What a mess — January 7, 2020

What a mess

Last year, as in years past, I kept a blessings jar. As you might have deduced, every week I wrote a blessing on a slip of paper and placed the paper into a jar. (Well, actually it’s an aging popcorn tin.) And at the beginning of this year, I reviewed last year’s blessings.

Some of the blessings featured nature. For example, one week I included a tree I had passed billions of times on the way to my mom’s house yet had somehow never before noticed. I also made note of watching the river flow past the dentist’s office as I waited for him to come in and yank out a tooth.

There was the week I was grateful my car was still under warranty and, the following week, when I was grateful it was out of the car hospital and once again running well.

And then there was the week that my great-niece, aka the world’s most adorable kindergartner, told me my hair looked messy.

I had forgotten her proclamation until I reviewed the aforementioned blessings. If my memory is correct, she made the observation one weekend as we gathered in my mom’s parlor. What I can’t recall, however, is why I considered it a blessing.

Of course, there is the possibility that I deemed it a blessing simply because it came from her mouth. After all, I consider her daily declarations to be philosophical phenomena that should be shared far and wide. Indeed, I frequently send messages to friends that contain nothing but her musings on life.

Or it could be that I regarded her innocent remark as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps it spurred me to spiffy up my hair or to make an appointment with the hairdresser.

Regardless of why I scribbled the exchange on a scrap of paper so that it could be kept for posterity, its inclusion makes me question what else was going on in my life that week. Even if nothing exceptional happened in that seven-day period, one would think I would have at least enjoyed a good meal. After all, chicken nuggets comprised another week’s blessing. Or, baring good food, perhaps I would have taken a good nap, which showed up in two separate weeks’ blessings, or taken a good walk and/or run.

Nope. The best thing that happened that week was that a child insulted my hair.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Dough girl — December 18, 2019

Dough girl

76781467_10221205068818778_3035515819174920192_oWhen I was a wee lass, my mom, aunts, and grandmothers occasionally treated us to homemade crackers. They made the crackers by frying leftover pie dough in lard or bacon grease. The former came out of a huge plastic bucket while the later was poured from a metal canister that rested on the stove. The canister was labeled “GREASE.” I assume so that no one would forget the nature of its contents.

While the crackers weren’t exactly heart healthy, they sure were tasty, especially if you ate them while they were warm. The crackers of our youth came up in conversation as my siblings and I gathered the day before Thanksgiving to bake pies and other goodies.

Of course, no crackers were made that day, but I wouldn’t say the extra dough went to waste.

After placing the bottom layer of dough, the filling (either apple or cherry), and then the top layer of dough in the pie plate, my mom gently trimmed the excess dough from the pie. And as soon as the excess dough dropped onto the table, her helper, my great-niece, scooped up said dough.

The world’s most adorable kindergartner then played with the dough, squishing it between her fingers and rolling it onto the table. Or, as we say where I come from, she gommed in it. Indeed, she even whipped off her socks, placed the dough in the chair, and kneaded it with her feet.

There were quarter-hearted attempts to make her stop gomming in the dough, but none of these entreaties came from Aunt Cookie (that’s me). Instead, I praised her for making use of her imagination and for showing an interest in baking. What’s more, she made sweet memories with her great-grandmother. So what if she also made a mess?

She was, however, a tad possessive of the dough. When my brother reached over for a little of that freshly-trimmed dough, she demonstrated Ninja-like speed as she grabbed most of it from his grasp. I think I heard her giggle. I’m sure I saw an extra twinkle in her eyes.

When the pie-making concluded, she shaped the dough into a mound that could have been a troll or a volcano or a Shar-Pei’s face. She then stuck two small whisks into either side of the mound. They could have represented horns, but I like to think they represented flags and that she was staking her claim.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Better late than never? — December 11, 2019

Better late than never?

I have a confession to make. And after you read this-here confession, I will understand if you delete me from your reading list. Here goes – I have never seen any of the “Home Alone” or “The Santa Clause” movies.

Of course, even without having seen the flicks, I understand their respective premises. In the original “Home Alone,” a family forgets the existence of their little boy and flies to Paris for the holidays, leaving the tyke to fend for himself. Somehow, similar scenarios play out in sequels. Having never had children, I probably shouldn’t judge, but it seems to me that, after the first incident, parents would count their kids before boarding a plane.

