“What’s that smell?”

Standard

‘There’s something rotten in the State of Illinois’

It rained this Easter. Which wasn’t really a problem, not for me anyway, since I don’t have any little kids to take on an Easter Egg Hunt. (More’s the pity.)

But I remember very well, being the Oldest Kid and all, what happened one time when it rained on our, er, Easter Parade.

But first, a word about Easter.

My family was Lutheran. Which is sort of like being Catholic, but stripped-down and rather basic — kind of like the black-wall tire of religions, or like being the Catholic B-Team. We were jealous of our cousins who were Catholic and enjoyed the full-on religious package; they got to have First Communion and wear fancy dresses and patent leather mary janes and hats with (gasp) veils and get sprinkled with Holy Water. They even got to kneel. (When you’re seven, you think kneeling is incredibly cool.)

I remember that purse. I loved that purse; I distinctly remember putting my collection envelope in there — and (gasp) am I wearing a hat?

But even we Lutherans got to go all out for Easter, with new clothes and everything. My Mom usually made the more spectacular outfits. I’m pretty sure she made the dress I’m wearing in the picture at the top of this post. I know she made my brothers’ little suits.

The Child scores Big with her Easter Basket. No, I didn’t make her dress. But yes, I knitted that sweater

And of course we went to Easter Services. I remember that even we Lutherans had some pretty good hymns on Easter. Big loud joyful ones you could really belt. (“Christ the Lord is risen to-daaaay…ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhhh-lay-yay-ooo-ooo-ya!”) As opposed to our usual minor-key dirges with nine zillion verses droned dutifully through on regular Sunday-Go-To-Meetin’ occasions. (I found out much later, after I married The Dude, that Methodists have the Best Easter Hymns Of All Time. Every Easter for years The Child and I would go to services with Aunt Eleanor and sing our little lungs out in her Methodist Church — continuing to sing on the drive home, belting away with the sunroof wide open.)

But the best part of Easter (well, maybe after the Easter Basket) was the Easter Egg Hunt. A word about Easter Baskets. If I’d showed up at my mother’s house for Easter this year (or any year), I’d have found an Easter Basket by the side of my bed on Easter morning, big honkin’ chocolate bunny and all. That’s just how my mom rolls, Easter-wise.

As the Oldest Kid, I don’t remember hunting for the eggs as much as I remember decorating — and hiding them. We decorated eggs by dying hard-boiled eggs with food coloring. I mention this because I don’t think people do this that much anymore in this time of putting-candy-inside-two-plastic-egg-halves. Which I think is fine; I’m not getting that old and crabby.

An early Easter when Mom and I were living at my Gramma P’s. Dad was in Korea, but I got a hat

But there was something to be said about doing the dying thing. You’d learn, say, that if you put an egg in the blue dye first, then the yellow, you’d get a green egg. Or a blue plus a red gave you purple. (You’d also learn that if you put that purple egg into the yellow you’d get a nasty indescribable color. But no worries; Dad would eat it anyway.)

If it was nice out, we Older Kids would hide the eggs outside. Then, after Church, but before Easter dinner (which invariably featured ham — my Mom hating lamb, thinking it smelled like “hot wet sweaters”) we’d direct the hunt for our littler siblings. (“You’re getting warm…you’re getting cold…now you’re warm again…hot…you’re boiling hot!”) They’d find the egg, put it into their now-emptied-of-chocolate-treats baskets — and beam.

Another shot of my brothers in their cute little Mom-sewn Easter suits. Because why not?

But did we eat those Easter Eggs? No way. It’s not that we didn’t like hard-boiled eggs. (Well, actually, we didn’t like them much.) It was more that, when you peel a home-dyed egg, the whites tend to be the same color as the shell. And, while we weren’t inordinately picky children, eating a purple egg just didn’t, well, appeal. So we’d feed the eggs to Dad. He’d be lying on the couch watching golf on TV, waiting for us to get done with the hunt so he could eat his ham, when he’d whip off that shell in one practiced move and pop that whole egg, purple parts and all, into his mouth. 

