Christmas Trees

I put up our little Christmas tree recently; actually, it was the one my parents had; already decorated. The lights still work, and it’s on our bay window, looking as beautiful and bright as always. It seems that, no matter how old we are, we still get that thrill of the first snow fall, putting up the Christmas tree and hanging up the lights. I always hark back to what Christmases were like when I was growing up. On Christmas Eve, my parents and I went to my grandparents’ house. I brought my tiny suitcase as I always stayed over night on Christmas Eve.

My grandmother always made a fabulous seafood chowder (which I now make every Christmas Eve) for supper. It was wonderful, and there were homemade pickles and rolls. Dessert was always something extra special. While the adults sat around the table having coffee, I would go into the parlor where the Christmas tree stood. All the ornaments I loved were on it, and below it was beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts. I would lie down under the tree, and look up at the lights and wonder when Santa Claus would arrive.

When my parents went back home, I got into my nightgown and took my plate of cookies upstairs to what my grandmother called the “pink room.” It was her favorite color, and the walls and ceiling were pink, as was all the bedding. There was a window to the side of the bed, and I always opened it a tiny crack; I loved the smell of the pine trees. I would read until I was tired, and then I would turn out the light, and listen to my grandparents talking.

As I drifted off, I swore that I could hear Santa’s sleigh bells in the night.


Does Anyone Use the Dictionary Anymore?

Ah, the American Heritage Dictionary! Does anyone still use it? I realize that it’s pretty easy to check your device to find the correct spelling of a word, especially something out of the ordinary, such as “haboob.” (From the Weather Channel, “Haboobs are dust storms caused by strong winds flowing downward and outward from thunderstorms.”

“All thunderstorms produce these gusty winds, so for a haboob to form, the storm needs to be in a location where the winds can pick up small particles of dirt or sand in a dry desert area.” Pretty interesting, right? And you can find all this easily in your dictionary.

Way back when I was in grammer school, we learned useful things such as using a dictionary, how to check out a book at the library (as long as you had a library card), and how to understand (and use) the *Dewey Decimal Classification. Another helpful tool was the Thesauras; which offers more than 150,000 synonyms, related words, idiomatic phrases, and antonyms. Words are alphabetically organized for ease of use, and each word comes with a brief definition to describe shared meanings.

Later on in school, we learned about Strunk and White’s . I still have my copy and I use it often. The book’s mantra is still on point:

“This much-loved classic, now in its fourth edition, will forever be the go-to guide when in need of a hint to make a turn of phrase clearer or a reminder on how to enliven prose with the active voice. The only style manual to ever appear on bestseller lists has explained to millions of readers the basic principals of plain English, and Maira Kalman’s fifty-seven exquisite illustrations give the revered work a jolt of new energy, making the learning experience more colorful and clear.”

I realize that we now live in a techno world and can look up things in a flash. But, as an older person, I still love the feel of real pages and the fun of looking up words and phrases. Trust me, there is always something new to learn and appreciate.


*From Wikipedia:

“The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), colloquially the Dewey Decimal System, is a proprietary library classification system first published in the United States by Melvil Dewey in 1876.[1] Originally described in a four-page pamphlet, it has been expanded to multiple volumes and revised through 23 major editions, the latest printed in 2011. It is also available in an abridged version suitable for smaller libraries. OCLC, a non-profit cooperative that serves libraries, currently maintains the system and licenses online access to WebDewey, a continuously updated version for catalogers.”

“The Decimal Classification introduced the concepts of relative location and relative index which allow new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on subject. Libraries previously had given books permanent shelf locations that were related to the order of acquisition rather than topic. The classification’s notation makes use of three-digit Arabic numerals for main classes, with fractional decimals allowing expansion for further detail. Using Arabic numerals for symbols, it is flexible to the degree that numbers can be expanded in linear fashion to cover special aspects of general subjects.[2] A library assigns a classification number that unambiguously locates a particular volume in a position relative to other books in the library, on the basis of its subject. The number makes it possible to find any book and to return it to its proper place on the library shelves.[Note 1] The classification system is used in 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries.[3][4]”

Why We Shouldn’t Yell at Our Pets

I learned the hard way that losing my temper and yelling at my cats doesn’t help them stop bad behavior; it makes them fearful and can make them lose trust. When we first adopted Scooter, a small black cat who is only about four years old, it wasn’t easy to get the other (and older) cats to get used to him. When Scooter would approach one of the cats to play, they would hiss at him and run. It takes time for pets to get comfortable with new pets.

