Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Fan

I lived most of my childhood without air conditioning.

On these humid days of mid-summer,
my sister Linda and I would play outside-
our long hair sticking to our foreheads and necks
in wet, sweaty tangles.

Of course, we were used it-
the dirt beads forming like muddy jewelry
in the creases of our skin
and our bare feet always dry and dusty.

Our friend Gwen was the only person we knew
who had an air conditioned house.
It was fun to play there.
We stayed clean and cool
and her mother served us Dr. Pepper over ice.

It was only at night when we tried to sleep
that we finally noticed the uncomfortable heat-
like a blanket that smothered our sweetest dreams-
like a hot fog that settled in the folds of our sheets
and our damp pillow cases.

The only thing that saved us was "The Fan".
A big, gray window fan that stuck out over the bed
like a metal cage-
it's blades like iron petals that whirred loudly in the night,
humming us into peaceful slumber.

This old fan had a timer.
A dial that Dad always allowed us to twist
to the "1 hour" position as we prepared for bed.
I think Linda and I always hurried to sleep-
knowing that if we were awake after an hour,
it would be muggy and silent in our room again.

There was nothing worse than waking up after midnight
and hearing only the crickets chirping outside the fan...
eventually feeling strands of damp hair strangling our faces.

We usually woke each other up-
trying to convince one another to flip the dial
to another half hour or so-
with the prayer that Dad was deep asleep
and would never know.

Sometimes we got by with it.

(Sometimes even Mom was in on it-
whispering a warning to us from the doorway
that we better not push our luck
and "hurry on to sleep".

Ahhh...another hour of coolness
breathing into our stale, summer room...

after we twisted the timer and curled
up beside each other,
the tiny red dot of Dad's Camel cigarette
would appear in the hallway-
floating as if by magic into our room.

And behind it came Dad-
his familiar tobacco and Old spice scent
reaching over our bed with a grunt
to turn the timer to "OFF"
and stop "The Fan".

so as not to go totally insane
from the brain-penetrating heat
and the dead silence that breeds imaginary monsters,
we laid there and talked.
Giggled, made up stories,
and sang church hymns and show tunes
in our quietest little girl voices.

There were those hot summer nights
when we thought we could never fall asleep again
without the hypnotizing spin of "The Fan".

But, somehow we did-
finally closed our sweaty eyelids
and dreamed of snowmen
and new Barbies
and Dr. Pepper on ice. 

(Originally posted July 12, 2010)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Somewhere In Time

In nothing are we as rich as in our memories; they are pictures painted by our hearts, and nothing can erase them.
-- Flavia
Memories are strange things. They can be objects, souvenirs, a box full of photos. But, they can also be a mist of days you can see in your mind- a heap of happy that tickles in your heart- things you yearn for and wish could be made real again.
Nothing is more bittersweet than seeing your children grow up.
(Your arms want to hold them forever, but your feet are ready to kick them out and say "I told you so." -that "money doesn't grow on trees"- and "now you'll find out who pays the electric bill." )
Yet, as my nest is eerily quiet now, I focus upon my memories- like pieces of jigsaw puzzles in a cyclone. Like overflowing file cabinets in my brain.They flood my heart and comfort my soul and make me smile.
But every day they fade a little more. Washed away like sand. Pulled away by the forces of time and nature. Colors fuse, years are foggy, places become obscure and conversations forgotten.
That's why we should all keep a journal. A diary. A place for memories to live in their tangible form.
A scrapbook, a photo album, a video library. A place where age cannot undermine the clarity of those moments.
What we remember from childhood we remember forever - permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. ~Cynthia Ozick
That being said, as parents we need to be careful what memories that our children keep. The time you fought and cursed over the dent in the car- should not be remembered over the fishing trip one summer. Sad times should be smothered by the happy ones.
(And for all intents and purposes, they should not remember the time you did a hippo flop playing basketball at 40, tried cartwheels at age 50 and twisted your rotator cuff, or fell in a ditch at Halloween last year- dressed like a witch and reeking of wine.)
Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things. ~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal
I believe memories have to be nurtured- invented- pursued.
Don't let anything deter you from planning that family vacation, the weekend outing, that special game night at home. These are the days they will remember.
While away in a lonely college dorm, driving to work on a snowing morning, watching their own children play in the sand.... your children will fondly recall family times.
And without saying it, they will thank you.
Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume. ~Jean de Boufflers
Sometimes it's not easy making memories.
For a few years, camping was our way of making the family bonds- of seeking new places and faces and adventures for our children to tuck into the keepsake boxes of their hearts.
It was a pain to prepare. To load swim wear and water shoes and sleeping bags and pillows and blankets and mosquito repellent and coolers and food and snacks and the camera and tents and a radio and utensils and ...I was worn out and ready to stay home!
But, once we reached our destination, I was always glad we went. The kids explored the woods, caught fish, swam in the river, and sat around the fire as we talked and laughed...and made memories.
Today they remember things about our camping trips that I had forgotten. They were experiences that help mold and fashion their character.
Don't ever think a moment is too small for a memory.
Even one second, well spent- will never be forgotten.
“The memories of my family outings are still a source of strength to me. I remember we'd all pile into the car - I forget what kind it was - and drive and drive. I'm not sure where we'd go, but I think there were some trees there. The smell of something was strong in the air as we played whatever sport we played. I remember a bigger, older guy we called "Dad." We'd eat some stuff, or not, and then I think we went home. I guess some things never leave you.”
Jack Handy

