Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A Magical Month

Dear Readers,

One of the first things my newly pregnant daughter asked me was “Mom, can you come and help us with the new baby?”  “Certainly”, I happily replied.  What mother could resist an offer like this.

Our first grandson was due August 9; so it was planned that my husband and I would drive to Chicago a day after he was born and my return airline reservation was booked for August 31.  Lev Henry surprised us with an early arrival around 10 PM on July 30.  It took a day or two to pack our bags and then drive to Chicago.  We arrived on Saturday afternoon, August 3.

What a pleasure to hold our newborn baby grandson.  My daughter and son-in-law were thrilled but exhausted.  An unexpected caesarian section complicated matters.  They seemed relieved at our arrival.  My husband and I got busy buying groceries, preparing meals and catching up on laundry.  After four days, my husband left to attend to other family matters and I was alone with the new family.

The first week flew by as we all tried to get used to this 7 pound-13 ounce responsibility.  I acted as cheerleader for my daughter’s nursing efforts and the 5 AM relief for my son-in-law’s night watch.  We were a team and we all knew it.  Our main goal was to keep Lev fed, dry and in clean clothes.  There were systems to be implemented for this baby.  Even the chore of a baby bath meant the towels, soap, cotton balls and water basins had to be gathered up and placed in a convenient area; not to mention the diaper changing table where tiny pampers were stacked and wipes were nearby.  Even with all this organization, Lev managed to pee on all of us during diaper changes.

By week two we were all feeling more assured but extremely tired.  We tried out the new stroller to take Lev for a walk.  Although it was state-of-the-art equipment, we still had to learn how to assemble it and strap him in.

For four consecutive Tuesdays, I bought a fancy cupcake at the Swedish-American bakery on Clark Street so that we could sing “Happy Birthday” to Lev.  He was only four weeks old and had been sung to four times!  I’m sure there’s no longer a celebration as he marks another week of living.  But it was a welcome treat for all of us during this first month.

I awakened every morning at 5 AM.  Most days Lev had just concluded nursing, so I could rock him to sleep while Momma and Dad got some much needed sleep.  Lev and I experienced many sunrises together.

The four weeks hurried by and soon it was time to say goodbye.  Lev has a two foot tall band of chalkboard paint surrounding the perimeter of his room.  His mother invited me to sign the board.  After careful consideration I wrote “Thank you Lev for 28 days of August, 2013.  Love, Mimi”.

The last morning arrived and as usual I was up at 5 AM.  Bags were packed, the laundry was caught up and the fridge was neat and clean.  I knew I could leave in good conscience.  But that morning after I rocked Lev to sleep, I couldn’t let go of him and put him in his crib.  Not today with his sweet baby smell and so soft baby skin all warm and cozy.  I sat for three hours rocking and cradling him as I knew that a 67 year old woman would never have this opportunity again!

Recently I told a tennis friend about this special three hour rock-a-thon.  She said not to worry because now Lev would never forget me as he’ll always remember my heart beat.  I’m not certain this is true, but I like to think that it is.  One thing I know for sure, I’ll always remember the special time we spent together during the “magical month” of August, 2013!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The other day I noted a bumper sticker that read “Well-Behaved Women Never Make History!”  The implication was that one has to be loud and possibly somewhat rude to be remembered and acclaimed.

My Mom was neither loud nor rude but she has left her mark on the world in a quiet and unassuming manner.  In fact, one small act of kindness by her is still being remembered and saluted more than 50 years after it happened.

It occurred while I was a high school student during the early 60’s.  My fellow classmate, who is organizing our 50th reunion, wrote and told me how she still remembered my Mom and her thoughtfulness.  Let me quote from her recent e-mail:

“I was thinking about your Mom the other night when I was taking out some baked potatoes.  Remember there were 8 children in my family.  I loved and still do every minute of that.  But one time I went home with you for a while and your Mother invited me to dinner.  And she served baked potatoes.  Boy I loved them!  At home we did do a lot of potato dishes but never baked.  Just the recipes that made them stretch. I did a lot of the home cooking in high school.  One night I wanted to make them for the family and surprise Mom.  I really didn’t see what your Mom did to them to make them so good.  So I called her and asked her to talk me through the recipe.  I had a pencil and two sheets of paper ready for her words of wisdom.  She was so kind and calm while we talked.  She went step by step.  She was a dream.  Well can you believe it.  You just wash them and put them in the oven!!  Julia Child, eat your heart out.  I bet your Mom had a few good giggles out of that one.  But you know she didn’t patronize me and took my request seriously.  I loved her for that”.

I’m sure my Mom sensed my friend was in need of a little motherly attention and freely gave it to her.  It was never forgotten.  So you see, you don’t have to misbehave to be remembered.  Her one small act of love and kindness lives on long after she has left this earth!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

My granddaughter is having a birthday party for some school and playmates on a Saturday when Mimi and Papa will be away.  So a small family celebration was planned for the week before.

