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.

Let’s start in the kitchen, where I dragged out the Christmas Plate. And put the one remaining almond rocha on it to drive The Dude crazy. (I hid it last week after he’d polished off the rest)

Those of you who’ve followed me over the years know that I hate to decorate. So much so that I used to have a party where I would treat friends to champagne while they decorated the tree — then reward them with a big ole pot roast dinner when they were done. (See “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” for scrumptious details.)

The reward for decorating my tree

That’s how “I” decorated until Her Childness left for college. Then I basically didn’t bother. She didn’t get home for Winter Break until basically the Night Before Christmas, and no, I didn’t want to have one without her — either the Party or the Tree.

Candle(s) as Tree. A theme repeated many times

So we got by with slapdash decor for years, reverting to our Little-Tree-in-a-Pot formula we’d followed before The Child’s advent. Honestly, the Amagansett property, which belonged to the Whitmore Parents back then, is studded with ex-Christmas Trees in Pots.

And in the City? Well, some years it was just Bowls of Shiny Objects or maybe, just maybe, Lights on The Mantel.

Last year’s decor was particularly spare. The apartment was Being Shown to prospective buyers, and it had been staged beyond all recognition. (See “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for sordid details.) When I mentioned to our real estate agent that I’d bought a tree, she asked, “How big is this tree?” Then went on to suggest rather strongly that we do no further decorating. (“Twist my arm,” I thought, but did not say.)

Can you find the Christmas Tree in this picture?

I must admit that all those years of bare bones stripped-down Christmasses didn’t really bother me, partly because (again, as you Readers know only too well) Thanksgiving is the Holiday I really love. (See “Turkey Shoot” for irrefutable reasons why.) In fact, some years we even skipped Christmas by going on a trip. (The Child was fine with this arrangement once she met The Beau and had his family to celebrate with. See “I’ll Be (at Somebody Else’s) Home for Christmas” for *sniff* details.)

Christmas on the Amazon River. Yes, fish was served. But also turkey! (And champagne)

But this year Thanksgiving was rather a wash. Oh, it was lovely, what there was of it. After all, what’s not to like about a turkey dinner with all the trimmings? (Turkey trimmings being much more my style than Christmas ones.) But it was, well, kind of sparse.

Last year’s extremely non-sparse, extremely fun Thanksgiving

I think The Dude felt the same way; he came home last weekend with not only a Christmas Tree (small, in a pot, but still) but also a poinsettia of rather monstrous proportions.

Holy poinsettia! No decorations needed (!)

So I went up to the attic and dug out the lights and some other festive stuff.

There’s that bowl of ornaments again. (Oh, and the Christmas Tree — there in the distance)

Voila!

Oh, and lest we forget. The Ken and Barbie House got its own small (but festively effective) infusion of the Christmas Spirit. And we didn’t have to lift a finger — except to turn it on.

Thank you, Elf Theresa, for a much-appreciated surprise

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

 

 

Nope. It doesn’t rhyme with “squish”

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‘Tasty slips of the tongue, menu edition’

Back in the Seventies, all the cool lunch spots were festooned with macrame and spider plants. Yes, back then we young working people actually left work to go to out to lunch — and not just to grab a pannini or an acai bowl to bring back to eat at our desks.

Me, in my Houlihan’s for lunch days

Nope, about mid-morning we’d run into each other at the water cooler (seriously) or, more likely, the coffee machine (which was a Mr. Coffee we all took turns filling up and turning on) and discuss where to have lunch that day. The Middle-Eastern Place with the really yummy backlava? The Vegetarian Place run by the ashram? Or maybe Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue? Most of the time we’d head to Houlihan’s Old Place.

Note: All of these places were gussied up with macrame and spider plants. (Well, except for Arthur Bryant’s. You shuffled along in line at Arthur Bryant’s and, if you were smart, ordered the barbecued sandwich, which a guy with a missing finger cut in half for you.)

Something you won’t find on many lunch menus, then or now — fantastic deviled eggs, here made by equally fantastic Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn

But back to Houlihan’s. It ended up being a chain, but at the time it was a very trendy place in Kansas City that had once been an old-fashioned brass-railed bar called Houlihan’s. It was rumored that the name originated when the new owners — the ones who hung the macrame and spider plants — kept asking each other, “What are we going to call Houlihan’s old place? We’ve simply got to come up with a name for Houlihan’s old place!” Then one of them said, “Hey, that’s it. We’ll call it …” well, you guessed it.

