Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thousand Words Thursday

Original Post on 1/29/09 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

One of my cousins uploaded this photo to our family's Facebook page recently. I really love it, because considering the date, it really does say a thousand words. My mom (foreground) is four in the photo; too young to realize she was born at one of the most difficult times in history, The Great Depression. Big sister, Patsy, rests her hand on Elsie's shoulder in a gesture of sisterly love. My Uncle Bill, the only brother, takes up the rear, looking dashing even at that young age. To me, my Aunt Mary's face is the one that says the most. Of course, I can only guess at what she's thinking, but her eyes show maturity beyond her years. She holds the youngest, Charlotte.

Even though they grew up in tough times (and perhaps because of it), my mom and her siblings know the importance of family. They also know how to have fun, as evidenced by this post. Singing, too, was a big part of their lives, growing up, and continues to be today. For an example of how my silly mom and her sisters know how to have fun, watch this video from our family reunion talent show last summer. (Sorry it starts out vertical, but it soon turns over :)

With our economy tanking as it is today, I guess we can all learn from The Great Depression generation...

Family is important.
You can make your own fun.
Keep a song in your heart.

And know that things will get better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Farm Girl Fun!

Original post on 3/21/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

I've been collecting memories from my extended family, in order to place them in a cookbook that I'm putting together. Mom grew up in a time long before X-Box and Guitar Hero (and even TV!) It was a time of innocence and of making your own fun. She told this gem yesterday....

Come and See Neola!

A carnival was coming to town, and we two country girls could hardly wait. When we got there, there was the usual ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, and flying swings, but the thing that most attracted my sister and me was the sideshow. The canvas-painted front showed a wild woman with chickens flying all around. She was pictured with a headless chicken in her hands, supposedly haven bitten its head off and drunk its blood. I can still hear hear the barker calling, "Come and see Neola! Last time we feed her tonight!" We were mesmerized.

We did NOT go in there, but the next day, Charlotte and I had our own sideshow at home on the farm. We set up an overturned bushel basket, propped up with a stick and string and we led a trail of corn kernels to the basket. It wasn't long before we had our own spring chicken, and I, of course (being the tomboy) was Neola. Char, the barker, called out, "Come and see Neola! Last time we feed her tonight!" And there I was, with that little chicken's head in my mouth!

We had a great time playing with that chicken. Don't worry; she was alive and well when we let her go! However, you'd have thought I did bite its head off by the way it ran, squawking with its wings flapping as fast as it could go to the chicken coop!

Something tells me these two were a lot of fun to hang out with!

Gram's Best Friend

Original Post on 10/27/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

Mom has always loved cats, but Dad, being a farm boy, had little interest in domesticated animals. In fact, he once told a story of how he poured gas on a cat and lit it on fire. (I don't know if he was kidding or not, but he sure laughed hard when he told the story.) Anyway, about twenty years ago, maybe because Michelle was the spoiled baby the favorite the last one left in the house and there was more room, Dad consented to getting her a cat as a gift for some event or another. The cat (Misty) came from the Humane Society. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that her name was not a coincidence; she peed all over the place. As if that wasn't enough, she hated everyone except my mom, who loved her and tried (unsuccessfully) to hide the peeing habit. Eventually, Dad gave her (Misty, not Mom) the boot, and that was the end of cats in our least for a while.

Dad passed away in April, 2005. We hadn't even had the funeral yet when Mom, sitting quietly at the kitchen table, announced firmly, "I think I would like a kitty-cat!" Eager to help ease her grief over Dad, we embraced the idea, and soon, Mom was at the Humane Society, scoping out a potential new friend. A tiger with reddish fur and amber eyes snuggled up to her right away and did not seem to want to leave her lap. Reluctantly, Mom had to leave him until the required time period was up. The funeral took place in the interim, and Mom soon collected her "Jimmy-Cat."