“Little Love” requested a birthday cake from the Square Rabbit Bakery in downtown Raleigh, NC.  Her friend had a cake from there at his party and she declared it was delicious.  A trip was scheduled to visit the bakery to select a cake.  The birthday girl was so excited about the selection, that she skipped the entire way to the bakery, which is about two blocks away from our condo.

This five year old had definite ideas about her cake.  A big green 5 was to be placed in the center along with “Happy Birthday” and her name written around the edge.  A multi-color train of red, blue and purple was requested.  The flavor of the four layer cake was yellow with lemon mousse filling and white buttercream frosting.  Sounded yummy to me.  We sampled a cupcake flavored like the cake and agreed it was very tasty.  The birthday cake was going to be wonderful!

Party hats, paper plates, napkins and matching cups were procured from the local dollar store along with five helium balloons:  a pink heart, red, green and purple stars and a round “Happy Birthday” balloon.  The balloons were anchored by tying the attached ribbons to plastic jars of playdoh.

At 3 PM everything was ready.  Balloons were arranged in a corner where they bobbed up and down; gaily wrapped presents in gift bags were lined up on the dining room buffet; and Betty Boomerang along with Silly Sally had their birthday hats on and were ready to party.  (Betty Boomerang and Silly Sally are two stuffed animals that are beloved by my granddaughters.  I’ll have to tell you about them on another day.)

Birthday girl was very excited especially when she saw her cake.  Five sparkling candles were thoughtfully placed by her in a row across the colorful train.  Lights were turned off; “Happy Birthday” was sung and candles were gleefully blown out.  Everyone enjoyed the cake and then the presents were opened.  (In the mind of this five year old, cake eating came before presents!)  Wrapping paper littered the floor and balloons floated toward the ceiling.  The party was over.  But I don’t really know who had the best time – my granddaughter or me!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The highlight of a summer Sunday in my family was Sunday dinner.  (When I refer to “dinner”, I mean the mid-day meal because we called the evening meal “supper”.)  Sunday dinner was served at 11:30 AM, which meant that Mom attended the 5 AM Mass at St. Therese Church on Kentucky Street.  As soon as she returned from Mass, meal preparation was begun.  Crispy fried chicken was the favored main entree along with fresh green beans cooked for hours with a ham hock, and creamy mashed potatoes that were mashed by hand with an old metal potato masher.  (After Mom died, it was one of the treasures I retrieved from our family kitchen on Breckinridge Street.)  Summer meant fresh “combination” salad, which was a mixture of chopped fresh tomatoes, cukes and green pepper combined with mayo, salt and pepper.  It was cool and refreshing.  Mouth-watering homemade pies were offered for dessert.  In early summer, Mom baked strawberry and strawberry-custard pies.  During the months of July and August, peach and peach-custard pies graced the table.  One pie was not enough for the family as we craved the cold pie leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

After dinner, when the dishes were washed, hand-dried and put away, Mom would relax on the back porch swing to read the Sunday newspaper and Dad would retire to a pallet on the floor for a summer nap.

At least once a month, my Mom’s sister, Martha (Aunt Tubby) arrived for Sunday dinner in her light blue Studebaker sedan.  After dinner she would drive our family (we didn’t own a car) to Calvary Cemetery to visit the graves of Grandma and Grandpa Harris, where we offered a prayer for the repose of their souls.  My sister and I loved playing in the parked Studebaker, pretending we were driving.  We didn’t even mind the inferno-like temperature of the car as it sat in the summer sun.  A little sweat was a small price to pay for an afternoon of entertainment.

Some Sundays my Dad would take us to the “Broadway” picture show to see a couple of movies.  The theater was dark and cool with frosty air-conditioning.  Dad treated us to a large box of popcorn.  It was a great way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.  We begged Mom to join us but she said she would rather stay home.  We felt sorry that she was missing a movie.  As kids, we didn’t realize that this was her only time all week she could spend without children and she was enjoying every minute of her afternoon alone!
If I could go back in time to relive just one of these summer Sundays, I would savor every second.  But since that isn’t possible, I’ll have to be content with these unforgettable memories!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Church picnics in the 50’s in Louisville, Kentucky were the main fund-raising event for many Catholic congregations.  And St. Therese was no exception.  Actually they were more like festivals than picnics, which suggest people eating a meal together outdoors.

Every June St. Therese held their “picnic” and I attended every one while growing up.  But the picnic of June, 1959 was special.  This picnic was an extravaganza for the entire neighborhood.  Part of Schiller Avenue was closed to traffic for the event which started around 3 P.M. and lasted until well after midnight.  Pony rides were given in the alley behind the school and along the side of Beargrass Creek, with a large merry-go-round in the middle of Schiller Avenue.  A “tilt-a-whirl” was assembled in the yard next to the priest house and a giant ferris-wheel was erected next to the side of the church.

