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.

COVID, Creativity and Coping

midweek musings…

COVID

The horrible COVID-19 has been with us so long, I unexpectedly find myself adapting to the “new normal” as if it were normal.  I rarely forget my mask anymore and I automatically social distance when queueing up at the post office or grocery without giving it a thought. While initially I found it difficult to read or concentrate on anything for an extended period of time, I have adjusted to the changes in my situation and am doing my best to bloom where I’m planted – at home, alone 80% of the time.  I suppose I’ve adapted.

CREATIVITY

I’m striving to focus my creativity on sewing and needlework instead of baking to avoid the infamous Quarantine 15, the extra pounds it’s rumored show up uninvited after a few delectable treats.  My handstitched Christmas ornaments for my grandchildren are finished!  Now it’s the delicate decision of who receives which animal.  My sister has already requested a squirrel and although she’s not a grandchild she is a grand sister, so I will comply.

Several weeks ago, I got a bee in my bonnet about making sundresses for my granddaughters.  The three sisters were happy to model theirs for a photo op!

Sweet little Eleanor’s will be on its way to her in a grandma box as soon as a book I ordered for her arrives so I can send it all together.   I already purchased another pattern to make Eleanor a couple of fall smock dresses – I’m thinking pinwale corduroy for one and velveteen for the other.  I think they will be fabulous with some great patterned leggings.

My next project is embroidering some vintage pillowcases with their name for each of my granddaughters.  On our walk yesterday morning, Mr. Smith and I discussed how to get the letters correctly aligned when transferring to the pillowcase.  He was most helpful.

My oldest granddaughter is also indulging her creative side.  Her other grandma owns a quilting store with enticing fabrics and fun accessories. Olivia completed her first quilt square this week.

COPING 

There are still days that I find myself in a funk.  Mondays tend to be particularly uninspiring with Mr. Smith returning to work.  But apparently, I’m in good company.  Even Michelle Obama admits to suffering from low-grade depression during our challenging times.  So, in addition to limiting my exposure to the news, exercising, eating well and working on a creative project, I’m adding another dimension to my COVID-19 coping.  Back in December 2019, I spent more time than I should have picking out a date book for 2020.  I haven’t looked at that calendar in a couple of months.  Sadly, no dinner parties or trips need to be scheduled. Today I pulled it out and I’m going to use for my own hybrid of a gratitude journal.  Each day I’m going to write down one good thing that happened.  I don’t want to look back on this time and only remember the frustrations, I want to remember the good memories.  Visit my blog on Sunday when I’ll share a memory from high school.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie!

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.

The days of wine and covid…

Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy this guest post from my sister, Jeanne.

***********

Another day when if I have to know the day or time, I look at my phone. Forget dates, no idea if it’s the 7th, the 15th, or whether we are into the 20s by now. Some days I forget the month.

Each day slides quietly into the next. Where my old life was divided into appointments, meetings and occasional daylong shopping excursions, this quarantined life is dictated by my lists. It consists of itemized reminders of the tasks and projects I hope to accomplish each day. Some entries require immediate attention: no milk, go to the store, put the trash out, stick a chicken in the oven for dinner.  Some may take a few days – garden planting, sewing projects, painting the garage door. Some are simply aspirational like learn Italian or lose 10 pounds, read Moby Dick. The aspirational may never happen but on the rare chance we experience a pandemic, they could be worth tackling.

Well as it just so happens, quarantine 2020 is the answer to all those delayed projects and tasks you have pushed aside as too time-consuming or requiring too much focus. But I must finally admit that many of those lofty enterprises that I had placed on my long-term goal list really are just simply things I admire in other people but am too lazy to actually accomplish myself. I would love to be multilingual, to fit into much slimmer styles, as well as read all the great novels of the last 100 years. But none of that is likely to happen. Sadly COVID 19 has made me more pragmatic, henceforth, the list must change. Only goals that can be accomplished within one to three days will be included on my daily list. No more frustration with uncrossed out entries. To remedy the still daydreamer in me, I have also started a second list in a small purple notebook. It contains only aspirational entries, things the young self who resides inside my old tired body still secretly yearns to accomplish. It’s tucked away so not to embarrass my youthful survivors, yet close enough to remind my heart of chances.

I write lists because my memory and my memories grow less reliable. I want to remember, so my lists are as helpful as a kind assistant.  Some desk drawers are filled with old lists, most tasks accomplished, I hope. I leave them to remind me of things I have done. Silly, but when you are old you can do silly things.  My tabletops are often stacked with paperwork for chapters of books I am writing, memos, reports, letters and cards to finish as well as the ubiquitous lists that are so much a part of my life.  The luxury of living alone is no one complains, “not even the chair”.

Thank you Neil Diamond.

jgk

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. 

It’s just an expression…

A word salad of excuses.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I read this line, but I do remember the expression.  My mind immediately saw a vivid picture of all sorts of red, green and gold excuses tumbling around in a beautiful bowl, just waiting for you to reach in with the salad tongs and pull one out.

Expressions are often part of our daily conversations.  Make a long story short; In the heat of the moment; A dime a dozen; Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  We may automatically know what the speaker/writer means when they use these old chestnuts, but it can make English a difficult language to learn and become prolific using.  Foreign students are routinely confused by idioms and expressions commonly used in everyday conversation.  Our language is figurative, chockful of metaphors, hyperbole and personification.  You literally cannot take it literally. 

There are expressions I associate with specific people. When I hear ‘little black dress’, I think Coco Channel.  And I never hear ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ without thinking of Mr. Smith.  And apparently, there are those that associate certain sayings with moi.  A few years ago, I spent some time being grandmére aupair to my three frisky grandsons. It was an awesome experience, even if they did try my patience at times.  They must also try their mother’s patience at times.  One afternoon that proved to be particularly exasperating, she threw up her hands and said, “What would grandma Stormy say?”  They looked at each other and said, “Good night nurse!”  That is way better than some expressions they could have picked up from me!

Expressions, sayings, idioms – they are all brilliant parts of our English language.  I love our American English language, particularly how it is a melting pot of different cultures.  While French was one of the main influences, Latin, Spanish, Greek, and Hebrew along with others, have had an influence.  We can thank the French for the word Lingerie and the Italians for Piano.  Another strong influence comes to us by way of our southern brothers and sisters.  Some of the great sayings include:  Flashy as a rat with a gold tooth; All hat and no cattle; Heavier than a dead preacher; and She’s so tall she could hunt geese with a rake.

I have long kept a list of favorite words.  Diaphanous, talisman, insouciance, and dalliance are just a few that always fill my head with rich images.  I receive a daily email from Word Genius.  While some Words of the Day won’t be part of my working vocabulary any time soon, I have found some keepers that I am endeavoring to add to my inventory.  When I do discover a new word I want to incorporate into my glossary of favorites, I am grateful for the “pronunciation” button provided.  Had I had that button back in 1975, I perhaps could have avoided an embarrassing moment.  I was out for a get-to-know-Stormy lunch with some officemates, when I mispronounced a word, adding an “m” to voluptuous, making it volumptuous! One of my lunch buddies decided it wasn’t stressful enough to just be the new girl, that I needed to be publicly humiliated for my faux pas. At that moment, I knew two things.  I would never mispronounce that word again and I would remember that kindness is more important than wisdom.

There are over one million words in the English language and it continues to grow.  New ones are added each year.  Some have simple definitions; some have beautifully precise meanings.  These words are stitched together to make sentences, paragraphs, and expressions that result in great novels, remarkable poetry, our daily newspapers, steamy rom-com beach reads, and your children’s first books.  And that is a homerun.

C’est la vie.