BE HOME BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME ON – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was growing up … and even when my son was growing up in the 1970s, kids went out to play. Alone. Unsupervised. Unstructured. Disorganized with not a single adult to keep an eye on us. We built “forts” and “clubhouses” out of crates and old boxes and anything we could find that mom wouldn’t miss.

We played stickball with old, pink Spalding balls that were often long bast bouncing or even being “round.” You didn’t go and buy a “stickball set.” You found an old broomstick and someone had a ball, or what used to be a ball, or you all chipped in and bought one in the local (!) toy store.

The dock at River Bend

Remember toy stores? Not “Toys R’ Us.”

Local shops where you could buy a ball or a bat or a Ginny doll for a few cents or a few dollars. The shopkeepers were always grumpy old guys (probably a lot younger than we are now), but they had a gleam in their eye. If you don’t like kids, you don’t run a toy store.

We ran around a lot. Playing tag was basic. Even dogs play tag. “Catch me if you can,” you shouted and off you went. If you got tagged, you were O-U-T. But if you could run fast enough, you could grab whatever was “home” and one shouted “Home free all!” and everyone was back in the game.

There was Hide and Seek, another classic. Someone hid, everyone hunted. You had to be careful. If you hid too well, your friends might get bored looking for you and go do something else. But no one’s mother came to complain that you were being bullied. This was stuff you dealt with because there will always be bullies. Unless you were in real danger, it was better (then and now) to cope on your own. Much better than waiting for rescue.

In the real world, rescue is rare, but bullying is not.

1953 -I’m in the middle

Jump rope. There was always an old piece of laundry line somewhere. They actually call it skipping rope in other parts of the country. In the cities, the Black girls played a variation called “double Dutch” using two ropes. We all knew how to do the double Dutch ropes turning, but none of us ever mastered the technique of actually jumping. More like an intricate dance — and I also wasn’t ever much of a dancer.

Klutz that I was and am, I was barely competent on a single line, much less two. I remain in awe of how incredibly graceful, athletic, and coördinated those girls were … and are. There was a feature about them on the news a couple of weeks ago and I am no less awestruck now than I was more than 60 years ago.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Along with jumping rope came chanting. All those weird little ditties we sang as we jumped. They mostly were alphabetic and involved names and places.

“I call my girlfriend … in …” when we were playing in a group. You could gauge your popularity by when and who “called you in” to jump in tandem. Looking back, I think the problem was not unpopularity, but being a washout as an athlete. I was a slow runner, an indifferent jumper, and a terrified tree climber. On the other hand, when it came to derring-do, I was a champ. I could organize games of pretending –pirates and cowboys and outlaws and cat burglars.

We burgled, but we never stole. We weren’t thieves, just little girls trying to prove we could do it.

I don’t see kids playing outdoors these days. Almost never, except as organized groups with one or more adults supervising. Calling the plays with whistles and shouts. Children are not allowed to “go out and play” anymore. Everyone is afraid of something. Bullying, kidnappers, traffic, skinned knees. Unlike we kids who were always covered with scabs from a thousand times falling down on the sidewalk or street.

Come home with a bloody knee today and they’ll call an ambulance. Growing up, unless you appeared to have broken something, a bath was the remedy of choice and usually, beneath the dirt, was an unbroken kid.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It makes me wistful, thinking about it. My family was dysfunctional, but I could escape by going out to play.

“Bye, Ma, I’m going out,” and off you went. It was the best part of being a child. Those months between school and hours after school (much less homework and we still learned more!) contained what seemed unlimited freedom. That was the freest I would ever be in this life.

Once you were out of the house and too far away to hear your mother calling, you could do whatever you liked. You could be whoever you imagined. There was nothing you had to do, no place you needed to be. Until the streetlights came on.

Streetlight is on. Time to go home!

You had to be home when the streetlights came on. It was a fundamental law, the bottom line. Do what you will, but be home when the streetlights come on. In those warm summers of childhood, the days flowed in an endless stream.

Darkness fell late. There was more than enough time.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I don’t love summer because I’m very sensitive to heat. I actually feel sick when I get hot because my sweat glands don’t work properly and I rarely sweat. Great savings on antiperspirant bills but it sucks when everyone else is happily sitting outside in the sun and I’m stuck inside with the air conditioning.

