Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid

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‘But we did catch the Birding Bug’

If you’ve missed me (and/or my stories), may you find your reward in Heaven. Or maybe South America. Which is where The Dude and I spent the last couple of weeks — in Guyana, which is a country we had to look up on Google Earth.

We’d both remembered that movie Papillon, with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, where Steve’s character escapes from Devil’s Island in French Guiana. But we couldn’t decide whether Guiana was in South America and Guyana was in Africa. Or the other way around. (The Guiana/Guyana thing didn’t help.) And of course there’s Uganda (where we’ve been) and Ghana (where we’ve not), complicating matters even more. Turns out Guiana and Guyana are both in South America. But only one of them is famous for its Kool-Aid.

It drove our new Guyanian Pal Francis — here with me atop the Georgetown Lighthouse — crazy to realize that The One Fun Fact we knew about his homeland was The Kool-Aid Thing

Yup. Guyana is where the Rev. Jim Jones took his followers and, ultimately, treated them to a Kool-Aid Party. Grape, it was. (Take a sec to check out Jim Jones’ Wikipedia entry. It actually lists his “Occupation” as “Cult Leader”.)

The house where Jim Jones lived. He didn’t do his Kool-Aid mixing here, though. That fun little party took place miles away, in the jungle at Jonestown

Anyway. Enough about Crazy Cults. The reason you didn’t hear from me wasn’t because I sipped any Kool-Aid, but because, once we hit the Birding Road, there wasn’t any internet. (There wasn’t any hot water, either. Which, trust me, took a whole lot more getting used to.) We did, however, have plenty of hot and cold running birds.

Can you find the bird in this picture? Great shot of a Great Potoo (which doesn’t do a lot of running, hot or cold), by one of our new birding buddies, Rhys Harrison

We saw shield endemics. And leks of mating Capuchinbirds. And many feathery others too numerous to mention. (No, I did not take photos of said birds, preferring instead to “just enjoy them”. Others took plenty, though, including The Dude Though, if he remains true to Dude Form, his will never ever leave his camera.)

While they took pix of the birds, I took pix of them

The birds, of course, were amazing. But you know that “Birding Bug” I mention “catching” in the subhead? Well. It was a Actual Bug.

A bug that’s rather pretty. But no, this is not The Bug Of Which I Speak

The Bug in Question was a hitchhiker we encountered early on in the trip. We had been warned to zip our bags when not in use, especially if our bags were located on the floor of our cabins. Well, guess who didn’t read the memo — or pay attention when I read it to him?

You got it. The Dude was fussing with his camera gear one evening when a beetle the size and shape of a VW strolled casually into his backpack. Naturally Dude Man enlisted my help trying to get him out. We unpacked all the backpack’s gear, then tried shining a light in there, shaking it upside down, and even (very gingerly) examining the seams. We didn’t see Mr. Bug leave, but since we couldn’t find him anywhere, we figured he must have slipped out somehow and gone out to find some new bug friends. Then, seeing as how we had to get up at 4:30, we loaded the backpack back up with gear and tried to forget about it. (Urk.)

Nope. That’s not The Bug either. Within the circle is a jaguar footprint we spotted on the trail. Which is all we ever saw of the jaguar

(Needless to say, we used our flashlights even more judiciously than usual when tiptoeing to the bathroom that night.)

Next day, after hours of bouncing along a red-dirt road to our next destination, we were just settling in to our new digs when The Dude unzipped his backpack. Eh, voila! Out strolls Mr. Bug. And disappears under the bed. The same bed upon which I had earlier found a “mint” on my pillow which turned out to be gecko poop. “Happy new home, Mr. Bug; we hope you like Surama!”

Mr. Bug’s new home, the Surama Lodge. Somewhere outside the Lodge. We hope

Next night, after a long sweaty day of bird-studded traipsing, we were steeling ourselves for another cold shower when out pops Mr. Bug — making a beeline from under the bed to my bag. When I reached for the zipper to deny him entry, he actually jumped on my hand. I yelped in surprise (this was, as I mentioned, a Very Big Bug) and shrieked for The Dude’s manly assistance. “Get him off me!”

So there we were in partially-clad disarray, jumping around trying to dislodge and discard this darned bug. When The Dude finally managed to capture it with his bath towel, I urged “Throw it outside!” To which The Dude responded “But I’m totally naked!” “Just do it!” I hissed back. “They’ve all seen naked people before!”

