is everything. We can not fail.

 We have to check and see if she is watching.

She won’t let us bring our finds into the yard, she calls it junk and trash, and points, hands on hips, raises her brow, and orders our treasure left behind.

It can’t happen, if she sees all is lost.

 The youngest with her brown curls is usually sent in. Small, adorable and quick she darts to the door and peers inside.

She turns, gives the signal. The coast is clear.

She waves us in, and stands watch.

Mom is no where in sight.

We race to the hedge of giant oleander,  each slim branch is filled with poison flowers of pink and white, they are brushed aside, a dangerous petal curtain, hides what lays inside.

The oleander hedge towered at the back of the yard, the boughs reached high to the sky and then bend back, creating a  crawl space deep inside, invisible to anyone, it is the perfect fort.

We run like scampering insects, back and forth dragging the big wooden plank, the empty cans two at a time, we drag our fort furniture and set it all inside. We set the plank atop the cans and create a bench, we place the other cans around for more seats, we sweep the dry hasn’t seen rain in nine months dirt, sweep it clear of leaves and roly poly bugs, earwigs and twigs.

I tag the others for another mission, supplies from the kitchen.

It will be dangerous. She is in there, almost dinner time, chances are she is watching now.

Bravely they leave the fort, I watch from the bench.

I didn’t see them enter my yard.

The two boys from school.

I stood up and parted the petals.

“What do you want?” I ask, a little voice tells me to be brave, and a strange different feeling not scary is growing.

“Hey what’s in there Gardner?”

The enter the fort, the once big space now shrinks, I lean against the branches, they sit.

I feel better somehow they sitting, they are smaller now.

The tall one speaks, “He lost a bet” He shrugs his head toward the other shorter one.

I look at one then the other, not understanding.

“He lost a bet, and he has to kiss you”.

The noise from my heart flooded my ears, as he stood and made his move.

I was looking  at him,  his face, first while he was sitting, then as he was above me.

The tips of his eye lashes were lighter brown than the rest, and curled so much that when he laughed his  deep brown eyes disappeared into them.

 His breath was warm and he smiled as his face grew closer and closer, I noticed he didn’t show his teeth when he smiled, it was more like a grin…

I stood up then, seemed like the thing to do, a girl should have her first kiss with both feet on the ground.

I looked up and then with his head slightly turned his lips met mine.

Soft and warm, and salty. I opened my eyes and his were closed.

Whoops! Oh!  I guess you close your eyes. I closed mine again.

 Soft warm salty- then minty warm softness, and the rushing of my heart gave way to a feeling much more,  more inside, way way  deep inside.

Then just as thought I liked this, it was over.

He backed away, smiled, and they backed out of the fort,  hopped over the fence and were gone.

The two youngest called from their now abandoned mission to the kitchen,”Mom says come in for supper!”

I leave the fort, fingers on my lips, wondering if yoanyone could see it, if  the warmth was showing, wondering if it will stay forever.

Later at the dinner table I look around, my mother busy with serving the chicken, only she knows who gets what part of the chicken.

I watch as my father reads the paper, and wonder if they see my lips and face red and warm, will they notice anything different?

I sit at the table, fingers still feeling the warmth on my lips, milk is spilled, dinner is served eaten and dishes cleared.

No one sees, no one but me.

Its full on twilight outside, street lights starting to shine, ghost in the grave yard time,

 “Mom can we go outside?”

“stay in the yard please”

I place the kiss and the curl of his lashes inside where now I knew my parents didn’t see; an  inside,  in-between place, and I locked it away for a while and ran out to play.

I knew I can get it out again later. I knew it will be there forever. 

I knew there is time enough for kisses after the twilight fades.

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The Good Dishes, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Mom was Always Right

Gilded, hand painted, embossed with a pattern or plain, weightless in the hand, delicate to hold and durable despite their fragile looking nature,  fine bone English china cups were my mothers good dishes.

