. . .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..

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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.

Three Christmas Trees

1900 – Papa and the boys hitch Old Dobbin to the bobsled and set off into the nearby woods, looking for the perfect Christmas tree. Dobbin’s harness jingles merrily and the boys’ cheeks are red with excitement as they head up the hill.

Meanwhile, Mama and the girls finish stringing cranberries and popped corn into long red and white ropes that will decorate the tree, then Mama heats a big pan of mulled cider and the girls set out plates of molasses cakes.

Harness bells are heard drawing closer and soon the door bursts open. A tall, fragrant tree is carried triumphantly into the warm room, its piney scent mingling with the spicy odor of the cider.

Papa sets the tree carefully into a pail of sand and the red and white ropes are wound around it. A wooden star, shiny with gold paint, is fastened securely to the top.

The family softly sing their favorite hymns, “Adeste Fidelis” and “Oh Holy Night” as candle holders with tiny beeswax candles are clamped to the sturdiest branches. A bucket of water is placed behind the tree and Mama lights the candles. The bright tree glows with life.

Mugs of steaming cider and molasses cakes are passed around and everyone agrees this is the most beautiful tree ever.

By the time the candles flicker out it’s time for bed. The children hang their stockings from the mantle, leave a glass of milk and a molasses cake for Saint Nicholas and are soon fast asleep.

Later that evening, quiet figures are glimpsed setting lumpy packages carefully under the tree. There are hand knit caps, mittens and scarves for all, and carved wooden dolls and prancing horses. The girls are given lengths of calico with matching ribbons, and sturdy boots are set out for the boys. A few peppermint sticks go into each stocking.

The house grows quiet once again and the proud tree stands watch as strains of “Silent Night” are heard far in the distance.

 

1960 – Dad, Mom and the kids pile into the station wagon, heading for the nearest Christmas tree lot. The kids sing “Jingle Bells” at the top of their lungs, mittened and scarved against the cold night.

Once there, they carefully look over the selection. The  flocked and spray-painted trees catch their eyes, and a few metallic trees set back under a shelter interest Mom briefly, but they settle on a beautiful noble fir, straight and tall. Dad ties it securely to the top of the station wagon and they rush home to set it up.

Mom stirs up a pan of hot chocolate while Dad stretches out across the shag carpet and the kids hold the tree upright in the tree stand. He firmly tightens the screws that hold it in place and water is added to the base. The house fills with the piney fragrance of the tree.

The lights are next, the strands laid out in rows, each strand then  plugged into an electrical outlet to make sure the fat, round bulbs light. One unlit bulb means an entire strand is dark so each one has to be carefully tested. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” blasts out of the record player, followed by “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and  ”Jingle Bell Rock.”

Fragile glass ornaments have been packed away from year to year and now they’re unwrapped to loud “OOHS” and “AAHS.” Everyone carefully hangs their favorites, then an ornate golden spire is fastened  to the very top.

Mom passes around handfuls of silver tinsel with orders to hang one strand at a time. It isn’t long before this gets tedious and when Mom isn’t looking the kids begin to hang it by bunches, then finally clumps of tinsel are sneaked onto the back branches and the job is done.

Leaning back, admiring their efforts over steaming cups of cocoa, potato chips with French onion soup dip and snickerdoodle cookies, everyone agrees this is the most beautiful tree ever. Bedtime seems to come too soon but suddenly everyone realizes how tired they are. The stockings are hung from the mantel, milk and cookies are set out for Santa Claus and the family is off to bed.

Much later, Mom and Dad slip out and set gaudily wrapped packages under the tree. There are new crinolines for the girls and Levis for the boys. There are stacks of games, Betsy-Wetsy dolls and an E-Z-Bake oven, also Tinker Toy sets and an electric train. Apples, oranges and walnuts fill the stockings and all grows quiet again.

The noble fir stands watch and faint strains of “Oh Tannenbaum” are heard from afar.

 

TODAY -Great-grandmother wrestles a tall, narrow box out of her hall closet and slides the contents out onto the tiled kitchen floor. She begins to assemble her Christmas tree while the TV streams her favorite carols, including “Adeste Fidelis,” “Oh Holy Night” and “Tannenbaum”.

She fits each section of the tree into the next, clicks the stand together and sets it upright. The dangling electric cord is plugged into the nearest outlet and her tree sparkles and twinkles with multi-colored lights. In this age of instant gratification she gets a laugh out of her “instant” tree.