Of course, the inevitable happened; Scooter would approach the other cats and they would either swat him or run from him. When this happened, I would scold the cat that swatted. This did nothing but make all the cats scared. It may sound funny, but I realized that all I was doing was scaring both the swatter and the swattee.

When a new pet comes into a house with already established pets, there is always a learning curve and a lot of getting used to the new pet. For our four older cats, Scooter was an outsider and a pain in the tail. It takes time for the older cats to get used to a new cat, especially a young one. Poor Scooter just wanted to play, but the other cats weren’t having it at all.

When I saw Bailey (who was my mom’s and dad’s cat) swat Scooter, I just lost it. I yelled at him and swatted his tail. Of course the poor thing was terrified and went into hiding. It was then that I had one of those “ah ha” moments: my yelling and swatting was not helping; it was teaching Bailey to be afraid of me.

After I had a good cry over it, I stopped yelling and swatting. I even apologized to all my cats and promised that I would never ever yell or swat them again. (And I know what you’re thinking: ‘oh SURE they listened!’) But I’ve kept my word. Although the four older cats are getting used to Scooter these days, there is always a small dust-up here and there. When I see or hear it, I just say (not shout) “hey, hey—that’s enough.”

Our pets have no idea why we are yelling at them; all yelling does just making them scared. If your dog likes to chew on your leather slippers, put them in your bureau drawer. If your cat just loves to knock your doo-dads off the living room table, then put them somewhere else where the cat can’t get at them.

It does no good at all to yell and tell them that they are bad dogs and cats; they seriously do not have a clue why you are yelling at them. Yelling will just make the pets scared of you, nervous and afraid.

Make sure that your pets have playthings that they like. I’ve never owned a dog so I’m not much help to you on that one. But cats absolutely love catnip toys. We always have “stinky fish” (check them out on Amazon) which are stuffed with catnip. There are also “kicking sticks,” which are long cotton tubes which are also stuffed with catnip. Cats go nuts for them and will amuse themselves for hours. Those plastic “jingle” balls are fun for them as well. Often the cats will play so much that they end up taking a long nap afterwards.

And as for Scooter fitting in with the others; it’s happening. Of course there will be minor dust-ups now and then, but as the months go by, our other cats are becoming more tolerant. I learned the hard way that bullying and yelling and swatting do nothing; all those things only make the cats scared and afraid. I don’t yell any more, and I don’t swat their tails anymore. When a little dust-up happens, I just say “hey now, that’s enough, kids.” Then I pat them and tell them what good kitties they are—now that’s something that they really understand.

Lesson learned: please don’t yell at your pets or swat them.



When Men and Women Travel

I wrote this a few years back, and nothing has changed.

The Crankee Yankee and I enjoy our road trips, and go on them at least a few times a month. Unless we are visiting my step-daughter and her family “up Maine,” we tend to take our time, go on back roads and enjoy the scenery and each other’s company.

However, even with that relaxed scenario and not much of an agenda, there is still that whole “man/woman perspective.” No matter how casual our jaunt is, there are still some unspoken assumptions and expectations. Mine are usually these:

  • That we will take the time to stop at a fun little restaurant or diner for lunch or an early dinner (NOT fast food)
  • That we may stop to check out an interesting shop.
  • That we will take bathroom breaks.
  • That when I say, “oooooh! Let’s stop here!” that we will stop there.
  • That we are some place we don’t always go, so let’s take our time.
  • *That I don’t necessarily have to hear ‘well, we’ve come through here before, don’t you remember?’

That said, the Crankee Yankee (and, I’m betting, most men) feels this way:

  • We are driving to <wherever> to do something, buy something, see something, and that’s IT
  • We may or may not stop for lunch; if we do, McDonald’s is cheap and perfectly fine
  • We are not here to wander around shops all day
  • That if we are going to stop to pee, make it in a place where we have to stop anyway
  • We need to get back before dark

For the Crankee Yankee, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. For me, it’s ALL about the destination. I do enjoy being a passenger and letting someone else worry about the details. So I don’t expect to have to answer an impromptu quiz about routes, back roads and railroad tracks. Sheesh.

Needless to say, there are some lively disputes about this…

Here’s the bald truth: when I am a passenger, I pay no attention to route numbers, road signs, weather vanes, etc. I’m there for the ride and possibly a short nap. If I’m not driving, I’m not paying attention to how we go anywhere. So don’t ask me.

