Archives for : Life in the Burbs

Walk This Way

The furry card party was very elegant.  The addition of a fur to an outfit required everyone to dress a little nicer which always improves behavior.  Mags arrived later than everyone else so that she could appear at the door in her full length mink.  Instead of just walking in the front door, she rang the bell so that someone would have to open the door for her entrance. It was quite a spectacle and just what the party needed, drama.  We started with coffee with cognac and talked for a little while before starting the games. Everyone took off their wraps to play cards.  I wish I had a picture of my living room furniture draped in furs and stoles.  Even better, in between sets as some of the girls ate, they tried on the furs and stoles of others. The mirror in the front hallway was very busy as the different wraps were styled and enjoyed.  Yes, I tried on the mink Why not? I’m a little shorter than Mags, so her coat looked a little long on me but I could always wear high heels with it, should the chance ever come to borrow it.  As we sipped our coffees, the runway walking became more dramatic and everyone enjoyed playing grown-up model.  The onion soup was delicious and gooey with the cheese melted on top.  The fancy ham and cheese sandwiches, known as Croque Monsieur, were very satisfying, even if Chloe was the only person who could pronounce the real name.

At the end of the party, we usually sit around a little slushy from the cocktails.  This time, the coffee had us all wired and Judy Anne remarked that she was going to stay up late to finish up some sewing repairs.  Edie was planning on “catching up on some writing” and no one bothered to ask any follow-up questions because they were busy planning their own caffeinated tasks.  It was a fun card party, but next time I may make decaf after the first round.

College is a New Grade

The whole house was quiet.  I was thumbing through the catalog for the community college trying to make up my mind about taking the writing class that Lucy teaches.  There was a lot to consider.  First, I needed to make sure that Steve supported the idea.  I needed to sell it correctly because I was sure that his first question would be if I had time for it.  Some days, time is all I have.  My routine housekeeping chores were planned out enough that I knew what day it was by what I was cleaning.  Second, could I handle it.  It had been a long time since I was in high school and this time there would be no one to carry my books for me.  Third, why was I even taking the class.  What was the purpose?  I knew that I liked reading and I enjoyed keeping my journal.  But, could I really write something that another person would want to read?  I called Mags for an emergency talk and she was at my door in two minutes.

Mags listened to my thoughts and told me that she had a standard answer to these kinds of questions.  Mags told me that if there was no reason not to do it, I should try it.  So simple, so Mags.  I planned on registering for the class.  Tonight I would state my case to Steve using Mags’ method.  The discussion went well and Steve was generally quiet while I made my case.  He didn’t ask too many questions and I let him know that if I found that I couldn’t handle school, I would give up.  But I didn’t think that would happen; in fact, I had no thoughts about giving up.  The following morning, Steve told the children at breakfast that I was going back to school.  They both looked at me and giggled.  Junior asked me what grade I was in.  I really had no answer, so I just said college.  They both opened their eyes wide and looked at me.  Junior slid off his seat and came to stand next to me, putting his arm around my shoulders.  He looked into my face, now just inches from his, and sincerely asked me if I knew how hard school was.  I just smiled and told him that I was looking forward to it.  I guess now I had another reason to do well.  My children were watching.

Cold Comfort

I couldn’t remember being so cold.  We were definitely having a cold snap and I became reluctant to go outside unless I had to.  I knew that I had to plan next week’s card party since it was my turn to hostess.  If this cold continued, I was going to have to choose a furry theme so everyone could wear their fur jackets or stoles.  I had waited for years to get my fur coat and never minded having another chance to wear it.  I usually wear it to church or if we go to a fancier restaurant during the winter.  Steve seems especially proud that he is able to have a wife with a fur and makes a bit of a deal helping me take it off at the coat check when we arrive and gently placing it over my shoulders on the way out. He makes it look like he always helps me on and off with my coat but that boat sailed a long time ago.  Even though he has to tip the check girl, he gets to feel semi-rich for a few minutes.  Most of the women in my group have a fur now and Mags has a beautiful full length black mink.  She wears it casually and it looks great with her shiny hair.  Even though she lives right across the street, she will make quite an entrance in that coat.

