Sunday, November 30, 2014


I'm a keeper. Boxes of stuff I've kept over the years are piled up down in our basement awaiting for the day (probably when I'm retired) when I can sort through all of it and start to throw some of it away.

Among the items stashed away for future review are cards....birthday cards, holiday cards, "we're going to miss you cards", that sort of thing. Georgette and I are card-givers and we celebrate almost every occasion with some kind of card. get a card. Thanksgiving..another card. Christmas...sometimes you get 2 cards, a funny one and a mushy one. 

And we both like to buy those 5-6 dollar cards- those cards you buy in gift stores or fancy-shmancy boutiques-the kind that look like they could be displayed in the Louvre. None of those 99 cent Dollar Store cards for us.  Even Grace the beagle gets into the card-giving act and gives a card or two during the year. Had I known how many cards we would end up giving to each other over the years, I'd bought stock in Hallmark or American Greetings. 

During the 12 years I worked for a national consulting company and traveled almost every week, she always "hid" a card in my suitcase so I would be surprised when I unpacked in my hotel room. That's a lot of cards. And she  never missed a trip, even if the card was post-it note stuck beneath my underwear and socks. How romantic is that?

Anybody tearing up yet? 

I kept every one of them. Just couldn't bring myself to throw them away. Maybe it's a superstition, like if I throw even one away, I will come home some night and find all my stuff thrown out in the front yard. Mostly I keep them because it just doesn't feel right to thrown them away. And because they are keeper-cards.

I will, however, admit to throwing away some birthday cards from friends and family after....oh, a couple of weeks. For example, there are a bunch of cards displayed on my dresser since my birthday was just a couple of days ago. And sometime next week after the statute of limitations on throwing out birthday cards expires, most of them will find the trash.

My older sister Shelly sent me a card and I truly appreciate that she did.....but Shelly, if you read this, sorry, it's going in the trash.

I did receive a couple of birthday cards, beside the one that Georgette gave me, that are definitely keepers. Meaning I'll never throw them away. Meaning someone else who will get to sort through my stuff after I've left the world will make that decision.

The first card I'm keeping was from our Gainesville family- Georgette's son Mike, his wife Elsa,  and our 3 grandchildren, Reese, Christopher and Marissa. At first glance, it's your typical humorous card with the cartoon picture of an older woman in her underwear  on the outside and inside it says

Betty confuses her husband's "little blue pill" for her calcium supplement.

It's your birthday!
Are you up for it?

Yeah, I'm thinking Reese and Christopher, 16 and 14 respectively,  got a big yuk out of that. There is a personal note written by each of them, which makes it special, but the note written by Reese, who was our first grandchild, seals the deal.

Not only does he reference my favorite band, Tower of Power, but he quotes the lyric from one of their signature songs, "What is Hip" and then....well, read it for yourself and I think you'll see why it's a keeper-card.

The other card was presented to me at our Kansas City family's home, where we spent Thanksgiving. Not only did our granddaughter Sayler, who just turned 5, help her Nana bake the birthday cake, she designed the birthday card. Her sister, Maesyn, who is 2 and half, no doubt provided some kind of support, even if that meant minding her own business. 

So when the family gathered and sang "Happy Birthday" and when Sayler and Maesyn helped their Papa blow out the candles, I was presented with this wonderful work of art. 


I think it's Louvre-worthy...almost. Who needs those fancy-shmancy 6 dollar cards? This girl has talent. And she can sing and dance and draw and read.

And someday when she is a grown woman, I'll show her this card, because it's a keeper-card. 

And because I keep things.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Voices Circa 1965

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like to experience Thanksgiving Day in a family of 8 children back around 1965, in Des Moines Iowa? Here is my attempt to replay the sounds of the day as I remember it. Some of the voices are me. Most are others.