Apple Blossoms

So, summer is not my favorite time, even though I have a boat and summer is the prime boating season. I spend most of my boat days – you guessed it – sitting in the air-conditioned cabin, often by myself. Even my loyal dog, Lexi, who usually follows me everywhere, lays in the sun on the deck on a nice day and abandons me to the interior of the boat.

Daffodils

But spring is great. The obvious joy of spring is watching the grass and the flowers and the leaves bloom, turning the world from grey to a rainbow of colors.

Spring!

Spring is when my waterfall is fully flowing. I can open the windows to hear that wonderful sound throughout the house. In the summer, the stream usually dries up since we have less rain and more heat. So the view from my window is glorious – a picturesque waterfall in the middle of a continually greening wood.

The stream

Another, more pedestrian plus of spring is putting away my darker and heavier winter clothes and pulling out the bright-colored clothes of this bright-colored season.

I pay particular attention to my spring/summer wardrobe because when I hang out on the boat, I schmooze with people every day, as opposed to winter when I can go days without seeing anyone other than Tom. And when I make my rounds to the Post Office and the local stores and coffee shop, people can see what I’m wearing because I’m not wearing a coat that covers up what is underneath.

Brighter colors of spring

Not wearing socks is another wardrobe benefit of spring and summer.

My socks bunch up all the time and I have to take my shoes or boots off regularly to adjust them so I can walk comfortably.

There’s also the problem of navy versus black socks. I can’t seem to tell the difference in my bedroom, but as soon as I get downstairs, I can tell immediately that I’ve picked the wrong one and have to go back upstairs and change. (Yes, I care!)

Sock drawer, abandoned in the spring

Not wearing a coat or a sweater is also a spring thing. Outside, the temperature is perfect (same in the early fall) so no outerwear is necessary.

I don’t have to wear a sweater inside because the air conditioning everywhere isn’t at full blast as it is in the summer. I always carry a sweater with me throughout the summer in case I am subjected to frigid A/C’s.

Sweaters necessary indoors in A/C weather

Spring also means that the many local farms in my town reopen their markets and I can get beautiful, fresh produce and other gourmet treats, right in my backyard. The freshly baked bread is awesome!

In the offseason, I have to drive 20 minutes each way to a supermarket to even get an onion or a potato. Now these staples, as well as the seasonal fruits and vegetables, are just a few minutes away.

Tom is happy in the spring because he can start working on the boat, preparing it to go back in the water in May. So spring has a lot going for it in my world. I don’t hate winter, like most people, and I love snow, but spring really is a lot better.

Except for the hordes of tiny black ants that invade my kitchen every spring. Here they come! Get out the ant traps!

STORM STORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There are many interesting storm stories in my family history, starting with my Mom as a young woman. Sometime in the mid-1940s, before she married my dad, my mom and her friend Ethie were staying at my father’s summer house in the woods in Easton, Connecticut. There was a terrible storm raging outside, complete with brilliant lightning and crashing thunder.

Mom before she married my father

To wile away the time, they listened to the radio. That night, the radio drama piece that was on was a scary story about a woman alone in the woods on a stormy night. In the play, there was a sudden knock on the door. Cue the ominous music. In real life, there was a sudden knock on the Connecticut door, accompanied by an eerie silence. Then there was another knock.

Mom and Ethie nearly jumped out of their skins! They weren’t expecting anyone so they were terrified. They ran into the kitchen and each grabbed a heavy pot to use as a weapon, if necessary. They bravely approached the door. Ethie stayed behind the door and my mother opened it, pot brandished.

There stood a drenched man – Ethie’s boyfriend! He was worried about Mom and Ethie being alone in a secluded house so he decided to check in on them. Instead of the warm welcome he anticipated, he almost got his head bashed in with a pot!

Ethie with me as a baby

The earliest storm I remember happened when I was about six or seven years old. Again, we were in the Easton house and there was a hurricane that caused the power to go out. I don’t remember much except that I thought this was a great adventure. I loved watching my parents improvise to keep us warm, fed and entertained.

My dad lit a fire, which he rarely did. Our fireplace was mainly there for decorative purposes and often had flower pots or decorative objects in it instead of wood. That night it got to be a real fireplace with a real fire. That in itself was a treat for me. Then Dad proceeded to cook salami on a stick over the fire. It’s the only time in my entire life that I remember seeing my father cook. And I’ve never heard of anyone choosing to cook salami over an open fire. But it made a delicious sandwich!

Dad and me when I was around five

In my teen years, another hurricane knocked out the power in Easton and this crisis went on for days. My mother arranged with the local butcher to store her frozen meat in his freezer so it wouldn’t go bad. We had filled the bathtubs with water so we were able to flush the toilets.

