Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Perfectionist of French Braids

I never realized the skill and patience it takes to create French braids. My mother created them all the time and every time I was told by adults how perfect they were. Their remarks were part of the routine that started when I'd sit down at the kitchen table and stay still. On the table sat a tall glass of water with one of those skinny black combs, some hair clips and rubber bands. Back then there wasn't a slew of licensed characters on barrettes so I never whined for anything fancier than the simple, brown hair clips my mother bought at Newberry's or Woolworths. They didn't come in a variety of colors. They weren't decorated with little flowers or butterflies or ladybugs. They were basic brown-like my hair.

I don't remember it hurting when in the process of getting my hair French braided. I do remember my mother pulling and separating strands and then as she twisted the strands, she'd move farther and farther back from the table. When the braid was in place, she'd grab the rubber band and wrap it around the end of the braid. Then she'd turn me another way and do the same on the other side. This process of French braiding never took very long and every time my mother braided my hair, the braids were topped off with those brown clips void of any artwork put in place at the beginning of each braid.

The French braids were like identical twins every single time. Each hair was in place. Each braid twisted at the same place.The beauty of having French braids was the fact they stayed in place for a few days. That meant a few days void of bothering with my hair. When the braids were finally taken out and my hair was either washed or braided again, I loved the look of my hair just out of the braids. That's because my hair had become curly. Because my hair was naturally straight, it was fun to have it all in ringlets.

When I became a mother, I was horrible at braiding hair. I could braid hair but not like the perfectionist. My braids were basic braids not French braids. My fingers wouldn't work like they were supposed to when dealing with the strands. I tried to make-up for my poor braiding performance by purchasing fancy barrettes with artwork on them. That worked for awhile until the braids fell out. Then I'd put their hair in basic ponytails-so much easier!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How Did Kids Survive Back Then

I sometimes find myself wondering how my kids survived growing up without all the safety products and warnings and whole foods and organic products now on the market. Back then when driving a car, what we used for a car seat was our right arm, automatically reacting when danger lurked. Without a thought, that arm sprang into action, saving the child from going into a dashboard or a window or being thrown onto the floor as the car kept going on its way. An arm didn't come with all the bells and whistles those safety seats come with today. Some of those seats have nooks and crannies for drinks and coloring books and crayons and other favorite things. And to keep the little ones content on longer trips, their attention can be grabbed by videos or movies playing on small screens right in front of them. I could have used such technology a few times. I remember a 3-hour drive with a toddler in the back seat, roaming around at will, crawling on the floor of the car and nestling in the back window. I'd throw Cheerios to her to keep her content. From Cheerios I'd go to throwing cookies when the need arose or toss her a bottle full of Tang or "strawberry milk" made by adding a powdered mix with strawberry flavoring and dyes and tons of sugar. Either one was loaded down with sugar. But each did the trick.

Back then there were no health drinks for kids. There were no amazing car seats with those nooks and crannies. But all was not gloom and doom. Back then kids weren't mesmerized by technology. Kids went outside and played. They skipped rope. They roller skated and used chalk on sidewalks to play Hop Scotch. They played chase and baseball and spent hours in sandboxes or played Pick Up Sticks or rolled marbles in the snow-in the mud-in the grass. I know lots of kids do the same today. But back then, by running and playing, skipping and jumping, lots of that sugar was burned up and that was a very good thing!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sweet Spring Awakening

I don't keep it a secret that Winter is by far my favorite season. But that doesn't mean I can ignore the smells and colors of Fall and the sound of leaves when shuffling through them or the splendor of a Summer garden or the tinge of excitement when the Earth is awakening to Spring and robins come back home and thoughts of playing hopscotch on a sidewalk that's been buried in snow makes you go searching for chalk of any size, any color.

