Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The "After Event" (or, I Should Have Known It Was coming)

It happened again this year, as it usually does after a really big, highly anticipated event.  Christmas was over and after saying an early Sunday morning goodbye to my youngest daugher and her family, Tom and I went back to bed and slept for hours.  I started the first of several loads of laundry and dishes (trying to be realistic about what leftovers we could actually consume in just a couple of days), and Tom went to work.  Monday was more of the same -- getting the house ready for Tom's daughter and family, who couldn't be with us on Christmas, to come on Tuesday evening.

It started Monday night.  It didn't help that I had consumed a lot of leftover sweet-and-sour meatballs and seven-layer dip instead of a reasonable person's after-Christmas meal plan.  I was sick, sick -- oh, so sick!  That's all that I will say (and maybe that's too much) but I was really, really sick.

I managed (with my sweet husband's help) to get back to bed and to sleep.  Thinking that I was just paying for my eating choices, I thought that I would get up Tuesday and continue getting ready for our company.  I tried -- I really did -- but I finally threw in the towel at about 3:00, explaining that I couldn't do it.  I encouraged Tom to continue with our plans without me.  I went to bed and threatened Tom with bodily injury if he invited anybody into our bedroom to "just say hello" or for any other reason.  (He actually introduced this possibility to me.  He backed down when I said, "Look at me!  Do you think I want anybody to see me like this???")

I'm up and about today (Wednesday) and feeling much better, but I have a rash all over my neck, arms, chest and back.  This tells me that it wasn't the food -- it is the "after-event" of something big in my life.  It happened last year in January -- a week or so after I retired.  All the rushing to get things in order at work, the receptions and farewell gatherings, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas -- all good things that I participated in with great enjoyment -- were also stressful.  So I paid later -- and got sick.  It's a pattern and you would think I would try to change it.  I had even commented to my daughter that I would probably get sick after Christmas.

The challenge is how I should change it.  I believe that (at 64), I need to build up my reserves.  Not to change Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any of the events or holidays that we enjoy.  Instead, I should pay more attention to those days when an event isn't on the horizon.  Taking better care of myself everyday will help build my resistance to whatever is lurking in the background, waiting until I have exhausted myself with a really good time.

I'm starting that today -- now.  I'm going to take a nap.



Monday, December 27, 2010

Hooray -- I Got It Right! (A Christmas Gift Story)

My Sweet Dad and His Usual Christmas Gift -- A Book

Purchasing Christmas gifts for my dad has resulted in a tradition to which I look forward each year.  I usually purchase a couple of new books for him, and take great pleasure in researching the titles that would please him -- a natural and enjoyable thing for a librarian to do.  Dad also receives books from other family members for his birthday, Father's Day, and Christmas.  We all understand the pleasure he gets from reading and want to make sure he always has something good to read. 

This Christmas presented a special challenge to us.  Dad is experiencing age-related physical problems, all to be expected for an 89-year-old man.  This is the conversation I had with him a few weeks before the holiday:

Me:  "Dad, you mentioned that you were having trouble seeing the print in your books.  Would you like some large-print books for Christmas?"

Dad:  "No, I plan on getting new glasses and I don't want to start reading large-print."

Me:  "I guess books-on-tape wouldn't work either, until you get your hearing corrected."  (Dad has hearing aids, but still has some problems under certain circumstances)

Dad:  "No, I wouldn't be able to hear the books-on-tape."

Me:  "How about a DVD?  Have you watched the one we got you for your birthday?"  (The History Channel's "America".)

Dad:  "No, I don't know how to work the player.  Rick has to put it in for me."  (Rick is my brother)

Me:  "Um, okay." 

I might mention that my Dad is very frugal and has always kept items of clothing given to him until he needed them.  You could shop his closet like a department store.

I thought and thought and made a decision -- I was going to give him something that I knew without a doubt that he would use -- or should I say consume.  Caffeine Free Coke.  As a Diet Coke drinker, I wasn't aware that Caffeine Free Coke Classic is sometimes hard to find.  I learned this when Dad and I were together and tried to find a twelve-pack.  (Remember, Dad is frugal and we were looking for a good price as well.)  That day, we didn't find it.  Dad informed me that he was often frustrated looking for his favorite beverage.

The other consideration is that Dad is 89-years-old and the season of ice, snow and bitter cold has arrived in Oklahoma.  It would be good if he had a good supply of his favorite drink handy.

My daughter and her family came from Alabama to be with us for Christmas.  I asked her to check for Caffeine Free Coke Classic anywhere that they stopped on the way.  She brought several 12-packs and we were able to find several here.

All of us went to visit Dad on Thursday and presented our gifts.  He received a plate of peanut butter fudge.  He also received one Caffeine Free Coke Classic in a gift bag.  I told him that there were 155 like it in the garage.

He laughed and said that he was happy to receive them.  He was also happy with the peanut butter fudge and offered some to his three great-granddaughters, who politely refused.  (My daughter and I had instructed them to do so, since there was a supply for us waiting at home.)

It made me feel good to know he was happy with his gift.  I look forward, of course, to shopping for books for him again.  I'm still a librarian, after all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Joys #19 - Christmas Eve and Family is Gathering

Little tree is lonely, no presents are there

The family is gathering, no longer so bare

They're patiently waiting, each child and each mouse

For Christmas to fill every room in our house!

Merry Christmas to You and Your Loved Ones!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Joys #18 - A Nontraditional Bonnie Glen Cove Christmas

I wrote this Christmas story more than 25 years ago.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Nontraditional Bonnie Glen Cove Christmas

     The Clovers moved in next door the day the Bonnie Glen Cove Improvement Committee was meeting at our house.  My mom had been in her usual tizzy, greeting the neighbors and taking their coats, and we hadn't noticed the moving van until Tiffany Underwood arrived.

     "Have you seen the van next door?"  Tiffany shed her mink with the same carelessness as my brother Joey when he drops his school books and parka on his way for an after-school snack.  "I saw a Louis XIV chair go in the front door."

     The ladies gathered at the living room window to get a better view.  "Jacobean!" Carolyn Carruthers crooned, as the movers carried a dark, ornate, dining table.

     Next came a glass and chrome dining table.  "Eclectic!" said Jane Zorba.  "I'm so glad they're cosmopolitan enough to mix styles!"

     The movers were now struggling with a cumbersome piece of furniture, its girth almost too wide to come out the back of the moving van.  The ladies strained to see; Mrs. Underwood even put on her glasses, something I had only seen her do on one other occasion, when she was inspecting my mom's new wallpaper.

