Category Archives: family

The Ultimate Fashionista – Not!

I guess you’d call be a victim of fashion. Or actually, a victim of no fashion. No fashion sense, at least.

I’ve always been this way. Being the second child, I always had hand-me-downs, which is probably why I never learned to pick out my own clothes. Also, my mother chose my clothes, which I was okay with until junior high, when I was mortified to see myself on videotape wearing saddle shoes and anklet socks. Quel faux pas!

It was at about that time that people started taking me in hand and trying to fix me up, sartorially at least. (Apparently, the other kind of fixing up was not even an option until I was properly decked out.) My first fashion consultant was a friend who told me that the main thing I should invest in was a pleated plaid skirt with a large gold safety pin. I did not, and thereby missed my chance to be stylish as well as cool.

When I did develop my own sense of style, it was based entirely around Banana Republic. Khaki and olive drab were my color palette. I lived for the day each month when the new catalog came out with all its exotic descriptions of the clothes and tidbits of travel writing.

Only once did I ever shop in an actual Banana Republic store, in La Jolla. I hyperventilated, which is something I ordinarily do only when shopping for amber jewelry. I made several purchases and used the leopard print wrapping paper as a background on my bulletin board at work. (A co-worker once brought me an empty Banana Republic bag as a gift. “Won’t she be offended?” someone asked her. “She’ll love it,” Marie replied.  And I did.)

Later I learned that Banana Republic had an outlet store about 45 miles from my house. Of course, I had to go. This was before outlet malls became a Thing. The BR outlet was in Erlanger, KY, a few miles from the Cincinnati airport (which is in Kentucky, for some reason). Keeping with either the travel theme or the airport theme, the outlet store was housed in a large, hangar-like warehouse, where I could make a proper expedition of shopping. I was crushed when BR stopped publishing their catalogs and again when they were bought out by The Gap. The outlet store was just no fun anymore.

Still, I wore my khaki and O.D., with occasional accents of camouflage. (This was also before camo became a Thing for anyone other than soldiers and hunters.) My mother, perhaps in atonement for all the hand-me-downs, sewed me spiffy camo vests and scarves. Once she even found some camo flannel and made me a floor-length granny-style camo nightgown, which I adored. (She also made me a forest green cape and Robin Hood hat, which I wore to my college archery classes. But I digress.)

Another friend took me in hand and tried to eliminate the jungle look from my wardrobe. She introduced me to colors outside the neutral spectrum and accompanied me on shopping trips where she picked out my clothes and dressed me up like a Barbie doll. Well, not like a Barbie, really. I didn’t have the figure for it and my feet aren’t permanently shaped for heels. At least I looked respectable enough for work and dressy enough for social occasions, which for some reason I hardly ever got invited to. She’s no longer able to go shopping with me but thoughtfully keeps me supplied with more hand-me-downs from her own extensive and colorful wardrobe.

Gradually, I developed enough color sense to boss my husband around. (“Hand me the teal jacket. No, the teal jacket! Not the navy blue! Lady, can you show him which is the teal jacket?” “Of course I can’t wear the knit sweater that I wore to the last business meeting. It’s long-sleeved and it’s August. Oh, and it’s not white; it’s cream. Which goes nicely with the coffee stain on it.”)

Now, of course, I’ve abandoned all attempts at fashion. I work at home in my pajamas and keep a year-round wardrobe of nightwear ranging from sleep shorts to men’s flannel pajamas. I buy them on sale out of season. This nabs me ridiculous designs (“Feline Sleepy” “Look Like a Lady, Shoot Like a Boss”) and nighties that look like hospital johnnies. But no one sees me anyway, so it hardly matters. My husband doesn’t complain. I think he’s afraid to.

And if I do have to go outside, I’ve developed my own special signature collection of clothing in my own style. I call it “Retro Boho Hobo,” and it suits me fine.

 

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Our Favorite Meal Kit Has Been Decided

A while back, I wrote a blog post (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-KI) about our experiences with various meal delivery services, the kind where you find a box of food left on your doorstep like an orphaned child. Then you bring it in, cook it, and eat it. (This is apparently turning into a Grimm’s fairy tale.)