Jimmy-Cat is a cute name, but really funny when you realize that my dad's name was Jim. Mom was adamant that Jimmy-Cat would be his name. (I wonder what Dad thought of that!) Jimmy was a steady companion from the start; rarely leaving Mom's side. She knew right away that they were meant to be together. He always runs to meet her when she comes home, leads her to her chair at suppertime, and spends hours in her lap. Whenever Mom is out of Jimmy's sight for a while, he comes looking for her, as if to check on her. She'll tell us, "Jimmy-Cat looks after me, just like your daddy did!"

Mom lovingly recalls the first time Jimmy-Cat showed compassion for her. "I was having a rough day;" she said. "just missing your dad a lot. I finally broke down, sobbing while sitting at the diningroom table. Suddenly, Jimmy (who had been sitting nearby) was at my side, putting his little paws on my leg as if to say, I'm here for you."

Jimmy likes to watch Packers games with Mom, too. However, he gets mad when she startles him with a cheer and scares him off her lap; he will give her a dirty look and refuse to return when that happens. When they're bored, Mom plays a chase game with Jimmy-Cat. She'll say, "I'mmm gonnnnnnna get you!!" and he will run and hide, over and over, peeking out to see if she is giving chase. Mom has all the time in the world to play with Jimmy; there are plenty of kitty toys in her living room to choose from. And Jimmy doesn't hock up hairballs all over the place, like most cats; Mom brushes him so often that he barely needs to groom himself! She also keeps a special little water fountain filled in the livingroom for Jimmy, since he likes his water nice and fresh.

Of course, these days, Mom's not chasing Jimmy around the house. She's laying low (healing nicely, thank you) and Jimmy is not far. Eventually, there will be no need for one of us to be with her round-the-clock. When that time comes, I will feel better knowing that Jimmy-Cat is watching over her, just as Dad probably is...A meow massages the heart. - Stuart McMillan

Weekly Winners

Original Post on10/19/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

I call this, "Fall Colors, Part Two." To those of you living in states that have no fall colors, I hope you enjoy these. This is why we live in this "God-forsaken" place; He only forsakes us in January-March. I'll take snow over hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes any day!

Our driveway...These colors feed my soul...And speaking of colors, check out my mom's black and blue arm! She was a good enough sport to let me take her photo the other night when we went back to the hospital to get her checked out again (Who knew that this kind of swelling and bruising was "to be expected?")

Warning: This is bad! Back up right now if you are easily upset or grossed out!

Don't say I didn't warn you...
Poor Mom. She sure is a trooper, though; how many of you would let someone take your photo after three days without a shower?!

For more Weekly Winners, visit Sarcastic Mom, photographer extraordinaire!

Not Sure Who to Vote For? How About My Mom?

Original post on 8/12/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

I finally figured out how to upload a video from my camera to YouTube, so you are in for a treat! Here is one of my mom's "bits" as Talent Show M.C. last weekend at our family reunion. This video tells you everything you need to know about my mom in two minutes, and it is representative of what I have been subjected to had the pleasure of experiencing my entire life. When I called mom and told her she was on YouTube, she was very excited. I asked her if she knew what YouTube is, and she said, "No." Now that she does know, she is tickled pink!! Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Original Post on 6/27/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

Mom was born in 1929; a terrible year for most Americans, but a lucky one for us; she turns 79 today. I won't see her (I'll be on my way home), but I took care of her birthday gift before I left. I printed out each of the blog posts that I have written about her: Farm Girl Fun, Because Everyone Needs a Grandma, What Some Little Old Ladies Have on Their I-pods, Forever Young at Heart, and First Communion. Because each of those posts had wonderful comments directed towards Mom, I knew she would love them.

So, after I printed out each post (and its comments), I put them on some pretty paper in an album. I'm happy to say that Mom LOVED the gift. In fact, she loved it so much that she called me three times to thank me for it again and told me that the gift (and I) are very precious to her. I bought extra pages to add future posts to the the album. So, it is truly a gift that will "keep on giving." And, in honor of Mom's big day, I made this short video collage. If Mom was at all elusive to you before, her personality, charm, and spirit will be evident after viewing the video.

Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Some Little Old Ladies Have on Their I Pods

Original Post on 6/2/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

"Without music, life is a journey through a desert." Pat Conroy

Singing is like breathing for my Mom. I'm certain that a day does not go by that she does not sing at least one song (to herself or anyone who cares to listen). She has a beautiful alto voice that has given us years of entertainment (a complete post on its own) and comfort over the years. So, it did not surprise me when, shortly after Dad died (in 2005, after 57 years of marriage), Mom asked if I would "make a tape" for her. Intrigued (I had little idea what music she liked to listen to), I grabbed paper and pencil and copied her list of songs for the CD. (I was just kidding about the title of this post; Mom does not have an I-Pod :) Here are a few songs from Mom's list.

This One's For the Girls
Suds in the Bucket
Look at Us

Mom and I do not typically have intimate conversations, and her playlist gave me a glimpse into her emotions at the time. It's sprinkled with expected hits (the upbeat ones) but also deep, meaningful songs that reflect her patriotism and the fact that she missed my dad. My favorite? "Look at Us," which made me tear up to imagine Mom listening to it.

Music is one thing that Mom finds fills her heart and lifts her soul. When it comes to missing Dad these days, she says it's not so bad, because, "There's a little bit of your Dad in each one of you kids, so I feel like he is still here with me." Is that sweet, or what?

Forever Young at Heart

Original post on 5/10/08 at Half Past Kissin' Time

Came upon this photo, and it made me smile; not just because Caden is so sweet, but because of my mom's expression. She's the epitomy of "young at heart," bringing a joyful enthusisasm to every celebration, finding fun in mundane things, and always ready with a song.

For many years, on my birthday, Mom calls my house and leaves a message on the answering machine, singing "Happy Birthday" to me. (I think she just did it one time, out of the blue because I missed her call, but I loved it so much, she's done it every year since.) I absolutely love it; it's so sweet and makes my birthday truly special. My "big day" is never complete until I listen to my song.

I dread the birthdays after Mom is gone, so that's why I asked her to let me record her singing to me (cuz I'm just that morbid!) Mom cheerfully agreed!

Before you hear the result, I have to give you a little background. Believe it or not, when I was a little girl, I was a real chatterbox! By the age of 5, my dad had affectionately nicknamed me "Barbara Jean, The Talking Machine." So, here's my song: Happy Birthday to Me!

Now you know another reason why my mom is so special and deserves a happy Mother's Day!

If you lost your mom this year (or before), my heart especially goes out to you this Mother's Day, and you are in my prayers...

P.S. Here's an outake of the song, if you need to laugh. Our Cooper (dog) kept whining while Mom was singing, and it was cracking Mom up to see me giving him stern looks and getting so irritated with him.

Need a Good Laugh?

Original Post on 1/24/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

If this doesn't crack you up (or at least make you smile BIG), you are in need of an attitude adjustment, Poor Thing. Go ahead; check it out and come back. (I'll wait)

Welcome back! My sister, Judy, sent that to me yesterday, and I have chuckled to it at least 10 times. I called Mom last night and mentioned it (she does not have the Internet). This may not come as a shock to you, but Mom told me that she and Aunt Charlotte plan to perform this song at our family reunion this summer! (See? I told you she is fun!) I will definitely have to tape that performance and put it on YouTube (I can't wait!)

This video reminds me so much of my dad, who passed away two years ago. He had a great sense of humor, although he definitely shied away from stages. Now that I think of it, though, the guy in the video sure would be a good match-up for my mom; I haven't told you this (before the paragraph above), but my mom loves to sing, especially nutty songs like the one in the video. Maybe the "wife" in the video isn't really his wife? Maybe I should try to set him up with my mom...Maybe he'd like to take her to a movie....

[P.S. They did NOT sing this song at the talent show. She'll have to sing it at the next one!]

Elsie Mae, the Arp?!

