Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Smack! Right in the Kisser!

Have you noticed that movie kisses aren't what they used to be? Back in the day, a Hollywood kiss was elegant, romantic, and smoldery. You'd simply ache in anticipation for that sublime moment on the big screen. Case in point: Rhett Butler pulls Scarlet O'Hara toward him and growls, "You need kissing. Badly. You should be kissed. And often. By someone who knows what they're doing." And…..he doesn't kiss her! No! He says, "But I won't kiss you," and then you wait for another bunch of scenes to go by before you get to that big smackeroo!

Directors in the good old days gave their actors actual dialogue that lasted for hours before anyone ever locked lips. And locked they absolutely were! Arms clenched around each others' necks. Heads tilted. Lip to lip. No tongues. Mouths motionless. Absolutely still. 

Today? Not so much. Ever since Masters and Johnson we've seen all manner of facial gymnastics. Love scenes these days take place anytime two characters look at each other sideways. "Uh, oh! We better be kissing!" They slurp and slobber like they're sopping up melting ice cream off each others' cheeks.

"Good grief!" I said to the Mister the other night as we watched a rom com on TV. "What's with all the smacky noises?"

"Huh? Smacky noises?" I had interrupted his nap.

"Yes, smacky noises. Just listen to the these two KISSING!" 

"It's a juicy one, alright," he acknowledged.

"Juicy!? I've seen less drool from a dog begging for a piece of liver!"

Honestly, you'd think directors tell them, "More fluids, please! Let's get some saliva going, people! That's it! I want to hear chewing!"

If you ask me it's all a little much. Now, I don't know about you, but kissing at our house isn't quite this noisy.

"Good night, dear. Did you turn the heat down?"

"Uh-huh. Did you set the alarm?"


"OK. Sweet dreams"

"You, too. Sleep well."

One tender peck on the cheek and it's lights out.

"Oooo! That was pretty close to a smacky noise!"

"Good night Scarlet."

"Good night, Rhett." 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bah Humbug? Not Me!

It's that time of year again. Yes, that joyous season when we grumble about retailers pushing Christmas at us way too early. "It's getting earlier every year!" goes the common complaint. Some experience this as performance anxiety. Some see it as crass commercialism. Others feel that it trivializes the spirit of peace and goodwill that Christmas represents. My feeling is, why fight it? I LOVE this season. I can't wait for the calendar to flip to November. I'm all, "Yeah! I'm ON it! Like tinsel on an evergreen, baby!"

For those of you who are struggling to adopt this attitude, allow me to share my Top Five Bah Humbug bashing tips.

Humbug #5 — "Good grief! This hobby store has Christmas stock in ALREADY! It's only September, for the love of Santa!"  Take in a slow, deep breath, 1–2–3–4; and exhale slowly to the count of eight tiny reindeer. Let me talk you down. You're safe. You're in a craft store. Crafters need long lead time to make their deadline. You are under no personal obligation to make your own mason jar snow globes. Nor should you be expected to create Santa's elf army out of toilet roll holders, or a nativity scene out of bread dough, or even an advent calendar garland for the fireplace using baby socks. Put that glue gun down. Just walk away.

Humbug #4 — "What is this?!?! It's only October and the Crate and Barrel catalog has Christmas table settings? Why, oh why, are they doing this to us???" Whatever you do, don't panic! This is only the first of about two hundred catalogs that will be delivered to your door between now and the end of December. Pace yourself. Leaf through them as though they are charming magazines filled with lovely things for pretend people who lead fantasy lives. Then pop them in the recycle bin and wait for next week's load. Repeat. And remember. You will survive without snowflake charger plates.

Humbug #3 — "Look! Over there! They're putting up a Christmas tree lot! Are you kidding me? It's November 10th! Remember last year's tree? No wonder we were ankle deep in needles!" Yes, these trees are going to be a little dry by December 25th. Who are we kidding? They'll be desiccated by Thanksgiving. So this year? Artificial, my friends. Pre-lit. No stress over getting it to balance in the tree stand. No resin stuck to your fingers —and everything else. No needles lodged in your carpet. You can even put it away fully decorated. Heck, it could stay up all year! Yes, you could become those people.