Hold them up to a light and see through them. Look  straight through the inside down to the bottom,  straight through the inside  hold it close to the light, and the shadow markings are seen. In the light the bottom of the fine bone china glows and it tells all it’s secrets. 

Move away from the light , and the  magic markings fade, the bottom looses its translucent  glowing nature, and the china cup becomes again, just a  smooth dainty vessel. 

My mother had different favorite cups, one for the morning  and one for the afternoon and the morning cup was never ever used for the afternoon coffee and vice versa.  Tea cups with saucers were for tea, and coffee cups were for coffee. Tea cups were wide-brimmed open flower like, and not very tall. Coffee cups were mugs, taller cylindrical shapes with larger handles for fingers to wrap inside and around thumb on top. Tea cup handles were more for show,  on a tea-cup handle one pinches between thumb and the first two fingers, never ever do you wrap your little fingers through a tea-cup handle, at least not after age 5,  it just isn’t done.

She was particular about her china, not just the make, only English Bone China, but the shape and the way the cup felt in her hand was of the utmost importance. “Too heavy” she would say as she held the possible purchase shifting it from hand to hand with a sigh. Too heavy was the most common complaint when it came to cups. There were others especially for coffee cups,  too wide a brim, too bowl like and the contents cooled to quickly. Like  a Scottish Goldy Locks and the porridge, chairs and beds, my mothers cup had to be just right.

The contents of the cup, even more so.

“Bill!  When in the creation of Christ have I ever had coffee this color?” a frequent complaint mother used to chastise my father for not being generous enough with the half and half.  He would dutifully retreat and add more cream, laughing usually, and returned only when it was the predetermined proper Helen Gardner  approved color.

This everyday occurence  we kids called “The Helen and Bill Show”.

The Helen and Bill Show,  like the Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote really didn’t have a strict antagonist/protagonist roles.

Like the cartoon, all of my parents shows followed the same predictable pattern.

Dad was sent out for product A, and no matter how specific the instructions, no matter how complete the list, no matter how accurate the map of Smitty’s Big Town, or even Fry’s Grocery, Dad always returned without product A. Whether it was the wrong brand, size or heaven forbid he came back empty-handed, Dad like Wile E. Coyote and his Acme products, could never win.

Wile E. had cliffs, and looks of doom as he waved goodbye in mid-air before the drop.

Dad didn’t have cliffs,  just waves of  angry words he would have to wade through, and  he always did,  and the show always ended with a

“Ah come on Ellie,” and then laughter,  a cuddle, an embrace and it was all forgotten, they never kept score. Never held a grudge.

If they had a cell phone in 1975, The Helen and Bill Show would never have aired in my house, I used to wish Dad had one, thinking  that it could have saved my dad a lot of trouble. Now I know it would have been a terrible loss, not witnessing all that loud loving conflict resolution The Helen and Bill Show Style. By resolution I mean of course…my mother was always right.

I have proof.

My first piece of evidence is this.

The day my sister Elaine moved out, (she who gave me my love from all things Tolkien) she unloaded a priceless pearl of wisdom so powerful so profound I am still in her debt.  As my sister packed her bag, I watched from the doorway. She turned to me and said, 

“Mom is always right”

“But Elaine, she isn’t! Just yesterday…”

“Mom is always right” she repeated slowly.

It only took about three more exchanges of similar content for the meaning of her words to finally sink in.

Ah… Mom is always right.

Even when she isn’t. Elaine was trying to save me years of knocking my head against the  solid ever standing stubborn wall that was my mother….. I so wish I would have listened…

My real proof came years later, after my mother died, and it came straight from my father.

Dad was up early the morning after mom died. I awoke to the sound of my childhood, the sound of a tinkling teaspoon spoon stirring round and round  in a coffee cup. Which was strange because five years earlier Dad had a series of strokes, and he lost the taste for coffee.

I rounded the corner, and sure enough, there was Dad, stirring his spoonful of sugar round and round in the Tasters Choice Instant brew.

“Dad what are you doing?  I thought you didn’t like the taste of coffee anymore?” I stuttered.

