Try, try again…

Mothers’ Day is the day to celebrate and honor our own moms, as well as the profound influence mothers have had on society.  The stationary stores and gift shops are overflowing with cards bursting with loving sentiments.  “You’re the Best Mom Ever”, “You’ve always listened, loved, and let me lean on you”, or “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without you.”

Nope, nope, I don’t think so.  What happens to those of us who have/had challenging relationships with our mothers?  When you don’t get on with your mother, it is often accompanied with a little cloud of guilt and all the Mothers’ Day hoopla can rub salt in that maternal wound.  

How do we shake off the guilt and the dark clouds?  This year my sister and I chose to focus on good memories of our mother.  When I was a little girl, my mother would make a lemon jelly roll.  I was fascinated by the process.  You bake a large, shallow flat cake, fill it with lemon curd, roll it up and voilà, you have an exotic, delectable dessert.  We would bake a jelly roll in her honor!

There exist different adaptations of this dessert with various names and in a different era (not mine!), the fine art of preparing a jelly roll was often taught in Home Economics class.  You bake a cake in a long shallow sheet pan, turn it out onto a towel dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and while it is still warm you start from a short side and roll the cake and the towel into a log shape.  After it is cooled, unroll your cake keeping it on the towel and spread your filling over the cake.  Roll the filled cake tightly and keep your fingers crossed it doesn’t crack.  

My sister can’t eat sugar, so instead of using our mom’s 60-year-old recipe (which as NOT very detailed), I scoured the internet for a sugarless version of this whimsical and fun dessert. We started with making the lemon curd.  I love it when something does exactly what the recipe says it should.  We masterfully whisked the egg yolks until they were a lemony, smooth consistency.  This was combined with the melted butter and other ingredients for a very tasty, successful concoction which included lots of fresh lemon juice. Time to move on to the cake part.

Ah, the cake.  All was going well until we went to pour it into the pan for baking.  There was no way it was right!  I am well aware that many recipes you find on the internet or in magazines have errors in them – ingredients omitted or portions incorrect.  I’m choosing to believe I chose a bum recipe and not that we were lacking in talent.  But that said, I was very disappointed when our efforts were dropped into the trash.

But, if we are anything, we are indeed our mothers’ daughters.  She had plenty of backbone and was not easily defeated.  So, we searched for another recipe and tried again.  Success!  It did crack slightly during the rolling process.  Also, I tried a short cut I read in one recipe and used paper towels instead of a cloth towel for the process.  I would not do that again.

One of the best things about getting older for me has been gaining perspective.  I have come to believe that many of the differences between my mother and me weren’t about me but were her own personal struggles that as a child I could not understand.

I have also come to believe that it is true that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my mother and her example of perseverance.  And without her I wouldn’t be feasting on lemon jelly roll tonight!

Happy Mother’s Day!

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

While I spent more time packing and unpacking books in April than I did reading them, I did manage to devour a couple of titles.  Feeling the need for comfort reading, I fell back on one of my favorite genres, historical fiction.  Mr. Smith and I, along with millions of other readers, are particularly drawn to World War II historical fiction.

Sometimes I wonder about this attraction.  Is it the inherent sense of good versus evil?  Is it a way to connect with our grandparents’ disappearing generation?  Is it the real-life stories the books are based on?  I know I often wonder what I would have done under similar circumstances.  

THE LAST BOOKSHOP IN LONDON by Madeline Martin

This book was inspired by the true history of the few bookshops that survived the Blitz, including those on Paternoster Row, a street in the city of London that was the center of the London publishing trade.

Grace Bennett was born and raised in a small England town, but always dreamed of moving to London.  When she finally arrives in August 1939, it is not what she expected.  There are bunkers and drawn curtains which quickly evolve into blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies.

Not previously interested in literature, she finds herself working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop in the heart of London.  Between the bookshop and a new love interest, Grace learns to appreciate the power of books and the sanctuary bookshops can provide to people. She also discovers strength she never knew she had when she becomes a warden with the ARP (Air Raid Precautions).  Four Grandmas!

SISTERS OF WAR by Lana Kortchik

Natasha and Lisa Smirnova are sisters in Kiev, 1941, when they realize their lives are about to change forever.  The Red Army is withdrawing, and Hitler is advancing.  As the German army occupies their city, the sisters and their family face the horrible realities of war.  There is love, betrayal, kindness and cruelty.

