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 runup to our most loved holiday, Christmas. Whether we celebrate Christmas as a religious or a social occasion, 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.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!

I decided to post the same blog I sent out on the last two years.  Two good reasons: It still seems relevant; in other words, nothing has changed very much.  Also, I’m suffering seasonal let-down, sugar O.D. and general laziness – so here goes-

NEW  YEAR’S  DAY  2018…  RESOLUTION  RERUNS

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’re faced with reading 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.

The Night Before Christmas…at The Oaks

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the Oaks every creature was stirring.  Hey, we’re all old folks!

Our stockings were flung across every chair.  If they fell to the floor they’d have to stay there.

We oldsters tried nestling all snug in our beds but too many sugarplums had gone to our heads.

My neighbors in nighties, long johns and caps were hopelessly trying to grab a quick nap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,  I fell out of my bed trying to see what was the matter.

I crawled to the window, tried to open the sash,  pulled back the curtain and felt a great splash.

The rain as it fell  soaked the landscape below.  It gave a luster of dewdrops that spread a bright glow.

Through the rain I could see I wasn’t alone. There were eight elderly elves in a gyrating drone

With the real St. Nick, not some street corner clone,  perched on the top calling ”turn off your phones.”

Four elves were on walkers, four on their canes. All hard of hearing, yet they each knew their name.

“On Wimpy, On Clumsy, On Tipsy, On  Ted!”  “Up Oreo,  Cheerio,  Frito and  Fred!”

From the lawn to the roof, through the rain they did fly.  The drone landed safely,  toys stacked to the sky.

And then in a twinkling I heard for myself  the grunting and groaning of each tiny elf.

I hit my head on the window as I spun back around.  Saw St. Nick set to work; he made not a sound.

His rain coat was red, dripping wet from the ride, and he left a big puddle as he dropped down inside.

The toys weren’t too wet and the elves had stayed dry. They set out the gifts in the wink of an eye.

My neighbors and I were by now wide awake.  We  watched from afar as they took a short break with  glasses of milk and some solid fruit cake.

St. Nick’s cheeks were  rosy, his nose red and runny.  Allergy season is not very funny/

He had a fat little face and a fat little belly;  too many snacks of P.B. and jelly.

His twinkling eye spied us, no time for a smile. They still had to travel  many a mile.

No voices were heard as they bent to their task. They filled all the stockings,  then finished at last.

St. Nick and the elves sprang back into the drone, took off from the roof  and  turned on their phones.

With a quick smile and a wave and the G.P.S. set,  the wipers were wiping. It was still very wet.

And away they all flew, calling out as they fled,  “Merry Christmas to all, now go back to bed!!!”

Going Out in Public

No matter what you call it;  the facilities, the john, the throne, the biffy, the loo,  the water closet;  that porcelain plumbing fixture is a necessary part of modern life.  We take it so much for granted that we don’t realize until we get out in public just how important it is.  I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had some pretty unhappy experiences away from the comforts of home.

First comes the urge, then the hunt, then desperation.  Depending on where you are, and how and why you’re traveling, finding a restroom can get pretty hectic. Public buildings, hotel lobbies and parks can usually be counted on, although there’ve been times when I’ve had to resort to some creative thinking to find relief.   Running through restaurants, shops and bars,  shoving chairs, tables and customers aside, is frowned on, even if you do make a token purchase on your way out.

A car trip in the country will sometimes turn up a handy clump of bushes or a small stand of trees.   If you happen to be in desert country, not so handy.  No one wants to sit on a cactus.  And it’s right about here that we women can work up a real resentment toward the male of the species.  It’s so unfair.

Some years ago, while living in the Panama Canal Zone, several other leaders and I took a large troop of middle school Girl Scouts out jungle camping.  The first thing the girls learned was how to dig, use and fill in a jungle latrine.  It’s a quick, easy solution to the problem, needing only a suitable clearing,  reasonable privacy, your own T.P.  and,  Oh, yes, a shovel. I’ve often wondered if any of those girls ever had need of that skill in later life.

Traveling in foreign countries often brings up a whole new set of problems.  Going in public markets in Mexico, for example.  In an emergency, they do offer some privacy and a fixture that usually functions.  There will be a little old man sitting at the entrance, carefully doling out sheets of paper, 2 or 3 at a time,  never more. You pay a few pesos,  wondering at the flimsy quality, and  proceed inside.  The used paper is deposited in a basket next to the toilet, never inside, even in the private homes.  They don’t trust their plumbing any more than we do.