Humbug #2— "Ack! A holiday song? In November? Oh my aching eardrums! Are we going to hear, "Simply having a wonderful Christmas time," over and over for two whole months? I'll go insane!" This one is simple. Tell yourself, "It will be such a relief come December 26th when we won't be subjected to those songs anymore." Or at least you can tell yourself that. They will be back. But you have 10 months to get the wretched things out of your head. 

Humbug #1 — "Did you see THAT?!?" You know how the rest of this goes. "THAT" is the first sighting of decorations in the mall. Or the first ad on TV that features Black Friday store hours. My advice: give in. Go shopping. Waiting until December 24th is only going to wreak havoc with your blood pressure anyway. And if you really want to put the "good" and the "cheer" back in "Be of Good Cheer," I find that charitable projects like Coats for Kids, or Toys for Tots, or Good Neighbor food hampers really puts inspiration back into your shopping trip. So start early. Like now!

Happy November! 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Taxi Tales and Uber Angst: True Stories of Cab Catastrophies

Have you tried Uber? I haven't. I'm leery. I like the sound of "safe, reliable, on-demand taxi service." But I'd want to see the driver's full CV, arrest reports, character references, favorable reviews on Trip Advisor, and a note from a high school guidance counsellor before I'd get into a cab with one. 

I am a taxi-phobe. And for good reason. I'm lucky to be alive today.

Now, I know each one of these situations I'm about to tell you is going to sound glamorous — a weekend in Paris, a business trip to Montreal, a one day jaunt to New York for a meeting with an architect. You're thinking I must be some kind of expense-account, career-gal-type; a sophisticated, seasoned traveler. Wrong. I'm about as seasoned as boiled cod. 

So, as you read my sorry saga of bad cab karma, try to imagine a person for whom travel induces mega-watts of anxiety. Not somebody who should be allowed out on her own.

Fasten your seatbelt, folks, this is a wild blog ride this week (also slightly over the editorially prescribed 500 words.)

Taxi Tale No. 1 - Montreal

Off I go as a young interior designer, employed by a large Canadian retailer, on a mission to check out new stores recently opened in Montreal. One such store is located in a mall miles away from the airport hotel where I am staying. I will need to take a cab. Easy enough to get one at an airport hotel. It is winter; late afternoon, already dark. I ask the nice driver to take me to the shopping center in St. Bruno. He is reluctant. St. Bruno is almost an hour drive one way in rush hour. But he agrees, "Ok, I will take you there, but may I wait for you to bring you back....so it will be worth my time?" 

Not translating the full meaning of this question, I agree, thinking that it will at least save me trying to get another cab for my return trip. After my store visit, I exit to find the faithful cabbie waiting for me. 

We embark on our return journey. He glances in the rear view mirror and says, "Mademoiselle, I wonder if you would like a tour of Montreal? I'll turn off the meter and show you the city!" 

"It's Mrs.," I reply, "And no, thanks very much, I will go back to my hotel."

"Oh, but the city is so, how you say, beautiful." His Francophone accent is getting thicker. "Let me show you the lights of old Montreal."

I am kidnapped in this taxicab and cell phones aren't invented yet. No kidding. He takes me to a parking lot up on Mount Royal which offers an astonishing view of the city. I have to admit — it is pretty spectacular. 

"This is where les amoureux, the lovers, come for romance," he says.

"That's nice. Can we go now, please?" 

"Will you have dinner with me?" 

"NO! I'm married and I want to go back to my hotel. I'm meeting someone." A lie, but that's all I've got.

"Please! It's so lonely driving around all day!" 

"Non, monsieur! Not my problem! Allons-y!"

Maybe it was my speaking the only French I could dredge up from memory or maybe it was writing his name down in my notebook that made him take me to the hotel. As I got out of the cab, he tried one more time, "May I come inside with you?" "NO!!!!" And then this horny little morceau de caca has the nerve to be annoyed with ME! He charged me full fare.

Taxi Tale No. 2 - Paris

Fast forward several years. The Mister and I enjoyed our very first visit to Paris on a whirlwind, madcap weekend that we tacked onto a trip to London. When it came time to go to the airport, we got a cab. What could go wrong? 