Speaking of bugs, that’s one big termite mound there on the left. None of them hitchhiked, though

So much for Mr. Bug. Speaking of “creepy crawly critters”, as our guide called them, we did rack up quite a few: millipedes, crickets, termites, lizards, the afore-mentioned geckos, and even a couple of (gasp) snakes. But, as far as we know, Mr. Bug was the only one with whom we formed a lasting bond.

The Dude and Ron, our local guide extraordinaire, check out a rattlesnake right there in that bush. Nope, I didn’t get any closer than this. If you want to see that snake, you’ll have to wait till Dude Man shares his photo. Don’t hold your breath

Of course I have more Guyanian Adventures to relate. But time is short and this post is long. Let me leave you with a photo of our Nightly Ritual (other than the cold showers, that is), the Sundowner Toast: a shot of El Dorado Rum, made right in Guyana and served up in little Guyanian flag-embossed shot glasses. Which did get to go home with us in that backpack.

Balanced Birding. A shot of rum in one hand, binocs in the other

Amagansett, New York. February 2019

“I seen smallah”

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Underwear’

You just gotta love the Seventies. Well, at least I did. One reason was because in the Seventies, even in the Midwest where I was living at the time, underwear — at least of the brassiere type — was optional.

Me. In the Seventies. When I didn’t wear, um, glasses

See, I hate wearing a bra. Which is kind of funny because when I was 12 or 13 or thereabouts I could hardly wait to wear one. I remember feeling all embarrassed in PE (what you may have called “Phys Ed”) when we girls were changing into our bloomers (honest injun, we wore bloomers in PE) and I was the only one sporting an undershirt.

Do little girls still wear undershirts? Well, I’m sure as heck wearing one in the school photo at the top of this post. You can see its telltale outlines under that big “A”. (My Mom made that dress, and no, that letter “A” was not scarlet.)

Modeling (hah) my first bra. This was Confirmation Day, and that’s my Gramma and Grampa P

I begged my Mom to get me a bra — they called them “training bras” back then; what we were “training” for, I’ll never know — though I honestly didn’t need one. I’d stuff Kleenex into its Triple A cups so it wouldn’t moosh flat under my blouse, but when I  raised my hand in class the whole contraption would ride up practically to my shoulder.

That’s High-School Me — the one with the long hair — back when wearing a bra — and a pair of “nylons” too — was de rigueur

Speaking of contraptions, we’d also wear “nylons” and “garter belts”. (Look ’em up, O Lucky Ladies Who Don’t Know What Those Are.) And slips. Remember slips? They used to rustle and/or ride up, those being the days of Static Cling Before Static Guard. Instead we sprayed our slips with hair spray, like Aqua Net, which you probably don’t know about either. And no purse was complete without a little bottle of clear nail polish, a dab of which was used to halt the runs in our stockings. (That’s “ladders” to you UK readers; a much more descriptive term, in my opinion.)

This slip, along with that watch and those shades, was a gift. Yes, I still have all three, though do I wear any of them?

But back to Bra Trouble. I didn’t grow up near an ocean, but the public swimming pool was the center of summer social life. And owning a “cute” bathing suit was Very Important. Back then all bathing suits (which we called “swimming suits”) came with a bra built right in. This was a firm foam structure with a life of its own. If you were “frontally-challenged” like me, you learned to sort of squeeze your shoulders together to let some air in when exiting the water. Otherwise the cups would collapse and you’d look like you had little volcanoes strapped to your chest.

That’s foam-rubber-enhanced Me at Jantzen’s Resort. I’m thinking that’s my uber-glam Mom in black

Anyway. I was super-glad when the Seventies rolled around and bra-wearing, at least among My Set, was optional. Except for formal occasions, like my (first) wedding. (Yes, I was Married Once Before. You can read about it in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”.)

Time goes by, as is its wont. The Starter Marriage stopped, I moved to New York, met The Dude, had The Child. Huge “Etc.” goes here. But suffice it to say my topside stayed pretty much its same small self. Once I was with a friend (Hi Sande!) in the old Loehmann’s, the one with the communal dressing room. We were trying stuff on when she said “My goodness, you really are flat-chested!” Another time, while getting a mammogram, I was apologizing to the technician for making her job harder (there not being much to grab onto for positioning and all) when she — holding her clipboard and cracking her strawberry gum — looked me up and down and said, “Eh. I seen smallah.”