The furry theme was intriguing but it didn’t really match any food theme.  I didn’t want to choose the traditional opposite theme, like a beach party, and I was stumped.  I started to think about what I like to eat when I’m cold.  Mid-winter meals are always a heartier than summer and some recipes can simmer longer without losing their integrity.  I knew that all of my usual choices would be comforting but not very special. I casually thumbed through my new standby French cookbook and saw a delicious French Onion Soup recipe staring back.  That would be a great idea.  I had also remembered seeing a fancy ham and grilled cheese sandwich and searched for that one to add to the mix.  Tres great!  The choices were not the everyday choices we would make for our families and I enjoy demonstrating how much I care for my girls by making them something special.  Of course, I was hoping that Chloe would enjoy them too.

For tonight, my old standby Chicken Pot Pie would serve admirably.  Special, maybe not, but so good that when it comes out of the oven all bubbly and warm, Steve will know that I take my family’s comfort seriously.  As Steve made our cocktails before dinner, I thought more about the drink issue for the card party.  A warm drink to sip while we play would keep everyone’s spirits up.  I remembered one time having some warmed Cognac at the end of a celebratory dinner at the club.  I think that serving warmed Cognac with coffee would be the best of both worlds and keep us from needing naps after the party.  I was suddenly looking forward to finding the right sweater set to wear to the card party!

Dancing in the New Year

Another new year, another new year’s party at Mags and Harold’s.  It had become a tradition and there was no better way to bring in 1957 than a party with our neighborhood friends.  Our little group had grown and now with Chloe and Francis joining us for the first time, it would be fun to watch them see all the grownups dressed up and sauced up.  As always, Harold took over at the bar and shook up lots of cocktails.  Mags had prepared a delicious spread and I had made a big batch of Chex mix to place in little wooden pineapple bowls around her living room.  I had spent a couple of hours making a double batch while playing the last of the Christmas albums.  I always liked to bring out the albums and make sure they were all played at least once each season.  Nat King Cole sang his last tune as I packed up the snacks.  Mags had a Polynesian theme this year and somehow had found paper leis for everyone to wear.  I was just hoping for no grass skirted party-goers.  I did have a little bloom to place behind my ear for the event.  Elvis Presley was playing on the hi-fi and the rest of the music seemed more of our generation than the last.  We all looked like adults but as the night got later and the dancing got more spirited, we looked more like kids.  It’s not a bad idea to act like a kid now and then and I am pretty sure there is still a little nine year old girl inside of me some days.

Francis looked like he enjoyed the attention of a few of the neighborhood women who thought he would tell them about his spy days in the war.  Chloe was the belle of the ball with the gentlemen all wanting to dance with a French lady.  Most of them had met French and Italian women during the war, but the circumstances were so different that there was little comparison.  Swing dancing was more popular and I could almost feel a change coming in the new year as we finally cast off the conservative years that followed the end of the war.  Steve and I took advantage of the chance to slow dance without interruption until we were cut in by others for the third time.  At that point, Steve grabbed my hand and we danced in the kitchen.  I don’t think Mags minded, but she always hires help for the party, and they may have been a little surprised by the strange couple dancing in the kitchen.

Shortly before 12, Harold began his toasting, and at midnight, the kissing and singing started.  Another new year.  I know I thought a couple of years ago that I was becoming a new me and last year felt like I was an old me.  This year would bring something completely different and I looked forward to seeing what that would be.

Cherish the Relish

Christmas with my family has always been the highlight of my year.  Daisy loved her new young lady vanity and the giant pink stuffed poodle that stood sentry next to the tree.  When she saw the stuffed dog, she grabbed it around the neck and hugged it closely.  That poodle went everywhere with her for the rest of the day and I was somehow tricked into placing an extra plate next to Daisy’s at dinner for the dog.  Junior got more girders and panels and a microscope.  It came with special powders and glass plates to place specimens on for closer examination.  He was talking about setting up a laboratory in his bedroom.  Steve opened his usual presents of pajamas and ties but I surprised him with a homemade coupon book that he could use throughout the year.  The coupons were for services, like a car wash or a back rub, but I did throw in one “get out of the doghouse free” coupon for when he does something he probably shouldn’t have.  I was lucky enough to get some new slippers among other gifts, and Steve had stashed some hundred dollar bills in them.  This will be my mad money and I gave him an extra big hug while hiding the money from the children.