And if it rained on Easter Sunday? No problemo. We just moved the Hunt indoors. Our house, being a rather large and messy one (there were seven people living there, remember) had plenty of good hiding places. Perhaps too good. I distinctly recall one memorable rainy Easter when the hunt had been particularly enjoyable. Many eggs hidden; many eggs found — and our Dad almost too stuffed with Hunt Bounty to do justice to his Easter Ham.

But, for weeks afterward, we’d walk into the living room and go “What’s that smell?” (In a house with a Dad and three Brothers, my Mom and Sister and I had our suspicions.) But eventually, as the smell got worse and worse (“Gosh, it smells just like rotten eggs in here!”) we found the problem: a gaily colored, highly scented, weeks-old Easter egg, hidden just a bit too well under one of the couch cushions. Needless to say, even Dad wouldn’t eat that one.

Here’s hoping you had a highly-enjoyable and non-stinky Easter. See you next week, even if it rains.

An early Easter with The Child. This was in the Gerard Drive house — so small that her bed and the piano were in the same room. Good thing we did’t lose any eggs in there

New York City. April 2019

Random Acts of Kidness

Standard

‘Making your bed might actually be overrated’

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who simply has to make her bed every morning. I make my bed if I’m running late for bridge class or if I’m leaving to catch a plane. (Of course, I’m never late catching a plane; I’m also one of those people who leaves for the airport hours before her flight is due to take off.)

If I don’t make my bed I feel itchy and uncomfortable all day, kind of like I forgot to brush my teeth. Even when I was single, and nobody else was going to see my bed (hahaha), I couldn’t leave home without making sure it was all neat and tidy. Yes, I’m one of those people who has been known to make the bed in my hotel room.

I’m not alone in my bed-making mania. Some ex-Navy Seal even wrote an inspirational book called, I kid you not, Make Your Bed.

Funny story. When The Dude and I started sharing a household and its chores, we decided that whoever got up last would be in charge of making the bed. (Come to think about it, it would be sort of hard to do it the other way around.)

It’s kind of hard to make the bed if you’re the first one up

Whenever the task fell to Mr. Dude, I would marvel that a person who was so neat and tidy in so many ways — and a doctor, at that — would make such a lumpy bumpy mess of making the bed.

So one morning I got him to show me his technique. I’m standing there, and there he is, lying in bed, on his back. I expect him to get out and make the bed, already. But no, he starts moving his arms and legs like he’s making a snow angel. He does this a few times, and then sort of slips out from under the covers sideways. Done!

“You’ve got to be kidding. That’s not how you make a bed!” I manage to snort through gales of laughter. “Well,” he snorts right back. “That’s how I’ve made my bed my entire life, and I’m not changing now.”

I’ve made the bed ever since.

Anyway. The Child must have taken after Dude Man, because she has never ever made her bed. This lack of basic good housekeeping skills doesn’t seem to have hindered her self confidence or her stellar trajectory to Millennial Overachievement. Looks like you don’t need to make your bed to make the Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30, Mr. ex-Navy Seal.

Yup. Here she is, among the 2019 honorees

Well. In spite of the fact that she’s turned out A-Okay, I have to admit that, when she comes home — which is fairly often, since business and/or friends have her boomeranging back to New York every few weeks — well, that unmade bed can start to, well, rankle.

Even if she keeps her door shut, I know it’s in there. And after she’s left for the bus or the train or the plane and I peek inside? Sure enough: bed, unmade. Everything else in the room can be fairly tidy, and, since a rather unfortunate college-days incident involving, among other things, coffee grounds dripping down the side of a countertop, she’s always left the rest of the apartment just the way she found it. But that unmade bed? Sure to get my goat every time.

Does that unmade bed get The Child’s goat? Nope, and not her cat, either

Until last week. The Child had left for the train unusually early, after which I checked her room: unmade bed, per usual. Big sigh. I had just about decided that I’d have to have a Little Talk with her (maybe citing Mr. ex-Navy Seal), when this text exchange happened:

Now, just in case you don’t know, Alex Honnold is that guy who scaled El Capitan without using ropes or picks or anything. 3200 feet using just his fingers and toes and, gosh, guts. The Dude and Child and I saw the movie together — it’s called Free Solo, and deservedly won the Oscar for best doc. (Go stream it as soon as you can.)