Original Post on 1/23/08 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

I love my mom. How can you not love a lady whose name is Elsie Mae and who says things like, "Oh My Stars and Garters!?" She has a childlike enthusiasm for everything life has to offer. However, I'm afraid my mom is a movie ARP! I took her to see Atonement last week. It always happens this way; I ask her to the movies, and only on the way there do I remember how potentially uncomfortable it can be to be in a theater with Mom. As you can imagine (see sidebar), her sense of humor is sometimes a bit, well...different than some. At movies, she laughs out loud at the funny parts, but Mom also laughs out loud at parts that are only funny to her. She also has a habit of stating the obvious in a loud way. For example, in one of the beginning scenes of Atonement, you see two boys of the same age, with the same curly, red mops for hair, same outifts,etc. Mom says, loud and clear, "They're twins!" Early in the movie, there is a very, very inappropriate word typed onto a typewriter. Let me just warn you; it rhymes with "punt," and it can be very alarming to see that right off the bat with your 78-year-old mother sitting next to you. I threw my hand up over her eyes the second time I saw it coming, and she chuckled,"What kind of movie did you take your old mother to, Girl?!" (This lady is sweet, I tell you!) When one of the characters later says a swear word, Mom says out loud, "Watch your 'slanguage,' Young Man!" She is so funny, so cute, and so annoying all at the same time. Fortunately, we have never gotten any dirty looks (it may be too dark to see them?), and we've never been asked to leave, so maybe it's not as bad as I fear?

As annoying as these habits can be, though, I have to admit that hearing Mom belly-laugh and exclaim "Oh, my heavens!" every now and then is totally worth it. There will come a day when she won't be there to annoy me, and I'll wish she was there to remind me of what's funny, delightful, and charming about life. So, if you are ever at the movies and you hear a lady talking out loud and laughing at odd times, imagine that she is Elsie Mae, and instead of being mad, smile.

Oh, My Stars and Garters!

Original post on 12/19/07 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

Recently, feeling overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to do it, I stated that I was "running around like a chicken with my head cut off!" and I grinned, recognizing yet another of my mom's famous expressions. Since I wrote about her (in the sidebar there), family members have helped me recall a few more (believe it or not!) In the world of Language Arts, these are also known as idioms or figures of speech. My family knows them as "Momisms." Here are some Momisms for the holidays.

"Oh, My Stars and Garters!" (Seriously; she really says this.) It's the perfect exclamation for opening that extra special Christmas gift (or a good stall for when you don't know what to say, having opened a gift that leaves you otherwise speechless). Mom says it any time she is just plain "tickled."

"Beggars can't be choosers," Mom has often chided over the years. It simply means to be gracious when someone gives you something you asked for or needed but may not exactly be what you had in mind. (This is perfect for the child who spits out the anise candy he asked for at Grandma's). Don't be picky if you're getting something for free.

"Hold your horses, Girl!" Plain and simple, this means don't go so fast, or stop and think! So, when you are about to say, "Ewwwww" when opening the sweater from Aunt Sally, say to yourself, "Hold your horses, Girl!"

"Don't take any wooden nickels!" This is a piece of advice that just means Have a nice day! but could also mean, "Don't be a sucker." (Guess it would fit for when you're working the Red Kettle this season.)

"Follow me; I'm right behind you!" Mom says this when you're getting too far ahead of her walking somewhere. She says it cheerfully, just like you are not actually being inconsiderate by walking like a speed demon and leaving your poor mother in the dust. A very gentle, loving way of saying, "Please slow down, you thoughtless child!"

Put a nice dinner on the table, and Mom will facetiously say, "Wow! That looks good enough to eat!" (Try that one with Grandma this year, and see if she cuffs you in the head :)

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you!" Better be nice; show appreciation to those who are good to you. (Not sure what circumstance Mom used this one for, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with me being snotty to her during adolescence.) Kids, especially, should keep this one in mind during the holidays; Santa is always watching!

Snoman Fun

Original post on 12/3/07 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

I found this photo of 4-year-old me today, and I added it to my S’no Fun post, but after I did so, I changed my mind. It’s as if I wanted to protect her, this “Mini-me,” if you will, from any harmful memories about snow, because obviously, I must have liked it sometimes.