A traffic jam on the way to Charles de Gaulle, for one thing. Cars bumper to bumper, crawling at a snail's pace. Not a satisfactory situation for the cabbie behind us, apparently, who honked his horn with nagging regularity. Our driver stopped his vehicle right in the middle of the highway, got out and walked back to have a little tête-à-tête with the guy behind us. When traffic started to move again, I called out, "Allons-y!" (It worked in Montreal.) Our driver, however, was still deep in conversation with the other guy. Now we heard a lot of honking.

When the driver finally got back to us, he asked which airline we wanted. "Air Canada," we said, "and it will be at Terminal Deux." We knew this because we had received notice that Air Canada had recently moved terminals.

"Non! Air Canada est a Terminal Un."

"Non, monsieur, Terminal Deux, s'il vous plait!"

It went on like this for awhile. He drove us to Terminal Un. 

Arguing with a French cabbie is mostly futile. Suffice to say that the Mister and didn't have enough vocabulary between us to make this man understand that we were at the wrong terminal. There were signs indicating every other imaginable airline, but not ours. And he continued to insist very loudly that he had delivered us to Air Canada.

The Mister got out to go inside to confirm. I stayed in the cab, summoning the only French I could think of to fit the circumstances - which came from twenty years of being on hold with Air Canada listening to their phone message in both official languages, "Toutes les linges sont occupees." Except I didn't want to say, "All lines are busy." So, I blurted, "Toutes les lignes ici, here, are NOT Air Canada!!!"

The Mister returned. "They have a bus that will take us to Terminal Two." We insisted on getting out. The cabbie insisted on us staying. He yelled at us that we couldn't leave his cab, locked the trunk and wouldn't let us have our luggage! I don't remember how this dispute ended. We're here in North America now, so I guess we caught our flight.

Taxi Tale No. 3 - New York

Many years later, I was coordinating the design process for a visitor center at a Frank Lloyd Wright house museum in Buffalo, New York. My job made it necessary for me to attend a meeting with our architect in New York City. It was March. It was a drizzly spring morning when I flew into La Guardia with all the confidence of a nervous jellyfish. I lined up at the taxi stand outside the airport terminal and got into the car hailed for me by the dispatcher. Totally up to fate who I got as a driver. 

Luckily, he was uncommonly courteous. He kept a running commentary on what landmarks we were passing and what route he was taking to get me to Tribeca for my meeting. "Nice guy," I thought. 

Traffic wasn't bad and I commented on that. "Oh, it will be later," he replied, then added, "With this rain, it will be hard to hail a taxi. Are you returning home later today?"

Lack of luggage might have been a tip-off. I explained that I was.

"What time do you need to return to the airport? May I pick you up at your meeting and take you back?"

Apparently I had learned nothing from the Montreal Incident. "Sure," I said, "Pick me up at 3:30?"

It was a deal. I felt very smart and resourceful. My colleagues at the meeting thought I was nuts, hopelessly naive, and definitely not a savvy New Yorker, but our head Buffalo architect, a gruff older man, was returning on the same flight, and he thought it was a plausible idea. He agreed to share the cab. I shall always be grateful that he did.

At 3:30, we went down to the street and there was my taxi driver, waiting for me. "Nice guy," I thought. Traffic was slow, as predicted, and 4:00 came along before we even reached mid-town. The driver turned to us and said, "My shift is over."


"My shift is over."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I have to get the cab to my partner. He starts his shift at 4:00. Would it be okay if we go to Queens so I can give him the car?"

"Do we have a choice?" 

"Sure, but I'll have to charge you double."

We might have protested more strongly, but once again, captive in a cab. To Queens we go. Up one street and down an avenue and through residential neighborhoods, until finally we come to a stop. "That's my house!" says the driver. He hops out and disappears. Gruff Architect and I are sitting in a cab on a street in Queens. Waiting to see what will happen next. Kind of laughing. Nervously. Glad he was with me.

In a few minutes, another driver came out and our ride resumes. Nice tour of Queens for free. I could have ended up in the East River. 

As I mentioned, bad cab karma. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts: An Inner Dialogue

Scene: My house. Bed time. On the staircase. In the bathroom and the bedroom.

