Mr. Smith and I have been savoring our daily walks in the crisp, sometimes downright chilly, fall air. We remark on the beautiful foliage like the old folks we are.
With the frightening surge in COVID numbers, we’ve also been talking about how to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas sans family. We reminisce about holidays past, including Halloweens. I understand Halloween during a Pandemic will be different for most and some traditions may need to be modified, but in the interest of protecting ourselves and others, I’m pretty sure we can still have some fun. Visit a pumpkin patch, carve a jack-o-lantern, or watch a spooky movie,
Our neighbor down the hall is observing Halloween and we don’t even have to wait for Halloween for a treat. Her door sports a festive holiday wreath and she has a cauldron of candy set out for passersby. I consider it a personal triumph each time I pass without sticking my hand in for a tasty treat.
Our granddaughters are decorating pumpkins. Spread out on the kitchen floor under the supervision of their mom and dad, they got creative.
And our “fifties girls” were able to go visit their great-grandfather for the first time since the pandemic hit.
Halloween may look different this year, but there are still fall pleasures. Shorter days mean more candles lit in our home in the early evening. Cooler temps mean more soups in the crock pot. And falling leaves mean fun for my grandchildren.
Happy fall from my beautiful granddaughter Elizabeth and me!
“Holy shit!” These are the words that flew out of my mouth when I came across my diamond earrings that had “gone missing” for over seven years. When we were packing up our house in Indiana back in 2008, I carefully put them in a special place for safekeeping during the move and thought “Now, am I going to remember they are here?” Obviously I didn’t and it annoyed me all those years. Perhaps that box never got unpacked in Pennsylvania, it could have been one that remained in storage. But years later in New York, I was sitting on the dining room floor, unpacking once again, and there they were. Yay!
Mine in not a family rich in heirlooms, these earrings were my sole inheritance from my mother. A gift from my father to her, a legacy I hoped to pass on to a granddaughter. My mother didn’t live long enough to meet any of my grandchildren. My plan had always been to pass these earrings on to one of my lovelies, telling them stories that focused on the strengths of their great-grandmother and not her weaknesses, creating a link between the generations of women in our family. These connections can be forged with stories and memories, but sometimes an actual memento is a concrete reminder of a life.
One memento I truly treasure I actually rescued from the trash. I was visiting my dear Aunt Ruby in Illinois. There in a corner of her kitchen, piled up with items to go out to the garbage, I spotted what looked like a quilt. When I asked her about it, she said it was not worth keeping and was in her way. Turns out, it was a handstitched quilt she made when she was a young woman. The individual blocks have the name of a state, each colorfully embroidered with its official flower. She had started it so long ago there are only 48 state blocks! After a little persuading (whining) on my part, that beautiful quilt became mine and I treasure it to this day. There have been low moments in life when I wrapped myself up in it and imagined wrapping myself up in her love. I have never doubted her unconditional love but having something that she created is sincerely one of my most cherished possessions. It has the power to transport me back to a time of being fussed over and feeling like one of her treasures.
What does discovering an old treasure make a 78-year old woman feel? My sister has also moved several times including trips across the ocean. She has purged and curated, packed and unpacked. One day while going through a box of old stuff of no particular value, she found a shoebox with a collection of small, ornate opera purses. Thinking it really was time to let go, she paused a moment to open and check each one. Suddenly she spied a small orange ticket. But it was what was on the ticket that made her realize the meaning of the word serendipity. It was a ticket to an unforgettable concert on March 15, 1969. The headliner, her favorite, the amazing Janis Joplin. The ticket is now framed in a small cherrywood frame with two musical sons eyeing it for when she kicks the bucket. But today it still makes her smile to remember that incredible night.