He took a long pause, and then put down the spoon, lifted the bone china cup and took a quick sip, before he answered,

 “No, your mother didn’t want me drinking it, she didn’t think it was good for me,”

For five years after his stroke, my father faithfully made my mother her coffee, twice a day,  in her cup of choice, stirring adding two sugars and the correct amount of half and half, and never made himself one. Not once.

That’s how I know it for sure, cause Dad didn’t have coffee for five years…Mom was always right.

Dad said so.

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Killing Cinderella

It was Mrs. Miller who first did it;  elementary school teacher, tall iconic American woman from my childhood who always wore perfectly coordinated outfits, shoes, purses, earrings, beaded necklaces and bangle bracelets.  If she was lemon, she was lemon from head to foot, it went the same for orange sherbert, grape, lime or cherry. Mrs. Miller didn’t dabble in complimentary colors, with her it was  full tone on tone, from head to toe, and usually the color of fruit.

Long before I had her as a teacher and long before I learned Mrs. Miller attended  something called a Women’s College in a far off magical land, somewhere called, back east,  she started it. It is all her fault,  and  I have no problem throwing her under the bus.

It was Mrs. Miller who planted the far-fetched idea in my thirsty and fertile imagination.

Mrs. Miller made me believe in Fairy Tales.

Ever the graceful child, I tripped while boarding the bus, and Mrs. Miller, the teacher on bus patrol duty grabbed my shoulders,  and my hand, steadying me, then gave my hand it a little squeeze, before letting it go. 

That’s when it happened.

Her perfectly matching manicured hand looked down at my chewed fingers and exclaimed,

“Prince Charming will take one look at these fingers and run the other way! You’ll never catch him if you don’t stop biting your nails!”

hey…wait a minute… prince charming is from a fairy tale…and fairy tales aren’t real…are they?

I climbed the steps onto the bus, headed straight for my seat in the almost back, the one right above the wheel, the one with the bump where I could put my feet flat on the floor and not have them dangle.

Being short always meant dangling feet, I still hate being reminded that my feet rarely hit the floor.

Prince Charming, I knew that guy.  From what I read he was kinda strange, riding around all day with a glass shoe looking for a girl who was right under his nose all the time, seemed kinda dense to me. Don’t even get me started on the glass slipper thing, just who would wear a glass shoe? I preferred Bilbo or Gandalf, flying dragons, swords and adventure, give me kids play’n hide and seek in a wardrobe and finding a new magic world, give me spiders named Charlotte who spins webs of  words and save Wilbur, give me wind funnel storms that carry away your enemies and your house and land you in Oz. Those were my stories.

My  stories were found the library bound editions, thicker, plain, in solid colors, with the titles embossed on the spine.  No pictures needed, a few little drawings were nice though, like the fancy letters that opened each chapter, or trees that started out bare and filled out full, a bird across the corner of all the pages, one you could flip between thumb and finger, faster and faster until it  flapped its wings and flew off the page.

My stories had thick cotton rag pages, ones that softened with each hand who turned the page, and had soft  uneven edges, as I sat and waited for my bus stop, my fingers rubbed across the whispery edges of my new library borrowed finds, and wondered…

Prince Charming?   Could it be possible?

My mother rolled her eyes after she read the titles of my new treasures and said, “When are you going to read real stories?”

Real stories were The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or The Bobbsey Twins.  Her real books didn’t have magic, or dragons, or girls who sprouted wings and flew out the window…real books were real people stories. 

I knew then that my mother had  lost her magic, her  believing, but I also knew Mrs. Miller still  had hers.

I wondered which way I would go, and if I would always believe.

I shrugged, grabbed the books and headed to my room, opened the window and made for the roof.

If fairy tales were real, there were going to be some much-needed changes; Charlotte never dies; Dorothy figures out about the ruby slippers, and chooses to wander through Oz, a Knight Errant, saving the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion anyway. Prince Charming is an idiot, and he is out. Cinderella grows a spine,  leaves her lazy step-mother and meets up with Bilbo and goes to Rivendell to meet the Elves. Once there she learns to put down her broom and shoot a bow, and never ever has to wear glass slippers again. 