Me: (aloud) (Turning off the TV and living room lights.) Come on, Riley, boy! Time for bed.

Me: (not aloud) (The dog runs upstairs in the dark.) Gosh, it's dark up there. It looks darker than normal. Why the heck didn't I leave a light on up there?

Me: (to myself) (Climbing the stairs to the bedroom.) Because it would scare you to bits if you did leave a light on and if it wasn't on anymore when you got up there, you'd freak right out, that's why. Everyone knows that ghosts play with electricity. 

Me: Oh, yeah? I ain't afraid of no ghosts! 

Me: Oh, sure, you aren't. HA! You're scared stiff! 

Me: I should NOT have read that story in today's paper about Dayton's most haunted places. Curse Hallowe'en anyway. Never mind. Ghosts don't exist. 

Me: SOME people see ghosts. And not just psychics. They see them all over the place. A face at a window. Shadows in the hall. A body walking through a door. What if I you see a figure or a face when you get up there?

Me: (Humming softly) I ain't afraid of no ghosts! If there's something weird, in your neighborhood, who you goin' call?……GHOST BUSTERS! Deh-deh-DEH-deh-deh-DEH-deh-dehdeh-up. Wee-eee-eee-oooooooooo-oooo-oooo.

Me: Wait a sec. Haven't you ever the noticed the double negative in that song? AIN'T afraid of NO ghosts? It means opposite. Like, even the Ghost Busters were afraid of SOME ghosts.

Me: (Turning the bedroom light on as fast as I can.) Why do I do this every time the Mister is out of town? This house does NOT have any spooks or paranormal activity!

Me: How do you know? Maybe they only come out when you're all al-ooooooooo-one! Woo-ooooo!

Me: Stop that! (In the bathroom, brushing my teeth.) I have never seen a ghost. Mind you, there was that time we stayed in that creepy, Victorian bed and breakfast in upstate New York. 

Me: Oh, that WAS a good one. Just a couple miles from Ichabod Crane country. That place was haunted for sure. You kept your eyes open all night after the crash you heard in the bathroom! BWA-ha-ha-ha! You wouldn't get up to go pee until the sun came up. Hilarious!

Me: Yeah, a real scream. The shower curtain tension rod fell! That could happen anywhere! Besides there is always a reasonable explanation for everything. (Closing the bathroom medicine cabinet, expecting to see a shadowy figure in the mirror.

Me: Sure. You can tell yourself that.

Me: (Now in the bedroom. Closing the closet door) Didn't I close that earlier?

Me: Hmmm.

Me: Oh, shut up. (Getting into bed, pulling the covers over my head. Clicking noise coming from the direction of the radiator.)

Me: What was THAT?

Me: Oh, for heaven's sake. Nothing. I left the radiator open. (Turning on the light and getting out of bed to go turn the radiator off.) Who needs that thing pinging and hissing all night?

Me: That was smooth. You nearly knocked the lamp over turning it on in such a hurry. What if you reach for it when you see a ghost and you can't get to the switch before the ghost does? 

Me: You're right. I need something faster. I know, I'll get my emergency light and put it on my bed side table. As close as I can. (Getting out of bed again and retrieving the touch light used for power failures.)

Me: NOW can we go to bed? You've got your little light. Mind you, what if it lights up on "it's own" during the night? THEN you'll be in trouble!


Me: I know what will be fun! Let's think about all the scary movies we've ever seen! Let's see, there was "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"…..

Me: Stop right there!!! La la la la la la! I don't want to hear it! 

Me: OK, but did you hear THAT? A scraping noise! 

Me: (Whimpering) Riley? Is that you?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lesley & Betty; the Movie

Ever since I began blogging I've wanted to find a hook. You know, something that would make me famous. Like Julie Powell. Remember her? She was the blogger who cooked her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," blogged about it, got thousands of readers, and wound up with a book and a major motion picture made about her, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. That's the kind of famous I'm after. A movie about me starring Meryl Streep.

Alas, brilliant ideas have escaped me. Until now! 