In “The Santa Clause,” Tim Taylor from “Home Improvement” becomes Santa or takes over for the jolly old man or something like that. Having never seen the movies, I cannot be expected to know everything about them.

Anyway, I’m apparently the only person in the galaxy who hasn’t seen these flicks, and I have no plans to rectify the situation. Of course, it’s not that I harbor ill will toward them. Indeed, I’ve wondered why I didn’t watch them in their infancy.

But I didn’t and now it seems that, much like backpacking through Europe or training as a trapeze artist, I’ve missed my chance. Honestly, though, it doesn’t bother me. Well, maybe I’m still haunted about not studying the trapeze. But my ignorance of the movies is not what keeps me awake at night. After all, I have seen two other holiday standards – “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation” – each once. Neither of those viewings occurred until years and, in the case of “Christmas Vacation,” decades after their releases.

After oodles of years of buildup, there’s no way those movies could have met my lofty expectations. So, when doofus Cousin Eddie showed up in “Christmas Vacation,” I said to myself, “Self, people laugh until they wet themselves over this?”

Having had little exposure to these movies, I’ve forgotten much about them. So, when family, friends, and coworkers quote Cousin Eddie or Buddy the Elf, I have next to no idea what they’re talking about.

Sure, the movies had their moments. It’s just that I don’t want to relive those moments. Then again, I did enjoy the local theatre’s production of “Elf,” especially since it featured younglings in the roles.

Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I need to watch younglings perform in theatrical productions of “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” and “The Santa Clause.”

Or maybe not.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Skirting the issue — December 4, 2019

Skirting the issue

78708555_427740308110462_7948906814651760640_nMy gently-used Christmas tree has a lovely new skirt. And, to think, it took me only four years to buy the tree skirt.

Well, the transaction didn’t take four years. But it did take four years for me to find a tree skirt I deemed worthy enough to play an important role in my holiday decor.

Of course, there wasn’t anything wrong with my previous tree skirt. It was winter white and featured a silver-and-gold Santa and snowperson as well as raised stars. Well, I don’t think it was genuine silver and gold, but as I didn’t have it appraised, I guess I’ll never know for sure. Anyway, I can still remember the day I bought it at the Supercenter. Feeling guilty for behaving so extravagantly, upon my return home I called my mom and asked if $12 had been too much to spend on a tree skirt.

She assured me that it wasn’t and, for the next 16 years, the tree skirt added a touch of grandeur to my household. But thanks in part to my cat army, the silver and gold had frayed and many of the stars had quietly disappeared.

So, four years ago, I started shopping for another tree skirt. But choosing one represented a huge commitment. After all, I would have to live with my decision one month a year for the ensuing decade or even longer.

Faced with that realization, I struggled to find a tree skirt that suited my fancies. Sure, I’d run across one I considered cute or even cozy, but then I’d focus on a feature such as fake fur or felt reindeer antlers and reconsider.

This year seemed like the right time, though. Indeed, I welcomed a hand-me-down tree into my household and it would have been gauche to drape an aging skirt underneath a gently-used tree.

As luck would have it, I spied a lovely tree skirt during an autumn visit to the home improvement store. The skirt, resplendent in Christmas red, featured the words “merry and bright” stitched on the front in white as well as white scalloped edging.

Of course, I didn’t buy it right then and there. I needed time to mull over my decision and make sure an even lovelier skirt didn’t reside in various and sundry stores or on websites.

When I failed to find lovelier décor, I scurried back to the home improvement store and bought the aforementioned tree skirt, which now decorates the floor underneath the tree.

In spite of its loveliness, I was worried that Alice, the youngest member of my cat army, would not care for the new tree skirt. So fond was she of its silver-and-gold predecessor that she seemingly took up residence on it before I placed it under the tree each year. My worries, however, were proven fruitless. Alice, who regards Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, quickly settled onto the tree skirt as if it were an empty box or freshly-laundered clothes. What’s more, she and/or another member of my cat army has already deposited a fur ball on the lovely new tree skirt.

