Thankful for Ye Olde Pilgrim Games

We play outdoor games at Thanksgiving. I blame the Kennedys. As a child, I remember hearing about the Kennedys JFK footballplaying football at Hyannis Port every Thanksgiving. Everyone around me had eaten themselves into a carbohydrate-induced stupor and the Kennedys were outside playing ball. It sounded so fun. So wholesome. And they all had such good teeth.

We instituted a tradition of Thanksgiving games a decade ago when the youngest invited a bunch of college friends home the weekend before Thanksgiving. After feeding them, we announced Ye Olde Pilgrim Games would commence out back.

The original (and only) pilgrim game consisted of a person balancing the tip of a broom handle in the palm of one hand, staring up at the bristles and spinning in a circle 10 times. We told the kids that the game was a favorite of William Bradford. We think they believed us. Even the history majors.

After spinning wildly, the player throws the broom to the ground and tries to jump over it. This results in a lot of staggering, tripping, falling, sprawling and great Ye Olde Pilgrim Game photos. If only the Pilgrims had had cell phones.

In the ensuing 10 years, we have acquired numerous small grandchildren whom we do not want spinning to the point of nausea so our traditions are changing. Last year we implemented new Ye Olde Pilgrim Games, including a turkey chase and a deer hunt.

Yes, the deer did look a lot like the husband wearing felt reindeer antlers and a cardboard deer huntbox with four cardboard legs and a tail. Each grandchild got two tags, or purple Post-Its. (It is a little known fact that the Pilgrims lived in a two-tag county.)

They tore out of the house and flushed out the deer with shrieking and screaming. Back and forth, in and out of the pines, around the maple, the deer was tagged once, twice, maybe three times. Then the deer cut a sharp turn, stumbled and dropped to the ground.

The deer jumped back up, but his cardboard hindquarters had been crushed, his chest was creased, his antlers were catawampus and the tail was history. The deer hunt was suspended due to a sensitive toddler screaming, “Don’t hurt Grandpa!”

The turkey chase went slightly better in that there was no crying.  The goal was to pluck brightly colored feathers from the turkey. This was a tall challenge since the hunt party hovered around 40 inches high and the turkey was 6-foot-2 (tall for even a free-range pilgrim turkey). There seemed to be a clear winner until the kids started swapping feathers for different colors and eventually nobody knew which feathers belonged to who or who had how many.

In any case, new traditions were born and will continue again this year providing a deer and turkey step forward. There is one tradition that never changes however, and that is the one of gathering around the table, sharing a bounty of food and giving thanks to God for his generous provision. A heart of thanksgiving was as essential to life in 1600s as it is today. The world around us changes constantly, but a few of the permanent things never do.

Wrap rage leads to life on the cutting edge

Nothing destroys self-confidence like losing a battle with a package marked “Easy Open.”

Last week a shrink-wrapped smoked sausage got the better of me. A big red arrow marked the Easy Open corner where you peel the front from the back and the sausage gleefully falls into the skillet.easy open

I tried peeling the Easy Open corner with my fingernail. I tried separating it by flicking it back and forth. I thought about trying my teeth, but why risk hundreds of dollars’ worth of dental work on a few bucks of meat?

I decided to cut right through the package with kitchen shears, but realized my old pair had snapped in two and the new ones I had purchased were still unopened in one of those impossible to open blister packs. It’s quite a conundrum when you need shears to get at your shears to get at your sausage.

Blister packs are the culprits often causing wrap rage. Maybe you haven’t heard of wrap rage, but it’s real. I know this kitchen aid shearqsbecause it is on the Internet. Wrap rage is defined as “heightened levels of anger and frustration resulting from the inability to open hard-to-open packaging particularly some heat-sealed plastic blister packs and clamshells.”

Ninety-one percent of Canadians have experienced wrap rage. Two-thirds of Brits suffer wrap rage. There are no statistics on the number of Americans suffering wrap rage because we are suffering from pollster rage, which precludes us from answering questions about wrap rage. So much rage, so little time.