Angels All Around Us

I wrote this a few years ago, but it is still an amazing story.


As we approach the holidays, I am reminded of a show I saw years ago that featured stories about people who claim to have been helped by angels. One story really touched my heart that I have never forgotten. A divorced mother and her young son were living in a cheap apartment,  and money was very tight. She had just lost her job waitressing for a coffee house nearby, and although she had a degree in accounting and an excellent work record, she could not find work in her field. None of her interviews had gotten her any closer to a job offer. Thanksgiving was approaching, and she was worried that she and her son might not be able to celebrate, let alone have a good meal.

Thanksgiving day dawn broke brightly, and there was frost twinkling on the grass. The mother took out three hot dogs from the freezer, plus three rolls. This, and a small can of beans, would be their Thanksgiving dinner.

She took her little boy to the playground, where they enjoyed the swings, the teeter-totter, the little merry-go-round, and several games of tag. They walked home hand-in-hand, laughing. Her little boy was happy, and looking forward to Thanksgiving. The mother was dreading it, as they had so little food.

As they approached the apartment complex, an older woman came out of the apartment above theirs. She greeted them, and asked if they would like to share Thanksgiving dinner with her. It seemed that her whole family was flying in from across the country, and their flight had been canceled.

“Please come in and help me eat up all this food!” the woman said. The young mother stammered, “But we don’t want to impose–what if your family gets another flight?”

The older woman laughed, and said, “With the weather so bad out there, I doubt that I’ll see them for weeks! So, if you don’t come in, all this food will go to waste.”

The mother and little boy looked at each other. The little boy said, “Mom, I’m hungry!” The older woman smiled and said, “Well, there you go. That’s what we need, some hungry people!”

Smiling, she opened the door. The mother and boy walked in and stared.

The table was set with a beautiful white cloth, and the china and glasses glittered in the light. There was a tremendous turkey filled with stuffing, a big bowl of mashed potatoes with butter melting on top, a gravy boat filled with delicious-looking gravy, a basket of hot rolls, a bowl of squash, one of fresh green peas, a crystal dish of cranberry sauce, and, at the far end of the table sat three pies, one apple, one blueberry, and one pumpkin.

They all sat down, said grace and helped themselves. All during the meal, the older woman asked the younger woman about herself, and asked her son about school. The younger woman found it easy to speak with her, and, for the first time since she lost her job, she felt happy and somehow confident that things were going to get better.

As they enjoyed the last crumbs of pie, the older woman insisted on packing up the leftovers for them. She hugged them both, and whispered into the mother’s ear, “everything is going to be just fine; you’ll see.”

After thanking the woman, the mother and son went downstairs to their apartment, put all the food away, and talked about what a good day it had been. For the first time in a long time, the mother slept well and without worry.

The next day after the boy had gone to school, the mother repackaged the leftover food from their meal, and washed and dried all the containers. She put them in a bag, and went upstairs to return them to the kind woman who had fed them. She knocked, but there was no answer. She knocked again and called out, but heard nothing.

The landlord appeared in the stairwell, and said, “No one lives there. Are you looking for someone?”

She explained about how the older woman had had she and her son over for Thanksgiving and that she wanted to return her containers. The landlord scratched his head and said, “That apartment has been vacant for months.”

“But the woman who lives here had my son and I over for Thanksgiving yesterday!” she said. The landlord looked confused and repeated that the apartment had been vacant for a long time.

Troubled, the mother walked downstairs. She knew that the woman had lived there; they had eaten her food, hadn’t they? She even had her containers to prove it! How could this be?

Later that day, she received a phone call from a company who had interviewed her weeks ago. She had given up on it, and had taken the waitressing job to make ends meet. It turned out that they had lost her file and had just located it, and wanted her to start work that week! The salary they quoted was far more than she could have imagined. Happily, she accepted, and hung up the phone.

Then she remembered what the older woman had whispered in her ear; that things would be better. Could it be that an angel had fed her and her son, and given her the job opportunity she needed so badly? There was no explanation for it—or was there?

For me this story makes me both happy and in awe. I do believe with all my heart that angels are around us all the time. They are there to help us along, and sometimes we even get to see them in action.

Wasting Food

I really hate wasting food; I was raised to clean my plate and only take seconds if I was really hungry. To this day, it bothers me when food is wasted. Fortunately, the Crankee Yankee feels the same way. We are both fans of leftovers, and wouldn’t think of tossing anything out of the ‘fridge unless it had “food fur” on it. Both of us were raised in homes where you just didn’t waste anything: sort of like the old Yankee dictum: “waste not, want not;” as in if we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack for it.

