Wednesday, December 24, 2014

One of my favorite non-tree ornaments.
Each year as I pull out the ornaments for our Christmas tree, I smile when I come upon a yellowed receipt from the old Hechinger hardware store. 
The fading numbers tell a story that has become a Kress family legend, a tale of persistence, wisdom and one amazing deal.
It was Dec. 21, 1998, and the sun had long since set. (I know this because the receipt reads: 12/21/1998 19:35:53.) 
As happens to many parents of young children, we still weren’t quite ready for all things Christmas that year.
So it came to pass, with just a few nights to go, we piled the kids in the car and took off in search of a Christmas tree.
Our first stop was a traditional one: a local firehouse that sold trees as a fund-raiser. Sadly, we found their doors shut; no tree to be had.
Next we tried a local high school that had sold trees in the past. Again, no luck.
On we drove to a nearby produce store, known for bounteous supplies of all things green. Alas, they, too, were closed.
Feeling a bit desperate, we assured our son, 11, and daughter, 8, that indeed, a tree would be found. 
I can’t remember who thought of Hechinger’s, but that’s where we headed next. During the drive over we heard these wise words from our son in the back seat:
“Maybe next year we shouldn’t wait so long to get the tree.”
Ah, yes. That does sound like a plan.
The good news was that Hechinger’s doors were open, and they did have Christmas trees for sale. We found a small pine that spoke to us (“Take me home!”), and I heaved a sigh of relief.
While my family headed to the car with our tree, I went in to pay. The sign above the tree said $3 plus some cents. I figured it was the price per foot, and did the math: 5-foot tree, $3 plus … roughly $20. Not bad at all.
The cashier rang up the sale and said:
“That’ll be $2.65.”
“What?” I said, a bit confused. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. They’re on sale.”
That little Scotch pine (again, the receipt fills in the details) served us well, and we happily decked it together in time for Christmas.
Days later, I noticed an odd green/blue tinge on some of the branches. On closer inspection I could see that it was paint. As in spray paint. Apparently our evergreen needed a little help to live up to its name. (And who among us doesn’t, now and then?)
So there you have our most excellent Christmas tree adventure. Such is the stuff of family legend, a story told and retold fondly.
        And worth so much more than $2.65.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Squirrel, party of one.
Ah, November.
'Tis a truly moveable feast for backyard beasts.
A few years back I noticed a gathering of squirrels taking great interest in our Halloween pumpkin on the front porch.
"How cute," I thought. "They're having a party."
I left them to their pumpkin fest.
Next time I ventured out to the porch I realized the not-so-cute part about squirrel gatherings: 
They don't clean up after themselves.
Lesson learned. 
I still leave our Halloween pumpkin out for the critters to enjoy. I've just moved the party to our back yard.
No fuss, no muss. (Or at least no muss that I have to clean up.)
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May we all savor our momentary joys.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I stayed up late last night after hosting my book group. This morning I met a dear friend for breakfast (just had to have those pumpkin pancakes again before the recipe gets filed away until next October).
We were talking about possible dates for a gathering of friends. My mind began to meander off, thinking about offering to host, wondering if we had enough chairs to go around. Then I heard these words fall out of my mouth:
“How many of them are us?”

There was a moment of silence before we both started to laugh, just a pause when it hit us how odd those words sounded strung together.
(And for those of you who do not speak slip-of-the-brain-ese, that translates to: “How many of us are there?”)
My friend looked at me kindly. She understood exactly what I was trying — and failing — to say. One more reason she’s a dear friend.

Perhaps the coffee just hadn’t kicked in yet.
Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Frosted flakes
Mother Nature must love a good metaphor.
On my brief foray outside this morning, to pick up the paper and let our dog do his business, I came across a corner lawn still covered with vibrant leaves, and dusted with the first snow of the season.
Winter is creeping up on fall.
Hold onto your hats.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pennsylvania proud
One of my pet peeves: Politicians who plant campaign signs on public property.
In my humble opinion, if you can't find supporters who will let you use their front yards, that just might be ... a sign.
Campaign workers for one candidate in my area showed a fondness for plastering his name on median strips and even those lovely garden-like traffic circles found in small towns.
I'll confess to a bit of civil disobedience in the run-up to Election Day. Coming across yet another of that candidate's signs on public space, I parked my car, plucked up the sign, and left it lying there amid the fall plantings. (You couldn't accuse me of stealing.)
Last night, I noticed that same candidate lost his election, in a big way.
I call it karma.
After a long Election Day and night, I ventured out to our front lawn to pick up the paper and read more about the results.
Heading back in, I noticed that we had never brought in our mail from the day before. As I flipped through the envelopes, the return address of "" caught my eye.
Enclosed was a bumper sticker I'd been expecting for weeks: a simple blue "D" in a circle.
A little late, I thought, but still usable. There will be other elections.
For those of us in Pennsylvania, it was a proud day to be a Democrat. Just wish a few other states had gotten the memo.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I'll wear my pink beyond October.
Today, the world is a bit less pink, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month came to a close with the end of October.
  Let’s hope people still maintain their awareness of breast cancer, especially its warning signs and ways of early detection.
I’ve had yearly mammograms since the age of 40. Several female relatives have had, and survived, the disease, so my awareness began long before the official month was declared back in 1985.
Multiple mammograms ago the technician informed me that I have “dense breasts.” 
Though that was a serious piece of health information — it’s more difficult to detect signs of cancer in dense breast tissue — my brain at that moment decided to take a lighter route:
  “Of course they’re dense,” I thought. “Why do you think they call them boobs?”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Top o' the morning to you!