Christmas dinner was delicious and Mother and Dad Jones joined us.  Dad carved the turkey and Mother Jones even complimented my relish tray.  I was using the beautiful crystal piece she had given me for my last birthday to display the baby pickles and olives.  Junior was able to sneak a few olives out after I placed it on the table and I thought it didn’t look full enough, but Mother Jones liked it, so I relaxed. I made my famous chocolate cake for dessert and the kids were on a good sugar high with that and the ice cream. After dessert, Mother Jones and Dad left for home so that he wouldn’t be driving in the dark too late.

After all the dishes were washed and dried, I joined Steve and the children in the living room.  Steve made me a martini and thanked me for making our day so special.  It’s nice when he appreciates the effort I put into our holidays.  I always start with the idea that we are making memories for the children.  I want them to remember our special occasions as days when our family came together to celebrate.  I was relatively sure that Daisy could not now live without her poodle. How she had done so before this morning is a mystery. As I looked out the picture window, I noticed the first flakes of snow in the light from the street lamp.  I hadn’t really been paying attention to the weather forecast all day, but if it was going to snow heavily, we had plenty of leftovers and a pick poodle to keep us content.



The Pen is Mightier than Mikey

The weather had turned strangely warm for this time of year, the children were playing ball outside and it reminded me of another last fall day from my youth. My first taste of the power of the press came unexpectantly in elementary school.  I didn’t like the constraints on the use of the schoolyard.  The older boys had permanent “dibs” and pushed my friends off the field every opportunity they had.  My limit was reached one particularly warm early afternoon.  The sun filtered through the lightly leaved trees in the green space next to the open area where my friends and I had started a game of dodgeball.  A group of older boys approached the field from the green space and told us to leave. Surrendering the field based on the entitlement of age alone just rubbed me wrong.  As my pals started to walk off the field to yield it, I walked up to the oldest boy and started to protest.  Mikey Kinney was much bigger than me, but I felt every inch of anger inside of me increasing my height.  My strange action made my friends stop in place and the other boys turned their heads towards us.  I felt time actually stop.  The wind ceased to blow and no more leaves fell from the trees. Even the birds stopped singing.  Mikey loomed over me to help me understand the power of physicality.  As I voiced my point about the unfairness of the older boys always taking over the field, he deftly placed one large hand squarely on my shoulder and knocked me down.  Startled, I looked up at him with my shocked face as he and the other older boys laughed, turned and started to get into position to play their game. My pals slinked away.  I noticed that I was alone.  I picked myself up and walked toward my classroom.

As I entered the room, I saw Mr. Ritchie bathed in a shaft of sunlight standing at the window. It made his gray hair bright and silvery.  He turned to look at me as I nervously dusted dirt off my skirt and greeted me with a question.  “What are you going to do about that?” He had seen what happened and I realized that he was asking me how to solve my own dilemma.  Adults should be counted on to enforce fairness.  They certainly preached it enough.  Now, even my teacher didn’t provide assistance. I was speechless.  I looked down at the school newspaper that he was holding.  Although it sounded weak, I angrily stated that I was going to write a letter to the editor.  I didn’t even know if the newspaper printed letters to the editor.  I was just remembering those words from some movie I had seen at the Manor Cinema.  Mr. Ritchie told me that he was the editor of the paper and my idea was a good one.

My letter was printed a week later. I described the rough way that the older boys just took over the field without waiting for the game to end.  It brought me a special kind of attention in different ways.  The principal wanted to talk to me and I thought I was in trouble.  But Principal Herman just wanted to know more about the problem.  He told me that he would take my issue and think about it.  One day shortly after while my friends and I were playing dodgeball on the field, the older boys approached to take it over.  When I walked toward Mikey, my friends stood behind me this time, and Mikey stammered a little and told us that we had fifteen more minutes to use the field.  We enjoyed that time and laughed more than usual when one of the older boys got hit by the ball when he wasn’t paying attention.

Later that week, Principal Herman announced the new sharing times for the field.  The older boys had their time to play, my group of boys and girls in our class had our own, and the youngest kids even had their own time to play tag.  It ended up working out for everyone.  I didn’t even know that the little kids didn’t feel like they could use the field until the announcement.  The principal must have checked around with every group.  Yes, the power of the press made an impression on me that week.  I even joined the newspaper to help write stories after Mr. Ritchie invited me.  I have a couple of copies of the paper stashed away in the attic.  When my own children get a little older, I will share my stories with them.