The dress I got at Loehmann’s that day. Which, yes, I still have. And still wear

And now, even though it’s no longer fashionable to go braless, I’m nevertheless able to get away with doing so pretty much most of the time. Though, you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear, I do draw the line, these days at least, at “topless”.

That’s me, the not topless person, next to my totally non-inhibited Dad

New York City. January 2019

Lucky Thirteen

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‘A match made in high school heaven’

I once read that some people are so freaked out by the number thirteen that many buildings just skip that floor. Kinda makes you think about that dentist on “14”, eh?

Well, apparently my parents weren’t freaked out — or maybe they just liked to tempt fate — because they were married on the thirteen. I don’t know how many times their anniversary fell on a Friday, but I do know that their umpteenth-gazillionth would have been this past Sunday. I say “would have been” because my Dad, unfortunately, is no longer with us to celebrate. Interestingly enough, The Dude’s parents also got married on the thirteenth. Of, maybe, November. (Why not ask The Dude, you’re probably thinking. Well, I did, and he said “Heck if I know.” Men.)

I called my Mom anyway, because hey, any excuse to call my Mom. She is remarkably fun to talk to. And it gave me a chance to quiz her on some family marital lore.

For example. I had always known that my Mom and Dad didn’t have a fancy wedding, but I wasn’t totally sure of the circumstances. Were they poor? Were their parents mad at them? Turns out that it was a Religious Thing. My Mom’s family was Lutheran (but you knew that), and my Dad’s was Catholic. Not Seriously Catholic, but enough to nix a Church Ceremony.

That’s my Dad, looking on as Someone Else gets to kiss a bride in a church wedding that’s not his

Also, I knew that my parents were high school sweethearts. I also knew that my Dad took my Mom to the prom in a milk truck. (The Henrys didn’t own a car, so yes, they were poor; not desperately poor, but perhaps enough to give a girl’s family pause.) I even knew that, out of a total of twelve kids in my parents’ graduating class, four couples married each other — and stayed married. That must have been some high school. What I didn’t know was that two of my Mom’s aunts didn’t, well, approve of my Dad.

That’s one of the Disapproving Aunts there on the left, posing with her sister, my Mom’s mom

One was my Gramma’s sister Annette. She’s the Aunt, you may recall from my story “Great Aunts and Glorified Rice”, who wore a hair net. Which is why we kids thought she was called “Aunt Net”. She was a Lutheran Deaconess, which is sort of like being a Nun but without the cool Sally Field outfit. So, natch, she wouldn’t have liked a Catholic Boy.

That’s Aunt Nellie in back next to my Mom’s Dad. She didn’t like my Mom’s BF either

The other one, Aunt Nellie, was, according to my Mom, “one of those people” who like to “boss other people around”. She’s not quite sure why Nellie wasn’t fond of her Boyfriend-before-he-was-my-Dad (maybe it was the Poor Family Thing?) but there you have it.

Could it really have been because my Dad was so devilishly, dangerously handsome?

Of course, my Mom wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes either.

My Mom during her Homecoming Queen days

I also knew that both my Mom and my Dad dated other people after high school. I discovered this scandalous fact when looking through a big box of old photos on a rainy day when I was a kid. “Who’s this guy?” I asked my Mom, discovering a snap of a guy with his arm around my Mom. “Oh, that’s Jim.”

Turns out Jim was totally smitten by my Mom when she was in nurse’s training. He had red hair, which you couldn’t tell from the photo, it being black-and-white. I remember being fascinated by this, since I didn’t know anyone with red hair. “Gee, if you had married Jim, would we have red hair?” I remember asking. I can’t remember how she answered us, but at least she had the good grace not to tell us that, red hair or not, we wouldn’t have existed if she’d married Jim.

My Mom, looking marvelously fetching during her nurse’s training and Jim-dating period

There really wasn’t much danger of Mom marrying Jim. For one thing, Mom’s Older Brother Ronald used to refer to him as “that pasty-faced redhead”. So there’s that. For another thing, according to Mom, Jim liked her more than she liked him.

So bye-bye Jim, and hello again Dale. They got married, disapproving Aunts be darned, on not-a-Friday Thirteenth. My Dad got his engineering degree — and me — at about the same time. After which they moved to, as I called it, “Vine Grove Tucky”, where they lived over a garage, and Dad (who was an ROTC Guy) was stationed at some air base.

