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Dear Readers,

Okay, maybe I’m going too far putting the words “Christmas” and “hate” in the same title.  Instead of “hate”, how about “dislike intensely”?  Wouldn’t want you to think that Mimi is a total scrooge!

Perhaps I’ll start with the negative aspects of Christmas cards.  First, there’s the shopping for and selection of the cards.  It has to be sweet and cute but still convey a worthwhile holiday message.  It has to look like it cost at least $3 a card but actually be purchased at an inexpensive price.  (Notice I wrote “inexpensive” instead of that other word, lest you think Mimi is a cheapskate!)  The price requirement is a tall order and some years the cards are impressive and other years, not as much.

Once the cards are chosen, there’s the chore of addressing each one.  My fingers get tired and occasionally my penmanship shows it.  At least the stamps do not have to be licked anymore!

Here’s what I love about Christmas cards.  Every December I get the opportunity to think about every person on the list as I address their card.  Good memories are attached to each of these names.  Childhood friends, aunts and uncles who are now in their 80’s, my godmother, and neighbors I lived next to for more than 20 years are part of this list.  My husband has childhood friends, tennis buddies and former employees of his on the index of names.   For years we mailed a card to his former boss at a furniture store where he was briefly employed as a young man.  Then one Christmas we received a note from her daughter saying she had died during the year.  A  Christmas card was our only connection to this lovely woman.

I  love opening the mailbox, searching inside and collecting the cards.  On many of them I can identify the sender by their handwriting.  I rush into the house to sit down, unseal them and savor the news that is contained in each of them.  It feels good to be in touch with people from the past, even if it is only for a few minutes.  This brief connection is a big part of the overall joy of the Christmas celebration.

I’ve just finished writing Christmas cards for 2011.  Although there are parts of the process I “intensely dislike”, I will continue the card writing ritual as long as I am able to because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Recently during a rain shower, the sun appeared from behind the dark clouds.  Oh no! I thought.  The devil is beating his wife!  At least, that’s what my Mom used to tell us whenever it was raining and the sun was still shining.  It was one of her folk sayings handed down through previous generations.

Here are a few other sayings:  It’s bad luck to rock an empty rocker.  If you drop a spoon, a fool is coming to visit.  If you knock over the salt shaker, there will be an argument at the table.  If the palm of your hand itches, you’ll soon be receiving money.  Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.  If the hem of your dress is turned up, spit on it and you will receive a new dress.  It’s bad luck to rock an empty cradle.

I find myself uttering these same sayings to my family.  I’m not sure where or how they originated but they sure do make life interesting.

My other random thought concerns the value of a smile.  I walk almost every day and one of the best parts of taking this daily stroll is being greeted by a smile from a stranger.  It feels so good to connect with another human being in this manner.  It lifts my spirits and brings an extra spring into my footsteps.  Just think, smiling doesn’t cost a dime but the benefit it bestows is priceless.  So the next time you spot an ole lady wearing silver sneakers striding down your street, give her a big smile.  You might just be smiling at Mimi!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

When I write “women make great preachers”, I’m not referring to the “preaching” we do to our spouses and children such as “pick your socks” or “clean your room”.  I’m talking about spiritual preaching – the advice we receive from clerics that aid us on the road to eternal salvation.

During the past month I’ve had the privilege of listening to two female preachers.  The first sermon came from an Episcopalian minister named Georgine, who presided at a Sunday morning service in the Episcopal Home where my sister lives.

Her sermon was interesting, dramatic and very thought-provoking.  She spoke of God in a soft voice but her words were very powerful.  A number of residents at the home had died in the week preceding the service, so she gently reminded us that many times the people in our lives are only here “on loan” to us and we should seize the opportunity to make the most of our time with them.  That phrase “on loan” really resonated with me.