            “…all human wisdom is summed up in these two words – wait and hope.”

I have read a lot of historical fiction, but never anything about the Nazi occupation of Kiev and parts of the Soviet Union.  This book illustrated the complexity of life during World War II and taught me some history I should have already known.  Highly recommended. Four Grandmas.

C’est la vie.

Now I will do nothing but listen. Walt Whitman

As we settle into house sharing, my uber-early rising sister worries about waking me up in the morning when she grinds the beans for her coffee.  No amount of reassuring her it is not a problem seems to assuage her concern.  Hopefully she will relax as we settle in and learn each other’s boundaries and idiosyncrasies.

I quite enjoy the sounds of morning, hearing the house wake up and come to life.  As a young mother, I woke many mornings to the sound of a baby crying.  It was a sweet pleasure knowing I had the ability to scoop them up and quickly comfort them.  Then came that wonderful stage when instead of waking up crying, they woke up cooing and babbling to themselves, just for a young mother’s listening pleasure.

For many years, the sounds of our house were the sounds of children.  Sometimes laughing, sometimes squabbling, and often the lyrical bleating of “Mom?  Mom?  Mom???”. They were the melody of our life.  I could monitor where everyone was in the house or yard by the sounds I could hear. As our sons became more independent, I would listen for the click of the back gate letting me know they were home from school or back from band or soccer practice.  After they were driving, I could never sleep at night until I heard the door close and their footsteps  headed up the stairs to bed.


Along with the family sounds, our old Victorian house was full of ancient and familiar noises that kept me company.  Radiators pinged and floors squeaked along with other assorted thumps, bangs and knocks.  I realize all those sounds had a reasonable, scientific explanation, but I preferred to believe they were just keeping me company as I went through my day.  

We lived kitty corner from a church and its bells along with the whistling of the local trains that ran through town became a part of our daily soundtrack.  On Sunday mornings, classical music playing throughout the house called our sons to breakfast (along with the smell of bacon).  Many a glorious summer evening, music poured through our open windows while we sat on the back porch sharing conversation and catching up on neighborhood and school events with our sons.  

After years of parenting sons and caring for an old house, Mr. Smith and I made the move East and were able to spend over a decade just enjoying being a couple.  We quickly adjusted to apartment living and being able to call the landlord with any problems.  Apartment living does come with its own brand of noises, including the 7:00 a.m. trash pickup below my 10th floor window!

Now our nest is less empty.  So far in our new home I have woken up to the sound of birds chirping to one another, to rain on the roof, and to my own thoughts refusing to be ignored.  Not once to the sound of the coffee grinder, but I’ll be listening.

C’est la vie.

Midweek Mélange

Good morning and welcome to this week’s Midweek Mélange.  This morning Mr. Smith and I are acting like air traffic controllers for the strapping younger ones unloading all our worldly possessions from the moving truck. And if I thought packing was bad, now the fun really starts.  According to some obscure lists, Wednesdays have been proven to be the most efficient day of the week to get work done, so here’s hoping!  I have the satisfaction of knowing it will end as Wine Wednesday!

Hopefully your Wednesday is a little less stressful.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and check out some of the recent news items that caught my attention this month.

ROAD TRIP!!!

Su Min spent her first 56 years being a dutiful Chinese woman.  She endured an abusive marriage that she originally thought would be a way out of the drudgery and endless chores she had shouldered at her parents’ home.  She spent years caring for her daughter and then twin grandsons but came to a point where “Life at home is truly too upsetting.”  

At first, she was worried about the social stigma her family would experience if she left, she had resigned herself to her life of drudgery.  Until the day this retired factory worker stumbled upon a video online of someone introducing their camping gear while on a solo road trip.  Always enamored of travel, she started researching everything she could find about road trips and soon made up her mind.  When her grandsons started preschool, she would start on a journey of her own.

Su Min purchased a four-and-a-half by eight-foot rooftop tent for her small Volkswagen hatchback.  She grabbed a minifridge and a rice cooker and on September 24, 2020, she set out on a road trip, basking in her newfound freedom.

Net-A-Porter ad for International Women’s Day featuring Su Min.

An accidental feminist icon, she has been documenting her journey for her more than 1.35 million followers across several social media platforms, as well as being an international personality.  Women send her messages, sharing their own stories and cheering her on. They greet her at her nightly destination with fruit and homecooked meals.  She hopes to cover all of China on her solo road trip, so don’t expect her home for several years.  

