Thursday, December 27, 2018

In with the New and Out with the Old

We went shopping for a new mattress yesterday at Macy's. I've forgotten how old our old mattress is, but no matter. It was time to replace it. My husband cheerfully noted that this would probably be our last new mattress. (Just as Dilly is probably our last dog-baby.)

Anyway, I'd been dreading the shopping expedition because (1) my husband hates shopping and gets cranky after 10 minutes and wants to leave, and (2) mattress purchases seem to have replaced car purchases as anxiety-generators. Nowadays,  you can order a car and have it delivered to your door while "binging on your favorite TV shows."  Mattresses can arrive that way, too, but you really want to test-drive it before buying.  So you have to go to the store.  And deal with the proliferating varieties of mattresses. Not to mention pushy sales persons. 

It turned out to be SO easy.  Judy, the sales person, asked us what we wanted and helped us narrow down our choices.  I wanted to use our existing headboard, but didn't want it to disappear because of the height of today's mattresses. She suggested a 5-and-1/2-inch-high box spring rather than the traditional 7 and 1/2. We lay on three different mattresses and opted for the springiest. 

While she was writing up the sales contract, she asked if we were willing to provide our e-mail address so that we could receive promotional and sales information from Macy's. Phil said no, we didn't want to be "pestered."  Then he grinned and quickly added, "Not that we think that you would pester us."  Judy threw back her head and laughed. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Are We There Yet?

"Leave the GPS at home," you said.

"We can get there by the old tried-and-true methods. After all, we're astrologers. We can just look at the stars," you said.

"Anyway, an angel sometimes gives me directions in a dream," you said.

OK, Mr. Wise Man,  where are we?         

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"I'm Barbara Bush."

We watched President Bush's state funeral today on TV.  I have been to many a funeral at my  Episcopal church in recent years. I became an Episcopalian in 1987. I grew up a Methodist and attended the Presbyterian Church from the time I was in college until maybe the mid-70's, when our pastor had a mid-life crisis and I had had enough.  Anyway, as a newby amongst the "cradle Episcopalians," as they call themselves, I have come to cherish certain words from the service for "The Burial of the Dead" in the Book of Common Prayer:

"For so you did ordain when you created me, saying 'You are dust, and to dust you shall return.' All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." 

Also:  "Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant (name). Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.

The TV commentators, who blah-blah-blahed throughout the day, sometimes referred to the Bushes as "an American dynasty."  Well, maybe they are, but what sticks in my mind is a story my friend told me about her friend.  This friend went to a quilt show somewhere in the Washington, DC suburbs during the time of Bush 41. Admiring a quilt, she noticed a woman who seemed strangely familiar.  She approached her and said, "Excuse me, you look like someone I should know, but I can't think of your name."

The other woman simply smiled and replied, "I"m Barbara Bush." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

How I Got A Free Thanksgiving Turkey

That's not me. That's my sister-in-law sneaking tidbits to our dog, as usual  It was the only picture I could come up with that was vaguely suggestive of Thanksgiving. I tried to find a picture of a turkey on one of those "free pictures" internet sites, but got scared off by the confusing terms and conditions and a loud voice that proclaimed, after a few clicks, that "You're almost done!"  I bailed out.

So, anyway, it was a year ago when I got the free turkey.  Our younger daughter hosts Thanksgiving for the extended family (the older one does Christmas and I do Easter), so we didn't need a turkey for just the two of us. Last year, my husband and I once again volunteered to roast a 20-pound turkey for our church's community Thanksgiving dinner, so I needed to get a turkey for that. 

I found a bargain at Food Lion.  A 21-pound turkey @ $0.89 a pound.  I added a number of other items to my cart and paid with my debit card, my mind wandering off in other directions.  When I checked the sales slip at home, I was horrified to see that I had been charged over $50 for the bird. 

The next day I returned to the supermarket, sales slip in hand. When I complained about not getting the bargain I'd expected, the manager said, "You have to spend at least $35.00 on other items in order to qualify for the lower price on the turkey."