Dad clutching his diploma — and me

Their marriage went on to be full of many adventures — way too many to relate in one measly Tuesday-after-their-anniversary post. (Check out “Kissing Daddy Good-Night” for a real doozy.)

And so what if they didn’t have a fancy wedding? They sure got to go to plenty. Here they are enjoying my Middle Younger Brother Roger’s. Looks like my Dad has the same smile on his face as he did at his own wedding lo these many years ago.

Living it up at Roger and Jenn’s wedding

New York City. January 2019

The time the New Year almost started without us

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‘Cancelled flights, skidding limos, and a surprise side trip to a Holiday Inn in Jamaica’

Somewhere there is a photo of a seven-something Child, slumped in one of those ‘exotic’-looking high-backed wicker chairs that corporate decorators like to install in chain-motel lobbies in the tropics, looking a tad tired and more than a little pathetic. The Child, not the chair. Well okay, maybe the chair too.

I can’t find the picture, and to be honest, it’s probably just as well.

It was New Year’s Eve sometime in the late 90s, and, instead of being in Bonaire as planned, We Whitmores had been shunted unexpectedly to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Where the only room to be found anywhere was in the Holiday Inn.

No, we’re not at the Holiday Inn. No pictures exist of that memorable New Year’s Eve. Not that I can find, anyway. Here we are, celebrating in New York City sometime in the mid-nineties

If memory serves, the whole shunting-to-Jamaica Thing was due to weather. Or maybe an Air Jamaica malfunction. Or both. Whatever the reason, we were (sort of) grateful to have a roof over our heads, what with the Holiday Crowds and all. Believe you me, that Holiday Inn was packed. And packed with families.

Families who were making the most of the all-inclusive amenities. There were pools, there were water toys, there were activities leaders. There were even young women who would braid your hair in dreadlocks. This was a very popular amenity. You have never seen so many Bo-Derek lookalikes in your life. And, trust me, most of them were not “tens”.

Nope, still not the Holiday Inn. Here we were at a Big Fancy Party to ring in the New Millennium

The Child and I passed on the dreads. But we were interested in the pools and eager to try out the outdoor spa. That is, until we actually saw them. Let’s just say that the requirement for showering before entering the pools was, um, relaxed. And yes, the spa was nice and steamy — but it was so full of children that it resembled kid soup. Kid soup with a nice rich brown stock, if you get my drift.

Speaking of food, “all inclusive” also meant you could eat all you wanted, as long as the food you wanted was on the buffet. And, since The Child was in her Extremely Picky Eater phase, that meant the only thing she wanted that was on the buffet was bacon. She literally ate huge plates of bacon, and bacon only, three times a day. Good thing her beverage of choice was water.

In retrospect, we should have known this trip was doomed. Even before we got shunted to Jamaica, we’d had a misfire in leaving New York City. We’d travelled all the way out to Newark Airport only to have our flight cancelled because of snow. We grabbed a recently-vacated stretch limo and slipped and slided our way back to the City in mob-boss comfort (there was a very well-stocked bar) — where we grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep, then went right back out to Newark, where we boarded our ill-fated flight to Bonaire (er, Jamaica).

Me, pursuing my favorite New Year’s Eve activity. Nope, this was not taken in Jamaica

Anyway. Here we were, stuck in a Holiday Inn on New Year’s Eve. The Dude hunkered in our itty-bitty windowless paper-thin-walled room while The Child and I searched for adventure. It was New Year’s Eve, for pete’s sakes! And adventure there was — Jaws III (right up there with the worst movies ever made) was playing on big suspended screens. (There was no sound, but it really didn’t matter.) As for sound, that was the year of “Who Let The Dogs Out”, (which Rolling Stone ranked at number 8 on a “worst songs of the 1990s” poll) and all you could hear was a joyful sort-of-melodic barking while a big conga line snaked around the grounds. Yes, we joined it.

The Dude spends another New Year’s Eve in another room, another trip. As you can see, he still prefers to hunker

I’ve forgotten exactly what happened at midnight, except that it must have been fairly G-rated, since there were so many dreadlock-bedecked children participating. I do recall sipping from a plastic cup of “champagne” while wearing a funny hat and yelling “Happy New Year!”