Poor Cinderella, her feet must have been killing her.

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The Middle Aged Woman’s List; The Happy Father’s Day Ultimate Guide to Hot Guys

I can clearly remember the first time I had my hands on a man.

My father was building a deck on the back of our house, his friends were over helping; bare-chested, working guys who, like my father,  worked construction for a living.

I remember bringing them water, I remember them saying thank you, and I remember while they were sitting down, on my level at last, taking a break, I seized the opportunity, and  started giving out back rubs.

Ah…even at 4,  I knew a good thing when I saw it.

So in my 48th year, with 44 years of experience I am officially proclaiming myself  an expert at determining what makes  a guy hot and even more importantly, what doesn’t.

People Magazine has their list. Here is mine.

A Guy is Hot When:

1. He can’t walk past a pile of freshly washed towels dumped on the couch without  stopping,  folding them, and putting them away.

2. He knows how you take your coffee or tea, and it doesn’t take an act of Congress for him to use this information more than twice annually .

3. He keeps the seat is down; yes, that seat.

4. He knows a clean dishwasher should be emptied, and that dirty dishes do not belong in a sink.

5. He owns a Blackberry, calendar, or iPhone app and therefore is never caught off guard with your birthday or anniversary as they do seem to change every year.

6. He can walk past a mirror without looking at himself.

7. He doesn’t whine about his job; that is why it is called work, not play.

8. He is a self-starter; and takes the initiative  to go to the store when there is no milk, paper towel or toilet paper  and never  pretends not to notice  when they are out so that you have to go.(Or heaven forbid they use the last square and you are forced to sit for an hour and drip dry)

9. He is tall enough to get the bowls down from the top shelf for you, but doesn’t sing or hum the song,”Short people” every time he does so.

10. When he is your partner in most things, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here with you, laughs with you, cries with you, and most importantly, shows up, especially for the hard stuff.

Sorry People, keep your wash board abs, your slick,  knee buckling smile boys,  they just don’t rock my boat.

Give me instead a man who is present,  and holds my face in his hands when he kisses me.

Well that,  or Norm Abrams from This Old House and New Yankee workshop.

After all what is hotter than a guy  who can he can make furniture from a tree?

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Macaroni and Cheese, Measuring Spoons and Murder in 8th Grade Home Ec

The butter went in first.  It slides across the warm pan with a sizzle leaving a melted shiny trail in its wake.

Flour, the elbows, and the cheddar cheese;  tonight’s menu… my mother is making Macaroni and Cheese.  Always from scratch, bake in the smooth cheddar goodness, this is not a side dish, supper.  This is a  have some sliced tomatoes and bread with it, a  stand on its own full-blown entre.

It is still a  favorite.

There are no boxes, no mixes, no prepackaged quickie food items here.

I hop up on the orange formica counter top, bare feet dangling down above the bright game board patterned indoor outdoor carpet that covers the kitchen floor;  repeated checker boards, in deep dark brown,yellow, and orange, a way-too Brady Bunch Kitchen without any Alice.

My mother’s temper heated faster than her copper pots, the wooden spoon her go to tool of choice for reminding her five children just who was in charge.  I sit  just out of reach and watch her every move.  From my perch I watch the magic happen.

The butter pools and starts to bubble, she adds the flour, in equal measure, a roux. She stirs a constant -don’t let it burn stir,  a slow burping bubbling starts, time to add the milk; 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon flour, to 1 cup of milk, the constant and comforting ratio.

Stirring no stopping now, slowly slowly bring to an almost boil, just a single bubble is all the reassurance one needs that it is ready. Mom needs no bubble, her skilled eye sees the time is right when the basic cream sauce holds and slowly coats ever smoothly the back of the spoon when she lifts it out of the pan. Take it off the heat. Time to add the cheddar, stir the sauce, watch it turn from creamy white, to sharp cheddar soft orange. How much cheese?  Measuring is out,  a quick wipe of a finger across the back of the spoon, she does it by taste, knows when it’s just right, it is.