I hope my kids and grand kids remember me in a good way.
Not me standing at the sink in my ragged robe and argyle socks- cursing the Thanksgiving turkey because it was still frozen-
or the time I accidentally dyed my hair red and wore a bandanna for three days-
or the time I was moving rocks by the pond and ripped off an entire fingernail...
Well-okay-you get the idea.
I want them to remember my laugh, my smile, my love of giving parties. My love of coffee and chocolate- of writing and painting- of loving their father...
Of the hundred times I dragged that stupid tent down from the attic and squeezed it into a crowded truck bed- just so they could go to the river.
Things like that.
Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years
What I'm trying to say today is- make some memories. Don't wait for them to happen. Go find them.
Make your memory file box so full that you will never be lonely, sad or forgotten.
Enjoy family times. Together. As a circle of people bound by blood and love.
Your children will always be made grateful, stronger, and be forever comforted by their memories.
Take the time. Take the money. Take the chance.
And someday when you find yourself in a quiet house- an empty nest- you can sit by the window and reflect on what treasures you have given them.
It won't be the new CD, the money for gas, the used furniture or the leftover casserole that they will remember and love you for.
It will be a piece of your self.
Of time unselfishly given.
Of sincere smiles and awkward moments and a string of priceless days.
Of camping and cartwheels.
Monopoly and movies.
Fishing and friends.
Beaches and balloons.
Sunsets and smiles...

And, darn it- frozen turkey, too.
Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth. ~Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

(Originally posted February 1st, 2010)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Timeless Love

At midnight violent waves did crest
Upon the ragged rocks they tore-
Till a tattered vessel came to rest-
crashing, crippled, on the shore.
The Baron's daughter, from her bed
heard crying from below
And prayed that none the men be dead
amid the fog- now thick and low.
When dawn came then, she hurried so
and found a sailor on the sand
Where torrent winds came up to blow
the lantern from her trembling hand.
And there fell she- a tearful sight-
fearing then the captain's plight.

The young captain's head then up arose
and the Baron's daughter cried-
"Can we save not one of those?"
Said he- "They all have died."
Looking out to sea, she wept
For the bodies washed from shore-
Their eyes folded as if at sleep-
To live- to laugh no more.
She led the captain up the lane
to her father's house upon the hill-
the captain's leg in frenzied pain-
the wind now ebbing close to still.
And by the fires warmth and light
the captain slept throughout the night.

"Twas springlike air that entered in
the open window when morning came
And there was no sign the storm had been-
except the captain, tired and lame.
The Barons daughter then tapped upon
the wooden door- said she,
"Captain, sir, it's way past dawn-
I've brought you food and tea."
The handsome man sat up in bed-
He smiled and bid her stay
as the Baron's daughter's hair of red
Glittered in the light of day.
And the captain's heart was quickly won
As she stood, enchanting, in the sun.

"My name is Anna," she said to him.
"I'm Antony," said he.
And she secretly eyed the gentleman
as he slowly sipped his tea.
Briefly then, he touched her hand,
As now his empty cup she took-
She laid the tray on the bedside stand
and handed him a nearby book.
"Rest now, Captain Antony.
I'll be back very soon."
And he rose his head to bid farewell
As Anna left the room.
And through the day- in every place-
he saw her eyes, her smile, her face.

