Thirty days has September.

midweek musings…

Along with frequently having to remind myself what day of the week it is since the pandemic hit, I often have to remind myself the month.  September has arrived with subtle signs of what is to come.  The days are getting increasingly shorter and the early morning temperatures for our walk along the Susquehanna River are a little cooler.

This past Sunday Mr. Smith and I decided to take advantage of the waning summer weekends and headed out to hike the Nescopeck Ponds Loop Trail near Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.  It was a fairly easy hike with part of it running along Lake Frances.

Back home post hike, I decided to gather up some of my favorite pampering items and retreat to my bathtub.  After a lovely soak (long enough for Mr. Smith to poke his head in and inquire if I needed anything), I emerged and lotioned up with some of my favorites.  Even though it was only 4:00 p.m., I donned a white vintage cotton nightdress that I’m very fond of.  I’ve never been a “sweats” girl and have finally discovered my comfort zone in flowing caftans, silk robes, classic pajamas or elegant nighties.  

While I adore my beautiful lounge wear, it’s not practical for me to hang out in it all day.  I enjoy getting dressed to greet the day.  I dress in my favorite clothes which these days leaves me all dressed up with nowhere to go! What’s a girl to do?  Apparently, even NPR now thinks we should put on a house dress!

I grew up on Donna Reed and June Clever.  I watched them vacuum in pearls and heels and make dinner wearing an adorable little, albeit useless, frilly apron.  That of course was TV, but even in our home my mom ran the house all while wearing a dress for years.  Where did the house dress come from you might ask?  Enter the Mother Hubbard dress.  A daughter of the Victorian dress reform movement in the early 1900s, the Mother Hubbard dress, a long, wide, loose-fitting gown was designed to cover as much skin as possible.  The gift of the dress was that it freed women from the constriction of corsets that fashion often imposed on women.

Then came Nell Donnelly Reed, a woman who wanted to look nicely dressed, even while working at home. She eschewed the unflattering 69 cent dresses being marketed to housewives in the early 1900s, telling the New York Times that she wanted to “make women look pretty when they are washing dishes.”  A fashion designer and businesswoman, she founded the Nelly Don brand and in 1919, established the Donnelly Garment Company.  In 1922, Kansas City voted Nell its most illustrious businesswoman for her success in turning them into a successful center for ready-to-wear production.

In 1942, another American fashion designer, Claire McCardell, introduced the “popover” wrap dress featuring copious pockets and a matching oven mitt.  Although an informal garment, the house dress, particularly during the 1950s, was intended to be stylish and feminine.

As NPR queries, “Can a simple dress become a coping mechanism for the pandemic age?”  I certainly understand the appeal of a dress, the one and done concept.  Pull on a dress, brush your hair and you are ready to meet the day.  

I’m quite sure I’ll never match the coolness of my granddaughter, Elizabeth, and these days I’m more likely to push a button to start the dishwasher than to spend a lot of time washing dishes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look good.  While I continue to search for my perfect “Stormy” housedress, I may have to order some fancy rubber gloves to up my glam game!

Check out the blog on Sunday when I try to figure out – am I domestic goddess or a control freak!

C’est la vie.

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Abraham Joshua Heschel

midweek musings…

There are minds superior to mine that can debate whether or not the internet is friend or foe.  While I prefer to read books than surf the web, I still think of it as my friend.  Thanks to the photo app, Instagram, I am able to welcome the day with a fun photo of a granddaughter from hundreds of miles away.

Good morning from Elizabeth!

Or perhaps a picture of my son’s first coffee of the day in his handsome handmade mug that he pulled out of the kiln the night before at pottery class.

With an active family and hungry blog, I use the internet daily.  Maintaining communication and accessing information has never been easier. I have solved many “how-to” problems thanks to YouTube.  The internet has been amazingly helpful to me in searching out background information for my blog posts.  But I guess I’m not as good as I thought!