My second experience with a female preacher came this week, in of all places, a Catholic church.  The celebrant of the Mass was Hispanic and could only read phonetically the English words of the prayers.  A young female missioner (not a nun) was enlisted to read the gospel to the faithful and then deliver a short homily for All Souls’ Day.  (The entire Catholic Church traditionally prays for the dead on this day.)

The young woman instructed us not to worry too much about the trials we face in this life because our reward in heaven will be wonderful.  The manner in which she described the joys and delights of heaven along with the enthusiasm in her voice was like a booster shot-in-the-arm for my faith.  I was once again excited about the prospect of spending eternity in heaven.

Both of these reverent ladies gently stoked the fire of my faith with an approach best expressed by a woman.  Their choice of words and even the inflection of their voices invited me to listen and reflect.  I could completely identify with the truths they were uttering.  Their sincere feelings and emotions drew me closer to the softer side of God.

Sadly, I must ask:  Will the Catholic Church ever realize the treasure they are squandering by not permitting fervent women to preach the word of God as ordained priests?  I certainly hope so!  In the meantime try to

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Our final Sunday in Barcelona was spent visiting the famous Sagrada Familia, the unconventional Cathedral of the Holy Family, designed by Antoni Gaudi.  He was a famous Spanish architect who worked on the church from 1914 until his death in 1926.

A very long line of sightseers greeted us as we ascended the steps from the Metro stop.  It seems everyone wanted to visit this cathedral which is still under construction and finally expected to be completed in 15 years.  Part of it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and also the lack of funds slowed construction for many years.

Our tour guide informed us that Gaudi designed and completed only one of four facades before he died.  He added colorful mosaic tops to the numerous spires depicting grapes and wheat to represent the Eucharist along with other vibrant fruits, vegetables and flowers.  They represent just a small part of God’s creation.  Modernistic stone carvings of the life and death of Christ adorn this facade.  Gaudi flooded the cathedral interior with bright light from the numerous windows.  Many of the completed windows are made of dazzling stained glass shades of blue, red, orange, yellow and green.  The choir loft surrounding about three-quarters of the upper interior can hold up to 1,000 singers.  There were 600 choir members performing at the dedication of the cathedral in November, 2010.  Pope Benedict XVI was the official celebrant at the dedication.

From the cathedral we walked to Gaudi’s Casa Mila, usually called La Pedrera.  This famous apartment building was constructed between 1906 and 1910 and boasts a curved and rippled facade.  Let me quote directly from my tour book, “Eyewitness Travel Guides for Barcelona and Catalonia”.  “Gaudi designed this corner apartment block, eight floors high, around two circular courtyards.  In the basement he incorporated the city’s first underground car park.  There are no straight walls anywhere in the building.”

We toured one of the apartments that is furnished as it would have been in 1910 and it is incredibly modern-looking.  Gaudi was a genius and his designs were years ahead of his time.  His architectural influence permeates the buildings of Barcelona, even the curvy design of the airport roof.  If you enjoy architecture, you will love Barcelona!

It was a magical last day to a great vacation.  I hope you enjoyed reading about Madrid and Barcelona.

Remember to always

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

We departed Madrid at 10:30 AM on a very modern, super fast train for a three hour trip to Barcelona.  We sighted only a couple of small villages between the cities with plenty of barren empty spaces along the route.  The golden sunshine of Spain shone for the entire journey.

We could feel the balmy air of the Mediterranean Sea as soon as we emerged from the train station.  The surrounding area was packed with tourists ready to enjoy the relaxed bohemian lifestyle of Barcelona.  Restaurants don’t get crowded until around 10 PM and the clubs stay open until 4 AM.

As soon as we unpacked, we headed out to the long avenue known as Les Rambles which stretches from the Port Vell (Old Port) with its imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, to the Placa de Catalunya, the center for the all the tour buses.