Wrap rage is usually caused by blister packaging, a thick, hard plastic that conforms to the shape of the product and is virtually impenetrable, short of a box cutter, hack saw or the fangs on a German shepherd.dog teeth If you do manage to pierce the packaging, razor sharp edges will then lacerate your hands and knuckles. In fact, blister packaging is a terrible misnomer. It should be called cut and bleed packaging.

Of all the things housed in blister packs (hair styling implements, batteries, tools, lightbulbs) the saddest ones of all are the dolls. They cower in rigid, plastic bio domes with zip ties fastened around their limbs. It’s sick, like they’re in bondage. There’s something wrong about a child watching an adult wrestle a thick plastic tie from around the neck of Baby Drink and Wet.

Of course, the reason we encase and tether everything from toy trucks to cosmetics and computer accessories is to prevent theft. Today there is absolutely nothing that someone won’t steal — from steak and shrimp at the grocery to the copper tubing on an air conditioning unit.

Our youngest worked at a Bed Bath and Beyond in college and said the most frequently stolen item was the votive-size Yankee candle. I wish I didn’t know that because now whenever I’m in someone’s home and they are burning a Yankee candle, I wonder if they stole it.

It might be a good deterrent to theft to package votive candles in blister packs and then require offenders to open
thousands of them using nothing but broken kitchen shears. And maybe their teeth.

From death to the joy of life and a burgundy recliner

We have had a strange run with a funeral nearly every week since late September, a sad and mournful toll of accidents, age and disease.

Having been witness to the finality of life so much in recent days, it causes me to ponder my own mortality and how I might live differently.

After considerable thought, I decided not much.

I live intentionally for the most part, and am prepared to meet my Creator. That said, I did decide I would probably clean out some closets and dresser drawers and wish our finances were in better order. Note, I didn’t say I would actually put our finances in better order, simply that I would wish they were in better order.

The heartache of death is often tempered by the joy of new life, which is why Providence ordained that I would be hosting a baby shower this weekend. I dropped off decorations to be assembled to a friend and neighbor helping with the shower.

Her house was trashed, just as she said it would be. Paper scraps with pencil squiggles were scattered about in the front hall. The family room was littered with toys and stuffed animals, games and scads of plastic hangers. The trail of clutter led directly to a burgundy recliner. There sat my friend’s husband and their granddaughter, snuggled side by side watching Bob the Builder or some other such show with short people wearing yellow hats operating construction equipment.

My friend’s husband has a Ph.D, in history. He’s not a cartoon sort of guy. But he was today. And he was happy to be so.

The charmer beside him was feeling secure and content, sheltered from all the world and all of life’s uncertainties by her grandpa’s presence and strong right arm.  What a golden start to life, to be loved and protected and made to feel safe. How different life might have been for some of those making headlines had they been showered with love and stability as small children. The little one shot me a look with her dark brown eyes that clearly said, “Do Not Disturb.”

I wouldn’t dare.

The book of Genesis details the creation of light and the heavens and the water and the land and all the things that swim in the seas and move upon the earth. Each of those wonders is anchored within the creation of time.

I was saying goodbye to a young family recently after an hour or so together. They are intentional about their use of time and were on their way to another commitment. As we parted, the father sighed and said, “It seems we are always so busy.”

We all are. And therein lies the rub — how to harness time and use it in ways that will reverberate through hearts and minds and eternity.

One of the greatest gifts we are given in this life is that of time. One of the greatest gifts we can give others is time.

So put your arm around a loved one and have a seat.

 

Kids can’t take these grandparents anywhere

One of the most treasured moments of parenting is taking your children out to eat and having a stranger comment on how well behaved they are.

We know because it happened to us. Twice. OK, maybe it was only once.

As a realist, I am always sympathetic to the embarrassed mother with the wailing infant in her arms or screaming toddler plastered to her legs. Having been there and done that, I often smile and offer support by whispering, “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better. Or worse. You never know.”

