In this column:
"When it is time to look a gift horse in the mouth?" and
"Breathe in. Breathe Out"
When it is time to look a gift horse in the mouth?
by Sally D. Ketchum
We all know: classic bad gifts, the loud tie, apple blossom bath
salts, and green soap-a-ropes. And, the most embarrassing
glitch of all, “Haven’t I seen this before? (Pondering a minute)
“Oh, I gave it to you last year.” In fact, my own family has
given outlandish gifts and received insulting gifts. But then, I
am not exempt since I have endured severe cases of gift-backlash
with little wiggle room to get out of the mess without “Scrooge”
tattooed on my forehead.
The Clip-On Tie Incident is old. I was about seven or eight when,
and on my gift-buying trip to the five and dime, I discovered a
black plastic clip-on bow tie. Cabbies and bus drivers wore them
back then. I knew my parents had a formal holiday party coming up,
and in my ignorance of fashion (that still plagues me at times), I
paid 10 cents for the tie. Dad would look like Cary Grant. The
thing is that my dad wore that tie—at least he left wearing
it--either from his sense of humor or thoughts that I would be
hurt. The next day he told me, “Everyone said I looked like Cary
Good intentions twice caused family disasters involving holiday
spirits of an alcoholic nature. Dad was an advertising
executive, and in that business expensive liquors in elaborate
bottles, old Scotch, rare brandies and such, were the traditional
gifts among clients, account managers and executives. Bottles flew
back and forth like juggler’s clubs.
Meanwhile, my mother was busy with family gifts, new socks and
mittens; boxes of chocolates, nuts, and fancy jars of bath salts
for the aunts, and sets of after-shave and cologne for uncles and
cousins. Day after day, I studied the magnificent bottles under
the tree--the liquors and the fancy toiletries. Enchanted as I
was, the Bottle Top Muse descended me. Clearly the fancy bottles
of the liquor needed more ornate tops. So, Christmas Elf that I
was, I switched tops. The plain corks and screw tops of the liquor
bottles went on the toiletries. The tops of the toiletries--the
white plastic horses, the golden crowns, rampant dragons and
brightly colored glass knobs—went on the liquor bottles.
Of course, the old Scotch was ruined, along with everything else.
The spirits smelled and tasted more like bay rum than rum, more
like apple blossom than applejack.
While my father was only a social drinker, he understood the
prices of the good stuff and was angry. I hoped that, after
all, he appreciated my aesthetic intentions.
A disaster precipitated by my brother the very next year carried
much the same theme. Brother Dick attended the local Methodist
church since it had the best boys’ basketball team on the east
side of Detroit. There he was coached not only in
basketball, but also in the virtue of temperance. So it was that,
as the holiday collection of bottles of strong drink grew around
the Christmas tree, Dick felt temptation the growing strong, too.
So one evening after coming home from basketball practice (and
probably prayer), Dick collected the bottles, and one by one,
poured the contents down the kitchen sink. In this case, dad did
not like Dick’s intention at all.
My own silliness, lack of forethought, perhaps, led to an
incredible situation that had all elements of gift disaster:
mistakes, embarrassment, pride, emergency, blindness to
possibilities, but most of all hilarity in madness. To begin, my
Christmas-loving family gives many small presents, favorite
pickles, cans of sardines, and joke presents. (Yes, there was the
Christmas of the rubber chicken.) But, like the current
year, that one was a hotbed of politics, and my mother-in-law,
Jane, was a proud and loud Republican. Further, her devotion was
clear in her adoration of Barbara Bush, the President’s mother.
As you probably recall, Mrs. Bush was known for her multiple
strings of pearls—choker style. So, in the spirit of fun (and also
since I had no other gift idea), I purchased a pretty fine replica
of Barbara Bush’s pearls, good costume jewelry.
left well enough alone, all would have been well. But no,
silly me, I had to be funny. I wrote a note, thanking Jane for her
vote, for her continued support, stuffing mail, and so forth, and
signed it Barbara Bush, and put it in with the pearls. What fun!
I should have seen it coming. Jane loved the pearls, but in a
wicked twist of fate, she did not understand the joke. She
thought that the pearls were, indeed, from Barbara Bush!
We were all embarrassed by Jane’s naivety (or was it a sense of
self-importance?) Yet, the situation was hilarious, we were
variously snorting into handkerchiefs, coughing, turning away to
look at the outside Christmas lights outside and so on.
Never did we think that Jane would believe the note!