You can read more about Su Min in this New York Time’s article.

WHO DOESN’T LOVE A LIST???

I love making lists and reading lists so when I spotted Esquire’s 38 Documentaries That Will Change Your Life, I knew I had to check it out.  It is an inspiring list and there are several I want to watch in the future.  I was delighted to note a couple of my personal favorites on the list.  Mr. Smith and I both thoroughly enjoyed Man on Wire and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  But if your time is limited and you must choose just one from the list to watch, I would recommend Honeyland.

Honeyland is the story of Hatidze Muratova, one of the last Macedonians to practice beekeeping in the Balkan Mountains.  Hatidze lives with her ailing mother in a village without roads, electricity or running water.  She ekes out a living selling her honey in small batches at the market in the closest city, a four hour walk away.  The film is visually beautiful, telling the story of an extraordinary woman.  It is a look into a very different way of life, but an acknowledgement of some of our similarities.  No spoiler here, but I had to smile at what Hatidze searched out to purchase at the market after selling her honey.

DRESSED TO THE NINES

I was happy I stumbled on this Inspired Life Washington Post article, This woman, 82, dresses to the nines each Sunday for virtual church.  La Verne Ford Wimberly of Tulsa, Oklahoma is an 82-year-old retired educator who must have a bigger closet than I do.  She would need it just for her collection of hats which numbers somewhere around 50.  

Since March 29, 2020, she has taken photos of herself each Sunday in one of her stunning color-coordinated outfits that she has carefully selected from her closet, jewelry boxes and hat boxes.  She has posted her colorful photo each and every Sunday and has been inundated with positive responses.  She keeps a running list of what she wears each Sunday, not wanting to commit the faux pas of wearing the same outfit twice!

La Verne credits a junior high teacher for her interest in fashion.  As a young teenager, she noticed this teacher wore a different beautiful outfit to school each day.  When La Verne became a teacher herself, she decided to emulate her teacher’s example and dress up for the kids.

If this 82-year-old retiree can make the effort every Sunday as she meticulously dresses for her Zoom church, I think we can all occasionally leave our sweats in the drawer. 

C’est la vie.

And the Academy Award of Merit goes to…

It doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?  It may be the official name, but the coveted gold statuette is better known by its nickname, Oscar.  There is little consensus where the nickname originated, although many have tried to take credit.  Bette Davis claims that after winning the Academy Award for Dangerous in 1936, she remarked that the statue’s naked butt reminded her of her husband’s, Harmon Oscar Nelson Jr., after getting out of the shower.  The most popular story has been that Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, thought it resembled her Uncle Oscar and the Academy staff began referring to it as Oscar.  Wherever it came from, once Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column in 1934 in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress win, the nickname was here to stay with the Academy officially adopting it in 1939.

The first Academy Awards took place on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.  Following a ceremony of less than 15 minutes, the remainder of the evening was devoted to dining and small talk.  Only 15 statues were given out that year and acceptance speeches were probably shorter.

The ceremonies were broadcast on the radio until 1953 when they were first televised.  The pre-ceremony red carpet became a part of the broadcast in 1961, but it wasn’t until 1964 that the carpet and ceremony were both broadcast in glorious color.  I suspect the fascination with Oscar fashion took off at that point. When it comes to the Oscars, I’m thinking fashion, style and glamour.  Looking at the recent Vogue article, The 48 Best Oscars Red Carpet Dresses of All Time, I remembered several of these celebrated dresses and can see why they were chosen.  I then selected my three favorites from their narrowed down list.  I tend to love vintage and old Hollywood charm.

I also came across the list of all the Best Picture winners through the years.  It is quite a walk through history. I checked out the year I was born, 1955. For fun, I have added On the Waterfront to my must watch list of films to watch this year.  

Will you be watching the Oscars tonight?  The Oscar statuette is the most recognized award in the world with millions tuning in globally to see who goes home with the coveted prize.  In recent years, fewer and fewer people are tuning into the big event.  Are we too inundated with award shows?  The Golden Globes, People Choice Awards, Critics Choice Awards and numerous others have all been televised in recent years.  Or did Billy Crystal nail it when he joked, “Nothing takes the sting off the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other golden statues!”  

I won’t be watching tonight, but I will check out the list tomorrow morning, as well as the finery. I’m hoping to see some inspired ensembles.

C’est la vie.

Women of Consequence: Sybil Ludington

There’s an old saying, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” This adage was rolling around in the back of my mind when I started looking into Sybil Ludington.