Since then, we have had a couple more experiences with meal kits, so I thought I would update the post.

One of the meal services that we hadn’t tried was Freshly. Freshly differs from the other meal delivery kits in that, instead of sending you a bunch of ingredients, they send you already prepared meals for you to microwave. At first this seemed like something that would go with our low-maintenance cooking lifestyle, but then I realized that what we were getting was basically classier TV dinners.

Not that the meals involved Salisbury steak, mixed veg, and a blob of mashed potatoes, with possibly a square of apple un-crisp if you got the fancy kind. We had chicken tikka masala, mahi, and cod cakes as our week’s choices, and they all came out of the ‘wave hot and appealing-looking. They weren’t bad.

The only thing was, they were hard to modify (well, and the portion size was a bit small, too). The tikka masala, for example, we both thought could have used more spice. Of course, we could have sprinkled red pepper flakes on top (if we had any left over from the previous day’s delivery pizza). Or we could have doused it with any of the weird spice blends my husband is in the habit of bringing home from the store. What we couldn’t do, however, was add an ingredient into the sauce and let it mingle with all the other flavors until they decided to play nicely together.

In other words, the Freshly kits took away the cooking, but they also took away the cooking, if you see what I mean.

Then EveryPlate, one of the meal services I had tried before, lured me back with a special offer I couldn’t resist. Our first three meals were chicken fajitas with lime crema, pasta with sausage and squash ribbons, and pork schnitzel with cucumber/potato salad. This week we received honey-glazed pork chops with roasted broccoli, Cajun chicken sausage penne, and lemon-thyme chicken linguine. Next week we’re getting hoisin-glazed meatloaves with wasabi mashed potatoes, sausage-stuffed peppers with couscous, and harissa-roasted chickpea bowls with avocado dressing. (The three-week offer was one thing that made it so appealing.)

These are meals that we can adapt if we want to. For example, I may want to cut back on the amount of wasabi in the mashed potatoes because of my feelings about wasabi and because, since they’ll send it as a separate ingredient, I can. Likewise, we can use less salt than the (included) recipe recommends, as my husband is (supposed to be) on a heart-healthy diet and cutting down on salt is an easy change to make. (So are sensible portion sizes, which the delivery meals provide.)

The meals do require a bit of prep – chopping, peeling, dicing, stirring, creating squash ribbons (not a thing I do regularly). But oddly enough, that has proved to be one of the things that I like best about them. Since I’m no longer allowed to use sharp objects, my husband prepares the mise-en-place (as they say in cooking shows). I take care of tasks such as putting the potatoes or linguine on to boil or heating the oil to fry the schnitzel.

This has taken us back to a time in our lives when we used to cook together, which I often forget was an entertaining and joyful thing (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-kb). And the choices, while limited to eight per week, provide more variety than the old staples that we have fallen into making, like spaghetti, frittata, and cowboy beans (an invention of our own, from our early married days).

(Since I’ve taken EveryPlate up on their offer, they have let me send a free box of food to several friends. I’m curious to see if their reactions are similar to mine.)

All in all, this experience has moved EveryPlate into first place with me in what is thankfully not called The Great Meal Kit Race (not that I want to give Food Network any ideas). It’s also one of the least expensive services, so I might actually be able to afford it once this trial period ends. I’m hoping that the kits will actually save us money in the long run, since we won’t have to buy an entire jar of wasabi or six tomatoes when one is called for.

I had my doubts when I first heard about these meal kit delivery services, but I’m slowly becoming a convert.

Rearranging the Furniture in My Head

I knew a woman once who, when she was at business conventions and besieged by requests, saturated with meetings, and overwhelmed by the exhibit hall, stated that she had to retreat to her hotel room “to rearrange the furniture in my head.” I thought that was a great way to put it. We all have furniture in our heads and sometimes it’s necessary to place it in areas where we won’t trip over it and bruise ourselves. Or there may be more furniture than we need and we must jettison some of it.

