The Happiest Love Songs

(A belated Valentine to all of you and a favorite re-run)

“Love, Love, Hooray For Love,  Who Was Ever Too Blase For Love?”

Love songs should all be happy.  You want to belt them out with so much energy and enthusiasm  that everyone joins in. They never get old.

Thinking back to the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s,  who could ever forget a song like “Hooray For Love?”  The lyrics were written by the great Harold Arlen, who also wrote a little something called “Over The Rainbow.”  The second line in “Hooray For Love,” “Who Was Ever Too Blase For Love?” has to be one of the most delightful lines in popular music. The imagination that wrote the word “blase”  into a love song and made it work is what made Arlen such a great songwriter.

There were so many other talented  songwriters of that era . We can all recall  Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin,  Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein,  and the list goes on. They turned out one unforgettable song after another.

Maybe it was the times,  the Great Depression, followed by  World War Two, that gave us such an appreciation for simple, joyous music. The promise of sunshine and silver linings ahead kept us going through a lot of very dark days.  Whatever the reason, those songwriters knew how to cheer up an entire nation with their words and music. Funny, isn’t it, how the spirit of an era could be lifted by a few happy songs.

Remember  “Get Happy,”  “Old Black Magic,”  “Million Dollar Baby In The Five And Ten Cent Store,”  “You’re The Tops,” or “ It’s Delightful, It’s Delovely?”   and how about “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” ” You Are My Lucky Star,”  and “Fit As A Fiddle And Ready For Love?”

The smiles just kept coming.  Who could forget “ Oh, Mama, It’s The Butcher Boy For Me,”   “A Bushel And A Peck,” or “Buttons And Bows?” Some of the most memorable songs came out of World War Two,  such as “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.”

And what about the  happiest, most exuberant  love song of them all? Written in 1929 and made famous in 1952 with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown,  it made every one of us want to run out, splash in rain puddles and swing around lampposts. As danced and sung by the one and only Gene Kelly,  “Singin’ In The Rain” has to be the most unforgettable, inspirational, lighthearted love song of all time.

If “Singin’ In The Rain”  doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will!!

“What A Wonderful Feeling To Be Happy Again!”

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Auntie Jo’s Advice to the Aging Lovelorn

( February being the month for lovers, I decided to re-run my first and favorite  Auntie Jo story. Hope you enjoy it.)

Elder-amour,  is that a real expression or did I just make it up?   Whichever, it sounds good and love can be such a rewarding addition to the aging process.  It might sneak up on any of us at any age and when it’s returned, these later years of our lives will be enriched.  Auntie Jo, my all-knowing advice giver friend, has some suggestions for us.

But how do we tell what’s real  from a passing fancy? I have another friend, using the word loosely,  who latches on to any man who comes into her orbit like a Venus-Fly-Trap sensing life.  When he gets that deer-in-the-headlights look, it’s too late for him. Auntie Jo frowns on this.  He’s been hooked and the rest of us hardly had a chance to notice whether he had hair, chewed tobacco or wore white socks with his wing-tips.

As a boon for those of you ladies who are looking, but may not be as fast a worker as my friend, I’ve prepared a checklist of priorities:

#1 Does he still drive?

#2 Does he still drive the family sedan, circa 1998?  OR Is the ratio of dents to original paint overwhelming?  If either of these is true, and you value your life, drop the guy.

#3 If the answer to #1 is Yes, he still drives, and you feel daring or desperate enough to ignore #2, don’t hesitate to make your move, white socks or not.  It’s worth a try. Trust Auntie Jo.

In the interest of fairness I’d also like to present a list that you men can refer to, especially those of you who are Not Looking.  You can call it your “Keep-Out-Of-Jail” card.

If your idea of retirement revolves around a quiet evening in front of a fake fireplace, clad in your rattiest sweats and worn down slippers while you sip a single malt and enjoy a crime novel,  Forget It! You’ve already been scouted and appraised, and you need to be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

Desperate measures are called for here, guys, and you have only two options open to you:

#1  You could consider entering a monastery, although they might not approve of the single malt.

OR:

#2  You can discreetly drop a few hints to the effect that you’re allergic to VIAGRA.