Not too long ago, I picked up a cookbook at a garage sale. I couldn't believe my eyes! There it was, Betty Crocker's "Dinner in a Dish" — nearly-new looking, displayed on a table out on someone's driveway, going for only 25 cents. I had to have it! This book had been a life-changer for me in my pre-teens. My mother had a copy. It contained 324 recipes devoted to casseroles — complete with menu plans for "company best" or "bridge night," plus party tips, serving suggestions for salads and sides, and hints for hostesses. 

Predating crock pots by a few years, casseroles in Pyrex bakeware ruled the day when "Dinner in a Dish" was published in 1965. I drooled over the illustrations: Lobster Newburg. Lattice-topped Meatball Bake. Chicken Pot Pie. Shrimp Creole. Waikiki Pork Chop Dinner. Ham and Potato Chip Dumplings.

Mom and I made dozens of recipes from this cook book. I imagined myself so grown-up; a smart society-hostess-type, lithe as a ballerina, whisking Turkey Divan to the table for my ooh-ing and aww-ing guests.

I glanced at the cover of this one-dish-dictionary the other day. That's when it hit me. I could do a Julie & Julia type blog!  A Lesley & Betty spin. I could work through every recipe and write about it with a 1965, "Mad Men" kind of vibe. Brilliant, Lesley! I opened the book and began. 

First up: Chicken Sorrento. The subtitle says: "Delicious with hot biscuits and a colorful fruit salad served in lettuce cups." Right. Some Pillsbury refrigerator biscuits and canned fruit cocktail in iceberg lettuce would do nicely, I thought. No kale or quinoa invited to this party! Let's get started. 

Coat chicken breasts. with flour, paprika, and dried parsley flakes. Brown in melted Crisco shortening. (Hmm. Got to rethink that one. Olive oil. Better.) Add chopped mushrooms to the pan. (So far so good.) Stir in cream of celery soup. (OK, if I have to - just to be authentic.) Add sour cream. (Uh, oh.) Add cubed Velveeta. (Good grief! I haven't bought Velveeta in, well, ever.) Stir in cooked macaroni. Spoon into casserole dish. Pour more canned soup over top. Crush corn flakes for a crunchy topping (optional.) Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

OMG! You can just taste it, can't you? Creamy, soupy, cheesy Chicken Sorrento: pretty much a classic casserole. Just the ticket for a family dinner served on TV tables while watching "Green Acres." Comfort food. What our childhood tasted like: caloric. 

It didn't take long to browse a few pages before realizing that I would be 300 pounds if I pursued this project, even WITH low fat, low sodium versions of the canned foods and dairy products. 

Ah, well. Times have changed since 1965. And why would I want to alienate you, my friends who are vegetarian, gluten-free or lactose-intolerant? 

No. It's back to the drawing board for me to come up with a different plan for blog fame.

I wonder what Julie Powell is doing today? She's probably a TV chef by now. And doesn't use cream of celery soup.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Certain events in life bring people together, don't they? Some are celebratory. Others are tragic. Way too many are catastrophic. Happily, some are lunar.

The lunar variety certainly got folks talking this week. The event must have a scientific name, but to quote some presidential candidates, I am not a scientist. So, we called it by its media pop name: the Super Blood Moon eclipse. This phenomenon, featuring a larger than normal full moon and the earth's shadow passing in front of it, turning it a dusty red color, entered the popular conversation this week with, "Did you see the eclipse?"  

And so many did. It has been a topic on Facebook all week, complete with amateur and professional photos. Casual discussions have turned to where we were when it happened, how we watched it, how well our pictures turned out, and "You know, the next one won't be until 2033!" 

Although, early in the day here in Dayton it was looking like it might be too cloudy, we were lucky enough to have clear skies by sunset. Add in a warm summery evening with a light breeze and we had the perfectly pleasant setting for being outdoors watching the moon. Neighbors came out of their houses. Someone set up a telescope across the street from us. Others parked folding chairs along the street. We set up chairs on our own lawn where we got a good view of the moon over the garage. It was fully dark here by the time the eclipse began and we could hear folks chime out, "It's started!" Kids got to stay up past their bedtimes. The whole show had a party atmosphere.