New Year’s Eve adventure, 2018-style. Yes, I did have some champagne. And yes, I did stay up till midnight

When we two Celebrants returned to our room, we found The Dude curled up in bed, his head stuffed with ineffectual earplugs, trying to ignore the whooping and hollering of all our neighbors. Fat chance. There was a party going on.

Next day, we were able to make our way to Bonaire, our intended Holiday Destination — where there were no dreadlocks, no dog songs, and not even any bacon-laden buffets.

Aaaaaah. A conga-line free pool — and with nice clear water at that

Since that ill-fated Eve, we’ve spent very few New Year’s out of the country — or even out of the house, for that matter. But we’ve enjoyed each and every one.

Happy New Year, dear readers. Here’s hoping 2019 is a good one, and that pretty soon I’ll stop writing “2018” on my checks. 

New York City. January 2019

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.)

The traditional pot roast, as it was consumed in Days of Yore. Meaning when we had Other People over to help eat it

The Dude, who doesn’t have a Swedish bone in his body, goes along with this, I’m thinking, because it’s more fun to open presents with wine than with coffee. Though my Personal Sister, also married to a non-Swede, fuels her Christmas Mornings with what she calls “happy coffee”, which she swears by as a gift-opening lubricant.

The Whitmores’ unwrapping lubricant of choice

So. Everything thing went swimmingly on Christmas Eve, with our tummy-satisfying dinner of beef, and our bubbly-infused soul-satisfying exchange of gifts.

Wombat guarding the Stocking after Santa has arrived from Queens (er, the North Pole), but before The Child has

Christmas Morning was pretty sweet too, since we have not relinquished the custom of the Christmas Stocking — even though now The Child is practically large enough to actually wear said Stocking.

Stockings and Starbucks: our new Christmas Morning tradition. That’s a pomegranate she found stuffed into said Stocking’s toe. Very Dickensian

We loafed around in our jammies pretty much all day, admiring each other’s taste in gifts, until we started to get, well, peckish. There were certainly enough Christmas treats around — caramel corn, toffee, a giant tin of cookies, and Godiva galore — but it was getting on towards dinnertime and we wanted something, well, more substantial.

We’d demolished that pot roast on Christmas Eve (there weren’t even any leftovers), and, silly me (the One Who Cooks), had in the back of her lazy-butt holiday mind that on Christmas Itself I could take it easy and we could just “grab some sushi”.

Hah! (Or should I say “Ho-Ho-Hah!“)

“What? I’m not worried about dinner. Dinner’s in a bowl. On the kitchen floor. Like always.”

As Christmas Day started turning into Christmas Night, I got to thinking of a piece I had read in the New York Times that very morning about how eating in Chinese restaurants got to be a Jewish tradition in New York since they were the only places open on Christmas Day. (When I mentioned this to The Child, she said “Oh, Mom, that’s such a cliche.”) Well, Nervous Me, I got to thinking we should call the sushi place, you know, just to make sure they were open.

The Child shows off a Polaroid shot with a Christmas gift (A Polaroid-like camera) of us hanging around and dandling the cat

Riiiing, riiing, riiinnnng. Nothing doing. I then consulted Open Table. Equally nada. The Child, Millennial that she is, started consulting her apps. Uber Eats had a Thai place that would send takeout. Did we like Thai food? Sure! we said, then proceeded to waste half an hour arguing over the menu. (“Do you like curry?” “Sure, I like curry. But all these have coconut milk. Ick!” “Mom, all Thai curries have coconut milk.”) By the time we agreed on what to order, the place was closed. It was 5 o’clock.

Next she found a taqueria. (“Tacos? Sure, we like tacos. Sort of.”) Closed. Then a poke place. “Poke! What on earth’s poke?” Ditto. Closed tighter than a Hawaiian drum. At around 5:30, we realized we were all out of options. So Chinese it had to be.

And the Chinese food delivered, literally and figuratively. Though we were on hold longer than it took the food to get to us, we enjoyed every MSG-infused morsel. (As you can see in the photo at the top of this post.) The only thing disappointing were the fortune cookies, which weren’t, in my opinion, fortune cookies. They were more like saying cookies, since they said things like “Laugh and the world laughs with you”. And “Hard work is its own reward”. A fortune is something like “You will meet a tall handsome stranger”.

Or, in our case, “You will eat Chinese food on Christmas Day.”