Naturally, as grandparents, we wish for our grandchildren to be well behaved in public places and not create the sort of spectacles that wind up in YouTube videos. When we took four of the grands to Steak ‘n Shake, we went over the expectations for behavior. They all listened attentively and the 1-year-old responded, “Baa, baa, ack!”

Our server showed us to a somewhat isolated table at the back, near the restrooms. Every time she passed by, she left another stack of napkins.

The kids were coloring, folding cardboard cutouts, patiently waiting for their food. When the server brought water (with lids) they all placed them near the center of the table to avoid spills. Milkshakes arrived and they carefully put those, too, near the center of the table.

I nearly expected a stranger to stop by and compliment the children on their behavior.

A few moments later, the child to my right pointed out she had dribbled milkshake on her shirt. Reaching for a couple of napkins, I elbowed her milkshake and knocked it flat. Milkshake instantly flooded our side of the table, rolled over the edge and began cascading in waves into my lap. I was catching milkshake by the handful, throwing it back into the glass and onto my plate. The children were stunned and wide-eyed, probably because they’d never seen Grandma throwing milkshake overhand. The husband hurled napkins across the table. We frantically smeared milkshake from east to west. My clothes were sticking to my body and my shoes were suctioned to puddles of milkshake on the floor.

Wordlessly, our server dropped off another round of napkins.

We hastened the eating along and the husband, being of the waste-not, want-not mindset, offered a glass of milk still half-full to the little one in the high chair. Never hesitant to express her disinterest, she batted the glass out of his hand, sending milk arcing like the beautiful St. Louis Gateway Arch, all of it showering the husband.

The server stopped by with more napkins. The kids were cowering under the table and the baby was inconsolable.

As we stood to leave, the husband noticed that our pants were so soaked that we both looked woefully incontinent. I considered that we might be stopped at the door and asked if we were responsible enough to manage small children.

We delivered the children back to their parents. Our own kids looked us up and down with our splattered shirts and wet pants, and chorused, “What happened to you two?”

“All you really need to know is that we tipped 50 percent of the bill,” I said. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if next time the kids want to go without us.”

 

These canasta players are real cards

I was in a group of women recently when one mentioned that some of them played canasta. I hadn’t heard of canasta since I was a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska and used to play it with my three great aunts in their basement to escape the heat on hot summer afternoons.

They invited me to join their group for a game sometime. I haven’t played in years, don’t remember the rules, and justifiably invite the mocking of loved ones whenever I attempt to shuffle a deck. Naturally, I said, “Sure!”

My new card-shark friends go by the names of Snake, Wild Bill, Doc and Deadwood. Not really. They actually go by Susan, Marleen, Bette and Louella. But don’t let the names fool you – they’re all aces.

We met up and they graciously went over the rules and played a few practice hands. Louella, who has a lovely southern drawl and charm to match, sweetly asked if any of it was coming back to me.

“The part about my aunts warning me to stay away from the sump pump in the basement is coming back to me,” I said, “but other than that, not a thing.”

Susan, who re-taught others the game and is my partner across the table, looked pale. And that was before we were 3700 points behind.

When our score dropped into the negative double digits, Louella took the heat off by saying the good thing about canasta is that it is more luck than skill, which means you can talk while you play.

If there’s anything women do better than trump one another at cards, it is trump one another with stories.

I started the round by asking Louella where she learned to play canasta.

She said Chattanooga, Tennessee. Then she added, “With the grandmother of my friend, Gatewood Anthony Folger.” Everybody looked at her. With a perfect deadpan expression, she continued, “Why yes, and Gatewood Anthony Folger met and married a Greek man named Stavros Papazoglou, which made her Gatewood Anthony Papazoglou.”

Louella played a good hand with that story, which reminded Bette, who learned to play canasta as a girl in Chicago with a neighbor and her grandma, that she had a college friend named Paula Penny Pecker. She later married a man with the last name of Chicken which then made her Penny Chicken.

Marleen, who had cards everywhere on the table making melds or mold (I wasn’t sure which), upped the ante by saying that her best friend Ruth knew a gal named Olive Pickle.