The Shape of Us

December always prompts a day of cookie baking.  Sometimes two.  My recipe box has an extensive section of old favorites.  I love to peruse the magazines to find possible new favorites also.  I have recently noted that people are like human cookie cutters.  They are shaped by their choices and can be sweet, savory, multi-layered, fancy, simple or difficult. All would benefit from frosting.

Steve is my peanut butter cookie guy.  He loves them as sandwich cookies, which takes a little extra work, but is impressive. Junior loves his chocolate chips crunchy style so I make them with a little extra butter to spread out.  Daisy loves a cute sugar cookie.  She should be ready this year to decorate some cookies well enough to tell what they actually are.

I have a great collection of cutters and if I host a card party in December, I like to make gingerbread people for everyone to take home.  Cookie platters are really my specialty, so the bread and milkman always get a nice selection.  This year, I really wanted to personalize some for the neighbors but I didn’t know much about French cookies.  I checked my French cookbook but couldn’t even pronounce the names of the cookies listed. Until I got to the truffles.  Strange sounding, but they looked delicious and could be made in different flavors.  Some even had liquor in them.  So adult!

Tomorrow is grocery shopping day.  My list has a few more ingredients than usual because I picked out how many cookies to make.  Friday and Saturday will be good baking days.  My baking Friday will give me alone time with my oven, giving me the chance to make some with the children on Saturday.

These special baking days have become a tradition in the Jones house.  I should probably plan on popping some popcorn this weekend too for the tree decorating.  It’s the one time each year I can get Steve to sew and I always look forward to that!

Taking Thanks

Being grateful for the goodness in my life only feels like half the answer to the annual giving of thanks food holiday.  I appreciate Steve and the kids, my own family and friends, but living a good life takes some effort. Steve works hard at being a good employee for his company and he cares about the guys he works with. He doesn’t often talk about them but there have been times when he has discussed a group effort made to help one of them during some short-lived crisis.

I encourage the kids to be good friends with others and play fairly.  My girlfriends can always be counted on to lend a hand and support one another.  I know that even Mother Jones would help me if I needed her.  My mother is a good advice provider when I ask her opinion.

For my own part, I keep up my end of the bargain in housekeeping and child rearing.  I try to be on the lookout for ways to support Steve.  If he asks my thoughts, I provide them willingly. The random tests in life have been easier to handle so far and everyone I know is grateful for peace.  The thought of going through another wartime still scares most of us.  As long as our memories remain intact, being grateful will be easy.

Thankfulness requires two parts – giving and taking.  We stop each year to remind ourselves of how good we have it and we give thanks.  For the rest of the year, everything we do each day takes the best of us to show how grateful we are for life.

The Monster

Orange has never been my favorite color; not even close.  It looks good on pumpkins and sunsets, but that’s about it.  Teal, turquoise, or even cowboy pink seem more suitable for every day.  Khaki and olive drab had better days years ago.  Maybe Snowball, our cat, has the best idea since white is always fashionable and clean.

Daisy has a sudden new obsession with colors.  The first time I turned on the heat this month, she took a few crayons and placed them on the heating vent.  Apparently, she wanted to create a new color because as they softened, they melted together into a big ball of angry.  It was a good experiment but the  outcome wasn’t quite what she expected.  The rainbow effect was less than attractive.

Junior has been determined lately to drive his bike like a daredevil when riding with his friends.  The result of his trying to use his bike to jump a short concrete barrier in the parking lot of the funeral home at the end of the block was an bad accident.  He arrived home with a bloody red face.  It was difficult to see the actual cut with so much blood around his eye.  He wasn’t crying but his pals had to guide him home after the failed jump and subsequent skid.  The bike got a little twisted too.

Luckily, Gail was over my house when it happened so I felt sure that she would know what to do.  Instead, she started shrieking when she saw the blood on Junior’s face. I grabbed a clean rag and dabbed at his eyes.  They both opened and then I saw the real cut.  In a perfect line with his left eyebrow was a deep slash.  I held the towel to his eyebrow to try to stop the blood.  At that point, I ordered Daisy and Gail’s kids into the back of her car and told her to get us to the hospital emergency room.  Gail couldn’t even look at me and Junior as he sat with me on the front bench.  I put pressure on his eyebrow all the way.  As I explained the situation to the person at the registration desk, Gail lined the kids up in a row in the waiting room.  She had begun to compose herself.  When Junior and I emerged from the treatment room later, Junior was able to show off the line of stitches that repaired the damage.  The doctor had talked Junior through the whole ordeal.  His shirt was a pink blood-stained mess and not salvageable.  I am not that good of a laundress. Gail clutched him closely as we left and the other children alternately gasped and giggled at his face.