"What!?!"  I was incredulous.

"It says so on the sign by the turkeys," she replied.  A little smugly, I thought. 

I went to check. Sure enough, under the eye-catching "89 cents a pound"  someone had written "with a purchase of $35" in very small green letters. 

Returning to the manager, I said, "OK, so now I've read the sign.  Yesterday, I didn't buy enough to get the lower price. Can I just make up the difference today and get the lower price?"

"I'm afraid not, " she said. "You'll have to bring the items you bought back to the store so we can void the sales slip. Then you'll need to buy . . .

"OK, OK, I get it, " I said, crossly. "I'll be back." Why was she making things so complicated?  Maybe she hoped I'd just go away.  No chance of that.  I was not about to pay top dollar for a turkey we were going to donate.

I drove the 4 miles back home to retrieve the items I'd bought yesterday. When I got back to the store, the manager wheeled the cart to a counter where a young man waited. It was probably his first day on the job. He looked scared and confused as she rattled off her instructions. "Just give her a refund for all these items on the sales slip and set them aside for re-shelving."  

Meanwhile, I went shopping once again for the re-shelved items, plus as many more as I needed to reach $35.00. 

The same young man totaled up my new order. He was nervous. I was rattled. I just wanted to get out of there.  Once in my car, I looked at the sales slip. Something was wrong. This time the amount was too low. I soon saw why. The young man had neglected to charge me for the turkey.

I went back in the store, sales slip in hand. The manager wearily shot me a "You-again-what-do-you-want-this-time?" look. 

"He forgot to charge me for the turkey." 

She snatched the sales slip and studied it. The young man looked on anxiously from his counter.  It seems he had voided the higher price for the turkey, but had forgotten to charge me the lower price I was now entitled to. 

"Oh, forget it!" she finally exclaimed, exasperated. "I'm got going through all that again. You got yourself a free turkey." 

Thursday, November 1, 2018


When our grandson was about 12 (he's now 16), he spotted similar jars of  homemade hummingbird food in our refrigerator.

"Grandma," he asked, "why do you have moonshine in your refrigerator?"

How did this child even know there was such a thing as moonshine?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Our Butterfly Nursery

This story is from an e-mail my husband sent to his friend:

Cynthia and I are anxious every day about our many monarch caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults.   They are in all sorts of states.  But this is pretty much the end of the nursery.  There are barely any uneaten milkweed leaves left.  Today I stepped on, or rode my bike over, a mature caterpillar on our driveway. Broke my heart. When they stop feeding they begin a long journey away from their feeding area to a high place—such as the ceiling of a porch-- to form their chrysalises . We have a high stool under our porch mailbox that they really like.  It has about 10 chrysalises hanging from under the seat right now.  When a mature caterpillar finds a place to its liking, it fastens one end of itself to this spot, releases its hold at the other end and hangs for a day or so.  While hanging, it forms a “J” shape.  When it's ready, it forms its pale green chrysalis seemingly instantly.  I've never seen it happen.  I look, and it's a hanging J, and 10 minutes later I look again, and it's a fully formed chrysalis.  After about ten days the chrysalis turns black and in another half day or so the adult butterfly emerges.  It stays put for some hours, drying and flexing its wings.  And then it's gone. Off to Mexico. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

An Unwelcome Guest

I did not take this picture of our guest, and he wasn't this pretty.  He was just an ordinary-looking big-city pigeon, who showed up on our porch one Saturday three weeks ago.  Why he picked our porch we didn't know.  What if his friends and relatives were to follow him here?  What would the neighbors say then?

My husband spotted a band on his leg.  Maybe he was someone's pet.  He was wary of our approaches.  You couldn't get close enough to catch him, but even if you could, the print on that band would probably be too small for old folks to read, even with their glasses.

We e-mailed the 700 families that live in our neighborhood: "Has anyone lost a pigeon?"