Just yesterday, the Crankee Yankee and I were out doing the shopping, and decided to go out for lunch. We went to one of our favorite seafood restaurants and their special was a crab cake sandwich with cucumbers and fries. It sounded delicious, so we both ordered them.

Our waiter brought our lunch to our table, and, instead of the luscious crab cakes we ordered, we were given grilled salmon sandwiches with cucumbers and fries. Well, they did look delicious, but we really wanted crab cakes. We called the waiter over and he apologized, took the salmon sandwiches back, and put in our original order.

I said to the Crankee Yankee, “you don’t think that they are going to just throw those perfectly good salmon sandwiches away, do you?” We both thought that the wrong sandwiches should end up for the waiter and chef to eat for lunch; why would you throw away two perfectly good and untouched sandwiches?

About fifteen minutes later, our crab cake sandwiches and fries were brought to us. The Crankee Yankee asked if they had thrown away the original sandwiches, and the waiter nodded as if he had done the most noble act a human being could do; the perfectly good sandwiches were indeed thrown away.

While it bothers me no end about wasting food, it could be that this particular restaurant has a policy of not eating “mistakes,” or perhaps there is some rule against eating sandwiches that you did not buy yourself. But sheesh—what an appalling waste of good food!

Ah well, once a Yankee, always a Yankee.


Don’t We All Need a Laugh Today

I wrote this a few years ago, but it still makes me laugh.

The following are actual stories told by travel agents:

I had someone who wanted to stay at the Bob Newhart Inn in Connecticut.

When I explained that the inn was fictional, the customer became very
irate and insisted “I know it is real, I see people check in every week!”

___I really did have someone ask for an aisle seat so that their hair
wouldn’t get messed up by being near the window.

___A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, “Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?”

___I got a call from a woman who wanted to go to Cape Town. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with “I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts.”

Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained,

“Cape Cod is in Massachusetts; Cape Town is in Africa.”

Her response … click.

___A secretary called in looking for a hotel in Los Angeles. She gave me
various names off a list, none of which I could find. I finally had her fax me the list. To my surprise, it was a list of hotels in New Orleans, Louisiana. She thought the LA stood for Los Angeles, and that New Orleans was a suburb of L.A. Worst of all, when I called her back, she was not even embarrassed.

___A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was  wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible, since Orlando is in the middle of the state.

He replied, “Don’t lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very
thin state.”

___I got a call from a man who asked, “Is it possible to see England from

I said, “No.”

He said, “But they look so close on the map.”

___Another man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. When I
pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a one-hour layover in Dallas.

When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, “I heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between the gates to save time.”

___A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am.

I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!

___A woman called and asked, “Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know who’s luggage belongs to who?”

I said, “No, why do you ask?”

She replied, “Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I’m overweight, is there any connection?”

After putting her on hold for a minute while I ‘looked into it’ (I was actually laughing), I came back and explained the city code for Fresno is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

___I just got off the phone with a man who asked, “How do I know which plane to get on?”

I asked him what, exactly, he meant, to which he replied, “I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.”

___A woman called and said, “I need to fly to Pepsi-cola on one of those computer planes.”

I asked if she meant to fly to Pensacola on a commuter plane.

She said, “Yeah, whatever.”

___A business man called and had a question about the documents he needed in order to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him he needed a visa.

“Oh, no, I don’t. I’ve been to China many times and never had to have one of those.”

I double-checked, and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this, he said, “Look, I’ve been to China four times and every time, they have accepted my American Express.”

___A woman called to make reservations; “I want to go from Chicago to
Hippopotamus, New York.” The agent was at a loss for words.

Finally, the agent said, “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?”

“Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer.

After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.”

The customer retorted, “Oh, don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!”

The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?”

“That’s it! I knew it was a big animal!”

Talk Less; Listen More

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I talk way too much. Not that there’s anything wrong with talking, but I find that, when I am with a group of people, I don’t listen enough because I’m too busy talking.

Last night when the Crankee Yankee and I went to our Christmas social with our train friends I tried an experiment. I listened more and I talked less. Of course, if someone asked me a question I’d answer, but in the main I started asking people what was new in their lives, and so on.

And you know what? It was a wonderful experience! For the most part, everyone has stories to tell and enjoys catching up on each others’ lives. Everyone is involved in their own lives and families, there are joys and sorrows, gain and loss, and so on.