However, all of you, if you Are looking, and you Do spot your perfect target, (pardon me), choice, you might be out of practice, so bear in mind that a certain amount of decorum is called for.  Holding hands in public is good, it’s such a comforting thing to do, and it always gets an “Aw-w-w-w, How Sweet!” reaction from everyone. Auntie Jo highly approves!

Any moves beyond gently clasping your loved one’s gnarled fingers with your own are frowned upon and will bring into play an instant  “cringe” reaction from observers, not to mention scaring the BEEJABBERS out of any offspring who might be counting on an inheritance.  In other words, keep your best moves to yourselves. No hanky-panky in the corners or behind the potted palms.

If, after long and careful thought, you both agree to cohabitate, give yourselves plenty of time to adjust to having another person in your space. This is not as easy as it sounds.  Somehow, someway you find you’ve turned into a bit of a slob. Or just the opposite, your life is now ruled by O.C.D. Whatever has happened to you, your new partner is sure to have experienced the reverse.

One of you stands at the kitchen sink to eat lunch, digging peanut butter out of the jar and licking it off the spoon.  The other one still uses cloth placemats.

One of you flails all night and throws bedding around the room.  The other one carefully tucks the sheet under a double chin and doesn’t move until morning.

One of you wears the same outfit for 2 or 3 days in a row, finally discarding it in a wrinkled, smelly pile in the middle of the floor.  The other one changes 2 or 3 times a day, carefully putting the already worn clothes back on a hanger until it’s time to do laundry.

And so it goes.   It’s called adjustment and no matter how difficult it might be, or how long it takes, the results are more than worth the stress.  To those of you lucky enough to have found a new life together, I wish you only the best. Don’t let it bother you one little bit that Auntie Jo is sitting home alone, miserable and green with envy.

And so am I.

Questions We Should Have Asked

If we could go back in time,  would we change our lives? What changes would we make?  Would we do anything differently? How about conversations we might have had with our parents?  Our grandparents? What questions would we, or should we have asked them?

The more I puzzle over this,  the more confusing it becomes.  The biggest question of all, the most obvious one, would be, why didn’t I ask them 40, 50 or 60 years ago when I had the opportunity?  My only conclusion, children and young people are so self-involved we don’t look ahead much beyond ourselves until we begin to get older.

Instead of asking the big, important things like, how did they manage as small farm families in the late 1800s and early 1900s?  How did they personally cope with The War To End All Wars, as the first world war was known? What did they learn from it? What were their reactions to the everyday loss of life and loved ones?

Instead,  I’d probably ask them all the same questions,  light-weight and frivolous. I’d ask the personal questions, the nosy ones, the none-of-my-business ones that had never occurred to me to ask at the time.

How and when did they meet? Was it love at first sight?  Did their parents approve? How about their weddings? What did my mother wear?  My grandmothers? What were their long term plans and dreams? Photos from those days are scarce now, with not enough of them left to scour for clues.

Times were hard for all of them and big splashy weddings would have been out of the question in those days.  They may never have heard of honeymoons. I picture brief, somber ceremonies in front of country parsons or county clerks with a close  brother or sister in attendance, possibly followed by a few sandwiches and lemonade, then back to work.

Maybe this is why I’m so much in favor of memoirs. I believe that recording the minutia of one’s life, while totally boring to most readers, might be of interest to enough descendants to make it worth the effort. Who knows which great great grandchild might be thrilled to learn about the goofy ancestors who moved 37 times during their married life, climbed Ayers Rock when they were almost 60 years old, and built a canoe in their living room one boring winter?

Holiday Foods (from my memoir)

Looking back on the most recent holidays,and ahead to St. Patrick’s Day,  Passover and Easter soon to come, I realize just how important traditional foods are to all our celebrations.

Living in the tropics for almost twelve years was exciting, colorful and adventuresome until our favorite holidays rolled around. Those were the times when we wanted to recapture the atmosphere, the traditions, and most of all,  the foods that we associated with each holiday.

Raising three school-age children while away from home, families and old friends was cause for a lot of nostalgia.  We were living in what was formerly known as the Panama Canal Zone, which at that time was still all-American. Our many new friends soon became our families, but our holidays were never quite the same.