I love this photo, because it shows a sense of open-mindedness; a willingness to go beyond follicular (is that a word?) boundaries. On the back of the photo, Mom had written, “Barbie made this snowman all by herself!” It’s evident from my proud face that I was pretty darned pleased with myself over this push-broom doffed, gashed-mouthed pal of mine. My six older siblings must have been at school, my 18-month old sister taking a nap(?) and my youngest sister not yet born, I had my mom to myself! And here she was, taking a photo, when she probably would have preferred to be taking a nap herself.

There are twelve photos of me (by myself) in my collection, and I think that’s a darned good number for a family our size. How many second and third borns (let alone 7th borns) can make that claim? I just called Mom to thank her. She said, “Oh, you’re welcome, Sweetie.” She’ll never really know how much I appreciate the simple snapshots she took so long ago, photos that remind me of carefree days, early accomplishments, and yes; a love of snow.

Tis the Season

Original post on 11/28/07 on Half-Past Kissin' Time

As a little girl, I enthusiastically anticipated the annual Christmas cookie-making frenzy. Grandma Draeger started it all (apparently) offering up countless variations for the holidays, from almond crescents rolled in powdered sugar to walnut thumbprints, one could never get enough. My personal favorite was the tiny green Christmas trees squished out of tube and baked to a light, crispy texture (brown around the edges was perfect, in my eyes). My mom and her four sisters really got into the Christmas "Cookie Swap," which involved each one bringing an array of her cookies and exchanging them for the same number of a different kind from each of the others. This way, you only had to make 12 varieties to end up with 24 different kinds of cookies (I'm kidding! Do people really do that?!)

While I loved the cookies, for some reason I never wanted to do the work of making Christmas cookies. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a terrible mother. I actually have made cut-outs with the kids a few times. (I didn't want them traumatized, for crying out loud!) And I did try my hand at fudge. We even pulled taffy once. However, I just don't care enough about eating the cookies (and gaining holiday pounds), so I don't go to the trouble. Everyone else seems to like giving their cookies up (works for me!) Have you ever heard someone say, "Hey, I brought cookies. Where are yours?!" On the contrary, they say, "PLEASE--Eat these, before I turn into a cow!" The way I see it, I'm helping out by not contributing to anyone's cottage cheese butt.

Mom was always really into the swap, though, and after her sisters and mother either passed away or moved away, she had only her daughters on whom to bestow the tradition. The three of us here obliged, but over time, it began to seem less like fun and more like a chore, especially because mom treated the swap like a baby shower and made us play games like bingo and stuff before we could trade. (Again, another blog all in itself.)

A couple of years ago, I came up with a better idea. We started a "Soup Swap," instead. Each of us makes a huge batch of soup (chili, stew, homemade vegetable. or whatever) and divides it into several storage containers. Then, we meet for lunch (at restaurant, of course), bringing the soup. After lunch, we trade soups and recipes. Then, it's back home to the freezer and kick back until the soup mood strikes you (or you get the flu, God Forbid!).

Now, I look forward to the annual Soup Swap. And when I eat a bowl of Mom's homemade chicken noodle soup or Mary's tortilla chowder, instead of thinking about gaining weight, I think of the love and care that went into the soup, how it takes the chill out of my bones on a cold January night, and how I didn't have to work real hard to get the payoff. In the end, it's really not the cookies that we love (okay, maybe a little). It's the food, yes. But it's also the labor of love, and the tradition that creates unity and makes us a family. And I wouldn't swap that for anything.

Christmas Memories

original post on 11/24/07 at Half-Past Kissin' Time

For some reason, Christmas is on my mind already. It couldn’t be that there are ads everywhere, and Christmas cards arriving already, can it??

I have very fond childhood memories surrounding Christmas. Even though we had nine kids and little means, I always remember Christmas as a favorite time of year. Mom worked hard to make it special. We strung popcorn for the tree, sung tons of Christmas carols, and baked cookie after cookie in anticipation of the big day.