But it is a treasure I recently unearthed from my past that may be the most valuable to me of all. When cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she passed, I came across an old school assignment of mine that she had saved. Just the fact that she had saved it was miraculous as she wasn’t one to squirrel away keepsakes or relics of her children. At the time of her death, I tucked it away, just recently coming upon it again. I can’t remember what grade I was in at the time, but I remember the assignment. Write an autobiography! I do recall being gobsmacked, frantically trying to figure out what to say. Reading this assignment 50 years later, I am first struck by my false bravado. I don’t think I was ever in a fist fight and I know I never beat up any of my sisters. What I remember of that time was often feeling insecure and uncertain, grasping for confidence.
But finding this half-century old writing shifts my perspective of myself at that age. I admire my pluckiness to say, “my country needs me” and the audacity to state, “I turned into the sophisticated woman that I am now.” I am misty eyed to see the burgeoning determination that was there all along. It is a reminder that our lives are full of forgotten treasures that may require digging a little deeper into ourselves. And yes, Johnny Depp, that is a treasure worth more to me than silver or gold.
Elections matter and 2020 will be like no other in our recent history. People are voting in record numbers here in Pennsylvania. Combine the incredible turnout with running an election during a pandemic and I can only imagine the issues the Board of Elections must be dealing with. I decided I wanted to step up and help so last month I filled out an application online to be a poll worker this Election Day. On Monday, I attended my first poll worker training session. I left with a feeling of frustration and the beginning of a headache and I bet I wasn’t the only person. Our “training” consisted of a 90-minute presentation by an employee of the company that provided the electronic poll books to Pennsylvania. When leaving, I was given an Electronic Poll Book User Guide. No discussion of election rules and procedures. No COVID-19 guidelines. Really? This was my training?
A poll worker is only as good as their training, so I decided to be proactive and get my 65-year old self comfortable. I called my contact at the Board of Elections to book another session. Andrea, who originally contacted me to work on Election Day, got me scheduled and patiently answered all my questions including ones with regard to COVID protocol. Her professionalism and expertise did much to put my mind at ease. I want voters to feel confident and at ease about their experience when they leave our precinct after voting. A citizen’s vote is too important for them to leave wondering if their vote counted.
I will be ready to do my civic duty on November 3. I served on a grand jury when we lived in Indiana and again when we lived in New York. Both were fascinating experiences. My guess is participating as a worker in our election process will be just as awe inspiring. I am eager to put on a mask, roll up my sleeves and do my part. So, I will attend another training session and diligently study my User Guide to be as prepared as possible. And I will bring hand sanitizer.
On a brighter note, we have a winner!
I am thrilled to announce that Julia T is the winner of the first ever Camp Grandma Musings give-a-way. Julia, the replica of the Women’s Suffrage window sign poster is on its way to you! Thanks so much for reading.
After several months of quarantine, I imagine everyone has a bit of wanderlust. Despite the travel bans in place, my heart longs for a destination beyond the grocery store. As we have seen lately, it’s human nature when someone tells us we can’t do something that our natural instinct is to say, ‘oh yes I can!’
I thought long and hard before hitting the road. There is no doubt the virus is real and frightening and I fully understand the need to follow the rules. But my closets are clean, my cupboards are straightened and I’m up to date on my seasonal chores. I am definitely ready for some fun. So, I packed up my hand sanitizer and face masks along with some books to read and other travel essentials. Mr. Smith kindly helped me load up the car, kissed me goodbye and I was off. I grabbed a latte at Starbucks and before long found myself on I-80, headed to Michigan.
The drive across Pennsylvania was stunning. The brilliant colors of the trees were near peak in the mountains, the traffic was light, and the weather was sunny and clear. Pennsylvania is a wide state. From Wilkes Barre, it takes around four hours to hit the Ohio border. The foliage in Ohio wasn’t as far along as that in Pennsylvania, but that left me something to look forward to later on the drive back.
After an easy-peasy drive (as easy peasy as an 8-hour drive can be), I arrived at my sister’s home for 12 days of girl time. Saturday night was filled with catching up, eating and sipping wine. Sunday was a chilly, dreary day that made for a perfect “disappearing day” which was a pleasure in itself but also allowed us to settle into our time together.