She pours herself a glass of wine and reaches for her box of ornaments, a treasure box of memories. Each ornament has been saved over the years for its special meaning.

As she sips her wine she unpacks the ornaments one by one, handling them lovingly and recalling the person who gave each to her or the special occasion it represents. Many are hand made, some by childish fingers and some by fellow craftspeople she’s known and worked with. A delicate golden angel, her own creation, tops the tree.

She misses the fragrance of real pine boughs just as she misses the color, the companionship and excitement of other years and other trees. Finally she sits back, sips her wine and nibbles at a gluten-free cookie, listening to the strains of “Silver Bells.” Tears come into her eyes and a lump forms in her throat, as she thinks of the many loved ones gone from her life.

And then her iPhone peals out “Jingle Bells.” She wipes her tears and picks it up to answer. A lisping voice cries out “Merry Christmas, GiGi, we’re on our way,” and she laughs in delight. Her beautiful little tree twinkles at her merrily and she hears “Jingle Bells” in the distance.

Feeling Your Age?

Someone, a very small someone, asked me recently how it feels to be so old. How I felt after that remark was speechless!  How does it feel? Maybe the question should be a two-parter, how does it feel inside? And how about the outside?

Inside is easy. Sixteen.  Call it wishful thinking, or second childhood, or whatever you want. I’ll always feel like I’m still sixteen inside, and that’s a good feeling.

Outside is totally different.  Being old on the outside can vary in feeling from to week to week, day to day, and even hour to hour.  There are days when I think I can still slay dragons. I don’t exactly bounce out of bed but I do give it some serious thought.  Then there are days when every hair on my head hurts, my toenails too. Maybe a brief top-to-toe inventory is called for here.

I’ll admit, I do look old. There’s no fooling anybody.  Layers of paint, youthful attire and hair extensions don’t camoflauge a thing.  Makeup sinks into one’s wrinkles and runs down the chin in streaks. Faded jeans with ragged knees only make people cry, “Oh, you poor dear, did you fall down again?”  As for the hair, mine has been white for so many decades, a green or magenta extension would only bring Halloween to mind.

I still seem to have plenty of curves but how did they end up getting  rearranged into lumps in so many of the wrong places? A double chin might be excusable, but 2 or 3 more on top of the original  don’t help a bit.

And wrinkles!  A few could be expected and accepted, but wrinkles on top of wrinkles?  No way. I have vertical wrinkles, horizontal wrinkles, and wrinkles that crisscross all the rest.  My ear lobes are wrinkled. Even my toes are wrinkled. Not the wet, puckery kind you get after staying in the pool too long either.  These are serious wrinkles, not bad enough to snag my sox, but I do need a larger shoe size just to accommodate them.

If only I could pull up all this sagging skin  and tie it in a knot at the top of my head, I might gain back some of the height I’ve lost,  not to mention getting an instant face-lift. Maybe I should try a handstand. The last time I ended up standing on my head (totally unplanned) I came out of the E.R. with 12 clamps on the crown of my head and bright red hair.  Anyway, physical appearance is transient. As they say, vanity is the last thing to go.

Appearance aside, how do I really feel?  How about my joints, my organs, my posture?  Joints, old and creaky, organs, old and leaky, posture, old and freaky. Some things just don’t bear talking about.

So how did I answer the small someone who was so curious?  I managed a big grin, crossed my fingers behind my back, and fibbed.  “It feels great, child. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll be this old and you’ll find your heart is still young. And that doesn’t feel bad at all.”

How Time Flies

Don’t  you just hate the way time flies? You finally get all the Easter grass vacuumed out of the corners of your ancient Berber carpet and it’s time to dig out the Christmas glitter. Weren’t we supposed to have a summer and an autumn in between there somewhere? How did we miss Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving?

This sort of thing happens to me too often lately. I think it’s Tuesday and it’s already Friday.  I just got used to October and here it is almost December. If it weren’t for my bank statement and my Visa bill rolling in once a month I’d totally lose track.

I finally decide to blow some money on a pair of cute summer sandals I’d been wanting and now everyone else is buying UGGS. Is it just me living in the past, or do we all have this problem?