No one had lost a pigeon.

I tried chasing him. He would just waddle away from me as fast as he could and then fly up on the roof.  That answered another question.  It wasn't an injury that brought him to our door.

We went to a movie.  When we came home, he was gone.  We were delighted.

The next morning he was back. He'd apparently roosted overnight in a nearby tree. He began strutting around as if he were thinking of moving in for good. He hopped up on the porch furniture, appraising his new hang-out with beady red eyes. He dropped a calling card on the plastic upholstery. He reminded us of the wicked penguin in the Wallace and Gromit cartoon.

"Well, maybe he's ours," we said, after four days.  We set out a dish of water and scattered some seeds on the ground.  We got almost teary-eyed watching the cute little guy drink.

Then, a day or two later, he was gone.  He never came back.  Maybe the seeds and water gave him the energy to go home.  I gotta say we kind of miss him.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

At Our Cabin in Ohio

Over Memorial Day weekend, we went to our cabin in Ohio. We started a day later than planned because, on Saturday night, my husband sank deep into our daughter's super-soft sofa and later had to struggle a bit to extract himself.  The next morning, on the day we planned to leave, he woke with an aching back.  So we drove to Ohio on Memorial Day instead.  It's a nine-hour trip. 

This picture from last year shows a couple of American chestnut plants. The American Chestnut Foundation is trying to breed a blight-resistant chestnut. My husband has planted over thirty seedlings near our cabin. Of these, over 20 seem to be blight- resistant, but he's had to destroy a half dozen that became infected with blight. The only thing he's planted so far this year were geraniums a his parents' gravestone at the chapel cemetery. 

The pink and purple wildflowers--dames' rocket--were very pretty, along with a profusion of yellow buttercups and white multiflora rose. I admired what I thought was a blossoming tree on the bank behind the cabin. Turns out  it was not a blossoming tree at all, but either a walnut tree or a tree-of-heaven with multiflora rose weaving its way through its branches.

A pair of phoebes built a nest on the eaves under the porch. While the female sat on the eggs, the male entertained us by catching flies mid-air and hovering over the nest to bring them to her. Their song was the only one we could separate out from the cacophony of birdsong at the cabin. 

We don't have the internet at the cabin and our cell phones don't work either. We have a TV, but we're not hooked up to cable or satellite, so it's just for watching videos.  We listen to WKSU, the FM station operated by Kent State University. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second time I have read this book. The first time was in fourth grade, because I remember our teacher telling us about Madame Defarge and her knitting. I read it this time because I had just returned from a 2-week vacation in London and Paris. I wanted to hold on to the two cities a little while longer and also to get to know them better. Nine days in London and five days in Paris barely let you scratch the surface of these two magnificent capitals.

As I recently reread this book, I wondered how educators back in the dark ages (late 40's) managed to abridge this novel into a classic suitable for children. There were scenes of unspeakable horror in the original. There is simply no way to explain "droit du seigneur"--the exercise of which set the whole plot in motion-- to a 9-year-old. I enjoyed the story as a story, but it raised more questions than it answered. So, to find out more, I have added two books to my already-too-long reading list: Alistair Horn's SEVEN AGES of PARIS, a popular history I found at a recent used-books sale, and Thomas Carlyle's THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. The Carlyle book promises to be tough going. It may take me to the end of my days as a reader to finish it. We'll see. I really want to find out what London thought of Paris while the guillotine was falling. The French Revolution, after all, followed hard on the heels of the American Revolution, the one that ripped the colonies out of British hands.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mom and Billy Graham

In the autumn of 1950, some months after Dad married my new step mom, I came into the house one evening and found her with her ear pressed to the radio.  I knew who was speaking and I wasn’t happy about it. It was the popular new evangelist, Billy Graham.  I had nothing against him in particular.  It was just that my new stepmother was an unknown quantity.  I had been told by a friend of our family, someone who was apparently already acquainted with my dad’s new fiancee, how lucky I was to have this lovely new stepmother. She said I should do my very best not to give this paragon any trouble, as if it would be my fault if the marriage didn't work out. Although I did not exactly like the life my grandparents lead while I lived with them—the long nights at the Eagles’ Club, the drinking, the fighting—still, it was what I was used to. I did not want a suffocating piety to descend on the family.  I had just turned ten. 