Forgive me for invoking the Way Back Machine once again, but Sunday night's moon event reminded me of the last time we experienced this much enthusiasm about an eclipse. It was February 26, 1979. That year, the mid section of North America was under the wide arc of a total solar eclipse. But Winnipeg was the largest urban center located under its absolute epicenter. Needless to say, the city was abuzz with excitement. Newspapers, television and radio carried stories for weeks about what we'd see and when, all about the science, and how we should avoid burning our eyeballs by not actually looking directly at it. Everyone purchased the proper viewing spectacles making the entire city's population look like an enormous audience at a 3-D movie. Someone issued official badges with appropriate eclipse-watching graphics designed especially for the event. Some school officials planned on suspending classes so their students could watch; others thought it would be too dangerous, fearing that kids might look at the sun at the wrong moment. Businesses proclaimed a mini holiday.

At the time I worked in a three story, flat-roofed building downtown.There were no tall buildings immediately around us to impede our view of the sun. I'm not sure that management sanctioned our office group's plan to gather on the roof, but we did anyway. We must have been nuts! The temperature that day was in the minus 20s. There we were, convened on that barren rooftop, in the dim, frozen February sunlight, bundled up in winter coats, mitts, toques and boots, wearing our goggles. We might as well have been on the moon. 

I don't remember how long we stayed out there in the biting Manitoba wind, but I do remember being very cold. And I wish I could say that I remember the moment that the sun was erased by the moon's shadow. At the precise moment, I had let my attention stray toward two other phenomena that we had been told would occur: the flock of birds that swooped and danced through the scene, and the long, rippled shadow that waved like the tail of a ghost across the roof's surface behind us. It sent chills up my spine - or maybe it was just the cold that made me shiver. Regardless, I turned away from the sun at the exact moment of totality to observe this phantom shadow.

For weeks, everyone around town shared their eclipse stories. "Where were you during Totality?" they'd ask. It was the opening salvo of or everyone's conversations. And I had to admit that I missed it.

As for Ken, during that time in February he was the Company Manager on a performance tour, going around northern Manitoba, shepherding a group of mimes who did not speak to each other -- neither on stage or off (no kidding - you can't make this stuff up - they hated each other so much they refused to talk to each other.) He felt rather lonely that whole trip, but there was one moment when they all loaded off the tour bus and stood together as one, in silence, except for their teeth chattering in the cold, solar goggles perched on their noses — for the total eclipse of the sun. It was a moment in time enough to even bring even mute mimes together. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sock it to Me

Men are nearly impossible to buy for. 

Really, the repertoire of men's gifts is rather minimal. Shirts. Ties. Sweaters. Barbecue tools.

Sure, you could get something for his hobby. But even hobbies have their limits. There are only so many Fender Telecasters you can buy for a man before the house begins to look like Don's Pawn Shop.

But, then there are socks. Socks don't take up a lot of room. They are easy to pop into a gift bag. They are washable. They are not overly expensive. They're worn everyday. They wear out so you can buy them year after year. They even come in designer colors and patterns.  "Socks" is even a funny word to say. "Socks." They make a great gift.

The Mister likes socks; the more outspoken the fashion statement, the better. Fortunately, his twin brother likes them, too, This makes gift buying a breeze. Their birthday is coming up. I'm advocating an annual sock exchange. 

It worked for my Dad and his brother, Bob. Here's how it went: Uncle Bob paid Dad a visit every year on his birthday, October 15. He brought with him a birthday gift of one pair of McGregor "Happy Foot" socks. Perhaps you are not familiar with this brand. On the market since 1930, they are a Canadian product, still available at The Bay. Happy Feet (plural for Happy Foot?) were created as a health sock in a cotton/wool blend with a special terry-cloth cushioned sole. They had the approximate bulk of today's tube sock. 

Uncle Bob's work required him to be on his feet all day where a cushioned sock would be a welcome accessory, if not a fashionable one. My Dad, on the other hand, preferred a slimmer, subdued, dressy kind of sock by Gold Toe to wear with wing-tip shoes and a suit for his work in the office. He gave a pair of Gold Toes as a birthday gift to brother Bob every year.