The big pot is almost at the boil, steam rises,  salt is poured in her hand, tossed in the pot, the boiling stops,  momentarily,  then begins again.  She pours the box of elbows in gives it a stir.

“Mom….?   How come we don’t have real measuring spoons?”

Real measuring spoons,  the ones I saw in Home Ec class.  The ones that the teacher, skinny pale-faced just graduated from college and is the same height as 13-year-old me, teacher said is a kitchen basic…whateverthatmeans.

“How many of you don’t have kitchen measuring spoons? Cups?” she asked in her monotone  voice.

My hands are glued to my side, we have no such items, but I not tell’n.  I’m already on thin ice in this class,  having taken too many passes with the sewing machine on my stuffed octopus pillow project. AND I didn’t follow directions,  didn’t leave a hole open on said seam so I could stuff said octopus with stuffing…AND  the final grade dropping straw, smirking and telling the teacher,

“That is not how my mother does it…” followed quickly by, “and she doesn’t use anything from a box”.

“Well your mother isn’t giving you a grade for this class is she?” the teacher barked back.

At first I thought this Home Ec teacher just didn’t understand. Hey,  this is me, I am one of the good ones,  I loved school, never missed, always did my homework, never late with a library book,  loved school. Griffith school  cafeteria with its big fluffy rolls and scoops of peanut butter and chocolate milk on Fridays, the fields where we played kickball, four square, ran track and hung out in the far corner, daring each other to leave school grounds by stepping through the opening in the chain link fence.  

Then I realized she just really didn’t like me. I blurted answers out, didn’t wait on being called on, and even when she did call on me, for some reason she always told me I was wrong.

“What does it mean when we say, clean as you go?”

The blurter in me jumps, “It means what you said, clean as you go, so wash the utensils as you use them, wash the bowls and whatever you used as your cake is baking, stuff like that…”

“Wrong.”

I don’t remember the answer that was correct, I remember thinking,  boy this bitch really can’t stand me…and having a really red face for the rest of the class.

So sorry… didn’t raise my hand, we don’t have any of those Tupperware pretty spoons, no metal neat and stack inside each other kind of cups either. We have regular spoons from the silverware drawer, and a teacup with roses on it instead; BUT  I need to pass this stupid class and graduate from 8th grade.

My mother put the spoon down and looks right at me, “I don’t need measuring spoons…I have this…” she holds up her hand.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Get a teaspoon from the drawer,” she instructs.

I hop off the counter, open the draw and get a spoon. Mom turns around grabs the salt, and pours it into her hand.

“This is exactly a teaspoon, ” she explains, holding out her hand with a tiny mound of salt on her palm.”Now give me the spoon.”

I hand Mom the spoon, standing closer, looking at her palm as she scoops up the salt which all fits with no room to spare on the spoon. It was exactly a teaspoon, no more no less.

“That is why we don’t have measuring spoons, we don’t need them,  and they are a waste of money.”

She turns, drains the elbows using the lid from the pot, and after giving them a big shake, pours them in the pan with the cheese sauce, stirs and then puts it all into a dish  and under the broiler.

The next day I enter Home Ec, pillow now properly stuffed and graded awaits retrieval from the table.  The note pinned to the octopus was full of comments, it held my grade and wonderful commentary on my sewing ability.

“Your stitches are too far apart, not enough seam allowance, and you made multiple passes with machine…D+.”

D+  a first for me,  the I love school straight A gal.  I sit stewing for the entire class.  I keep my eyes down staring at the lopsided octopus in my hands, face growing red, cheeks aflame with shame, for getting a D+. My mother sewed a lot of our clothes, she even sewed the dress I wore in our graduation picture, and wore to the dance. D+  my ass

The bell rings, I stay in my seat.  When the class was finally empty I look up at the teacher and say,

“I finished the project, completed it, and don’t deserve a D-…and for your information we don’t have any measuring spoons, or cups at my house…my mother says don’t need them…they are a waste of money.”