I smell the turkey.
Mom, what time did you put in in?
5 am.
When will it be done?
Later, now be quiet, your father is trying to  sleep.
There's nothing on TV.
Go back to sleep or outside.
I want oatmeal.
Make it yourself.

How big is the turkey this year?
25 lbs? That's a record!
Don't open the oven, you'll let the heat out.
There he is, old Tom Turkey.
How come it's covered in tin foil?
Ooh, what's that?
The neck and the giblets.
Ick, who eats that?
It's for the gravy...and the cat.
Spare me.

When are we eating?
Later, when the turkeys done.
When is the turkey going to be done?
Later, go watch your brother.
I'm watching the parade.

 I want to watch cartoons.
They're not on, it's Thursday.
I hate parades.
You can go to your room or outside. Or I'll put you to work.
I'm going outside.
Me too. Me three.

Hey Tony, Joe. Ullman wants to meet us at McCollough's field for a touch football game. He's got plays he's drawn up.
Let's go, Joe. Me and Dan against you and Ullman.
First one to 50 wins.
Hit me, I'm open. 
He scores!!
What? The game isn't over yet.
You're a quitter.
Shut up!
Race you home.

Is it time to eat yet? I'm hungry.
Make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.
I don't want peanut butter.
Let's go to Wards and get some candy.
Wards is closed.
I'm hungry.

Shelly, get the girls and help set the table.
Mom, Katie's not helping.
Where's everyone going to sit.?
Who is sitting on the piano the piano bench?
Not me,  I sat on it last year.
Are Jane and Jerry eating in the kitchen again?
Move over, you're crowding me.
Wait till we say grace.
Quit kicking me.

Everyone be quiet, Dad's saying grace.
Quit kicking me.
If I have to take off my belt!
Don, please.
(snicker, snicker, elbow, elbow)
Knock it off!
Amen.... Amen!
Let's eat!

You older kids wait your turn.
I want white meat.
This dressing is too greasy.
Can I have a drumstick?
You don't have to eat it.
Pass the gravy.
I want some cranberry sauce. 
Who has the wishbone?
Me, me, I want it.
I made a lake out my potatoes and gravy.
Tom spilled his milk.
Can I have the skin?

I'm full. Me too. Me three.
You boys help clear the table.
Why aren't the girls helping?
Can I pick the turkey?
Where does this go? There's no room in the fridge.
Joe, get in here. Mom! Joe's not helping
Hurry before the Wizard of Oz comes on.
When do we get pie?
I want mine now.
You're not getting any if you keep it up!

Who is washing?
I'm drying.
I'm putting away.
I washed last year...Mom!
This water is so greasy.
Put-away is the easiest job.
This pan still has gunk on it.
Shut up.

Who wants pie?
Me, me, me, me too, me three.
Can I have mince meat?
You won't like it.
Can I have a half of each?
More whipped cream, please.
Save some for everyone else.
I'm stuffed.

She's creepy.
Follow the yellow brick road.
I'm scared.
It's just a movie.
I want a dog like Toto.
I heard it turns into color here.
Save my place while I go to the bathroom.
Flying monkeys!
Move over! Mom, Dan took my place.
There's room for all of you there.
Mom, he's kicking me.
Shh, Mom and Dad are sleeping.
Is there school tomorrow? 
No stupid, it's a holiday.
Then I'm staying up late.
Me too. 
Me three.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Real?

One of my best memories of growing up in the late 1950's was when mom would read to us. Lying on the living room floor or  sitting on the couch while she read "The Wind in the Willows" or "Alice in Wonderland" or the "Christmas Carol" not only captivated my imagination, but it also spawned a life-long love of reading. Saturday morning trips to the downtown public library with its WPA murals or to the Bookmobile parked down on 35th and Ingersoll resulted in hauling home a large stack of books to read.

Children's stories gave way to the "Hardy Boys", "Robinson Crusoe" or "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and then on to books like "Guadalcanal Diary" and "PT 109".