Sybil was born April 5, 1761, the first of twelve children to Henry and Abigail Ludington.  Her father had served in the British military, but at the time of the American Revolution switched sides to the Patriot cause.  When the Revolutionary War began, the Ludingtons were living in Duchess County (now known as Putnam County), New York, and the aging Colonel Ludington was serving as commander of the local county militia.

On April 26, 1777, shortly after Sybil’s 16th birthday, a rider arrived at their home with the news that that the town of Danbury, Connecticut had been attacked and burned by the British militia.    Colonel Ludington knew he needed to gather his men and go defend the nearby towns and homes against the advancing British army.  Unfortunately, his men had disbanded for the planting season and were scattered around the region on their respective farms and homesteads.  Someone needed to alert the men of the attack so they could gather and prepare a defense.

It will never be known for sure if Sybil’s father asked her to make the ride or if she volunteered, but that night she rode out to alert the Colonel’s men of the attack on Danbury.  She knew the lay of the land around her father’s farm and knew where many of the men lived, information that would serve her well.   She road though the dark, rainy night, returning home around daybreak.  By that time, many of the regiment had gathered and were ready to march.  

Sybil is said to have ridden around forty miles (approximately triple the distance of Paul Revere), facing precarious weather, terrain and risk of capture.  She rode her horse, Star, through the dead of night, into the early morning, warning of the advancing British troops. Thanks to her warnings, the militia were able to move the supply of food and weapons the Continental Army had stored in Danbury and warn the residents of the perilous danger.  While they weren’t able to save all of Danbury, thanks to Sybil’s bravery, fewer lives were lost, and it was considered a success by the militiamen.   

Sybil married Edmond Ogden in 1784 and they had one son, Henry.  Her husband died of yellow fever in 1799.  Following his death, Sybil purchased a tavern and used the proceeds to aid her son in his desire to become a lawyer.  Sadly, Henry died in 1838.  After his death, Sybil applied for a Revolutionary War pension since her husband had served in the military.  Claiming insufficient proof of marriage, her pension was denied and she died in poverty in 1839.

She has been called The Female Paul Revere, and while her actions were equally as heroic, I never saw her name in the history books in my school days.  The first account of her historic ride was documented by Martha J. Lamb in her 1880 book, History of the City of New York, which has been questioned by some historians because she did not provide documentation.   However, Sybil’s father stated in his memoirs that he asked his daughter to ride the countryside and alert the Militia. 

Through the years, the legend of Sybil has grown to include tales of her carrying a large stick which she used to knock on doors to wake the militia and to fend off attackers. A statue of Sybil by Anne Hyatt Huntington depicts her with her arm raised, wielding the legendary stick.  

 We do not know the exact length of her ride, but her journey lasted from dusk to dawn and was most certainly further than Paul Revere rode.  And unlike her male counterpart, she was not caught and so finished her mission.  

Thanks to the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the legendary ride of Paul Revere is familiar to most school children.  But with a little bit of fact checking, you will find the well-known poem has several inaccuracies.  Paul Revere did not ride alone, was captured by British troops, and never cried out “The British are coming, the British are coming.”  Much poetic license was taken with history and some feel it should be read as more a myth or tale, not as a historical account.

Historian Paula Hunt has provided a detailed historical account of Sybil’s story and how it has been presented to the media.  She states that many of the popular details of the story could be “fictions”, such as the horse named Star, the stick in her hand and the 40-mile distance.  Hunt writes: “Sybil’s ride embraces the mythical meanings and values express in the country’s founding.  As an individual, she represents Americans’ persistent need to find and create heroes who embody prevalent attitudes and beliefs.” These heroes inspired other fighters for independence.

In 1996, the national Daughters of the American Revolution decided the evidence was not strong enough to support their criteria for a war hero and removed a book about Sybil from their headquarters bookstore.  The DAR chapter near her historic home disagrees and says that her exploit was documented and continues to honor her.    Paula Hunt continues, “The story of the lone teenage girl riding for freedom, it seems, is simply too good not to be believed.”

With all due respect to the national Daughters of the American Revolution, I am sticking with historian Paula Hunt.  Sybil’s story is simply too good not to be believed.  As with many stories of female exploits and heroism, we are finally beginning to accept that women have played an important part in history and their accounts should taken seriously.