No reaction. Pasty face teacher has no reaction.

I look down and I have twisted the Octopus in my hands, I twist it more and give it a pull, a seam pops open, a weak spot;  Like Bill Bixby when he turns into the hulk, Lou Ferrigno,  I tear at the seam, rip it open, pull out the stuffing and I confess, I proceed to murder the Octopus right before the Home Ec teachers ever-widening eyes.

My mother retrieved me from the principles office. We drive home in silence, she pulled  into the drive way, places the car in park, and turns to me and in a quiet almost stunned voice said to me,

“..she tried to give me measuring spoons and cups.. Then asked me if it was true I never used mixes….I told her that a real cook doesn’t  need them, and mixes were not economical, actually they are a waste of money…she didn’t believe me.”

She looked at me then, she saw and understood. My face finally cooled, even sitting in a parked car, in the driveway, on an Arizona May. 

 “I spoke to Mr. Haggard, you are getting a C in Home Ec,  don’t lose your temper again, even if you are in the right, and even when the teacher is a complete idiot.”

Then we went in the house, and made some supper, without measuring spoons and cups, and mixes, and it was good.

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The She-Dragon, Minions of Oprah and Faces on FaceBook

Despite having warned my children, 13-10-3 at the time, that  a gruesome death was waiting for anyone who interrupted my bath; as in there had better be blood squirting from an open wound or don’t even think about it, don’t move your fannies from the couch and cartoons if you know what is good for you warning, they of course, did.

“Mom?” came the quivering query through the door.

“Is someone hurt or bleeding,  Zack ?” My son, then 10.

 He obviously drew the short straw and therefore had to face whatever terror lay beyond the knock on the locked bathroom door.

“No…but…”

“BUT WHAT…!”  I snort, steam flaring from each nostril,  thinking that now I know there is no blood and maiming,  soon, there will be.

“Someone is on the phone for you …”

“TAKE A MESSAGE!”  roared the fire-breathing scaley she-dragon creature from the tub.

“But Mom…they say they’re from the Oprah show..”

Oprah.

There you have it, the single magic word that saved my child from certain death, Oprah.

I jumped from the tub, wrapped in a towel, opened the door, conditioner stinging my eye and grabbed the phone.

“Hello?”

It’s true. It was a minion of the Oprah.

They had my letter, about the book,  Stones from the River, by Ursela Hegi.

Yes,  it was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection a while ago…ok ok  it was 1997 ok feel better?

Let me just say a mother’s memory  lives longer then a desert tortoise and if you could cut it open, the memory, not the tortoise, it would look something like the growth rings on a tree…mother memories are forever.

The minion had questions;

Why did you identify with the novel? ..yikes..I felt like I was standing naked in Postgraduate literature class without my assignment.  Wait… I am standing naked…conditioner streaming into my eyes….

Are you a “little person?” I almost said yes anything to get me an audience with THE Oprah.

Could I send a recent photo? I pondered slightly which decade photo to send as my most recent photo selection.

 All stop, here is where I get off .

A recent photo. Sorry can’t help you there. Like millions of other mothers of my generation I am the photo taker, the snapper, never the subject.  The few that have survived either have me in a breastfeeding not for public viewing moment, dish towel over the shoulder holiday meal cooking blur, or mid-pissed off snarl as a brave child has attempted to capture the she-dragon on film.

I did send a picture, wasn’t ever selected, and the children lived and grew and the she-dragon that snarled was eventually  defanged, fire extinguished, enrolled in work release program and was never heard from again.  Until recently that is…

Facebook unleashed the She-Dragon.

Specifically, the faces on Facebook.

Reconnecting with old friends perusing their pages and photos and walls has turned me into an Agatha Christy heroine.

I am a bad house guest snooping through “friends” virtual medicine cabinets, looking for a fix.

