Trick or Treat

I have always enjoyed Halloween. As kids, I don’t recall wearing fancy costumes like we see on today’s children. During the 60’s we just threw on a hodge-podge of clothes we found around the house or donned cheap plastic masks from the five and dime store, which were held to our heads with a thin elastic band. These masks were hot, and visibility was not the best. Then we’d hit the streets and fill up a pillowcase with full-size candy bars and razor-free apples.


It was not until I was an adult that I wore a costume of which I was truly proud. Dad and I went to a neighborhood Halloween party where we bobbed for apples and went on a scavenger hunt around town.

Each year, I would outdo myself by pulling out my sewing machine and create an amazing work of art. One year we went as Sylvester and Tweety, another time we were salt and pepper shakers, and a third time, we went as the Tin Man and Scarecrow.

To create the look of the Tin Man, Dad wore a gray jogging suit covered with aluminum foil. Had he gone missing that night, the police could have tracked him down by following the trail of foil throughout our town.

That year, one of the items on the scavenger list was to return with a couple you did not not know—with extra points given if that couple came in costume. Dad’s team was the only one who won that category.

Those days are now behind us, but we still enjoy accompanying the grandkids to the pumpkin patch, carving our pumpkins (Dad carves and I direct), and opening the door to all the adorable trick or treaters after first having a photo op with the wee ones of the family.

Happy Halloween!

Special Squeezes

We all know the family secret handshake—4 squeezes, 3 squeezes, 2 squeezes, and finally a really hard single squeeze— but I don’t know how it originated. Grandma taught it to all of us when we were young, and all five of us taught it to our spouses and our children.

About two years ago, I asked two of my cousins if they were familiar with the handshake, and one knew it while the other did not. Today, I posed the question to cousins representing the children of Grandma’s four brothers. None were familiar with it, so I have concluded that it must have been a thing between sisters.

At what point in a relationship do we all feel secure enough to share the secret with that special person in our lives? It is very special and should not be taken lightly.

Do you love me?

Yes I do.

How much?

(The final two squeezes is followed by a very tight squeeze which shows the depth of your love.)



I hope you all continue the tradition.

Fighting Progressive Toys

When I was going to first become a grandparent, it had been many years since I had been shopping for toys. By that time, even the youngest cousin had hit the double digit age of ten. I don’t know what I expected, but I must admit I was taken aback in discovering just how many toys required batteries and made noise. In some cases, the only way to stop the annoying sounds was to remove the batteries. I even recall going into a store and asking to be directed to the quiet toy aisle. I was met with a blank expression and a shrug.

This observation zoomed me back to the time that one of you received that irritating rabbit—the one which skated to the song “Easter Parade.” Dad and I realllllly hated that bunny!

I have been out in the world and noticed how many young children are plugged into some sort of electronic gadget, and I find that to be quite disturbing. As someone who had earned a living in the computer industry, before practically everyone in American had one, I appreciate the convenience and marvel at what they can do. However, when it comes to children and toys, there is something to be said for simplicity.

Children have vivid imaginations and can enjoy playtime with simple toys. I remember babysitting for a neighborhood boy, and I was worried since I had no toys at that time. But he happily spent the entire visit playing with the pots and pans in my cabinet.

My Tupperware nesting measuring cups and spoons are quite entertaining to a toddler, and I have spent many hours under my kitchen table with a snack, flashlight, and a game of good old fashioned Candy Land. Hide and seek never gets tiresome except to me, and bubbles, chalk, and coloring books are quite fun as well.

While I admit to sometimes turning on the television mostly for “Grandma rest time,” I think I am doing quite well with quiet entertainment without batteries, which are also a lot better for the environment when you consider the need to eventually dispose of them. I am not saying no to all television, by the way. I look forward to watching the classic Charlie Brown shows and Disney movies that we all enjoyed together with my grandchildren.

But I am going to see how long I can go before caving into progress. Is this old fashioned? I would argue not, because I truly believe that too much electronic engagement with children not only squashes the imagination, but it also stifles socialization.

Any thoughts from the kindergarten teacher of the family?


I Saved the Shirt

I made a big boo-boo after recently washing a new shirt, which was to throw it in the dryer without reading the label. Didn’t I teach you all to always read the label? I guess I was in a hurry. It was 100% cotton, so at most, the dryer temperature should have been very low, and it should have been removed while still slightly damp. I should have known better.

When I looked at my new long-sleeved shirt hanging in the laundry room, I just knew in my heart what I had done. But I decided to confirm my observation before relegating it to the doesn’t-fit section of my closet. Sadly, I discovered that I did indeed shrink my shirt, so I decided to visit my good friend Google for assistance. When I typed in “how to unshrink a shirt,” I was rewarded by an abundance of articles and You-Tube videos. “What could I lose?” I thought, so I set out to see if I could save the shirt. I am happy to report that it worked, so I want to share my method with you.

