every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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Thanks, Sadie Hawkins!

Sadie_Hawkins_DayLookit that story o’ po’ liddle brown-headed, freckle-face Sadie Hawkins and her pappy who had t’ use a gun and a foot-race t’ git her a man ‘cuz ever’body knows a gal cain’t git her a man with brown hair and sunspots! [sound of head shaking]

Evidentally, ah’ve been-a goin’ ‘bout findin’ me a man all wrong, but it turns out now’s mah big chance t’ ketch me one, on account o’ tis Leap Year.  Yessiree, Bob.  Once in ev’ry foh years, on th’ twenny-nine o’ Febooary, th’ womens gits to chase after th’ mens.  Yo’ see, if-n ah grabs one o’ ’em, ah gets t’ keep ‘im, and he’ll be mah husband.  Uh-huh.  [sound of rocks rattling in empty head]

Ah’m-a scratchin’ mah noggin’ cuz ah cain’t figger out how ahm-a gonna grab sumbuddy on th’ innernet.  How do that work? Or do ah jes’ sit atta traffic light and jump outta mah car and grab the fuhst cutie pie ah sees? Ah needs me a strata-gee.  Mebbe ah could sit at a fancy coffee joint and snare one.  [sound of wheels squeaking in head]

Spinster ticket (2)

Spinster?!!!! How times change!

Ah done tried this here idear when ah was in skool, and unlike that purdy big ole yeller-headed Daisy Mae who kept a-chasin’ after that lummox Li’l Abner, ah done caught Th’ Vet’narian.  (Well, he wern’t no vet’narian then, jes’ a kid in mah soshiology class.)  ‘Cuz ah ain’t had no fellers aksin’ me out, ah took a chance and aksed him to th’ “Spinster Dance.”  [sound of gagging]

Spinster dance (2)

17-year old spinster looking for a date

Now ah finds mahself in a simian pradickyment, only ah’s a widder.  Ah done tried that new-fangled innernet datin’ where mens mah age wastes mos’ o’ th’ time a-lookin’ fer skinny yunguns, and mens ol’ enuff t’ be mah pappy is a-lookin’ fer a nursemaid.  Hmph!  Go figger, on account o’ I shorely cain’t.  What’s a gal t’ do? [sound of head scratching]

Ah’m a-thinkin’ that if-n it worked once, it mebbe could work twice, ‘specially now what it’s Leap Year and all. Ah’s goin’ t’ a shindig on Sadie Hawkins Day, Febooary twenny-nine, at an Eye-talian rest’raunt where unattached fellers laze about wit’ moonshine, so mebbe mah luck’ll change fer th’ bedder.  [sound of cackling]

Boys, better start a-runnin’!

 

 


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Tastes like Christmas Spirit(s)

It’s Christmas Eve!  And, for my family, that means three of the major fattening holiday food groups; a 1950s version of Beef Stroganoff served over canned chow mein noodles, 1960s Layered Green Salad, and My Grandma’s Boiled Custard.  In my immediate family, I am the only one who knows how to make it, and, at least two weeks ago, My Mother, My Sister, and The Daughter started asking me, “You’re making the custard, aren’t you?”  Yes, not to worry.

Never heard of Boiled Custard?  It isn’t actually boiled, and, well, if you aren’t from Kentucky or Tennessee, let me explain.

My maternal grandmother was a tee-totaler, a hard-working woman who was uprooted from her hometown in (very dry, alcohol-wise) eastern Kentucky and moved to Detroit in the 1920s, where jobs were plentiful and generally safer than working in a coal mine.  She brought with her a love of quilting and family and cooking.  Having corroborated her stories of our heritage at Ancestry.com, I wonder which of her recipes trace back to our ancestors who came through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia and North Carolina into Kentucky in the late 18th century.  Most people have heard of chicken and rolled dumplings and cornbread (sugarless and made with white cornmeal, of course), hams cured with salt and vegetables cooked to death with every imaginable cured pork product, but outside of the area, few have heard of “boiled” custard.

Every Christmas Eve after my grandfather died, she came to our house to spend the night and to make boiled custard.  This is not the custard that you might think of, baked in little cups in a bath of hot water.  This custard was drinkable.  And it was spiked.  Spiked by a woman who did not drink alcohol.  Ever.  Except on Christmas Eve.

I suspect that it was originally made with good Kentucky bourbon, but, in the mid- 20th century, in Detroit, it was made with my dad’s blended Canadian whiskey.  Grandma would stand at the stove, beating sugar into eggs and milk in the top of a makeshift double boiler.  As the mixture thickened, she would gesture for My Dad to add a little of the whiskey.  She would stir it for a minute, then taste it, and, invariably, gesture for Daddy to pour in a little more.  The process took several minutes, during which my tiny little tee-totaling Grandma consumed enough uncooked whiskey to bring a little extra Christmas cheer into her life.