Now, however, rearranging the furniture in my head has become more literal. I’m basically in the position of having to furnish an entire house, and indeed to be involved in planning the shapes as well as the contents of the rooms, since our house was destroyed by a natural disaster.

This is challenging. We loved our house the way it was, with only a couple of changes that we could envision making. We have an architect working on it and he’s made some pretty fine suggestions. He has told us that we can add amenities such as skylights and bay windows, plus making what had been a deck into a screened porch or “catio.” We’re also willing to trade some storage space to have a larger downstairs bathroom. But even if we left the floor plan basically the way it was, there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

It’s the furniture that has me puzzled. All our life, our house has been decorated in what my parents liked to call “Early Married Junk.” (We’ve been married for more than 30 years and that’s still our decor.) Now, having to pick out things that actually go together is stressing me out.

Choosing color schemes is no picnic, for example. We barely had a color scheme for our wedding, starting with off-white so the guests wouldn’t snicker. This was in the days before weddings had themes or groom’s cakes or favors for the guests or designer cocktails. We had a cake decorated in our colors and called it a wedding day.

But now it seems that every room must have a color scheme and a “look.” Boho? Country? Modern? Classic? Retro? Anything but ’50s, no matter what my husband says.

Saying goodbye to our original kitchen decor will not be a hardship. The house was designed in the ’70s and the kitchen was done in orange. Countertops so orange you could lose a pumpkin if you placed it on one of the surfaces. Psychedelic patterned indoor-outdoor orange carpeting that caused hallucinations if you stared at too long. I don’t know what we’ll settle on, but that’s not it. Generally speaking, I think carpeting in the kitchen is a Bad Idea, psychedelic orange or not. Linoleum, tile, press-n-stick “wood” – nearly anything else.

Once I tried to decorate a bedroom. I was going for a travel theme with bright, yellow-gold walls and our assorted souvenirs as accents, with jungle print or brown, rust, and gold bedding. I managed to talk my husband into light oak for the bed, but couldn’t convince him to ditch his cherry chest-on-chest. It was an antique, but also a dark, hulking presence against one wall. We had compromised on each of us decorating one half of the room’s edges. My half had a rattan teacart and etagère. His had classical paintings of naked nymphs, plus brooding African masks that seemed to follow your every move. Admittedly, they did complement the travel theme, but they were still unnerving.

Now we will have a master bedroom, two baths, two studies, a great room, and a kitchen/dinette to deal with. By the time the house is built, I may just decorate every room with padded walls. Until we actually have rooms to put things in, I’ll keep browsing decorating websites and rearranging the furniture-to-be in my head.

Who’s Useless?

I saw a meme the other day that defined the laundry cycle as wash, 45 min.; dry, 60 minutes; fold and put away, 7-10 business days. That would be optimistic for me and my husband. We are useless people.

We started calling ourselves that when we were so exhausted at the end of the day that we were physically and emotionally unable to cook. So we turned to what we called “Useless People Meals” – ones that come in a box or bag or tray and only need to be microwaved. We eat them in the trays they come in or share them out of a single bowl since we are also too useless to wash many dishes. Paper towels are our napkins, and I’m sorry to report that we have been known on occasion to use paper plates and plastic cutlery. At least the plates are biodegradable.

We took another step towards uselessness when we found the perfect furniture for us – a coffee table that magically rises upward to become a dining table and an end table that swings out over the sofa to make a tray. With these in place, we can happily watch TV while we eat. (We still have meaningful conversations, mostly over who will be the next chef to be Chopped. But I digress.)

As noted above, laundry is another place to practice uselessness. All our clothing is wash-and-wear. We don’t even own an iron (or if we do, I have no idea where it’s gotten itself off to). If we ever do find the iron and would actually need to iron something, we’d have to lay it on the coffee table, which would also magically transform into an ironing board. Much easier just to toss a garment in the dryer with a dryer sheet or a damp washcloth.

