This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

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‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

Festive Whitmores live it up at an Eleanor Christmas

Then, when The Child entered our lives, we marked the Season with our Tree Trim Party. (See “(N)o Tannenbaum”) Where, like Tom Sawyer, I tricked my friends into doing something I didn’t enjoy (substitute tree decorating for fence painting), then rewarded them with a pot roast dinner with all the trimmings. This Seasonal Highlight was repeated for nigh on 15 years.

Christmas Crackers were deployed — and crowns worn — at Tree Trim

Time, as is its wont (a favorite word, “wont”) marches on. And those Christmasses are gone. With all those wonderful traditions haunting my memories, it’s hard to muster the proper spirit to establish a new one. So, instead, we’ve focussed on Thanksgiving, and sort of glossed over Christmas. Some years Dude Man and I even fled the country.

In a rare year that we did not flee the country, we got Chinese Takeout for Christmas Dinner

Last year, though, I managed to rustle up some pot roast for The Child and the BF (now The Beau, praise the Lord) before we left for Christmas on the Amazon. I hadn’t made pot roast in years — had to call my Mom to remind me how to do it. But it turned out so well that The Beau begged me to make it again when they (safely; pandemic precautions having been made) visited this summer. Me: “Sorry; I adore you, but pot roast is just not happening in August.

Last Christmas, when we had a tiny tree and a large pot roast

In fact, The Beau loved the pot roast so much that I “gifted” him my cast iron pot roast pot. (I just had to say “gifted,” a term I find vaguely hilarious. Why not just say “gave,” a perfectly good word that already exists?) He likes to cook, and, besides, we were downsizing. Now, ironically, that same cast-iron pot, after having been lugged to Boston in a backpack on a train, got lugged right back here this summer and stored in our attic for the time when The Affianced Couple is no longer living in an RV. (See “Her Personal Truck” for cozy details.)

Before the pot roast pot got stored in our attic, it did pandemic duty as a no-knead-bread pot

Incidentally, The Child just texted me wanting my pot roast recipe. She’s up in Canada chez Beau’s Clan after having successfully quarantined and I guess she wants to impress them. Fingers crossed she can locate a suitable pot. The one in the attic is way too heavy to ship.

Meanwhile, guess what I picked up at the IGA just this morning? Yup, a nice chuck roast that I plan to “pot.” I decided it was high time to resurrect that Holiday Classic. Who cares if it’s just the two of us? The leftovers taste mighty fine. If we have any, that is.

We will certainly have no leftovers of this

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

 

Where I grew up, fish came in a stick

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‘Not that my palate is all that sophisticated now’

I had fish for dinner last night. Which means that I ate in a restaurant. (Yes, I was masked. Except when I was actually eating said fish.) See, now that I am a grownup — and a rather broken-in grownup at that — I can handle eating fish. Certain kinds of fish. Once in a blue moon. But I still can’t cook it.

Me, after having not cooked fish for dinner

See, fish was not something in my Mom’s meal rota. We had pork chops (which came with mashed potatoes and canned corn), and “Swiss Steak” (which came with mashed potatoes and peas), meat loaf (ditto), chicken (double ditto) and sometimes — because it was “good for you,” — liver (which came with creamed potatoes and green beans.)

And fish was generally not found on Midcentury Midwestern restaurant menus. I can’t remember fish appearing, like my salmon last night or my branzino last week, even in “tonight’s specials.” No, fish mostly came in a stick, battered and fried — and was primarily eaten at school lunches on Fridays as sort of a penance. Or during Lent. Ditto.

I don’t have a photo of fried fish sticks. But this one of fried chicken is much better. In many ways

In all my growing up years, I can’t recall anyone of my acquaintance — certainly not anyone in my family — saying, “Gee, Mom. Let’s have fish for supper.” No, fish was what you ate as sort of a default option.

Oh, sometimes a Dad would head out with his buddies and “go fishing.” But this wasn’t an Abercrombie & Kent sort of brook trout fly-fishing excursion. This was a “let’s pile in the bass boat and go get us some crappie” sort of deal. (Incidentally, “crappie” is a real fish, and pronounced “croppie.”)

Youngest Younger Brother Doug proudly displays his crappie catch

If you made the mistake of going along on one of these trips, the Dad(s) would delegate either hook-baiting and/or fish cleaning to you, as the lowest man/girl on the totem, er, fishing pole. Ugh.