I clearly remember sneaking down the stairs on Christmas Eve and checking out our loot, which was always laid out neatly across the couch. We would always have a new pair of pajamas and a hat or scarf with mittens, or slippers lovingly crocheted by Mom. If other gifts were wrapped, I don’t recall, but we would also receive something fun, yet small; like a doll outfit, book, or board game.

I have vivid memories of our stockings, hung “by the chimney with care,” even though we had a chimney and no fireplace. The stocking always contained fruit (apple, orange), nuts in the shell, old-fashioned Christmas candy, and maybe a tiny trinket of some kind. Santa also always added candy canes to our Christmas tree before he left. It was magical.

The day that I learned that there was no Santa has never left my mind. I recall watching TV, becoming giddy, exclaiming, “I can’t wait for SANTA to come!” I remember Mom calling me to her bedroom and breaking the news. The only words I remember her saying are, “no Santa.” I was devastated; the fantasy I had enthusiastically embraced year after year was now over. With seven older siblings (four of them brothers!), it was a miracle that I had still believed, but I did. No Santa?! I was heartsick, and it had little to do with gifts and everything to do with no longer being able to believe in something as good and pure and loving as Santa. (If you know my childhood, you know that I needed that fantasy.)

Years later, even though I had grown up, I resented my mom for telling me the truth about Santa before I felt ready to hear it. I even complained to a few people that she had been insensitive and thoughtless to ruin it for me when I was clearly not ready to hear the truth. I puzzled as to why she would do that. I wondered if she thought I was too old to believe? (I don’t remember how old I was.) I even asked Mom about it, and she said she honestly had no memory of it.

Then one day, while reading a Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul book, I read the reason my mom had blown Santa’s cover. No, it wasn’t actually her story, but it could have been. For the mother in the story, financial survival was a daily struggle. She worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on her daughter’s back, but she often had to send her to bed with a growling stomach. When Christmas Eve arrived, she knew she had nothing to offer her daughter. She was a wonderful child; thoughtful, sweet, helpful. The mother felt horrible that her little girl would find nothing under the tree on Christmas day, and she feared that knowing that Santa brought toys only to good little boys and girls, she would think she was undeserving of Santa’s gifts. So, she told her daughter the truth about Santa. The young woman writing the story was sharing it because she was grateful.

It was then that I understood Mom’s likely motivation that day so long ago. Although she must have known it would disappoint me, she worried more about the impression I would be left with to have so little from Santa that year. If I knew, she might also be able to provide at least something to my two younger siblings. Rather than selfishness, she was acting out of desperation and of love. Such are the realities of living in poverty during this time of year. And while I still remember that day, I no longer hold resentment for it. I joyously recall our Christmases, and I am grateful for having a mother who taught me that Christmas is not all about Santa.

A Favorite Gift

originally post on 11/16/07 Half-Past Kissin' Time

As a child, I grew up with very little in the way of material things. However, my mom, who was farm girl born during the Great Depression and was very resourceful, took advantage of every opportunity to enrich our lives. She took us to the library at least weekly, checking out books, tapes, magazines, and even paintings/prints to hang on our livingroom walls. This, and Mom's modeling the love for reading is one of the most valuable gifts she has given me. She read like a fiend (still does), and I try to do the same. There's nothing like a good book to take you away (if only for a while) from life's chaos, commitments, boredom or troubles. I've passed this love for books on to both of my children, who are voracious readers. We consider books some of the best presents to give/get.

The Give-a-Kid-a-Book campaign is off and running. I've been thinking about what books I might buy to donate. If I can give a kid a break from a tough life by giving him/her a book to escape into, I'm all for it. Even better if that kid laughs hard or feels the sweet intimacy of curling in a cozy lap to hear a story and forever remembers that feeling being connected to books.

Some of my most favorite books as a child include Mandy (by Julie Andrews, oddly enough), From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Little House on the Prairie series, and anything by Judy Blume, of course. Any other recommendations?

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