So far, so good

Standard

’Wise words from my mom, the Birthday Girl’

I just love birthday parties. Especially when they are somebody else’s. In my personal opinion, birthday parties are just absolutely the best. (Weddings are a close second — or, hey, maybe even a tie.) With both, you get to celebrate a happy event, see a ton of friends and relatives — then you get to eat cake and make a bubbly toast.

This particular birthday was my mother’s (gasp) 90th, and we got to eat cake twice — while making multiple bubbly toasts. The first time was on her real, actual birthday last Wednesday, October 9. (The way-cool picture at the top of this post featuring my Two Favorite Women in All the World is from that happy occasion.) And we got to do it all over again on the weekend at a big Open House we held for family and friends.

Zillions of friends and ka-jillions of relations prepare to eat mucho cake and sip major bubbly

In case you’re wondering, my mom won’t mind me giving away her age. Not this time, anyway. She used to quail at being asked, “How old are you?” She, like me, was brought up to consider this an incredibly rude question, but you’d be surprised how many people — people who do not work for the DMV or even the Social Security Administration — ask it.

My mom used to answer Rude Age-Asking People by counter-asking, “Why do you want to know?” Which worked. Sometimes. For tips and pointers my Mom taught me on how to handle awkward questions, see my story titled, (naturally) “Why do you want to know?”

But when she turned 80, she decided to throw in the age-question towel and embrace those who asked this question (maybe not literally, but figuratively). She said giving the answer freely was actually quite liberating. “Okay” was my reply. But I think I’ll wait to experience that form of liberation for at least a few more years.

My mom was nowhere near 80 in this photo. So you can bet darn tootin’ she wouldn’t take kindly to being asked her age. Come to think of it, neither would my Gramma P, pictured in the foreground

But back to the party. My Oldest Younger Brother Scott and Favorite Sister Laura were the masterminds. Scott found the venue (in the Midwest, which made it equally easy to get to for everyone — or equally difficult, depending on how you choose to look at it) and Laura transported Mom there. The rest of us all had our assigned tasks, and we were one well-oiled Family Party-Making Machine.

Making deviled eggs was one of the tasks. Best Bro-in-Law-on-the-Planet Dave made the filling; Clever Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn piped it in with a pastry piper she fashioned from a ziploc bag

We made several Walmart Runs to prep for this party. Partly because we needed stuff and Walmart has everything. And partly because going on a Walmart Run is actually rather perversely fun. (See “Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?” for tantalizing details.) I know The Child asked special to ride along with Jenn and didn’t even change out of her running duds in order not to miss her chance.

The Birthday Cake came from Walmart, natch. Also those spiffy candles. And the plates and the cups and the napkins and the drinks…probably even that lighter thingie

But the best part of the party? The partiers. We had cousins. We had neighbors. We had nieces and nephews and even a sibling. We even had some Blog Readers. My daughter walked into the crowded Party Room and several people shouted, “Look! There’s The Child!” (Well, they were family. But still; I was thrilled. Not sure how Her Childness felt about it.)

A coupla Henry Clan nieces light up the party. Hi Nancy and Jill!

Some of the Peterson Contingent entertain Scott

We even had a Bestie. (Hi Ruth!) With her daughter-in-law Ann and me in the middle

A bevy of beauties (including Her Childness on the right) — with a handsome Son of Bestie thrown in for good measure

Anderson Girls! (And a couple of Henry cousins too) watch as Mom prepares to blow out the candles and makes her little speech

Which brings me to the end of this story and the title of this piece. Before Mom blew out her candles she made a little speech. Which went something like this: It seems there was this optimist who fell out of the window of a 90-story building. On his way down he shouted, “So far, so good!” Mom said that was how she felt about turning 90: So far, so good.

Yup. The Best Mom on the Planet turned 90 last week, and 90 she’ll remain. At least until next October when, with any luck, she’ll be 91. 

New York City. October 2019

The Dude celebrates another bird-day

Standard

‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

Older Bro Bill looks on as Close Cousin Charlie and The Dude make friends with a snake. All three have birthdays within days of each other. Not sure about the snake

So, for this joint birthday bash, I grilled up some steaks, popped open some wine, and whipped out (of the freezer) a big ole Carvel Cake, the Whitmores’ celebration cake of choice. I served one of these babies for the Fourth of July, and we famously had one for our wedding cake. Trust me, Carvel Cakes do not disappoint. Incidentally, Close Cousin Charlie and his wife are both vegan, bless their hearts, so I also grilled some tofu. It’s a good thing I got a large Carvel Cake.

