No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”

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‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn. Continue reading

Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?

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‘Sometimes it’s best not to follow the leader’

I have this Teddy Roosevelt fixation. Maybe it’s because my name is Alice*. (In case your history’s a bit rusty, Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a lively cigarette-smoking rebel who grew up to be a famous elderly curmudgeon. She had a needlepoint pillow that read ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’)

*Yes, ‘Lutheranliar’ is really named ‘Alice’. After my Gramma. Middle named ‘Celia’. After my other Gramma, whose actual name was Cecelia. But my mom said she shortened it so I wouldn’t spit on people. Go ahead; try it: “Alice Cecelia”. I rest my case. Or my mom does anyway.

And Teddy? Well, he did crazy things like wander off into the wilderness all alone and lead charges into battle on horseback. And he still found the time to read two books a day — even while he was busy being President.

Teddy almost died of malaria making the same (gulp) trip we did a couple of months ago. Read about his trip in ‘River of Doubt’. Read about ours in ‘Eat. Or be eaten’ or ‘The Curse of the Potoo’

One of the coolest things that Teddy did (or at least I think so) was how he evaded the pesky ole Secret Service. Since Teddy had actually become President when the guy before him, William McKinley, got shot,  there were lots of Secret Service agents following him around to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen to him, too.  Continue reading

The Red Shoes (on)

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‘When saying it wrong is too cute to correct’

I was feeling kind of empty, the Australian Open being over and all (oh where will I get my Federer Fix?), so I called my Mom.

(Let me say right off the bat that I am ever so grateful to have a Mom, and that having one as smart and funny and almost-always-available by iPhone as mine is, well that’s just cosmic icing on the cake.)

So, anyway. After discussing various relatives and their illnesses and books and movies and baseball (she doesn’t follow tennis, but I love her anyway), and the Fate of the Nation in General, we got around to my blog. And the fact that my Mom had, yet again, tried to post a comment that didn’t ‘take’. (We won’t go into technical details, except to note that my Mom is extremely tech-savvy, more than I am, in fact. She has personally designed her own emoji. So I am stymied about why/how she can’t post comments. Sigh.)

My Mom and Dad and my Peterson Grandparents, when I was adorably small and in no need of shoes, red or not red

Her comment? It was in reference to last week’s post which, if you recall, was about me feeling like it was about time already to be giving away certain stuff in my closet and was titled ‘At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole’. Continue reading

“I’ll be (at Somebody’s Else’s) Home for Christmas”

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‘”You can count on me (not to give you a hard time about it)”‘

Or not too much of a hard time, anyway. I mean, what did I expect? The Child is a Certified Grownup now, and not even a freshly-minted one. (She is not only ‘over 21’, she is ‘over 25′.)

Hmmm. It’s a wonder she didn’t spend Christmas Away even earlier

Even when she was a wee Santa-Believing Child I knew that, at some point in the Foggy Festive Future, there would come a Christmas that she would want to spend Elsewhere. And, even though we’ve been guilty of ‘downsizing’ our Christmas festivities as the years have whizzed by — going from super-sized Trees complete with all the Tree Trimmings (including a big ole pot-roast-fueled Tree Trim Party) to ever-smaller sort-of-decorated Trees In Pots to No (gasp) Tree At All — I still took it for granted that she would be with us at Christmas.

After all, she made it home for Christmas all through college. Why, even the year she spent studying in Cambridge (the England Cambridge, not the Massachusetts Cambridge), she managed to get herself Home in time for December 25. (Gosh, I hope I fed her some pot roast.) Continue reading

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?

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‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

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Hygge for the Holidays

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‘Making a list, and checking it twice’

Okay. Confession Time. First, the idea for this post, which is to make a list of Blessings, comes from a Blogger Who Has Many Many Followers. (Which is kind of a blessing right there, wouldn’t you say, Susie?)

Susie mentioned she had ‘Hygge’ in mind when she made her own list. I would define “Hygge’ for you, but (Second Big Confession Coming Up), I had absolutely no idea what ‘hygge’ meant until I googled it and found an article titled, aptly, ‘What the Hell is Hygge?’ Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

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Why not ‘Grape Nuts Arena’?

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‘I contemplate the New Now of corporate naming’

I was on a Goodbye Call to The Child when we got to talking about the World Series. She was somewhat surprised that I have been watching, since I’ve never been a baseball fan, or much of a Team Sports Person at all. (‘Why not give both sides a ball, since they want it so bad?’ is my take on football. And basketball? That’s the game that uses the round orange ball, right? As opposed to the pointy orange one?)

But hey, it’s the World Series, I tell her. The game the other night was in Houston, where the Astros play in this stadium called, I kid you not, Minute Maid Park. She not only knew this, but, Millennial that she is, found the naming of an arena after a fruit juice not surprising in the least. What’s next, I ask her, Grape Nuts Arena?

I grew up when the Yankees played in Yankee Stadium, and the Dodgers played in Dodger Stadium. Naming was simple: you named the place after who played there. Of course, sometimes teams move (like the Dodgers used to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and played in a place called Ebbets Field), which can mess up that naming method. Just imagine if the Astros moved to LA and had to play in Dodger Stadium. Harsh. Especially if they lose this series.

Yankee Stadium, then

Still ‘Yankee Stadium’. But that’s a mighty big ‘Gatorade’ sign

Continue reading