     "Oh, no!"

     "You've got to be kidding."

     "Nouveau riche comes to the suburbs!"

     I pushed my way to the window to get a look.  Two of the movers were almost to the front door, carrying a heart-shaped mattress the size of a small gymnasium.  Another mover followed with the headboard, a confusion of brass cupids, hearts, and flowers.  After a brief struggle to get the mattress through the front door, the movers decided that it would be amusing to set up the bed on the front lawn, after which another covered it with a velvet spread of bubble-gum pink.  The effect was not unlike the valentine Greg Hopkins sent me last year, the one my dad said had a little bit of everything, except some blinking neon lights.

     The ladies had a hard time getting down to business after that.  The subject of the meeting was to be how to decorate for Christmas, as it always was the week after Thanksgiving.  I felt the meeting was really unnecessary.  It was always the consensus that exterior decorations should be understated -- a little greenery, and perhaps some red velvet bows on the driveway gas lights or mailboxes.  Certainly nothing that would mar the image of Bonnie Glen Cove as the Middleburg, Ohio gentry.

     "Do you think we should advise the new neighbors as to our decorating policy?"  Carolyn Carruthers asked.

     "We certainly should," Tiffany Underwood was emphatic.  "The cove has an image to maintain.  I'm sure these people would be grateful for being included in our plans.  Now, Carol, isn't it time for some of your homemade chocolate cake?"  Tiffany's tone made the word "homemade" sound like a synonym for "tainted".  The ladies ate every bite of it, as they always did.

     My mom loves the Christmas season and her efforts, though haphazard, always get my dad, Joey, and me excited and full of the spirit of the season.  As usual, we kept our outdoor decorations sedate, but pulled out all the stops inside.  Our tree held every ornament Joey and I had ever bought or made, even including a piece of a tin can lid that Joey thought would make a pretty ornament when he was three years old.  We hung tinsel everywhere and put out the Santa Claus doorknob and toilet paper covers that Grandma Story had made before she died.  The house was certainly colorful.  We probably would have even decorated the station wagon, but Mom commented that the neighbors already disapproved because we didn't own a gray Mercedes.  We didn't need to flaunt our poverty and lack of taste.

     During all the Christmas flurry, the committee members must have forgotten to notify the Clovers of the decoration policy.  I don't know, maybe Mom was embarrassed to mention it; I know she had visited with Mrs. Clover and had even taken over some of her chocolate fudge brownies.  "She looks like Dolly Parton," Mom had said.  "Same curly blond hair, same friendly smile."

     "Same build?"  my dad had asked, whereupon my mom had given him a gentle punch in the belly.

     "I think she's beautiful," Joey said.  "She looks like an angel.  She said that she wished she had a little boy just like me and that maybe someday she and Mr. Clover would get lucky and have one.  And she gave me cookies!"

     Joey thinks that anyone who gives him cookies is beautiful, but I think that he made a good point.  Anybody who would want a little boy like him would have to be an angel, or a bit insane.

     Anyway, the last day of school before Christmas vacation, Joey ran into the house babbling about the beautiful decorations next door.  We followed him outside and were greeted by every symbol of the Christmas season known to man.  A huge Santa and sleigh trotted across the Clovers' roof, led by a Rudolph with a red lightbulb for a nose; a life-sized nativity scene graced one side of the front lawn, a Santa's workshop scene was on the other, and three gigantic camels seemed to be trekking between the two.  Frosty the Snowman stood sentry duty at the mailbox, the front door was a giant foil-wrapped Christmas gift and every window held a wreath.  Colored lights were everywhere -- outlining the house, the trees, the mailbox, the driveway, even the fire hydrant.

     "Isn't it something?"  Joey asked.

     "It's something, all right."  Mom looked like she didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  She hesitated.  "It's certainly well lighted, isn't it?"  My mom tries to be kind to everyone.  You can tell when she's trying extra hard, because sometimes it takes her a couple of seconds to think of something nice to say.

     It must have been hard for her the next few days.  All the neighbors seemed to have something to say about the Clovers; none of it was kind and none of it was to their faces.  Everytime the phone rang, it was for Mom, and I could tell from her expression that it was another tirade from Tiffany Underwood, Carolyn Carruthers, or Jane Zorba.  I never heard Mom say anthing but, "Well, it is colorful," or "They really have the Christmas spirit," or "Joey really loves the lights."  The cove had more traffic that week than it had had during the ten years it had been in existence.  Carloads of people would drive by, the children ooing and aahing over the lights and Christmas scenes.

     Another Christmas tradition on Bonnie Glen Cove was that Christmas Eve was a family time.  The week prior to Christmas was a round of luncheons and parties and Mom told me that the Clovers weren't invited to any of them.  By dusk on Christmas Eve, everyone on the cove was at home, enjoying a quiet family Christmas.  So we were surprised when the doorbell rang at 7:00, and even more surprised at the old man who had rung it.  He certainly wasn't Santa Claus, even though he had a white beard.  His clothes looked slept-in and he had an odor something like old sneakers might smell if you filled them with cheap wine.

     "Could you tell me where 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove is?"  The old man seemed ill at ease, and I wondered if he might be a long-lost relative of the Clovers, showing up unannounced for a Christmas handout.

     "It's next door."  Mom gestured toward the Clovers' house.

     "Thank you, Ma'm."  The old man started across the lawn and we noticed about a dozen cars parked in the Clovers' drive and in front of the house.  Several looked like the junkers the boys work on in shop at school.

     The phone rang and I could tell from Mom's end of the conversation that Mrs. Underwood across the street was complaining about the party at the Clovers'.

     "Yes, Tiffany, it is nice to spend Christmas Eve with the family, but . . ."

     "No, Tiffany, I didn't say anything to Mrs. Clover and . . ."

     "Well, I really think it's too late to do anything about it now . . ."

     Once again, the doorbell rang and I went to answer it.  The lady on the porch was so thin that she reminded me of the pictures of anorexia sufferers we had seen in health class.  Two children were holding onto her coat.  At least I think they were two children; all I could see were two pairs of round eyes peeping around the lady's legs.

     "Could you tell me where 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove is?"  My face must have shown the question I felt like asking; she held out an index card, and printed on it in large capital letters were the words:  "There is Room."  I took it from her and read the rest of what was written:
        There are still those who are looking for a place
Come join those who wish to share theirs
If you have no gifts to bring, bring your love and good cheer.
1716 Bonnie Glen Cove

     Mom and Dad had joined us at the front door and I gave Mom the card.  She read it aloud and then said, "You'll find 1716 Bonnie Glen Cove next door."