We are smart enough to realize that a visit during COVID was going to be different. We would normally be out and about on an almost daily basis – shopping, visiting, going to movies and dining out. Not this visit. I did read two books, binged watched a couple of TV series and tried my hand at gougeres. They were delicious, but not quite perfect. I will compare a couple of recipes and give it another go soon.
We had beautiful fall weather allowing me to get out for some afternoon walks. I love looking at all the different houses, the fall leaves and creative Halloween decorations. This one was my personal favorite.
We worked at cleaning and organizing her basement. I don’t want to say Jeanne is a hoarder, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
I had recently purchased the 2020 Somerset Holiday Magazine Vol. 14 and we were inspired to try our hand at some Santa making. We spent a pleasant afternoon hunkered over her kitchen peninsula with our felt, pipe cleaners, glues, tapes and assorted other supplies. Our glue gun injuries were minor. Making the first one is always a learning experience and we both have thoughts on things we would do a little differently in the future but were pleased with our initial creations.
The biggest highlight of the visit was Jeanne’s birthday. Her oldest son and daughter-in-law are part of her pod so we invited them to birthday dinner. I baked her a birthday cake and made a big pan of lasagna. We set the table, lit some candles and celebrated my favorite sister’s 78 years on earth.
Suddenly our 12 days had passed. It was Friday morning and I was loading my suitcase into the car to head home to Mr. Smith. As eager as I was to see Mr. Smith, it was a bittersweet parting. With the shocking rise in COVID cases nationwide, we didn’t feel like making any holiday plans that we might have to cancel. Like families everywhere, we are feeling “on hold.”
Mother Nature provided me with a beautiful drive home, the miles and miles of magnificent fall foliage the perfect back drop for my wandering thoughts. I am so very happy that I was able to make my Autumn Escape happen. I spent less money than I usually do (you’re welcome Mr. Smith) and we watched less news than I feared we would (thank you Jeanne). I am extremely fortunate that I can simply pack up and head out. And I’m grateful that while I can’t currently fly to Paris or drive to Montreal, I can always escape to my sister’s home to recharge and indulge in girl talk.
Mr. Smith is a morning person. Whereas I prefer to ease into the day, he normally hits the ground running. During my solo fall break visit with my sister, he and I connect daily, usually in the morning. Yesterday morning while I was still lying in bed, thinking about what to do with my day, I sent him a good morning text. He immediately responded with a phone call. He was particularly chipper and often had me laughing during our exchange. He ended the conversation telling me he hoped that whenever I thought of him throughout the day that I would chuckle.
Chuckling is defined as “to laugh softly or amusedly, usually with satisfaction.” In these days of pandemic fatigue, doesn’t that sound lovely, a bit corny and old fashioned, but lovely? A good sense of humor can lift the spirit of us all during challenging times. Throughout our 42 years of marriage, there have been some challenging times, but luckily for us, we have (usually) been able to find the humor in the situation – good or bad.
One such occasion was 42 years ago. On an unusually warm early May evening, Mr. Smith and I were enjoying a picnic dinner at beautiful West Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We had finished our repast and were lingering, enjoying being outside in the fresh air. He did seem a little nervous as he leaned in slightly from across the table and started talking about our relationship. He sounded a bit disjointed and I was having a little trouble following until he came to the end of his speech and said, “I guess that’s my proposition.” I took a breath, smiled at him and asked, “Is this a proposition or a proposal???” We both laughed while he quickly assured me it was a proposal.
It seems to me that today’s proposals are often over the top, orchestrated and choreographed events. While I acknowledge that may work for some who desire more elaborate reminders of “the moment”, I will continue to be amused by (and cherish) my innocent, stars in our eyes “proposition” at a park picnic table and chuckle.
