“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”?

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‘Not so fast, Facebook Friends. Not so fast.’

I was all ready to write an amusing Memory Lane type tale about my first Real Summer Job (the kind that did not involve babysitting, but did involve the procurement of a Social Security Card), when I saw this on Facebook:

Posted on June 25. Exactly six months before Christmas. I get it, I get it. But I don’t want to play, OK?

So, excuse me, but the First Real Job at the Carlyle Union Banner story will just have to wait. Because (speaking of waiting) I plan to wait till at least after Thanksgiving to begin my own Countdown to Christmas. A “countdown” that will be “brutish and short”, if not “nasty” (sorry, Thomas Hobbes).

Those of you who have read my rants (er, pieces) for a while know that Thanksgiving — not Christmas — is my absolute A-Number-One Favorite Holiday. Christmas, with its obligatory gift-and-tip-giving and endless trapped-in-an-elevator playings of “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t even come close. (For an amusing and non-crabby recounting of Five Big Ways Christmas can’t hold even a red cinnamon-scented candle to Thanksgiving, just click here.)

‘Little Children Forced to Greet Benevolent Uncles dressed as Scary Santas’ isn’t on my list, but probably should be

The other reason I’m not even close to being ready for a Countdown to Christmas is that I haven’t even begun my Countdown to the Fourth yet. And the Fourth of July is coming up this very next weekend. So I’d better get a wiggle on, as they say where I come from.

A former Christmas Tree. No filter, no decorations. Best of all, no snow

Yes, I’m planning a Fourth of July celebration. The Fourth is the Birthday of Our Nation, after all. Besides, planning for the Fourth is a firecrackery snap. We open our doors to a Girl Gang of The Child’s TwentySomething friends, and basically just stay out of their way.

Oh, there are menus to plan and food to buy. Which can get a bit tricky, being as how this Girl Gang is, shall we say, “health-conscious”. I have some who are fish-but-no-meat, others who are not-even-fish, and some, including The Child Herself, who is “off carbs”. Imagine the fun at the traditional Fourth Cookout of burgers and dogs. Half will eat the burgers but not the buns. And the other half? Well, I sure hope they like buns.

Holiday Shopping, Fourth of July edition. At least I don’t have to wrap any of this stuff

But hey. There are no decorations, no gifts (unless the TwentySomethings want to bring me a bottle or two of wine — hint hint), and no snow (unless you count the drifts of pollen covering every surface these days — bring your Zyrtec, Girls).

You won’t even have to pose for Holiday Photos wearing scratchy new clothes. In fact, clothes — except for a teeshirt thrown over a bathing suit — aren’t even required.

In fact, my idea of “dressing for dinner” on Fourth of July Weekend (or any summer weekend, for that matter) is to change from the shredded “everyday” cutoffs to the relatively-intact “dressy” cutoffs.

Actual summertime lap in Real Time (like this very minute), displaying actual Everyday Cutoffs

So. If you guessed that I haven’t given serious thought to beginning my Countdown to Christmas (sorry, Hallmark Folks and FB Friend Jayne), you’ve guessed right. But I do, in fact, need to get that wiggle on already with my Countdown to the Fourth. See you next week — on July 4, in fact, otherwise known as Blog Day (er, Tuesday).

Excuse me while I get crackin’ on my Countdown to the Fourth

Amagansett, New York. June 2017

The Process of Elimination

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‘What to do when the blog clock is ticking’

People sometimes ask if I have trouble thinking of things to write about. Nope, I have the opposite problem — too many random ideas doing battle in my brain. Usually I look through photos to help me decide. But today that only made things worse. I kept finding photos I’d wished I’d used in previous posts. Like, here’s one that would have been perfect for last week, when I wrote about good times in and on the Lake of My Youth:

Look! I found a photo of the front of Sir Launch-A-Lot, complete with sign. That’s Gramma Henry, flanked by Only Sister Laura and Only Mom, um, Mom

Oh, and here’s one that would have been dandy to include in my riff on weddings (“I do, I do. I really do like weddings”)

