To Every Thing There is a Greeting Card

candy hearts

As the Good Book says ‘to every thing there is a season, and a piece of merchandising for every purpose under Heaven.’ This point was really driven home for on this special day of  February 14th, the day when guys all converge at a supermarket’s greeting card-and flower-displays to buy any card at all done in pinks or reds, any hunk of vegetation that could be construed as bouquet-like. I just saw one guy eyeing a bunch of broccoli, no word of a lie. I saw another slap down on the counter a bunch of roses so far past day-old they were brown at their every petal-edge. (“Hey, it’s the thought that counts!” he said to me, seeing me look first at his rusty bouquet, then up at him.)

“The Thought” is the part Americans evidently have trouble conveying – or so it would seem, judging by the sheer size of the greeting card industry.

What did we do before they had greeting cards to oil the social machinery? Can people even write letters anymore? If they could, they wouldn’t have on the shelves not just individual cards but a myriad categories for them, each set off with its own cardboard marker.

I visited four card shops this week. First off, there are categories within categories for birthdays, both the single digit, double digit and triple digit kind; also categories reading “29th,” “Brother-in-Law,” “Step Mom,” and the wonderfully convenient “Blank Inside.” Under the umbrella of cards meant to communicate general fondness, I found “You Are Perfection,” “I Want To Hold You Forever,” and “Suggestive” (sample card: a cartoon pig saying “Talk dirty to me” to another pig.) Also, “Hurry Home Tonight” (related to “Suggestive”) and “Keep Your Childish Wonder”

In a grouping I think of as “Troubled Waters,” you can find see “Let’s Work Things Out,” “I’m Sorry,” and “I Want You Back;” also “We’re Different but I Love You” (You Have a Tail?), “I Want to Know More” (Do You Have, Perhaps, an Udder?) and “Consider the Possibilities.” (The possibilities are clearly limitless.)

Equally, there were whole shelves devoted to Things Beginning: among them categories for cards dealing with “New Baby”,” “New Babies” “New Job,” and “New Venture;” also “New Home,” “Adoption,” “New Grandson,” and “Baby Boy Religious”.

There are categories called “Get Well”, “For Extended Illness” and “For Shaquille O’Neil” (No lie. And under this one was a lone card: “Shaq and I Heard You’re Not Feeling Well…..”) They also had “Extended Voyage,” “Encouragement,” and “Goodbye”; “Thank You”, “Cheer Up” and “Cope”; “Clean Your Room,” “You’re Feeling Yucky?,” and “God Bless Your Daughter”

I read lately of a service you can engage that will pick up your deceased in their van, treat him to a little hair gel and makeup, crate him up, and place him in a budget plot – all for a ‘mere’ $2,000. Pretty soon you’ll be able to avoid seeing the grieving family altogether. They’ll have drive-up windows where you can call up the dead person’s name electronically,  view his casket and be home and in your pjs room in 15 minutes. Even now you can just send a card, and several categories suggest themselves for this purpose. “Goodbye”; “Extended Voyage” and “New Venture” all come to mind.

But the best category for all who think rented words are any substitute for face-to-facing it with another human being? “Blank Inside.” It works on every level.


Al Fresco Freezing, FLA-Style

IMG_4771So any vacation’s a gamble, right? There’s the good and then there’s the bad. There’s the mini-bar stocked with every drink/snack you can think of but who can fork over 15 bucks for a fistful of almonds? Who can spend 20 bucks for a mouthwash-sized hit of bourbon? These days as the bellhop advised us, if you but touch, never mind take out, any of these treats, boom, you’re charged for it.

I however am always ready to take the bitter with the sweet. Also, my standards are pretty low. All I had hoped to do on this getaway weekend was bask like a salamander on a small sun-warmed patch of sand.

It didn’t happen that way though, of course it didn’t. When my mate and I arrived at this Florida’s Coast hotel it was downright NIPPY, with 30mph winds gusting to 50, such that when we went on that first afternoon to get some lunch at poolside eatery, two waiters dashed over and wrapped us in towels, heads and all. We looked like the poor souls in the lifeboats in Titanic. I thought David looked especially like this. “Jaaaack! Ja-a-a-a-ack!” I croaked at him in my best impersonation of Kate Winslet calling for her blue-eyed lad shortly before she has to watch him sink down and down into the icy North Sea.

Still, we were happy. From my point of view there could have been insects the size of butter plates bunny-hopping across the floor of our hotel room and I’d have stayed happy. We had fat terry cloth robes and fluffy white slippers and if we couldn’t quite SWIM, or even comfortably SIT in the poolside lounge chairs, we did have in our room both a Romeo-and-Juliet-style balcony as well as a big sliding door.