In my ode to National Book Lover’s Day, I talked about wanting to find the book that my father had been reading during my mother’s pregnancy and that I was named after, that I had scoured on-line for to no avail.  The same day that post published, I received an email from my niece in California.  “Great blog post today auntie…found this…”. She had done her own internet search and found the cover of the book, the author’s name and the first page!  Following the clues that could be found in her amazing find, led me to Trove, Australia’s free online research portal.  I have emailed them and am eager to receive a reply.  

 Perhaps Beth finding this for her old auntie isn’t exactly a random act of kindness, but more a nod to her superior research skills, yet it certainly kind and made my day.  A true random act of kindness was another high in my week.  My daughter-in-law Becky delivers groceries for Shipt.  While already a thriving business before the pandemic, having groceries delivered in the age of coronavirus has been invaluable to many who don’t feel safe venturing out. It warmed my heart this week to hear that one customer had tipped Becky $70 when she delivered their order.  I hope she treated herself to a bottle of wine! Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s my age, but kindness wins every time.

Please check out my blog old Sunday when I tell you about the books I’ve been reading while I’m not on the internet!

C’est la vie.

How long must women wait???

A century ago this month, after a many decades long fight, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, finally securing a woman’s right to vote.  Well, white women anyway.  The fight would continue for others.

We are all familiar with Suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Carrie Chapman Catt, and “General” Rosalie Jones who were at the forefront of the fight for women’s voting rights through public demonstration and political advocacy, often facing arrest, jail time, force feeding during hunger strikes, physical violence and wide-spread harassment.  It seems even President Trump is familiar with Susan B. Anthony as he pardoned her on August 18, 2020.  She was arrested and charged in 1872 for voting illegally as a woman.  You can read Ms. Anthony’s response from the grave thanks to Lynn Sherr and Ellen Goodman, co-hosts of She Votes! Podcast.  Turns out, he can keep his pardon!  The Susan B. Anthony Museum also rejected the pardon, proposing instead, “if one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome.”

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

19th Amendment

When federal law makers finally passed the 19th Amendment in June of 1919, my mother was two months old.  On her first birthday, 10 months later, it still hadn’t become law.  The Amendment required ratification by three-fourths of U.S. states and by the summer of 1920, only 35 states had seen the light.  The magic number was 36.   That takes us to little ole Tennessee and a world-class mothering moment.

My sister recently introduced me to Harry T. Burn, a 24-year old Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and his mother, Febb Burn, a college educated widow who read three newspapers a day and believed her mind was the equal of any man’s.  The State Capitol in Nashville was a frenzied hot mess on August 18, 1920. With Tennessee forced into the limelight, supporters from both sides of the suffrage issue had camped out at a hotel across the street from the Capitol.  Their intense lobbying efforts became known as the original War of the Roses. Most representatives entered the Capitol that morning with roses in their lapel signifying the choice they planned to make, yellow to ratify, red to deny. The all-male Tennessee legislature twice voted that morning to table the ratification decision and both times the vote was tied 48 to 48.  They had no choice but to vote on the amendment.  The state Senate had already approved the amendment, but a tie in the House would mean defeat.  

Harry T. Burn had twice voted to table the amendment, all while wearing a red rose in his lapel.  This is where it really gets good.  In his suit pocket was a letter delivered that morning from his mother, Febb Burn.  Her letter included updates on the farm and the family, news she thought her son might like to know.  There was no brow beating or condemnation in her six-page missive, simply a few gentle thoughts from Mama in which she asked him to “be a good boy” and vote for the amendment.

            “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage, and don’t keep them in doubt.”

Yes, Harry ended up voting Aye that fateful day, later explaining, “I knew that a mother’s advice is always safe for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”  Suffragists had lobbied Burn, but he came from a conservative district so his vote in favor of ratification came as a surprise to everyone.  Harry was still wearing his red rose when he fled to the attic of the state capitol and stayed there until the frenzied crowd downstairs dispersed. 

