A Dying Tradition

With Christmas just seventeen days away, it’s time to review my Christmas list.

  • The Christmas decorations are done—inside and out
  • The presents have been ordered and have been hidden away, waiting to be wrapped
  • The cookies have been baked and are out of site in the freezer so they will be not be stale and eaten before Christmas Eve.
  • Watch a few favorite Christmas movies. (Not done)
  • Buy a tacky Christmas sweater (Will I do it this year?)
  • However, the Christmas cards are sitting on the dining room table while I debate whether to send any this year.

I suspect that I am not alone on the last item on the list because in the past, the cards had been pouring in by now. In the early years of our marriage, we got so many that, following Grandma’s decorating scheme, I would have them all taped around the doorways. Now, not a single card has found its way into our mailbox, and I admit that I am secretly happy about this. I wonder if they are becoming obsolete—like landlines.

There are a few cards I always enjoy receiving each year, which are those with an updated family photo or a note filled with news from friends we have not spoken to in a while. But when I get a card from someone I see or speak with frequently, I feel guilty for not having sent one to them. Is that a reason for sending a card?

Instead of writing to you in this blog or working on that family cookbook, I guess I should start reviewing my Christmas list so I can decide once and for all what I will do this year.

Are any of you sending out any cards?


That Delectable Chain Cake of Friendship

Chain letters. We have all received some form of them over the years. You know how it goes: Send something to the person at the top of the list, add your name to the bottom, and then forward the letter to several friends. You are then promised great rewards as a result of your participation—money, recipes, luck, prayers.

Years ago, I participated in different sort of chain activity. It was called a friendship cake. Here’s how it worked:

I was given a cup of what looked like cake batter. It was actually called “starter” and was a key ingredient in keeping the cake alive for potentially generations. On the first and fifth day, I was instructed to add milk, flour, and sugar to the starter and then cover and refrigerate it. The only work was to remember to stir once a day.

On day 10, I was instructed to remove and give one cup of the batter and pass it on to three friends along with the instructions. To the remaining batter there were a bunch of ingredients to add—sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, raisins, nuts, and fruit—before placing in a pan and baking.

The cake was so good that I kept one cup for myself, which meant I only needed to find two friends to receive the batter.

I don’t see the friendship cake working in today’s busy world where people barely have enough time to go to the grocery store to pick up an already-baked cake. This bakery chain letter takes time and commitment. It’s too bad, because it was quite tasty.

Every Little Move Matters

Two years ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with Bryce about a train accident Grandpa was involved in when he was in the army.  Two civilians and one soldier were killed. Grandpa said the man who died had been sitting in his seat and had asked to switch seats before the fatal crash, so that man, Corporal Thomas Vest, died, and Grandpa survived with just a back injury.

I recently read a book which involves time travel, so I got to thinking about what would be the implications if one of Corporal Vest’s three brothers had climbed aboard a time machine and had boarded that train in order to prevent him for switching seats with Grandpa. How many lives would have been affected by that action?

In the most basic analysis, one could argue that the number is seventeen—Grandpa’s five children, ten grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. But what about the eight spouses, who may have married others, producing a different set of children?

We can’t just stop there, because each never-born life in that alternate scenario touched countless other lives. How would the lives of those people be altered if those seventeen people had never been born?

Would the world still be taking selfies and communicating on their cell phones if I had never been around to invent it? As a nurse, Aunt Ar has dealt with countless patients in the hospitals she has worked in over the years, so I believe that a world without her may have erased a few lives from this planet. She will argue against this theory, but I stand firm in my belief.

We all remember a favorite teacher, whether it be because of a lesson they taught, an unfair punishment they imposed upon the class, or a private conversation we had with one of them. Jamie has taught hundreds of students in her short time as an educator. Her absence may have been, or may someday be felt by at least one of those students.

Is there job that Casey’s company may not have won had it not been for her attention to detail? Is there a bride whose wedding photos may have been ruined that rainy day when Kelly went to Plan B to ensure the weather would not destroy those precious mementos? How many soldiers were comforted by the family pictures she provided them before their deployment?

How many fish may have died if Chris had not rushed into work to feed them when bad weather prevented his coworkers from doing so? And will the world be robbed of watching the inauguration of President Lily and the Mars landing of Astronaut Bryce if Grandpa had remained in that death seat on that train??

I can go on, but I think you get the idea.

Grandpa claimed that he continued to be reminded of that November day in Georgia for the rest of his life because his back hurt whenever he tried to pick up his children and grandchildren. The thing is, he had fifty-six more years—“the rest of his life.” Corporal Vest did not, but that one request gave the rest of us our lives.

Each of us touches the lives of so many others in ways we may not even know, and one small change of course can profoundly alter the future of countless individuals. It’s mind boggling when you think about the implications!







Knoshing Around the World

My recent trip to Silver Spring with Dad was like attending an international food festival. We began in Korea, and by the end of the weekend, we had visited eateries representing Venezuela, China, the Mid East, and Russia. Looking back on our choices, those all represented hot spots in the news of late, but that was not intentional.

I was most excited to dine at the Russian restaurant—conveniently located less than a mile from the White House and one block from the famous Mayflower Hotel. (I encourage you to Google the hotel and you’ll see what I mean.)

You’d think the fact that Grandpa had lived in Russia for ten years would have made me familiar with the cuisine of his people, but that was not the case at all. The only time I ever went to a Russian restaurant was when we accompanied Grandpa and his cousin, Misha, to a restaurant in New York City, where I believe I feasted on Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes.  I ordered the same for old time’ sake.

I always have a glass of wine with dinner, but it I felt it would be wrong not to order some sort of vodka-based drink in a Russian restaurant. I ordered a strawberry-infused vodka cocktail. Delicious!

Within seconds of opening my menu, a wave of emotion swept over me and I began to cry. I don’t know why, but after spending so much time writing my book about Grandpa, being in a place I knew he would have loved just caused those tear ducts to open and begin to flow.

There were plenty of Russian-speaking patrons slurping their borscht and sipping vodka, and the bar was showing Russian cartoons. It was cozy, and the bathroom was decorated with Russian newspapers., which added to the ambience.

While my meal was not my favorite on our food tour around the world, the atmosphere affected my soul the most.

My Long Lost Musical Career

You all came from a family of artists and musicians, so I find it interesting that only one of you chose a career which is artsy. That, of course, is our family photographer.

Dad’s grandfather was a musician when he immigrated to America, my grandmother and mother were pianists, Dad played the trumpet, and each of you played an instrument while in elementary school. If my memory is correct, Kelly chose the clarinet, Jamie played the violin, and Casey chose the quietest and least annoying instrument for a beginner, which was the flute. If I am wrong on any of these, then I need to think seriously about ending these stories.

I have left out the best for last, which was my choice of the glockenspiel. I did a bit of research and learned the derivation of the name: Glocken is German for bells and Spiel means play. I chose this instrument because I enjoyed the sweet sound of the bells, but I don’t believe I gave much thought to the practicality of the glockenspiel. It was big and awkward, and according to several websites, weighed anywhere from eighteen to twenty-nine pounds.

I have no memory of ever bringing it home but will ask my sisters for verification. My only memory was standing on the stage in junior high with the one other glockenspielist, a girl named Gretchen. Neither of us ever became a very good player of the “bells,” but the sounds of the other instruments in the band most likely hid all of our mistakes.

So I remained in the band for just two years, and when I went off to high school, I abandoned any thoughts of continuing my musical career. I think I was smart enough to recognize that I really could not read music very well, so I turned in my glockenspiel and the accompanying mallet. I never regretted the decision.

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!

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.