For intervals while we were down there, we got to visit some dear friends but we spent the rest of the time here in our pretty room, reading our books just inside that wide sliding door and every few minutes glancing up to take in the lapping wind-tossed beauty of that blue, blue Gulf of Mexico. Ah!


The Dailiness

Always with the daily tasks of life! How they do bog us down and keep us from soaring up to the higher realms of thought!

For me these tasks include: 

(1) Inspecting my toenails to make sure they haven’t yet starting turning into hawk’s talons as they show every sign of trying to do. 

2) Putting my contacts in, never an easy chore since I need to be able to SEE my eyes to do that and how can I see them since without having them in I’m like one of those giant eyeless worms that live in deep undersea caverns? 

(3) Taking my contacts OUT again and doing it before 10pm. After that hour they seem to get velcroed by teensy invisible loops to  – what? – a series of teensy invisible hooks living on my eyes?  But if I give up on the task it will only be to wake three hours into Dreamtime clawing at my eyes like poor old Oedipus clawed at his upon learning that all this time that foxy chick he’d been sleeping was actually his mom.

So yes, it can be hard to keep up with the quotidian nature of our lives – unless, and this is a big unless…. you can figure out how to take pleasure in tracking them.

Me, I love to record my daily tasks. Give me a planner and I am one happy camper.

Here’s my planner for the week of the great freeze, which in our part of New England came accompanied with a whole lot of wind-borne snow. Look at those cancellations, ah! If there’s anything more fun than scheduling a task it’s discovering you don’t have to execute it!


Then, once you have a few things in your planner you are ready to make your list. Here’s a list I made just last Sunday:

the list

Surprisingly I was able to actually DO all these jobs, right down to scoring some edamame at the Chinese restaurant without succumbing to the temptation of also ordering any of the ridiculously high-calorie Orange Chicken ‘n Cashew Shimmy. Even down to buying the forgivingly sized pants that I’ll need this week when I have two nasty-looking growths removed from the part of my back where my waistbands all hit.

The final satisfaction, of course, is writing down what you have done in a journal or a diary so that you can look back over time and be amazed at how much more productive you were in your 40s (or 30s, or 20s) than you are now.


This entry comes from the week of that great cold and as I reread it here I see that I am now making entries quite different in kind from the entries I made in my diaries of yore, diaries I first began keeping the year I turned nine.

Ah but the tale of those diaries will have to be a tale for another day I fear, as it is now time to approach the highly magnified mirror I keep in the bathroom, face the music and tweeze out these two new comical chin hairs.:-)

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And So it Came

This year I got what for us was a good head start on Christmas. Three whole weeks before the day I bought the big tall tree, just as my son told me to do as he left for his post-Thanksgiving train: “Nine feet, remember!” he had called over his shoulder that Sunday night. And then, magically, there was this fine nine-footer riding home on the top of my car and what a beauty she looked to be, even though standing outside for 8 days still trussed in her plastic netting, she came to look less like a tree and more like an outsized tampon.

My problem is my mate sees putting up the tree not as a task but as a kind of whimsical ‘notion’, a project we might get to it if the time should ever seem right. I, meanwhile, am more of a fretter; I like to get a thing DONE if I know I have to do it. Even at 6 in the morning I’ll hop up and get our bed 90% made when he goes out to the porch to get  the paper – even if I know the both of us are likely to get back in it. David couldn’t be less like this. When I first met him as a college junior I distinctly remember him expressing the belief that if you postponed doing a thing long enough you might never have to do it at all, didn’t I realize that? Why write your paper early when who knows your professor might be dead by the time it’s due?

In our house putting up the Christmas tree falls into that same paper-writing category…




Finally though, we did tackle the joint task of wrestling the thing inside, which is when things started going a bit sideways:

For some reason I’m not as good as I used to be at reaching three feet in through those thick piney petticoats to hold the tree trunk stable AND SAY WHETHER OR NOT IT LOOKS STRAIGHT while far below me my man writhes around on the floor attempting to drive the stand’s long skewers into its trunk

We stepped back for a look. Suffice to say, the tree was listing badly, ’tilting,’ to use a more accurate word, every bit as much as this hardened little ball of PlayDoh we call Earth tilts on its axis.

“That’s good enough for now, David genially opined even as he ambled back to the coach and his waiting book. “We’ll wait for a big strong guy to come by,” he added, meaning somebody who could pull it straight up out of the stand while he once again coiled around the trunk to screw those long metal rods into its pink and tender flesh.