I admit we’re useless. We want to skate through life doing as little physical labor as possible. And there are a lot of products designed to make life easier for people like us. The meal kits that are so popular nowadays are not for completely useless people. Some of them require actual chopping and cooking. The most recent one we tried, though, had ready-prepped meals that were microwaveable. And since we didn’t know what any of the delivery meals would taste like when we ordered them, there was something to be said for not spending much time preparing them.

But there are those who mock and deride what they see as completely useless practices, gizmos, and packaging.

They are wrong. My husband and I may be slackers, but some inventions actually make life easier for people with disabilities, who are not useless but merely incapacitated in some way. Imagine a person with rheumatoid arthritis trying to shell an egg or peel an orange and suddenly those egg-cooking gizmos and individually wrapped, already-peeled oranges in vending machines make sense. It is ableist privilege that makes people view such innovations as useless.

Even some of what my husband and I think of as for the useless would actually be great for people who are handicapped. Our “useless people coffee table” makes perfect sense if you think of someone who uses a wheelchair. And our “useless people” heat-and-eat meals are dandy for people who do not have the physical stamina to stand at a counter or a stove, chopping, mixing, stirring, straining, and all the other steps that are needed for a simple plate of spaghetti.

So we’re right to call ourselves useless people, but wrong to call our time- and step-saving practices and devices useless. The tools themselves are immensely useful and many people who use them, unlike us, are not useless at all. More and more, as the Baby Boomers age and we face illness and mobility issues, we will need to use those sock-puller-uppers and canes that stand by themselves and grippers to reach the stuff on the high shelves or on the ground. Whatever the need, it seems some clever soul has come up with a fix or a work-around.

I guess what I mean is that my husband and I are useless because we take advantage of these helpful tools just because we don’t want to do the work. There are those who use them because they need to and we will likely join them someday. At least we’ll have the tools already in place.

Cat TV and Other Amenities

Moving is always a challenge. Moving with cats doubly so. Yet, we have accomplished it thrice in a month. And all of us, feline and human, survived. Not necessarily happily, but we survived. The cats were the least happy of all and we tried our best to remedy that situation.

When our house was destroyed by a tornado, at first the cats had to remain in the shell of the house, as we were unable to get them out until the way to our front door was cleared of some of the fallen trees and other debris. (There was a crap-ton of debris.) We made journeys through the wreckage every day to bring them food and water until we were finally able to stuff them in pet carriers and rescue them. They did not appreciate the abrupt transition.

They went from chaos to indignity. The motel we were staying at did not allow pets, so they boarded at the vet, where they were looked after, given shots and medication, and the occasional pets and skritchies any time a worker came through the door. It was better, but still not ideal. From a home to an entire wrecked house to roam in, they saw their environs shrink to cages.

The next hotel we stayed at was pet-friendly, though they were dubious about cats. As they began to waffle (“I dunno…”) I whipped out the paper they had made me sign. With my patented wide-eyed, innocent look, I pointed to the place on the form that specified dogs, cats, birds, and fish as being welcome, though subject to a surcharge in case of damages. (Try and tell me they wouldn’t take cats! We saw mostly dogs around the hotel, though I suppose birds and fish might have escaped our notice.)

We humans suddenly had amenities we had been missing – a huge TV, kitchenette and its accouterments, a laundry on the third floor. But for the cats, there was little in the way of normalcy or entertainment. We bought them scratching pads, which were moderately successful in keeping them from damaging the furniture. My husband put small potted plants on the windowsill where they could knock them off while admiring the fifth-floor view. And they loved the bed, where they took up residence. But all in all, there wasn’t much for an active cat to do.

At last we moved to a rental house nearby. Suddenly the cats had, if not what they had at our original house, a fair facsimile. The first thing my husband bought for the new place was a bird feeder, which he positioned squarely in front of the living room windows. Voilà! Cat TV and an opportunity to play “I wanna bite the birdie.”

Then Dushenka and Toby started exploring the house, busy-nosing and pussy-footing everywhere until they determined their favorite spots to crash. One was the multi-level cat tree, placed thoughtfully within viewing range of the all-bird channel. The other, of course, was our bed.