Looking “back” on my first, “Polio-Shot” wedding. This was the rehearsal. But I guess you could say that about the whole marriage: that it was a “rehearsal”

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“Yet’s go to Ye Yake”

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‘Gosh. Illinois’ largest lake has been around for 50 years’

Now before you Whippersnappers out there start in with “Hey, isn’t Lake Michigan Illinois’ largest lake?” Or even “What’s so all-fired old about 50 years? There are lakes (see afore-mentioned Lake Michigan) that have been around for, like, a zillion years,” let me point out that Carlyle Lake (or if you’re feeling fancy “Lake Carlyle”) is the largest lake within the borders of Illinois, and that it’s a man-made lake that’s been around since 1967. So there.

This picture from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows the Carlyle Lake dam and spillway in all its glory. Nice stats, too, if that floats your boat

Carlyle Lake is also the only lake named after my personal home town, Carlyle, Illinois. But I’m not going to get into Fun Lake Facts. My mission here is to entertain. And so, actually, was (and is) the Lake’s. Oh, there was some serious flood-control going on. But for my family and friends, The Lake was really all about fun and games. Continue reading

“I do, I do. I really do like weddings.”

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‘After all, what’s not to like about a big ole party with champagne and dancing?’

There was a long dry spell there for a while. But I’m happy to report that not only is June bustin’ out all over, but so are the weddings. Not only are we going to a dandy weekend-long affair in a couple of weeks, but we just found out Nephew Chris and Squeeze Sarah are engaged. (I was going to use some corny euphemism like ‘getting hitched’, ‘tying the knot’, or maybe even ‘making things legal’, but restrained myself. Though I could not resist saying ‘Squeeze’. Oh well.)

Nephew on the left: engaged to be married. Nephew on the right: just got married. Yes, this is how I picture them in my Auntly Mind’s Eye

The long dry spell was because The Dude and I are long past the stage of going-to-friends’-and-relatives’ weddings and have finally broken into going-to-friends’-and-relatives’-kids’ weddings.  (There was a blip in there with a few do-overs, including my own, but not many, I’m sad/happy to say. My First Wedding is now a fond memory and funny story called ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage.’) Continue reading

“Swim, Sandy, swim!”

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‘Equal time for dogs’

My Porn Star Name is ‘Sandy Peterson’. In honor of Sandy the Dog, the beloved Pet of My Youth, pictured above in a moment of not-unusual adorableness.

But before we get to Sandy, a quick word about that word game. Maybe you played it too. It’s the one where you take the name of your beloved pet, add your mother’s maiden name, and, voila!, you’ve got your Porn Star Name. (The Child’s is ‘Tuna Henry’.)

I must admit ours are pretty tame. Over wine at my dining room table I’ve heard some easy-to-imagine-clad-in-fishnets doozies: ‘Pinky Parker’, ‘Missy Goodbody’. Though the Dude’s is ‘Duffy Miltner Flockmaster Cromartie’, which is pretty darned racy.

But back to pets, which is the point of this piece. A couple of weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about felines of yore in ‘The Cat Who Ran Away from Home and Broke My Heart’.

I finally found a picture of me with Aunt Marilyn’s Herkimer, the first cat I adored. And tortured with two-year-old abandon

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“Come as you are.” Or, um, maybe not

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‘Decoding the dress code on party invitations’

Who doesn’t love getting invited to parties? Well, maybe The Dude, actually. He’d much rather relax in his jammies in the comfort of his own home than head out to a party after a long work week. But the last two Fridays in a row have found us helping two Birthday Boys celebrate very Big Birthdays at a couple of very Big (and very nice) Parties.

One of the nice things (aside from the free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres) that we appreciated about these two parties in particular was that there was no dress code. At least, not a dress code that was spelled out on the invitation. I guess the hosts (or hostesses, in these cases) figured that guests old enough to go to a birthday party without holding someone’s hand would be able to figure out how to dress.

Now, me, I love parties. And I look forward to getting party invitations of almost any kind. Including the ones with the little notes on the bottom of the invitation that tell you what to wear.