When Grandma died in 1981, I decided that I needed to make it.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a recipe.  I took some eggs, beat in some sugar, milk, and vanilla and used her double boiler.  As the mixture cooked, I tasted it and added sugar.  As it cooked, I stirred in the whiskey, as she did.  When it was as thick as I remembered, I removed it from the heat.  Alas, the eggs had over-cooked and curdled.

I tried it again and didn’t overcook it, but it still had a weird, lumpy texture.  Over time, I learned to strain it after cooking. I measured the ingredients so that I could reproduce it accurately every year.   Instead of whiskey, I tried Southern Comfort and dark rum.  Eventually, I went to bourbon, a Kentucky bourbon, of course.  Oh!  And in my version, the bourbon goes in just before I remove the custard from the heat.  It’s still hot, but most of the alcohol is retained.  Unlike Grandma, I like a lot of Christmas cheer at the holidays.

Yes, we drank this as children, because, ostensibly, the alcohol had “burned off.”  Tee-hee-hee!  Naughty children, we never let on that it was potent.  Of course, we were also children whose mothers rubbed our gums with whiskey when we were teething, so we were already ruined by the Demon Spirits.  I don’t recommend my version for children because it isn’t nearly as benign as Grandma’s.  Ladle some into a heat-proof measuring cup for the kiddies.  Keep the good stuff for yourself.

Kentucky Boiled Custard             makes a little over ½ gallon

Why did they cook it?  Perhaps it was to ensure safety on the frontier.  Salmonella can be killed at 145° F.  Perhaps just to thicken it.  Why didn’t they use cream?  Who knows?  Let me know, if you do.

Don’t get chintzy on the quality of the vanilla, because it adds to the flavor, significantly.  I keep three different vanilla brands (plus vanilla beans and paste) in my over-stocked larder.  One of the three is clear, artificial, and used in decorator’s icing, where the color is more crucial than the flavor.

You can speed up the cooking process by warming all but two cups of the milk.  If you add hot milk to eggs, they will cook.  Use a clean candy thermometer (I have a separate deep frying thermometer to avoid grease contamination).  Technically, you can cook the mixture until it just coats the back of a spoon (you can see a trail when you run your finger through it), but I find that an imprecise way to cook and too “frontiersy”.  It may have worked for Grandma, but it doesn’t always work for me.

This looks like a LOT of bourbon, but, consider that the recipe makes about 70-ounces.  This translates into one ounce of bourbon for every 8-ounce cup of custard.  Surely, you wouldn’t put less than a shot (1½ ounces) in a drink, would you?  Why do you think Santa is so jolly when he leaves my house?

Note:  If your double boiler is smaller than mine (which holds the entire ½ gallon), make it in two batches.

6 eggs, beaten until foamy

¾  cup granulated sugar

½ gallon whole milk (lower fat won’t do)

2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

1 cup bourbon

Freshly grated nutmeg

Whisk the sugar thoroughly into the eggs.  Whisk in 2 cups of cold milk and pour into the top of a double boiler, sitting over simmering water.  Whisk in remaining cold or warm milk.  Stir constantly, until the mixture reaches 160°.  Pour in the bourbon and stir until the mixture reaches 170°.  Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof container (I use three, to speed up the cooling process) through a very fine sieve (I use a Chinois) or a strainer lined with cheesecloth, to remove any coagulated egg whites or yolk.  Cover and refrigerate until cold. (It thickens as it cools, so don’t overcook it.) Uncover and whisk the mixture.  Re-strain into serving container.  (I save the plastic milk container so that I can shake it up.)  Top each serving with a fresh grating of nutmeg.

Grandma’s 1930s double boiler fits snugly into my 1980s stock pot.  In the photo at bottom right, you can see the coagulated egg remains strained through the Chinois.


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Our Christmas Story

Once upon a time, there was an unbelievably brave little girl living way out West, where the plains roll up to meet the mountains.  She was in need of a family with a cat, and we were in need of a girl. We packed her stuff into eight duffle bags, boarded a plane, and hauled her and seven Barbie dolls to our house and our cat in Maryland.

Seven Barbie dolls?” The Veterinarian asked me.  “I thought she was an orphan.”

“Remember all those years we bought Toys for Tots?  Well, she was a Tot.”