Me at around fourteen or fifteen

When the tub water ran out, my mother got a clever idea. We could drive down to the pool (which was at the bottom of the hill that the house stood on) and bring pool water up to the house. So we took our biggest, cast iron pots with handles, and filled them at the pool. The problem was that the ride back to the house was on a bumpy, dirt road. We tried to drive slowly and carefully, but by the time we got back to the house, most of the water had sloshed onto the floor of the car.

Not an efficient solution.

Our pool

As we were trying to figure out how many trips we would have to make to solve our toilet flushing problem, the power miraculously came back on! We often laughed about this creative but flawed McGyver moment!

Another memorable storm story happened when I was a teenager. My mother and I were driving from our apartment in New York City to our house in Easton in a raging blizzard. The snow and the wind created total whiteout conditions. We couldn’t see two feet in front of us. We literally had to get out of the car to figure out where the road was and which way it went.

This was how bad the visibility was!

I had anxiety issues so this could have been a terrifying, stressful experience. But my mother was an upbeat, positive person with a wicked sense of humor.

She turned this situation into a silly game. I remember laughing hysterically as we blindly inched our way up the highway. Somehow Mom made it feel like an episode of “I Love Lucy.”

From then on, I tried to model my crisis behavior on my mother’s. I always try to find humor in muddling through. When given a choice between laughing and crying – always go for the laugh!

Mom when I was seventeen or eighteen

One more interesting storm experience involves Tom and my boat. When hurricanes directly hit our marina, the marina staff have to take the boats out of the water, to protect them. They put them in the parking lot, on stilts, like they do to store the boats over the winter. This happened in advance of Hurricane Sandy, in 2012. Amazingly, the small staff managed to get over 130 boats out of the water in about 36 hours.

What hurricanes can do to a marina

The crazy thing was that in the storm, the water flooded the parking lot and came all the way up to the bottom of the boats. Any more flooding and the boats would have started to float around the parking lot, crashing into one another. That would have been a major disaster. One sailboat from a nearby mooring also ended up in our parking lot, marooned when the water receded. It was a bizarre situation.

In 2011, we had lost power in the house twice, for a week each time. That’s when we decided to get a generator. It took forever to get it installed and it was operational just a week before Hurricane Sandy hit the next year.

Since then, our storm stories have been boring – the power goes out and then ten seconds later, it comes back on again. We often still lose phone lines and internet service, so it can still be an inconvenience. But nothing to write home about – or write a blog about!

This is our precious generator!

A GOOD DAY FOR WOODPECKERS – Marilyn Armstrong

I really wasn’t going to take any pictures. For one thing, I didn’t feel particularly well and I really have a LOT of pictures. Thousands I think during the past three months.

So I was in the kitchen trying to make a sandwich. I wandered to the window and I looked out — and there was a red-headed ladderback woodpecker landing on the feeder, a cardinal in the flat feeder and before I finished picking up my camera, two more woodpeckers, both landing on the feeder in addition to a variety of other smaller birds.

I’ve never gotten a picture of a male and female downy (or hairy) woodpecker on the feeder at the same time while yet a third woodpecker was on the other feeder and a cardinal too.

Isn’t this a gorgeous bird?

I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. I also have managed to process a lot of them. Many didn’t need much processing. Other than a little straightening or cropping, the pictures all looked fine right out of the camera.

Another beauty!

So I did a little cropping, signing, and now, time to put some of them up for looking at. I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll start with the ladderback red-headed fella and tomorrow I’ll get serious about the two woodpeckers … or something like that.

Can you see the snow falling in the pictures? Because it’s snowing out there and it’s very cold.

WINTER SOLSTICE – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: SOLSTICE

Why did it have to be raining? Why was today the day that every bone in my body hurts and some things which are arguably not bones, hurt too? The birds are outside rain and all.

They don’t expect a warm, dry house … and there’s a feeder to raid. I suppose, when you are a bird, a decent meal is about as good as it gets.

I know this means the season is turning again and days will get longer and ultimately, it will warm up. But not for a while. We have three long winter months to navigate and we’ve barely begun yet.

And meanwhile, at Stonehenge …

The bears have not gone into hibernation. Not cold enough yet? Too many trash cans to raid?

The sky is a leaden pale gray as the heavy rain falls. The dogs want nothing to do with outside. Snow is fun and everything else is okay too, but rain? No, thank you. Pass the biscuits. The sofa is home for now.