I filled up the bathroom sink with warm water and then squeezed in a few tablespoons of hair conditioner. I then stirred the water with my hand, placed my shirt into the hair-conditioned water, and then squished the water into the shirt. Then I went and made myself a cup of coffee. (Tea would work as well!)

About thirty minutes later, I returned to the scene of my science experiment. I emptied the sink,  squeezed out as much water as I could, and then removed more water by rolling it in a towel.

Next, I laid the shirt onto one of my drying racks (a dry towel would have worked as well), carefully stretching the sleeves to the desired length. In this case, I had another new shirt to help with the measurements. Then I waited until it was dry while periodically tugging the sleeves to maintain the pre-shrunk length.

When I tried it on, I was thrilled with the results. I will tell you that there are other videos and articles on unshrinking sweaters, which I have not attempted to try yet. I will report back to you all once I do my next experiment.

The Red Barron Takes to the Skies

When I arrived at my gate after walking a full mile to the furthest reaches of the airport, I peered out the window and was faced by the reality of my decision to take the propeller plane rather than crossing one of the scariest bridges in America. “Oh my.” I thought. “Did I make a mistake? Oh well, there is no turning back now.”

So I boarded the 44-passenger plane and settled into my window seat in row 5. I stared out the window and noticed the propeller looming large just feet from where I sat. I wondered what would happen if the propeller disengaged from its spot. “Would it sail to the right before plummeting to earth, or would it crash through the window and slice me to pieces?”

I knew I was being ridiculous, but I was not thrilled when I realized that there was no window shade to hide my view. I buckled myself tightly into my seat and looked around, taking particular note of the exits. This time I listened intently to the safety discussion by the flight attendant. I imagined that the man piloting the plane was adjusting his goggles and his scarf as he prepared for takeoff.

When the engines roared to life, I took a deep breath and settled back in my seat, prepared to begin my adventure. The plane began to vibrate, much like one of those beds in a tacky motel room I remember seeing in old movies. The noise of the engines was loud.

The movement tickled each part of my body, from my head clear down to my toes. The plane continued its climb until it finally leveled off at twenty-two thousand feet. The vibration subsided, but the noise continued. If I had had a seat companion, we would have been unable to chat.

I looked out of the window beyond the propeller to watch the miniature buildings disappear from view. I opened my book and settled back for the ride, which was surprisingly uneventful. I ordered my beverage and tore open my “meal” of two crunchy biscotti. (Incidentally, the plural is not biscottis.)

Less than two hours later we began our descent, and I silently congratulated myself. I concluded that I would have no difficulty boarding this plane in four days for my return trip home. It was not as bad as I had imagined.




Is it Just a Job?

It is not unusual for people who research their family trees to secretly wish to find a connection to someone famous—Lincoln, Washington, a member of the British monarchy, or a celebrity. So for the celebrity meet-and-greeter of the family, I will report my findings based upon the categories they represent. More will come as I continue my search.


Cousin Louis Brennan:  Inventor of the first guided torpedo, which was used by the British military to defend their ports. He also worked on the helicopter and monorail. (He is the man who got me the meet and greet with the Irish Prime Minister.)

Cousin Gherman Titov: Russian cosmonaut, who was the second man to orbit the earth, the first to spend an entire day in space, and the first to experience motion sickness while in space.  (space barf!) Grandpa’s grandmother was a Titov, but because the Russian archives are not very friendly to genealogists, I have been unable to confirm this story.

Show Business:

Uncle Jack Blue: Dance and acting instructor to Broadway and Hollywood stars. He also was a pall bearer for President McKinley’s funeral, chosen for some reason after serving in the Spanish-American War.

Cousin Leonard Blue: Chauffeur for Harry Warner, co-founder of Warner Brother’s Studio.


Cousin Henry (Dusty) Briarton: On a mission over Germany during World War II, Dusty jumped onto a live bomb when the door of the plane would not open. He saved the plane from exploding, but he somehow remained onboard.

Great-Great Grandpa James W. Downey: Irish immigrant who came to America during the early 1860’s and settled in Indiana, where he joined the Union Army in Company F. of the 58th Infantry. Why he came to Indiana, and how he ended up in Morristown, NJ by 1870 is a mystery.


Cousin Michael George Brennan (brother of Louis): Artist whose art may be viewed at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

Now judge for yourselves regarding our more renowned family members. No kings, presidents, or Academy-Award winners yet. The rest of us are just attorneys, accountants, teachers, photographers, marketing managers, engineers, nurses, salespeople, policemen, firefighters, auto-body repairmen, office workers, business owners, and moms and dads.

I think we should be proud of our hard-working family, no matter what they do.

The Age of Innocence

Whether we are a doctor, teacher, astronaut, politician, salesperson, or plumber, I would argue that there are few jobs as difficult as being a parent. Our children, particularly when they are young, expect us to be courageous and infallible. A four-year old believes Mommy and Daddy know everything and can heal all wounds and repair all problems with a kiss and a Band-aid. They look to us for answers to all their tiny woes. It is an enormous responsibility.