This sort of chore effectively ruined your appetite for the possibly-delightful crappie feast to follow. Eating the results of a Dad Fishing Trip was right up there with eating the results of a Dad Hunting Trip. Except you hardly ever found buckshot in the crappie. Bones, yes.

This “fishing trip” was an excuse to screw around on skates. Trust me, no one had to clean fish after this excursion

The other fish one might find in the waters of Clinton County were gar, big long bony creatures that floated on top of the river — or catfish, big fat creatures that hung around on the bottom. No one I knew ate gar, though they were purportedly fun to catch and throw back. Catfish were served in a few Clinton County restaurants, and weren’t so bad if you put it out of your mind that they are, quite literally, bottom feeders.

There are catfish in these waters. You can’t see them because it’s so muddy. Which is, erk, just how catfish like it

Speaking of fish, once in a while as a special treat our family would eat at a Howard Johnson’s. I’m not sure if they exist any more, but when I was a kid they had these orange roofs and served pretty fancy food. They were kind of the restaurant equivalent of not just a motel, but a motel with a pool.

Me, when I was graduating from grade school to high school, and from fish sticks to fried clams

I remember I would always ordered the fried clams. I thought I was very sophisticated. Then, when I went off to college, I got really fancy. Sole Veronique! (Basically, a frozen white filet with grapes on it) And the piece de resistance: surf ‘n turf. (A frozen lobster tail paired with a steak) Hmmmm…I could go for surf ‘n turf right now.

No surf on this menu. Digging the Cowboy Steak in Upstate New York

After The Dude and I got married I was introduced to all kinds of new fish. Like bluefish. All I can say about bluefish, which was a Dude Family Favorite, is that is an acquired taste that I, um, never acquired. I used to push it around my plate and hide it under some lettuce. That is, if I couldn’t sneak it to Sam, the Dude Family Dog. (Sam loved me.)

Dude introduced me to sushi, too. Why on our very first date, which was my first time at a sushi restaurant, I consumed my first — and last — plate of sashimi. Where I grew up, fish came in a stick, and raw fish was bait. Or what you ate when you were the main character in The Old Man and The Sea.

But now, many years later, I happily consume many, but not all, kinds of (cooked, please) fish. Last night’s was salmon, and it was pretty delicious, if huge. There is a leftover chunk in the fridge right now. Seemed like a good idea last night to save it, but today it’s reminding me of leftover sushi, about which I wrote a pretty hilarious story once. (See “Radio Days.” You won’t be sorry.)

Turf. With no surf. It’s what’s for dinner chez Barbie tonight

I still don’t cook fish — much. The Child went through a lemon sole phase, so I dutifully complied to her wishes by putting it on our menu. Thank goodness she tired of it. See, I can cheerfully handle raw meat, but there’s just something about raw fish…well, I won’t go on. Except to say that tonight I am cooking dinner in the Ken & Barbie Kitchen. And it’s not gonna be sole. Or even reheated leftover salmon.

New York City. December 2020

 

 

Lockdown with a capital “L”

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‘When my Mom did some prison time’

My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.

My Mom when she got “capped,” which is like graduation for nurses

I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)

Mom, with one and a half kids

Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids. 

Mom had plenty on her plate, with kids ranging from Big (me) to Little (Toddler Doug) and three more in between. That’s Middle Bro Roger sporting a muscle tee on the left

But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.

I was gone by then, both physically — off to college — and emotionally — totally absorbed in turning into a Grownup — and I wasn’t very tuned in to what was happening with the folks back at home.

Was Mom working at the prison when this was taken? I was getting ready to bolt for New York, so of course I have absolutely no idea

For example, there was a period when a foreign exchange student was living in our house — a foreign exchange student  (from Chile? Peru?) who came and went — and I never even met him.

So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I wasn’t all that up to speed about the various nursing-related jobs my Mom had. I do recall that, for a time, she drove around to people’s houses conducting physicals for an insurance company. I remember that job because my Mom said that, invariably, the people she was supposed to give physicals to lived on remote farms with furiously barking dogs. Huge dogs that would lunge at her car door, leaving scratches on the finish and drool on the glass. “Come on out, he’s friendly,” these people would insist as my Mom cowered inside.