For every leader in the Suffragette Movement, there were thousands of others whose names and stories I’ll never know who picketed the White House through a world war and a flu pandemic, organized marches and protests.  Many of these heroes also suffered great indignations and sacrificed to allow their descendants to now exercise their right to cast their ballots and participate in the democratic process.  What I do know is that this November we can and must honor our foremothers and VOTE! 

C’est la vie.

We’ve been together since way back when.

midweek musings…

Forty-two years ago today, with stars in my eyes and no inkling of what lie ahead, I married my husband, Mr. Smith.  Under a flowered arbor and wearing a crown of stephanotis and gypsophila and a flowing white dress, I said “I do.” 

Some statistics suggest the average American marriage lasts eight years. With my 42 years of experience, I feel entitled to pontificate away on what keeps the magic alive, or at least what keeps a marriage intact.  At the very least, at some point to be able to post Stormy’s Top Ten Tips for Staying Married.  What I have learned over time is that what is right for one couple, may not be right for another. Many, many people say it’s important to marry your best friend.  Interestingly, I have never thought of Mr. Smith as my best friend.  In fact, the concept of marrying your best friend always seemed a little disconcerting to me.

On our morning walk yesterday, I inquired of Mr. Smith if we were friends, if he thought of me as his best friend.  He said “Well, we like spending time together and if that is the benchmark of being friends, I’d say we are friends.”  When I pushed him as to whether he considers me his “best friend”, he acknowledged that we both need others in our lives to add dimension and depth, but I am his primary person.

This gave me much to ponder.  I didn’t marry Mr. Smith thinking of him as a best friend, I thought he was hot and interesting. Perhaps over the years we have grown into friends.  He certainly embodies many of the characteristics of a best friend.   He admires how much I love being a mother and grandmother. He accepts me with my flaws but encourages me to be my best.  He has loyally stood by me during my biggest challenges and most painful failures.  He listens to me when I need him to but backs off when I need him to.  And he still thinks I’m pretty!

We have certainly had our ups and downs during our 42 years.  Fortunately, we have been able to deal with the tough times as a team.  Sometimes one of is captain of that team, and sometimes the other steps up. There are times I have to filter the stars in my eyes with rose-colored glasses and I have no doubt Mr. Smith has his own coping mechanisms.  Yet I know for sure we have made a life together that combines romance and friendship.

Forty-two years later, he’s still the one.

C’est la vie

Chances are…

Chances are you have had a seemingly random encounter or two in your life that you long remember. Someone, sometimes even a stranger, makes a random comment that strikes a nerve and stays with you.  I had such an encounter back in 1970.

I was an awkward, restless sophomore in high school, trying hard to be “cool” and trying to find my place in small town, Midwestern teenage wasteland.  Somehow, one fall afternoon I ended up in an empty school hallway while classes were in session with one other person, one of the truly popular girls. We had a brief conversation that stayed with me over 50 years. In her mini skirt and groovy sweater with her amazing long dark hair looking like she had just stepped out of a shampoo commercial, Barb could have graced the front cover of Teen Magazine. She was a senior and the epitome of cool in my eyes.  That day Barb shared that she was on her way to deliver a note declining the Letterman Club’s nomination for homecoming queen.  She felt a little weird turning them down and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she didn’t believe in beauty contests.  I couldn’t believe my ears!  Had she lost her mind???  How could she not want to be paraded out in front of the student body on the arm of a letterman?  How could she not want the sash, the flowers, the crown??? At least that is how I remember it…

Downtown Rolling Prairie, Indiana

Fifty years later, I came across Barb’s name on a Facebook group from our old stomping grounds, Rolling Prairie, Indiana. I decided to send her a message and thank her for our encounter that day which planted a seed of feminism in me.  She quickly responded and we commenced on a fascinating exchange that I will long treasure.