The first Christmas that he and I were dating, in 1969, he gave me a bottle of Robitussin cough syrup, because I was recovering from what would become my annual bout of bronchitis.  His mother made him give me a box of stationery with a Gemini zodiac sign, because his birthday was June 3, and mine is June 4.  I gave him a tie.  Three years later, I married him anyway.  We were married 30 years before he ever figured out appropriate gifts.  30.  Long.  Years.  He’s gone, but I still have the tie…and maybe the box of stationery.

The Daughter was our first (and only) child, arriving as an 8-year old, when we were 47. We always thought we were missing the joys of Christmas with children, hence the toy donations.  Oh, we put up a tree and stockings and our nativity display for ourselves, but a little bit of sparkle and wonder was missing.

Having been raised in a dysfunctional household before she entered child protective services, The Daughter had experienced holidays in a haphazard way.  She didn’t understand birthdays, experiencing her first at age 7, when she entered foster care.  That first Christmas with her, we went absolutely crazy decorating and buying gifts.  My Sister embroidered her a stocking with silvery threads.  My Mother made her a fleecy robe decorated with teddy bears and a pillow to match.

I broke my rule about cookie-baking and made —ugh— gingerbread men with her, but I refused to make a gingerbread house.  I hung her construction paper ornaments on the tree and wracked my brain for “Secret Santa” gifts for her classmates, who thought she was crazy for believing in Santa.

First Santa Visit (3)

Chatting up Santa

At eight years of age, The Daughter had never been to see Santa.  A friend invited us to a breakfast with Santa at her church, so that we could explain to Santa in advance why an eight-year old child wanted to sit on his lap along with the tiny tots.

“What do I say to Santa?” she asked.

“Well,” I told her what my parents always told me.  “You can ask for one or two things, but you have to finish with ‘Please bring me whatever you think I should have.’”

Instead, she patted his beard and engaged him in a long chat about the reindeer, where they were staying while he was inside, what they were eating, how long it took him to go around the world (“Well, just 24 hours, of course!”), all those things that a four-year old wouldn’t think to ask.

“Don’t you want Santa to bring you something?” he asked her.

“Oh…”  she thought for a minute, “…a scooter.  I’d really like to have a scooter.”

“Anything else?”

“No,” she shook her head, “a scooter would be good.”

At church on Christmas Eve, she participated in the pageant and sang with the Children’s Choir in her sweet little velvet dress and patent leather shoes.

So, what did Santa bring besides a scooter?  The seven Barbies needed a deluxe mansion and a red Porsche Boxster like Mommy’s “Barbie” car.  Stuart Little showed up in a radio-controlled roadster.  An American Girl with The Daughter’s identical haircut, eye color, and wire-rimmed glasses came to stay.  There were books and a science kit with microscope and Legos.  It all went under the tree or in a stocking after she went to bed on Christmas Eve.  I dressed her in winter pajamas, red with white polar bears, her favorite, so she’d be camera-ready in the morning.

Barbie Dream House (2)

Can you tell that we were excited?

The Veterinarian ate the cookies and milk she’d left for Santa and set the alarm for 5am, so he could set up the video camera at just the right angle.  I wanted to make sure the hot cocoa was ready.  My Mother and Sister were on speed-dial to run over at just the right moment.  We just knew she’d be up before dawn, and none of us wanted to miss our first Christmas with a child in the house.

When the alarm sounded at 5, we jumped out of bed.  It was dark and really cold.  He lit the fire, and I started the cocoa.  We’d beat her.  Perfect!  We sat down and listened for her little footsteps to hit the floor.  And we waited.  And waited.  For two hours, we waited.  We called her name upstairs, but she didn’t stir.  I tiptoed up and saw her snoring away under her cozy quilts with her beloved cat on her pillow.  I tiptoed back down.

“What do we do now?” he whispered.  “I need to get into the clinic to do treatments.”

Finally, at 8, he woke her.

“Santa’s been here!” He told her.  She crankily told him to go away.

“Don’t you want to see what Santa brought for you?”

“What?”  She squinted at him, uncomprehending.

“It’s Christmas!  Santa’s been here and left you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gifts.”  He was getting exasperated. “Santa brought you gifts.”

She groaned and flopped back on the pillows.  We were frantic in our own excitement.

“Get up,” he ordered and threw off the covers.  “Let’s go see what’s under the tree.”  She was not happy, but she slid out of bed.  He brought her downstairs and stood her behind the closed door into the living room.

“Wait here.  I’ll tell you when to open the door.”  This was no holly-jolly start to Christmas.  “And don’t go back upstairs.”  We heard her sigh in the way that meant she was about to turn into Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”  He fumbled with the video camera.