     As the lady left, Mom turned to Dad and said, "I think it's time we broke Bonnie Glen Cove tradition."

     Dad nodded and said, "Get your coats, Jeanie and Joey.  We going to a party."

     As we traipsed across our lawn towards the Clovers', laiden down with the refreshments prepared for our family Christmas, Joey pointed to the sky above.  "Ya know what," he said with a grin.  "I'll bet their house has 50 million lights.  I'll bet, on a clear night like tonight, you can even see their house for miles and miles and miles."

     And you know what?  On that night, I'll bet Joey was right!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Joys #17 - How About a Little Holiday Reading?

The time is getting short and there is so much to do!  My family understands that I include reading in my daily routine, no matter how busy we get.  (They just shrug their shoulders when I leave dirty dishes on the table to escape for 10 reading minutes.)  I love these three books of "holiday stories from the south's best writers": Christmas in the South, A Dixie Christmas, and A Very Southern Christmas.  Short stories don't take much time to read, and I enjoy these year after year.  I will continue reading these books into January -- just 10 minutes at a time!  The pretty little church scene was a Christmas gift (part of a fresh flower arrangement) several years ago.  I love to display it under this cloche.

 I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Christmas Joys #16 - Some Treasured Decorations from My Childhood

This little Santa and the two ornaments came home with me one day; they used to be part of the Christmas decorations that my mother loved to display when I was a child in the 50's.  I miss her especially at Christmastime; she found great joy in decorating and buying gifts for her five children.  Now, of course, I know how much work it took to make a beautiful Christmas look effortless.  I like to display these ornaments with Mary Engelbreit magazines (no longer in publication) because they so often remind me of those earlier Christmases.

The two Santa mugs were also from our childhood Christmases.  I like to display them with this version of Twas the Night Before Christmas with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.  While the cover has a 50's feel to it, Miss Smith was famous for painting children for magazines such as Harper's and Ladies Home Journal, and especially covers of Good Housekeeping until 1933.  She died in 1935, but her work has remains popular even today.

 I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Joys #16 - Our Living Room Mantel (or is it Mantle?)

My daughter gave me these two Santas when I first began my collection and they have appeared in various places in our home during the Christmas season.  The past few years, that place has been on the mantel and I have added bronze, gold and maroon ornaments that coordinate with the Santas.  I am happy to learn that these colors are fashionable now -- I am very seldom on the fashion curve!

 I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

p.s.  Since I posted this, I have seen two spellings for the word "mantel/mantle".  I haven't been able to figure out which is preferred. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Joys #15 - Merry Christmas from Coco and Malone!

Mr. Malone was very excited about a Christmas visit from Miss Coco (named after the elegant designer, Chanel).  Malone had a special bath and grooming session and Coco came in her seasonal coat and hat.  Unlike celebrity columnist Hedda Hopper, Coco doesn't care that much for hats and lost hers during the first few minutes of running through the house with Malone.  Except for a minor disagreement about a treat, the evening went swimmingly, and Miss Hopper would certainly have wanted to include this soiree in her newspaper column.

 I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Joys #14 - Blended Families, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and Christmas Lights

Christmas memories often come in the form of traditions such as "Our family always attended Christmas services on Christmas Eve" or "My mother and I baked and iced cookies the week before" which are usually based and recounted in a childhood setting.

We realize, of course, that not all Christmas memories are good ones, and (paraphrasing what I recently read in the wonderful novel The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass) at every family event, at least one or two dramas are going on in the background and family alliances form and reform like clouds in the sky.

Those of us who have "blended" families know how difficult it can be to forge new holiday traditions. Our family, in the 1980's, wasn't exactly the Brady Bunch  Our six children included four teenagers/young adults and two little girls who had seen their parents separate and divorce.  We were dealing with disappointments, broken dreams, and failed expectations and were struggling to create a semblance of harmony and hope during the holiday season.  But we were "feeling our way", because we didn't have any standard or set of instructions, except our own memories of our childhood family or a recently broken one, neither of which still existed.

What helped break the ice for us was a song, but it wasn't a Christmas Carol or even a popular holiday "sing-along" tune.  It was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

We decided to load all of the kids into the oversized gas-guzzling van we owned and drive to Sky Island in Oklahoma City to see the Christmas lights.  Sky Island was a neighborhood that attracted visitors from all over Central Oklahoma to their beautifully decorated light displays.  It was a "destination" for families and I remember that it was certainly something to see, but as they say," the trip was more important than the destination".

We sang on the way.  We sang with the radio.  We sang without the radio.  For some reason, we sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."  As you may remember, there are high voices and there are low voices; there is chanting and howling and yodelling in the popular recording, and although our rendition wasn't technically perfect, it provided an outlet for six children (and two adults) during the holiday drive, a time for silliness and fun.  And for that few moments, for the first time, we were a family.

We were (and  25 years later, continue to be) a family.  We're not perfect (but what family is?) and our Christmas memories are a mix of good and not-so-good, serious and funny, picture-perfect and downright embarrassing, attentive and attention-seeking, giving and "give-me" moments, that make Christmas (and our lives) human and not Hollywood (or Hallmark) manufactured.   And for that I'm grateful.

I'm thankful, too, for my special Christmas memory of the Christmas lights and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".  My special wish for all "blended families" during this holiday season -- enjoy each other and love each other and, if you have a drama, a disagreement, or just a lapse in the conversation, try singing a few bars of "In the jungle, the mighty jungle.. . "


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Joys #13 - Retro Santa and Mrs. Claus

Santa and Mrs. Claus have a place of honor on top of the shelves in my office.  They belonged to Tom's Aunt Betty, who was like his second mom.  We put them next to the Mary Engelbreit mailbox so that they can keep up with all the Christmas letters Santa will receive.

I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Joys #12 - Christmas Pop-Up Books


The Nativity in St. Peter's Square in Rome

I am a dedicated customer of our public library (especially since I'm a retired librarian), but there are certain books that I simply must own. Among my collection of Christmas titles are several pop-up books and the two I'm sharing today are among the most beautiful. They are both by Chuck Fischer; the first two photographs are from Christmas around the World and the second two are from Christmas in New York. I hope that you enjoy these photographs and have the opportunity someday to see the books in their entirety.