A children's book that escaped me back in my childhood that has since become one of my all-time favorites is "The Velveteen Rabbit" written in 1922 by Marjorie Williams. I was reminded of it this morning when the graphic shown here appeared on my news feed. It had been awhile since I last read this story but I'm glad I went back and read it again.

It is a children's book, but I think every adult should read it if not once, then once a year. Especially as we age.

It's a book about a toy. And it's a book about becoming real.

I first came across "The Velveteen Rabbit" about 24 years ago during what has turned out to be the most significant and challenging period of my life to date. You might call it an extended personal growth phase, but that makes it sound more pleasant than it was. It was difficult. I was beaten up emotionally and my self-worth was pretty low.

And then a friend who knew about my struggles, gave me a copy of the book and told me I was real.  I'd been called a lot of things in my life but this was the first time I'd heard that word used that way. I wasn't really sure what it meant to be real so I read the story. And then I knew what my friend was talking about. As least I thought I did.

"You become".  You become real. It is a journey of becoming.  

I'd like to think that I've been on that journey for most of the past 24 years. So this morning when I read the story yet one more time, I found myself asking, "Am I ?" 

"Am I real?" 

I'd like to think so, but like some other aspects of who we are, perhaps that question would be best answered by others who would be in a more objective position to know. 

What do you think it means to be real? How do know if a person is real? I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. I'm certainly no expert or the final word on this topic but here my thoughts on what it means to be real:

  • When you can look past your outside and find the beauty on your inside, you are becoming real.

  • When you can see past some one's outsides and find the beauty on their inside, you are becoming real.

  • When you can openly share your strengths and your weaknesses, your assets and your defects, your victories and your defeats, your mistakes and your failures, you are become real.

  • When you can love yourself, warts and all and when you can love others, warts and all, you are becoming  real.

  • When you can laugh more at yourself and less than at others, you are becoming real.  (Believe me, I'm the best source of humor I know.)

  • When you care less about titles, rank, clubs, status and privilege and more about potential, virtue, values and what you share in common with others, you are becoming real.

  • When you discover that as you age, you find people more interesting and good, than boring and bad, you are becoming real.

  • When you never forget where you began your journey and who helped you to get where you are today, you are becoming real.

  • When you embrace the talents you've been given and see them as gifts and can put them to good use, you are becoming real.

  • When you no longer envy or desire the talents that others were given, you are becoming real.

  • When you no longer think less of yourself, but strive to think of your self less, you are become real.

  • When you can accept love, kindness and gifts from others, whether you think you deserve it or not, you are becoming real.

  • When you can give love, kindness and gifts to others, whether they deserve it or not, you've become real.

That's a lot to strive for.   It takes a long time, the story suggests. I'm grateful for the adage of "progress not perfection". And I'm glad it's a journey of becoming real.

If you've never read "The Velveteen Rabbit", I highly recommend it,

If you have read it, read it again.

And let me know your thoughts on what it means to be real.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Turning 62

I'm turning 62 on November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving, but I'll be quietly celebrating it a day early provided I don't explode from eating too much turkey and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and since the '60's, November 28 has fallen on Thanksgiving in the years 1963, 1968, 1974, 1985, 1991, 1997, and 2002 and last year, 2013.

For many years I avoided celebrating my birthday in any meaningful way.  In fact, there were years when I simply ignored my birthday.  But not this year. This is a milestone birthday.

Growing up in a large crowded family, birthday celebrations were attempted but not always realized. There were no big parties with ponies, balloon artists, face painters or bouncy houses. I usually got a cake but there were years when I wasn't even able to blow out the candles on my birthday cake because one of my younger bratty siblings stole  that honor.

"Let Joe/Katie/Tom/Jane/Jerry blow them out" a parent insisted as they gave in to the whining of a younger sister or brother.

 "But it's my birthday"  I pleaded. 

Alas, another birthday disappointment.