We are a nation of voters. We vote for cutest baby. We vote for best pizza. And we, hopefully, vote for the President of the United States. Originally only men who owned property could vote, i.e., white males over the age of 21. When George Washington was elected in 1789 only 6% of the population could vote. Luckily that is not longer true. Now Ma can vote. Previously I wrote about how women fought for the vote here. Tragically, we don’t all exercise our right to vote. The highest voter turnout in recent memory was in 2008 when 58% of the eligible people voted. I think we can do better.
As citizens of a democratic society we have duties and responsibilities. Some are demanded by law like paying taxes. Voting while not demanded by law in this country, is both a duty and a privilege. It is our contribution for living in a country that allows its citizens to elect their leaders. Our foremothers fought hard and sacrificed much for women to be able to be recognized as responsible citizens, capable of voting. Men no longer have to be white property owners to vote. Our current election system is not without flaws, but that doesn’t mean your vote doesn’t count. It is pathetic – and irresponsible – to complain about government while refusing to voice that opinion where it matters most, in the voting booth.
“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”
Susan B. Anthony
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, Camp Grandma Musings is having its very first giveaway! Luzerne County Historical Society produced an exact replica of a Women’s Suffrage window sign poster used across our country a century ago.
I can only imagine what a woman must have been feeling when she hung this poster in her the window or on her porch after registering to vote in the 1920 election. To participate in the contest drawing, just go to the upper right corner of my blog, click on the comment button and leave me a comment. On Monday, October 19th, I will have Mr. Smith draw a lucky winner at random. Wednesday, October 21, I will announce the winner. I will mail the winner an 11” x 17” poster printed on heavy parchment cardstock.
Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, exercising your voting privilege is a beautiful thing. You can vote right, left or center, just please vote. As the saying goes, vote like your life depends on it.
In the continuum of COVID days, when one day melts into another like Salvador Dali’s watch, do you find yourself after boring same same weeks giving days special names just to amuse yourself? Like the old familiar Hump Day and Dress Down Day, you can now have Purge Your Closet Day, Take out the Trash Day and Binge Watching Day. I have a new one to share with you, Disappearing Day.
I arrived at my sister’s house this past Saturday evening for a week-long birthday visit. Life has been a little crazy for both of us lately. Between feeling a bit overwhelmed and the forecast for Sunday’s weather of rain and gloom, we decided to indulge in an invention of Jeanne’s that she has used throughout the years when overwhelming stress necessitates it. To save her sanity, she invented Disappearing Day, a sort of mental health day. You shut out the rest of the world and pretend you are the only person on the planet. No rules, no schedule, no getting dressed, no outside communication, just blessed quiet. Curtains remain closed.
We started our day sitting in front of the fire with our coffee. It’s a wonderful luxury on a damp, dreary morning to be able to push a button and have a roaring fire.
Much of the day was spent binge watching Emily in Paris, a fun, refreshing romp, shot entirely in technicolor Paris. Francophiles that we are, the elegant architecture of the City of Light charmed us as we glimpsed places we had visited and the streets we had walked. As satisfying as it was, it did leave us longing to linger in a sidewalk café, getting our caffeine fix and people watching.
Leftovers for lunch, reading, napping and scrambled eggs for dinner, it was just what the doctor ordered.
My sister isn’t the only family member to invent her own day. Many moons ago when living in Indiana with our three young sons, we found ourselves next door to a family with three daughters. The mother, Deb, became a good friend and we spent many hours together watching our broods ride big wheels, run through sprinklers and consume mountains of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t remember precisely what the impetus was, but Deb and I decided to honor our middle children with Middle Child Day. Perhaps we recognized that the oldest gets everything first and the youngest holds the coveted baby position. Middle children can be occasionally overlooked and expected to just go along, which luckily these usually do. So, to celebrate the sometimes-overlooked position of being the middle child, they were treated to an entire day out with their moms. A trip to the zoo, a special lunch complete with their own special dessert– a hot fudge cookie monster sundae. No brothers or sisters to share their sundae or the spotlight with. It was a great day and my only regret is that we didn’t keep it up.