I had never seen Gail lose it before.  More surprisingly, I maintained control when I had to.

Steve had arrived home to find the house empty with my car still in the garage, blood on the kitchen tile and toys left in the middle of play on the floor.  I had not left a note in my haste.  When he saw the twisted bike by the back door, he made some assumptions and was getting ready to call the local hospital.  He was glad to see the whole group of us return.  Gail gathered up her kids and left for home, still a little shaky.  I am sure a strong cocktail was in the plan before starting dinner.

I explained what happened to Junior and asked Steve to order pizza delivery for dinner.  Junior and I went off to gently wash off his neck and change him into his pajamas.  The children retold the story from their perspective as we ate.  I wasn’t sure if Junior was embellishing the size of the barrier he was trying to jump but it made for a dramatic tale.  Daisy was able to tell the part about waiting for Junior to get his cut repaired.  Gail apparently paced up and down in front of the kids while they all sat stoically.  Steve hugged both kids for their calm in the face of terror.  They ran off to watch TV before bedtime.  I was then able to tell Steve about Gail’s loss of composure in the face of a medical emergency. Even better than that, I was able to relate how my cool composure handled the whole ordeal.  I was blatantly proud of myself.  Steve hugged me too but asked if I could leave a short note next time.

Junior did end up with a headache the following morning, but Daisy was able to provide assistance this time.  Daisy told Junior that his stitches provided the best start for his Halloween costume for next year, Frankenstein’s monster.  Practically speaking, he could pull it off easily. We may have to paint in the stitches by that point.

And Here’s to You, Mrs. Richards

Gail called earlier than usual this morning and that fact alone scared me.  I had served my Breakfast Pie to everyone before they ran off to school and work. But I know when you have multiple little children, everything takes longer and by the time Gail is free enough to talk on the phone, it’s usually late morning or some days, after lunch. The pitch of her voice reinforced the feeling that something was wrong.  I knew it couldn’t be a medical emergency because Gail was a nurse in her earlier life and she can handle any health problem quickly and confidently.  The only time Gail’s façade cracked was due to her recent inability to get pregnant.  Gail needed her children and they were growing up and leaving her without a purpose.  Gil didn’t want Gail to work even though their original plan included them practicing as a team.  Gil probably thought his abandonment of their professional plan permitted Gail the chance to raise her children without working. But Gail took great pride in being a nurse and wanted to do both.  It was unconventional but it suited her.  After all, I was crazy enough to be considering going to school.  After Gail’s kids get a little older, she may have more free time on her hands that she needed to use caring for other people.

I tried to remain nonchalant on the phone with Gail but was intrigued by the change in her habit. Her words came tumbling out of her mouth so fast that I couldn’t keep up with what she was saying. Apparently, Gil’s longtime nurse was getting ready to retire.  Mrs. Richards was old-school all the way, kept Gil in line with appointments, ordered supplies and left promptly at 5 every day so she could get home to make dinner for her husband.  Gail was afraid that Gil would hire some young nurse.  Of course, that was a threat to her and an affront to the fact that she was a nurse and could do the job.  Except that she had little children.  Gail wasn’t upset by the fact that she was raising children; she was a wonderful mother who spent play time with her kids, kept them clean and well-fed, helped them with homework and spent more time with them than Gil due to his doctoring schedule.

I suggested Gail help Gil speak to the applicants so she could help choose the best one.  Gail said that she would suggest that idea to Gil in a way that would show how much she cared about his work and use her professional knowledge.  Gail also let me know that she had an additional idea to propose that might solve two problems.  Although she did not want to share it with me yet, Gail now sounded pretty excited about the chance to get involved.

Gail mentioned that she wanted to plan a nice retirement celebration for Mrs. Richards.  She had cared for the practice and Gil for many years without enough acknowledgement. Gail didn’t want to let another nurse’s work go without praise.  That’s Gail, always looking out for everyone.