It is only week two of my quarantine and I already have to think about what day of the week it is.
Since my gym is closed, I am starting each day with some exercise. I go down the elevator to the lobby and then climb the stairs back up to our tenth-floor apartment where I finish up with some pushups, planks and stretches. My first born suggested that I could try running up the ten flights. I reminded him that I am 64 years old and will be kissing 65 on the mouth very soon and will be quite pleased with myself if I can walk up ten flights without having a heart attack. Curiously, there is a chair on the landing of the eighth floor. I wonder if Mr. Smith put it there in case I need a break.
We have been getting a fair amount of TV time in and the always timely New Yorker had just the right cartoon to help us with our program selection.
It seems redundant to blog about life during COVID-19, but it is inevitable. The constant updates on the news, the recipes on Facebook, and the underlying worry make it impossible to forget. My main worry is Mr. Smith who still goes to the office every day. He is feeling fine, but he has a persistent cough due to allergies and some medication he takes. Even though he is following CDC guidelines, he has seen the leery looks of people around him when he coughs. He asked me to make him some masks. Oh Mr. Smith, be careful what you ask for. I can’t go fabric shopping, so I used what I had on hand. My last sewing project was an apron for my granddaughter, Eleanor, so I used the remnants. I’m sure he will look as fabulous in my inaugural mask as I do!
How are you surviving the quarantine? Are you spending all your time in your pajamas or have you started dressing up to take out the trash?
While fashionable may not be the first word that pops into someone’s mind to describe me, I have always harbored an interest in fashion. It may have sprung from having older sisters who indulgently dressed me up in their prom formals and poodle skirts. I loved donning their crinoline petticoats and felt like a little princess when they topped me off with a piece of their finery. For an adoring 6-year old, nothing was better than having them fuss over me in all their 1950s glamour. For many years they were my muses. I wanted to be just like them and even took a few modeling classes and participated in a fashion show.
It has been many years since this photo was taken and I have danced through many fashion stages. Seventies’ hippie, wannabe yuppie, a much too long dowdy mom stage, and then office chic. And now while I am trying to find my retirement style, we find ourselves in the middle of the COVID 19 pandemic. When a trip to the grocery store can put lives in danger, does fashion still matter? This hideous disease is not only hurting our health, but our economy. In Italy, so hard hit by COVID 19, the fashion industry is the second largest contributor to their national economy and I wonder about the long term effects. COVID 19 is slowing almost everything down, including the production of consumer goods. Could this put an end to fast fashion and usher in a return to small-batch beautiful goods, produced and sold by local skilled artisans?
World events have often effected fashion. World War II certainly did. In Julie Summers’s book, Fashion on the Ration: how World War 2 finally let women wear trousers, she illustrates how women’s style changed forever in the 1940s in Britain and beyond. Women were taking up positions and performing services that had previously only been awarded to men. I particularly liked the story about a grandmother’s response to her first air-raid:
“I had lunch today with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a year. She was telling me about the reaction of her grandmother, who is over 80, to her first air-raid. It was a pretty hot one, and the family, huddled together in their shelter, were distinctly anxious about the old lady. As soon as it was over, someone rushed for the brandy, but Granny waved it away and, turning to one of her daughters, said with an air of great determination, ‘Dorothy, I must tell you that I am not going through this again without trousers.'”
World War II changed how my own mother dressed. Before the war, my sister says mom usually wore the ubiquitous midwestern cotton housedress, always with an apron. During the war she worked at U. S. Slicing Machine Company which like many U.S. plants converted temporarily to help make military parts. The women wrapped their hair in colorful bandanas to prevent it getting caught in the machines.
This, along with her coveralls, was also her uniform at the Kingsbury Ordinance Plant where she helped make bombs. The photo below, courtesy of LaPorte County Historical Society, shows some of the female employees who helped the war effort at Kingsbury.
A few years back I came across an article that stuck with me, Stitching History From the Holocaust. A man in Milwaukee was cleaning out his mother’s basement and discovered an old box with an envelope inside. The envelope was sealed with red wax, stamped with a swastika and marked “Inspected by the German Reich.” What he ultimately discovered is the true story of a Prague couple in the 1930s and the unsuccessful efforts to save them from the Nazis. Paul Strnad was a bank clerk in Prague and his wife, Hedwig, was a dress designer. Inside the box was a letter written by Paul to his American cousin, Alvin Strnad, and some of Hedwig’s, known as Hedy, dress designs. The Strnads hoped Hedwig’s designs would be their ticket to safety in the United States. Their efforts and those of their cousin in Milwaukee were sadly unsuccessful and they were transported to the Warsaw Ghetto. Tragically, they either starved to death or were sent to a killing camp.
When Burton Strnad, the son of the now deceased Alvin, found the box, he donated the letter and Hedy’s designs to the Milwaukee Jewish Archives. When the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee opened in 2008, it displayed the letter and dress designs as its centerpiece. A visitor to the museum suggested making dresses from Hedy’s eight existing designs. And they did. The dresses were created with painstaking attention to historical details, taking no short cuts. If you have a few minutes to read the article, you won’t regret it.