 I do remember getting angel food cake when I requested it. And cards.....lots of cards, but not a lot of gifts. As I got older my parents would promise me some kind of a gift, usually written as an afterthought on the inside of the perfunctory birthday card, only to never deliver on the promise.  I'm not proud of this fact but I became cynical of birthdays, mine mostly.  If someone wanted to celebrate my birthday,  I slogged through it and  put on a good face, but certainly never looked forward to and or made a big deal out it.

And I'm not going to make a big deal out turning 62 either.  But cynical? Nope, that's a thing of the past. My attitude toward my birthday changed when I met, fell in love with and married. Georgette.  You see,  the woman who taught me how to love and how to be loved, is a celebrator. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, special occasions, she does them all in style and with grace.

So when my birthday was approaching in the first year of our relationship back in 1996, she asked me how I wanted to celebrate it. I said, "I don't".  While I don't remember her exact words back to me, it was something along the lines of  "Well, I do and I'm not having any wet blankets around here so you better think about what you want."  I caved. "OK, I'll give it a try." I've been celebrating my birthday ever since and I have to admit, I now look forward to it, sort of.

Some birthdays come with milestones or have some significance attached to them. Turning 16 was a big deal when I was a kid because it meant you could get your drivers license. Even though I didn't get mine until I was 17, turning 16 was still a milestone birthday. You were somehow cooler because you were 16. And you could get a job which I did--.the day after I turned 16,  I started at McDonald's So much for being cool.

When I turned 18, I got to register to vote (a good thing) and register for the draft (not a good thing). Showing off my draft card to my friends at school was fun---getting drafted the next year when I turned 19 was not so much fun.

Turning 21 was supposed to be a big deal because you were officially an adult and could legally drink and purchase adult beverages in every state. It ended up not being a big deal because the State of Iowa lowered their legal drinking age to 19 when I was a freshman in college. But who was I kidding, legal age or not, I was already drinking by then and when I drank adult beverages,  I acted like anything but an adult.

After 21, the birthday milestones come every decade it seems. 30, 40, 50, 60. I don't remember 30. Turning 40 is when mid-life crisis's are supposed to happen- I had mine at 38 so that took the wind out of turning 40.

When I turned "the Big 5-0" I spent the next year telling people who asked my age that I was "halfway to 100!". Yeah, I'm sure it was annoying. But at least I was back to celebrating birthdays by then. "I'm halfway to 100" was probably better received than my former " I don't do birthdays" line.

When 60 came 2 years ago, I was experiencing some nerve pain in my right shoulder and arm and was in the middle of trying to sort that out. It has since cleared up and not returned, but 60 came with a small health scare.

That bring us to 62 and what a milestone 62 is.  At 62,  I can............drum roll....... officially start taking my Social Security benefits if I choose!

But I'm won't be doing that. Not yet. I've got a few more months or years left before I retire from my full-time profession, depending on how things go. But I'm in range now. I can see the runway, I'm just not cleared for landing.

Truth be known, I'm grateful to be where I am in this life and to be who I am in the condition I am in, if that makes sense.

Life is good.  No complaints. Lots to celebrate. Lots to look forward to in this 62nd year of life.

With a little bit of luck and more graceful aging, I'll see you at 63.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

To light or not to light.....

......that is the question. Whether tis nobler at this house on Bernadette Avenue to skip decorating the outside of the house for the holidays this year altogether, or to go ahead and trim the house and yard as in years past.

Yesterday we put away all the patio and deck furniture-10 chairs, several tables, all hauled down to the basement for the winter. It's a yearly ritual that is a lot more fun to do in the spring than it is in the fall,  when the anticipation of sitting and dining outside lies ahead of us. 

It's a lot of work maintaining our home year round. Yard work, tending the gardens, spring and fall takes a toll on both time and the body. Don't get me wrong, we love our house and are probably here for the long haul. Neither of us is ready to move into the senior housing complex, if ever. And buying a smaller, easier place to maintain would cost just as much as what we pay here.