When we were children the hours dragged, days were never-ending and a week was an eternity.  All I wanted was to be older. Life finally began to very slowly pick up a little speed about the time I started school. By then I really wanted  to be grown up but it seemed as though it was taking forever. I’d be stuck in school for the rest of my life. When would I start living?

The months and the years crept by and I finally made it into high school. Life began to move a little faster, but still not fast enough. By now, time was playing tricks on me, sometimes flying, sometimes dragging. That was partly my own fault. In high school I picked up a bad habit, I began to lazily put off my six week homework assignments from each class. There was lots of time ahead to do those, Why rush?

The days passed,  then a week, 2 weeks, still plenty of time. Suddenly all 6 weeks had sped past  and I was left the night before those assignments were due, cramming until the wee hours of the morning in an effort to get the work done.  Trying to convince my parents that a bunch of mean teachers had dumped the lessons on me that very day never worked either. With the parents I had I never got by with much. They were on to me by then.

Time passed, as it always does, sometimes creeping, sometimes flying, and the decades disappeared. What I used to do in an hour now takes all morning. Maybe this is what  “time warp” means?

How can these big, busy adults with the beginnings of wrinkles possibly be the babies I cuddled so recently?  I couldn’t wait to get them weaned, then out of diapers, then up and walking and finally into school. Now they’re in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Wasn’t I just in my 60s and 70s? Tain’t fair, why can’t we get a second chance? Would things be any different if we did?

I keep thinking of that old saying, “When you get over the hill you pick up speed.”  All too true. And then there’s the one that goes “Time flies when you’re having fun.”  Somehow that one doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. A lot of my time that has passed wasn’t fun at all.

I’d like to grab old Father Time by his scraggly, coffee stained beard and shout  “SLOW DOWN” right in his hairy ear just as loud as I can. Somehow I think he’d just shake me off and keep shuffling right along.

What Would You Do?

If you knew you had just one week left to live, what would you do? How would you spend that week? Cry for seven days straight? Keep it to yourself or tell everybody? Maybe squeeze as much life into those days as possible?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and the many possibilities boggle my mind. I think I’ve decided what I’d definitely NOT do. I wouldn’t waste one minute sitting around taking my pulse, watching the clock or moaning “Why me?”

My first instinct might be to jump off a cliff just to get it over with before the suspense killed me. I never was good at waiting for things to happen. The problem there would be realizing halfway down that a mistake might have been made.  They could have gotten my records or my name mixed up with someone else’s. Then what? Change my mind? I’m NOT jumping off any cliff. Cross that possibility out. It won’t happen!

A lot would depend on circumstances, too. Had I suffered a long, debilitating illness, been  ditched by my one true love, or was I on my way to serving a prison sentence for life with no chance of parole? If so, maybe I’d actually be ready to go in a week’s time.

I kind of doubt that;  I’m more the live-it-up type. I might round up all my far-flung nears and dears, the ones who were still speaking to me or to each other, we’d have one humongous week long reunion eating, drinking, hugging and yakking and we’d never count the hours.

Or I might rob a couple of banks and fly off to Tahiti, spending my  last week in Paradise, living on the freshest seafood and lots of red papayas with lime. What could they do if they caught me? By then I’d be long gone anyway.

I could look up my old boyfriends, just to see if I’d wasted my life, but I already know the answer to that one. My life couldn’t have been better. Besides there weren’t that many boyfriends and it definitely wouldn’t take a whole week to find them.

I might set off on a whirlwind trip around the world, cramming as many of the great museums, cathedrals and heritage sites into my trip as possible. The Louvre, the Prado, the Hermitage,  Notre Dame, Xian, China, the great Golden Buddha, thrill after thrill. All tempting to dream about until I recall an incident that occurred a few years back as I stood gazing in awe at the majesty of Chichen-Itza, the marvelous Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan.

A young man with a backpack and a camera ran up, shoved the camera at me, asked breathlessly if I’d take a picture of him, dashed off,  climbed the lowest steps of the pyramid, and glanced up toward the top. I snapped the picture, he dashed back down, grabbed his camera, muttered a hasty “Thanks”  and ran off at full speed, leaving me standing there with my mouth hanging open. That is definitely not the way I would want to view any of the world’s wonders.

I really haven’t come to any conclusion as to how I might spend that precious week. I guess I’ll find out when or if the time ever comes.  How about you? Give it some thought!