 Barb doesn’t remember our interaction, but she does remember going to deliver that message to the Letterman Club.  She suspects she didn’t refer to beauty contests, but to popularity contests, because of something niggling at her.  During her junior year, her mother had initiated a conversation with her about popularity, with her mother going so far as to inquire, “Why don’t you let somebody else have a chance to be a cheerleader?”  Barb had been a varsity cheerleader since her freshman year.  That had put her on the “popular” track, and in a small town like ours, it became part of your definition.   In addition to the status that came with cheerleading, she loved the athleticism and choreography. Our country was on cusp of Title IX, but it would be years before young women in small town Indiana had many choices.  Her mother’s words stuck with her and she opted out of cheering her senior year.  However, that didn’t stop the Letterman Club from nominating her for homecoming queen, the nomination that she declined. By the way, the Letterman simply nominated another girl in Barb’s place and that young woman went on to be crowned homecoming queen.  Oh, the power of the Letterman Club!

Much like Barb’s discussion with her mother planted a seed that stayed with her, Barb’s words and deed that fateful day planted a seed in me.  It broadened my viewpoint and raised my conciseness a level or two. I will always be grateful.  Through our exchanges following my initial contact, Barb shared that she thought her rejection of popularity contests was more of a justice issue than a feminism issue, but we decided that justice is feminism and feminism is justice!  

During a particularly reflective moment, we may wonder if our life has touched or influenced anyone else’s.  Reminiscing about this long-ago encounter reminded me that even the briefest of exchanges may be meaningful to someone else.  Chances are we will never know if we have made an impression on someone.  So, it’s pretty darn cool when you can let them know and thank them – even if it is fifty years later.

C’est la vie.

When I think of all the books still left to read, I am certain of future happiness. Jules Renard

It seems there is a national day for everything.  Some seem a bit silly to me.  Do cold cuts and tater tots really merit a day honoring them each year?  There must be some people who think so. But today is National Book Lover’s Day and that is a holiday I absolutely fully embrace.  Bibliophiles can celebrate reading and literature to their heart’s content.  It is especially awesome that it falls on a Sunday this year, allowing the bookworm in me to indulge in some quality reading time.

While the benefits of reading are well documented, my six-year old self had no idea of any statistics supporting my favorite activity.  Our rural school district didn’t have a kindergarten in 1960, so I had to wait until first grade to start my school career.  I remember sitting in reading circle at the back of the classroom, eagerly awaiting my turn.  We would take turns reading aloud, able to advance in the circle if we knew a word the student in front of us didn’t know.  The person who was at the head of the circle at the end of reading time was rewarded with a tootsie roll!  Although today’s teachers might look askance at this teaching method, I enjoyed many a tootsie roll that year. Despite later being “denounced as dull”, I loved Dick, Jane and Sally.  I was surprised to learn in this 2015 article, 15 Fun Facts about Dick and Jane, that the concept for Dick and Jane books came from a school teacher in LaPorte, Indiana. I spent the first 18 years of my life living within a few miles of LaPorte!

I have from time to time wondered where my love of reading came from.  Was I just too lazy to spend my afternoon riding my bike or practicing piano instead of reading?  I’ve decided it wasn’t laziness, but the wonderful example set by the two people in my young world who loved me best. My father didn’t own a “Book Lover” mug or an independent bookstore tote bag, but my strongest childhood memory of him is seeing him stretched out on the couch in the evening, devouring paperback after paperback.  The other person was my Aunt Ruby. My dad and my beloved Aunt Ruby would exchange grocery bags full of “pocket books”, bought at yard sales or thrift shops.  In fact, my name came from a book Dad was reading when my mother was pregnant with me – A Woman Named Storm.  I wish he had held on to the book for me.  While he didn’t save that book, he did pass on to me a love of reading.