Breakfast at a diner always starts my day sunny side up.
  This time of year you never have to ask me twice to meet up and indulge in pumpkin pancakes. (The Village Diner in Glenside makes heavenly ones.)
   Some of my favorite family memories are set in diners. When our kids were little, they loved to drink the creamer right out of those tiny containers, perfectly sized for the under-5 set.
  And is there anything more adorable than a toddler tucked into one of those chunky, wooden, diner high chairs? I loved when their pint-sized feet stuck straight out, a whole human being in such a tiny package.
  One of my most embarrassing “aha” moments came at a diner in Ocean City, N.J. There were five of us around the table, including three teen-agers (our two plus one of our daughter’s best friends).
  I looked over at my husband, who was wearing a mathematical T-shirt I had given him a while back (emphasis on “a while”). 
  The shirt, a Think Geek favorite, says: “There are only 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don’t.”
  “You know,” I began, unaware of how red my face would be in a minute. “I’ve never really understood that shirt. I mean, it says ‘ten kinds of people,’ and then it just talks about two …”
  The lightbulb, which was probably installed back in 4th grade math class, distantly blinked on.
“Ohhhh! I get it!,” I said, beginning to laugh at how I had just lived out the T-shirt’s punch line. My husband — and those teenagers — were kind. Let’s just say that they laughed with me, and not at me.
     Math. It’s everywhere.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Love is in the air?
Goose-neck gourd whispers sweet somethings into the ear of a gargoyle.
Just one more reason I love October.

P.S. If you're in need of a decorative gourd, pumpkin or fall mum, head to St. Peter's Pumpkin Patch, open through Halloween in the front yard of the church, 654 N. Easton Road, Glenside.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A wistful sign of the season.
     Yesterday I spotted my well-worn flip-flops, still sprinkled with a bit of sand from our September shore vacation, and resting among some newly fallen leaves on our back steps. I thought, that about says it all:
     Goodbye, summer. Hello, fall.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Long time, no write.
I've got lots of ideas, and have all intentions of getting them down on the page. For now, though, I'll reach into my "archives" and share a piece published years ago. This was in the pre-blog era, when words appeared on actual paper. (What a concept.) 
I was talking today with a mom whose youngest child has just started preschool. Our conversation took me (way) back to my days as a young mother, and the wistfulness that September can bring.
I remembered this essay, and wanted to share it again. I've tweaked it a bit from the original version (editing never ends). I hope you enjoy it.