Christmas in Germany

Metropolitan Museum of Art's Angel Tree

Rockefeller Center





 I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Joys #11 - Remembering Mr. Bingle

 During my early years in school, I looked forward to watching my favorite television program, The Howdy Doody Show, every afternoon when I got home.  I loved the members of the cast -- Buffalo Bob, Clarabelle, Chief Thunderthud, Mr. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and of course, Howdy Doody. 

Another program appeared during the month of December and was broadcast by a Memphis television station (which reached my hometown of Kennett, Missouri) and sponsored by Lowenstein's Department Store.  Although the Mr. Bingle show only lasted five minutes, I would never miss it, and his high-pitched voice was as familiar to me as the deep "ho, ho, ho" of Santa Claus.  Mr. Bingle's role in the program was to assist Santa, usually by getting him out of a jam (such as missing toys).

Mr. Bingle was actually a product of the New Orleans department store, Maison Blanche, first conceived there in 1948.  Most recently, he has been associated with Dillards Department Stores, although I have never seen him in any of our local stores.

Many children have received and adults have collected Mr. Bingle dolls and other memorabilia over the years, but for me, he remains a specific childhood memory, a little voice and "snowy" picture on a black and white television set, sharing Christmas magic with children throughout Memphis and the mid-south.

You can learn more about Mr. Bingle, his story, and his many fans and their memories by visiting the Mr. Bingle Fans website.

I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Photograph of Mr. Bingle was used with permission from Kerry Crawford, who writes the  I Love Memphis blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Joys #9 and #10 - Using Cloches for Holiday Decorating

I enjoy experimenting the use of cloches or other glass pieces to cover Christmas display items.  The two examples I'm showing feature two versions  The Night Before Christmas with items from my "little house" collection and from my Santa Claus collection.  You will find many more beautiful decorations using cloches by visiting Marty at A Stroll Through Life.  After you've looked at Marty's gorgeous display, scroll down and follow the links at the bottom of the page for many wonderful ideas.

I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Joys #8 - A Sooner Christmas!

I must confess that I've always been a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas decorations.  I have never had a themed wreath or tree, although I have seen several that were beautiful, whimsical or just plain cute.  Now we are the proud owners of an OU Christmas wreath, a gift from Tom's daughter and son-in-law, and I think that it is adorable.  My kitchen is decorated mostly in red and white for the holidays, and it fits perfectly there.  This is one wreath that will be hung year after year, and will continue to have a place of honor on New Year's Day, when OU plays in the Fiesta Bowl.  (We are also looking forward to a return to the national championship one of these days!)

I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Joys #7 - A Favorite Christmas Book

Christmas books are among my favorite collections and I have found many of the illustrations to be just the right decorating touch. for the holidays and other times of the year.  Jan Brett is a favorite children's book illustrator and her Christmas Treasury contains a beautiful presentation of "A Partridge in a Pear Tree", which complements my pear, pomegranate and hydrangea holiday arrangement.

I hope that you will continue to join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Joys #6 - Our Tiny Kitchen Christmas Tree

This little tree came from Hobby Lobby and is wrapped in burlap.  The snow people can be made to glow with tea lights.  I love the Santa tray, a gift from my daughter, and the miniature Christmas books -- the smallest members of my holiday book collection.

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Joys #5 - Some More Special Tree Ornaments

As you can tell, our Christmas tree has quite a "symphony" of decorations, but none are more important to me than those that were made by hand by my children.  The paper and beaded candy canes and the felt horse were added to our ornament collection about twenty-five years ago and share the stage with more "elegant" ornaments such as the dated 1981 Dove of Peace.  The little knitted jingle bell is one of several and is also beginning to show some age.
When we downsized our home, we also had to reduce the size of our tree, which makes it necessary to snuggle the ornaments more closely.

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Joys #4 - A Holiday Memory from the Court Square

This 1950's photograph is from a Christmas party at James Kahn's Department Store in Kennett, Missouri.  Two of the ladies pictured here have been very precious to me during my life; on the far left is my Aunt Ann, who was like my grandmother, and in the middle (third from the right) is my stepmother, Jo Ann, who married my dad in 1985.

That both of them were employed by James Kahn's has special significance to me at Christmas, because it takes me back to my childhood when I bought gifts for friends and family.  That always meant a trip to the town square, where I did most of my shopping at Kahn's and Blakemore Drug Store, just a few steps away.  My Aunt Ann always took a few minutes to help and advise me on my purchases, and I would usually stop by the office to say hello to Jo Ann.  Later, when I was a teenager, I got a job at Kahn's wrapping gifts during the school Christmas break.  (I was one of dozens of girls, including Sheryl Crow, who were lucky enough to get a Christmas job at Kahns through the years.)

Both Ann and Jo Ann are gone now (Jo Ann left us November 7), but they will always be in my heart and in my Christmas memories.

James Kahn's closed its doors several years ago, but the building is enjoying a new life (or should I say, a renewed one).  The building first opened as an opera house, and is again "The Opera House", a venue for special events in town.  I understand that a small part of the department store was maintained when the remodeling was done. 

Gift-wrapper Sheryl Crow returned to Kennett to give a special benefit concert at the Opera House to an audience of 250 the day after Thanksgiving.  And tomorrow, December 5, the Opera House will open its doors from 1:00 until 3:00 to welcome in the holiday season and continue the tradition of Christmas on the court quare.

I know that Ann and Jo Ann would love that!

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Joys #3 - Santa Claus is Coming to my Bathtub

Years ago, I started collecting "architectural miniatures", or as I call them, "little houses."  I have a variety, in several sizes, and once displayed many of them throughout the house during the holidays.  Now that we have downsized, I found myself searching for a place for just a few, and having found that there was no tabletop real estate left in the other rooms, settled on the shelf between the tub and shower in our master bath.  The separating glass is usually a bit foggy, which adds to the vignette.  These are from Dillards; I think that I have about 50 of them.

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Joys #2 - Decorating my Desk

The large beribboned Christmas ball is a product of a library workshop last year -- just the thing to decorate a small area with another vintage ornament and guilded words of the season.  Be sure and check with your library for special holiday events and workshops during December!