Having grown up in the country, Spring surrounded us. With the creek out back pushing far beyond its banks and geese flying high above us, my cousins and I frolicked outside until dragged inside and when we went inside, we'd most likely be soaking wet from playing in a stream that ran alongside our grandparents' farmhouse. If the weather changed and the temperature dipped, that little stream would turn to ice. But that didn't stop us. We'd find shovels or picks and open our highway back up so we could find some twigs and use them to race each other's twigs down that stream to the finish. I don't ever remember being cold when playing in that stream even when my mittens were soaking wet and my nose was dripping and my boots were full of mucky water mixed with leaves and stones. None of that matters when you are a kid and Spring is turning your Winter playground into something brand new and exciting, offering brand new things to play and explore until Spring turns to Summer and that little stream dries up and disappears under the sunshine and heat of the new season.

I can't remember if my grandparents tapped their maple trees but I do remember some other farms nearby with buckets on their trees. Now when I drive down those country roads and see buckets collecting sap, I think back to those days of chasing twigs and playing hopscotch in boots that were soaking wet but it didn't matter. It was Spring! And Spring, with all of its mud and grime, is a most marvelous place to play!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Growing up with Graham Crackers

My grandmother had a small white stand-alone cupboard in her farmhouse kitchen. When they sold the farm, that cupboard went right along with them to the next kitchen. If any of us little ones were worried the contents of that cupboard would change in new surroundings, our worries were put to rest the first time we sat around the same kitchen table that we'd sat around before and were served our most favorite treat of all-Graham Crackers-kept in the middle draw of that cupboard along with Fig Newtons and Lorna Doons.

Back then there was only one flavor of Graham Crackers and that was-Graham Crackers. No matter what we were drinking-milk, coffee, or hot chocolate-those graham crackers tasted even more delicious when dipped into our cup or glass. I'm sure we went through more than one pack of those crackers at each sitting but who kept track. We'd all keep talking as we enjoyed our snack at that kitchen table.

We also enjoyed graham crackers after our aunt took us swimming down at the river. It was across the road, down a lovely path through the woods and over a fence. Once the swimming was behind us, we'd dry off amongst the cow pies and eat graham crackers on the way back home. We never made things with the graham crackers like little houses at Christmas time. All we ever did was eat them.

When I see the Graham Crackers these days sitting on the store shelf in different boxes, various brands and in different flavors, they still bring back fun memories. I've learned it's not the graham crackers that made those times so special. It was the people gathered with me or swimming beside me or walking along with me down a lovely wooded path.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Old Neighborhood Corner Stores

When I was growing up it seemed as if every block around where I lived had a corner store. None of them were alike. There were no neighborhood corner store chains back then so each had its own personality. More often than not the actual store was located in the front part or the side part of the owner's home. When you walked into the store you might have been able to smell dinner cooking beyond the closed door leading into the home. You might have found a bell on the counter next to a manual cash register and underneath the bell there might have been a sign telling you "Ring if you need service." Most always the person waiting on you was the owner himself. That was his full-time job and if he had to be out of the store for some reason, his wife or an older child would be the one waiting on you. Neighborhood corner stores were family businesses. You were called by your first name. You were asked about your family. And if you didn't have enough to cover what you were purchasing, it wasn't a problem. "Just pay me next time," you were told.

None of the old corner stores that were in my neighborhood exist anymore. Some are now homes. Some are gone completely. All that remains are vacant lots. Some were bought out-demolished and replaced by the modern day version of a neighborhood corner store. In other words, a chain where all the stores look alike inside and out. They have to. That's part of the plan.You'll never meet the owner. He/she is at corporate headquarters. You might get to know some of the clerks or the manager but they come and go so you can't count on them remembering your kids' names or remember where your grandparents lived or remember where your parents worked.There are no creaky, old floors or candy cigarettes or cats sleeping on scatter rugs or curtains in plate-glass windows with plants in pots perched on window sills or an old chair sitting out front where you might find the owner taking a little break between customers. Instead the modern day versions offer you lottery tickets, pizzas, subs, a zillion brands of beer and chips, novelties that cost much more than 25 cents as well as gas, propane, bagged ice, flavored coffees in fancy Styrofoam cups and a feeling that you are just another customer.