Well. I have a serious Mom Crush on Alex, who was, in fact, appearing at The Child’s climbing gym that very day. But, instead of just cadging a selfish old selfie with Mr. Free Solo, just look at what that dearest of children went and did:

Forget the neat bed. This is what “thoughtfulness” looks like (!)

So. Making your bed? Highly overrated. It’s those Random Acts of Kidness that really make this Mom’s day.

New York City. April 2019

 

“What are you saving it for, the Maypole Dance?”

Standard

‘If you’re not going to lose it, then go ahead and use it’

I remember one time back when I was young and single here in New York City. I was just sitting down to dinner, blissfully alone in my apartment up on 93rd Street. (There’s a great story about how I got this apartment, called “Horowitz Plays the Bedroom”, that you might want to read, but not just yet.)

Anyway. My buzzer rang, and, since I had no doorman, I stuck my head out the window to check out who was down there. Seeing that it was a friend, I put my key in a sock and threw it out the window so he could let himself in and come on up. He comes in and I offer him a glass of wine. Whereupon he looks at my table, where there is a placemat, cloth napkin, pretty plate, nice wineglass, the whole nine yards — and asks (panting; it was five steep flights up), “Oh. Sorry. Are you expecting company?”

A table loaded with joy-producing items, including Child and Friend. I make use of all of these, and not just on special occasions

When I explained that, no, dinner was just me, and yes, I did in fact do this sort of thing every night — every night I wasn’t out, that is — he looked baffled. “All this — just for you?!?”

Sure, I said. Who better to do nice things for?

This story came to mind because there’s been a lot of buzz lately about living simpler lives and giving things away. I don’t know if Marie Kondo actually started it all — there have no doubt been what the Times calls “gurus of tidiness” since the days ladies cluttered their caves with way too many pretty rocks — but apparently this trend shows no signs of abating.

Now actually, I do enjoy a good possessions purge myself. In fact, you can find some pretty good tips about what clothing to keep — or not — in “Just Because It Fits, Doesn’t Mean You Should Wear It”.

Double Kondo. The Child divests herself of a kilt that I had passed on to her. Her reason? No joy. My reason? No knee coverage

So no, this is not an anti-Kondo diatribe. What I’d like to do today is urge you to use — and enjoy — what you don’t purge. If you get rid of something because it doesn’t “spark joy”, then, conversely, the stuff you keep should. And that crystal wine glass or cashmere sweater or engraved stationery can’t do much joy-sparking if you don’t use it.

Case in point: after The Dude’s Mom died, we found a stash of pristine stationery — boxes of it that she had never even opened, much less used. And not even her daughters could get joy out of it — it was monogrammed.

On the other hand, I have a good friend who wears her much-loved and recently-departed mother’s pearls every single day. They are valuable pearls, real heirlooms that another kind of woman would store in a vault. But no, she wears them. And no, she is not a fancy New York City socialite. She is a landscaper and garden designer out on Long Island. And she wears those pearls with her teeshirts, work pants and boots, goldarnit.

Now my Mom is not the pearl-wearing or pearl-leaving kind, unless you count pearls of wisdom. Which brings me to “What are you saving it for, the Maypole Dance?” , a saying she’d deploy when she’d notice someone (like her own mother) saving something for good. When was this time that was “good” enough supposed to arrive, she’d ask? Next week? A year from now? I remember in particular a mink hat my Gramma was “saving”. It was too “nice” even for church, but my mother finally convinced her to wear it to brunch at my Uncle Ronald’s. (Incidentally, I myself practice what Mom preaches. The photo at the top of this post shows me wearing my “good” Ogilvy ten-years-of-service Concord watch — and not much else.)