“Hurry up!”  I hissed.  “We’re losing her.”  I stood beside the tree with my digital camera.

“Ok, you can open the door.”

Her little face appeared, and she said, “What?”

“Look at the Christmas tree.”  She took two steps in and stopped.  The First Xmas Tree (2)room, which is 18’ x 12’, had a 10’ tree in front of the window, so the mounds of presents radiated 4’ out from the base in all directions.  [And that’s all the math I can do today.]  She looked puzzled.

“Santa brought you presents!”  I exclaimed.

“What?” She repeated.

“These are for you.”

“For me?”  She approached the tree and knelt in front of the American Girl.

And then it hit us.  She didn’t need the Barbie Deluxe Dream House
because she had a real house.  Her dreams had already come true when she was adopted by a family with a cat.  That’s all she ever wanted.

“These are mine?” A smile started to spread across her face.

“Yes,” I started to cry.

“Really?  For me?”  She reached out tentatively and picked up the doll that, unintentionally, had her face.

And that was our last peaceful Christmas.  A year later, she still wanted to

SCN_0020 (2)

All she wanted was a scooter.

visit Santa, so, at age 9, we took her to the mall at 8:30 at night, when few people were around.  Surprisingly, lots of tween and teenaged girls were having their photos made with Santa, so it wasn’t nearly as strange as we thought.  Who wants to give up the wonder of Christmas at any age?

Like many American children, a Christmas of plenty became the norm for several years but not for long enough.  Inevitably, instead of singing in the Christmas pageant at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, she served in other ways, on the altar at the 11 pm service as a teenager, and this year, she is concerned about buying just the right gifts for us.  A critical care nurse, she will work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 3 pm to 11 pm.  From being cared for, she cares for others.

So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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APHS Class of 1970

Graduation 061670 (2)

June 16, 1970

Dear APHS Classmates of 1970,

As you gather tonight to commemorate the 45 years since we graduated from high school, for a variety of reasons, I will be at my current home, 500 miles away.  However, my heart will be with you!  Part of it misses the trials and tribulations of learning about life in our middle class community outside of Detroit, and the other part has moved on.  I have reached that time we used to talk about, “when I grow up.”

Our parents survived the Great Depression (“We didn’t know we were poor,” my mother still says) and atrocities during World War II that we, their children, are only now learning about.  They didn’t complain or whine.  They took advantage of the GI Bill and got on with life, and they taught us to do the same.

Our homes were modest, with entire families sharing one bathroom and two and three kids to a bedroom.  We rode our bikes all over town without parental supervision (or helmets), entertained ourselves with chalk on the sidewalks, played Four Square in the street, walked to the nearest playground to throw a ball or swing or play tag, and even danced in the street at block parties.

When we wanted to talk to a friend, we stood outside their doors and called their names through the screen, which is what your mother did when she wanted you to come home.  Of course, when the street lights came on, you knew you’d better get home or be in trouble.

We sat on the porch and read books from the library or played board games or cards.  I had a girlfriend whose mother didn’t want her to play cards, so my mother would look the other way when we sat for hours on my porch, playing Old Maid, Go Fish, Rummy, Hearts, Pinochle, Euchre (google it), and even Poker.

Most of us attended church regularly, primarily at St. Francis Cabrini or AP United Presbyterian.  Some of us straddled both religious communities. I, for one, will never forget standing up to the bullying Sister Rose of Lima in CCD class.  [Irony of ironies, we were taught the “Baltimore Catechism,” and I now live in Baltimore, where they look at me like I have two heads when I tell them that Bob Seger played at our high school dances.]  I was married by the Rev. Dr. Wanzer Brunelle of APUPC, as were several of you.

Everything in Detroit revolved around the auto industry. Some of our dads worked for one of the Big Three automakers.  Some worked at one of the steel plants.  My dad worked as a civilian for the Department of the Army, negotiating contracts for parts and then vehicles for the military; cars, jeeps, trucks, tanks, and, eventually, even the Humvee.  The Veterinarian’s family ran a freight airline that shipped automotive parts around the world.

Some moms worked in the offices at the nearby Ford Motor Company or as bookkeepers for small tool-and-die makers.  Some were nurses; some were teachers.  Some of them were the original Rosie-the-Riveters, building airplanes during the war.  Most of them were room mothers or worked with the PTA.