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Joys -- A Special Tree Ornament

I hope that you will join me throughout the month of December as I post about some special decorations, traditions, collections and memories that bring the joy of the season to our house. Perhaps you will want to respond with your own story or comment about what brings happiness to your heart at Christmas. I would love to hear from you and look forward to sharing a bit of Christmas! Annie

Our Christmas tree is decorated with a mix of handmade and purchased, elegant and folksy, whimsical and traditional ornaments.  What is constant is that each item on the tree has special meaning to our family and I take pleasure in recalling that meaning each year.  This little angel was crafted by my Aunt Lona Mae, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Halloween.  (Lona Mae is still quilting, crafting, sewing, knitting and crocheting for friends and family and to benefit those in need.)  The angel's body is made from a white silk flower.  Isn't she adorable?   

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Stepmother, JoAnn

I lost my stepmother yesterday.  There will be many words spoken during these coming days about Joann, about what a wonderful wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend she was.  I want to write about JoAnn here, since that's my preferred way of expressing myself.   Some might say that's my gift, although I'm not certain about that.

One thing that I am certain about is that JoAnn was gifted and did express herself through her gifts.   She would probably laugh at me saying she was gifted, but that was because she was also modest.  Her gifts came to us simply by knowing her and being around her, and they will last much longer than she could have ever imagined.

She had and expressed the gift of love.  I don't believe that there was one of us in our large family that didn't benefit from her love in some way.  She had a way of letting you know that you mattered to her, and that you were an important part of the family and her life.

She had the gift of listening.  In a one-to-one conversation, she listened more than she talked.  She focused on you and you could feel her interest and her empathy.  Expressing her own opinion was not as important to her as hearing yours. 

She had the gift of enjoying and appreciating life.  She enjoyed many friendships, two of whom were planning an overnight visit with her this week.  She was looking forward to spending time with them.  Her youngest great-grandchild, Georgia Beth, was a visitor to her bedside in the hospital.  Her words to Georgia Beth, as she caressed her little face, were, "I would like to see you grow up."

She had the gift of strength.  JoAnn might have appeared frail, but she impressed and amazed me at her determination to continue to do as much as possible for herself and my dad.  Her strength of character drove her forward as her body's strength diminished.

She had the gift of graciousness and hospitality.  I think that she learned good manners at her mother's knee, and she demonstrated it to the very end of her life.  We marveled at her sweet smiles and hello to each of us during the hours that she was occupied with the very hard and painful work of dying.  She wanted us each to know that she treasured the time she had spent with us.

She had a gift for teaching.  Again, she would probably deny that she was a teacher, but I believe that the best instruction comes by example.  Her example will stay with me for the rest of my life and if anybody were to say that I was loving, a good listener, enjoyed life, gracious, hospitable, strong, or a good example, I'd say "I learned that from my stepmother, JoAnn."

My mother, Jeffie Jean, died at 55 and we loved her and missed her greatly.  After a time,  I joined the rest of the family in welcoming JoAnn to our family.  She had known my dad since they attended a little country school together, although he was several years older than she.  To me, she was the nice lady who worked in the office of James Kahn's Department Store, and later a good friend and neighbor to both of my parents.  We all celebrated Dad's and JoAnn's marriage because we wanted our dad to be happy.  We didn't know it at the time, but our family needed JoAnn.  She proved that to us over the years that we had her and I am grateful that she was willing to move to from Missouri to Oklahoma and thankful to her son and grandchildren for sharing her with us.

I will truly miss my stepmother, JoAnn.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Night the Martians Landed: A Family Story from Halloween, 1938

Illustration from 1906 edition of HG Wells'
War of the Worlds
My Aunt "Sister", who will be 100 years old on Halloween, shared this story at her birthday celebration this summer.  Those who can remember the night of October 30, 1938 are becoming more rare, and it was a true gift to hear her first-hand account of family members' responses to a phenomenon of wide-spread panic and fear as a result of the radio broadcast of an adaptation of  HG Wells' novel,  War of the Worlds.

I had heard and read about the broadcast and its effect on individuals and families across the country. It was planned as a 60-minute Halloween radio drama, an episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air, and was directed and narrated by Orson Welles.  The first two-thirds of the broadcast was presented as news bulletins which suggested that an actual invasion by Martians was taking place.  There were no commercial breaks, which added to the sense of realism.  The use of the news bulletin format also contributed to the believability of the story, as well as to the resulting panic, since people were accustomed to legitimate newsflashes, but not those used as part of a work of fiction.

According to Wikipedia, historians have calculated that six million people heard the broadcast, 1.7 million believed it to be true and 1.2 million were genuinely frightened.  According to my aunt, a number of those who believed it and were frightened resided in southeast Missouri, and were outside that Sunday evening, gazing toward the sky.

Aunt Sister, Uncle Jesse, and their three children stayed home from church and were listening to the radio, probably doing the equivalent of today's "channel surfing" between the Chase and Sanborn Hour, featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and singer Nelson Eddy, and the Mercury Theater.  The first comedy sketch on the Chase and Sanborn Hour ended about fifteen minutes into the program and was to be followed by a musical selection, presenting a good time to change the station.  This would have taken them directly into the middle of the Martian invasion on Mercury Theater, with no reassurance that what they were hearing wasn't really  happening.

This is a part of what they heard:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. . . . Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be . . . good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.

How many of us have thought about what we would do if the world was coming to an end?  Their instincts were to gather with other family members, so they left in their car to travel the few miles to the my grandparents' home. 

On the way there, my aunt noticed that baby Sandra's shoe was missing, that she must have dropped it or left it at home.  Uncle Jesse reassured my frightened aunt, that Sandra "wouldn't be needing her shoe."

She also noted that people standing out on the dirt roads as they travelled, looking at the sky and exclaiming, "They're coming!  They're coming!"

When they arrived at Mom and Pop's, the house was empty.  Mom and Pop had gone to Arkansas to church and hadn't yet returned home.  After a short time, they and the rest of their children arrived, asking what was going on. 

According to Aunt Sister, Pop didn't believe a word of the story.  He also scoffed at his oldest child's fear, declaring, "I didn't know that I raised a child who would be afraid to die."

Little brother Earl, then stepped up and joined forces with his sister, put his arms around her and said, "You raised two of them!"

The family story ends here, and we can imagine the relief they and others like them felt when they learned the truth.  We can also understand their panic and fear in a time when modern communication was still in its infancy.  We might also want to temper any thoughts or comments we might have about naivete or the willingness to believe the unbelievable -- at least until after Halloween!


p.s.  You can hear the Mercury Theater broadcast on YouTube.  It is in multiple parts, so I am not including links.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Suggestion for Oprah's Aging Beauties

I watched Oprah's program on beauty and aging last night and was very interested in what Teri Hatcher, Cybill Shepherd, and Linda Evans had to say.  (Okay, I was also interested in what Cybill and Linda look like now, since they are in their sixties.  But that's another subject.)