That’s my wise Maypole-Dance-saying Mom with my Gramma. Who is not wearing her mink hat. But, in fairness, it was a hot day

So, in closing, let me urge you, a la the “gurus of tidiness”, to go ahead and lose the things that don’t “spark joy”. But if you’re not going to lose it, then by all means use it. Eat your Chinese takeout on your best china. Wear the Burberry cashmere sweater while streaming Netflix on your couch.

Oh, and do break out that monogrammed stationery — even if you just use it to jot down your list of things you want to get rid of.

New York City. April 2019

 

“While we’re still young”

Standard

‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.

Me, getting longer in the tooth every second I stayed stuck in Kansas City

The Child, same age as me, above, yet looking long in leg — not in tooth

Yes. I thought I was old — at 27! But, like I say, when it comes to age, everything is relative. Speaking of which, my Favorite Older Relative, my own personal mother, had three kids by the time she was 27. And she didn’t start all that young, at least not for the 1950s.

My Mom was forty when her daughter (me) got married. I was forty when my daughter was born. And see my Grampa? I’m older than he was in this picture — right now

I used to warn The Child that if she waited to give birth till she was the same age I was when I had her, I’d be too old to hold the baby. Or I might drool on it. After all, I’d be (gasp) eighty. But now I have friends who are eighty, or at least pushing it — some damned good bridge players among them — so that joke falls rather flat.

Back when Grampas and Grammas looked, well, like Grampas and Grammas. And not like my fellow bridge players

And my Mom? Well, as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, she and I are starting to, well, look a whole lot alike. People might think we’re sisters, and not mother/daughter. Or buddies. Like two Ladies of a Certain Age who like to hang out together. Which, I guess, is what we are.

Same three Henry Gals, having a great time together, as usual. Tho now I’m older than Mom was here

Speaking of hanging out with similarly-aged people, I used to babysit for one of my mother’s friends. She was (and is) a woman younger than my mom (she had little kids when my Mom had high-schoolers). Anyway, after I grew up, she kept telling me I could stop calling her Mrs. Meisenheimer and call her “Ruth”. You know, since we were both grownups. But I couldn’t do it; she was Someone For Whom I Had Worked who was a Friend of My Mother’s. So Mrs. Meisenheimer it was. Until the day I turned 60, and Mrs. M sent me a birthday card that said she thought it was about time I cut it out. So, hi, Ruth!

I want to note here that The Dude has his own version of “while we’re still young” — it’s “while we still can“. Which is what he says when we go on our adventures. We go to these exotic places — like Uganda, and Guyana, and the Amazon — to hike and search for rare birds. Sometimes these trips are arduous and even treacherous. But The Dude, bless him, insists we go “while we still can”.

And so it goes. See you next week — when, dammit, I’ll be even older. But then again, so will The Child.

The Child and BF celebrating her birthday in Boston — because why not?

Dude Man and Me celebrating my birthday in the wilds of the Amazon — because we still can

New York City. April 2019

 

 

 

Harvey and the grilled half goat head

Standard

‘A practical joke that backfired, bigtime’

The other day the Times ran a story about procrastination. About how when you put things off it’s not really about laziness — it’s about more emotional stuff, like fear of failure.

Gulp. Got me, New York Times. I started writing this blog instead of writing a book. I told myself I actually was writing the book — only story by story instead of all at once. And that when I had enough material, I’d figure out how to magically turn it into an actual book.

Speaking of “material”, I’ve got scads of stories about growing up in the Midcentury Midwest. Check out “You Make a Better Door than a Window”

Well, that was almost five years ago. And I have yet to get my turning-this-stuff-into-a-book act together. I was talking this over with The Dude on our trip up to Boston this past weekend to help The Child celebrate her birthday. Told him I was thinking of shutting down The Blog and focusing on The Book. Then he asked the key question: “Have you run out of stories, then?”

The Child and The Dude duke it out in a game of Birthday Chess

“Oh, I’ll always have stories,” I replied. Like this one. It’s about a very colorful boss I worked with years ago. His name was Harvey. Usually I disguise the names of real figures from my past. But Harvey’s essential, well, Harveyness meant he couldn’t be anything other than “Harvey”.