It was back to Bette, wasn’t about to fold. She met Marleen’s story about Olive Pickle and raised the stakes by mentioning that her last name is Fortino (pronounced four-teen-o). She said when she and her husband make dinner reservations “for Fortino,” they often arrive to find a table set for 14.

The story play passed to me. It was too rich for my blood, but I played the best I had: “My best friend from childhood went to a doctor named Dr. Savage and a dentist named Dr. Butcher.”

We were back to Louella. Without so much as cracking a smile, she said that she and her husband knew a man in Mississippi named Hap. It was short for Happy.

Long pause. Waiting, waiting.

His last name was Easter.

Louella wins.

Lost teddy nearly unbearable situation

There was a small birthday party at the house the other day. Amid the whirlwind of people leaving—with kids scrambling for shoes and jackets beneath remnants of tissue paper and toys scattered everywhere—a bear was left behind.

I didn’t know a bear was hibernating here until I was tossing plastic cookware into the little wooden cupboard and uncovered the creature sleeping under a green apron.

Not knowing whom the animal had come to the party with, I put out a BBB (Brown Bear Bulletin): “Found: small brown bear, sex and age unknown, matted coat, black beady eyes, small ears, upturned mouth and corduroy paws. Any takers?”

The owner identified her 3-year-old self and relayed a message through her mother asking if Teddy was OK.

I said the bear was fine and snapped a picture of Teddy laid out on the kitchen table.

In retrospect, I can see that the picture may have been somewhat unsettling, a bit stark perhaps if not downright cold. It may even had the hint of Teddy being prepped for surgery.

Then came a question, “What was Teddy doing?”

I could hardly say getting ready for a hernia repair, so I quickly staged a picture of Teddy to put her little mind at ease. One of the kids had stormed the house with helium balloons announcing, “You can’t hab a potty wifout bawoons!” I tethered the balloons to the bear and sent a picture saying Teddy was having fun on my desk, hoping that was the end of it for the time being.

I probably wasn’t as sympathetic to the trauma of leaving Teddy behind as I should have been. I never had a blankie or toy I held onto as a kid at bedtime, nor did any of our children. But our grandchildren do. Their cuddle artifacts of choice range from plush toys to dolls, blankets with fringed edges, worn burp cloths, locust shells in a small box and a red metal tractor. Sometimes there are so many toys, blankets and oddities in the bed there is barely room for the child.

I considered whether the child would have difficulty sleeping without Teddy, and if I should drive Teddy across town. “I don’t think so,” I said aloud looking directly at Teddy. Moments later, Teddy’s eyes began to move. If I leaned to
Ted and balloons the right, Teddy’s eyes moved right. If I leaned to the left, his eyes moved to the left. Teddy was the Mona Lisa of bears.

Teddy followed my moves as I passed in and out of the room throughout the evening, glaring sometimes, casting a “just you wait and see” look at others.

When I closed down for the night, I gave Teddy one last glance. His smile had turned to a smirk.

The next morning all the balloons that Teddy had been holding were on the ground. There weren’t any puncture marks, but I had my suspicions. I received an early call asking if Teddy was still having fun with the balloons. I explain the balloons had mysteriously deflated in the night. There was an audible gasp, followed by the silence of disappointment.

Teddy looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact.

Fine. You win, bear. I’ll take you home today.

Mass confusion only a text away

I’m not saying the lightning speed of communication is dangerous, but I was recently caught in a text thread moving so quickly that I nearly found myself committing to taking a hot dish to the home of a woman who lives 500 miles away and converting to Catholicism.

My sister-in-law sent a group text with a picture of the sun setting in a fury of orange and red in the pasture behind their house. Most in the text thread were identified to me only by phone number, but based on the area codes I had a hunch her seven siblings were among them. Someone immediately shot back:  “This is my idea of a beautiful sunset” with a picture of a pink flamingo in front of a pink sun on a beverage glass from a bar somewhere in Florida.flamingo

Being that all of us have been conditioned to immediately respond to every ding and chime, my cell began lighting up with unfamiliar phone numbers weighing in on who preferred a sunset on a bar glass to a sunset in the great outdoors. I cast my vote for a sunset outdoors. At last tally, the two were running neck and neck with a 90 percent margin for error due to the bar glass in Florida voting multiple times.