Or maybe: “You will eventually change out of your Christmas jammies.”

New York City. January 2019

A very Marilyn Christmas

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‘A Holiday Tribute to an Aunt I bet Yule wish was yours’

I was feeling a touch of the Christmas Blues the other day. Remembering The Old Days and how we kids used to peer out the car windows at the Christmas trees lighting up the picture windows of the houses in the small towns along Route 50 on the way up to Gramma’s house. And how, once we got there, we’d run as fast as we could to the Tree to see just how big it was and to shake the wrapped presents to guess what was in them.

I think I liked pressing my face against windows. Here I am smudging things up at Gramma’s

When Christmas Blue, what do you do? Well, I called my Mom. (Thank goodness I still have one.) She knew exactly what I was talking about, and exactly what I was missing: The Marilyn Christmas.

Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I caught red-handed checking out the Tree (and the presents)

See, my Mom, like me, was the older of two sisters. (She also had three brothers, but this story isn’t about them. Sorry, Uncles Ronald, Mark, and Carl.) This story is about Aunt Marilyn. And about how gosh-darned terrific was the way she would “do” Christmas.

That’s my Mom, upper right. Aunt Marilyn is the cute little girl in front. Even though it’s summer in this photo, I bet visions of sugarplums are dancing in her head

After the seven of us Henrys — all crammed into a car without seat belts — made that long drive from Southern Illinois, we’d get to Gramma’s house where Aunt Marilyn would greet us wearing little Christmas-ornament earrings. Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis would be playing on the stereo and the whole house would be decorated and smell like Christmas Heaven.

Another tradition: The Christmas Cousin Lineup.

Aunt Marilyn would have decorated my Gramma’s house — including putting out a little gumdrop tree — and helped her make a humongous Christmas Dinner — which was always on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, which was the Swedish Way. We’d have korv (yum) and lutfisk (urk) and a big ole turkey and later on — after one of my Uncles would mysteriously disappear right before Santa’s arrival — my Dad would make his famous Oyster Stew and my Aunt Marilyn and Aunt Shirley and Gramma and Mom and I would eat fruitcake and play Scrabble.

After the turkey and lutfisk, but before the fruitcake and Scrabble

Somewhere along in here Uncle Carl, who lived in Colorado (which my Aunt pronounced “color” -ado) would call — Aunt Marilyn would answer the phone “Merry Christmas!” — and everyone would pass the phone around to tell him about everything he was missing, including The Game.

The Game was, basically, the centerpiece of a Marilyn Christmas. Every year, Marilyn would think one up that we would play while “Santa” was handing out the presents. This was invariably a word game, usually involving puns — the sillier and groanier the better. Sample: “Who has his own state university?” “Wayne (!)” I know, I know. But, trust me, this was fun. A lot of fun.

Mom takes a turn on “Santa’s” lap. Gee, I wonder where Dave went?

That last Game question was from the Very Last Marilyn Christmas. Which was lo these thirty-odd years ago. (I found a video my Filmmaker Younger Brother Roger made of it. If you have a very large coffee mug you might want to tune in. I don’t think Aunt Marilyn would mind.)

Speaking of Aunt Marilyn, she’s been dreadfully ill these past few years. But I bet she still wears little Christmas ornament earrings — or even little Santas. And I bet she still answers the phone “Merry Christmas”. I’m going to test that theory tonight.

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you all the merriest of Christmases — even if you don’t have a Marilyn in your life.

New York City. December 2018

“Life is short. Eat dessert first.”

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‘Words of Wisdom from One Who Is Older Than Dirt’

Yesterday I was with some super-swell women friends at a really nice Christmas lunch — the kind of Christmas lunch where your plate has a festive little foil-wrapped treat placed right there next to your fork by your thoughtful holiday hostess.

Well. The oh-so-elegant and beautifully-dressed woman seated next to me reached right for her shiny red-and-green-befoiled peppermint bark, unwrapped it, and ate it — not only before eating her lunch, but before she’d even ordered.

I must say that I was very impressed.

See, I’m the kind of person who promised myself when I was young that when I finally grew up I would eat dessert first and have sex every chance I got.

Needless to say, I haven’t kept either promise. Not very well, anyway.