When Mr. Smith’s parents married in 1947 his mother, Pat, made her own wedding gown. Working with a very small budget, she answered a for sale ad in the newspaper and purchased a surplus parachute. Constructed of white nylon, it was large enough to supply fabric for her entire dress and was hers for less than $20. The result was certainly as lovely as anything she could have purchased in a store. And Pat being Pat, she used the leftover material to make a christening gown and bonnet worn by all eight of her children. At one point, her wedding dress was on display in the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Fashion is as much a part of our history as war. It morphs and changes as we struggle, grow and meet challenges. It is inspiring, transformative and often just fun. And sometimes it might make a little girl feel beautiful.
I started my day this past Sunday the same way I start nearly every day when Mr. Smith is home. He makes me a latte just how I like it – three pumps of vanilla syrup and a delicate dusting of cinnamon – and I sit on my cushiony perch and sip it while checking email, etc.
Is it just me, or is your inbox exploding? We may be social distancing, but there is no electronic distancing going on. Dozens of retailers want to sell me just the right outfit to wear while “sheltering in place.” And fashion/lifestyle blogs are currently full of advice on what to wear for video conferences or Facetiming friends or family. Ultimately, I believe we must dress for ourselves as no one look is right for everyone. I was in Washington D.C. last week, helping with the virus chaos of two parents working from home while trying to deal with three energetic boys who are out of school. The nine-year old twins exemplified the practice of dressing for yourself. My grandsons and I went out each day for a long walk. On one particular outing, Eli wore a dapper sport coat he had discovered at Nordstrom Rack and purchased with his own money while his brother, Henry, was happy to go out for his morning constitution still dressed in his dinosaur pajamas. But big points for individuality and self-confidence.
Personally, I find dressing up a bit can help make a gloomy situation a little better. When I woke up on Sunday, I put on my favorite caftan along with diamond studs and a string of pearls to defiantly face another day in a world derailed by COVID-19. I may be wearing pearls instead of a sport coat, but I strutted around my little nest, just as confident as Eli, i.e., Mr. Cool.
Regrettably I’m not leaving on a jet plane any time in the near future, but I am taking a vacation. My brain is on overload and I need a virtual vacation from the virus. Following the example of our local grocery store that is limiting your meat and poultry purchase to two of each item, I am staunchly limiting my news time and news sources, being careful not to get sucked down a black hole. Instead, I’m spending some time sorting through a big box of photos, thinking about vacations past and future, and social distancing from the virus for a bit.
I strongly suggest putting down the remote, stepping away from the TV and getting out your old photos. While going through our overflowing photo box, I’m sorting out some random photos that I’m quite sure won’t be of interest to our children when we’re gone and sending them on to the folks in the photos. I’m hoping a sweet memory from the past will bring a smile.
And since Mr. Smith and I have faith that the current crisis will eventually pass, we are planning a fall vacation focusing on The Bay of Fundy, Gaspe Peninsula and Quebec City. Lots of hiking, photography and writing. Not sure I’ll be topless on the beach this time around, but I hope to have a glass of bubbly or two.
One morning last week I decided to catch up on my neglected and growing pile of paperwork. I called and scheduled a mammogram. I updated my address on an old 401k account. Then I decided to keep going and deal with a letter I had received from a health savings account company I had never heard of before. There were two account cards included and when I checked them online, they had a zero balance. I had no idea what it was all about so I called the company. Of course, my call wasn’t answered by a person but by a computer asking for all sorts of personal information which I wasn’t keen on entering. Not answering the prompts eventually led me to a real person. An affable young man named Grant was happy to assist me. Of course, Grant wanted the same personal information the computer prompts were requesting. Still not sure where these cards came from, I told Grant “This may all be legit, but I”m an old woman and if I give you my social security number and you are not legit, I become the foolish old woman who gave out her personal information and I look like an idiot.” After a brief polite pause, Grant started laughing. And then I started laughing. He was extremely understanding and we worked things out. It was legit and he was very patient with my reluctance to give out my personal information but that is the world we now live in.
And in the time since that phone call, our world has gotten even crazier. I haven’t seen toilet paper in the grocery store for over a week and last time I shopped, I was shocked at all the barren shelves. People are stock piling in anticipation of hunkering down in social isolation. There is none of the excited uncertainty of preparing for a big snow storm like in the Campbell’s Soup commercial where the mom grabbed extra soup and extra wine when the forecast changed from 10″ to 16″ of snow. Instead of a snowstorm, we are preparing for COVID-19 pandemic. There is a heavy sense of dread and a fear of uncertainty in the air.
So you may be in need of some distraction. If so, I highly recommend settling in with some popcorn and your favorite beverage and watching Knives Out. It’s highly entertaining, a great escape from all that’s going on, and Daniel Craig is delightful. Mr. Smith and I also spent an afternoon watching Ford vs. Ferrari. Maybe it’s because he was a Detroit boy and his father worked at Ford Motor for most of his career, but we also found it well worth the watch. And if you want a movie that illustrates kindness triumphing over cynicism, give A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a try.
And if movies aren’t your thing, there’s always reading. Books have always been my ultimate diversion. For the hour or two curled up with my book, I can forget to worry about the world.