We knew the cats felt at home when Dushenka was brave enough to go walkabout. Scooting out a poorly guarded door, she led us all around the neighborhood, inspecting people’s yards, and cars, and gardens, as well as a stand of thick brush and fir trees that we humans couldn’t penetrate. We tried tempting her with food and water, to no avail.

Finally, we gave up. We were exhausted and decided to go home and make Wanted posters. As soon as we headed back to the house, there she was, following Dan trot-trot-trot down the street and into the house, since the game was clearly over. We told her she was a naughty girl and in disgrace, which she completely ignored.

Moving so many times within such a short period, a matter of weeks, was hard on us, but we tried our best to make it easier for the kitties. After all, their comfort was the most important. Just ask them.

 

Retirement and Reality

I officially retired last year, when my birthday hit the federal standards, and I’m here to tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The commercials on investment – sorry, “wealth management” – would have you believe that retirement means a lot of opening your dream business, building your own Wright flyer, and washing elephants in Africa. (Or maybe India. I didn’t get a close look at the elephant’s ears. But I digress.)

What I’ve found is that in retirement, not much has changed for me. Oh, I get a modest infusion of cash every month via Social Security, which is certainly more than welcome. But I haven’t been able to quit my job. It’s freelance – not the sort of job that boasts retirement benefits. And the 401k from when I did have a job like that is long gone, eaten up by a voracious spell of unemployment owing to health problems.

What this all means is that life before and after retirement are markedly similar. I still work that part-time freelance job (which is not, thank God, over the limit for what a person on SS is allowed to earn). I still have to forego foreign travel. I take surveys to earn enough points for dinner at a nice place (within a very limited definition of a nice place). At the end of the month, I doubt my decisions on how many cable channels are enough. I have to buy my wine at Aldi.

Of course, there are benefits. The federal government sees to that (so far). That deposit that appears sporadically between the 9th and the 16th of the month (don’t ask me why) makes a huge difference in my lifestyle and my nerve endings. I am indeed grateful that I do not (yet) qualify for SNAP benefits as well. I am able to pursue my hobbies of yelling at whippersnappers and waving my cane at them.

I know it’s idiotic to use television and as a standard of what life will be like, but I can’t help looking at all the TV shows and commercials. Retired people romp with their grandkids and even babysit them (I don’t have any grandkids and likely wouldn’t babysit them if I did). They play golf, a “sport” I detest. They invest. They have fulfilling sex lives. Their dentures fit. (I don’t have dentures, but it’s the idea of the thing that’s important here.)

Of course, I wouldn’t know what to do with that sort of retirement if I had it. Work has become a habit after these many years and, though I’m sure I wouldn’t miss not doing it, it provides a sense of purpose and familiarity. I traveled when I was younger and could get around without a rent-boy to carry my luggage. There are still places I would like to see, but the places I have been were pretty amazing. If I had the choice to save that money (and I suppose I did), I wouldn’t. Perhaps when and if my memories grow dim, the sights I’ve seen will become distant blurs. But having had the experiences is something that I treasure.

And really, I am blessed, even in this not-quite-idyllic retirement. I still have my husband and we have our cats. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We have friends and family and an assortment of other things that, as they say, money can’t buy. I know that not every person of my age and state of life can say the same. (And there is something wrong with a system that lets that happen.)

So, even if I don’t have the golden-sunset vision of retirement, I am largely satisfied with what I do have. Someone else will just have to wash those elephants’ ears. I’ll make do with the kind they have at the local bakery.

 

Blown Away

Here’s the thing. It didn’t sound like a freight train to me. I was on the second floor, in bed, when the tornado hit. I remember the crash of the lightning and the bangs, like bombs going off as the trees in our wooded area exploded. Then half the roof came off. I was caught in a blizzard of insulation and dirt. I put my pillow over my head and hoped for the best.

When the wind died down, I got up and took a look around. In the hallway, a bookcase had fallen over and I was trapped upstairs. My husband was at work and I had no idea where the cats were. My cell phone worked, so I called Dan and let him know about the roof and all.