Dad hated the Happy Foot socks, especially in the colors Uncle Bob picked out: magenta, lilac, aquamarine, goldenrod. What these socks offered in practicality, in my Dad's mind, they more than outdid themselves in hideousness. Every year, my mother would say, "Why don't you just tell Bob you don't like them?" And my Dad would reply, "Where's the fun in that?"

You see, it gave my Dad no end of pleasure to march the Happy Foot socks back to The Bay, where he took great glee in the return transaction, which he conducted 6 months to a year from the time he got the socks, without a receipt, insisting to some poor sales clerk that the store has a money-back, satisfaction-guaranteed, return policy, which in his mind, had no time restriction. I'm convinced that stores worldwide took up the "no exchange or return after 90 days" strategy because of my Dad. Word got out.

Whether or not Uncle Bob kept and wore the Gold Toes, I have no idea. Maybe he also hot-footed it down to The Bay to take them back. As far as I know, he was never the wiser that Dad disliked the annual Happy Foot gift. Anyway, it's the thought that counts. For Dad, the socks were the gift that kept on giving.

I think there is a lot of gift-giving potential here for the Mister and his brother. They could engage in a little sibling rivalry competing for who can find the more outrageous socks. Oh, darn! Sorry, Brother-in-Law dear, I just gave away the surprise! Your socks are in the mail. And my beloved Mister: yours will be in a gift bag for your birthday. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

You Gotta Have Heart OR: Home Ec is Where the Heart Is

If you are on Facebook, you've no doubt seen posts showing images from the 1950s or 60s, asking you to "Like" them if you recognize the topic, thus indicating that you are, in fact, an old fart. One such item I saw recently was this:

Heck, yeah, I remember Home Ec. I am not about to forget it. 

We had Home Ec class every week, 7th through 9th grade: sewing and cooking, with a few housekeeping how-to's thrown in. The classroom set-up for cooking was pretty much exactly as you see it here. 

(While we girls were being schooled in home-making skills, the boys were learning more manly arts in "Shop" class where they used table saws and soldering irons and hammers to make bread boxes and cheese graters. I'm not sure what that implied. Certainly not feminism, but that came later.)

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, we learned how to make cream of wheat, baking powder biscuits, cornstarch pudding, cream of corn soup, porcupine meatballs, and fish cakes. 

I can think of no greater disincentive for inspiring girls to cook than eating the chow we prepared in Home Ec. It was ghastly. Does anyone even eat cream of wheat anymore?

In one class, I accidentally let a pot of carrots boil dry and burn. The teacher made my group of six eat my charred vegetable anyway, just to teach us a lesson. What lesson? Never cook again? 

I suppose that the Winnipeg School Board had experts who figured out what food prep basics were appropriate for our Junior high level. They hadn't necessarily thought about what we'd actually eat. Take Harvard Beets, for example. Canned beets boiled in a mixture of sugar, vinegar and cornstarch. Our sextet sat at a table with these steaming red foes in front of us; five of us going, "BLEEECCCHHH!" while one girl, whom none of us liked very much anyway, tucked in, murmuring, "MMM! Tasty!" We'd give her that withering look at which pre-teens are so talented. 

She said it every time, regardless of what poisonous gruel we were force fed. Creamed Brussels Sprouts. Fruit Whip. Tapioca Cream. "MMM! Tasty!" We were sure she did it just to annoy us. We'd push our plates aside and watch her eat, thinking, "She's so weird!" 

In the middle of grade 9, our cooking teacher, the motherly, older lady who made us eat the burned carrots, left. The new teacher who came in was young. She was a dark-haired beauty. She had an up to date wardrobe. She didn't make us wear the dumb bib aprons with our names embroidered on them that we made in 7th grade sewing! Things were looking up! 

She had a thing for meat, we learned shortly after her arrival. She had us gather around her at the front of the class room while she gleefully showed us meat cutting charts. She had a particular fondness for organ meats. She taught us how to make liver and onions. She told us how much she enjoyed a good jellied tongue sandwich. She extolled the virtues of chicken gizzards. 