My Irish grandmother used to talk about people she knew who liked to “shine their behinds.” This means that there are people who love talking about themselves non-stop. Unwittingly, I now realize I was myself shining my behind!

So last night was wonderful; I got caught up with everyone, and best of all: I listened. Although our group loves trains and everything about them, they are people with lives, joys and sorrows of their own. It was a pure pleasure to sit back and listen. Of course when asked I would tell folks how we are doing and so forth, but mainly it was a joy to just sit back and listen.

I guess I could say that my early New Year’s resolution is to listen more and talk less. Since I do love to talk, it’s a challenge sometimes to keep my mouth shut and just listen. Somewhere I read in an advice column about talking too much; their advice was this: “keep your tongue firmly on the roof of your mouth.” Try it and you’ll find that you are talking less and listening more.

The First BIG Snow

Yep, we finally got hit big time here in the Northeast with loads of snow yesterday. And of course, it wasn’t the light fluffy snow either; it was heavy and sticky; we ended up with about a foot and a half of it. The Crankee Yankee fired up my Dad’s old snow blower for the driveway, and I went out back to stomp “roads” for the outdoorsies to walk in so that they could get to the food stations.

It’s my habit that, in the early evening before dark, I go out and top off the outdoorsies’ food bowls, check the water bowls (those “barn bowls” are the best; they have long cords to keep the water from freezing), etc. Knowing that the nights are getting really cold, I always pop a body warmer, or hand warmer under the blankets in the shelters just in case. They last for hours, so if any of our “guests” get caught in the storm, they have food, water and warm beds.

As our vehicles are covered in loads of snow, we decided to walk to a restaurant close by for lunch. That’s when I found out that my old pair of UGG knockoffs were leaking; yuck. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t pay attention. So don’t do what I did; check your boot situation before walking out in the snow. Luckily, I still have my good old un-stylish rubber boots.

As if we didn’t have enough new snow, it snowed again last night. New England is funny that way; we can have “light” winters where there is minimal snow; then again we can have tons of it. Personally I like living in a place where there are four seasons; even the winter season.

But as a savvy 90 year old-plus woman I know always says, “watchagonnado?” I say go with it, bundle up and make a snowman—or two. Then slog back into the house and have a nice mug of hot chocolate.

What Happens When You Re-Read Harry Potter Books (or any books you love)

I have loved the entire series of Harry Potter since the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” came out. It was my mother who told me about the book, so I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I came to the end of it. From then on, every time a new Harry Potter book came out, the Crankee Yankee would drive me to the nearest WalMart at midnight to get a copy. When we got home, I would start reading and he would go to bed. When morning came, he would find me still in my chair, reading.

“Have you been up all night?” He would ask.

“Yup.” (said in a tone that clearly meant ‘don’t bother me; I have to get to the end of this and then I’ll talk.’)

This went on until the final book in the seven book series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” came out. I’m sure that I was one of hundreds of thousands who grieved that the stories were over. To this day I have re-read all the books over and over again. Why? Because reading any of the Harry Potter books put me in a magical place that both soothes and interests me.

Also, because I love all things British, I’ve fallen into “Harry Potter speak” without realizing it. Britishisms slowly crept into my speech. I began using words such as “gobsmacked” (seriously surprised), and “what you reckon?” (“what do you suppose that means?”), and the Dumbledore-ish “not to worry,” and so on.

Of course I saw each and every one of the Harry Potter movies as well, and love them still to this day. So, what happens when we re-read books we love? We settle into our most comfortable chair, with a cup of coffee at the ready—and we happily enter the wonderful world of a beloved book.

If you remember *Melanie, she once sung a song in which the lyrics included this: “I’d like to find a good book to live in.” If I could pick one book to live in, it would be any of the Harry Potter books.

My mother used to roll her eyes at me when she saw me re-reading a Harry Potter book. She felt that once you’ve read a book, move on—don’t waste time re-reading; there are plenty of other books to read. I disagree to this day. Harry Potter books are both soothing and truly magical.

I hope that we all can claim at least one book to live in.

*Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk (born February 3, 1947) is an American singer-songwriter[1] known professionally as Melanie and sometimes as Melanie Safka. She remains best known for the 1971/72 global hit “Brand New Key“, her cover of “Ruby Tuesday“, her composition “What Have They Done to My Song Ma“, and her 1970 international breakthrough hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)“, inspired by her experience of performing at the 1969 Woodstock music festival.[2][3]