Now, the situation was much worse--it was catastrophic! If the
pearls were from Mrs. Bush, I had no present for Jane, my
mother-in-law. Desperate, I excused myself and dashed upstairs to
raid the closets for extra gifts. I recall emptying a wicker
basket of yarn and tossing things into it --English soaps (no
ropes), a box of ladies’ handkerchiefs, two tea towels, a
cellophane-sealed collection paperbacks--Jane Austen’s novels,
some apple blossom bath salts, and other sundries. I put the
frilliest ribbon I could find on the basket’s handle with a
sentimental note. (Oh, how I love you, let me count the ways…)
So the evening passed happily and it turned out to be a lovely
Christmas, even if it smelled more of apple blossom than balsam.
Sally Ketchum writes from northern Michigan—very close to the
North Pole. She has a large collection of Christmas books and
lore. One book, a Dutch book, includes a map that shows there is a
dense population of gnomes in the Grand Traverse area.
Breathe in-- Breathe out
by Kas Winters
Women always have too
much to do! I'm not sure why this is, but I don't think I've ever
found an exception to the rule. So when things get overwhelming,
take a minute to breathe! Sounds simple but you have to remember to
do it and be willing to set aside a moment or two. Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath. Hold it just a little and then let it all out.
Repeat this a couple of times and you'll be able to cope with the
chaos at hand just a little better. Try it! I just did and it worked
Interest to Women
Articles of Interest to Mothers
GIFTS for MOM
St. Patrick's Day
'TWEEN & TEEN DIRECTORY
HOLIDAYS & SPECIAL OCCASIONS
In this column:
"It's an Alleluia Day"
"Reminiscing: Childhood Memories
It's An Alleluia Day!
Ever have "one of those days"? We sure have them
in our family too. When we begin experiencing one of those days
when everything seems to go wrong, my youngest son and I declare
that it is an "Alleluia Day". As we ride around town running
errands or work around the house, we sing all of the "Alleluia",
"Hallelujah" and "Hosanna" songs we can think of, beginning with
the Hallelujah Chorus. Then we loudly sing any other "up"
song that comes to mind. Before long, we find that we are happier
and the gloom of the day has been left behind. It's almost like
flipping a switch. What started out as a "bad day" has taken a
lighter approach and we find ourselves laughing and singing
together instead of grumbling and complaining about everything
that is going wrong. Of course, Murphy and his law are becoming
less popular around here. We're working on the theory that
anything that can go right will go right if we plan, follow
through and overcome the obstacles! I even have a T-shirt that
says "Hosanna" Now, if I can just manage to wear it when we're
having "one of those days". . .
A former teacher, Ketchum recalls the happy,
funny and even outrageous episodes in the childhoods of her former
students, her three children and her own happy childhood.
Reminiscing: Childhood Memories
by Sally D. Ketchum
We all know the scenario: The
generational family tale that begins, not with “Once upon a
time,” but with father to son, saying, “When I was a child,
I….” Then the tale proceeds about how things were harder then, but
better; how childhood was often harsh then, but educational;
disciplined then, but character-building, and so on. I intend
no comparisons here, just a look at happy childhoods.
I reminisce about the simple joys of my
youth that I miss as an adult. I’m thinking of things like
finding lost treasure, like the rotten wooden object you fished from
the creek—surely it’s part of the mast from a historic war ship.
The exuberant fun of spitting watermelon seeds into a ditch, and
later--by gosh! -- finding that some have sprouted. The
excitement when the penny put in the slot twists downs the chutes of
a “slot machine,” one that was self-constructed from unpainted,
wooden blocks. These experiences might have been naïve, but
they evoked happiness so pure that it is found only in childhood.
the lost was sweet in childhood. The feeling wasn’t always the epic
like the return of the family dog to the back porch after he was
gone over the whole night—in the dark! The Eureka
feeling was often in such simple crises as, “I lost my yoyo.”
Then the hunt began: socks flew from drawers, dust whirled under the
bed and hedges tunneled by the hunter. Then the sweet moment
of recovery, “There it is—my yoyo! Right in my shoe that I left by
the back door.”
I miss the
giddiness I felt the day the calendar turned to June. June held the
best days of the year for me, except Christmas, of course. The
reason was clear: My birthday and the last day of school were in
June. Then it felt as if we were released into the world.
was ours to conquer, hose-drenching days, lemonade stands, reading
under the trees eating peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.
Summer pleasure was nearly ecstasy when we were given permission to
stay up late midsummer evenings. We reveled outside, “pushing
the envelope” as it is called now. These hours, tag and Red Rover
turned into an audacious and madcap game of “Bloody Murder.”
Enormous naughtiness and escalating frenzy—was anything better?
parades were close. They were group projects—that made them swell.