The toddler squatted by the fountain, delighting each time his hand splashed against the water’s surface.
  The water fascinated him until a new curiosity arrived: our children, a boy 8, and a girl, 5, who tossed in a few coins to make wishes. The toddler smiled, watching the coins flip through the air and sink through the water.
He wasn’t talking yet  — at least not with words — but he made it clear that he wanted to try it, too. Clamping his hand on the coin his dad offered, the little boy tried to toss the coin into the water. His arm stretched back, then forward — but he would not let go. The coin stayed in his strong, pudgy grip, a treasure not to be relinquished. 
His parents and grandparents offered encouragement:
“Throw it, throw it.”
Still he gripped the coin.
Eventually his grownups tired of the game and decided it was time to go. The father proceeded to help his son drop the coin into the water. The boy yowled in protest, reaching for his lost treasure. The family moved on; the coin stayed in the fountain. The toddler looked back, bereft.
Letting go is not easy.
Kid, I know just how you feel.
Watching the toddler’s struggle reminded me of our daughter’s first attempts at throwing dice.
  The game was Cootie, and to her, the dice were just as fascinating as those little bug body parts that come with the game. She, too, did the stiff-armed swing back and forth. And the dice stayed put, glued to her palm.
Our daughter is older now, a pro at throwing dice — and tossing coins. She’s learned how to let go. 
I’m the one having trouble.
She is my youngest, newly 6 and about to enter first grade. When her brother took that giant step into all-day school, the ache in my heart was eased by the little girl at my side. This September, I’ll be on my own.
On my own — at least from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Believe me, in the trenches of motherhood, amid dirty diapers, endless laundry, or escalating sibling warfare, I had looked to such a day (through sleep-deprived eyes) as a beacon of hope. Yet in my heart I’ve known that any wishes for them to “grow up already” would be a double-edged mantra.
      Last spring, as her days of afternoon kindergarten neared an end, I made a conscious effort to savor our mornings together. To help me remember, I jotted down what we did together that last week of school. Here’s my list: played Candy Land, went food shopping, read stories, stopped for a soft pretzel, played on the swings, played hopscotch. 
      Pretty ordinary stuff. But I realized then — and now — in that very ordinariness lies an extraordinary treasure.
Parenthood is a continual weaning process. It will take time for me to adjust to this next phase of childhood, and motherhood. New challenges, new routines, new freedoms await both of us. She’s excited, and a little bit nervous about it all.
Kid, I know just how you feel.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A bird with color sense.
   Now and then my brain makes me laugh by pulling the wrong word out of the drawer.
I once told my husband I found his missing sock “in between the two hamsters” in the laundry room. (In case you’re wondering, we keep no rodents there.)
Sometimes my brain creates its own words, and I say them anyway. My favorite concoction: “shalt and pekker sapers.” You know, what everyone keeps a pair of in their kitchen.
On Monday my husband and I visited the Philadelphia Zoo. Watching a certain bird display its magnificent fantail, we heard a woman’s excited voice behind us: 
“Oh look, a flamingo! A … uh … uh … a parakeet! Oh, I said ‘parakeet.’ It’s a peacock.”

I think her brain and mine could be good friends.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Today was a particularly tension-filled day, so I decided to take a brisk walk late in the afternoon, climbing some of our neighborhood’s biggest hills.
When I reached home, sufficiently worn out after about 2 miles, I put water on for cooking pasta.I realized I had about a 15-minute window to just lie down and breathe, something I highly recommend any day.No sooner had I hit the sofa when I felt a paw patting my leg. Louie, our dog, looking for company. I scooted over and patted the sofa, adding, “There’s room.”He joined me, leaning warmly against my legs.Moments later I felt a weight on my chest: April, one of our cats. She padded her way to my stomach, curled up and began to purr.I held onto those moments of furry bliss -- and wished water took a bit longer to boil.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The symbol of winter 2013-14.
A friend reminded me recently of something I wrote a couple years back: that I appreciate cold winters because I like to earn my spring.
I take it back.
After weeks of shoveling snow and chopping ice, followed by more weeks of shoveling snow and chopping ice, we have more than earned our spring.
I confess even the dusting we got today made my teeth clench.
It has been a challenging winter, which made looking for momentary joys all the more important.
Fortunately the universe came through, and I’ll share a few hopeful moments.

1. Sitting in a sunny church pew, I glanced down and saw a small spot of color … moving. Orange, with black polka dots, a ladybug trundled along the wood grain. She crawled onto my inviting finger, then navigated the hills and valleys of my sweater sleeve. I lost track of her for a bit, until a friend behind me gently tapped me on the shoulder, pointing out the tiny visitor perched there. She stayed throughout the service, and afterward I found a sunny window ledge for her to explore.

2. After another round of chopping ice floes on our sloping sidewalk, I headed toward the front porch. Hopping in front of me, all the way to the steps, was a plump robin. She took flight, and I took shelter, with the hope of spring planted.

3. In the midst of a dreary day, I got an email from a dear friend. I love the image in her closing words: “There are flowers waiting under the frozen ground. I know it.” 

We all have earned those flowers. May they bloom soon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Perhaps Mother Earth is in menopause.
That may explain the odd temperature fluctuations we’ve been living with, especially last week.
Those seven days served up sheets of ice and single-digit temperatures, ending with a 60-degree Saturday that lured a flock of robins to our back yard.
Feels like climatic whiplash.
While I’m not a huge fan of frigid days, they did inspire a few moments of pure joy that could not have happened without their help.
On that iciest of Sunday mornings, I took our dog Louie out for nature’s call. As he tromped down our front steps, his front paws winged out beneath him, giving me a clue just how treacherous the path would be.
Clear ice coated every inch of sidewalk.
We managed our way up to the corner, then turned back, heading down the slight incline toward home.
 Since each step I took proved slippery, I tried a different approach. As Louie led the way, I angled my feet and let him pull me down the walk, a one-dog Iditarod, minus the sled.
It took me back to my childhood, and skateboarding down the Stanley Avenue hill  — in the days when skateboards were just that: a narrow board with a bisected roller-skate screwed underneath front and back. 
My icy ride was much slower, but still fun. As I described it to a friend I accidentally said “slidewalk,” a better word choice given the conditions.
I tripped on my tongue, but thankfully not on the ice.