He left work and headed straight for the house despite the branches and debris in the road, driving over people’s lawns to avoid downed trees. He made it to within about a half mile of the house before he was halted by downed power lines. It took him another hour, in the dark and with no landmarks left, to get to the house. But he made it He came for me. Together we waited amid the piles of insulation for rescue.

Help arrived in the form of fire/police/medics, who yelled at us to grab our medications and come with them. It was a mandatory evacuation – not that we wanted to stay put – and they guided us step by step through the obstacle course of trees, branches, wires, roofing, shingles, boards, and other debris till we got to an ambulance.

Neither of us was hurt, so were taken to a local shopping center where we were given water and loaded on a bus for the Red Cross shelter in the gymnasium at the First Baptist Church. It was about 4:00 a.m., but there was food and there were cots. People kept arriving – mostly not tornado victims, but people bringing enormous amounts of food and water. Soon a hot breakfast was ready.

And then, miracle of miracles, we got hot showers. And clean clothes. The helpers even bought us packages of clean underwear and a glucose meter for Dan. They brought him shoes, as he was wearing bedroom slippers when we were evacuated. Food and water and volunteers kept coming, handing out bags of toiletries, and big bags of nonperishable foods when we left.

We stayed only a few hours at the shelter, as we had dear friends, Robbin and Stu, who staked us to a motel room. There was one with a vacancy only a few miles from our house. It’s funny how those tornadoes skip around.

Since then, we’ve been working the phones, getting in touch with our insurance providers (Farmers, by the way, who have helped in every conceivable way. We’ve been back to the house, which is a total loss and keeps deteriorating with the rain and other stresses. I would have guessed that the stresses would have gotten to us, too, but we are taking things slowly, one phone call or errand at a time. We’ve rescued our cats, who are now boarding at the vet, and a few clothes and other things. (There’s a laundromat right down the road.)

I am blogging this from the computer in the lobby of the motel. In a couple of days we will move to a residence hotel that is pet-friendly so we can have our little family all back together. Insurance is picking that up too, and the pet boarding as well.

We have experienced nothing but kindness and understanding from the people around us. Family, friends, and total strangers are all doing what they can. People along the roadside offering free food, free water, and free hugs. Ministers of various denominations have been through the area, dispensing bottled water and prayer. Burly young men with chain saws have begun clearing paths to people’s houses, though it will likely be a week or two till we get full access to ours.

We are mostly numb right now, carrying on with all that still needs to be done, one thing at a time. Sometime in the near future, when things have settled down a bit, I expect the emotions will catch up with us and we’ll have a bit of a breakdown.

But for now, we are working together and thinking about how to rebuild our lives and eventually our house, our home.

The Needlework Gene

My mother used to make me dresses out of flour sacks. No, we weren’t sharecroppers, although one of my great-uncles was. Back in the day, flour sacks were printed with calico patterns just so people could use them for clothing. It may have started back in the Depression, but it lasted well into my childhood. Later in life, when I was a teen, my mother found a bolt of cloth in the fabric store that was printed with a design that looked exactly like a feed sack. Of course, I insisted that she make me a tunic with the company logo featured prominently as a call-back to my childhood garb.

The gene for needlework may have been passed down through my family. My maternal grandmother was a knitter. She made sweaters for everyone in the family and sewed a little tag into each of them saying “Made Especially for You by Grandma Rose.” She could even knit a sweater from a crochet pattern, which if you know anything about needlework, is quite a feat.

My mother, of course, was a seamstress. She made a lot of clothes for me and my sister, including lots of calico shirts when the cosmic cowboy craze was on in the ’70s. She was prone to whimsy, as you probably guessed from the flour sack story. Once when she found some camouflage-print flannel, she made me my favorite floor-length nightgown (I had ones in yellow and blue) from it. One year at Halloween she even made me a nightcap to go with it. I powdered my hair and went to the party as “Rambo’s Granny,” a joke that no one seemed to get. Another time she made me a forest green wool cape and matching Robin Hood hat, which I wore to my college archery class. (The teacher just rolled her eyes and said nothing.) But most of the time she stuck to doll clothes and dresses and the like.