Yes, it’s officially part of the household.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Whatever floats your boat — November 27, 2019

Whatever floats your boat

During a chat about Thanksgiving, one of my besties expressed unbridled love for the holiday. She said she loves cooking the meal with her daughter whilst watching the parade and then eating the meal with her family whilst watching football.

I certainly identify with the football-watching aspect of her schedule. But while I cook and bake specific dishes and desserts, I don’t make the entire meal. Besides, come Thanksgiving, I pretty much stick to eating mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and pie. In other words, it’s food I could eat on any random Thursday.

Still, I eat and I watch football, so we’re on the same page there. But when it comes to the parade, we’re not even reading the same book.

Now, before you get all judgmental and advise that I simply need to give the parade a chance, you need to know that I’ve given it dozens of chances. For most of my life, I excitedly tuned in to the parade every Thanksgiving morning. I couldn’t wait to experience tunes from the biggest Broadway hits or watch the newest floats drift in the air. But approximately two and a half minutes into the parade, I’d ask myself, “Self, can a person die from boredom?”

This scene repeated itself oodles of times over the years until I finally realized that, for me to start enjoying the annual event, either the parade or I would need to change. For starters, I would need to enjoy parades in general. That’s right. I’ve never met a parade I like. I cannot fathom the premise of standing – sometimes in cold rain – on the street just to watch people walk by. If I wanted to do that, I’d hang out near a cross walk.

Of course, the Thanksgiving parade offers me the chance to sit in the comfort of my home and watch people dance and march by.

As it turns out, I don’t enjoy that spectacle, either. As I relax in my rocking chair, eating my morning oatmeal and trying to concentrate on the TV, my mind wonders from the lip-syncing performers and canned banter to thoughts of dusting. Do you know how bored I need to be to even consider dusting?

But that’s how much the parade bores me. In fact, it’s always bored me. But when I was younger, I tried to convince myself that it was fun. Although I never made it through an entire parade (or even half a parade), I’d try again the next year.

Until the year I’d had enough. I’m happy to report that I haven’t so much as watched one second of the parade in years. But if it’s part of your holiday tradition, I hope you continue to enjoy watching people dance and march by. Indeed, I hope you enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Dear diary — November 20, 2019

Dear diary

As you might recall, a few months ago, I shared the exciting news that the venerable Nielsen company had contacted me about taking part in their surveys. What you probably don’t know is that I didn’t complete the introductory form.

You know how it is. At first, you’re really excited about a suitor or a TV show or a granola bar. Then, the enthusiasm abates and, all of a sudden, you’ve lost interest in what once appealed to you.

I guess that’s what happened with the Nielsen company and me.

Well, at least with me. As it turns out, Nielsen was quite persistent, following up with a second letter that contained a crisp five dollar bill.

Retrieving my abacus, I added five to the one (dollar bill) Nielsen had previously sent and decided I could be bought for six dollars. So, I completed and mailed the form.

I didn’t hear from Nielsen for weeks. Finally, a letter arrived. Wasting no time clawing through the envelope, I developed an immediate case of the sads when I read what appeared to be a Dear John letter. Although the letter did contain another crisp one dollar bill and Nielsen’s thanks, it did not contain a formal request for more information.

Oh, well. I put the dollar in my pocket, dried my tears, and moved on with my life.

Then, in a surprising turn of events, the very next week, Nielsen sent another letter. That one contained not one, but two crisp dollar bills, as well as an invitation to participate in a survey.

Oh, my heart!

After once again consulting the abacus, I determined that my tally from Nielsen added up to nine dollars, which can buy two months’ worth of oatmeal.

A few days later, my ratings diary arrived. It didn’t contain additional crisp bills, but it did contain the news that, when I complete said diary, Nielsen will send me a check for five whole dollars.

According to the abacus, that will bring me up to 14 dollars.

Demonstrating that Nielsen has a sense of humor, the company asked that I complete a radio diary. This tickles my funny bones because I straight-up told them during our first correspondence that I do not listen to the radio.

Anyway, I’m halfway through my assigned week and, as predicted, my exposure to radio has been scant. Indeed, the 21 minutes I’ve listened to the radio this week have been accidental.

That shouldn’t change Nielsen’s opinion of me, though. According to words clearly written on the top of my diary, no matter if I listen to the radio “a lot, a little or not at all,” I’m important!

