Taking motherhood to a whole new level

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‘In The Heights On Christmas Day’

“It’s not rational,” I said as I lamely tried to explain my fear of heights to my pretty-much-100%-fearless son-in-law. “It’s emotional. Visceral, even. I react to a cliff the same way I’d react to, well, a snake.”

“You’re scared of snakes?” was his befuddled reply.

Well, yes. As you know if you’ve read my piece “The Year of the Snake,” I have a very well-developed (and healthy, in my opinion) fear of snakes. A fear that I have yet to conquer.

But I’ll have you know that this Christmas I faced my fear of heights in fine fettle. By hiking the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Without fainting or shaking or cringing. Much.

Me, not shaking all that much, pausing to gloat on the Kaibab Trail

Sure, I didn’t hike the whole trail — it’s seven miles all the way down. But, for a person who can’t even stand on the top rung of a ladder to change a screeching smoke alarm at three in the morning (see “Things That Go Shriek in the Night”) climbing down — and back up — a mile of steep, icy, rocky switchbacks is a pretty darned proud-making accomplishment.

It all started Christmas morning. “Hey, it looks like a great day to visit the Grand Canyon!” was The Child’s delighted cry after opening presents. “We’ll do a Christmas hike!”

I didn’t object, but, needless to say, I didn’t join in the general glee. And I was quiet on the almost-one-hour drive from Flagstaff to the South Rim. Too quiet.

Even the roadside stop at Jerky Guy’s stand failed to get a rise out of me

The rest of our carload sang along to country music and nibbled on snacks while I quietly composed my eulogy. All too soon, The Child shouted, “Look out to the left! There it is: the Grand Canyon!” And yes. There it was: magnificent, massive — and oh so very very deep. I’m glad no one took my picture.

This gives you a pretty good idea of the deepness of the canyon — and the steepness of the trail. I’m glad you can’t see my face

Of course these wacky kids had no fear at all of hiking down the Kaibab Trail. Hell no. They’d already run down that trail. Then across the Canyon floor, up the other side, back down, back across the Canyon floor and right back up to where they started. It’s a Thing called the Rim2Rim2Rim, and yes, both The Child and The SIL have done it. Three times. Their adventure’s here in “Deeds of Derring-Don’t”.

Can you imagine running on this trail? I didn’t have to imagine it; I watched the SIL do it. Seriously. He just took off — and ran

My fear-conquering method? Nothing fancier than not wanting to be left in the parking lot while Her Childness and Spouse and Mr. Dude all went trail traipsing. Oh, and once I started I didn’t look at anything except my feet. No gazing out at the glorious views for me. I glued my attention to my boots until I got into the swing of things. And, by golly, it didn’t take me more than a couple of switchbacks before I was free-soloing along like a seventy-something Alex Honnold.

Like I said, our little foursome only hiked down a mile. To a place called Ooh Aah Point. Then we turned around and hiked back up. Which (for me, anyway) was actually easier, since being out of breath was less crazy-making than the fear of slipping on all that ice.

Our happy band at Ooh Aah Point. (SIL is missing since he’s the one taking the picture)

Once we were done we were so exhilarated that we drove along a bit to the place where The Child and The SIL took the plunge in May. (Which you can read about in “Runaway Bride.“) I was emboldened by my success on the Kaibab to venture out to the actual Wedding Vow Site. But I could not be convinced to clamber onto the vertiginous location of several other wedding shots.

Revisiting the Scene of the “Crime.” Look closely and you’ll see two teensy figures far off on that outcrop. (That’s my scaredy-cat shadow in the foreground)

Same outcrop, but with Newlyweds perched on top

Yes, our Flagstaff Christmas was pretty darned slick. Literally. And, as for me, I’m still pumped with joy — and adrenaline. Maybe next Christmas I’ll tackle my fear of snakes.

Me, feeling pretty smug about making it up and down that trail. But snakes? Not on your life

Amagansett, New York. December 2021

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

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‘Thinking back on a battery of gifts’

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time wielding a corkscrew. I envy people like The Dude or even my Favorite Sister who, when I complain about not being able to wrest a cork out of a bottle, go “Oh, but it’s so easy. You just slip this gizmo here, lift, and there you go!”

A unopened bottle of wine serves as a pacifier during a family reunion. (Pretty much the only thing an unopened bottle of wine is good for)

I’m especially jealous because they both swear by those mysterious (to me, anyway) waiter-style corkscrews. When I can’t even get a bottle open with a Rabbit.

But guess what? Problem solved. A little elf named Jeff (one of my Mom’s buds at her newish home, the senior-living facility where I’m visiting her right now) listened to me whine the other day over Morning Coffee and said, “You should get one of those electric corkscrews.”

That’s not me capturing the mountains out the window on the way to visit my Mom — it’s some random person with an iPad. But the mountains are stunning, eh?

Of course I’d never heard of any such thing. An electric corkscrew? What’ll they think of next? An electric knife? (Hah-hah, they have. My Dad was an early adopter. Also of the electric toothbrush. The Christmas where he gave one of those to my mom will forever live on in infamy.)

Was this the Christmas of the Electric Knife? Hard to say, though the decade seems about right

Well. Not only did Jeff extoll the virtues of the electric corkscrew, he zoomed off to his apartment and, within minutes, had zoomed back with something in hand. “Here. Take this. I already have one. Merry early Christmas! Do you have batteries?”