This historic tree-lined avenue leading to the sea was jam-packed with sightseers, even on a Thursday afternoon in late September.  There were newsstands, flower stalls, rows of artwork for sale, souvenir shops and stalls, street musicians and mime artists.  The mimes were posed like statues and only “awakened” when Euros were deposited in their collection jugs.  A bronzed (even his face) cowboy would draw his gun from his holster; a black and gold Don Quixote would arise from his faithful horse and thrust his lance forward and a green-faced clown atop a green bicycle would twirl his green umbrella.  This mime made a show of applying his green make-up in front of the onlookers.  You should have seen the delight on the children’s faces as these statues performed.

Off of Les Rambles was the Mercat de Saint Josep, popularly known as “LA Boqueria”.  This is Barcelona’s most colorful food market.  Saturday morning was the wrong time to visit as the aisles became so cluttered with people, there was pedestrian gridlock.  I returned around 4 PM (or 16:00 hours as they say in Spain) and it was easier to navigate.  I enjoyed strolling the many aisles perusing the delicious foods.

Large whole fresh fish were displayed on beds of chipped ice.  Candies shaped to resemble various fruits and vegetables were exhibited in wooden bins.  A “sunny-side-up” egg was the most unique piece of candy shown.  I spied vegetable stands with vivid green beans aligned in neat horizontal rows, lacy bouquets of green parsley and cilantro, and bunches of long bright orange carrots with the green tops still attached.  One stand sold all types of tantalizing dried fruits, nuts and even sugar-coated nuts.  (I learned from a travel book that sugar-coated nuts were introduced to Spain during the occupation of the Moors.)  I totally fell in love with the sights, sounds and smells of this interesting food market.

To Be Continued.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

One of the highlights of our visit to Madrid was touring “The Prado”.  This art museum, a thirty minute walk from our hotel, is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums.  It was opened in 1819 and the original collection of 311 paintings was housed in a magnificent palace built by Juan de Villanueva.  It was originally a royal museum until the revolution of 1868.

It showcases works by Diego Velazquez, El Greco and Goya.  We saw paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Murillo and even Fra Angelico.  His scene of the Annunciation of Mary captured on wood dates back to the 1400’s.  I recognized an illustration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Murillo.  It is frequently portrayed on Catholic holy cards.  It was quite thrilling to observe the original.  Many of the paintings are religious in nature as the Church was the most influential patron of the arts during the Middle Ages.

If I ever return to Madrid, I’d like to visit the Prado again and leisurely enjoy all these famous masterpieces.  Many of these works I had studied in Art Appreciation classes in school.  I never dreamed I would someday see them in person.  All of these magnificent paintings were too much to absorb and fully appreciate in just one day!

Here are a few more interesting observations about Madrid.

Spaniards love to dine outdoors.  Plazas are full of tables and chairs from the surrounding restaurants.  We observed more beer than wine drinkers; maybe because the weather was still quite warm with temperatures in the low 80’s.  Beer and wine are relatively inexpensive – beer costs $1.50 a glass and very good wine is about $3 to $4 a glass.  Food is more expensive than in the USA and there is a charge for the bread placed on the table – anywhere from $2 to $5.  Water is not free and comes in bottles priced around $5 for one liter.  Isn’t it amazing that beer and wine are cheaper than water?

The Royal Palace sits on the highest area in Madrid.  People gather at the park across the street to watch the sunset over the tree-topped horizon beyond the palace grounds.  We were lucky to witness a Madrid sunset.  From there we walked to the Casa Aberto near the Plaza Mayor to enjoy some wine and tasty tapas.  Casa Alberto has been opened for business since 1827 and is witten up on the internet with glowing reviews.  We concur with these reviews.

To Be Continued On October 25.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Our hotel in Madrid was across the street from a school named Colegio MM. Concepcionistas, a Catholic grade school.  I curiously watched the start of classes every morning from our hotel window.

Around 8:30 AM, groups of 15 to 20 students marched down the street from the nearest Metro stop on Gran Via.  They pulled school bags on wheels similar to carry-on luggage.  Very young boys and girls, probably kindergarten and first-graders, wore light blue checked smocks over their uniforms of dark gray pants or skirts, white shirts or blouses and navy blue sweaters.