The Canal Zone maintained a small fleet of passenger-freighters that regularly traveled between Colon, on the Atlantic side, and New York, then later to New Orleans, keeping our commissaries supplied with frozen, canned, and dried food, also clothing, household needs and all basics.  With an average population of around 50,000 people in the Zone, including the military bases, there were a lot of people to provision. The military had their own commissaries, of course, and also used ours.

We had access to fresh garden produce from several small plots of land managed by Chinese families, each with a roadside stand.  The Zone maintained a dairy farm and there were bakeries in the clubhouses in the larger towns.

The public markets in each of the towns in Panama were full of   everything from homemade leather sandals with old tire tread for soles, to live turtles. Their fresh seafood was always available and always the best. We made a trip into Panama at least once a week to shop, usually oftener.

There was never a shortage of foodstuffs. We might have to do a bit of running around to track it all down, not like a one stop supermarket, but no big problem.   When our small ships came into port with something like a load of frozen turkeys, or better still, green Christmas trees, word traveled fast and everyone made a beeline for the nearest commissary.

Local foods made great substitutes for old favorites.  Sliced green plantain chips were deep fried for snacks, yucca and taro provided plenty of starch, chayotes  tasted like summer squash. Yams, corn and avocados (known locally as alligator pears) were all native to the Caribbean and South America.  Guava jelly was great on hot biscuits or the local michas, as French rolls were called. Mangoes were wonderful in pies.

Most of us kept a stalk of bananas hanging under our quarters. There’s no comparison with a banana that was picked green weeks before.  Fresh pineapples were turned upside down and left outside to ripen fully. My favorite red papayas and limes were always available in the Panamanian markets,  And we never knew what might turn up in our commissaries. Our children recall pickled crab-apples on our holiday tables.

Our biggest complaint was the cold storage eggs. No egg was ever cracked directly into a batter or a heated pan. They always needed the sniff and eyeball test. However, fresh eggs were available in the local markets across the border.

As for special local dishes, one of the biggest favorites throughout the Caribbean was  “Arroz Con Pollo,” or rice with chicken. This amazed me because one of the basic ingredients was green peas.  Now, where did they ever get green peas back in the day and how did the recipe originate? Paella, originally Spanish, was another popular, tasty dish in the better restaurants.

Panama itself didn’t have a really local cuisine. Sancocho, a chicken stew, is the only truly Panamanian dish that comes to mind. Sancocho is made with chicken parts simmered down with chunks of corn on the cob, any of several root vegetables such as yucca, yam, taro, or name, chayote which is a local version of summer squash, onions and cilantro.  It was never highly seasoned; the Panamanians preferred their foods to be bland.

Two dishes that all Zonians remember fondly are first, the local empanadas,  pastry turnovers filled with meat, potatoes and savories, similar to Cornish pasties. Balboa clubhouse empanadas were the best ever.

Then there was the dish that built the Canal, every digger’s favorite, Johnny Marzetti.  “Diggers” were the much respected laborers, most of them from the West Indies, who actually worked on the construction of the Canal.  They were honored in later years with well deserved medals and awards.

Johnny Marzetti was basically the typical American mixture of ground beef,  onions, garlic, tomatoes and pasta, often including green olives. Every cook had his or her own version.

All these dishes were good, but hardly holiday fare as we knew it.

Our holiday meals somehow managed to retain a festive, satisfying spirit even though some of the foods were unusual and unexpected.  A table full of close friends and happy children can make a success of anything.

. . .If It Weren’t for Bad Luck . . .

. . . I’d have no luck at all, as the old song goes. There I was, barely into the new year, having just posted a blog about the January Blahs and the boredom that sets in after the holidays.  So what happened? Well, for starters, my credit card was hacked. Then one of my teeth fell out, and just to add a bit more drama, I sat on my glasses again. I didn’t even need to leave home to get into trouble.

For a person who hasn’t traveled farther than the Oregon coast for at least four years,  I was shocked to discover I’d just paid $347 for a one way ticket from London. England to Amman, Jordan. The charge seemed quite reasonable – if I had been in London and wanted to go to Jordan. However, I hadn’t been to any London, whether Ontario, Connecticut,  Oregon or England for some time and had never had a desire to go to Jordan, even back when Jordan was still Jordan and not another bullet-riddled pawn to rabid rebels.