I don’t have a photo of Harvey, but I do have this one of a bevy of ad beauties who worked for or with him. The pic at the top of this post was taken when he got me a promotion

Harvey was a prominent art director — he and his writer partner came up with the famous “Hilltop” commercial for Coke. The one that goes “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. He was also, well, quirky. He was from the Bronx and was such a died-in-the-wool New Yorker he made Woody Allen seem like he came from Kansas.

Harvey used phrases like (for a boring TV idea): “I gotta tell ya; it lays there like a lox.” Even more boring? “It’s Wheatena. High praise would be: “You took a flower and made it a meadow.” Harvey was so New Yorky, he once got a ticket in LA for jaywalking.

Speaking of LA, this was back when working in advertising was really fun. So fun, in fact, that I have a story titled “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On”, which you can read when you’re done with this one. (Or in my book, if I ever figure out how to make it happen.)

Me, back in those Fun Days. The shirt is from a studio in LA. Yes, I am wearing it tucked into sweatpants

Yes, I have a zillion LA Ad Stories. Like “Eenie Meanie, Chili Beanie, the Spirits Are About to Speak”. Oh, and one that everyone seems to get a kick out of is a tale of Ad Revenge called Karl Malden’s Nose”.

But today’s story takes place in New York. As I mentioned, advertising was way fun way back then. It still might be, I suppose, if you enjoy open-plan offices and working all weekend on internet banner ads. But I digress.

One of the Fun Things we did was have Group Dinners. That’s when our Creative Group would eat out in some fun restaurant and our Creative Director Boss (in this case, Harvey) would pick up the tab.

Harvey was treating us to dinner somewhere in Little Italy — I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember the name of the place; Perugia maybe? — anyway, we were in this restaurant with a linoleum floor and big long communal tables and waiters who didn’t speak English.

We’re going around the table, placing our orders. There were about a dozen of us, including these two guys, Shap and Gruen, a great art director/writer team and also very funny. (Yup, those are also their real names, because why not?) Anyway, Shap and Gruen decided to play a joke on Harvey.

While everyone was talking and laughing and carrying on, Ad-Fun-Style, S and G surreptitiously ordered Harvey a grilled half goat head.

Well. We continue to talk and laugh and carry on, and pretty soon this waiter brings over an honest-to-god half goat head plopped on a big ole plate. It looks like someone sliced this poor goat’s head right down the middle and, well, grilled it — eyes, tongue, nose, the whole (well, half) darned thing. And it looked like it because that’s what somebody actually did, darn it. Grilled a half goat head.

Shap and Gruen are seated on either side of Harvey and they’re thinking this is pretty funny when Harvey goes, “Capozelle! My favorite!”

He then proceeds to eat said Capozelle, enjoying it lustily while offering choice tidbits to his neighbors Shap and Gruen. “Here, try the eye — it’s the best part!

I guess you could say that Harvey, um, got their goat.

And that maybe I should leave this one out of The Book.

New York City. March 2019

Song of My Selfie

Standard

‘A Whitman’s Sampler’

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” So sayeth the Internet, no doubt referring to those self-portraits otherwise known as “selfies”. Now I should point out, before I get too carried away with my mangling of Leaves of Grass, that the portrait at the top of this post is not actually a selfie. It may be difficult to imagine in this age of the ubiquitous hand-held device, but there were no cellphones in Seventeenth Century Holland. Though it sure looks as though those burghers are hamming it up for Instagram, doesn’t it?

Twenty-First Century Burgher Selfie. As you can see, I am not immune to the lure of the self-portrait. Even when being run down by a bike messenger

Speaking of hamming it up, I’ve been known to indulge in the odd selfie. In fact, I’ll be peppering this post with a few of my favorites — because why not? Continue reading

Planes, boats, and sorta kinda automobiles

Standard

’Getting there actually is part of the fun. If you’re a Crazy Birder, that is.’

Our chigger bites from our Guyana trip hadn’t even healed when we were off again, this time to Western Panama. (See ‘Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid’ and ‘Up in the air, Junior Birdman’ for hair-raising Guyanian adventures involving hitchhiking bugs and bullet ants.)