Yours, mine and ours…

Having celebrated making the decision to move to Michigan, we now need to actually move to Michigan.  That means sorting, wrapping and packing all our worldly goods.  During our 42 years of marriage, Mr. Smith and I have moved more times than your average bear, but we haven’t packed ourselves for a move since before the birth of our youngest son who is now 36 and an accomplished mover in his own right.

Where does all this stuff come from???  We have downsized and edited our possessions several times over the years, donating and selling as much as possible, trying to avoid landfill contributions.   I have come to believe “stuff” is sneaky.  It finds its way into your home when you aren’t looking.  One morning you look up from your steaming cup of coffee and wonder hey, how did I accumulate all this shit???

There are, of course, different schools of thoughts on why we have so much stuff and why it’s so hard to get rid of things.  Some of the most common reasons for holding onto things are – it was expensive, it was a gift, needing to find a good home for it, or my sister’s personal favorite – I might need it SOMEDAY!!!  I think she has a lot of stuff, but I imagine she will think the same about me when the moving truck starts to get unloaded.

Mr. Smith, my sister and I face a unique challenge in that we are combining two households into one happy home.  We will each have some private space, but a fair amount of communal space where we will have to combine our treasures to create a décor that works for all of us.  Luckily, our aesthetics are not far off. 

With the combined wisdom of our collective 200+ years on earth, we know there is nothing we own that is worth fighting over and are prepared to purge and compromise.  That said, we also agree that each of us has a few items that are dear to us and wouldn’t easily be discarded.  For instance, I can’t imagine parting with my good friend.

Apparently, we aren’t the only people thinking about how to spend our dotage.  The Pandemic and its corresponding lockdown has led people to think about creating new ways to grow old.  We enjoy our independence and the ability to eat, read or sleep whenever we want, but our year of isolation has reinforced the value of companionship.

Other countries are ahead of the U.S. in creating cooperative housing options for older women.  Babayagas’ House in Montreuil on the east side of Paris, is a self-managed social house project created and run by a group of female senior citizens who want to keep their independence but live communally.  “To live long is a good thing but to age well is better,” says 85-year-old Therese Cleric who dreamt up the project back in 1999.  Eighteen years of planning and fundraising resulted in England’s Older Women’s Co-Housing made up of 26 flats.  And a group of Canadian women are currently creating their own version of shared housing, calling it “Radical Rest Homes.”

Our Golden Girl version is slightly different as ours includes a Golden Boy, but the intent is largely the same.  My sister will teach Mr. Smith and me to play mahjong and keep us engaged in politics and world events, enhanced by her experience of living abroad.  Mr. Smith will keep our home filled with music, make us delicious dinners and revisit his gardening skills.  And moi, I will plan it all! 

How do you see your golden years?  Statistically women outlive their spouses by six to eight years.  Would you want to live alone in your 70s and 80s? Would you be happy living with one of your children or would you prefer to live with a group of fabulous women?  While I hope to share many more years with Mr. Smith, this is something I think about. 

C’est la vie.

A Congenial Table…

The date on the calendar may be April 14, but here in our neck of the woods we have already had several days of beautiful warm weather that could fool you into thinking summer had arrived.  On our daily walks around Kirby Park, Mr. Smith and I have noticed more people gathering on blankets and at picnic tables, sharing conversation and food.  With large indoor gatherings still questionable, heading outdoors for a picnic has never been more enticing.

Al fresco dining is one of the great pleasures of summer and if you are looking to fancy up the experience a bit this summer, you are in good company.  Yet I still long for the time when I can give an indoor dinner party complete with eye-catching tablescapes and party favors, but until then, al fresco it is!

I don’t have a footman standing by to lug rugs, pillows and hampers packed by the kitchen staff to the pastoral picnic setting, but I can still make it special.  One of my first dates with Mr. Smith was a walk and picnic at Kensington Metro Park in Milford, Michigan.  I did have a tablecloth, but not much else.   I remember spending an inordinate amount of time in a fancy kitchen store at Kerrytown in Ann Arbor, choosing just the right cloth napkins for our outing. 