The focus was primarily on what happens when really beautiful women age and have to come to grips with their beauty fading.  Not having been beautiful at a young age nor when older, I can't really speak from their experience, but I did have my share of compliments and attention as a reasonably attractive woman and can offer my opinion on the subject.

Of course, there were background photos of these gorgeous women as they were and their own remarks about how they didn't really feel beautiful when they were younger.  I'm not saying that they (Cybill and Linda, specifically) weren't being truthful, but I wonder what they thought about the rest of us, if they didn't see themselves as beautiful.

But that's really not what this post is about.  All three women, plus Oprah, emphasized the importance of finding things to like about ourselves, to develop our inward beauty and grace, and to accept the inevitability of (our culture's concept) of physical beauty going away. 

I agree with them.  I also read somewhere that it's good for women to have beauty when we're young, brains when we're older and money when we're really old.  (I'm not sure that is the exact way it should be quoted.)  I agree with that, also. 

For those of us who don't have great reserves of beauty, brains, or money, I have another suggestion.  I would like to offer it to Teri, Cybill, and Linda.  I think that Oprah would agree that the best thing you can have as a hedge against loss of beauty, love, money, or even when you get so old your brains give out is ----- GIRLFRIENDS!

If you have girlfriends, they probably didn't choose you as a friend because you were beautiful, and they certainly won't care if your beauty fades.  They will be there when your looks go (but will keep telling you that you look great).  They will be there when your man is gone either because he's found another, probably younger woman or because, sadly, men tend to die earlier than women.  They will be there when your money is gone or it's not, because they will remember the fun you had when none of you had any.   They will be there when your brains aren't so sharp anymore -- they'll point you in the right direction and make sure you stay out of trouble.

It may well be that Teri, Cybill, and Linda have girlfriends.  I know that Oprah has Gayle, but I hope she has some other girlfriends, too.  It's my belief that you can't have too many girlfriends.  The subject didn't come up on the "Fading Beauties" show and I wondered why. 

I think that the rest of us, especially those who were never "great beauties" understand the value of our friends.  We wouldn't trade them for anything!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Downsizing, Organizing and Decluttering: It's All Relative

We downsized about five years ago, from a home we had lived in for over 15 years.  I considered it "home" and had lived there for longer than anywhere I had lived in my life.  It was part of me, and I actually worried at night that it was lonely without us.  I drove by it sometimes, hoping that a new family would buy it soon and was happy when they did.  I was saddened again when it went to foreclosure and there seemed to be no buyer, until it sold at auction.  It was a lovely home, I thought -- 2300 square feet of living space, three large bedrooms and three baths, an office, a large and open living and dining area, plus some very nice features including a darkroom, Jenn-Air built-in convection oven and grill tops for the range, central vacuum system, walk-in pantry, and built-in bookshelves in the living room and office.  But it was in a declining neighborhood and we were both working in a neighboring town and approaching retirement, so we decided that it would be wise to find a smaller, one-story, newer home that would require less maintenance and care. 

I love our new home and feel that downsizing was the best choice for us.  It is 1600 square feet, three bedrooms and two baths, so we have a guest room and an office.  We are now a mile away from our church, a couple of miles from our local mall and many additional stores, most restaurants, the hospital, our doctors, two universities, movies, little theater, and I-40, which puts us 40 miles to the city and 30 miles to the little town where my parents live.  Our master bedroom has room for a loveseat and television armoire, and many nights serves as our "family room" where the three of us (my hubby, our Shih Tzu and me) hang out and read or watch television.  Our master bathroom is almost as large as our bedroom and is the feature that sold us on the house.  We have a shower and tub, two lavatories with a large amount of counterspace, an enclosed toilet and it's still large enough for a chest of drawers with room to spare so we're not bumping into each other.

What was reduced in order to have the large master bath is obviously the living room.  That's not a problem most of the time, but it's a pretty small space when we have family gatherings.  In fact, the entire house is small when we have family gatherings.  We have six children in our blended family, as well as three spouses (that number fluctuates), and 12 grandchildren.  Add them all together, plus other family members who may come by, and we have the potential for a houseful.

What we do is accommodate and appreciate everyone's flexibility.  We find surfaces to eat and we visit in whatever room has room.  If family is spending the night, we have the guest room, the living room couch, and inflatable beds for the office and the living room.  We have fun and we don't get too uptight.

One thing I find myself doing anytime I'm in a hotel (if the room is large enough) is to try to imagine myself living there.  (This habit is not a reflection of the happiness of my marriage.)  I think "I could put a small kitchen there, and a living area there".  I also do that when I imagine trying to find a space for a large group of family members if they were stranded in our home.  This is when I face the possibility of people sleeping in the halls and the bathtubs.  It's not beyond possibility that fifteen or so of us could be sleeping in close quarters.  Last Christmas was a nightmare for travelers in Oklahoma; my stepson had to stay two nights that he hadn't planned because the roads were too icy to travel.  The timing gave us an almost empty house; it could (in the future) give us a house overflowing.

Our downsizing leaves me wishing (sometimes) for another guestroom, a larger living room, and a screened-in back porch.  For the most part, however, I'm happy with the decision we made and expect that the coming years will confirm the wisdom of our choice.

It follows naturally that downsizing probably makes decluttering and better organizing necessary and I have been working on that.  I have been cleaning out closets and drawers, purging, and finding that I will probably have room enough to finally unpack the boxes in the garage that have been driving my hubby up the wall.  I also think that I can continue my addiction to pretty dishes and serving pieces, holiday items and can find a home for my mother's silver tea service, which my sweet stepmother has designated to go to me.  I'm proud of my progress and have decided that hoarding, for most of us, is a relative term.  (I confess to watching the television programs about the psychological condition and have empathy for those who suffer from it, and their families.)  I invite any of my relatives or friends to tell me if they think I have a problem (but I warn them that comparisons may be made!).

I have found the "tiny house" movement fascinating and have enjoyed looking at photographs and floor plans of the homes.  Of course, it follows that I have tried to imagine myself living in one of these abodes, and I have decided that my 1600 square feet is quite spacious indeed.  I also read an article about downsizing in the September issue of Traditional Home.  The homeowners (a family of two) had felt the need to "scale back and simplify" and I thought that I could probably find some good ideas for our home.  Reading the article, I discovered that the "downscaled" home is 4,805 square feet, "not tiny, but certainly more manageable" than the 8,000 square feet of their previous home.