During the next twelves years, while my father was alive, Mom appeared to put her religious yearnings on the shelf. She followed my dad dutifully into his county-club life, taking golf lessons, hosting cocktail parties and dressing up for weekend evenings at the club.

She also turned out to be the promised lovely stepmother. She largely understood me and often took my side against my father and grandmother, who could be over-protective.  We could talk about a lot of things together, except for sex and religion.

“But what about the people who never had a chance to hear about Jesus? Are they all going to hell?”  I would ask.

“We are not meant to understand things like that,” she would reply.

“But what about all that scary stuff in the Book of Revelation?”

“We are not meant to understand things like that.”

After my dad died, she regularly attended First Presbyterian Church.  If the sermons in this mainline church did not sound the same as the sermons of the conservative Presbyterian church she attended as a girl, she most certainly found echoes of her childhood church in the words of Billy Graham.  She also enjoyed the elaborate telecasts of D. James Kennedy and Robert Schuller. Sunday nights were reserved for Charles Stanley.  She liked his habit of providing an outline of his sermon before he began. She filled several notebooks with his words. However, it was Billy whom she loved the most. He was almost like a member of the family to her. 

That was why it should have been no surprise to me when she began crying in the mid-80’s as we were pulling into our motel at Ocean City, MD.  We were on vacation with her and our two school-age daughters. All three of them were in the back seat of our station wagon. 

“Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s Harold,” she sobbed.

“What about him?” Harold had been my dad’s best friend and drinking buddy. Neither one of them ever had time for church.  Harold had recently died quietly, but unexpectedly, at home.

“I can’t stand the thought of him burning in hell,” she said, tearfully.

“Oh, Mom,” I began, “Harold isn’t . . .”

“GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN!” she snapped.  I meekly retreated, ready to drop the subject.

Twenty years passed and Mom was living with us.  One day she said to me, “Your husband doesn’t love the Lord.”

Now my husband, like my dad, rarely went to church, although he had fond memories of attending church with his parents when he was a boy.   He had treated her with good-natured kindness ever since she had moved in with us. “Mom, why would you think that?" I asked. 

“Don’t you remember, when we were in Ocean City, that time he piped up about Harold? I told him to ‘get thee behind me’ and he never said another word!”

“Oh, Mom,” I said, not wanting to revisit that topic again by telling her it was I who’d tried to comfort her.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had been so anxious about where Harold was spending eternity and  not at all worried about my dad.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Snow Foolin'

We're headed for Erie, PA this week end.

We don't expect snow up there this weekend, 
but this past winter they had a record-breaking snowfall of 50-plus inches.

This sign, outside a car wash, always amuses me.

It says: "Do Not Enter with Plow Attached"

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NO! Go Back Where You Came From!

These daffodils were already sprouting on Valentine's Day.

Too early!

Two weeks ago, the groundhog

promised six more weeks of winter.

This was welcome news to me, 

since we hardly had any winter at all this year. 

Now YOU daffodils come along, the Truth Tellers of global warming.

No! I won't have it!

Go back where you came from!

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Last night my husband and I were watching TV.  Suddenly, through the venetian blind, we could see flashing lights. Peeking out, we saw a fire truck across the street at our neighbor's house, plus an ambulance. A couple of firemen were dragging a hose up the street. Other firemen were going in and out the front door, which was propped open. This neighbor rents out rooms to several people. One of them came out front with two little dogs on leashes. We couldn't make sense of of anything we were seeing. Was there a fire or not?

After a half an hour, the fire truck and ambulance shut off their flashing lights and pulled away. I immediately phoned our neighbor. 