The first Panamanian Plane. De-icing outside, pre-birding inside

A few years ago we started traveling with this company whose motto is “seriously fun birding”. (Look out: plug coming.) And I’m happy to report Truth in Advertising: Field Guides takes both the birding and the fun, well, seriously. Of course, not everyone has the same idea when it comes to “fun”. Take the travel — please.

Our 4-wheel limo. Standing-room only, but with terrific air-conditioning

We’ve found that there seems to be an inverse correlation between gorgeous birds and efficient transportation. The countries with the best birds have, basically, the worst roads. (The teeth-rattling tarmac in Kenya comes to mind.) Or no roads to speak of. (Amazonian Brazil and Downcountry Guyana, I’m talking about you.) Continue reading

The time we left The Child by the side of the road

Standard

‘The terrors of taking a toddler on a trip in a car’

Last week I wrote about the dangers one encounters on a trip to the Tropics. This week I to thinking about another trip we took — Out West, this was, years ago when The Child was about two — and those Bullet Ants started sounding downright cuddly. Because there’s nothing quite as dangerous as a Toddler Tantrum on a road trip.

Notice that I don’t say “The time we almost left The Child by the side of the road.” Nope. We honest to goodness left her. Not for very long, and no, there wasn’t anyone else around, but still. If we did this today, we’d no doubt get into some deep doodoo — like that hapless New York Times reporter who left her screaming spawn in the car while she ran into a 7Eleven.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yes, still Before Road Trip, we hang out with The Dude’s Aunt Elsa, who had the Toddler Touch, even on a trip to the children’s zoo

It all started when we flew out to Arizona for one of The Dude’s Doctor Meetings. (You can read about another childlike meltdown on another of these Doctor Meetings in “Let me go; I want my mommy!”  Why, oh why, did we do this kind of thing — and more than once?) Continue reading

Up in the air, Junior Birdman

Standard

‘Just not upside-down, if you please.’

I amaze (and amuse) myself sometimes with the mere fact that I go on these Crazy Birding Adventures. (See last week’s “Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid” for gory Guyanian details.)

Not only are there bugs and spiders and scorpions to deal with (along with the occasional dollop of gecko poop on one’s pillow) but these trips usually have several of my own personal psychological bugaboos layered on top, including (but not limited to) an almost-paralyzing fear of heights. Oh yeah, and lest I forget, there’s The Snake Thing.

Before we move on to heights, here’s that snake — a big ole rattler, no less — that The Dude and Ron were trying to photograph in my story from last week

You may recall from my story “The Year of the Snake” that I have a particularly acute aversion to creatures of the slithery persuasion. Unlike, say, Intrepid Fellow Birder Linda (who snapped this snake), you won’t hear me cooing “That’s the most beautiful snake I’ve ever seen” about this specimen we found on a nighttime hike. Though I did have the gumption to take this movie. So there’s that. Continue reading

Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid

Standard

‘But we did catch the Birding Bug’

If you’ve missed me (and/or my stories), may you find your reward in Heaven. Or maybe South America. Which is where The Dude and I spent the last couple of weeks — in Guyana, which is a country we had to look up on Google Earth.

We’d both remembered that movie Papillon, with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, where Steve’s character escapes from Devil’s Island in French Guiana. But we couldn’t decide whether Guiana was in South America and Guyana was in Africa. Or the other way around. (The Guiana/Guyana thing didn’t help.) And of course there’s Uganda (where we’ve been) and Ghana (where we’ve not), complicating matters even more. Turns out Guiana and Guyana are both in South America. But only one of them is famous for its Kool-Aid.

It drove our new Guyanian Pal Francis — here with me atop the Georgetown Lighthouse — crazy to realize that The One Fun Fact we knew about his homeland was The Kool-Aid Thing

Yup. Guyana is where the Rev. Jim Jones took his followers and, ultimately, treated them to a Kool-Aid Party. Grape, it was. (Take a sec to check out Jim Jones’ Wikipedia entry. It actually lists his “Occupation” as “Cult Leader”.) Continue reading