Restaurants are closed, my gym is closed, and I’m sure it will be a while before I can go for a pedicure. But even while adjusting to the new normal, I’m aware of how fortunate I am. While irritated that I had to cancel a trip to see my granddaughters, I can take advantage of FaceTime and see their sweet faces and listen to the giggles while Slick Grandpa Nick goes upside down. My sister and I were planning a week together to do some sewing projects that isn’t going to happen right now, but we can still chat, email, text and stay in touch. While the world is crazy right now, it is still wonderful. For now Mr. Smith and I have plenty of food, an adequate wine supply and each other. We are lucky people.
Mr. Smith and I spent part of last Saturday in a sporting goods store, perusing the selection of kids’ fishing poles, tackle boxes, and catch and release nets. This year’s Camp Grandma location includes a catch and release pond so it necessitated searching out equipment. I will be surprised if any of our grandchildren spend hours sitting on a dock with a fishing pole in their hand, but I can see them all in my mind’s eye, grasping their net and sloshing into the water in pursuit of a terrified fish!
I first introduced you to Camp Grandma in February of 2019. Since our downsized lifestyle was not conducive to large family gatherings that my heart so desired, I needed to come up with another way to gather all my peeps together. So I decided I would find a rental house big enough for everyone and we would come together for a week every other summer. Mr. Smith named it Camp Grandma and a tradition was born.
YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES!
I am not a scrapbooker, but I am putting together a photo book chronicling all the years of Camp Grandma. Just as I did when I was a child, our grandkids love pouring over photos of themselves when they were younger. I want them to know they are a unique and important part of our tribe. It’s my way of honoring the memories we have made together.
THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE
One of our activities will be cake baking and decorating and I’m starting to assemble the necessary tools. Many are fans of Kids Baking Championship and are eager to create their own masterpieces. They are familiar with crumb coats and rosettes, and that’s the boys. I’m wondering if they are also familiar with clean-up!
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BOOK
My absolute favorite part of Camp Grandma 2018 was our book club. In the evening after dinner, the oldest five grandkids would get to come upstairs to the “grownup” area and I would read to them for about 20 minutes. We read The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a big childhood favorite of mine. We finished the book on Thursday evening and as a reward Friday morning we had an outing to a charming bakery in a nearby lake town for yummy donuts.
This year we’ll be reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg.
Inspired by Paper & Stitch, I’m preparing kits to make reading crowns for us all using recycled books. I’m going to make them large enough to wear for Book Group and hopefully when we go out for a treat after we complete the book.
Each year when I find myself impatient for our week together to arrive, I try to focus on Mr. Smith’s wise advice. Savor the anticipation, enjoy the preparation and plan to my heart’s content. Preparation for Camp Grandma 2020 is now in full swing!
Camp Grandma tells the story of our family. The need for a larger venue reflects grandchildren being born. The expanded menu reflects the addition of our beautiful daughter-in-law from Taiwan making her delicious dumplings for her new family, as well as the children’s growing interest in new cuisines. The different activities, games played and books read reflect the maturing of our grandchildren and echo their current interests.
Not every moment is Instagramable. I know there will be a squabble or two and probably a few tears along the way. But in the end my hope is that Camp Grandma gives our grandchildren a sense of belonging and ties to their tribe. And we hope they will keep coming to Camp Grandma wherever and whenever it happens, and they will be there with all their heart.
Daylight savings time came in on little cat feet. Fortunately, it seems to have brought with it warmer weather so I’m trying to let go of my yearly resentment of having an hour of time ripped out of my hands and appreciate the mild temperatures. Monday the temp hit 65 with bountiful sunshine. I opened up the windows and let fresh air blow through the love nest. The sun streaming through exposes the winter grime on the outside of our windows. I don’t have a ladder that allows me to reach our tenth floor, nor would I be able to climb said ladder even if I had one thanks to my issue with heights, but Mr. Smith and I did figure out that our windows can tilt in. Commence the spring cleaning!
The official first day of spring isn’t until March 19, but that doesn’t stop me from scouring the fresh flower selection at the market for peonies. No peonies yet, so I’ll make do with these lovely tulips.
I updated my cloche for early spring, taking it in a whimsical direction in case we have a visit from our youngest granddaughter, Eleanor. The cloche always catches her attention so when I saw this charming little chick, I was pretty sure she would approve.
Mr. Smith and I managed a hike this past Sunday in the Endless Mountains, a touch of spring cleaning for our minds and spirits. We had the trail to ourselves and I’m happy to report there were no bear sightings.
It is early March and I know the current mild temps are a tease. In the past, Wilkes Barre has had a major snowstorm as late as April. But I choose to savor the first harbingers of spring. Buds on the trees and bulbs pushing their way up through the ground warm my heart and put a spring in my step.
Do you celebrate the coming of warm days? Do you decorate with spring blossoms or dive into that old ritual of spring cleaning? Do you enjoy the change of seasons? When I head out later today for the gym, I will pause and close my eyes for a moment and listen for sounds of the first robins. Then I’ll open my eyes and look up at our apartment and admire my sparkling clean windows.