I read because it gives me pleasure.  I even find the touch and smell of books satisfying.   Reading expands my world, pushing me to go outside myself and experience other times, places and events.  As a grandma, I now have the joy of watching my grandchildren become readers.  They all end their day with some form of family reading time.  Today is day five of my ten day project reading via Facetime to my three grandsons in Maryland.  Their dad hands out the “snack of the day” I have provided and I spend the next half hour reading Mañanaland by Pam Munoz Ryan aloud to them.  So far so good and I’m eager to repeat the experience with my granddaughters.

Reading with the boys!

One of my personal heroines, Nora Ephron, said “Reading is everything.  Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, become a better person…Reading is bliss.”  I do feel accomplished when I finish a book, albeit a little sad, like I have lost a friend.  But luckily, there are many novels still to be read, so my future looks blissfully bookish!

C’est la vie.

There is little but the sublime to help us through the ordinary in life. Alain (Emile Auguste Chartier)

midweek musings…

Reading my sister’s post on Sunday, The Days of Wine and Covid, led me to thinking about my own “list habit”.  I do love a list.  A to-do list, a list of my favorite quotes, books I’ve read, books I want to read, movies to see, ideas for blog posts.  Many people now keep their lists digitally, but I am old school and prefer an actual notebook.  My family must be aware of my preference because for my birthday this year I received a lovely new journal from my youngest son.  It was handcrafted in Sri Lanka from a mixture of elephant waste (poo!) and post-consumer paper that was pulped to perfection by the elephants and I love it!  Thanks, Adam.

I’m not sure if it was Jeanne’s post or my own stream-of-consciousness thinking, but when I was having a conversation with my oldest granddaughter over the weekend and she started telling me her list of favorite animals, favorite books, etc., a lightbulb went off.  Right then I decided to send her a notebook so that she could record her lists.  It delights my grandma heart to imagine her developing her own notebook habit and tucking them away when they are full to revisit decades later.  The notebook is on its way, Olivia!

And all the talk about notebooks reminded me of a book I recently read, The Red Notebook by French writer Antoine Laurain.  Laurent Letellier, a lonely bookseller, comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street with nothing to indicate the owner.  Laurent tries to figure out who the owner might be from the remaining contents of the bag, including a red moleskin notebook containing the unknown owner’s own intriguing lists.  

It’s a clever, funny book.   Laurent’s trepidation of going through a woman’s purse – a transgression a man should never commit – reminded me of how my father felt about my mother’s purse!  It’s was a quick and satisfying pandemic read, part detective story and part romance.  If like me, you occasionally find yourself in need of a sliver of the sublime these days, give it a try.

C’est la vie.

It’s all fun and games until the bobbin runs out…

Perhaps it’s that people have more time at home these days or perhaps it’s the necessity to wear a mask, but it seems people are not only returning to the art of sewing but new seamstresses are inspired each day to visit a fabric store and try their hands at a new skill. People all around the country are sewing masks and donating them to hospitals, nursing homes and others in need. They are also tapping into their creative side and returning to the art of designing home accessories and wardrobe additions. Once considered a basic, practical skill, sewing began to fall out of fashion. For many baby boomers, sewing skills were dim memories when they began to have their own children. These days, if you have a sewing challenge, there’s a You Tube video to help you solve it!

I did a fair amount of sewing when my sons were young. Baby gowns, night shirts and Halloween costumes were my specialties. But the boys grew older, I was busy and my sewing fell by the wayside. Sewing quarantine masks for Mr. Smith and me whetted my appetite to return to my old habit. When I mentioned this to my sister, she looked through her supply of patterns. I don’t want to call her a hoarder, but she passed onto me a little girl nightgown pattern that someone had gifted her back in the swinging 60s! The price of the pattern was 35 cents!

It was refreshing to peruse the fabric store in search of something other than mask fabric. I didn’t find anything that inspired me for nightgowns for my granddaughters, but I did find a dress pattern and fabric that I think will look amazing on them.