I guess it's all relative.

What are your "downsizing" experiences?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Going to a Party! Autumn Cloches

Marty at A Stroll thru Life is hosting a party on her blog and has invited us to post photographs of fall decorating using cloches.  I have chosen to use a glass pumpkin instead of a cloche this time, and my arrangement is called "My Favorite Little Pumpkins".  Look closely and you'll see them; they live far away from me, but I love to look at their photos -- these were taken last autumn so I thought they would be perfect for this vignette.  Please visit Marty's blog and look at the beautiful photographs of autumn decorating ideas there and at the participating blogs.  Have fun!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Remembering the Original Amateur Hour and the Minstrels from Southeast Missouri

Before American Idol and America's Got Talent, even before Star Search, the Original Amateur Hour was introducing Americans to singers, dancers, comedians, and other performers through television and radio broadcasts for 70 years, from 1935 until 1970 -- with a total of 3 1/2 million auditioning and 25,000 acts performing on the program.  Such notables as Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Maria Callas, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Gentrys, Penny Marshall, Beverly Sills, Jim Stafford, and Gladys Knight appeared on the Original Amateur Hour and countless others competed for the public's votes each week.  The "Wheel of Fortune" was spun at the beginning of each show to determine the order of the acts' appearance ("Round and round and round she goes andwhere she stops, nobody knows").  From there, audiences enjoyed jugglers, baton twirlers, tap dancers, ventriloquists, and a variety of other acts -- all applauded and supported by friends and family back home.

In 1964, residents of Kennett, Missouri and the surrounding area supported a group of young men called The Minstrels.  The Minstrels were folksingers and first performed together in a Teens Against Polio assembly in January of 1963.  David Freeman, David Kerr, Ken Stuart, Terry Hunter, Richard Cleek, and Steve Reagan went on to compete in several area talent shows in Senath, Deering, Portageville, Hayti, Rector (Arkansas), East Prairie, Cardwell, Charleston and Jackson.  They also performed at numerous local and regional events, on Memphis television and Missouri and Arkansas radio stations. They were also among the finalists at the Mid-South Fair talent competition in Memphis in 1963.

The Minstrels won their audition for the Original Amateur Hour at the 1963 Delta Fair Talent Show .  They tried out for the Ted Mack show in June and were scheduled for an appearance in August.  The group sang "Frogg #1" (also known as "Frog Went a Courtin'") and won that evening, entitling them to a second appearance, where they performed "Waterfall."

I was a Minstrels fan throughout the existence of the group, attending most of their talent shows, and I was proud of my brother for being a member of the Minstrels. They brought pride to their community and continued to do so as they grew into respectful and respected young men.  I believe that this is because they were a product of their community, which expected and rewarded great things from them.

I was visiting with a group of friends recently and the conversation went to Sheryl Crow and up-and-coming country star David Nail, both of whom grew up in the small community of Kennett.  Credit was given to the outstanding music education opportunities and support that the community offers to its young people.  I agree with that assessment and appreciate the benefits of a strong school music program to everybody -- whether it be through a noted local performer or an individual's  lifelong enjoyment of music.  The contributions of music teachers, band directors, music club organizers, and all of those who support music for young people can't be overestimated.  Groups like the Minstrels and performers like Sheryl Crow and David Nail are products of their work -- and make us all proud.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Autumn is Coming to Oklahoma!

Seasonal decorating is always a challenge for me, although it's one of my favorite things to do.   I've been looking forward to bringing out my autumn things, but with the temperatures in the 90's here in Oklahoma, it seemed a little premature.  Thank you to Marty at A Stroll Through Life for hosting a fall "Tabletop Tuesday" on her site; visit there and you'll see how beautiful she makes the transition from summer to autumn throughout her home.  You'll also have the opportunity to see many other blogger's ideas and examples of how we can decorate for this most beautiful season.  Part of the participation process is for me to offer my own example.  I confess that I haven't made the transition yet (although I surely will begin now), but I have a photograph from last autumn.  The little squirrel was purchased from Martha Stewart about 15 years ago, the leaf he's resting on is from Cracker Barrel, and the acorns and nuts were purchased years ago from Hobby Lobby.  The temperature is already dropping; I can feel the crisp weather of autumn coming on!

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Julia, You Have a Call in Phone Booth Three"

Residents are moving into college dorms this week across the country, including my alma mater, the University of Memphis.  It was 46 years ago that my parents drove me the 100 miles to Memphis and my memories are still vivid of the building, the reception and meeting area, and my room on the third floor.

One feature of West Hall's reception area was to be almost as important as our own rooms.  It was "communication central" and is in stark contrast to the cell phones and other technology students have available today.  It was also a step down from the princess extension phone I had in my bedroom at home.  Across one wall were ten or twelve phone booths.  At first, it didn't register exactly how important the booths would be to my personal life.  The first hours and days were spent in getting acquainted with other dorm residents, making new friends, attending dorm meetings, and going to classes. 

Going to classes and the student center introduced another element to my life -- meeting new boys and developing new relationships with them.  This is where the phone booths came in and why they became very important.  There were no phones our rooms; there were no phones in the halls on our floors.  If someone called for us, we were notified through an intercom system and we went down to a phone booth to take the call.  I was not the most popular girl in the dorm, although I did receive my share of those exciting announcements of a call downstairs.  It must have been exhausting for some of the more popular girls, running up and down the stairs to the phone.  Since it was 1964 and not 2010, there were also expectations about how a resident should look in public; you never knew who might be coming in or going out, so you tried to look presentable when you took your call.

I learned about another means of communication after I pledged a sorority.  The entry to one part of the student center had a series of bulletin boards, one for each fraternity and sorority.  These were used for announcements of events and other chapter information, as well as honors, engagements, and other news about individual members.  The boards also served as a posting place for notes to the members.  We stopped by the boards several times a day to check for notes, the most important of which were from guys.  I think that, for some of us, you could trace a courtship from the early notes ("Meet me for a coke at the Sigma Phi table at 2:00?") to the engagement ("I love my ring and I love you!").

I still have some of the notes I received during that time, as well as some of the messages taken when I wasn't available for a phone booth conversation, and the "sign-out" cards which recorded where I was going, with whom, and when I would return.  Some of the notes are reminders ("Don't forget to pick up your Ole Miss football ticket. Larry") and some are sweet ("You are a fine woman with a great personality and much beauty. Ric") They are an informal record of my first months of college that now seem quaint.