They look like that? I snarl,  totally obsessed with the beautiful head shot pics complete with lighting and lustrous  fan blown hair.

She-Dragon searches for a single frame of her own to post, but alas my pics just don’t compare.

So I snap a clean washed face in the photobooth app, and paste it for all to see, but it is not who I am.

I am found,  my virtual friends,  in the words and the writing, and the roar of the She-Dragon.

You’ll have to read to see this scaley scribbling creature ….

Can you see me now?

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Worshipping at the Altar of Giada the Goddess of Food

Cheese,  eggs, milk, butter, half and half,  bacon,  blueberries and walnuts are each mentally weighed and measured with a glance. Whole frozen organic chicken,  various deconstructed chicken parts, pork tenderloin, skirt steak, tilapia fillets, shrimp,  and Eskimo pies are noted. I keep opening the fridge and freezer and standing there staring, hoping that either inspiration or a fully cooked dinner for six is hidden inside.  After the third trip I realize it is not working, close the fridge door and look in the pantry.

Kashi cereal, Garofalo elbows, penne, fettuccine, risotto and refried beans stare back without comment.

Bubkes, zip, nada, I got nothing.  

After 27 years of marriage, three children,  two husbands, one live in father-in-law and roughly 9855 dinners cooked, the imagination and creative meal planning well has finally run dry.

Please feel free to check my math.  Thats 27 years x 365 days = 9855 dinners cooked.

What about eating out you say? Recalculating….one moment please…

Eating out, let’s be generous and say one meal a week, although there were years when that was a no-go. Two toddlers, high chairs and cleaning restaurant floors of their cast off,  non-eaten,  food debris wasn’t high on my list of things to do. But  I’ll give you 1 meal a week. Thats 52 weeks in a year, so 52 x 27  years = 1404 meals away from home or ordered in.

9855 dinners cooked – 1404 dinners delivered or eaten out = 8451 dinners cooked.

Oh wait! Weekends means lunches made too! Ok ok I can hear you whining already…. I’ll only count one weekend lunch a week.

1 weekend lunch  a week so… 52 x 27 years = 1404

Which brings us back to 9855…you follow?

Lets not forget the momma ain’t doing no dishes or cooking today,  days… -27 mothersdays,   and – 27 birthdays.

Current running total 9855- 27 birthdays= 9828- 27 mother’s days= 9801 meals.

Don’t even get me started on brown bag lunches packed, or hours shopped or heaven forbid dishes washed…despite the showing of my numerical acuity today, math is not my forte.

What about vacations, traveling, dinners at friends and relatives homes you say?

Feeling generous, I’ll throw in two years worth of dinners…Thats right lets just subtract 365 x 2 = 730 dinners.

Grand total 9801- 730 (the imaginary and generous two years off  dinner duty) = 9071 dinners served.

After over 9 thousand dinners, my well is dry, and standing  in front of an open fridge hoping the contents will start making themselves just ain’t work’n.

Time to go to the Goddess, the goddess of the Food Network.

Giada de Laurentiis the Goddess of Food.

Laptop open, address #1 on the favorites bar, she is always only a tiny click away.

Like an epicurean Genie, she appears a flash.  The miniscule white apron wrapped waist, effervescent smile, simple steps,  food that my family will actually eat,  this cooking icon never fails to inspire. 

She appears next to me in the kitchen we stand eye to eye, but lets just say the size similarities end there…

“I am out of ideas” I whisper head hung.

“Let me see what you have,” she opens the fridge.

She tosses me the goat cheese, bacon, and  frozen shrimp. She opens the pantry and brings out the organic penne.

” Is that fresh basil I see out in your patio?” the Goddess asks.

“Yes”

” Get some” she tells me.

30 minutes later I have a pasta dish and caprese salad at the ready for the hungry masses.

I turn to thank her for her help.

She has  disappeared.

Giada the Goddess of Food and Inspiration has gone, but I know she is always only a  simple single click away.

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