The not-eating-dessert-first part had to do with wanting to maintain a svelte silhouette, something that mattered to me more as a matter of economics than vanity. I reasoned that, if I didn’t change size, then I wouldn’t have to go shopping. (I hate to shop, not having inherited the Shopping Gene from my loves-to-shop mother.) This worked pretty well for years and years. It got so that people recognized me from party to party not because they remembered my name or even my face — but because they remembered my dress.

Yes, I still have that dress. It has somehow escaped the fate of some of my other kept-forever items. It seems that, like many Women My Age, my weight has, well, redistributed itself. I have had to part with many choice items because either I can’t zip them or can’t breathe once zipped. The Child has become the beneficiary of this cruel twist of fate. Recently she scored a pair of black lace trousers.

Next up for grabs: the red satin sheath that’s under this apron. (The apron doesn’t zip, so I’m keeping it)

As for the having-sex-every-chance-I-got promise, well. I will kindly spare you any details. But you readers who, like me, have been married for a longer age than the age you were when you got married will totally get what I’m talking about.

I will tell you that I had rather a late start, sex wise. In fact, I didn’t even know about sex until very late in the game. I was so remarkably naive that I distinctly remember convincing my Younger Cousin Marcia that she couldn’t possibly be right about the carnal act she had just breathlessly described to me.

That’s me, left, leading the Christmas lineup of Peterson Cousins. Marcia-Who-Knew-About-Sex is third in line, right after my Oldest Younger Brother Scott

“Seriously, Marcia. You think your mom and dad would do that?!? Take it from me, someone has given you some very bad information.”

I think I was in high school at the time. Or at least junior high.

Me in college. Yup. I’m thinking I knew by this point

So. Where am I going with all this? Let’s start with the part about Life being Short. I won’t belabor this, but trust me when I say that it feels like it took about ten minutes to go from Actual Child to Current Edition.

Life feels so darned short to me now that I’ve started saying things like: “No, we don’t really need the new deck that lasts thirty years. The ten-year version will work just fine.” And The Dude is even worse than I am. When asked why we go on those tropical birding adventures to crazy places like the Upper Reaches of the Amazon or the Marshes of Uganda, he answers, “We need to go while we still can.”

Me, riding in a boat in Uganda — because I still can

Anyway. Take it from me, One Who Is Older Than Dirt, go ahead and reach for that dessert or that mate or whatever it is that floats your perhaps-Amazonian boat. You still have plenty of time.

What I’ll be grabbing instead of dessert

New York City. December 2018

My breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much

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‘When it comes to turkey, isn’t predictability the point?’

I’m sitting here watching raindrops pelt my newly-washed windows while consoling myself with yet another cup of coffee. I just got back from the IGA, where there were no brussels sprouts to be had. Me, noticing empty bin: “No brussels sprouts?” Store employee, noticing panicky face: “Later, Miss. (She gets points for that “Miss”.) We are waiting for the truck.”

But I did get Mr. Turkey. And he looks mighty fine indeed. Speaking of fresh turkey, did I ever tell you about the time The Dude’s Dad ordered one, then put it in the freezer? We had hamburger and cranberry sauce that Thanksgiving.

On my Quest for the Perfect Piecrust

Anyway. Yesterday, I was scouring my sources for the Very Best Piecrust Recipe, which to me is like the Holy Grail. (No matter how many times I make piecrust, I’m constantly on a quest for a Better Way. The last couple of years I’ve been adding vodka; not sure if it makes a difference, but it’s sure more fun.) Continue reading

“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears. Continue reading

We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow

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‘How I narrowly escaped a life in Florida’

Last week I had a birthday. Which is all well and good, especially since I am rather fond of drinking champagne and having people sing to me. But I’ve gotten to the age where it feels like every week I’m having another darned birthday. The pages on my calendar seem to be flashing by like one of those flip books.

It doesn’t help matters that my friends are moving to Florida. They’re buying golf clubs and boats and condos with a spare room for the grandkids. Why, just last week we bridge buddies bade good-bye to one of our number who was moving to some place called Jupiter. It’s a place in Florida, not a planet. Though it might as well be, since she won’t be able to make our weekly bridge games.

Visiting friends in Florida a couple of years ago. We were there for — you guessed it — a birthday

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Florida. Well, except for the fact that there are no sidewalks, people bank their turns in their huge boatlike cars, and there are bugs big as dogs. I’m sure Florida has some fine qualities. In fact, what with all those friends fleeing southward it’s starting to look kind of good to me. Continue reading