Whether it’s the pandemic or left-over inspiration from Project Runway, I’m having a fine time cutting, sewing and imaging what my girls will look like in their new dresses. And these days, I’ll take all the fun I can get.

C’est la vie.

Live long and prosper…

Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of my birth!

English actor, director and producer, Sir Patrick Stewart, also has a July birthday. During Quarantine, he has been reading a Shakespearean sonnet a day aloud on Instagram. On the eve of his 80th birthday, Sir Patrick celebrated by reading Sonnet 80. On the eve of my 65th, you can celebrate by clicking here and listening to Stewart read Shakespeare’s 65th Sonnet. Thank you Sir Patrick and thank you Shakespeare! May my love shine bright…

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea But sad mortality o’er-sways their power, How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower? O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out Against the wrackful siege of batt’rling days, When rocks impregnable are not so stout, Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays? O fearful meditation! where, alack, Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid? O, none, unless this miracle have might, That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Sonnet 65, William Shakespeare

C’est la vie.

I love the flower girl…

midweek musings…

Since my primary outing these Covid 19 days is to the grocery store, I am more appreciative than ever of the floral selection they offer.  Bringing flowers into our home adds a spark of life and boosts my mood.  It’s hard to be melancholy when there are perky little vases of budding beauties perched around our home.  I realize there are folks who don’t share my love of flowers.  More than once I’ve been asked, why put money into something that you are just going to toss in a week?  To each his/her own, but for my money, they can’t be beat.

Your grocery store can usually be relied upon to stock some standards like roses and carnations, but it’s the seasonal beauties that generally get my attention.  My heart skips a beat when I spot the first daffodils or tulips in spring and I’ve been known to do a happy dance when I happen upon my first peonies of the year.  Today’s trip yielded some beautiful summer sunflowers and a large bouquet of alstroemeria.

As lovely as they are, sunflowers can be a difficult flower to arrange.  You certainly have to have the right vessel, something that can handle their weight.  They aren’t a particularly “forgiving” flower for arranging, but they can certainly brighten up a corner.  One trick I’ve used many times is to scrunch up the cellophane wrapper they came in and shove it down inside the vase, helping keep the stems from being too floppy.

I certainly got my money’s worth from my $10 package of alstroemeria.  I broke it down into four separate little vases, one in our den, one on the entryway table, one in my bathroom and one beside my bed.  A bedside vase of fresh flowers has become my favorite pandemic luxury.  This is something anyone can do.  I change the water and recut the stems every other day and have often gotten two weeks of beauty from alstroemeria.  

When arranging your flowers, you should cut each stem at a 45-degree angle.  This allows them to soak up more water than if you cut them straight across.  You also want to remove any leaves from the stem that will be below the waterline.  Do you want a one-sided arrangement or something that will be seen from all around?  I usually prefer a monochromatic color scheme, but there are many color combinations that are gorgeous! Choose your vessel, fill it with water and start creating.  If I happen to be lucky enough to have some interesting greenery to work with, I often start with that, giving myself a base for the arrangement.  Next I would move to my largest blooms at the base, moving onto smaller blooms and filing in any holes with greenery.

There are some basic design rules.  If you’re using a tall vase, the entire arrangement from top to bottom should be two and half times the height of the vase.  So, if your vase is 10” tall, the height of your arrangement should be 25”.  When using a shorter vase, the rule of thumb is one and a half times the vase height and two times its width.  And if you are arranging flowers for a dinner party table, you want something that allows guests at a dinner table to easily see each other over the arrangement.  But in the end, I think it’s about making something that pleases you.  I hope you use the rules more as guidelines.  Case in point, it is generally considered best to work with an uneven number of flowers.  Tell that to the person who ordered a dozen roses for their beloved and receives eleven.  And if you have any blooms left over, feel free to pin one in your hair. Everybody loves a flower girl!

C’est la vie.