Winter Solstice – Sunrise – 2016

I have a doctor appointment. My right arm has taken to hurting a lot and won’t let me sleep. Nothing makes it any better. I think it may actually be a sign that my chest is beginning to heal, but why does it have to hurt so much?

It could be snowing. That would probably be worse, or at least, more complicated. We still have no one to plow the driveway and it’s a long, long road to the “real” road.

Winter has finally come, I suppose. I should be happier about it. I’m trying hard to find that happy place.

AUTUMN COMES TO NEW ENGLAND – #WRITEPHOTO – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumn Comes to New England – #writephoto

It is the end of September. Normally, we would be wrapped in the bright leaf colors for which New England is justly famous. Not so far.

We were at Manchaug a few days ago and everything was green.  We always look for the first color of the year along the water, but aside from some berries and a few yellow leaves, it was still deep summer green.

The dam at Manchaug was full this year. Lots of rain this spring and summer.

It seems to make the colors bright and show up sooner than anywhere else.

But it was green along the river on Tuesday. Today is Friday and it has been pouring for the past couple of days. Good news? The temperature is down and you can see bits and pieces of the season on its way.

Bad news? If it doesn’t stop raining soon, the leaves will turn yellow, then brown, then fall off the trees. Rain is just not the best thing for autumn colors.

Today, though I began to see — through the rain — the start of colors and even the occasional scarlet maple tree shining through the green. And finally, I saw a tree. Just one tree, mostly yellow with some red. I took pictures.

Considering how grim much of life has been, one bright tree made all the difference.

2018 – ANOTHER SEPTEMBER SONG – Garry Armstrong

I’ ve asked old acquaintance, Walter Houston, once again, to lead us with his melancholy vocal of “September Song” to set the mood.

September is a bittersweet month for many of us. For the young, it’s the end of summer,  goodbye to the idyllic warm days of endless fun and those first romantic days and nights recorded on songs whose lyrics you now struggle to remember.

It’s adieu to summer camp. I have positive memories of Silver Bay and Camp Wilbur Herrlich,  Kodak memories of Lutheran Summer Camps in the woods of upstate New York.  Roasting hot dogs, marshmallows and chugging “bug juice” around twilight campfires.

Barbecue in the yard

In the far recesses of my brain,  we’re again singing  “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” “Beautiful Savior” (Mom’s favorite hymn) and “Abide With Me.” Some of the mid-teen voices are cracking as we try to go to higher notes.  Boys and girls sneak quick looks at each other, cementing romances that will be “forever.”

September fields

Pastor Herb Gibney, who was a central figure in my life from age 13 to age 48  (He was the lead minister at our wedding in 1990), would regale us with “colorful” stories we were not supposed to tell our parents.  All the hushed laughter in our tents overnight as we watched fireflies light the sky and we swapped stories that had little truth. We always wanted to be the last one to fall asleep.

September also is the pivotal month in sports.  Our baseball teams are in their final drive for a pennant, postseason berths and, if lucky,  a trip to the World Series.  There’s a lot of nail-biting, prayers to the big baseball guy in the sky and sleepless nights as our team struggles.

September by the Blackstone

It’s the beginning of football on all levels — from the NFL down to Junior High School and local PeeWee Leagues.  Here in New England,  we wonder if the ageless Tom Brady can pull off his magic and lead the Patriots to one more Superbowl.  Tom is a 40 something quarterback this year and the Patriots don’t look very super after their first two games.  Yes, I know it’s just September and early for professional football.

September is a big month for weather.

Hurricane season, in particular. Florence is still wreaking havoc with Atlantic coastal cities and there’s no end in sight right now.   We’re happy to be above Flo’s path of destruction.  We just had heavy rain which doesn’t sit well with our furry children.

The 9th month is the beginning for political hopefuls who hope to win in the midterm elections.  We’re hoping all those upset with the status quo, embrace a candidate’s campaign and participate in a BIGLY effort come election day — as in, get out and VOTE.

We’re also about to be inundated with the new season of TV shows. From what we’ve seen in previews,  don’t hold your breath unless you’re watching Candace Bergen as “Murphy Brown” returns to television.

I also noticed the Hallmark Channel is beginning its run of Christmas themed romantic dramas.  I’ll pass.

Walter Houston is wrapping up his encore of “September Song”.

Thank you, Kind Sir.   Same time, next year…