Today, visits with children and grandchildren often include a third party -- the cell phone.  My college-age granddaughter places hers on the table while she talks to me and a vibration tells her that her boyfriend has texted her.  Instant connection - no waiting - no anticipation.  She's never picked up a love note from a bulletin board and I doubt that she's ever used a phone booth to talk to a boyfriend.  She doesn't know what she's missing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Recommendation - Sharing the Journey: Women Reflecting on Life's Passages

I have a small library of books that I have bought because they are part of a collection (Christmas books, pop-up books, books about the south, books about books) or because I saw them at a book festival and had heard the author speak, or because I might run out of something to read (not likely, since I usually have a dozen or so library books checked out at any one time).

There are a few that simply spoke to me -- about women, family, friends, home -- and I knew that I would want to read and probably reread.  Sometimes, these books get shifted to the bottom of the stack or left on the shelf because the library books are due, and I simply forget about them.  Often they are books of essays or anthologies and, once I do get around to reading them, I find myself enthralled with the treasures they hold.

Sharing the Journey: Women Reflecting on Life's Passages edited by Katherine Ball Ross is such a book. The 68 essays within are in sections such as Childhood, Motherhood, Grandmothers, Sisters, Places of the Heart, Rituals, The Past, Writing and Writers, and "The Quiet Center of One's Life" and are by some of my favorite authors, including Jane Smiley ("Horse Love", "Jane Austen's Heroines", and "Giving Love a Melody, Memory a Tune"), Whitney Otto ("Collecting Grandmothers"), Madeleine L'Engle ("A Crosswicks Kind of Christmas" and "Too Obvious to Forget"), Carol Shields ("Parties Real and Otherwise"), and Diane Ackerman ("The Deer in Springtime").

Here I found essays that spoke to me personally, such as Susan J. Gordon's "May Your Life Be One Sweet Song", about her grandmother's girlhood autograph book; M.J. Andersen's "At Grandmother's Table", about her grandmother's love of and lifelong accumulation of dishes; Susan Minot's "Messengers of the Heart", about the importance of letters in her life and "Reflecting on Foot", about the pleasures of walking; Catherine Calvert's "Wrapping Up a Memory", about Christmas gifts; Patricia O'Toole's "Passport to the Universe", about libraries; and Susan Allen Toth's "Hiding Out," about the importance of finding private spaces to nuture imagination and spirit.

I found this book so engaging that I am going to buy several copies to give away.  As a blogger, I discovered an additional bonus between its pages.  Reading these essays helped me recall numerous people, places and incidents from my own life which could later be subjects for my own blog.

Sharing the Journey: Women Reflecting on Life's Passages is available from your local library or from Amazon through the link that follows.

Happy Reading! 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Plain Princess: A Fairy Tale Revisited

The Plain Princess, by Phyllis McGinley, was my favorite fairy tale when I was a girl.  The story is about Esmerelda, who has everything a princess could want.   She lives in a kingdom where girls who are considered beautiful have noses that turn down, mouths that turn up, and eyes that twinkle.  Esmerelda, unfortunately, has a nose that turns up, a mouth that turns down and her eyes have no twinkle.  Esmerelda, in a word, is spoiled, but her royal bubble is burst when the prince to whom she is betrothed wants nothing to do with her, pronouncing her "plain."  The king and queen do their best to help their daughter, consulting with every available physician and wizard, but nothing works.  Dame Goodwit promises that she can make the princess beautiful in three months, if Esmerelda comes and lives with her and her daughters.  While there, the princess learns the value of working, sharing, and unselfishness and when she returns home, Dame Goodwit's promise is fulfilled; the princess is beautiful, with a nose that turns down, a mouth that turns up and eyes that have a merry twinkle.

This, of course, is a story of internal beauty and its rewards.  I believe that it held a promise for me and other little girls that, even if we weren't "beautiful" and might never wear a crown, others would recognize us for our good hearts and dispositions.

There are many mothers who are still teaching that lesson to their daughters and many girls and young women who work hard and give of themselves unselfishly.

On the other hand, there is evidence that girls are being sent another message --- one that says "demand to be treated like royalty", "expect that your parents will spend beyond their means to make you happy." 

Hearing a four-year-old describe herself as a "diva" makes me want to gnash my teeth.  I wonder if the mother knows what a diva is, or if she has explained it to the child.  The word implies a certain level of success in performance coupled with a difficult personality.   Is it the success or the unpleasant personality that the child possesses?  I believe that it is most often the personality -- in other words, "I'm a brat -- live with it!"

The "bridezilla" personality is another manifestation of the acceptance of bad behavior.  Why would anybody subject their best friends and family members to tantrums, manipulation, and plain nastiness and then excuse it by saying "I am a bridezilla" or "I've always been a diva"?

The traditional "Sweet Sixteen" party, an event to celebrate that special birthday, implied that the girl was actually "sweet."  Today's "Super Sweet Sixteen Parties" are exhibitions, usually masterminded by the daughter and (very highly) financed by the parents, to demonstrate that the girl can outspend her friends, classmates, or those enviously watching on television.   To add a little "punch" to the envy or hurt feelings of those not invited, the invitations are given out in a very public way.  You may be invited to the invitation ceremony, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll receive the coveted invitation. 

All of this is to say that maybe something has been lost in the concept of royalty.  As Americans, we have limited our tradition of kings and queens to celebrations like Mardi Gras, homecoming queens, those honored at local events like Frontier Days and the Blackberry Festival, and pageants like Miss America.  At least a portion of those have demanded a level of service and good manners with the crown.

I think that the self-proclaimed "divas" "bridezillas" and "royal" celebrants of the "Super Sweet Sixteen" parties are deluding themselves.  What they need is a three-month stay at Dame Goodwit's house.  She would straighten them out and the entire kingdom would benefit.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'm Joining a Rooster Party!

This is a new adventure for me -- and no, I don't claim to be a rooster.  Barb at Bella Vista has invited us to post photos of our rooster decor.  The only roosters I have are a pair that currently reside on the top of my refrigerator.  I move them around as season or whim prompts me.  I'm in the mid-to-late summer phase, which means I look for fruits, vegetables, colors, etc. that fit my late-summertime mood.

If you visit Bella Vista, you'll see the many others who are joining the party, and their ideas and examples of decorating with roosters.  And you'll probably want more roosters, like I do.

Here are mine:


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