 

Once you have your perfect napkins and have chosen the location and date for your picnic, I have just a few simple tips you may want to follow:

  1. In a nod to Mother Earth, forget about paper and plastic.  If you are concerned about breakage or the weight of your ceramic dinnerware, you could go with enamel.  I love the charm of mixing a bit of the formal – cloth tablecloth, napkins and special dishes – with the rustic atmosphere.
  2. Keep the food simple and picnic friendly.  Points for anything that doesn’t need onsite prep.  Kabobs, salads, cheeseboards, the possibilities are endless.  I found several things I want to try in 22 Summer Recipes for the Perfect Picnic from The Spruce Eats.  I see mini cheesecakes in a jar in my future.
  3. Nature = bugs.  Plan for this and have a strategy.  Containers with lids or mesh screen bowl covers could save the day.
  4. Take along a good cooler.  No bad mayo or lukewarm drinks on your picnic, unless of course it’s red wine.
  5. Bring something to do.  The scintillating conversation may lag at some point.  That is the time you could pull out a simple trivia game, coloring books for adults and kids or a frisbee.

I appreciate the allure of the romantic picnic blanket.  A bottle of wine, perhaps a book of poetry and of course no bugs would dare invade my fantasy.  But my 65-year-old body prefers to sit in a chair, or at least a bench at a table.  I also understand the attraction of a fancy picnic basket, but it is not a necessity.  I owned a simple antique basket with a handle that I packed our picnics in for years.  Sadly, the handle gave out last year and I haven’t replaced it yet.  Last road trip, I simply put the items I wanted in a reusable wine bag that was a giveaway at our local grocery.  I cut out the inside bottle separators and packed my plates, glasses, napkins and tablecloth.  It worked just fine, but I am keeping my eye out for another basket.

This may be the summer of picnics, but I believe it will also be the summer of road trips.  Mr. Smith and I are road warriors from way back, and whenever possible we pack a picnic to have along the way.  All road trips need a break so you can stretch your legs and refresh.  For me, there is nothing refreshing about being stuck with whatever fast food you might find along the way.  Apps like Roadtrippers can assist you in planning your road trip and finding cool “off the beaten path” places along your route.

The English word picnic derives from the French pique nique.  The meaning was similar to today’s meaning – a social gathering where everyone brings a share of the food.  And we know the French know how to gather and eat.  And they also know how to dress.  I’ll be on the lookout for some fabulous pink picnic shoes of my own!  Ooh la la…

C’est la vie.

That’s why it’s your path…

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re going along, minding your own business, tending to your life when out of nowhere, bang, there appears the proverbial fork in the road.

I was putting away groceries one day last week and thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my afternoon when Mr. Smith made a surprise midafternoon appearance.  My reliable women’s intuition knew something must be up!  For the past 13 years he had been working diligently for an extremely wealthy, mercurial, old-world Greek who recently died of Covid at the age 87.  NK was a looming presence and a temperamental mentor.  His death was the end of an era and we knew there would be changes at work, we just didn’t know when.  That morning, Mr. Smith had been told with the business in flux, he was too expensive to keep on the payroll without specific assignments from NK, so there’s the door, don’t let it hit you in the butt on your way out.  Well thanks…

It was startling but not unexpected, but still suddenly real.  So, the next adventure, what should it be?  We ordered a pizza, uncorked a bottle of wine and started brainstorming about our future.  What would most enhance our quality of daily life as our “golden” years approached?  

Over the past couple of years, we had flirted with the idea of house sharing with my sister.   We saw it as our own little artists’ colony in a small artsy village.  Mr. Smith with his easel set up out in the yard, painting his next masterpiece.  My sister and I wearing flowing caftans, sitting and discussing (arguing) whether or not a particular sentence needed a comma.

We all saw it as mutually beneficial.  She would have a second (and third) set of hands to help around the house and yard allowing her to live independently longer and Mr. Smith and I would have a home base and be able to travel or visit grandchildren to our hearts’ content.

But even more important than the practical aspect was the family aspect.  The two most influential and important women in my life are my beloved Aunt Ruby and my sister Jeanne.  I would give anything to have more time with Aunt Ruby, but that isn’t possible.  But I can have time with Jeanne. So, Mr. Smith and I have decided to seize the moment and move to Michigan.  He is a native son and I feel like a cherished adopted daughter.  We met and fell in love in southeast Michigan.  We married and had two of our sons there.  In many ways, it already feels like home, full of sweet memories and comforting familiarity.

In this age where individualism seems to be valued over anything else, we realize the concept of home sharing may be unpalatable for many but having considered the pros and cons in our particular case, the pros certainly win out by far.  We are not naïve about the challenges that will most likely arise, but feel confident in our ability to meet and conquer what comes our way.