Should I wrap myself in cellophane like a bouquet from the corner deli?

Or should I make like a rosebush?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker-of-40-years-and-counting, I’ll probably just don my wear-to-pretty-much-every-party basic black. Maybe I’ll carry a nosegay. Or wear rose-colored lipstick.

But back to those dress codes. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of these. ‘Jacket and tie’, ‘Formal’, ‘Semi-formal’. (Does this mean half of you is dressed up, and the other half not? You know, like a suit jacket with jeans — a look I rather like, actually.) And then there is ‘Business casual’, which, honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out, except that when I was working in advertising, being ‘casual’ while doing ‘business’ (like on Casual Fridays) inspired the guys to dress like toddlers — in tee shirts, shorts and Teva sandals. At least most of them skipped the socks.

Some girlfriends and I were discussing the more creative party dress codes the other day over lunch. One of them (hi Sue!) had us all cracking up over her interpretation of ‘Casual Chic’. She said that when she sees this on an invitation she’s tempted to show up in something like sweatpants and a head covering. And what’s ‘Beach Chic’? Rudolph Valentino in a bikini?

Speaking of ‘Casual Chic’, The Child tells me that when she was in college she and her friends kept getting invited to events calling for ‘Casual Chic’ attire, and she said it got to be a running joke because they never knew what it meant either. Though they do seem to ‘get’ ‘Formal’.

The Child and her pals at a decidedly NOT ‘Casual Chic’ event

Oh, while we’re on ‘Formal’, my favorite party of the year is one I call The Prom because I get to really dress up, which I love. It’s a dinner dance and the dress code is ‘Black Tie, White Tie, or Full Military Dress’. Which tempts me to wear combat boots with my taffeta skirt.

Me in my One Long Skirt. Without the combat boots

That picture was taken at one of my late belated Tree-Trim parties, which is how I got my Christmas tree decorated Back in The Day. (I hate decorating, but love parties, so combined the two with great success. If you’re interested, I’ve got a funny story about this called ‘(No) Tannenbaum.’ These days, with no Santa-believing Child at home, I not only skip the decorating, I skip the whole tree.

But when I did send out invitations to those Tree Trims, I admit that I was guilty of adding a little note to dress ‘Festive’. Which, to me, meant dragging out the ole taffeta skirt.

And to everyone else, ‘Festive’ meant pretty much anything they wanted. Why, my guests didn’t even have to wear the festive little crowns that came in the Christmas crackers if they didn’t want to.

The Child appropriates all the Christmas Cracker Crowns, thus saving other guests the indignity of wearing them

Nowadays I’m even more casual, if that’s possible, in my interpretation of ‘Festive.’ Given a ‘Festive’ occasion, I pretty much wear whatever I want — jeans, even — and slap a tiara on top. Yes, I actually have a tiara. My Favorite Sister got it for me a few birthdays ago, and now I wear it not only on every birthday, but pretty much every chance I get. Nobody gives me a second glance, because at my age I’m invisible anyway.

Oh! Before I go, I should explain what occasion The Dude was dressed for in that picture at the top of this post. No, he wasn’t on his way to a ‘Come as you are’ event, though that would have been wildly entertaining for our hosts. He was dressed for a birding excursion. On his motorcycle.

New York City. May 2017

It’s lonely at the top of the Coliseum

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‘The time we went to Rome and no one was home’

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s been thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster, so I guess it’s safe to tell a somewhat-amusing story about it. After all, New York Times Journeys is selling tours to the Chernobyl site. The group is ‘departing’ (nice choice of words, Times writer) May 27, so there’s still time to sign up. If you’ve got $5,495 and a hazmat suit.

I think I’ll skip this, tempting though it may sound to stay in ‘the only hotel in the town of Chernobyl’

So what could Chernobyl possibly have to do with a nice thirty-something couple in New York? Well. The Dude was a freshly-minted doctor at the time and was preparing to give his first big lecture at his first big medical meeting. This meeting, of ophthalmologists from around the world, was to be held in Rome — a city that sounded darned nice to visit, meeting or no meeting.