When I sing “June is Bustin’ Out all Over” from “Carousel” with the Deer Creek Chorale, I remember 1969, when the Concert Choir presented it during our junior year.  I wasn’t in it, because, in those days, I chose to work backstage, building sets and doing makeup, aspiring to be a thespian (and I still have the certificate from Mr. Helms to prove it).  I couldn’t have gotten cast as myself in any high school production, although I did get cast one time as a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz,” because I was short and had that crazy short haircut.  But who knew I’d grow up to sing multiple times at Carnegie Hall, act, dance, direct, and work in performing arts management for 35 years and now write this wacky blog, relating how my no-nonsense upbringing serves me well, 63 years later?

When the Class of 1970 last gathered in August, 2010, The Veterinarian had committed to give a lecture at a veterinary conference in San Diego before the reunion date was set.  Ever annoyingly conscientious (to me, anyway), he fulfilled his commitment, and we missed the 40-year reunion.  One year later, he died.  If I could tell you how he spent the years 1970-2011, you wouldn’t be surprised.  The nice boy with the snakes and lizards and mice became a veterinarian known internationally for his expertise in avian medicine.  He was greatly respected by his colleagues and loved by his clients.

Dozens of you, from whom I hadn’t heard since high school and even some since elementary school, contacted me on Facebook.  Many of you maintained that electronic friendship and unknowingly gave me the courage to keep going through some really challenging times.  I am grateful for your support.

As I told The Daughter, when she lamented her wallflower status in high school, if you peak in high school, you’re screwed.  The information you learn, the people you meet, and the experiences you have stay with you for the rest of your life and propel you to greater things.  I am who I am today because of Allen Park, Michigan.  I like to think that I still haven’t peaked.

Have a wonderful time tonight!  Give out hugs from me, and remember, peace is still what you make it!

Affectionately,

Suzanne (aka “Sue” — that’s another story)

P.S.:  For my non-Spartan friends, this is the only day of the year that I’ll say “Go, Blue!”


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Walking in My Shoes

As a woman who highly values her feet, I am delighted to hear that “ugly” shoes returned to fashion this summer.

I’m an equal opportunity shoe lover.  Expensive.  Cheap.  Practical.  Foolish.  My shoe fetish has nothing to do with sex.  It’s genetic.  Like my high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I inherited a proclivity for splurging on shoes from My Mother.  I am short, but My Mother is Tiny.  At 4’ 10”, she wears a size 4-1/2 shoe.  Actually, she wears a size 5-1/2 shoe, because she can’t find her real size.  In the 1950s, size 4-1/2 was used as the “sample” size.  She bought her shoes at a “sample shoe” store in an office building in downtown Detroit.

In early spring and early fall, she received postcards announcing that the sample shoes for the coming season were ready for sale.  We took the bus downtown and walked to the building, got into one of those funky old-fashioned elevators with a gate and a lever to drive the car up and down the shaft.  We would walk into an office crammed, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes and boots; pumps, flats, sandals, slingbacks, and mules, in spectacular colors and buttery soft Italian leather.

Mom didn’t skimp on our shoes, either.  Although she made our clothes, she insisted that shoes of quality were a good health investment.  We got new patent leather shoes at Christmas and white shoes for summer, along with a pair of sandals, and, eventually, a pair of sneakers.  When we started school, we got school shoes.  Being the 1950s, I wore saddle shoes in the primary grades with my fluffy dresses or shoes with a perforated design in the toes and an ankle strap.  I always envied the girls who had shoes whose ankle straps could be swiveled behind the heel so that the strap didn’t cross the top of their foot, the same reason that I hated t-strap shoes.  My Mother didn’t like that, so I used to trade shoes with my girlfriends for a few hours each day.

More than anything, I think that good shoes were a good mental health investment.

When I remember holidays and special events, I think of shoes.  For Christmas 1966, I had a pair of gold suede flats with a little gold buckle that I wore with a long-sleeved Kelly green cotton velveteen dress with ecru lace trim.  So mod.  My junior year in high school, I wore “baby doll” shoes, black leather Mary Janes, to go with my “baby doll” dresses.  In college, where tramping between classes in 0° temperatures required long underwear, I started collecting boots.  I remember having a pair of brown lace-up boots that I wore with a camel-colored maxi coat.  Even my wedding shoes weren’t just plain white; they were peau de soie (silk) with embroidered flowers on the toes.

If you keep shoes long enough, they come back in style.  Square toes and chunky heels from 1968 have returned at least twice in my lifetime. I saw that flare-legged pants are making a comeback.  They, of course, require a chunkier shoe.  How do I know this?  Remember, I’m 63 years old and have seen this trend like a revolving door.  The designers get you to buy their wide-legged pants and longer skirts and chunky shoes and sweaters for a few years, and, just when you get to feeling good about yourself, hiding beneath layers of bulk, they bring back capri pants and leggings and crop tops and stilettos and send you running to the gym — or running for dessert in despair.