The electric corkscrew, under the Tree for about five minutes

Do we have batteries?!? Favorite Sister Laura has supplied my mom with oodles of those double A’s. Because, basically, everything in her apartment runs on them. Including a new light that she got my Mom to put in her pantry. You just load the thing with a couple of AAs, stick it on the ceiling, and — voila! — every time you open the pantry door, the thing goes on. Thus making it easier to find even more AA batteries.

The electric corkscrew right before its maiden “voyage”

Anyway. This whole episode made me think back to past Christmases and past Christmas presents. In addition to the electric toothbrush, I remember the popularity of pretty much anything that ran on juice: that electric knife, electric blankets, electric hot trays (remember those?), an electric guitar my Oldest Younger Brother Scott got one year, much to his delight. We even had an electric Santa. (All of these things had cords except the Santa; nowadays if you don’t have a huge stash of batteries like my Mom, your Christmas gift opening could be a tad, well, subdued. You might want to make a Costco run.)

Apt non-cordless cartoon by George Price

Of course back then not everything was electric. There were (and are) the homemade gifts. In the photo at the top of this post you can see The Child presenting me with a picture frame decorated with jigsaw puzzle pieces. (I can remember hoping they weren’t from any of our jigsaw puzzles.)

These days I tend to “gift” people pretty much all year long. I see something someone might like and I send it to them right away. Without waiting for Christmas. (Yes, I said “send;” I’m one of those people who really hates Actual Shopping, but let me buy something with a couple of clicks? Bingo. Gift Time.)

A cute photo of The Child with her first batch of Christmas gifts. I doubt if any of them took batteries, though I could be wrong

The problem with doing this is that when Christmas rolls around I’ve sort of exhausted my Gift Idea Bank. This is not a problem with Dude Man. Right before I left on this Mom Visit he said, “Please don’t get me anything for Christmas!” And I said, “Only if you don’t get me anything either!” Done.

Thanks, Jeff. And Sande and Ed and all of you other Thoughtful Folks who’ve given me such nice gifts (already) this year.

Recent thoughtful “just because” gift from a dear pal

I’ll end with a word of caution. Speaking of “words,” here’s what can happen to your Scrabble game if your dandy new electric corkscrew makes opening wine bottles all too easy. “TAPG?”

Tipsy Scrabble

Vancouver, Washington. December 2021

 

 

“Pop” goes the weasel

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‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

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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.

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It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

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‘I Holiday Cheer myself up with a (very) little decorating’

I flunked Plank.

“No no no! my indefatigable PT instructor Jennifer cried, while Zoom-watching me flounder on the floor demonstrating my form, such as it was. “The Plank is not for everyone,” she added, hoping to soothe my fragile ego as she deleted it from my program.

Toned-by-Jennifer Me, decked out in Tracksmith duds

I may have flunked Plank, but still I’m set to graduate from PT at the end of the month. I should be thrilled that I have made such fantastic progress. I can now rock a pair of Tracksmith tights like nobody’s business. (And my back? Oh, it’s better.) But I have bonded with Jennifer the PT Girl; she’s seen me sweat and “squeeze my bootie.”

The Dude shows off his Holiday Bootie

“I already miss you!” I cried at the end of our session last week.

There’s was only one thing to do: decorate.

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Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

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A Merry Minimalist Christmas

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‘And a Happy New Decade’

Yes, yes. I’ve told you enough already about the Downsizing. (For those of you out of the loop, blogwise, The Dude and I are soon to move from a normal-sized New York apartment to what I call The Ken and Barbie House. Which is itty-bitty, to say the least. And I do mean the least.)

Floorplan of K & B House. Yes, that’s a 6×6 kitchen

But have I told you about the Staging? In order to move into the teensy apartment, we have to sell our normally-sized apartment. And, in order to sell it, our arms were twisted to Stage it. “Staging” means you, basically, get rid of anything in your home that gives any clues to your personality: photos, artwork, memorabilia. This also (at least in our case) meant getting rid of anything that provides comfort and coziness: carpets, pillows, lamps.

Stripping the living room. Only things left are the piano and the cat bed

“Our” living room, after the Stagers had their way. Sigh

Living in a staged apartment is rather like living in a hotel room. The stuff isn’t yours (those are rented couches; the coffee table isn’t ours either) and god forbid you spill anything. It’s also rather echo-y and noisy, what with the carpets and curtains gone. And don’t get me started about where on earth to put a cocktail — all my end tables were banished.

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“Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”

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‘Missing the Most Marvelous Aunt the World Has Ever Known’

The quote serving as title of this story came from the wee toddler lips of my Oldest Younger Brother Scott. When he was very small he would march into our Aunt Marilyn’s room very early in the morning and announce that “everybody” was up — “everybody” meaning him.

That’s my Aunt Marilyn standing in front of my Mom. She wasn’t much more than a toddler herself in this photo. But I bet she was a lot of fun, even then

See, when Aunt Marilyn was in the house you wanted her up and around and with you at all times. She was that much fun. So much fun to be around that we kids would actually fight over who got to sit next to her at family dinners. (I only realized years later that we were unintentionally hurting our other perfectly-good aunts’ feelings — not to mention our very fun mother’s — by doing this.)

Two sisters and their mom, my Gramma P

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Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

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Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading