Muddling through the holiDAZE.


I walked to Meijer to pick up a few groceries this morning – the last time for this year I think. The store was packed with lots of people taking advantage of the “Santa Bucks” sale. The crowd was scurrying to and fro, and, in general, looking harried and hurried at such an early hour of the morning. I saw shopping carts overflowing with everything from baking essentials to bows and festive bags. Those people have high hopes for the weekend and will get it done no matter what … or go crazy trying.

I read a story the other day about how you can hire an elf contingent to help you through the holidays. Better than a personal assistant, these “elf helpers” will get any task done on your Christmas to-do list, from addressing cards to decorating the house, baking up a storm (all your favorites, of course) and even wrapping the presents. They’ll research gifts for you and order them online or go shopping to buy them as well. The possibilities are endless – you just hand these elves your to-do list.

When New Year’s Day rolls around, that band of merry little elves will come and disrobe the tree and put all the baubles and bulbs, tinsel and trimmings, and any traces of Christmastime 2014 away ‘til next Christmas.

Yup, the elf contingent aims to please for between $30.00 to $45.00 per hour to holiday-ize your home, so you can breeze through the holiday season with nary a care and look like you slaved over the usual Christmas rituals. I wonder if anyone would know you didn’t bake, then decorate with piped icing, all those dozens of perfect gingerbread boys? Or that you were not the one who trimmed the tree so exquisitely?

But … would you really feel right standing around the water cooler at work whining about how much Christmas stuff you did and still have to do? However could you commiserate with others on Facebook without fessing up?

I guess it is easier to just keep it simple and do it yourself.

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Home is where the heart is …


… most of the time anyway.

I’ve popped onto Facebook at least a half-dozen times today checking to see if a dear friend’s status has been updated.

Nothing … for hours and hours.

The last check however was all good.

While my friend Carol posts continually about her day’s activities, meals, cat shenanigans and newsworthy tidbits gleaned from the web, today her 109 friends waited to see how her husband fared with his heart surgery.

Let’s back up a bit first.

A phone ringing very, very late on a Saturday night is never a good sign.

When she picked up the phone, her husband, David, was on the other end of the line. “I’m in the hospital” he said. “I felt faint and went to Urgent Care and they sent me here for observation – my heart rate was 40 beats per minute” … a long sigh and the phone was silent, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

You see David lives and works in North Carolina; Carol lives in Honeoye Falls, a tiny hamlet in Western New York.

“They’re going to put a pacemaker in Tuesday – can you be here?” Another long sigh.

The cardiologist decided his heart just needed a helper, so minor surgery to implant a pacemaker was scheduled. While a pacemaker is pretty high-tech stuff, these days the implant procedure is relatively uncomplicated and the patient goes home within 24 hours. It still is surgery nonetheless.

With no friends or family close by, it was a race against time to find a cat sitter for her trio, as well as someone to tend to the feral kitties who live on her porch. So, deep into the night she wrote on her status page all the thoughts that were going through her mind.

So much for Christmas plans and having David home for a change. He had been all set to return to Honeoye Falls this Saturday for a 10-day visit. He had his flight booked months ago, but in a heartbeat that idea was scrapped now since he would not be able to travel. Plus, his doctor said he should not be left alone, for a few days anyway. His studio apartment was pretty bare – sparsely furnished with a twin bed, table and chair, so they would need a hotel room.

She sat down to take a deep breath. Finally, like a lost soul, the last post in the wee hours of Sunday morning was that no one should expect cards, Christmas “care packages” and the like … ‘til January.

So, there was a collective sigh of relief among us all when Carol posted earlier “I’m ready to take him home and then I’ll take a taxi to retrieve his car from urgent care and return home to New York on Friday” … ah, life is good, no matter what curve balls are thrown your way.

You are a good-hearted woman Carol, and the deeds you do for others, from fostering feral kitties, like the one I just wrote about in my recent “Kitten Caboodle” story, plus your virtual hugs and unselfish ways have come back in blessings to you and David.

Life’s travails can break your heart sometimes, and sadly plans and promises may be gone swiftly in a mere heartbeat.

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“Oh my darling Clementine”

I secretly wonder if this famous song was penned as an ode to those delightful little orange orbs we know as Clementines. I just love them and they are the only reason I look forward to late November – Thanksgiving time heralds their arrival at the produce department.

Right now the smell of Clementines lingers in the kitchen … and on my fingers … long after they have been enjoyed.

It is my favorite smell, other than that English toffee cappuccino which wafts through the room and permeates my hair and sweatshirt while I am drinking it and I can inhale that sweet scent for hours afterward.

I think I am obsessed with food smells sometimes.

Since I gave up sweets for Lent in 2011, and then permanently, my only sweet indulgences are my Sunday cappuccino and a quart of egg nog for the holidays. I bought that creamy custard egg nog a few weeks ago, and knew it was in the fridge and couldn’t wait ‘til the holidays to drink it.

The sweets and treats I no longer crave, but I could write volumes on baking and cooking smells through the years, especially around the holidays. In fact I know I wrote a blog post last year reminiscing about Christmas cookies. Cookies were always my downfall. It is easy to give up baked goods and candy but they are not around the house either, so I am not all that smart to be truthful. I really don’t know if brownies or peanut butter cookies were baking in the oven right now, that I wouldn’t slip off the proverbial wagon. Hard.

Nowadays a treat is the crunch of a good Honey Crisp apple or the juicy goodness of a Clementine orange.

I wonder if parents sink a Clementine or two into the toe of their kids’ Christmas stockings? The kids would get more goodies in their stocking that way. I know I always got a large orange and apple crowding out the toe of my Christmas stocking – no coal for me of course, being the exemplary child that I was. (Smile)

On Christmas Eve my parents would fill my sock and lay it gently at the foot of my bed long after I went to sleep. They were secretly hoping that the sock would be a diversion to keep me occupied for awhile so they could catch some extra ZZZZs before I scurried out to the living room to see what Santa had brought. The dimpled orange and shiny apple were set aside to be eaten later and I honed right in on a book or coloring books and crayons that were stuffed in my Christmas stocking. My mom liked to knit so I usually got knitted outfits for my baby dolls, then later for my Barbie dolls.

The only candy I ever got in my Christmas stocking was one candy cane and gold, foil-wrapped chocolate coins. They were luscious milk chocolate that melted in your mouth and were very similar to gelt, the chocolate coins given to children at Hanukkah. They were a special treat as I was seldom allowed to eat candy. My grandmother used to sneak me “humbugs” , those British brown-striped rum butter candies that she always kept in a little tin in her apron pocket. She’d pat her pocket and that was the signal to reach in; all the while she’d be whispering “don’t tell Mommy and Daddy” … that’s such a feel-good memory. Perhaps my very first cavity might have been attributed to those little suckers, now that I think of it.

The holidays are a time to indulge a little, whether it is Hanukkah which began today or the inevitable Christmastime goodies that will be paraded in front of you ‘til the end of the year.

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Break out the beach wear!


It was supposed to be drizzly and foggy this morning so I figured it was a stay-at-home day. When I peeked out the door I was pleasantly surprised to discover the weather folks were wrong. You win some – you lose some. Their early predictions are for a white Christmas so we’ll see where that goes.

It was already a pleasant 45 degrees when I turned off the radio and began suiting up to go for a walk. The suiting-up equation was different today, than for the past few days. Subtract the Sherpa hat, wool scarf and heavy gloves and add instead the red wool headband and terry stretch gloves to be good to go. Ahhh – that equals comfort for this balmy, and not even brisk, morn. Heck … it’s almost beach wear weather.

It was a little murky when I left the house for my Sunday stroll. There were wet patches on the pavement, but no ice – way too warm for ice. Winter officially arrives one week from today, yet it felt rather Fallish – almost like an October day. All my senses were in gear while I walked along. I saw the lifeless leaves still covering many lawns, as the snow and freezing rain made it impossible to collect and bag ‘em before the yard waste pickup deadline the tail end of November. I heard my feet crunching through crumpled-up leaves and in the distance was the scrape of rake tines on the concrete. Musty acrid air filtered through to my nostrils so someone surely was burning leaves fairly close by. Were it not for the twinkling lights and collapsed Christmas figures on homeowners’ lawns, you wouldn’t know we were immersed in the holiday season.

The snow can stay away all Winter if it would like … a snow globe effect for Christmas Day only is my wish, just so our world looks like the carols suggest it should.

Each time I travel to Council Point Park, I am convinced it is the last time – for 2014 anyway. No, I’m not morbid, or a fatalist, but it is December in Michigan after all. I’m just being a realist.

As I walked around the perimeter path I took in the drab beauty of the Park and its inhabitants, most of which seemed to be camouflaged right into the background. Like the squirrels hiding their peanuts, I shall tuck that picture away in a corner of my mind, to be pulled out in the dead of Winter. It will remind me that one day Spring and new beginnings will return, just like clockwork.

Last Winter’s slick snow and icy sidewalks put a kibosh on cruising to the Park on foot for months, so I took to the exercise bike in the basement to keep my legs strong and conditioned for when walking season began anew.

It was an unremarkable trek this morning – perfect for a Sunday stroll. I almost laughed when a gentleman zoomed past me on his mountain bike on the trail. I saw the back of the bike had a small artificial Christmas tree strapped to his bike seat. I thought I might now have to eat yesterday’s words, i.e. disparaging men’s decorating efforts, and proclaiming that it takes a woman’s touch for decorating at Christmastime.

See … that five-mile walk made me fit as a fiddle, and a philosopher as well.

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Fa la la la la, la, la, …


ha, ha.

What a beautiful mid-December day we had going for us here in Southeast Michigan – you couldn’t ask for better weather if you still had holiday shopping to do, outside decorating or a festive party to attend.

It seems, through the years, whenever I had occasion to get all dressed up for a Winter holiday party, it was either brutally cold or a sloppin’ mess outside. I’d be shivering and carrying my strippy little sandals while slogging through the slush and snow in big ol’ boots.

This morning, enroute to my destination, in the next block over, I had a feel-good moment, and I had to smile to myself. The yellow ribbon around the big tree out front worked!

On Memorial Day, I wrote about this family that had fastened yellow ribbons on a tree and porch posts in the front of their home. They had a service star in the window and a sign out front indicating they had a son in the service. (

A few weeks ago, I noticed the latter two items were missing, yet the ribbons remained. Puzzled, I wondered what was up and hoped for the best. Every time I passed the house, I looked over to see if anything was amiss. Today I saw a huge hand-made sign “Welcome Home Justin” … ah, relief. I don’t know these people but I’m happy they have their son home for the holidays – maybe for good.

As I continued to wend my way down to Council Point Park, I saw several different men, up on a ladder and stringing those beautiful icicle lights, or people visible in the front window dressing their Christmas trees. A few of them waved. As the holiday nears, the more friendly that people are – for the most part anyway.

After yesterday’s encounter at the Park, I decided to keep a low profile and commune with nature only.

At the grocery store the other day I bought an extra-long loaf of bread to break up for the ducks. That constituted one huge bag of bread chunks plus the usual Ziploc packages of peanuts. I arrived looking like a bag lady, but, hey – the critters don’t care. They just like the goodies.

The Park was serene and tranquil and not a ripple in the Creek. Quickly I went to the log where the ducks congregate and started tossing them bread. The rustic-type bread really works better because this stuff was a little gummy and congealed, so I hope they liked the bread balls because that’s what they got. I guess so, since they gobbled them right up.

The squirrels weren’t picky either and positioned themselves near my feet while I was feeding the ducks to ensure I didn’t escape without tendering some goodies from the other bag. It made me feel good – I was right in my element. They are smart little buggers because they know they can hurry up and stash what I give them the first time, because I’ll make the circle around another time or two … yup, just like The Terminator, I’ll be back.

Two times around the entire Park and the trip back-and-forth chocked up another five miles for today … in fact, I was enjoying my walk so much, that when I got closer to home, I walked the perimeter around Memorial Park as well, adding another mile to my tally.

When I returned home, I conceded, somewhat half-heartedly, that the Christmas decorations inside looked a little lackluster, and perhaps I should break down and put something else out. So begrudgingly, I hauled out a few more holiday doodads.

Finally, I made my way over to the laptop and logged on, checking in with work first. I had an e-mail from Robb, a picture sent from the Blackberry of the office Christmas decorations. So, while normally it is a portal that connects me to my desktop, today it was a porthole to the office. It reminded me of the old-fashioned Christmas scenes of the children peering into the toy store window. This was my first glimpse of the office in over five years. I enlarged the picture to get a better look.

All the offices at Stroh River Place, have glassed-in “living rooms” as they are referred to. There are rules and regs about what you can and cannot put there since everyone can see in.

Robb likes the character Don Quixote and there are statues of DQ all over the office. The largest one is up front – Don Quixote on his donkey. It appears it has garlands wrapped around it. I wasn’t really sentimental over this picture, though I spent six years’ time there after Robb and I left the Firm. I really love my work-from-home gig. I haven’t even seen Robb in over two years – we communicate by e-mail or he mails me work to do and we talk every day on the phone, sometimes several times a day.

Of course I was critical of the decorations, thinking it needed a woman’s touch, to make it more festive (sorry guys). That used to be my job, plus I decorated my own office with a small Christmas tree with miniature ornaments and lights, and a wreath on my door. I wondered what happened to the fake, gaily-wrapped presents that I used to place under the two trees. One tree was Robb’s, and the other was mine. I e-mailed him back, with an Attaboy “good job Robb!” because, to be truthful, woman’s touch or not, my own holiday décor looked a little lame next to the cheerful lights and golden garlands he had going.

And what did you do today for 12/13/14, the last sequential date of our lifetime?

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Be careful what you wish for.


Wow! The West Coast is drowning in water after three years of drought-like conditions. Homeowners prayed for rain to salvage their landscaping and the farmers needed it for their crops. Well, now what Californians coveted for so long has become a devastating reality, so will someone please turn the taps off soon for them?

These floods are proof that Mother Nature listens, so, if anyone is looking for a white Christmas, keep those wishes to yourself, okay?

Speaking of wishes, you’d be hard pressed anymore to wish upon a single star these days. Who can find such a perfect star in the inky black sky, amidst the meteor showers, humongous moon and even Comet 67P (and no, that’s not code for one of Santa’s reindeer).

So, if you’re looking for a star to make a wish on, you’d better use the one at the top of your Christmas tree.

On the heels of yesterday’s commentary about graciousness, the innate ability to know right from wrong and respecting one’s elders, I had a most-unique encounter this morning.

I have a knack for being able to strike up a conversation with anyone. I didn’t always have the gift of gab, but working at the local diner while I attended college made me fearless about talking to anyone. It was the greatest job I could have had as it brought me out of my shell.

Often while I am meandering along the trail at Council Point Park, if I pass someone that is alone, I always briefly stop to pass the time of day. Sometimes I move on, sometimes I just walk along chit-chatting amicably for a few minutes.

It was very cold but dry when I ventured out this morning. I passed an older woman walker on the first loop around. I didn’t recall ever seeing her before, but it was kind of hard to tell since she had a scarf loosely wrapped over the bottom half of her face and her hood of her jacket flipped up. All I saw was eyeglasses. I walked alongside with her, said “good morning” and we chatted about the weather – always a common and “safe” topic for walkers.

Keeping in step with her, I remarked “only two weeks ‘til Christmas is here” and she said “yup, don’t really care though” … rather taken aback, I let that comment stay out there a minute, then decided to let it drop it like a hot potato.

I was prepared to move into the passing lane and continue on my way, then she piped up with “done with your Christmas shopping yet?” Well my gift-giving and receiving is not too complicated, and, after her rather terse answer, I just answered “yes, and you?”

Suddenly her eyes welled up with tears and one slowly slid out of the inner corner of her eye and danced along the rim of her glasses. I didn’t say anything, but I was so sorry that I conjured up this ugly Christmas can of worms.

I looked ahead, as did she.

More moments passed.

I wished one of those pesky squirrels that perpetually waylay me on the path would come up and beg so I could stop to dispense peanuts and extricate myself from the conversation … and the awkward moment. But, those furry critters were nowhere to be found when I needed them.

To lighten the moment, I pointed at my bag of peanuts and said “I hope I don’t have to eat these myself since I usually have quite a following” … well, she laughed at that. Whew!

Then she told me how when she was a kid, the family was dirt poor and there were no gifts at Christmas. Her parents told the kids there was no Santa and not to be looking for him to visit their home on Christmas Eve. She came from a large family and the kids got a new coat or boots and that was it. There was no Christmas tree put up. She said she got a paper route and went and bought herself gifts – even going so far to wrap them up, hide them away and unwrap them on Christmas morning so she could tell her school chums what she got.

She told me she did that for years and then graduated from high school and got a job and moved out of the house and never went back … even for a visit – ever. And, she never celebrated Christmas again.

I asked if she lived around here and she said “I’m just in town visiting an old friend and I stopped to see this pretty Park and clear my head” and then she pointed to her car and said “I’ll be shoving off now”, and, though the seasonal greeting is “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to utter any of those phrases, so I just said “see ya” … and then she was gone.

You never know what people are thinking – she looked a little lost and lonely, just walking aimlessly along and not striding confidently along the path like the rest of the walkers, or me. I merely decided to be friendly.

Perhaps it was written in the stars that our paths should cross this morning.

I really prefer to walk solo and our encounter left me feeling uneasy.

I wished I’d just enjoyed that lonely train whistle in the still morn and remained content with my own company.

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Often we are just polite strangers.

My parents were always adamant that their only child should be a polite little girl.

I was taught to say “please” and “thank you” and “your welcome” to the extent that those responses still roll off my tongue automatically to this day. Nope, this little girl never had to be nudged and told “what do you say?”

Sunday was always a dress-up day as I attended Sunday school, so I wore a dress, hat and white gloves.

As soon as I was able to feed myself, I was handed a knife and fork by my father and told I must use these utensils for eating everything from that point on. He was German and it was the European way to always eat with knife and fork. At first it was awkward, and my food would get cold while I struggled to manipulate those utensils, but gradually I got the hang of it.

Even as a young child, there were never elbows on the table, and I had to lay a napkin across my lap to be picked up occasionally to dab daintily at my mouth.

We weren’t rich, but it was all about having good manners from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper as that saying goes.

As part of my early childhood upbringing in Canada, I learned how to curtsy. I never questioned what practical purpose that curtsying had in my life, but I was told I should practice and perfect my curtsy “just in case” the situation came up. My mother had some medical issues that prevented her from being able to squat or bend at the knees and I recall my grandmother showing me how to grab the sides of my dress and do a petite curtsy. I was giggling at her as she offered me pointers.

I must say that I have not thought about the “curtsying lessons” in decades.

Until this week.

The Royals were visiting New York for a whirlwind three-day trip last weekend. Now, Will and Kate are modern-day Royals, and often appear in jeans or casual clothes – heck, Kate showed up sunbathing nude a couple of times in the tabloids a few years ago.

But, New Yorkers were warned in advance not to look grubby or unkempt when they swarmed around the Royal couple to greet them.

And, then there was the unfortunate issue of the post-basketball game photo op with King James. After the Cavs and Nets game, which Will and Kate attended, LeBron James seized the opportunity to gift the couple with specially made jerseys for little George and his parents. He stood close to Kate, still sweaty from the game, and placed one big hand on her delicate shoulder. She didn’t flinch, but posed stiffly next to him. The next day the Brits lambasted LeBron for his familiarity, which they found despicable, as no one is supposed to touch the Royals, especially a future Queen of England. They said “don’t you know, people are supposed to bow or curtsy to royalty?” Poor LeBron didn’t know, but Michelle Obama likewise put her arm on Queen Elizabeth’s back at Buckingham Palace which raised the British hackles as well a few years ago.

I am amused by the whole episode.

At least American presidents may mingle with the crowd from time to time. President Obama claps people on the back, scoops up youngsters or kisses babies; he even broke bread with the rest of the lunchtime crowd at Zingerman’s Deli when he last visited Ann Arbor, Michigan. President Obama is not a stuffed shirt by any means and he wasn’t campaigning either.

The LeBron James faux pas and minding your manners has been on my mind and percolatin’ along, just enough to turn it into this post.

Minding your manners is important, and I am grateful for whatever social graces I learned when I was young – I carry them with me. Maybe too much sometimes, because …

I went grocery shopping at Meijer this morning. I always use the U-scan and check my groceries out myself. Sometimes an older gentleman store clerk helps me pack or we pass the time of day. For some reason, he thinks my name is “Catherine”. He only occasionally has called me by that name, and not wanting to be rude, and remembering to “respect my elders”, I have never corrected this kindly man. Today, he was calling to me: “Catherine – have a Merry Christmas and celebrate Jesus’ birthday” … I heard someone talking, but was oblivious, as I mumbled under my breath when I snagged the wooden box of Clementines along my index finger and got a sliver. He came right over next to me and looked me in the eye and repeated his words, then he said “you’ve got that big hat pulled down over your ears and you couldn’t hear me” … I just smiled (through gritted teeth).

I left the store and walked through the parking lot to my car. As I was unloading my cart, who comes along but the elderly fire-and brimstone preacher who passes out tracts and preaches in the parking lot to anyone who will listen. I listened one day while loading up my car with groceries, and silly me – he asked my name and I gave it. Then he gave me his card, and told me about his website where I could go to donate to him. I threw away that business card. He is a regular fixture, this parking lot preacher, and I see him every time I go to the store. He always calls me by name – my correct name. After the first time, I pretended I didn’t hear him. He came over and said “Linda, don’t you remember me?” … I shook my head “no” and said “you must be confusing me with someone else – have a nice day”… so now we have this conversation nearly every time I go shopping and he is there.

Dear Abby: I don’t know whether to feel like a fool or that I am deceptive with these people. But I mind my manners and am polite to these strangers.

So … it is duly noted Mom and Dad that I paid attention all those years ago. I still mind my manners, respect my elders, write thank you notes when appropriate and I will just quietly play “The Name Game” … though it makes me weary sometimes of the charade.

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