My husband and I were wandering through the Acapulco Princess Hotel once, admiring the murals in that first class establishment,  when I excused myself to use one of their first class rest rooms.  It was lovely in all respects and I confidently stepped into a stall, closed the bar lock and  did my thing.

The bar lock wouldn’t open.  I tried repeatedly and was finally able to see where a tiny screw had come loose and jiggled out of place. Having nothing in my purse that would dislodge it,  I grew increasingly frustrated until at last a maid came into the room.  My fractured Spanglish wasn’t good enough to get my message through to her;  she kept telling me to just open the door,  Senora, and I kept telling her  “no se function.”  She finally left, no doubt shaking her head over the loca Gringa who didn’t have sense enough to unlock a door.  So what did I do?  Well,  I ducked  under the door,  muttering to myself, “ there are restrooms in my own country where I’d never do this.”  The room was spotlessly clean.

On a car trip through El Salvador we stopped overnight at a tidy little pension in the capitol, San Salvador. Their dining room was spacious and bright with windows all along one side having a view of the nearest volcano.  The other side of the dining room was lined with toilet stalls.  Nice looking stalls, but for the fact that the doors were all skimpy enough to give the casual diner a view of the occupant from the knees down.  It was hard not to let your eyes stray while trying to enjoy your carne asada.  Fortunately we had a private bathroom in our room.

Ever since the ceramic army of ancient warriors was unearthed in Xian, China, I dreamed of a trip to see what to me must be the eighth wonder of the world.  Aside from the prohibitive expense,  I realized I’d never be able to cope after hearing stories of toilets in China being basically holes in the floor.  How do you say “Get me up off this thing”  in Chinese?

It seemed to me that  between my age and lack of agility I’d do a lot of prancing around with crossed legs before getting safely back to  real toilets as I knew them.  My daughter informed me just recently that nothing has changed there yet except in the tourist hotels in the larger cities.  Apparently the Chinese look at our porcelain toilets as being unsanitary.

Other oddities I’ve found in restrooms on other trips;  drain holes in the center of slightly sloping tile floors in Australia and New Zealand. I wondered if the fact that water swirls in the opposite direction as it drains Down Under creates a greater centrifugal force,  thereby threatening to  suck you in as you step out of the shower and get too close.  Rather nerve-wracking.

And I loved the fact that the shiny chrome plumbing pipes  are on the outside of the walls above the fixtures  in some European countries,  creating instant decor.  They remind me of free form sculptures.  They could have  little plaques attached with titles like “Plumbers’ Nightmare Number One”  or   “ Stabile In Chrome Number Two .”

Here in our own country,  I had an interesting experience not too long ago in a picturesque little beach town near here.  We were in a picturesque little restaurant in a picturesque old Victorian home.  Lunch was lovely and the iced tea was delicious, too delicious, in fact.  After gulping down the second glassful, I went off in search of the facilities.  The tiny restroom was a tad too picturesque,  the toilet so low it might as well have been on the floor,  Chinese style.  No grab bars, no way to summon help.  If my sister-in-law hadn’t finally shown up to see where I was,  I’d still be sitting there.  So much for picturesque.   Give me modern metal stalls, loose screws and all.

Over the years I’ve come up with a few words of wisdom.  If you plan to leave home, skip that second cup of coffee, under no circumstance take a diuretic ahead of time, no matter what your doctor says, and carry your own T.P.   Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to tote along a trenching shovel too, just in case.

You never know when you’ll be going out in public.

How Much Butter?

It’s November. The harvest is in, the trees are bare and the nights are nippy. It’s time to start planning the annual Thanksgiving feast, that yearly pleasure. Once again there is so much to be thankful for.

You pore over your recipes, trying to remember everyone’s favorite foods. You make out your shopping list and wonder just how much butter will be enough for all those yummy dishes? How many pounds of butter should you buy? And don’t forget the cream, how many pints of cream will you need?  It would never do to run out of either of those vital ingredients.

You check your guest list. Hmmmm, looks like the usual 15 to 20 hungry celebrants. Your own family of four or five, several grandparents, some aunts and uncles and what always seems like hordes of children. Your drinkin’ Uncle Charlie doesn’t really count, he prefers to enjoy a liquid feast, well seasoned with malt, grapes or hops. Everyone else has their special requests, all rich and satisfying. Anticipation runs high.

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner begins with a round of toasts and heartfelt thank yous. Uncle Charlie is big on toasts, he loves drinking toasts and his thank yous are always heartfelt. Everyone waits eagerly for the noble bird, a glistening, burnished  turkey, to be carried proudly to the table, wafting a wonderful aroma of onions and spices through the house. In most homes, when it comes to choosing a turkey, it seems the bigger the better. You slather it with generous amounts of butter, followed by hours of basting with more butter to give it that  appetizing appeal and delectable smell.