Mom and getting-pretty-big Doug visiting Independent Scott (who took this photo) in Oregon

So no wonder the job in Vandalia sounded more, well, normal. She could drive to work, park in a parking lot, and do her nursing in a nice clean nurse’s office. The fact that the office was inside a prison didn’t faze her in the least. Mom became a prison nurse. Which is kind of like a school nurse. Only they don’t send you home when you have a fever.

(Speaking of prisons, if you haven’t read my piece “That’ll Teach You,” you might want to take a look. It’s about the time I spent in prison — locked in a cell.)

Like I say, I was gone from home by then and starting my climb up the Advertising Ladder, so I was a tad fuzzy on the details. I knew my Mom “worked in a prison,” but somehow I pictured this as one of those “campus”-type institutions. You know, those places where they put the Bernie Madoffs and the Enron Guys.

Well, the years went by. I was sitting around the kitchen chatting with my Mom — back when Times were “normal” and I could actually visit her — and she happened to mention that she gets a pension from “The State.” Having reached “pensioner” status myself by this time, I was rather interested. “Was that from the time you worked in the prison?” I asked.

Sometimes I feel like I’m catching up to Mom, age-wise. People have ahem) mistaken us for sisters. Mom, of course, loves this

“Yup,” she replied, taking a sip of warmed-up coffee.

“You know, I never asked, but what kind of prison was that, anyway? What kind of criminals were there?”

“What kind? Well, I remember there was this one guy who killed his wife, then cut her up and fed her to the pigs.”

It’s a good thing I hadn’t just taken a sip of coffee myself.

Amagansett, New York. October 2020

 

I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me for dinner.

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‘Well, on second thought, maybe don’t call me “Karen”‘

Big surprise: my name isn’t actually “Lutheran Liar.” It’s Alice, a name I didn’t like much when I was a girl. Back then I wished my name was Linda or Debbie or Nancy or Sandy or Barb. Cool girl names. Cheerleader names. Girls-with-flips names. (That’s me, without a cool name, but with a reasonably-cool flip, in the picture at the top of this story.)

Instead, I got saddled with the name Alice. Which is a perfectly lovely name, really. But at the time I thought it was a “Grandma Name.” Maybe that’s because, in my case, it actually was a Grandma Name: the name of my Peterson Gramma. To add insult to name injury, my middle name was also a Grandma Name: Celia, the name of my Henry Gramma. (I couldn’t — and didn’t — do this to The Child. Her name would have been Bertha Myrna.)

My Gramma, the original-in-my-family-anyway-Alice

At my age it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around what’s happened with the name Karen, which was perhaps the coolest Cool Girl Name of all. As you probably can’t help but know, “Karen” has become a not-so-great all-purpose name for women caught exercising their white privilege muscles. Preferring an upbeat blog, I won’t go into this now, but you can read this New York Times piece for sad sociological details.

One of the nicest of the Nice Karens I know

Me, I only know Nice Karens. Like my cousin Karen. And my bridge buddy Karen. The very sweet Karen I babysat for in high school. There’s snappy-smart Lustre Karen. I even know a Field Guides Tours Karen. All nice as nice can be.

A gaggle of nice cousins with Cool Names: Debbie, Sandy, Kathy, Cindy, Nancy and — yes — Karen — all at my Mom’s 90th birthday party last fall. And no, dear Cousin Sandy, we did not name our dog Sandy after you (!)

Of course, no one really called me “Alice.” Except my Mom when I did something wrong. Then I got the whole darned name: “Alice Celia Henry, get in here this minute.” Ooops. I was “EO” to my Middle Younger Brother because he couldn’t say “Alice” and instead tried to spell it. I was “AE” to my Dad, because he remembered the spelling incident, only with with different letters.

Middle Younger Brother (the one who called me EO) competing for treats with Hermie, who was never ever called “Herman”

And, of course, The Child called (and still calls) me “Mom.” I know some families where the kids call their parents by their first names. Which is fine; just don’t try it at my house.

The Child modeling a sweater her Mom (me) knit for her. In the background is a painting that she used to point at, saying “Mommy! Mommy!” Hmmm

And The Dude? He calls me “Pie.” In fact, sometimes when he leaves me a note, he just draws a little pie wedge in lieu of a signature. Sometimes he draws steam coming out of it.

My Dad, who called me AE, called The Child “WalMart” because I made a crack one day about people naming their kids after stores (“Tiffany”)

As for the name “Alice,” not only did I learn to like it — especially after I moved to the East Coast, where I met several other Alices my own age — but I’ve grown into it.