When I think about it, I can remember every one of those old corner stores in my neighborhood. I loved them all. I miss them all. I miss the feeling they gave me. It was like going back home.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Christmas Reindeer & The Christmas Fox

For the longest time now my granddaughter has called me Gra-Gra Reindeer. I think it started with her being aware of my book, 'The Reindeer Keeper'. She asked me for a copy. She'd go around her house pretending to read it. She'd even bring it to the table when it was time to eat. A few years ago we went to McDonald's for a 'Christmas Breakfast.' Besides the food, I brought along some little surprises. Her favorite surprise turned out to be a decorated box from the dollar store. I don't remember what I put in it. It turned out that wasn't the attraction. What caught her eye was the sweet Christmas artwork all around the box featuring a Christmas reindeer with a Christmas fox. At that time her nickname was Melanie Kitten but as soon as she saw the fox with that reindeer, she became Melanie Fox and has remained so ever since. Her mommy even had to create a fox costume for her last Halloween. And the theme continued once again this year on Christmas Eve.
  • At her school they hold a sale of sorts before Christmas. People donate stuff for the students to buy as gifts-not for themselves but for others in their family. The merchandise is priced to sell. Last year Melanie Fox bought me several stunning bracelets held together with string and two porcelain reindeer which I keep out all year long. This year Melanie Fox bought me a bright red key chain with the words Mary Kay in sparkling silver, two beautiful pieces of jewelry-and three adorable, decorated reindeer with a sleigh. I will keep the three adorable, decorated reindeer with a sleigh next to the two porcelain reindeer. Some gifts are priceless, especially when you look into the eyes of the little one watching you open her gifts she chose just for you.
    Melanie Fox liked her fox headband and fox pajamas and fox outfits and fox books. But as her daddy was tracking Santa on his cell phone and told her Santa was over Paraguay, she panicked:
  • "Do we live in Paraguay?" she asked.
  • They quickly packed up and headed home in hopes to beat Santa Claus making his yearly stop at the home of Melanie Fox!

  • Sunday, December 11, 2016

    Tinkling of the Angel Chimes

    I can't remember where my mother bought what turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas decorations when growing up. As a child you don't wonder about that. You only look for it every year when the biggest fresh cut tree ever is brought into the house and the decorating begins.

    Our Christmas trees always reached about to the ceiling and took up more space than needed in the living room. My mother was the official decorator. She was quite particular as to what went where-except for the angel candle chimes. At some point in my young life I'd made it apparent that I wanted to be in charge of taking the parts to the chimes out of the same old box as the year before and the year before that. So from that point on, my mother would hand me that box without saying a word. She'd relinquished her role of official decorator to me-at least when it came to the angel chimes. I'm thinking now it might have been because that responsibility was one I took rather seriously and because it kept me busy and quiet. I would sit at the dining room table and carefully take out every piece of that decoration one at a time. Then I would spread the pieces out and take a minute to look at them-back again to welcome Santa Claus and relatives coming for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner that included oyster broth served with a silver ladle.

    I'd slowly begin the process of putting the angel chime decoration together for another Christmas season. I went at a snail's pace because I loved playing a role in our Christmas celebration. I loved every piece of that decoration. When it came time to put the delicate little angels in place I'd feel my heart beat a little faster. And when I'd slowly put that certain angel on the top I felt a happiness like no other. When all the pieces were in place I'd go the highboy, pull open a drawer and take out a cardboard box holding the small white candles. Those candles were just for the angel decoration. They were always in that drawer waiting for me.

    The angel candle chime was the centerpiece for our Christmas Eve dinner. My father would light the candles. My older brother and I sat in wait as the candles created enough heat to make the angels go fast enough around so they'd gently hit the chimes and magically create the most wondrous sound ever. It was the sound of Christmas. It was Hope and Wonder and Magic all wrapped up in a little decoration of twirling angels tinkling the Spirit of Christmas-of true Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Man and an unflinching Belief in Santa Claus.