Before I forget: one of our young Ad Crowd used to like to tease assistant account executives — read more about them in “I’ve Got Belts Older than You” — by asking them to go have  the Houlihan’s hostess have “Jack Mehoff” paged.

What passes for lunch these days, at least when in Cambridge: a smoothie

Which brings me to my title episode. Once, while whiling away a nice long lunch “hour’ at Houlihan’s, one of our Young Ad Gaggle, after perusing the menu, asked the waiter for the “crew-dites” followed by the “quish.” She wasn’t being funny. She just didn’t know how to pronounce such newfangled fancy food. You’ll be happy to hear that we didn’t embarrass her by “helpfully” correcting her. We weren’t all that considerate (see “Jack Mehoff” prank, above); we didn’t know how to pronounce that stuff either.

Now, before you condemn me for seeming snobbish by picking this story to tell, you must know that I had (and still have) my share of menu mispronunciations. I was once corrected by an ex BF for saying “crem bru-yay.” He corrected me in public — part of the reason he’s an ex BF. One other time I asked a waiter what the “giorno” was in the soup.

No recipes for quiche or crudites in this cookbook. But there is one for “boar stew for a crowd”

No, I picked this story because I’m thinking about food and also because as sort of a Family Lore Thing I call all raw vegetables “crew-dites,” and The Dude said this weekend after I cut up some carrots “Say, did you ever tell that story about the girl who ordered the “crew-dites” and the “quish?” So here you have it.

Recently I saw a spider plant hanging in the Instagrammed apartment of one of the most glamorous young women I know. Maybe “crew-dites” and “quiche” can’t be far behind. Though maybe not macrame.

Is it “geela” or “heela?” At least you don’t eat it. Or I think you don’t

Till then, we have “acai.” Which I have never ever said aloud, because, to me it looks like “uh-kai.” (Millennial chuckling goes here.) If you’re a reader of a vintage more likely to mangle “quiche,” here’s how the internet says to pronounce acai: “ah-sah-EE.” Which I’m not even going to think of trying to utter in public.

I console myself by knowing I can pronounce “turkey” without sounding like one.

Here’s to you turkeys who know how to pronounce “acai”

Amagansett, New York. November 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

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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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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“Can’t we just pretend we’re dating?”

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‘There is such a thing as being too comfortable’

I was glancing through my notes looking for something fun to write about this week—yes, I keep a list of things that might go into a blog post, a practice The Child finds, for some inexplicable reason, hilarious—when I came upon this fragment: “The lady who’d take her teeth out to scare us.”

Now who would want to scare a cute little girl like this one?

See, when we were very little–little enough that a woman pushing her false teeth halfway out of her mouth would scare the bejesus out of us—we were allowed, nay encouraged, to run around our neighborhood. We respected no boundaries, rampaging across front and back yards with impunity. Apparently, this one Neighbor Lady didn’t cotton to us free-ranging around her magnolia trees (we would use the buds as ammo in our “wars”) so she used her partial plate as ammo against us.

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Yep, there is a place called Yap

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‘But can you find it on a map?’

Please forgive the Green Eggs and Ham cadence; I couldn’t help myself. Everyone’s been so crabby lately. We’ve got the Secretary of State yelling at NPR reporters while waving maps — “Go on, Missy! Find Ukraine! I double-dog dare ya!” (She does, then tells on him. What did he think she’d do — she’s a reporter.)

Then we’ve got Our President congratulating the Kansas City Chiefs — from the Great State of Kansas — on their Super Bowl win. This time Claire McCaskill got a little testy:

I’ll let that one slide since she was pretty hilarious, and also because she used to be a senator from, ahem, Missouri. Which is where the Chiefs are actually from. (I used to be from Missouri, too, having spent my formative post-grad new-to-advertising years there. But those are whole ‘nother stories. Which you can find under the “Adland Lore” tab in the sidebar if you are bored and it’s raining like it is here.)

Me, doing something Important as Creative Director of a fair-to-middlin’ size ad agency in Kansas City, Missouri

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A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

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So far, so good

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’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?”

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