For three long days I racked my brain trying to come up with such a person, even as the tree’s top branches yearned beseechingly toward the topmost corner of the living room windows. I got so I couldn’t look at it. I stopped going into the living room altogether until in a flash it came to me: I actually did know a big strong guy, two big strong guys in fact, a couple of dear-to-me high school seniors.

I went and picked them up. My man dropped once more to the floor to loosen those long, long screws while they wrested the big heavy thing free, then held it straight up in the air for five long minutes while he made the necessary adjustments.

And so it was done. Three days later we put on the lights. Though we seemed to be short a string or two, they looked just fine to us, anyway no worse than if a very nimble chimp with a stepladder had put them on.

Then, two hours before the clock struck 12 to usher in Christmas Eve Day, our son arrived at South Station and, a brief Uber ride later, walked into our living room.

He smiled that certain forbearing smile your kids send your way once they’re grown.

“Nine feet tall!” I yelled hopefully.

“It’s nice,” he said in a musing sort of voice.

And do we mind that he undid the whole lighting job and did it again a better way? Not a bit. In fact now that I think of it his dad might have been right those many years ago after all. Maybe if I can learn to postpone things the way he does I can get out of it that whole Easter basket racket too. 🙂

our xmas tree goiter side in

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Good Times on The Year’s Best Holiday

a turkey knows when it's doneBack in the day, we used to get a free local turkey from my husband’s work for Thanksgiving and for some reason the thing was always huge, more like a pterodactyl than a domesticated fowl, so huge that one year we had to tie the oven door shut and brace a chair up against it to hold the beast inside. I remember too the year when, taking some bit of turkey-roasting advice I saw in the paper, I cooked our bird breast side down for the whole time, only to extract, at the end of six hours, a roasting pan containing something that resembled a skeletal sunken ship, a sort of scaffolding of bones perched over a world of turkey fat and what could just barely be described as meat. If memory serves, that was also the year the whole roasting pan shot out of the oven and onto the floor.

Ah, but does memory serve us very well, or are you, dear reader, not yet at the age where you tell a story about something that happened to you only to be wryly advised by a family member that no, actually that whole thing happened to her? Anyway, isn’t it better sometimes if we look ahead rather than looking back?

Who is to say?

I know my sister and I still love looking back at the Thanksgivings of early childhood in our household of five grownups, four of whom were female and all of whom could be seen laboring away in the kitchen for a whole week leading up to the big day. Our grandfather meanwhile, as the sole male among those aunts and great aunties and our mom and our pretty Aunt Grace, sat in his easy chair smoking a cigar and reading biographies of the great men of American history. Though come to think of it I do remember hearing about that one Thanksgiving eve, when he did what he had said he would try to do and actually brought home the turkey  –  still attired in its longjohns as you might put it, in the form of hundreds of soft under-feathers that took forever to pluck out.  “How did you ever manage?” my sister and I squeaked in delighted horror as young adults which we were when we first heard the tale. “Ha!” she replied. “Well, the first thing we did was pour a few stiff drinks!”)

That ease-taking grandfather is gone now, as are the ancient great aunties. Gone too is our merry Aunt Grace, and also our funny and irreverent mom. I have my own children now and they have children themselves and I write this from a house that at 10am bears no scent at all of the cooking of a turkey. We are to eat at the home of one of our daughters, and our duty is light duty: We’re bringing the beer and the wine and I am to make a salad (which is funny all by itself since really who eats salad on Thanksgiving? I mean, besides me and my strikingly slim, pure-foods-only sister-in-law?) Oh but wait I am almost forgetting! I am also to do the gravy because our daughter confesses herself shy about pulling off a good gravy and for sure I feel ready for that task. We’re going over to her house at 1:00 but I have already set out my full-length chef’s apron, as well as the special lump-defying  flour and the steel spatula for prying up the pan drippings. I have a pocketful of chicken bouillon cubes too in case we need to make gallons of the velvety stuff,  so I’m pretty sure I can do the task justice. Really all I need do is close my eyes and I can see – see  as if they were standing before me – the literal gravy-making movements of all those hard-working women in whose kitchen I spent one happy childhood.

A Strange Peace

A strange sense of peace has descended on me over these last few days, following, I should probably say, a strong desire to tear out all my hair. This happened because some robot somewhere hacked into my Gmail account, then showered a million droplets of spam in the direction of every last person in my Contacts. The account was promptly suspended by Google and, I was advised, on the page where one might plead one’s case, that it could easily be three or even four business days before they got around to ‘hearing’ it.