One day, we sat in a circle around her like we were gathered to hear a Grimm fairy tale. She opened a huge tome from her culinary school. Grim indeed. Gruesome pages showing how to cook, well, every part of the animal; you know, "offal." None of us could move a muscle. It was like watching a horror movie; we were breathless, waiting for the gory bits to scare us to death. If somebody had said, "BOO!" we would have jumped out of our skins. 

She paused at a page illustrating the preparation of beef heart. She looked up, and met our eyes, as wide as saucepans, everyone of us afraid to breathe. "You know, I cooked a heart for my boyfriend two weeks ago." We gasped. "Yes, I thought, what better way to show him how much I love him than with a beautiful heart dinner!" We swallowed hard. Somebody at the back gagged. "I haven't heard from him since. Oh, well," she sighed and looked back at her cookbook again. 

None of us made a peep. We couldn't budge. I caught a movement at the door out of the corner of my eye. I was about to scream, but it was the principal, looking in on us. His expression was solemn. He opened the door a tiny bit, and said, quietly, "Miss Meyers, may I see you a moment?" 

I don't remember much about Home Ec after that. I think we got another teacher who complied a bit more religiously with the curriculum. We probably finished out our program eating tuna and noodles, and chicken pot pie, not ever looking up to meet each others' glances, for fear one of us might make a scary monster move and we'd break out in hysterics. "MMM. Tasty!" 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

How Does my Garden Grow? Seriously. I Have No Idea.

By mid-to-late-August, my garden is not fresh as a Daisy anymore. The Daisies are, in fact, looking a bit stale. The Peonies are well past their best-by date. The perennials are pooped. The Hostas have gone hostile. And the Day Lilies said "night night" weeks ago. 

Now begins the task of putting these plants to bed for the fall — aka, cutting them down. They were my little friends back in mid-July when they were all cheerfully blooming and I didn't need to do a thing to keep them happy. But this week, as I look around the yard at the hundreds and hundreds of stems that will need clipping in the coming weeks, I'm facing the enemy! "Curse, you, you plants you! You're doing this to spite me!"

Gardening has long been touted as a fine hobby for retirees. Who the heck said that? They're out of their mind! I'm too old for this! I don't know about you, but I just don't bend like I used to. I only recovered in late June from the pinched nerve in my neck and the carpal tunnel syndrome I got from last year's clipping calisthenics. I see why old people move to condos with HOA fees and a landscape company that comes in every week.

Then again, maybe it's just me. You true blue Green Thumbers are out there checking the Ph balance of your soil and mulching with properly stirred compost. You're using your Preen and your Miracle Gro and your diatomaceous earth. You're mollycoddling your sweet green babies with positive affirmations. "Lookin' good, Gladioli!" "You're awesome, Asters!" "Be all you can be, Bee Balm!" 

Not me. I get the weeds out of everybody's way, but after that they're on their own. A bunny nibbled some Coreopsis right down to gnarly green twigs. That's life.

And yet, I am such a sucker for beautiful gardens. This is the third house out of the four we have bought in our married life that has flower beds way out of scale and proportion to my horticultural ability. We never learn apparently.

Our first house was on a corner lot where an elderly widower had tended lovely English-style plots with all manner of pretty posies. We were young. We thought, "We can become gardeners! What could be so hard?" This from two Prairie Canadians whose parents never interred anything more than scrawny petunias that they left to die.

The first summer in the English garden, as tender perennials sprouted out of the soil, we couldn't tell a weed from a wisteria. We called in professional help. The Mister had a passing acquaintance with the head gardener at the university who hosted a nationally televised gardening show. He agreed to come over to give us some tips. I heard the man gasp from twenty feet away. Witless, we had been cultivating a crop of weeds, as high as an elephant's eye, that had choked off the very air that decent plants underneath were clamoring to breathe. I can still see him in my mind's eye — this nationally recognized TV celebrity — yanking weedy infiltrators out by their dastardly roots.

Our learning curve was steep, but we did better after that. Two other gardens before we purchased this house. "Oh! What a lovely garden!" I could be heard saying as we toured the yard at our soon-to-be current address. Sold.

The previous home owner, who is a bona fide, certified Master Gardener, started this dang garden. She did a drive-by this morning. I saw her. She was wearing dark glasses, but I know it was her. I heard her laughing as she sped off. Probably moved to a condo.