See these two vastly different shoes?  Comfortable classics, yet a decade apart in age, they are still my favorites. The black suede Stuart Weitzman with the square toe and chunky heel was purchased c. 1992 and was worn in two different plays, masquerading as shoes from the 1930s and 1950s.  The pointy-toed Ferragamo was purchased c. 2002.  It’s been busy the past few years with pencil skirts and peg-legged pants.

I read that Queen Elizabeth II expressed her displeasure at the navy wedge-heeled shoes (also Stuart Weitzman) favored by her granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.  Kate, of course, also popularized the ridiculous trend of nude platform stilettos a few years ago, an easy trend for a woman surrounded by bodyguards and her own prince to keep her on her feet.  Someone should send a memo to Lady Gaga’s bodyguards, because her platforms are unbelievable and trip her up all the time when dodging the papa-paparazzi.

The Daughter had a pair of the nude patent leather platforms, which she wobbled in, like Bambi on the frozen pond, all the way across a stage for her college honors convocation.  I was torn between admiring her fashion sense and trembling in fear that she would fall.  Of course, every other coed was wobbling in a similar pair, so I was not the only parent having palpitations.

I, myself, have more beige shoes and sandals than any other color for two reasons; supposedly, nude pumps make your legs look longer (eg., ballet shoes usually match tights) and neutrals go with everything in every season.  My short legs need all the lengthening they can get, but I’ve already fallen off shoes once in my life and don’t want to ever again spend two months in a leg brace.  And, yes, I own my own share of restaurant shoes.  You know.  Those shoes that make your legs look fabulous but that you can only stand to wear from the house to the car to the restaurant to the car to your house with, maybe, a nerve-wracking side-trip to the ladies’ room?

Today, I’m more likely to wear a plain dress and an interesting shoe to set it off, like jewelry; an Eileen Fisher sweater and skirt with a suede boot with wedge heel.  “Don’t look at me; look at my shoes.”  Of course, one man I dated found my boring, tent-shaped Eileen Fisher dress alluring, so I’d probably better go easy on the combination.  Too much excitement could probably kill a guy so old that he finds sedate clothing and ugly shoes a turn-on.  I need a guy who appreciates me so much that he’ll take me to a restaurant worthy of restaurant shoes. Now, THAT’S a turn-on to me!

photo (4)Keeping in the spirit of “ugly” shoes, described as Birkenstocks (which never went out of style in some Baltimore neighborhoods, which tells you everything you need to know about Charm City), I bought these Dansko sandals.  You may recall that I fell off a ridiculous pair of platform sandals and fractured my right patella, three years ago.  These are designed by the folks who know how to make shoes that doctors and nurses wear on their long, grueling shifts, so I hope they know what they’re doing with shoes for aging and fragile fashionistas who can’t afford another fall.  They cost about as much as some of the chic designer styles.

While my deteriorating knees and pocketbook have slowed my shoe “investing,” thanks to a now-defunct local outlet store, I’ve stocked up on enough diverse designer rejects from Saks and Neiman Marcus to keep me rotating styles at the whim of designers until one of my pretty little feet is in the grave, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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A Life’s Work

1979

1979

Thirty-six years ago today, the Veterinarian and I took a big leap of faith and bought the Fallston Veterinary Clinic.  We owned a car and a motorcycle, a sofa, a bed, wedding china and crystal, and a lot of books.  We didn’t know anything about Baltimore and even less about Harford County, where the practice was located.  The purchase price of $110,000, for the practice alone, was surreal.

At the time, it was an established practice in a ranch-style house that had been converted to a veterinary hospital.  We moved into the former house’s finished basement.  (That’s right.  We lived in a basement for two years.  Some of you can vouch for that.)  People knocked on the front door at all hours of the day and night, but we were committed to making it a success.

I realized that we were not living in the neighborhood of my dreams within a few days.  The nearest mall was anchored by Montgomery Wards at one end and E.J. Korvette’s at the other.  Strong young woman that I was, I cried to him, “How long do we have to live here?”

“At least 20 years,” he replied, “or we’re going to be out a lot of money.”

Quickly, we realized that we were going to be a success.  He brought new skills, charm, and compassion to a practice that had been struggling.  I re-organized the business plan and the facility, because, in those days, the spouses of veterinarians, out of economic necessity, took an active role in making their spouse’s practices successful. We all had our own interests, but it was something that you did together for your family.  In those days, veterinary medicine was no 9-5 job.  It was considered an all-day, every day responsibility for conscientious owners.