Best (delicious and large) birthday cake ever. We even scared up a couple of candles

In keeping with the spirit of close cousinly cooperation, there was, in addition to a joint birthday cake, a joint blowing-out-of-the birthday candles:

Oh, and what about birthday presents? you may be wondering. Well, The Dude and I have gotten to that stage of our relationship where one of us looks at the other about a week before whatever celebration is coming up (anniversary, Christmas, birthday) and go, “Hey, you know that trip to Borneo? That’ll be our anniversary present this year. OK?”

But this year I thought I’d be different and give his Dudeness an actual present: a book I’m making (courtesy Shutterfly) commemorating our first Big Crazy Birding Trip, the one to Kenya and Tanzania. Well, I didn’t get it done in time, but he doesn’t know about it (and he doesn’t read this blog) so heck. Happy Father’s Day, Dude Man!

One of the pictures that’ll be sure to make the cut in the Dude’s Birthday (er, Father’s Day) Book

Oh. Speaking of birds. The Dude did get a very special gift, and he got it on his Actual Birthday too: he saw a Very Rare Bird on a bike ride that morning. (Thus combining two passions, biking and birds.) He went back later on his other bike to take its picture. (This other bike is the Zero, which is an electric motorcycle; he calls both this and his recumbent “bikes”, thus causing much confusion around the Amagansett manse: “Want to go for a bike ride?” “You know I can’t keep up with you.” “I mean on the motorbike.” “Oh.”)

The Dude birding on his “bike”. It’s electric, thus absolutely silent. The better for sneaking up on his avian quarry

He took his Good Camera, the one that contains zillions of photos that have never been downloaded or shared anywhere, and snapped this picture:

And here it is: The Sandhill Crane. Very rare sighting. Even more rare sighting? A photo from The Dude’s camera

Happy Bird-day, Dude! Here’s wishing you — and that Sandhill Crane — many more years of nerdy, birdy adventure.

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Standard

‘The dirty little downside of belonging to a big happy family’

I have this very good friend, Jim, who is astonished that anyone could have grown up in a house with only one bathroom. It’s a good thing he doesn’t read my blog, because he would be shocked (shocked!) to hear that not only did we Henrys share a bathroom — we also shared our bathwater.

(Of course, he told me once he shares a shower with his cat, so there’s that.)

Anyway. Back to the Henrys and their sharing of the suds.

Those of you who do read my blog (bless you many times over) know that I am the proud member of a large, happy family. A large happy family who did a lot of sharing.

We shared popcorn in front of the TV, we shared (sort of) the toys in the toy box, we shared seats in the car. (See ‘He’s Breathing My Air’ for how that worked out.) Of course we shared bedrooms. My parents (natch) shared Mom and Dad’s Room, my three brothers shared The Boys’ Room, and I shared The Girls’ Room with my Favorite Only Younger Sister Laura. She and I shared so nicely that she even tried to move on to cohabit my dorm room when I went to college. (It’s a pretty good story, called ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’; you might like to read it after this one.)

We shared chores too. Here I am enthusiastically taking my turn loading our (quite astonishing at the time) dishwasher

And all five of us (plus two parents) shared our one bathroom — and the bathtub in it. When we were little and there were only three of us kids, Mom would line us up in there all in one go: me in the deep end, Scott in the middle, and Roger at the shallow end. Later, when there were more of us, we took turns.

I’m honestly not sure if this was about efficiency — it taking less time to bathe children using the sequential-dunking technique — or whether it was about the fact that our hot water heater couldn’t face the challenge of five tub fill-ups. But I do remember being grateful that I was the oldest and therefore got dibs on the hottest (first) bath.

In my family, bath sharing happened even before I had any siblings. Here I am getting squeaky-clean with my Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy

I guess sharing water was a Henry Thing. Here I am sharing a washtub with some Unidentified Cousin. At least we have pants on

Of course, there was a brief blip before my oldest younger brother was born when I got to have the tub all to myself. (See the photo at the top of this post, taken when Mom and I lived at my Gramma Peterson’s while my Dad was away in Korea, for seriously cute proof.)