It tickles my fancy that my first born is continuing the tradition of inventing special days. Emmet is the father of my three fabulous grandsons – Henry, Eli and Sam. One Saturday the boys were driving their mom a little batty when Emmet took matters into his own hands and turned Saturday into Da-der-day. The boys got a trip to a convenience store where they each chose a snack and a drink. Then it was home to hang with dad. They played video games, Magic, and watched movies. It is a tradition that has stuck although in these pandemic days the boys make a list for their dad instead of going shopping with him. I will note that Emmet cannot do a middle child day as his first two offspring are twins and the third already seems to exhibit a very healthy sense of self.
As we continue to push through these challenging days, weeks and months have you and your family found creative ways of coping? These are the days of our lives so we may as well make them whatever we want!
Are you ready for Fall? Shorter days, crisp mornings and a wash of color on the trees are all evidence that fall has arrived. Along with the cooler temperatures, it has brought amazing autumnal colors. Skylines filled with russet, amber and crimson are everywhere. Even the air smells different, conjuring up memories of marching band competitions, soccer games and pumpkin carving.
Fall days make me yearn for coziness and comfort. This Autumn more than ever I want to bring the beauty of nature inside and let it work its magic on my soul. Nature provides something essential for our mental health in these stressful times, why not let Mother Nature do her thing.
I decided to start my fall decorating at our front door. There are five apartments on each floor of our building. Our apartment is down a long hallway, furthest from the elevator. When I exit the elevator and turn right down the hall I am cheered by my simple but bright Indian corn door swag at the end of the hall. I smile every time I spot it. If you are looking for something more dramatic, there are hundreds of elaborate examples on Pinterest, but this year I’m keeping it simple.
I don’t keep a wreath from year to year because we have so little storage room, so the cluster Indian corn is perfect for me. You can store it in an airtight container and save it for next year, but I will let the lucky local squirrels feast on mine.
In a nod to the bounty of the season, a beautiful bowl Mr. Smith and I purchased at a pottery sale in Glen Echo, Maryland is filled with faux fall leaves, gourds and pinecones I had on hand. A ceramic pitcher that we purchased at the same pottery sale holds fresh cut sunflowers. Add a candle for a welcoming glow on fall evenings and I have a fall vignette for the entryway that gives me just the hint of coziness I’m craving.
Our bar between the kitchen and the dining area is not used for dining, but a place I ofter perch in the evening, sipping wine while watching my darling chef prepare our dinner. I knew I wanted something seasonal yet simple with candles. For the money, I don’t think you can beat a bag of gourds and a bunch of seeded eucalyptus. I love the subtle sage color of the eucalyptus, particularly when I add the colorful gourds. When the sun goes down and I light the candles, it provides the perfect ambience for wine sipping and chef watching!
The same treatment works well on a dining table – I think of it as my five-minute centerpiece.
My beloved cloche is also decked out to celebrate the Autumn season.
Fall is always the beginning of candle season for me. We have beautiful glass hurricane candleholders in our windows with battery operated candles. It took me a long time to make friends with these flameless wonders. For most settings I still prefer real flame candles but having our window candles start to glow in the early evening is a daily pleasure I look forward to when the sun starts setting early and I don’t have to worry about dripping wax on the windowsill.
To bring Fall into our living room, I used a couple of pieces of pottery made by my first born. I filled a shallow bowl with faux pumpkins and berries and placed some fresh cut fall blooms in a vase nearby. A scented candle and I’m ready for a candlelit evening of relaxing with my favorite husband.
I am pleased with my simple fall decorating. It has elements of fall, but I’m not left with a collection of purchased items that I need to pack away. Candles add a little magic to any evening. A little music, a little wine and a tasty dinner prepared by Mr. Smith. What more could I ask for? Huh, I wonder if I can talk Mr. Smith into carving a pumpkin with me.
I will cut adrift – I will sit on pavements and drink coffee – I will dream; I will take my mind out of its iron cage and let it swim – this fine October.