In addition to amusement rides, there were games of chance called “wheels”.  A wheel with numbers printed around the edge was spun.  Picnic-goers laid a nickel on a board on a particular number.  If the wheel stopped on that number, you were a winner.

Each wheel had different prizes such as fruit-baskets wrapped in colored cellophane, pound boxes of Muth’s chocolates, hand embroidered pillowcases, dolls, stuffed toys, hams, baskets of groceries, homemade cakes and cartons of beer.

The ladies of the parish donated the pillowcases with beautifully stitched flowers or birds in pastel colors.  The border of the pillowcases was crocheted with matching color threads.  The cakes were “out of this world”!  The ladies baked their best recipes for the picnic.  The tiered shelves behind the wheel were laden with chocolate iced layer cakes, pineapple up-side-down cakes, creamy frosted coconut cakes and rich, dense pound cakes.  The cake wheel only had 60 numbers on it.  So if you really wanted one, you could cover every number with a nickel and you were guaranteed to win a scrumptious homemade cake for only three dollars!

A fried chicken dinner with all the fixings was served in the basement of the school.  Many people ate their supper there and then spent the evening trying to win a prize on the picnic grounds outside.  Bratwurst sandwiches and cold beer could be purchased on the grounds as well.

Here’s a true family story concerning the 1959 picnic.  My parents were scheduled to work at the picnic while my younger sister and I wanted to try all the amusement rides.  My older sister who was 21 at the time, thought the idea of going to a church picnic on Saturday night was dull and uninteresting.  I can still remember my Dad saying “You never know, you might meet your future husband at St. Therese’s summer picnic”.  My sister laughed heartily but she and her girlfriend decided to stop by the picnic later in the evening.  Sure enough she ran into some guys that she attended grade school with and struck up a conversation with them.  One of those guys who had just returned from active Army duty in Germany asked her out.  They continued dating for the rest of the year.  Kenny proposed to her on Christmas Eve, 1959 and on September 3, 1960 they were married at St. Therese Church.

Our family often wondered what would have happened if Martha hadn’t heeded Dad’s wise advice.  I guess some things are just meant to be!  I also wonder if any other romances started at St. Therese’s Summer Picnic?

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The idea for this trip started as an off-hand remark from my daughter-in-law about six months ago.  She commented that she missed coming to California and that Maggie would be almost two years old, old enough to endure a long cross-country plane ride.  Maybe, just maybe, they could journey to Palm Springs in late January or early February.

That’s all it took for me to start promoting this excursion.  Ideas were spinning right and left in my head.  Our large master bedroom with adjoining bathroom was an excellent spot for the whole family to camp out.  A corner of the room would house the twin aero-bed for Emily and there was ample space for Maggie’s pack-n-play near the bed.  My husband and I could sleep in the guest bedroom and use the guest bath.  We would make closet space and drawers available so that they wouldn’t have to live out of suitcases.  My son determined a convenient time for his vacation and plane reservations were secured.

About a month before the visit, my daughter-in-law and I e-mailed quite a lot.  A list of food for the girls was formulated, discussions of the weather and appropriate clothing was reviewed and even what books could be checked out of the library were decided.

Suddenly I was shopping for pink and rose towels for the girls, sheets for the new aero-bed and groceries such as graham crackers, whole wheat Eggo waffles, fresh blueberries, lots of bananas and even YoBaby peach yogurt.  (Not easy to find!)

The girls arrived late on a Saturday evening with both of them calling for Mimi, when I greeted them at the garage door.  It felt so good knowing we would have them here for a full ten days!  The first three nights were rough because Maggie was on east coast time and thought everyone should be awake at 3 AM!  Eventually we settled in a routine of unhurried family breakfasts, trips to a nearby glayground and daily swims in the condo pool after Maggie’s nap.

Our condo bustled with non-stop activity.  Maggie loved to open and shut doors and explored for pots and pans in the kitchen cabinets.  Emily was content to color and draw pictures on a small table and chairs.  She enjoyed hiking with her parents and walked almost three miles on a local trail.  The days passed quickly and all too soon it was time for everyone to depart.  The extra equipment and suitcases were packed up for the plane ride back to Raleigh.  We kissed and hugged goodbye before the departure for the airport.  Then the clean up began; sheets and towels were laundered and floors were swept and washed.

I thought to myself:  I’m doing okay with missing those two little sweethearts; that is until I opened the fridge and the sight of three little cartons of YoBaby yogurt immediately caught my eye.  Then the tears started to flow!

Keep smilin’!


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Happy Birthday Nancy!