Oh, my heart.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The early bird gets the tree — November 13, 2019

The early bird gets the tree

It is my belief that people generally fall into two camps – those who refuse to acknowledge Christmas’ existence until after Thanksgiving and those who think it’s fine and dandy to start the festivities as soon as the last trick or treater vacates the premises.

I used to be solidly ensconced in the first camp. For years, I could be heard asking folks to refrain from listening to Christmas music or trimming the tree until I was finished complaining about the Thanksgiving parade or making sure everyone knew that I don’t like turkey.

But at some point, I faced the fact that I was harmed not one iota by early embraces of the holiday. If somebody in my neighborhood or in Nebraska wants to drape a billion red, green, and white lights on their house on Nov. 1, well, that’s none of my business.

And, then, the strangest thing happened. I went away for the weekend in early November a few years ago. This trip occurred when I still listened to the radio, so during my travels, I sought a classic country or rock station. Instead, I found a station devoted to playing nothing but Christmas music from Halloween until the big day.

I stayed with that station for miles, eventually changing only when I heard more static than songs.

From that year forward, I’ve started listening to Christmas music when I dern well please. For the record, every year I’ve dern well pleased somewhere in that sweet spot between Halloween and Thanksgiving. And just because I listen to it on Nov. 1 doesn’t mean I’ll listen to it on Nov. 2. The mood has to hit.

So far, I’ve never been in the mood to decorate or to start my Christmas baking before Thanksgiving. But I do plan to devote the entire month of December to baking. The way I see it, it’s called the holiday season for a reason. What better way to savor the season than by savoring baked goods all month long? Besides, if you wait until mere days before the actual holiday, then you’ll run out of time as well as room in your fat pants.

I also ascribe to the philosophy of one of my cousins. Expressing her reasons for decorating early, she explained that she enjoys looking at her Christmas lights. As she’s gotten older, she’s realized the importance of treasuring life’s simple pleasures.

And if your simple pleasures include complaining about early Christmas decorations, you should have a merry season.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Witch-ful thinking — November 6, 2019

Witch-ful thinking

I am so grateful to the powers that be who postponed tricks-or-treats night from Thursday to Saturday. The change in schedule allowed me to spend Halloween the way the framers of the Constitution intended – by watching a “Bewitched” marathon.

As a wee lass, I enjoyed watching “Bewitched” reruns on the SuperStation WTBS. And even at my advanced age, Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the chic witch-turned-housewife Samantha, remains one of my favorite TV performers.

Aspects of the show, however, have always bothered me. For example, at every phase of my life – from an imaginative child who wished she could conjure up a spell with a twitch of the nose to a skeptical woman who realizes she’s the embodiment of Sam’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz – I have wondered what Sam saw in her husband Darrin. In addition to being incredibly boring, Darrin was prone to fits of hysteria and easily provoked. (By the way, I’m not sure what this says about me, but I only recently recognized the differences in the two actors who played Darrin.)

Anyway, ever since I first started watching “Bewitched,” I’ve questioned Darrin’s directive that Sam not practice witchcraft. Granted, Sam usually ignored him, but that’s not the point. The point is that Darrin – and Sam – were crazy for not taking advantage of her powers. Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why Sam continued to do housework.

The fact that Sam dusted the furniture or swept the floors is more unrealistic than her choosing Darrin as her mate. In one holiday episode, she worked her magic to make a fully-decorated Christmas tree appear in multiple areas of the living room. After she determined where to put the tree, she made it disappear.

That’s not magic. It’s madness.

Sam’s behavior makes it easy to understand why her mom Endora, played to campy delight by Agnes Moorehead, held such contempt for the man she referred to as Derwood, Darwin or Dum-Dum. She blamed her boring son-in-law for turning Sam into a woman who apparently enjoyed performing chores that normal people delay until company has arrived on the doorstep.

Nonetheless, as I hate Halloween, looking forward to the “Bewitched” marathon helped me make it through a rainy day populated with coworkers dressed like cartoon characters. It also made me, even at my advanced age, practice twitching my nose because you never know when magic might happen.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s the first pumpkin — October 30, 2019

It’s the first pumpkin

For various and sundry reasons, I do not like Halloween. Indeed, much like a trip to the gynecologist, I view it as something that I have to get through.