In fact, the only other name I’d rather be called now would be “Gramma.”

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

“When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”

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‘Me and the mimeograph machine, making news after school’

Somebody Up There must not want me to go to The City. Last week when I journeyed there for a necessary errand, an epic storm struck right when I had to catch the Jitney home. In spite of being (what I thought was) adequately prepared, I — and everything I had with me — got thoroughly soaked. (I tried to make a video of myself pouring literally cups of water out of my rain shoes — yes, “rain shoes”, I told you I was prepared — but it was too dark and wet down by my feet.)

The errand that took me into The City: watching the countertop guys make a template for this curved counter in our itty bitty kitchen

Here’s how the side with no curve turned out

As you know only too well by now, The Dude and I are downsizing and need to get everything out of the old apartment. So, every time I slip into The City I try to bring some stuff back with me. If I’m traveling by Jitney (which is a fancy New York name for what is essentially a bus) I can’t take, say, boxes of books, but every little bit counts.

Some of the “stuff” got a bit damp. (See rain-stained right side of envelope)

This trip I grabbed a half-full box of tagliatelle, some jars of slightly-old-but-perfectly-good oregano and basil, a few cat toys, some socks, a few bits of china (which I wrapped in the socks), and a couple of random envelopes from a desk drawer, including one tantalizingly labeled “Stuff from Mom.”

By far the largest item in that envelope was this studio portrait of Baby Me. I swear it’s, like, 10×12. (Notice the same expression in the photo at the top of this post)

But what really got my attention were three lovingly-preserved copies of The Carlyle Grade School News.

This October edition had its cover art embellished by a younger sibling

I saw these, and the past came rushing back like a journalistic freight train. Gosh, how could I have forgotten The Carlyle Grade School News? I can recall (now), like it was yesterday, the aroma of baking bread that was the mimeograph machine running off copies in the school office after hours. Of course this happened a jillion years ago when I was in the eighth grade. There’s sure been a lot of water under the bridge (or poured on my head) since then.

The Christmas Edition was a fat one, bursting its staples. There was a Roving Reporter asking what students wanted for Christmas. Overwhelming answer? Mohair sweater, usually in pink

But why and how did this newspaper come to be? Well. When I was a girl there was this comic strip called “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” It featured a glamorous redhead (Brenda) who, as an ace reporter lived an extremely exciting life. I always liked to write and I’ve always had a thing about redheads. I could imagine no future more perfect than to be Brenda Starr. Gosh, it’s only now when I look it up on Wikipedia that I realize that the “Dale Messick” who drew the strip was (gasp) a woman. How perfect! (She shortened her name from Dalia, says Wiki, to get her strip published, since being a woman wasn’t exactly an advantage for a cartoonist in those days.)

Future Brenda Starr. But without red hair

To be Brenda Starr, I would need some practice. They didn’t have a newspaper at my school, so I decided to start one. I recall approaching The Powers That Were for permission to use the school office as a newsroom. I said that I wouldn’t break anything or make a mess, and that they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. All I would need was use of a typewriter, the mimeograph machine and some paper. In those days, well, that was enough. At least in my small-town hometown.

Me with my effortlessly glam mom, at about the age of my Editor-in-Chiefdom

Of course I was the Editor. But there were others on “staff.” Like reporters who covered each grade. Second Grade heard a talk about “the danger of playing in old ice boxes,” while Grade Five said “their chief interest in math is to myltiply (sic) with zeros.” (Note: there is no way to make a correction when typing a form for a mimeograph machine.)

Editorial staff plus editorial excuse

There were sports reporters and a gossip column and puzzles and stories — there was even a story “hand-picked by Alfred Hitchcock.” Though I doubt he actually appeared at Carlyle Grade School to do the “hand-picking.”

No newspaper would be complete without editorials. This one foreshadows the tone of a certain blogger, n’est-ce pas?

There was a fashion column (the Christmas edition featured knee socks), an advice column called “Letters to Lola” which dealt mainly with issues concerning “getting pretty girls to like me.” (I honestly don’t remember who was “Lola.”) Oh, yes, and Want Ads. One offered “Baby snails. Limited supply.” And jokes? You betcha! “Hey Chef, this soup is spoiled!” “Who told you?” “A little swallow!” I didn’t say they were good jokes.