The next day Anna bid him stay
till he was no longer ill.
The Baron had long ago passed away
and she was now mistress of the hill.
So every day their eyes would meet
as she nursed him back to new.
Slowly friendship bloomed so sweet-
And then the passion grew.
Till even in his deepest sleep
Anna was at his side-
Each passing moment he sought to keep
love that could not be denied.
And the more and more he thought of this-
he imagined the lips of Anna, kissed.

So Anna and the captain there
Spent all the spring together-
Weaving such an intense care
that no wickedness could sever.
And pleasantly they lived upon the hill
Where they spent a happy life.
So certain that their love was real,
they took vows as man and wife.

And when the nights became windy and black
and the waves began to toss-
They would sit by the fire and remember back
To the nights their paths did cross.
Now there upon the Baron's hill
The two are resting- silent and still.
And sometimes you can hear Anna announcing "tea"
as Antony comes running up from the sea.

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Becoming You

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. ~Judy Garland
It continually amazes me how much peer pressure effects young peoples choices.
How what their friends or heroes or neighbors are doing- touches them immensely.
How adopting, mimicking, and following someone elses dress and habits- can somehow make them unique. Or cool. Or happy.
Maybe it is just my age, but I get disgusted with some fashions and fads and celebrity trash that think they are some type of idols. Face it- you are just human. Having purple hair, driving a Porsche and blacking your eyes does not make you indestructible. Or better. Or special.
Is is a type of wanderlust? Retaliation? A call for help?
The hardest thing about life is knowing who you are.
Even at my age, I'm a little confused.
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~e.e. cummings
When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be an artist or a teacher.
I am neither.
Unless you count my play times with paint and the way I raised my children. I suppose there is a little of each dream inside of me, but neither one ever emerged in full force or completely.
I am a kaleidoscope of many things. A tapestry of songs. A quilt of thoughts. A puzzle of dreams. A map of places I've been and places I want to someday go. I am only what my heart feels and my words speak.
All the rest is just covering. Decoration or disguise.
Does your clothing reflect who is inside- or who you wish to be?
Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep. ~Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, 1750
I remember how hard it was in high school to keep up with the cool kids. My sister and I always seemed to get the latest fashion- only when it was too late. It was out of style and laughed upon by the time we owned it.
I guess I realized then that it was just a game. Those kids were the same kids with or without the cool bell bottoms and peasant blouse or newsboy hat.
And I was the same person, too.
In my Wranglers and Chukka boots and shag hair cut.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~Dr. Seuss
I don't care about keeping up with the Jone's. Having bigger and better than my neighbors or friends.
I buy and nurture what is comfortable for me and what makes me happy. My decisions are based on feelings, not fashion. On my heart, and not Hollywood. On myself- and not myriads of people struggling to die with the most toys.
Maybe I'm weird.
Call me snobby. Eccentric. Static. A party-pooper.
But, you know- Words don't matter. Labels don't count.
If you are my friend, you know the score -and you'll come drink coffee with me at the kitchen table.
Individualism is rather like innocence: There must be something unconscious about it. ~Louis Kronenberger, Company Manners, 1954
I read a quote the other day that said "Life is not about finding yourself- It's about creating yourself."
Well put.
I'm still trying to create myself. Attempting to put all the good parts of myself together and shuck all the bad parts. To shed old skin for new skin. Dusty ideas for bright ones.
Yet, I follow my own path, Sometimes it's weedy and overgrown and I get lost.
But other times it's like a perfect swim. I glide and smile and see the goal.
Sometimes I'm so closed-minded that there is nothing but a dark hole.
Yet other times, my mind is so open that you can't see the edge of the horizon.

There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away. ~Henry Ward Beecher
I vow to be more open to God's gifts. To listen more closely to my own drum. Do I just want to see beautiful things- or create beautiful things? Hear songs- or sing songs? Watch
the stars- or to reach out to touch them?
We make our own mold. Shape it. Carve it. Chisel it from a blueprint that our hearts make.

Here's hoping that you are you today.
That your eyes are not blinded by wealth or power or fame, but by the soul within you that shines like a lighthouse to guide your life.

Every day is another chance to create who you are.

There's a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside. ~Pearl Bailey

(originally posted Feb.4, 2010)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Preserving the Freedom of Smell

Do you smell that?                       


Me neither.

That's because the world is going odorless.
Corporations are now offering scentless product lines
of their popular products-
marketed with such labels as "environmentally friendly",
"allergy-free", and "non-toxic"-
No added perfumes, chemicals, or volatile substances.

In other words, the world is out to eliminate our freedom of smell.