Of course, my heart and head aren’t entirely closed to the holiday. I don’t begrudge others for engaging in Halloween frivolity. What’s more, I enjoy seeing the younglings in their costumes and I have adorned my fake fireplace with holiday décor. Oh, and I also have a cauldron.

But that’s pretty much been it … until this year.

For reasons that even I don’t understand, I decided to purchase a pumpkin. If that comes as a surprise to you, my dear readers, you are not alone. Upon hearing my out-of-character plans, my sister assumed she was hallucinating.

I felt poorly on pumpkin-picking day, however, so my sister selected my gourd. And – even on a good day – I have no idea how to carve a pumpkin, so my beloved niece was entrusted with that esteemed honor.

Since I wasn’t feeling my best, I didn’t have the energy to create a spectacular pumpkin design. I had not lost my cleverness, though, so I asked my niece to carve a pumpkin into a pumpkin. I’m sure we were making a serious artistic statement with that design. I’m just not sure I’m smart enough to understand the statement.

On pumpkin-carving day, my niece sent me a message to let me know the double pumpkin had arrived on my porch. Then, she asked if I had a candle.

Although I was still unwell, I checked my temperature. I was not running a fever. So, I asked her for an explanation and promptly learned that one is supposed to illuminate a pumpkin with a candle so that one’s neighbors can view the shining gourd.

Imagining a hungry critter knocking my glowing double pumpkin onto the ground, I informed her that the suggestion was too dangerous.

Her response went something like this, “LOL! Haven’t you ever had a pumpkin before?”

No, smarty-pants, I haven’t, which is proof that a person can appreciate new experiences at an advanced age.

Nonetheless, I refused to leave a burning torch unattended on my front porch, so we decided on glow sticks. Yes, I had to look up glow sticks on the Internets so I would know what to buy at the Dollar Store. And, yes, my niece had to instruct me on how to use glow sticks, but everything worked out. I placed said glow sticks in the double pumpkin and, whilst I snapped photos, a member of my cat army jumped into the frame.

However, for various and sundry reasons, this might be my first and last pumpkin. The double pumpkin adds a splash of color to my life, but between coming up with a design and an alternative to candles, I’ve found the experience to be entirely too stressful.

Besides, glow sticks burn out after a night or two and those things cost a dollar a pack.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Went for the burn — October 23, 2019

Went for the burn

One night last week, I ate freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes for supper. And I did so willingly.

The meal’s origin story begins, as do many of my stories, with a trip to Super Dollar. Or, as the store is known around my mom’s house, FD.

As I strolled through FD on that early spring day, I had a smidgen of a hankering for pancakes. As I eat pancakes only once every three or four years, I didn’t think it made sense to buy pancake mix that would eventually turn to dust in my pantry. So, I tossed a box of generic frozen pancakes into my shopping cart.

Upon my return home, I tossed the box into my freezer, where it remained unopened. Then, one night in early summer, I had a full-blown hankering for pancakes. So, I tossed three into the microwave and, later, onto my plate where I applied spray fake butter to them and moistened them with generic syrup.

Although they weren’t as fluffy or as tasty as pancakes produced by a mix or purchased at a restaurant, they were good enough. In fact, they fulfilled the hankering. Indeed, I didn’t consider eating pancakes again until nearly four months later.

That brings us to last week. When I couldn’t decide what to eat for supper, I recalled a coworker saying she had made pancakes the previous evening. That sounded good enough, so I headed to the freezer.

After I heated the pancakes accordingly, applied spray fake butter to them, and moistened them with generic syrup, I used a fork and knife to cut them into dainty bites.

And when I took the first bite, I flashed back to an episode of “The Facts of Life” and paraphrased the character, Jo, by asking, “Is this what freezer burn tastes like?”

At that point, I could have tossed the pancakes into the trash and found something else for supper. After all, believe it or not, but freezer burned food doesn’t become more appetizing the longer you eat it. But I had gone to all that trouble to make the pancakes. Besides, in case I’ve never mentioned it, I don’t like to waste.

So, I ate every bite. When I finished, I said, “Well, at least it was a meal.”

Then, my voice of reason, which sounds like Tommy Lee Jones, said, “No, that wasn’t a meal. That was freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.