"Oh," she said, "My bad. I set a candle on my wood-burning stove and it melted. The wax ran down the back of the stove and got into the grate. We couldn't reach it, and  it just smoked and smoked. We thought it was going to set the house on fire, but it didn't, and we're all OK."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Man in His Kitchen

He raps his spoon smartly three times
against the oatmeal pot.

He grinds coffee beans,
stopping the machine three times
to check its progress.

The radio is on.
On Sundays,
an avowedly spiritual woman
talks with her guests.

On weekdays,
the host takes calls from 
one of three lines:

People either love or loathe the President. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January, the Cruelest Month

This is a photo of me with my mother and father. It was probably taken in the winter of 1941-42. I would have been between 15 and 18 months old. 

My parents look happy. My dad was a young attorney in Meadville, the county seat of Crawford County in northwestern Pennsylvania.  He was ambitious. He'd just been elected District Attorney at the age of 29. Mom was probably at home with me. Their happiness, if that's what they had, did not last.

I'm told that they met at the Republican Picnic in the early 30's. Her parents had just bought acreage north of Meadville Her father was an attorney who'd recently retired because of chronic migraines. Her parents were remodeling the old farmhouse. The built-in bookcases, wainscoting and radiator covers were all of wormy chestnut. Grandmother said my dad probably thought they had money. They didn't. 

Mother was two years younger than Dad. While he was in law school at Pitt, Mother began college in Kentucky, majoring in piano.  The college soon notified her parents that Mother was taking a bus to Pittsburgh every weekend. "Probably meeting a man," they said. She was. They were married in 1933. 

In 1946, they divorced. They'd found out by then how incompatible they were.  He'd pictured a life without children and thought she'd be happy working as his secretary. in his law office. She pictured a house full of children. His idea of a good time was a night on the town. Hers was to cuddle up with a good book. Both sets of in-laws found fault with their children's mates. He ran around too much. She was a lousy housekeeper. She once scorched his shirt by trying to read a book while ironing.

After the divorce, she  moved to Florida, taking my four-year-old sister with her. I was supposed to join them when the school year ended. My dad, friends with the judge, ignored the agreement.  I lived with his parents, my Grammy and Grampy, until he remarried in 1949.  Mother immediately married a man she'd known in Meadville. A mason by trade, he'd already gone to Florida to find work during the post-war construction boom. They had three daughters.

Fifty-six years ago, on January 22nd, my father died in a plane crash. It was a small plane belonging to a small company owned by friends, for which he did some part-time legal work. He would have been 49 years old on January 26th. My stepmother later told me he hadn't wanted to fly to Buffalo that wintery weekend, but off he went. On the way back to Meadville, the plane iced up during a stopover in Erie and crashed upon takeoff.

Every January at this time I think back on those days. I will never forget the shock of the phone call from my stepmother. I took the call in the basement of my college dormitory. I remember dashing blindly up three flights of stairs to my room, where my two roommates and other close friends were waiting. They'd already been told what the phone call was about. Once home, I was surprised at how volatile everyone's emotions were. People would be laughing during an afternoon get-together at the house and then burst into tears that evening at the viewing.  Grampy wailed loudly at the funeral home, embarrassing my stepmother and aunts. He had unexpectedly lost his wife the previous May. This new loss was too much for him. In less than a year, the sad old man, suffering from cancer and the effects of a stroke, entered a nursing home. On March 2nd, 1964,  his younger son died unexpectedly.  Grampy died the next week.

My stepmother successfully sued the company. The damages were split three ways. When I heard the news, I am sorry to say I smiled and hugged myself. I wasn't rich, but I knew I would always be comfortable. Yet I feel sad about this unearned comfort and probably give away a little too much. For her part, my sister used some of her share to pay the college tuition for our three half sisters.  My stepmother lived the next 30 years in the house she loved, adopting stray cats and volunteering at a local nursing home. 

Still, January will always be the cruelest month.