The two absolute requirements for a good parade were at least four
or five participants to march (Dogs and cats in the doll’s buggy
didn’t count) and noise. Good marching elevated the parade to
art. This demanded individual rhythm, not necessarily coordinated,
however. Approved rhythmic steps, in any execution, any order,
were the traditional hop, skip and jump, but also a good stomp,
kicking goosestep, a jazzy “step, ball-change” (Some of us were in
tap dancing 101.) and a pre-moon-walking shuffle. We shouted
the songs, “Yankee Doodle, ” “Comin’ Round the Mountain,”
“Bingo” and some we made up. Others, like “On top of Spaghetti, all
covered with cheese,” were ok, but hard to march to. Count off
songs, like, “This Old Man, He played one, Knick Knack Paddy Whack,”
were the greatest. But all parades needed banging on pots and pot
lids. Potato chip can drums were treasured drums and never
left out in the rain. We marched with any type of flag handy, Old
Glory, pirate or pillowcase. These were held high, or if both hands
were busy, stuck in our belts, even in parades long as around the
arrival of visitors intrigued us, and invited company coming was
exciting. The hospitality involved overt fun, having such
adult responsibilities like taking coats and passing out napkins,
but covert, cerebral fun was the best. So much to observe and
consider! Was Mrs. Harvey going to have a baby or did she just
forget her girdle? How could you tell if Mr. Harvey had false
teeth? And, were these the kind of people who would give you
the sticky cherries from their cocktails if you asked politely. This
type of studied observation showed us using your brain could be
fun--much better than spelling bees, checkers or Hang Man.
(well, mostly), I think back on childhood happiness when there’s a
sing-along by a campfire, when I set a fancy table for guests or
when I pull off an April Fool’s joke first, before my husband fools
me. Although I haven’t seen a kid-organized parade in years, I
have seen a pack of kids and dogs follow a small town parade down
main street. Of course, now kids know when Mrs. Harvey is
pregnant. She’ll be wearing a T-shirt saying “Baby” while an
arrow point to her tummy.
wonder is lost, perhaps not. When I see a youngster blow a large
bubble gum bubble right up to his eyes, I feel the joy of childhood,
just as joyous as when I found my yoyo in my shoe.
The Ultimate Collection of Ideas for Keeping
Over 5,000 ideas for
infants and toddlers through teens.
At the rate of one idea per day, it will take
about 15 years to use them all!
By Kas Winters
In this column: "A Woman for All Ages"
Mom's Night Off
"Mom's" All Purpose Apron
A gift basket for a woman
A Woman for All
by Eileen Birin
While still living in Chicago, I
attended a writing seminar conducted by Dr. Dennis Hensley, author
of seven books and more than fifteen hundred articles. The meeting
focused on how to be a successful freelancer, and Dr. Hensley made
it a point to tell us that he always carried a notebook, camera
and recorder with him wherever he went, even on vacations,
sometimes to the dismay of his wife and family. He knew there
were, and possibly even looked for, stories everywhere.
One story in particular, I have never
forgotten can be summed up as follows.
While on a mini-trip driving the
scenic back roads of the mid-west, the Hensleys came across a
small town, enhanced with charm and character. They stopped. With
camera and notebook ready, Dr. Hensley set out to explore the
town's historic treasures.
He was fascinated by what was once a
decorative opera house, art deco architectural style, now in
various stages of deterioration, which stood in the town's center.
Therein laid a story.
While inquiring about the old
building, Dr. Hensley was delighted to learn there was a senior
resident who had recently taken it upon herself to record the
history of this turn-of-the-century town, its notable buildings
which included the opera house, as well as, some celebrated
happenings. She was hoping her memoirs and research would provide
younger generations, caught up in fast-paced progress, an American
small town experience.
Dr. Hensley was even more impressed
with the woman herself and once back in his motel room made a
quick long-distance call with a "hold the press" edict. This
woman's article needed to be published in the next magazine issue.
"Now Dennis, wait a minute," the
editor responded. "Why such a rush? Let's wait and see what the
lady comes up with and see if we can actually use the material."
"But you don't understand," Dennis
exclaimed, "the woman is 101 years old!"
This 101 year old aspiring writer
lived to be 104 and had seven magazine articles published in the
second century of her life. She believed that you live the first
100 years and then write about your life the second century. Mark
Twain held a similar belief, but his was a 50/50 split - maybe a
bit more realistic.
I don't recall Dr. Hensley ever
mentioning the woman's name or the name of the town, but that's
not important. What matters is that a centenarian was able to
invest her time and years of experience so wisely. Wouldn't it be
great if we were all so privileged?
With the start of each new year, this
woman for all ages inspired me to start today fulfilling my own
writing dreams and goals. There's no guarantee I'll be granted a
second century of life, but one thing's for certain, I'm not
waiting. TODAY I start the rest of my life, writing and otherwise.
Author, Eileen Birin
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