1985

1985

Within months, it was apparent that the building wasn’t suitable.  When we couldn’t negotiate a deal to buy and extensively remodel it, we leased a smaller building down the road.  With the help of my parents and friends, we gutted the interior, down to the cinder block walls, which was the easy part.  During the day, the Veterinarian continued to work in the old building, where we were still paying rent.  At night and on weekends, we worked on the interior of the new building, where we were also paying rent.  We reframed the interior, hung and finished drywall, painted and wallpapered, hung a suspended ceiling upstairs and downstairs, and built two cinder block runs in the kennel.  It took over six months of non-stop work.  Only the wiring, plumbing, flooring, and phones were installed by professionals.

As the county grew, our caseload expanded, and we hired a second doctor and installed computerized records.   As the Veterinarian established himself as an Avian specialist, it grew even more, and the little building couldn’t handle the third doctor that we hired.

Sure enough, in 1999, on the twentieth anniversary of our big leap, I asked him again, “Can we go now?”  Instead, in 2000, we really went for broke and built a 6,000 square foot hospital on the same property.  When the little building was torn down, we saved a piece of lumber from its framing that had been signed and dated by us and by my parents.  It was re-dated and incorporated into the current structure.  The new building was the fulfillment of our life’s dream and work.

2001

2001

In 2011, with the Veterinarian’s unexpected death and a series of unfortunate events, the dream died for me.  I have new dreams and new projects.  As always, I am moving forward and take great memories and stories with me. In about two months, it will no longer be “ours” (the Daughter’s and mine).   The practice will be in the good hands of people who share some of those memories, so I am content.

Many wonderful people and a lot of delightful pets have passed through the doors of all three buildings, and some of our current clients were on the books when we arrived in 1979.  We’ve had employees who went on to veterinary school or to start their own practices.  We’ve had employees who’ve worked for us for 30 years.  I am grateful to everyone who put their trust in us and helped to fulfill our family’s dream of caring for your family members and for animals in need, so who am I to complain?  Life is still good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Don         Logo     The BFF & I

 


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The Condensed Version of Me

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Me – c. 1956

[This is my first-ever blog post, published July 22, 2014.  I like to think of it as a measuring stick of the past year.  My surgery sites were still raw; my abs were a flabby mess; I hadn’t started exploring online dating; and I had no idea why I was telling my story.  People tell me that I’m brave for being honest and that they share many of my frustrations with modern life, which has lost so much graciousness, despite technology and political correctness.  If nothing else, I make most of you laugh, so, who am I to complain?  Thanks for joining me on my spiritual journey!]

Last night, I did something with my daughter that I never would have done with my mother.  We stood in front of my bathroom mirror comparing our naked breasts.  Stay with me.

Did you ever do that with your mother?  Neither did I.  I’m 62, raised in the 1950’s & ’60’s by a mom of the 1930’s and ’40’s.  Her most damning phrase was “That’s tacky.” Until I was nearly 40, I worried about being dirty, wrinkled, mismatched, frizzy, and tacky.  My two earliest childhood memories are learning to tie the laces of my white high-topped, leather shoes into tidy bows and being fitted for white cotton gloves.  I couldn’t have been older than four, but I was mesmerized by the little drawers of gloves in the girls’ department at the J.L. Hudson, Company in downtown Detroit.  Plain or bows?  Are you kidding me?  I wanted the ones with the shiny pearl buttons!

Maybe your parents were “progressive.”  Mine came from that pragmatic, Depression-Era generation of hardworking blue collar-to-middle-class families with what are currently called “traditional values.”   My father, a first-generation Italian-American and proud Marine Corps veteran, leaned toward the conservative.  My mother’s family was from the fearless stock of English-Scots-Irish who settled Kentucky in the 18th century.  No whining allowed.  Have a problem?  Figure out how to solve it or climb over it and move on.  My sister and I were expected to go to college and graduate.  I learned to sew, cook, manage money, mow the lawn, change a tire, check the oil, mix concrete, and lay bricks.  Before feminism took hold in the 1960’s, we were learning to survive.

Mom was a minor progressive on matters of feminine independence.  When I begged for one of the newly-marketed “training” bras that my girlfriends proudly wore, my mother scoffed, “What are they training?  You don’t want to wear a bra.   They’re uncomfortable, and besides, you don’t have anything to put in one.”   [Be careful what you wish for.]