So The Dude got his notes and slides all prepped and polished and I found us some nice cheap plane tickets and a nice cheap hotel. (These were the days when we were living ‘Barefoot in the Park’-style in that fish-bowl ground-floor apartment, remember, and the Hassler was not in our budget. Still isn’t, actually.)

Then one day a week or so before we were supposed to leave, we read in the paper that a nuclear reactor had melted down somewhere in Russia, Chernobyl to be exact. We of course felt bad about this, but as was our wont, we went on with our lives and didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Until we heard about the Radioactive Cloud.

This was, basically, a super-nasty airborne plume of ‘hazardous isotopes’ that floated away from the Chernobyl disaster kind of the way a balloon floats away from a birthday party. Except that, instead of getting trapped in a tree and causing an eyesore, this nasty balloon was going to poison crops and cause cancer.

Nobody knew where the plume was going to land, but scientists thought it was going to be ‘somewhere in Europe’. So trips were being cancelled left and right — including trips to The Medical Meeting. We thought about it maybe for a second, and decided that bailing was not an option. Money had been spent. And besides, The Dude had that talk all practiced up. So off we went to Rome.

I’ll skip the part about what it was like to fly coach in the ‘non-smoking section’ on Alitalia back in the Eighties. (It was the last row way back by the not-too-clean toilets — and yes, it was just one row.) And I’ll gloss over the part about what Leonardo Da Vinci airport was like back then, except to mention that this was only about a year after an infamous TWA hijacking, so the place was swarming with teens in uniform toting machine guns. Sort of like any airport in these post-9/11, post-Trump days, I guess. But back then it was unusual.

But we made it to our comfy-but-cheap hotel, settled in, and headed out on the town for some pre-meeting fun.

All I can remember about this place was that we could afford it

Well. First thing we noticed was a surprising lack of, well, people. No matter where we went, Rome looked like a ghost town. A wonderfully well-stocked-with-antiquities ghost town, but still definitely ghostly. The Palatine Hill — deserted. The Forum — empty. The Vatican — you could shoot a gun and not hit anybody. Only The Coliseum was full. Of cats.

The Palatine Hill (I think; it’s been a long time) — and me

Me, making like a Vestal Virgin. (Vestal Virgins were thin on the ground that day)

The good part about this was a lack of crowds. The bad part was the lack of fresh food. Here we were in Rome with, basically, nothing to eat. The restaurants were thrilled to welcome us — we would be greeted with happy cries and even hugs when we entered any trattoria or ristorante. Once we were even treated to complimentary grappa, which I thought tasted kind of like tennis shoes. Tennis shoes that had been kept in a damp basement.

But there was no fresh food. No tomatoes, no milk, no fruit. Because of the toxic plume, you see. No one was sure if anything fresh was safe to eat. So there we were in Rome, eating canned peaches. Oh well, at least we were in Rome.

Nope. I don’t even see the Pope. Maybe he was craving fresh mozzarella, and left town to get some

Since our hotel was next to the train station (travel tip: many inexpensive hotels are next to train stations), we did leave Rome to go on a day trip. Went to Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este. Which were equally empty.

No people and no produce at the fountains of Tivoli. No cats either. Oh well, cats hate water

We were starting to feel a little lonely when we finally went to The Medical Meeting. Where, you’ll be happy to hear, there were at least a dozen or so intrepid souls in attendance to take in The Dude’s talk. He wasn’t nervous, not one bit. But then again, it wasn’t exactly a big scary crowd.

And what happened to The Big Scary Cloud? It settled, eventually. But not anywhere near Rome. It glommed on to Scandinavia. And, even though they ‘got’ the cloud, I’d rather visit the Swedes than, as the Times Journeys description puts it about their Chernobyl trip, “gain an unparalleled perspective on this seminal world event, and emerge with an informed view of nuclear power”.

I’m afraid that’s not all I’d ’emerge’ with.

New York City. May 2017.