Dear Nancy,

Happy Birthday!  It’s pretty special to celebrate a birthday on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 2011.  It’s also special that you were born in the llth hour and weighted 9 lbs,-2 ozs. which adds up to 11.  I guess 11 really is your lucky number.  Celebrate!

Love from you big sister!

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Dear Readers,

I couldn’t let August pass without recalling memories of Mom’s birthday and buying presents for her.

It was August, 1960 – Mom would celebrate her 48th birthday on the 22nd of the month.  That summer I was a 14 year old working my first job at St. Anthony’s Hospital.  My job description was tray girl in the pediatric wing.  My duties were to deliver and retrieve meals from the patients and then transport the dining utensils to a central dishwashing room in the basement of the hospital.  My salary amounted to $9 a week and for a 14 year old girl, I suddenly felt rich.  This would be the first August I could buy Mom a really special and luxurious gift.  And I knew just what I wanted – an expensive nightgown.

On a shopping trip downtown, a frilly pink gown adored with delicate ribbons was selected.  It was pricey – $5.  But nothing was too good for my mother.  For an additional 50 cents, the piece of lingerie was gift-wrapped in shiny pale blue paper with a large pink ribbon bow attached.  My Mom was going to absolutely love this present!  After all, I loved it!

On her birthday, she unwrapped the gift, saving the paper and bow for another use, and declared it was beautiful but perhaps a little too special for everyday wear.  Mom carefully placed it in the drawer for use on any future hospital stays.  (This was probably the product of a frugal German upbringing.)

The following August I took a more practical route and chose a set of eight drinking glasses decorated with tiny pink flowers and cradled in an ornate metal glass holder.  She again remarked that they were beautiful and displayed them on a kitchen shelf.  They were off-limits for everyday meals.

From then on my gifts to her were of a much more practical nature.  I learned a great lesson.  I stopped buying gifts that made me happy and started giving gifts that made her happy!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Early Saturday morning was story telling time in my family.  My younger sister and I aged 4 and 6 years old, were allowed to climb into bed with our Dad, while Mom prepared a weekend breakfast.  Dad would entertain us with the same stories every week.  He told of a man making soup in a most unusual manner.  He would open cans of corn and peas, throw away the vegetables and toss the empty cans in the soup pot.  Potatoes and onions were peeled but only the peels were added to the mixture.  The cook even threw in a dirty old shoe just for good measure to season the weird soup.  My sister and I would laugh and squeal in protest as my Dad described each new ingredient.

Both of my sisters recall the legend of Dobbin the horse and how he wandered away and got lost during a frightening rainstorm but was finally rescued and returned to his very worried mother.  We both laughed and cried during this narrative.  It was story telling at its finest!

My husband remembers his paternal grandfather’s exaggerated tales of super-human athletic skills.  Papa Stewart once told him and his cousins about the time he pitched a double-header where he pitched right-handed during the first game and left-handed the second game.  Can you imagine the look of astonishment on the faces of his grandchildren?

We see our grandchildren at least two or three times weekly and my husband has fallen into the most enjoyable habit of telling stories to our four year-old granddaughter.  I love to observe the changing expressions on her face as her grandfather relates the story about a little boy with a long leg and a short leg and how he came to be accepted by his schoolmates.  Or the elaborate saga of an estranged monster family who was finally accepted by the entire neighborhood after a courageous boy on a bike stopped to say hello to a monster boy his age.

I think every family needs a story teller; someone who can stir our imaginations and make us laugh or cry.  Our family now has one and it began with a toddler who loves hearing a story, both read and told.  What my dear husband doesn’t realize now is that his wonderful tales will live on long after his is gone!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

This is a continuation of the sentiments expressed in my grandmother’s autograph book from 1894.

“Dear Josephine:  When you are old and cannot see,

Put on your specs and think of me.  Your True Friend, H. Rueff”.

“Dear Josephine:  When rocks and hills divide us

And you no more I see

Remember it was Katie

That wrote this line to thee.  Your school-mate, K. Hairy  March 1, 1894”.

“Dear Josephine:  May heaven protect and keep thee

From every sorrow free

And grant thee every blessing

Is my earnest wish to thee.  Your friend, Josephine Nold  Feb. 27, 1894”.

Two of the autographed pages are written in German.  Many of my grandmother’s school-mates were of German descent and German was spoken along with English at that time in Louisville.

The pages were inscribed with very ornate penmanship in blue, black or red ink from a fountain pen.  Some of the pages were adorned with colorful cut-outs glued to the page and included blue hyacinths, white Easter lilies, lily of the valley, purple pansies along with a picture of Jesus surrounded by a group of small children.

The common theme of all these autographs is the desire to never be forgotten.  Isn’t this what we all want?  But I’m sure they never in their wildest dreams thought that 117 years later  they would be remembered and written about on a blog from the granddaughter of their friend, Josephine.

Keep smilin’!

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