In the 5th grade, the girls in my class, accompanied by their mothers or a female guardian, were treated to the Disney-produced and Kotex-sponsored The Story of Menstruation.  (Sex education in the mid-20th century.) On the walk home after the screening, armed with pamphlets, Mom’s only comment was, “When your ‘time’ comes, they’re in the linen closet.”  Well, yes, I saw a small box of Kotex pads, but what were those mysterious paper-wrapped sticks in the Tampax box that was replaced much more frequently than the Kotex box?

Two years later, my ‘time’ arrived.  Mom showed me how to loop the gauzy ends of the bulky Kotex pad through the metal teeth in the “Sanitary Belt” yet encouraged me to use tampons.  At the age of 12, I was squeamish, more by the idea of having such a conversation with my mother than the actual process.  Well, I lie.  Probably more by the process.

She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  Huh?  I’m going to put that hulking dry, cardboard thing where?  [Listen to your mother.]

By the time I was 17 and desperate to wear a bathing suit for my waterskiing boyfriend, she had the last laugh.  “I can’t help you with this.  You have to go into the bathroom and do it yourself.  Here’s the hand mirror.”

She was right, of course.  They were waaay better than the monthly bulkiness, the shifting, and the inevitable leakage.  She-who-claims-to-know-everything suddenly turned into a font of wisdom.

Seven years later, at age 24, I was recovering from a complete hysterectomy.  (No, it wasn’t due to the tampons.)  I had a raging case of endometriosis.  Cysts as large as volleyballs and baseballs, according to my doctors, pulsated in my ovaries, and others were exploding like tiny time-bombs, gumming up my insides.  In her droll and always honest way, my mother asked, “What are you going to do with all the money you save on tampons?”

Now, my own daughter is 22 and has little knowledge of and no use for white cotton gloves, but,  I am proud to say, she recognizes “tacky” when she sees it.    I’m not going to embarrass her by discussing her introduction to tampons, but let’s just say that it involved a mirror, a wet suit, and sharks.  Well, no, there were no actual sharks in the bathroom with us, just a discussion about their olfactory sensitivity.  There was also no dry, hulking cardboard in sight, just marvelous, smooth, modern plastic.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

The Daughter and I, pre-op, May, 2012.

Two-and-a-half months ago, I had reduction mammoplasty (google it—I’m still my mother’s somewhat-squeamish daughter).  You see, my five foot-tall frame appeared to be on the verge of toppling over at any moment, as I could no longer straighten my shoulders.  I stuffed myself into minimizer bras and swathed myself in baggy sweaters.  What seems like a glamorous blessing really is a pain in the neck—and the spine and the shoulders and the self-esteem.  Turns out, I was carrying over two pounds of extra weight on my chest, like strapping a Yellow Pages directory between my armpits.

My daughter, the critical care nurse, was a great caregiver.  You know.  What we hope our children will be for us in our old age?  During the three-and-a-half hour outpatient (!) surgery, she returned to her nearby apartment to play with her cats and to catch something on Xfinity On Demand (which, to me, means it can be watched at any time other than when your dearly beloved is in surgery).

In fairness, I easily survived the surgery; she drove me home, stayed overnight, changed my massive ice packs, expertly stripped, emptied, and measured my bloody drain tubes every four hours, and force fed me oxycodone.   OK, OK.  She didn’t shove it down my throat, but she gave me the Nurse Ratched routine and insisted I swallow it.  [Note to self: Revisit that mirror/wet suit incident and a caregiver who is my sole heir.]

Last night, there we were, looking at our naked breasts, noticing how different they are.  My rehabbed pair appear to have been transplanted from a stranger and are oddly and happily perky for a 62-year old woman.  They are also subtly scarred, bruised, and lumpy and will be for at least another year.  Just like my hysterectomy scar, traces of this recent surgery will always remain.  But, I figure, the boy for whom I was willing to experiment with tampons has been gone for three years, and I don’t expect anyone other than a medical professional will ever get close enough to notice.

Oh, come on!  Put your tiny violins away!  Insurance paid for most of the surgery.  I feel fabulous and can see my feet for the first time in years.  My girlfriends say I look 20 years younger.  My new, youthful bustline (as Jane Russell would say in the old Playtex commercials) has inspired me to work on my abs, now that I can see how flabby they are.

My mother, at 86, still knows everything and feels free to dole out advice.  These days, she rarely tells me

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

Playing with a selfie stick, July, 2015.

that I look tacky, but I still wouldn’t dream of sharing my breasts with her in a mirror.  My daughter isn’t embarrassed to discuss anything with me, although I have learned to text “TMI” to her when she makes me squeamish.  I am easily old enough to be her grandmother, so the generational chasm between us is often profound.  And, yes, both she and my mother approved this post, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!