Mr. Smith and I are thrilled at the prospect of living closer to our middle son for the first time in 13 years.  And our granddaughters!  When I was growing up, the highlight of my summer was spending a week with Aunt Ruby.  I can’t wait to have my girls come and stay with me.  Our new home is 30 minutes from our oldest son’s wife’s family farm, so they are looking forward to being able to visit both sets of grandparents in one big trip. The wild card is our dual citizenship granddaughter, Eleanor, but know that FaceTime and grandparent love will keep us connected whether she is living in Pennsylvania, Texas or Taiwan.

How do you react when you are faced with a sudden major life decision?  While we have often grappled with choices in the past, this one seemed to serendipitously fall into place.  It is not how I saw myself living at this point in life, but my life has taken many twists and turns along the way and that is part of why it has been interesting.

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path.  Your own path you make with every step you take.              That’s why it’s your path.”   Joseph Campbell

We are three old people set in our ways or three stars in the cosmic universe, take your choice.  We are choosing to make our own path, complete with flower borders and party lights.  My sister is a woman of consequence in her own right, and I believe we will all three be richer for this adventure.  I have no doubt our grand social experiment will provide much fodder for future blog posts, just as I have no doubt Aunt Ruby would be pleased.

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

This past Sunday’s New York Times included a fun article, The Evolution of the Book Review. I appreciated reading about how it developed and changed through the years. For 125 years, it has been a celebration of literary journalism.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, A Memoir by Anonymous

My sister sent me this book several months ago, but it kept going to the bottom of my pile while I plowed through library books that I wanted to get returned on time.  Luckily, I finally picked up Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.  The book is two stories.  One of a real-life author who is suffering through a life crisis.  Her husband has left, she loses her job and is in a custody battle over her son.  The second story introduces us to the fictious but fabulous Duchess Goldblatt, a Twitter persona, who dispenses worldly wisdom in 280 characters or less.

“Are children still taught to diagram sentences?  Are sentences allowed in schools, or is it all smiley faces and snuffling about for treats?”

                                                            or

“What’s that beautiful Japanese word that means both “regretting your lost youth and beauty” and “too hungover to make coffee”?

This is not a self-help book, but the story of how the author heals herself through the process of creating Duchess Goldblatt, her alter ego who is more forthright in her commentary than her, and gathers a community of loyal readers that includes her secret crush, Lyle Lovett.  It may sound a bit confusing, but I assure you it is a splendid book.  I found it magical and enchanting and I highly recommend it.  

My personal favorite Duchess wisdom:

Sometimes I tie your words in linen with a little lavender and mint and use them as a poultice for my weary old heart.”

AN ENTHUSIASTIC FIVE GRANDMAS:  

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd

When I asked my friend Cindy if she had read anything lately that she would recommend, she quickly responded with this title.  The Indigo Girl is historical fiction based on the life of Liza Lucas.  During the mid-1700’s, she was a key contributor to the development of indigo crops in the American south.  

In 1739, 16-year-old Eliza is left in charge of the family’s three plantations in South Carolina while her father goes off to pursue his military ambitions while he bleeds the estate dry in the process.  Meanwhile, her brothers are being schooled in England and it is assumed that they will eventually take over as women aren’t allowed own land.  

Knowing how much the French pay for indigo dye, Eliza realizes that growing indigo and producing dye is a way to save her family.  I found it fascinating how a teenage girl produced indigo dye, which became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina and laid the foundation for the incredible wealth of several Southern families, but not for the slaves who did the manual labor.  This is the struggle for me.  I greatly admire the 16-year-old who had the vision and fortitude to follow through on her dream, but I also know she wouldn’t have succeeded without a reliance on the labor of enslaved people, a historical example of white privilege.    

The book is well researched and uses excerpts from Eliza’s own letters, The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pickney.  In an Afterword and A Note from the Author, Natasha Boyd shares what is fictional in the book and what she found through her research.  

It introduced me to a part of history I wasn’t aware of and made me think a lot about the institution of slavery.  While Eliza is portrayed as a kind person with strong opinions against slavery, there can never be such a thing as a benevolent slaveowner.  For making me think, it receives four grandmas.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANOUNCEMENT!

The CNN Original Series “The People V. The Klan” from Blumhouse Television, premieres Sunday, April 11 at 9pm ET.  The four-part miniseries tells the story of Beulah Mae Donald, the Black mother in Alabama who took down the Klan, featured in my blog.  I’ll be watching…

C’est la vie.