Later in life, my mother took up crocheting. She collected crochet pattern magazines and even acquired some foreign crocheting pen pals from the classified page. They exchanged handmade Christmas ornaments (crocheted snowflakes “starched” with Elmer’s glue were a favorite) and my mother sent needlecraft supplies that her correspondents couldn’t find in India or the Dominican Republic. Of course, we all got homemade Christmas sweaters that I would never dare call ugly, though my husband got one with a large moose on it.

I thought that perhaps the needlepoint gene had skipped a generation. I sewed a skirt and vest when I was forced to in junior high home ec, but my crafty efforts were more usually paint-by-numbers or wood-burning or ceramics. Then I discovered latch-hooked rugs, which involves short strands of yarn and a device that looks like it was designed to be used on high-button shoes. I still have on the sofa a small pillow that I latch-hooked and somewhere there’s a planet-scape rug that I hooked. This may have been a different manifestation of the needlework gene, as my maternal grandfather braided rugs in his time.

Hooked rugs quickly became passé. I’ve noticed that needlework crafts tend to come in waves like that. So next I took up needlepoint, then bargello, and eventually found my métier in counted cross-stitch. This provided the illusion of sewing without the need to actually sew anything. Instead one followed a pattern of wee Xs in different-colored thread (called floss) to make a picture. The cloth was full of tiny, regularly spaced holes to make the Xs in. It took less skill than embroidery and produced works that were easier to give away than hooked rugs. My mother-in-law still has a set of red-and-blue quilt-patterned pillows that I made for her.

Now, however, my eyesight continues to grow poorer and my hands to shake more with each passing year, so I’ve had to give up cross-stitch. Despite the fact that my mother continued to crochet dolls and stuffed animals for her church’s Christmas bazaar while her eyes were failing, I still don’t crochet. I can never get the tension right although there’s lots of it my life. And since I don’t have kids, the needlework gene ends here.

Still, I haven’t lost my interest in the needle arts. Just start doing petit-point or quilting near me and I’ll be looking over your shoulder.

 

Long-Distance Love Can Work

We met under the most unlikely of circumstances: in front of the food tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Dan was from the Philly area, but I was living in Ithaca, NY, and scheduled to relocate to Ohio within two weeks. Unlikely as it may seem, we fell in love.

Not right away, you understand. It took us at least the two weeks that intervened before I moved. I invited Dan to a house party in Ithaca. He drove all the way there to see me despite having spent only the long weekend of the Festival with me. At the party we were inseparable. By the time I left for Ohio, we were in love.

No one figured that we had a chance to make it work. Long-distance relationships never succeed, especially those that start with such a brief acquaintance. But no one had considered the stubbornness of either him or me.

At first, things went about as you’d expect. I rented a four-room apartment in a small house in Ohio and Dan continued to live with his parents and work at a nearby hospital. We resolved to keep in touch.

This was in the days before texting, IMs, and the Internet existed, so we kept in touch via actual physical letters. In those letters we opened up to each other, getting to know each other’s most personal feelings the way we never could have just by dating. I typed my letters on my brand-new portable electric typewriter. Dan wrote his longhand in the breakroom at his job. Since he worked third shift, his letters often became long, funny, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness rambles created in the wee hours of the morning. There’s nothing like stream-of-consciousness for getting inside someone’s head and learning all about him.

Neither one of us had much money for phone calls or visits, but we managed to work in some of each. And in the February after our August meeting, I was startled to receive flowers, the first Valentine’s Day bouquet that anyone had ever sent me. I took a Polaroid picture of them, which I still have.

As the months went on and our letters became more infused with growing love, we began to talk about the possibility of actually living in the same state. I went back to college and settled in to wait. I figured Dan would eventually get tired of living with his parents and make the move.