In the meantime how odd it is has been to look down at the phone I practically bring into my morning shower and see nothing waiting for me! There is such quiet all of sudden! And in all this quiet I am noticing things I had previously missed:

I’m noticing how nice it is to wake in the morning and NOT see a lot of urgent headlines  summoning me from the little cigarette-pack that is the iPhone 6.

I’m noticing how nice it was to look out my bedroom window at the dawn sky the other day and see a tiny silver dart of an airplane. It pierced the rosy clouds in its ascent from the oceanside airport next to close-crowded Boston with its jumble of buildings like the tall quilt-looking vanilla cookies you’d get as a kid when some kindly grownup thought to crown your scoop of as ice cream with a few. Why have I not spent ten minutes looking out at this slice of sky every day? I ask myself.

I think too how simultaneously alarming and comforting it was for me that morning to look in the bathroom mirror a little longer than usual and discover my mother’s very face looking back at me, though the lady has been gone these 30 years.

I also had time to notice too a long silky hair I had never seen before, sprouting from a new place on my chin. With my new shorter hair and my now far more meager eyebrows I also had a shock: “Hold on!” I thought. “Am I actually starting to look like a man? Like maybe Paul Giamatti in his role as Sam Adams?”

But no, I told myself at that point. If I am to be without the incessant pinging of  incoming emails for this interlude, then let me harbor thoughts less and silly self-involved.

I walked back to my room then and opened the curtains wide.  My husband had left our bed at 4am to make a 6:30 flight across the country. I crawled back under the covers and looked out at the sky – just in time to see a second silver dart rising from the horizon-hugging clouds. “It’s him! ” I thought. “There he goes!”

And isn’t THAT a much better way to start the day than with that brackish tide of awful news?


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No Problem?

“… Now happy as I was to hear that it was ‘no problem’ for these young people to have done what they did, the fact remains that the transactions that brought us together in those two instances were, in fact, commercial transactions, in which one party offered a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other party. Thus, as far as I have always understood, the notion of a problem doesn’t enter into it.”

no problemAn erstwhile reader of my column has just advised me about a piece he just read in the Wall Street Journal about the use of the phrase “No problem” in place of “Thank you.” This man remembered that I had written about this same custom myself few years back, and so I had, as I saw when I went hunting for it on the web. “No problem,” one young waitress had told me back then when I thanked her for bringing my order. “No problem,”’ the young barista had said after I thanked him for my decaf latte.

Now happy as I was to hear that it was ‘no problem’ for these young people to have done what they did, the fact remains that the transactions that brought us together in those two instances were, in fact, commercial transactions, in which one party offered a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other party. Thus, as far as I have always understood, the notion of a problem doesn’t enter into it.

Consider, by contrast, another part of our common life, that of the daily commute. It’s darn hard to spend two or more hours on the road to get back and forth to your job week in and week out. It’s hard to have to stand out in the elements in wet or cold or sizzling-hot weather waiting for the bus that will get you there and back again. Ask any random group of adults what time they have to GET UP in the morning in order to get themselves and their family members fed and dressed and out the door to work or school and what you learn will back up the statistics: Americans are among the hardest working people on the planet. And yet you rarely hear them using the word ‘problem’ about what it takes for them to get to their jobs, so I have to ask: what’s with this ‘no problem’ phrase that has become the norm among so many younger people? 

I don’t mean to be grouchy here. It’s just that ‘No problem’ is the wrong response to ‘Thank you’ and don’t we all know that? Don’t we all remember the right response, the one we were all taught as kids? The right response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome.’ In Italy and Spain they say, ‘It’s nothing’ in response to a ‘Thank you.’ In Germany they use the word for, ‘Please,’ which, handily enough, also means ‘Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ ‘After you,’ and a host of other things as well.

In English we sometimes say, ‘Don’t mention it’ when someone says ‘Thank you,’ which, come to think of it, feels a lot like ‘It’s nothing.’ So too, the German word ‘Bitte’ serves to say “You’re welcome,” as well as standing in for  ‘Please’, Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ and ‘After you.’

‘You’re welcome’ means ‘You are welcome to my help’, or, in these instances, ‘I am happy to be the one providing you with your coffee/ dinner. No matter if the person is not all THAT happy; we say ‘Thank you,’ ‘Please’ and ‘You’re welcome’ because it is courteous to do so; because it oils the social machinery.

But enough beefing from me on a lovely October morning. Let me save my complaints for the next weekday morning when some postal clerk, who knows at a glance that I can name the entire cast of the Howdy Doody Show, tries calling me ‘Young lady’! 

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