Fearing I might be mistaken for a middle-eastern Mata Hari masterminding a cell of suicide bombers headed for Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street,  I was sure Interpol and the C.I.A. already had me in their sights.

I couldn’t call Visa fast enough.  Apparently hacking has become so commonplace they immediately canceled my number and assured me that it was highly unlikely that either Interpol or the C.I.A. was after me .  And NO, I did not have to pay the $347. My fears set to rest, all I had to do was make a myriad phone calls and spend hours canceling all my online deposits and payments.

After a few sleepless nights  I began to relax, thinking to myself, “Well, I managed to dodge that bullet, what’s next?”   I soon found out. I was vigorously brushing my teeth the next morning when I heard a distinct PLINK in the sink and looked down, horrified to see one of my molars rolling around. Talk about biting a bullet, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cautiously exploring the gap it left, and assessing the situation, I realised there was no pain, I could still chew, and I didn’t resemble Alfred E. Neumann’s great-grandmother from the old MAD Magazine days. So I put the entire situation on hold. I can see the dentist after I’m certain my new Visa is secure. After all, if the C.I.A. nabs me, they’ll be responsible for my health and welfare anyway, they can spring for one tooth.

And then I sat on my glasses again. I have no excuse, no explanation. It just happens every now and then. The young woman smiles graciously as she straightens them, but her eyes are saying  “Have you ever considered safety goggles?” I’m just happy lenses are plastic nowadays. Sitting on a Band-Aided butt for a week or so can’t be much fun. Might make for some interesting scars, though.

So much for a boring January.  What will February bring? Will I be languishing in a Federal pen breaking in my new tooth and wearing safety goggles? I can hardly wait to find out..

The January Blahs

(another re-run, Januaries don’t change much year to year)

Dismal, dreary, depressing and a real downer.  I think that just about covers the month of January.  What a letdown after the previous two months! November kicks off the holiday season early every year, starting with the long Thanksgiving weekend –  family oriented and peaceful. Even so, the quiet Thursday holiday we used to enjoy so much just isn’t the same these days with the prospect of Black Friday and big time shopping right around the corner.

Nowadays Black Friday, that 18 to 24 hour gift shopping blowout, abruptly ushers in what used to be a pleasant run-up to our most loved holiday, Christmas. Whether we celebrate Christmas as a religious or a social occasion, or both, we find ourselves in a mad whirl of activity throughout December that doesn’t ease up until January 1st.

We shop, we clean, we shop, we decorate, we shop, we send out greetings, shop, bake and wrap.  Somehow we fit school programs, benefits, concerts and parties into our busy schedules, then shop some more.  Refrains from favorite carols fill the air and everyone smiles. The days rush by. Santa Claus comes, he goes,  and we have a brief opportunity to catch our breath and prepare for the last big party of the year.

New Year’s Eve means more merriment, music, noisemakers, champagne and promises to ourselves that we know we’ll never keep.

Then suddenly it’s all over.  Everything stops. We pause for a day or so, remember how to relax, and look forward to some peace and quiet.  Surprise! The minute we let our guard down that January feeling sets in. How can things change so quickly? We spent weeks rushing around, longing for a little relaxation; now in no time at all we’re bored.  The bright shopping ads that were so enticing a month ago are now begging us to buy healthy foods, vitamins, exercise equipment and all sorts of sensible, ordinary things. There is no end to the shopping but now the fun is gone.

The weather that was invigorating and exciting in December is now drab and grey. The days are short and dark, the sun seems to have gone permanently south, and the only beings who enjoy these gloomy days are skiers, snowboarders and hard core shoppers who can ignore the weather while on the hunt for next year’s Christmas decorations at 70% off.

We feel like overblown balloons just pierced by a pin. We’ve kicked the bathroom scales under the bed.   Last month’s roast meats and gravies are only a fond memory. The Christmas cookies are down to the last few crumbs and there’s nothing left in the candy dish but a couple of striped canes, both broken.

Worse yet, we find ourselves turning down the few dinner invitations that come our way in January.  Where is the fun in a glass of sparkling water served with a bowl of greens and some poached tofu?