All that remains of the Carlyle Grade School News today are these three dog-eared, rain-rescued and sibling-scribbled issues my mom squirreled away in an envelope buried in a drawer. But it led to my high school gig on the Carlyle Union Banner, my enrollment in Journalism School (see me ecstatic in my dorm room at the top of this post) and, ultimately, to New York City and my ever-so-exciting career in the Ad Biz — not to mention meeting The Dude.

Big fat sigh goes here.

But enough Deep Thoughts. Now I’m back to obsessing about the Ken and Barbie House.

The Ken and Barbie House: getting there!

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

 

Before the parade passes by

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‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

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Time is indeed fluid

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‘Coffee Time flows smoothly into Wine Time’

When I was a kid you’d see signs advertising Dr. Pepper in places like gas stations or in the drugstore (where there was a soda fountain and racks of ten-cent comic books). These signs would say “10-2-4,” and it meant that you should give yourself an energy boost at those times by quaffing a bottle of Dr. P.

Kenya dig it? Dude Man loves Dr. Pepper, but he loved Stoney even more. Too bad you can only get it in Africa

Well, around my house these days we don’t limit ourselves to sipping occasions at ten, two and four.

I’m basically drinking something all the time.

Many mornings I reach for my trusty Incest Mug. You can get the story about why it’s called that right here

I roll out of bed, go for a “health-giving walk,” then grab one of my collection of mugs. Which I fill, and fill again. And sometimes fill again again. In between refills I Accomplish Chores. (When I retired, I decided that a Healthy Structure For My Day would be to do things I have to do in the morning and things I want to do in the afternoons.)

They used to call coffee the “Think Drink,” which might explain my winning NY Times entries, for which I received several of these mugs

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Small place, big personalities

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‘The Colorful Characters of Clinton County’

I was watching a clip of Donald Trump slip-sliding his way down that ramp at West Point and immediately thought of Dennis Rose. “Gription,” Dennis would have said. “Trump’s shoes ain’t got enough gription.

Well, if “gription” isn’t a word, it oughta be. Dennis used it to describe what was wrong with his own sneakers during a basketball practice one afternoon long ago in the Carlyle High School gym. (I didn’t witness this word coinage myself, those being pre-Title IX days, when the sportiest we girls could get was playing dodge-ball in that same high school gym. While wearing bloomers. Honest. Bloomers.)

Dennis’ locution was colorful, but, trust me, there were other Clinton County denizens who made him seem pasty-pale in comparison.

There was the guy named Bill who rode his bike everywhere. Sure, no one bats an eye at an adult on a bike now (even sealed in Spandex), but back then a grownup riding a bike caused, well, comment. Indeed, we kids were told to “stay away from that man.”

Kids riding bikes was another kettle of handlebars entirely. We went everywhere on bikes. Well, except not to school. Bike riding to school–even on a swell banana bike like Rog’s–was considered very uncool and just was not done

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A la recherche du Coppertone perdu

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‘Proust and I wish you and yours a most odiforous summer’

Before you correct me in the comments, yes, I know that “odiforous” isn’t a real word. According to Evil Spell-Check, it should be “odorous,” but I’ve been saying “odiforous” for years and, if you ask me, “odorous” isn’t any fun at all.

So what’s with the odors, “iforous” or not?

Well, unless you’ve been spending the last 75 days alone in a cabin in rural Vermont, you know that losing your sense of smell is one of the symptoms of Covid-19. But before we get into that, how about that guy, huh? True story. Daniel Thorson emerged after spending March 13 through May 23 in isolation at a monastic retreat and asked, “I’m back from 75 days in silence. Did I miss anything?”

Once he heard I bet he skedaddled right back into that cabin. Kind of like the Groundhog and his shadow. Except in Poor Daniel’s case it would be the pandemic and the protests. Not to mention the fact that there’s no major league baseball.

Wouldn’t this scare you if you just emerged from 75 days alone in a remote cabin?

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“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said my wise mother.

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‘”You’re going to be a grownup for a very long time.”‘

I had my heart set on using this seriously cute photo of The Child wearing my shiny brown hand-tooled cowboy boots. (They look more like hip boots on her three-or-four-year-old form.) In this lost photo she is also sporting a pair of big ole dangly pearl clip-on earrings. Painfully cute.

Never fear. I have a plethora of painfully cute Child photos

I could keep on looking, but the clock just keeps on ticking and it’ll be Wednesday before this Tuesday post is done if I don’t just forge on ahead.

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