There is certain amount of work that just has to be done...mowing the yard with its steep hills in the back, snow blowing the driveway when we get the inevitable mid west snow events. I suppose we could bring out a few less patio tables and chairs (you might be asking why we have 10 chairs when only 2 people live here) and  I suppose I could cut back the plants and grasses in the yard and gardens so that there is less work there too. Forget planting the tulips, the heck with digging up the canna bulbs, so what if things get a little overgrown.

You might be thinking......hey, hire it done! Sorry, not in the budget. Why just yesterday Georgette excitedly ordered a new vacuum cleaner in anticipation of resuming the heavier cleaning that she says she will be doing after she retires in December. The maid service doesn't know it yet, but they are about to get cancelled.

Our house from Christmas past.
Which brings us to the holiday lighting dilemma. It's been my job to decorate the outside of the house for the holiday each year. And in the 11 years we've lived in this house, the amount of decorating grew a bit each year as I tried to match my neighbor Jim. Jim puts his house lights up in October every year and fills the front yard with a bunch of those clear light figures such as deer, sleigh, a snowman and carolers. Very tasteful,  except for the life-size singing Santa Claus he got from Wal-Mart one year that sings carols non-stop from dusk to dawn.

With his yard and house adorned with clear lights and my yard and house similarly decorated, it was fun to set the timers for Thanksgiving evening and watch the two yards come to life with holiday wonderment.

Our neighbor Jim's holiday display.
But I say "was fun" because something is amiss at Jim's house. By now, Jim would have been up on his ladders hanging the clear strands of C-9's on his roof line and gutters. He always got it done early, usually late October when the weather was good. Jim, who is in his late 70's with a history of heart problem, hasn't been seen outside much lately. And someone, one of his grand kids, was mowing his lawn this summer. For the first time since we moved here 11 years ago, we're wondering if the house next door, usually a sea of white lights and holiday displays, will be dark this year. I'll admit to being motivated to do the work when I knew that our yards would compliment each other.

We also no longer spend our Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house as we've been spending those holidays out of town with family. That means no guests to ooh and aah at my yard decorating efforts which I'll admit was also part of my motivation. Thus, the decorations are really just for the two of us, the neighbors and the cars that drive up and down the street.

Part of my problem is that I'm just not into anything Christmas yet. I'm feeling a bit like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts comic TV special from the 60's. I know, I know, it's way too early, in spite of the local FM station that has been blaring non-stop Christmas music since day after Halloween. But today would have been a good day to string some lights-it's 59 degrees out with almost no wind. Instead, we went to a movie.

So I'm weighing the decision to decorate the front yard and if so, how much. Like bringing out the patio furniture in the spring, it's always more fun to put up the decorations than take them down in January when there is more cold and snow on the ground.

I suppose I could put out a few of those net lights on the shrubs and wrap the garland and lights on the two tall pillars that grace the front entryway. Oh, and of course the wreath that hangs in the large window above the front doors that you can see from inside the house, it's easy to put up and take down.

It wouldn't hurt to put out a couple of those nice white light Christmas trees too. And what about the blow mold Santa and the 2 toy soldiers-those wouldn't take too much work.

The deck with the C-9's strung along the railing.
And maybe I'll go ahead and decorate the deck railing in back of the house with red and white C-9's like I have every Christmas since we've lived here. They are pretty cool to see through the living room windows that are on either side of our fireplace and look out onto the deck. When there is fresh snow and a fire in the fireplace, we dim the lights inside and are treated to a holiday delight.

The deck at night.

I suppose I have some time yet to figure this out.  It's supposed to get real cold this week, maybe that will get me into the yard decorating spirit. Or when the "no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving" moratorium is lifted maybe I'll get the urge to string lights in the front yard.

Until then, there's holiday music blaring over on 102.3 FM if I get desperate.