Next comes the dressing or the stuffing, your choice of words. Do you stuff the bird or bake it separately? Whichever you do is fine as long as you use plenty of butter. Some methods call for ½ to ¾ pounds of butter in which to simmer the onions and celery to soften before adding the other ingredients. There have to be mashed potatoes of course, made with a large dollop of butter and rich cream, finished off with another big dollop of butter oozing across the top and running  down the sides. Gravy is a must, made with rich pan juices full of melted butter.

Healthy is not a word one would ever use when referring to a holiday meal. I recall giving my solemn promise that nothing combining the words “leafy” and “green” would ever appear on my holiday tables. We do love our veggies but what do we do to them?  Yams are caramelized in butter, peas creamed, the same with onions. Green beans are buried under french-fried onions, cream and butter, brussels sprouts thinly sliced and sauteed in butter, corn scalloped, with cream and butter added to a few crumbs. The list goes on. Save the tofu and the spinach for next week, or next month please.

Hot buttery croissants are a must, with a ½ lb. chunk of butter sitting at each end of the table for spreading. Cranberries are almost perfect as they are, neither cream nor butter spoiling their crimson tartness, just lots of sugar, but that’s another story.

By now Uncle Charlie is well into his own feast, contentedly reaching for the decanter for the third or fourth time.

Just when everyone is beginning to feel more stuffed than the turkey, the table is cleared and the desserts appear. Pie after pie, buttery crusts, creamy fillings, all covered with  mountains of whipped cream, Himalayas of whipped cream, veritable Grand Tetons of whipped cream. So what do we do?  We eat pie, sighing and groaning and loving it all.

We think back to the Pilgrims and our Native Americans; surely this was not what they intended. They may not have used butter, but they definitely left us a legacy in how to celebrate.

Our feast is almost ended. Coffee and brandy are brought out and Uncle Charlie cheerfully joins in on the brandies, shuddering slightly at the mention of black coffee.

The thoughtful hostess should probably toss a handful

Of Tums or Rolaids in with the after-dinner mints and give everyone a soft pillow for a nap. Even the children have calmed down and Uncle Charlie has slipped gently under the table, snoring quietly. Another Thanksgiving feast is over and the family is content.

I’ve read  that more gall bladder surgeries occur on the day after Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. Can this be a coincidence? Or is it a warning?

Oh, and how much butter and cream were actually used?  I lost count way back there with the mashed potatoes. Let’s just say a whole lot.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Auntie Jo Dodges an Intervention

Auntie Jo strolled toward the mall, accompanied by her oldest, dearest friend. They’d just polished off a lovely luncheon at the DELIGHTFUL DOWNTOWN DINER. This week’s special was deep-fried Peanut Butter-Jelly Sandwiches with Curly-Fries and they’d enjoyed them along with a nicely chilled Pinot Grigio. Since they were both watching their weight, they’d skipped dessert and settled for a second glass of wine.

Now they strolled along, reminiscing about old times and giggling like school girls. Auntie Jo was so caught up in her story about Miss “Fish-Face” Foster, their 4th grade math teacher with her unfortunate resemblance to a flounder, that she almost walked past a vaguely familiar face.

Catching herself just in time, she exclaimed to her friend, “Why, it’s my new next door neighbor! You must meet her!” The new neighbor smiled rather timidly. She and Auntie Jo had chatted briefly at their mailboxes that very morning. At least Auntie Jo had chatted, pausing for breath every now and then, just long enough for the new neighbor to manage a quick smile and a nod.

“How nice to run into you,” cried Auntie Jo. “You must meet my friend, my dearest, oldest friend …“ There was a pause – “My dearest, oldest friend … “ Her mind went blank. She turned to her friend, stammering “And th-this is my new neighbor …” Once again her mind blanked out. She stood stock still, totally speechless. How dreadfully embarrassing! Auntie Jo was mortified. Fortunately the ladies were already clasping hands and smiling at one another. Auntie Jo could do nothing but stare at the sidewalk, wishing it would open up and swallow her, red face and all.

She glanced up just in time to see a taxi approaching. Ignoring the honking cars whizzing past, she hailed it, grabbed her friend’s hand, leaped out into the traffic and shoved both of them inside. She waved a hasty good-bye to her neighbor, who was left standing at the curb, gaping. Too rattled to remember her own address, she weakly flapped a hand at her friend who managed to give the befuddled driver the directions.