One or two mothers carried sleepy-eyed little ones to school.  Moms would kiss their kids good bye and then stop to converse with other moms on the corner.  Many fathers as well as grandparents accompanied the students to class.

The school bell rung at 9AM and then the big white wood door was shut.  Around 8:55 AM a man emerged from behind the door and onto the sidewalk, instructing the boys and girls to hurry up and enter before the bell tolled.

One hassled mother drove up in a green citroen at 8:59 AM.  Three kids rushed out of the car.  She quickly opened the trunk and three backpacks tumbled out onto the narrow street.  Her children franticly grabbed the packs and raced toward the big white door, just seconds before the bell sounded.

I couldn’t help but think how many times this very same scene plays out every morning at schools all over the United States.  Some rituals are the same no matter what part of the world you are in.

It’s interesting to note how breakfast in Spain differs from breakfast in the States.  Meats such as ham and various local sausages, varieties of cheese along with hard whole wheat rolls and crusty bread are a big part of a European breakfast.  Broiled tomatoes and baked beans were served at the hotel buffet to please the British guests.  The coffee is very strong and decaffeinated coffee is rarely served.  Eggs have a slightly different flavor and the yolks are more golden than in America.  Someone told me that’s because chickens are fed differently in Europe.  It was all very interesting.  By the way, the granola is wonderful.

To Be Continued.

Keep smilin’!

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Mimi Vacations In Spain

Dear Readers,

Just returned from an amazing journey to the cities of Madrid and Barcelona.  We experienced eight days of warm sunshine, friendly Spaniards and delicious wine with tapas.  The highlight of Madrid was touring the Prada art museum and in Barcelona it was inspecting the unusual Gaudi architecture.

Let me tell you in greater detail about all the sights and sounds in Spain.  We arrived in Madrid on a warm, sunny, Sunday afternoon in September.  Madrid has a population of over four million and it seemed as though at least a half a million pedestrians had occupied the bustling streets downtown, even though all the shops were closed.  Bullfights are scheduled for Sundays in a stadium that holds over 80,000 spectators.  Maybe that’s why we encountered these throngs of people.  With car horns blaring from the small cars impatiently driven, to the crowds moving briskly along the sidewalks and congregating at each cross walk, I was reminded of Times Square in New York City.

Large open parks and impressive public fountains dot the cityscape of Madrid.  The famous Neptune fountain situated in a plaza at the center of intersecting streets is near “The Prada”, a world renowned art museum.  Our hotel was a block away from the Plaza de Espana.  A huge fountain spewing water jets at least 20 feet in the air, featuring two bronze statues of women holding flowing water jars adorned part of the plaza.  There was concrete seating surrounding the fountain which created an excellent people-watching place.  At the rear of the plaza stood another bronze statue of Don Quizote atop his horse and one of the author, Cervantes.

My husband and I enjoyed relaxing on the benches in this plaza and watching all the people parade by.  There were passionate lovers kissing and looking fondly into each other’s eyes, families with babies in strollers out for a walk and adolescent students walking quickly and purposefully to class.  One older gentleman took an afternoon siesta, while a young woman sitting on an adjacent bench was busily texting.  For me, people-watching if my favorite activity on a vacation.

Madrid office buildings were very ornate; many with elaborate cupolas on top.  Other buildings displayed bronze figures blackened with patina on their roofs.  In contrast, graffiti marred quite a few walls in Madrid.

I have much more to tell you about Spain, so this post will be continued.

In the meantime,

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Come on, ladies, we all know what “wardrobe anxiety” is.  It’s that fear in the pit of our stomachs the minute we open a wedding invitation.  Our initial thought is not about the bride and groom.  No, it’s about “What am I going to wear?”  Usually a trip to our closet or the mall for that certain party dress is all we need to alleviate this stress.  (Men wouldn’t understand this because all they need is a shirt, tie, suit and dress shoes and they’re good to go!)