And so he did, arriving in an orange Pontiac Ventura with a U-Haul trailer of his belongings. He found a small apartment just down the street and around the corner from mine, and we began getting to know each other in person and seriously planning our lives together. At last he proposed and I said yes.

It wasn’t all smooth and steady, of course. We were both young and had problems we hadn’t worked out. Some of mine involved the bad relationship I was in when we met. Some of his involved his family, who didn’t want to see their son settle so far from the family home as his brother had. Both of us had emotional baggage that seemed as though it might drive us apart.

That’s where the stubbornness came in. After all the time apart, the soul-baring letters, and then the luxury of living within walking distance of each other, we were determined to make this relationship work. We worked on our problems, separately and together, until we achieved liveable compromises with our pasts.

Now, 35+ years later, we are still together. Not that we have been solidly joined and happy the entire time. I remember at least once when I called around looking for an apartment that would take a woman with two cats. He once worked on a budget to see if he could live on just his own salary. We fought. We sought counseling. We made it through.

I can’t advise that anyone begin a long-distance relationship. More often than not, they don’t work. But when they do, it’s magical.

New Year’s: A Kiss, a Clink, and a Shaky Wallet

There are plenty of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day customs out there. A lot of the traditions don’t work for us. Over the years, we’ve kept a few but mostly arrived at our own.

One superstition says not to let anything leave the house on New Year’s Day, except for people. Evidently, this means one should take one’s garbage out on New Year’s Eve.  Now, I don’t know about you, but we can’t leave our trash just sitting out. We live in a wooded area and the possums and raccoons are more than capable of ripping open the bags and festively decorating the cul-de-sac with the contents. On the other hand, there’s also a superstition about avoiding paying bills on the holiday, which would be much easier and more pleasant for us to carry out but would mightily piss off our mortgage company.

And forget football and parades. We spend the entire football season as well as the parade season avoiding them religiously. I don’t really mind the giant balloons and the floats made of flowers, but if I hear one more pop song played on tubas, my head will explode. Forget Polar Bear Plunges too. All my Christmas gifts this year were things designed to keep every part of my body warm.

As far as celebrating New Year’s Eve goes, one of our celebrations has been to have a celebration at all. When my friends and I were all 18, my family invited one particularly close friend over to spend the evening with us for pink champagne, snacks, music, and general frivolity. She enjoyed herself so much that she gave up her previous New Year’s Eve ritual, which was babysitting for more fun-loving couples.

The same friend also gave us another memorable New Year’s Eve when she acquired a boyfriend. None of us had ever met him and we didn’t know how serious it was. Midnight at the party was an exercise in yoga. My husband and I had to kiss and clink our glasses at midnight while craning our necks trying to locate the new couple in the crowd and peek to see if they shared a kiss and if so, what kind. (Happy ending alert: After a few years they married.)

Another of our friends liked to share her own personal tradition with us. A small group gathered at her house to polish off her leftover Christmas cookies. Then we adjourned to her porch at midnight, where we serenaded the neighborhood with “Oh, Danny Boy.” I never did figure out what she had against “Auld Lang Syne.” Most likely, neither did the neighbors.

In the years that have gone by, my New Year’s Eves have gotten less and less festive. I just can’t stay awake that long. And my husband works third shift, so he’s not home at midnight. I generally sit at home, New Year’s Eve Grinch-like (or whatever the equivalent is), drinking champagne by myself and clinking the bottle with my glass, maybe listening to a little music, and going to bed at nine or ten. If that sounds pathetic, maybe it is. But it’s my tradition and I’m sticking to it.

My husband’s family has a New Year’s Eve tradition that to my knowledge he’s never missed. Every year he calls his mother at midnight (after sneaking away to the break room) and the two of them shake their wallets (or purses). This is meant to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Spoiler alert: It has never been known to work. Yet they persist. Since I don’t generally take my purse to bed with me, I miss out on the shake-your-money-maker fun.

The next day Dan insists we have pork and cabbage, but I participate only if there’s cole slaw involved.

I loathe even the smell of sauerkraut. I don’t care how traditional it is.