That evening Auntie Jo relived the humiliating scene over and over. What was happening to her? Why? Thinking back over recent weeks she realized she’d been getting more and more forgetful. Forgetting or misunderstanding appointments, showing up a day early or a day late for important events, misplacing items, mixing up the simplest things, where would it end?

Was it just yesterday that she had poured a healthy glug of vanilla into the pot of chili she had bubbling away on the stove? She’d meant to use red wine. And how puzzled her doctor had looked a few days ago when she began asking questions about a root canal, thinking she was at the dentist.

She was aware that words and phrases she’d been accustomed to using no longer came easily to mind, like referring to her computer as a confuser or the blue spruce tree in her yard as a BlueTooth. And she’d definitely not had her eyes defrosted, although she’d had them dilated any number of times. She’d laughed everything off, but not this, not her best friend’s name. Her many little slips no longer seemed funny at all.

Was it any wonder her children had begun darting little glances at her, raising their eyebrows to one another when they thought she wasn’t looking? How could she ever tell them what had happened to her this afternoon? HORRORS! What if they felt compelled to stage an intervention!!  What would happen to her? What would they decide to do?

The idea of an intervention was too frightening. However, not one to brood for long, Auntie Jo tried to think constructively. What to do? What to do? And she had it! A reverse intervention! She’d throw a big family party, every detail planned carefully. She’d show them all how capable she still was!  What could possibly go wrong?

A nasty little voice popped up in the back of her mind, reminding her sarcastically, “Probably Everything,” but she chose to ignore it, her mind firmly made up. She’d start making plans and lists the first thing in the morning. Intervention indeed! HAH!!

With that settled , she toddled off to bed. Now if she could only remember those names…really, her oldest, dearest friend, her next door neighbor, how ridiculous! Once again she began to fret. Finally, after hours of tossing and turning, she drifted off to sleep.

At 2:00 o’clock in the morning Auntie Jo’s eyes suddenly flew open and she popped straight up in bed.

“Wilma!” she cried. “Wanda!”

But which one was which?

Ode to October

Autumn has arrived,  heralded by a brilliant Harvest Moon. That fat orange orb sometimes appears in late September, usually in early October,  and we see it again in November as we offer up thanks for our many blessings.  October is my favorite  of all the Fall months,  the mellowest of months when our busy lives slow down after an active summer.  We welcome an opportunity to rest and gather ourselves together for the holidays and the demanding winter to come.

The Harvest Moon reminds us of October fun;  hayrides, corn mazes and heaps of leaves raked up, just to be jumped into.  And do you remember bonfires, what fun they were, and how they always filled the air with such great smells?  The Harvest Moon  inspired one of the good old songs too, a standard at every Sing-a-long since.  “Shine On, Shine On”

Our landscape rapidly turns from rich greens to glowing yellows, oranges, reds and gentle  brown.  The chrysanthemums wear their October colors. As the days shorten, the farmers reap the last of their harvest,  and the fields, lawns and bulbs rest until Spring.  The kiddies are happy to be back in school, at least most of them are,  and we adults can grab a little extra snooze in the mornings and  enjoy the cozy evenings with popcorn in front of the fireplaces.

Everything smells and tastes like pumpkin,  spice , and every variety of apples,  fresh fragrant apples that crackle when you bite into them .  We’re ready for hearty soups, stews and chili.  Iced tea has given way to freshly pressed cider and hot chocolate.  Fall squashes appear on our tables, along with other seasonal favorites.

The BBQ tools and  camping gear,  the air conditioner,  the pool and all the summer toys have been stored and the lawn mower is parked next to the snow blower, each waiting for it’s season.  The skis and skates haven’t been brought out yet and the sleds still hang on the garage wall.  Sunburns have long since peeled and faded,  sandals have been traded for shoes and boots, and swimsuits for sweaters.

The vacationing relatives  have all returned home, not to be seen again until the holidays when they’ll descend again like locusts , ready for another round of  “just dropping by”  for weeks at a time.

And on the very last day of October ,this mellow month has one final gift for us … Hallowe’en … that rowdy, semi-spooky celebration beloved by children and the young at heart.  We love the costumes, the garish decorations and the cries of  “Trick or Treat” echoing throughout he neighborhood as darkness settles.

Hallowe’en is believed to be based on the ancient pagan holiday of SAMFHAIN, the Celtic New Year.  This was a harvest festival dating from the 700s A.D. , rife with superstitions  meant to ward off ghosts  and welcome the darkness of the coming season

But right now  it’s party time,  launching us into the busy weeks ahead. Let’s grab our masks and go Trick-or-Treating!