But the most intense episode of “wardrobe anxiety” descends upon us at vacation time.  Let’s see, we have to pack for hot or cool weather.  We need comfortable walking shoes but we don’t want to look like a dork or a dreaded tourist in white sneakers.  And, oh yes, all our clothes have to fit into a carry-on suitcase so we can avoid the $25 baggage fee.

Enough already!  I want to banish “wardrobe anxiety” forever and here are two possible solutions.  (All you inventors and creators out there, listen up.)

My first concept is rental clothes for vacations.  Outfits could be chosen in advance from a catalog and selected according to the type of holiday; lots of swimsuits and cover-ups for the beach and ski pants and thermal underwear for the mountain slopes.  A user could experiment with a completely different wardrobe from the one they usually wear or stick to their customary manner of dress.  These rental duds would be delivered to your destination hotel room and hung in the closet ready for you to wear.  At the end of the holiday, simply deposit clothes in a laundry bag and proceed to the nearest airport without any burdensome suitcase.

Here’s another possible solution but this might take a few years of development to bring it to market:  disposable clothes.  And the company’s slogan could be “After you wear it, we tear it!”  All kidding aside, we do have disposable diapers and baby bibs.  Why not create stylish dresses, slacks and tops that are constructed of soft but sturdy paper and come in a variety of fashionable styles and hues.  These ensembles could also be waiting for us at our hotel or resort or could be mailed ahead.  They might be a little pricey but remember there’s no packing or unpacking and no laundry to do when you return.  The best part is no frantic searching for luggage on the carousel in the “baggage claim” area.

These ideas might seem far-fetched but I bet the day will come when rental and disposable paper clothes will be the norm.  Until then, I guess I’ll just have to suffer a few more bouts of vacation time “wardrobe anxiety”.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Have you ever noticed the photo of the Campbell Kids at the top of my blog and wondered if there’s a story attached?  Well, there is.

But first here’s the history behind those cute kids.  They were created in the 1930’s by illustrator, Grace Drayton, as part of a marketing campaign for the Campbell Soup Co.  Campbell’s of Camden, NJ was founded in l869 and by the 1950’s their canned soups,  including tomato, was a familiar staple in many family pantries.  I can’t tell you how many Friday nights my Mom served grilled cheese sandwiches with Campbell’s tomato soup.  (She tried Heinz’s soup once or twice but it just wasn’t as flavorful.)

It was on one of these soup cans that my nine year old eyes spied an offer for a set of Campbell Kids salt and pepper shakers.  I was determined to purchase a pair for my mother.  It seemed pretty simple.  All I had to do was mail in three Campbell soup labels and 50 cents (2 quarters scotch-taped to the order blank) along with my name and address.  The offer said it would take 6 weeks for processing.  I waited patiently for the box to arrive; after all, 6 weeks seemed like an eternity to me.  Some days I would check the mail box two or three times.  When they finally arrived, I was so proud to be able to present them to my mother; even if they were plastic and not as big as I had imagined.  Mom proudly put them on display on a small kitchen shelf.  She didn’t have the heart to tell me they were difficult to fill and not very practical for everyday use.

When I got married, Mom gave the shakers to me and they were displayed in a place of honor on my kitchen counter.  They traveled with me from an apartment in Kentucky to three different homes in Pennsylvania and now finally to a downtown condo in Raleigh, NC.  Those kids stand right next to my stove and are a constant reminder of the happy times spent in my childhood kitchen on Breckinridge St.

The website of L & J Antiques & Collectibles Mall lists the Campbell Soup Kids Salt and Pepper Shakers for $80.00.  It’s quite a bit more than the original price of 50 cents.  But guess what – I wouldn’t sell my set for any price!  They hold too many precious memories for me.

Keep smilin’!

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