The thread abruptly changed to “Why don’t we get together at Mom’s?” Clearly, they meant my sister-in-law’s mom, but if I attempted to pull myself out of the thread with a “Don’t count on me,” it could trigger a flurry of texts demanding to know what I had against Mom. I sent a “Sounds good.”

“How about Sunday?”

I liked the way this was taking shape. And so quickly.

“How about ham?”

The only thing better than a get together on a Sunday is a get together that involves ham.

“What are the rest of you bringing?”

I started to text, “Cheesy potato casserole” when I realized it would mean an 8-hour, 500-mile drive. The casserole would be cold and congealed and I wouldn’t have time to drive home by Monday morning. I didn’t commit. I waited nervously for a text flashing, “Everybody needs to bring something!”

Instead there came a “See you all after mass.”

I couldn’t pull out now by texting that I wasn’t coming to mass, as others would ask what I had against mass. I have nothing against mass. I speak to a lot of Catholic groups and nobody gives a warmer welcome and makes you feel more at home, but I am not Catholic.

So there I was, the dangling thread who had voted against the pink flamingo on the bar glass, was miffed at Mom, refused to bring a hot dish on Sunday and had issues with the Pope. All in a matter of minutes.

I talked to one of my nephews a few days later and asked how the Sunday get together after mass was at his grandma’s. He was puzzled and asked how I knew about it.

I said a pink flamingo told me.

 

 

 

 

Uncovering the beauty of time

Sitting on the patio of an aging stucco home, shadows on the lawn begin moving as the wind threads through the trees. A leaf floats to the ground, alluding to the coming of fall. This wide patio, or porch as they often call it, was built as the centerpiece of the home. The rest of the house wraps around it on both sides, like huge stucco arms extending a hug.

The chairs have been here for some time. So have the potted geraniums in wrought iron stands. Only the people are recent arrivals. They are snacking on cheese, fruit and fresh veggies, enjoying conversations and sharing stories.fading geranium

Countless stories have been shared on this porch. Perhaps a few of them even true. Others were no doubt embellished to the delight of listeners. This is a family that puts a premium on reading, books, poetry, the classics and the Scriptures.

Screen doors on either side of the porch lead into the house. The doors are wider than today’s standard doors. They are made of drying wood, heavy screen and scrolled metal work. They were crafted long ago with an eye to durability, detail and beauty. The family that has grown here was crafted the same way, with an eye to durability, detail and beauty.

They enjoyed everyday pleasures—singing in the car, laughter at mealtime and football games on Sundays. Even the girls. The youngest, now on the verge of being an empty nester, is inside taunting some of the fellows about past games. Bursts of laughter fill the air.

When the father hit 55, his wife insisted he quit playing Sunday afternoon football with the kids. The mother never played. She was stricken with polio after the birth of their second child and before their next three. Never able to walk again, she often managed by dragging herself across the floor. She never complained. He never complained either, not about the challenges of polio, not about growing up poor, not about being a Marine on Guadalcanal, not even about being shot and bringing home a recurring strain of malaria. They were cut from a cloth that faces life head-on, all the while acknowledging the goodness of God in both joy and sorrow.

There is something familiar upon entering the house. It is the scent of time passing—stacks of old books, piles of magazines, sheet music on the piano, figurines on a shelf in a window.

The homeowner is gone today. He went to be with his Maker.

And yet, both he and his wife linger like ripples in a pond. Their lives are still evident, woven into the laughter and hearts of family and friends. They weren’t rock stars or celebrities and they won’t be remembered in history books. Yet they made a history of their own, creating simple beauty in the everyday and living faith amid the challenges of life.

That is the best remembrance of all.