Tomorrow is the first day of October, normally one of my favorite months. It is also month eight of the Pandemic. When I received the email from my oldest son this past March informing me my grandsons’ school was going to remote learning only, I naively thought we would all listen to the scientific experts, hunker down for a few weeks, and kick Covid’s butt. If only. Instead, their school is still on remote learning, many businesses have failed or are struggling to reopen safely, we are losing too many people to this vile virus and are left dismayed and wondering, “When is this going to end?”
History reflects the human ability to adapt and I am amazed at how I have adapted to a COVID-19 world. I no longer view a trip to the grocery store as an outing of grave danger. I simply wear a mask, wipe down my already sanitized grocery cart and use hand sanitizer. I checked on the COVID-19 guidelines being followed by my hair salon and now feel comfortable when getting a life-affirming haircut. My library has reopened with guidelines in place and while I don’t spend time perusing the shelves to my pleasure, I feel comfortable popping in to pick up a book they have on hold for me.
One undertaking I haven’t embarked on is a solo road trip. Last summer and fall I was traveling back and forth to Michigan every couple of weeks, mainly to visit my failing mother-in-law. I would load up my car, kiss Mr. Smith goodbye, and head out without a second thought. This year feels different. There is a touch of tentativeness at the thought of heading across Pennsylvania and Ohio on my own, armed only with a mask and hand sanitizer!
But October is also my sister’s birthday month and I want to celebrate with her. I have thought hard about this choice, not wanting to put her or me in any danger, and have decided to hit the road. We have both been more or less quarantined since March. If you put my pod together with her pod, you still wouldn’t have ten people. As life is different for everyone at this point, our visit will be different. There will be no cocktails at our favorite watering hole. No dining in restaurants and no big shopping trips. There will be a festive birthday dinner at home with her son and daughter-in-law (her pod). There will be movie and popcorn nights. There will be projects and reading. And talking. Lots and lots of talking.
Five years ago, we celebrated Jeanne’s birthday in Paris with our niece, walking the beautiful streets, stopping wherever caught our fancy or piqued our interest. Last year we were in New York City with Mr. Smith to celebrate, going to the theater, fabulous restaurants and museums. And I took it all for granted. This year I will not take my time with my sister for granted. Perhaps like Virginia Woolf we will use this time to let our minds out of their iron cages and let them swim. I know we will drink coffee.
In the fall of 1985, Mr. Smith and I sent our first born off to kindergarten.
Over the next two decades we sent some configuration of our sons off to school each fall. New backpacks, lunch money, homework, band practice and performances, soccer practice and games, along with lots of parental advice and words of encouragement. They are years filled with tremendous nostalgia for us and while life sometimes seemed crazy busy, in retrospect, it was simple.
School 2020 seems nothing short of a nightmare for all involved. Parents, students, teachers and staff are all in unchartered territory and everyone is looking for a way to make it work. Our middle son is a high school band director. He is challenged with teaching in person students and e-learning students simultaneously, all while keeping them safe and ensuring all CDC guidelines for school are followed. Our grandsons’ school is closed for at least the first semester, so they are attending a “pod” class three days a week. Our youngest son who is employed by Penn State University has become the master of the Zoom meeting while working from home since March.
Watching my children and grandchildren try to find their footing in all the confusion with no clear direction, I have tried to come up with a blog post on this subject without success. It’s not uncommon for posts to bounce around in my head for several days before I put pen to paper, but I just couldn’t get my arms around this one. But wonder of wonders, now I don’t have to because my intelligent, clever, imaginative and inventive niece did it for me! Who better to write on this subject than a parent who is currently going through the perplexing and baffling process??? Beth recently launched her blog, Skyplaceportal, and I was delighted when I received her recent post, ¿school? Her son, Samson, started fifth grade this fall, no easy feat for parent or child. You can read her fun, pithy, and spot-on account of their journey here.
Kudos to all the parents, students, teachers and staff currently struggling with the countless amalgams of ideas to use to educate and interest the next generation. I’m glad it’s not me.