What to do?  Well, there are several choices, depending on who we are.  Some of us might call our favorite travel agent and book a flight to Papeete, Rio or The Bay of Islands.  As far as I’m concerned, a quick peek in my checkbook cancels that plan. Even a jaunt south to Medford would be a strain on my bank balance at the present time and it wouldn’t be a bit warmer.

Some of us could  opt for the “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em” strategy.  That lets me out, too. How many snow angels can one person make and still think they’re having fun?  And I hate soggy, half frozen mittens.

I suppose I could go shopping (there’s that word again). My pantry is bare and my list is long, filled with all sorts of boring stuff.

Instead, I opt for turning up the heat, donning those fleecy new jammies I found under my Christmas tree, sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate and diving into the stack of books I’ve been wanting to get at.

With enough books, it’ll be February before we know it, the days will be getting longer and the sun will be back.  January will be a bad memory, best forgotten. I can always grocery shop next month.

New Year’s Day 2019… Resolution Reruns

With 2019 just a few days away, “Auntie Jo,” my sassy, brassy alter-ego, tells me the time has come for me to start posting re-runs. She reminds me I’m losing my touch, that I’m over the hill and sliding. My synapses are no longer synchronizing my syntax, my spelling has gone freeform, and my punctuation, always iffy, is out of control.

Tired of her nagging, I’ve had 5 years of posting this blog so there are plenty of stories to fall back on. I’ll be boring you every week from now on with a message from the past.

I’m hoping 2019 will be your best year yet, and I thank you all for your messages of encouragement and appreciation.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

So, did you or didn’t you?  Are you one of those super optimistic people who trot out the same old resolutions year after year, ever hopeful that this will finally be the year when you’re able to hold on to one long enough to say you kept it?  Do you have your list permanently engraved in your memory so you don’t have to write it down? Or maybe you come up with a new list every year, thinking that sooner or later you’ll hit on something that works?

Well, let’s review a few of those resolutions.  How do they stack up? After all, there are only so many ideas we humans can come up with for self-improvement.  We tend to think alike when we start kidding ourselves.

What’s Number 1 on almost all of our lists?  GET BACK IN SHAPE! Exercise more, eat healthily, lose weight and quit smoking if it applies.  Number 2 would probably be our promise to spend more quality time with family and friends. This would include cutting way back on the boob tube and social media.  Somewhere in there we’d vow to read at least one thought-provoking, inspirational book every month and, in general, clean up our act. Sound familiar?

Give it up, guys.  We all know we’re doomed to fail. Our promises to ourselves may give us a lift as we sing “Auld Lang Syne” on the last night of the old year.  We’re excited, eager to unveil the new us, ready to become better people. So, what happens?

Unfortunately, January 1st is what happens. That is decidedly the single worst day of the year on which to attempt any changes. Why?  Well, that’s easy. It’s those darned New Year’s Eve parties on December 31st that we can’t turn down. Take for instance, the most recent occasion.

We all partied that night, we know we did.  We even remember parts of the evening. We put on goofy hats, blew gaudy noise-makers, tried to prove we could still Jitterbug, ate tons of greasy, gooey little things and glugged down who knows how much eggnog.  Then came a confusing count down when some kind of a ball dropped somewhere, accompanied by a Champagne toast. And we called it fun!

So now we’ve arrived at January 1st.  New Year’s Day is dawning bright and full of promise.  And where are we? Cringing under the comfortless comforter, peering out of glazed eyeballs, head throbbing and tummies very, very iffy.  We’re expected to bound out of bed and do push-ups? Cook oatmeal? Welcome a thundering herd of raucous offspring who’ve discovered the discarded noisemakers?  All in the name of a few rash promises we made in the enthusiasm of the night before? Fat Chance!

Worse yet, we’ve obligated ourselves to read the first chapter of  “The Rise and Fall Of The Roman Empire” when we can’t even pick the darned thing up!  This is exactly why January 1st is the absolute worst day of the year for new beginnings.  Quality time with the family is a distant dream, something to be postponed indefinitely, along with any vague intentions of self improvement.  There have to be better times to begin.

So once again all those needed New Year’s resolutions have been sabotaged and we’re feeling more than a little guilty.  Surely there’ll be other opportunities to keep them – like maybe next year? We already have our lists, just in case.