 

 

 

 

It all adds up for numbers people

As I have noted before, we are all about numbers, dates and anniversaries at this house. Well, technically not “we,” more like “he.” My beloved numbers guy recently mentioned that this is the 75th anniversary of Irving Berlin writing “White Christmas” and proceeded to clip an article to that effect from a USA Today.

If you are married to a numbers person, or are a numbers person yourself, you know that any number, date or anniversary is never the end of something but merely the beginning, because all numbers, dates and anniversaries lead to more numbers, dates and anniversaries and subsequent rabbit trails that are beyond number.

Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in 1940. But because Bing Crosby recorded the song (in 18 minutes!) on May 29, 1942, the husband proceeded to tuck the clipping into the May 29th page of his 1992 journal, thereby commemorating the 50th anniversary of the recording. As he did so, he read one of the notations in his journal from May 29, 1992 that our daughters had dinner at a friend’s house. When they came home, the youngest, then 6, claimed the mother had tried to poison her by serving something called wilted lettuce.

I am assuming USA Today will update their historical archives to note the Wilted Lettuce event in addition to the writing and recording of “White Christmas.”It all adds up for numbers people

Because numbers people tend to aggregate with other numbers people (why yes, that was a numbers pun), my brother-in-law (a total numbers/dates/anniversaries guy) emailed to remind me that it was 10 years ago that Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

I emailed back to let him know Pluto’s reclassification was nothing compared to this also being the 75th anniversary of Berlin writing “White Christmas” and the 23rd anniversary of the Wilted Lettuce event.

And now you, the reader, are probably wondering why in the world I am writing about things that happened 75, 50, 23 and 10 years ago. Because this is a warning – a warning about what eventually happens to every people person who marries into a numbers-person family. We, too, become consumed by numbers, dates and anniversaries.

Stay tuned. Next week I plan on noting the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and will hopefully be able to link it to a specific date and fascinating family event, such as when one of us purchased our 500th pair of socks.

Oh, one more thing. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” remains the best-selling single worldwide, having sold an estimated 50 million copies. There. My numbers guy was concerned I’d left a number out.

 

 

Does a minivan make you look like a wimp?

Our son and his wife just bought their first FUV. No, that’s not a typo. According to our son, an FUV is a Family Utility Vehicle.  It looks like a mini-van, drives like a mini-van and parks like a mini-van. It even says Toyota Sienna on the back—but he’s calling it an FUV.

Clearly, he is in denial. He is experiencing the first step of the four steps of grief.

Many young men today consider driving a mini-van to be an assault on their masculinity. Sure, a lot of them are particular about the scent of their deodorant and aftershave and may own as many hair products as their mothers, but owning a mini-van is an assault on their masculinity.
When we ask to take a picture of our son in front of the FUV, he exhibits signs of the second step of grief, depression. He slouches, hangs his head, looks up with a sad puppy face and says, “Go ahead and take a picture. This is me being happy.”

Click.

Our son and his wife bought an FUV because they are expecting their fourth child. Until recently, they managed by cramming three car seats in the backseat of a Toyota Camry, a remarkable feat in itself. But now they will need room for four car seats. Today, children are legally required to remain in car seats until they reach the age of 21 or 210 pounds, whichever comes first.

We help our son advance to the third stage of grief— anger—by saying, “Hey, buddy, remember when you had a Ford F150 pickup? Remember that rickety stick shift and loud muffler?” And then we have a good laugh. Hey, what are parents for?

 Still, we should probably keep that idea about getting them little stick figure family decals for the back window to ourselves. Ditto for the Baby on Board sign.

 John minivanParenthood is a continual series of adjustments. You find yourself doing all kinds of things you never dreamed you’d do before you had kids—wiping  snot with your bare hands, sniffing diapers, letting someone gum the side of your face and calling it a kiss, catching vomit, fishing toys out of the toilet and scooping doo-doo out of the tub. And maybe, one day, even driving a mini-van. Oh, the things you do for love.

 They stopped at a farm sale on the way to her parents and scored a huge tractor tire that the kids can use as a sandbox . They hauled it on their roof rack.

The fourth stage – acceptance.