Our country experienced yet another shooting last week. Americans sent out thoughts and prayers, our politicians expressed their usual sorrow and outrage again, and our flags were lowered to half-staff to honor the newly dead. We want to safeguard our children from becoming victims of these despicable acts of violence, but how do we protect them from knowing what and why this keeps occurring when we don’t understand it ourselves?

Today was a three-generation girls’ day out for Kelly, Lily, and me. As we were driving around town, Kelly told me that Bryce noticed the flags, and she looked to me for an appropriate explanation regarding why the flags were not raised to the top. A kiss was not enough. She is learning how difficult it is to be a mom.

How do you tell a preschooler about fifty-eight people being fatally gunned down while having the time of their lives? What can you say to prevent fear from becoming normal? How can you protect their innocence?

I don’t recall having these worries when the three of you were young. During your early years, I did not worry about you going to the movies with your friends, attending church with me each Sunday, or going to school. It never occurred to me that you could walk out the door and never return. It was not until that spring day in a Colorado high school eighteen years ago when the possibility of a school shooting became real.

I suggested to Kelly that she tell Bryce that we lower flags to honor important people who have died, adding that she need not tell him the details at such a young age. I think at that age less is better at times.

The irony of this day was that after I left her house, Kelly called to inform me that Bryce was not being released from school, because they were under a lockdown along with at least four other area schools. Apparently, four juveniles had fled a stolen vehicle in the area, so law enforcement were taking precautions to protect the schools.

Fortunately, all Bryce spoke of was the fact that he received an extra snack. His innocence has not left the room yet. Fortunately, they caught the perpetrators quickly.

Parenthood is hard.

Whatever Floats Your Boat!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—or so we have been taught. It makes sense to me that upon arising, it may have been ten or more hours since our last meal, particularly if we somehow manage to refrain from snacking during the evening.

As a side note, the Romans ate just one meal a day, early Europeans believed it was a meal for the rich, and it did not become a morning institution until people moved into cities during the Industrial Revolution and worked on a regular schedule, with breaks dictated by employers.

Back to our family.

Growing up we always had eggs, cereal, and occasionally, pancakes. I liked scrambled eggs, toast, and tea. Dad liked spaghetti.

The three of you began your mornings with waffles (with the addition of mini chocolate chips for Casey), oatmeal with raisins, or cold cereal such as Kix, Cherrios and the oh-so-unhealthy, Lucky Charms. Time permitting, we would prepare French Toast (with a touch of cinnamon and vanilla) or pancakes.

Before Casey discovered chocolate chip waffles, she loved nontraditional morning meals. Like Bryce who once asked for macaroni and cheese and turkey after one of his sleepovers, young Casey liked tuna melts and New England Clam Chowder.

It was not until our trip to London that I learned about waking up to baked beans, tomatoes, and blood pudding, aka blood sausage—made from onion, pork fat, oatmeal, and pork blood! (Incidentally, Dad took a liking to it, but surprisingly not me.) To each his own.

It was therefore with great interest that Kelly discovered that Lily not only resembles her Aunt Casey physically, but she also shares her childhood morning eating habits. Kelly believed that Lily just had little interest in breakfast. After all, some adults are not fans of any morning meal. But as soon as Mommy placed a plate of last night’s leftovers in front of her, Kelly discovered that Lily just did not like what she had been served. Suddenly, she had a huge appetite.

I suggested that perhaps Lily would enjoy a tuna melt. Casey told me to give her a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. Maybe she would like some baked beans and tomatoes.


How Did We Survive?

As I have watched our old home movies, I can’t help but wonder how we Baby Boomers survived. A prime example is my homecoming. Anyone who has ever spent a night in the hospital knows that no matter how healthy you feel when being discharged, it is impossible to leave without being wheeled out by a hospital employee.

When we have babies today, they ride home snuggled securely inside a safety-approved car seat, so it was with surprise that I viewed my homecoming in 1955. Not only was Grandma not seated in a wheel chair, she strolled out unassisted while holding the hand of my cousin Nancy. She walked behind a nurse who was holding me.

Where was Grandpa? I assume he was behind the lens of the camera, filming the momentous occasion rather than helping Grandma. Scene II showed Grandma climbing into the front passenger seat of our Chevrolet, and then holding out her arms so that she could hold me for the ride home!

1955 Homecoming

Four years later when Aunt Ar was born, safety concerns improved slightly. During that homecoming, my sister was shown in the arms of my grandmother, who was seated in the back seat of the car. I guess that showed a little concern.

It was not until sometime between 1977 and 1985 that all fifty states adopted individual laws regarding child-safety seats, so we were all fortunate to have survived those rides in the car unrestrained. Still, I wonder what Grandma did when taking us out when we were babies or very young toddlers, without any car seats to prevent us from rolling onto the floor. Perhaps she did her shopping when Grandpa was home. There is no other explanation to me.

It’s time for another phone call to Grandma. I hope she remembers.