I sympathize with the 50 million Americans that suffer from allergies.
I understand the obnoxious smell of a woman who
has apparently bathed in a heady perfume
or a guy drenched in too much Old Spice.
I cringe at the odor of thick cigarette smoke,
the stink of a paper mill,
or the stench of a neighbor's open sewer.

I agree that some fragrance issues should be addressed.
But have we gone too far?

The Crayola factory i
n Bogota, Columbia has removed the
"Crayola" smell from its products.

Are they mad?
How did they decide to take away a childhood memory-
An American icon?

The smell of Crayola Crayons is among
the twenty most recognizable smells to American adults.
Coffee and peanut butter are number one and two.
Crayons are #18.

All of us remember our first box-
the smell of opening the waxy sticks at school-
the colors bright as a rainbow-
the new points all sharp and perfect.
The average child wears down 730 crayons
by their tenth birthday.

The smell is what makes them so attractive
in the first place.
By removing the smell,
are we in danger of removing the desire to create and color?
Are we messing with nature here?

Back in 1994, Crayola actually began super-scenting their crayons.
They started offering food-scented crayons such as
coconut, licorice, chocolate, cherry, and blueberry.
They smelled good enough to eat.

And to some parents, that was a problem.
Although Crayolas are non-toxic,
parents were worried that their children might actually eat them.

So, the parents got their way.
Sort of.

The Crayola corporation decided to change
the attractive food smells to non-edible smells.
Chocolate became Dirt.
Licorice became Leather Jacket.
Coconut is now Baby Powder
and Peach is the smell of Lumber.

I'm okay with that, I guess.
But to do away with the smell of crayons altogether?

How do they justify ripping away our memory glands
and replacing them with a robotic, non-odorous
scentless, sterile, germicide-injected,
pure nothing smell?

Would you buy a car without that "new car" smell?
Do you want an orange cleaner, a lemon dish washing detergent,
a powerful bleach, or lilac Tide to have no smell?
Are we to do without the fragrance of band-aids,
new baby dolls, and Lysol?
Will they change the smell of summer nights
by making no-scent Off?
What's next?
Popcorn, pizza, candles, and perfumes?

It's time to stand up and sniff.
To let the world know that we want a stinky,
smelly, perfumed, incensed, spiced, sachet-ed,
sweetened, musked, potpourri-ed, flavored, fragrant world!

I want my grand kids
and their kids to know
the complete and innocent thrill
of smelling something as simple
as a crayon.
I want them to know the
tender, fragrant memory-
long after the box is torn,
the years have passed,
and they have grown.

It's time to preserve our freedom of smell!

(Originally posted September 17, 2008)

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Frazier Camping Project

Lately, the cool,quiet mornings and chilly evenings remind me of camping weather.
Of staking out a little corner by the river bank and becoming one with nature;
Of being an independent soul and breathing in fresh air -even if it's just for a weekend.

There is something magical about dancing firelight and twinkling stars;
about hot dogs on a stick and gooey smores; Of fluffy, plaid sleeping bags and the smell of burning wood.

Just thinking about it makes me almost want to go camping...

Then, I am suddenly jolted back to reality!
What kind of self torture am I considering?
Why would I even think about exposing myself to that type of punishment?

But for you to understand my reaction, let me go back in time for a few minutes.
Let me take you to a beautiful summer day when a group of us decided to go camping....


"Make a list," my husband bellowed, climbing in the attic to retrieve the tents, "We don't want to be twenty miles from civilization and not have the essentials."

See, there was Problem No.1, (which should have been my first clue).
What is essential to my husband may not necessarily be essential to me.
And vise versa.
Of course we agreed on the obvious basics of a camping trip:
Toilet paper, ice, beer, food, sleeping bags, pillows, and coffee.

But on this particular day, the list became longer and longer -
spreading across two full pages of a legal pad,
cramping my hand, and dulling the pencil -
till in frustration, I just chewed it sharp.

"Why do we need the chainsaw, the weed eater, the three extra coolers, a dozen lawn chairs, the gas grill, a giant tarp, the 4-wheeler, a blow-up raft, a shotgun, and fifteen tiki torches?" I inquired.

"Well," my husband shot back,"why do we need ten Woman's Day magazines,
eight satin pillows, four changes of shoes, your daily planner, a gallon of Oil of Olay, instant Expresso, Grey Poupon and a king sized Memory Foam pad?

And, Problem No. 2 was the fact that we were setting up camp twenty miles from the nearest modern conveniences.
(I really don't recall getting to vote on that).