Being the firstborn, I got everything all to myself for a while — including the kitchen sink

Being a child at the time, I honestly don’t remember being grossed out or embarrassed by having to share my bath time ablutions. But I do remember being humiliated and horrified when my brothers would dig this particular photo out of the big cardboard box in the attic and taunt me with it. Sometimes they’d even threaten to show it to my friends.

The incriminating photo. It didn’t help that my mother had written “Big Girl!” on the back

The end.

New York City. April 2019

“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?

Continue reading

No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

Standard

‘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). Continue reading

Happy Birthday to my Selfie

Standard

‘Reflections on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.’

Honest Injun. I was going to write a piece about iPhones and ringtones anyway. But as I was reading the Times (er, procrastinating) with my zillionth cup of coffee, I happened upon the news that the iPhone came out ten years ago today.

My my my. It seems like just yesterday that I was sharing a (very tiny, so it’s a good thing we got along) freelance office with an art director I dubbed Svenska Boy, who was the very first person of my acquaintance who had an iPhone. He waited hours in line outside the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan to get it. Sigh. Technological memories are so bittersweet.

Take that early selfie at the top of this post. Please (!) It’s not only fuzzy, it’s taken in a mirror. Because the phones back then didn’t have that reverse camera. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it was there. Oh well.

Selfies before iPhones. I take a picture of my reflection with a thing called a camera. Actually it was a Flip Video Camera. Remember those?

But back to the reason I was going to write about phones in the first place. It has to do with sounds. I was at the Amagansett IGA a few days ago, stocking up for my umpteenth wave of weekend house guests, when I spied a woman who used to date one of The Dude’s cousins. (Hey, I’m alone all week. When I run into someone I know, even vaguely, they simply must be prepared for a bit of social interaction.) Continue reading

Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

Standard

‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

The Days of Wineberries and Roses

Standard

‘Listening to the Warm: sensational summery sounds’

Forget Rod McKuen. It was Henry James who nailed summer. He once famously said that the two most beautiful words in the English language were ‘summer afternoon’. Go on; say them out loud. Better yet, murmur them.

‘Summer af-ter-noon‘. Mmmmmmmmm. You can practically feel that hammock swaying.

Now you’ve already heard me go on about the tastes of summer — I’ve waxed ravenously poetic about such seasonal delights as watermelon and corn and berries-somebody-else-picks and glorified rice and even (yum!) Jello Cake.

But I haven’t talked much about summer sounds. You know the ones I mean; sounds that really say summer. Fireworks. The ice-cream truck. And, for me anyway, that fwap fwap fwap sound that happens when you clip playing cards onto your bike spokes with clothespins and ride home from the Carlyle Municipal Pool gnawing on a frozen Milky Way.

Continue reading

Everybody into the Gene Pool

Standard

‘There’s no such thing as too many cousins’

I guess it’s the Silly Season. Newspapers in the UK are publishing pictures of baby Queen Elizabeth doing a mini Nazi Salute. The New York Times today featured a cover story on (yawn) Hilary Clinton’s Dad. And bloggers are publishing pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Looks like summertime-desperation-for-readers has set in. I’m thinking that it’s the time of year when just about anything I write won’t be able to compete with the beach. The only thing worse for my stats would be if it were Christmas. Or if I wrote about the ding-dang South Pole again.

So here goes. Cousins. I worry, what with the trend to smaller families and all, that the whole Cousin Thing will be experienced by fewer and fewer in the future. The Child, for example, has seven Henry Cousins, five of whom are pictured at the top of this post. Of course that’s waaaay more than the measly three the Whitmores managed to eke out. From six siblings (!)

I mean, when I was a kid, we had cousins. The Petersons, who were Swedish and Lutheran and played Scrabble and drank coffee, produced this batch: Continue reading

The Incest Mug

Standard

‘Aha! So that explains it’

‘Incest’, eh? You might be thinking that’s a frisky topic for Lutheranliar. But I figure now is a perfect time to get this story out of my system, since almost everybody’s away from their computers doing their Christmas shopping. And all the other people not away from their computers are probably doing their Christmas shopping too.

So, hah. I’m thinking the chances of ruining my social standing and/or becoming shunned by polite society are fairly slim since nobody’s going to read it anyway. So, here’s the story.  Continue reading