"Should I rent a U-Haul?" I asked sarcastically,shoving the last shovel, pick, rake, and ten pound bag of charcoal into the truck bed.

"Oh, where's your sense of adventure, honey?" he asked, throwing my stack of magazines from the front seat and back into garage.

Problem No. 3: My husband's definitions of words are from a screwed up dictionary.

My definition of adventure?
Taking a flower strewn path through the woods, not knowing where it will lead.
Taking an alternate route home from the grocery store.
Buying generic Hamburger Helper.
Trying on a cute outfit I can't afford to buy.

His definition?
Peeing on a tree and squatting in the woods.
Going without deodorant, a shave, or a shower for three days.
Seeing how hot a person can get before melting.
Camping somewhere in Deliverance territory.

The road to the river was mostly gravel, but the last two or three miles would take us through shallow creek beds, low-lying tree limbs, falling rocks, and the Blair Witch project.
The going was rough, with winding curves and muddy slopes and the deepest pot holes in the universe.

"Back up!" I shouted to my husband as we sped along through the dark woods.
"What for?" he asked,staring in my direction, but not slowing down.
"Well, you missed a hole back there. Thought you might want to go back and hit it, too," I sneered.

I can't begin to explain the weekend that followed.

All I know is, we were rained on, blistered by the heat of the day, frozen at night and kept awake by scary jungle animal sounds.
We were attacked by ticks, gnawed on by gnats
and mauled by mosquitoes.
We boiled the coffee, lost the marshmallows- and all the hot dog buns got soaked
in the tornado.
We ran out of ice in fifteen hours, had to resort to a road map for extra toilet paper, and our tent from the 1970's decided to collapse and die.

Returning home, it took us six hours to unload the truck and put everything back in its place. (Its final resting place, I must hope.)

"Wasn't that fun?" my husband asked me later that evening- a goofy cartoon smile on his sunburned face.

Problem No. 4: Thou shalt not kill.

(Originally posted August 11, 2008)

Thursday, June 23, 2011



Motherhood is quite a trip.

I'm talking other than the obvious sacrifices in the act of giving birth, such as: suffering through a fifteen point pain level on a ten point chart, having your insides pooped out with the baby that you are destined to deal with almost as long as your mortgage, and bearing stretch marks that drop the word sexy and attractive forever from your husband's vocabulary.

I suppose cleaning out the closets last week caused me to reflect a bit about being a mom. Surrounded by boxes of keep sakes, I laughed, shed tears and fumed. I saw regrets, mistakes and lessons. But I also saw joy, pride, and a journey that grows shorter every day.
Sitting cross legged on the bedroom floor, I suddenly grew old.

How wonderful to have gotten the precious homemade cards crafted with crayons and paste, the little portraits of our stick men family, and finger paintings as bright as a rainbow! And they all said “I love you, Mom” scribbled somewhere on them. It is sad to think that Hallmark ruined their creative, loving spirits. Now I am reduced to a card like every other mother gets on special occasions- a four dollar generic message that rarely seeps of love. Don't get me wrong- I enjoy and appreciate all the cards I receive, I am just a bit fond of the old days lately.

Sifting through photographs was the most difficult. That really got the tears flowing. Special smiles, new haircuts, favorite outfits and the look of innocence. When did my girls sprout boobs and mascara lined eyes? When did my son grow whiskers and deepen his voice?

(When did I start wearing old lady underwear?) Life is a mystery ...

Despite the fact that I had no parenting lessons, I think I did pretty good. They all seem well adjusted and happy. But it was a long road. Discipline and rewards were haphazard and inconsistent on my part, I admit.

Among the heap of memories, I pulled out a big package that once contained sheets of 500 little foil stars. I remember well sitting the kids down one morning (when they were fairly young) and offering to pay them an allowance. I would make a chart of chores for each of them, with a time limit, and post a star next to their name on the fridge. They were ecstatic!

In my head I imagined a mass of bright foil stars shining on the refrigerator, clean bedrooms, and tidy closets. I told myself this time I would enforce my idea. Not only would it benefit me, but it would provide a lesson in responsibility to the kids.

Apparently, it must not have worked. Opening the package of stars, there were still 497 left.

Days go by too fast. But every day that I have been a mother has been my reward. My children have given me the stars and the moon. My love for them will last beyond all the photos and cardboard boxes and the inevitable passing of time...

(Originally posted on July 18, 2008)