A PERFECT GIFT – Marilyn Armstrong

“I want these earrings, or something as close to it as you can find,” I said, handing him the picture, item number and the website address. The trouble is, my husband doesn’t take orders. If I say I want those earrings, he will buy the other ones because he likes them better. Which would be fine, if he were going to wear them.

I am pretty good at following orders, but it isn’t much fun.  I always tried to find something a little creative … until I realized he didn’t want something unique. He wanted that shirt, that sweatshirt. He didn’t want different colors. He wanted it to look exactly like all his other ties, all his other shirts.

A couple of years ago, my best friend got desperate. She bought the beautiful hand-made leather bag she wanted, handed it to her husband. “Wrap it up,” she said. “You just bought my Christmas present.”

That is one approach. I came up with an alternative.

We buy each other something relatively small for Christmas — an “under the tree” gift. We try to be sure it’s something each of us wants. Amazon wish lists can be a big help (just saying). After Christmas, we go shopping. He gets the stuff he wants and tries it on. So what if it’s the same items he always buys? It’s his choice.

I buy the earrings I want, a sweater that fits. The electronic gadget I’ve been yearning for, the lens on my wish list.

We are both happy. We shop together, share the experience, get to make suggestions, offer input and have a lot of fun. Prices are always rock-bottom after the holidays are over and if you wait a few extra days, the stores aren’t crowded. It totally removes the stress from trying to find a perfect gift.

It turns out if you bring the recipient with you, he or she can choose and they will always find the perfect gift.

THE SURPRISING CHRISTMAS – Rich Paschall

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

72-Christmas Eve_013Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshman year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael.

So, he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual, and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things didn’t get quieter.

The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There, he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace.

As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entranceway on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.”

Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.”

With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

last snow low contrast winter

Kyle only took a few short steps before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first-grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting.

Uxb Common Christmas Poster

Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally, Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that, the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

72-GAR-Night-Uxbridge-121015_005

Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.”

At that instant, Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart, he was praying for acceptance.

That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.

A TREE GROWS IN UXBRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

THE CHRISTMAS TREE FOR 2019

A small tree with tiny lights is the flower of MY day! I have to do a little rearranging of the lights, but it’s such a pretty little tree. I keep it – intact – in my spare “office” room, covered in plastic from year to year.

When the season comes around, I unwrap it — carefully — and carry it into the living room. This year, we have a CD player where the tree usually goes, so I had to do a little planning. I didn’t realize how heavy that player was, so when I picked it up to move it, me and it headed for the floor and I was trying to not drop it. I can’t afford to replace it.

I finally got it onto the semi-circular brick front of the fireplace.

Phew. After I nudged it into place, I realized I can’t use the remote because now it’s below the level of the coffee table. I have to stand and walk over and point the remote down. But it works.

Harry Belefonte’s Greatest Hits was in the machine, so the moment I plugged it in, he began to sing.  I love his voice. It’s like velvet.

I grabbed the kitchen scissors and went into my office. Very carefully, I cut the bag off the tree. I looked it over. Pretty good. The lights had sagged a little, but otherwise, it looked as good as it ever did.

I had already put down a Christmas cover and it was perfect. It’s a hand-made patchwork quilt I bought years ago in Pennsylvania. It’s long and narrow and I never really knew what to do with it. Now, for Christmas, it has a home under our tree.  I’ll take better pictures of it later.

Ever since I gave Garry my Leica, I’m having trouble using the new small camera. It has a much slower lens. I’m trying to get used to it. It’s fine in brighter light, but an f3.3 lens is slow indoors. A bit disappointing so far, but it’ll be good outside which is mostly where I take pictures.

OUR MANAGEABLE LITTLE CHRISTMAS AND HOW IT GOT THAT WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was little, everyone’s trees were covered in tinsel and some fluffy white stuff. It imitated snow on the branches of your tree and placed judiciously, was quite lovely. The white fluffy stuff was banned because it was mostly fiberglass. It was lethal to pets and dangerous for people, too.

2003

As for tinsel, I think it was a cleanup issue. It got into everything. Animals ate it, including dogs, cats, and baby rug-rats. It did look very pretty, all silvery on the trees. It came in other colors too, but I don’t think most people really got “into” the pinks and oranges and blues.

From when I married Jeffrey in 1964, we had ‘real’ trees. It was a family thing, to get the biggest tree you could, then spend hours reconstructing it with saws and wires to make it look perfect

2015

Real Christmas trees weren’t expensive, either. Even though they made an awful mess (I was usually still trying to get those dried pine needles out of the wood floors a year later when the new tree was going up), it wasn’t a big deal to get a tree and there was a tree lot on every corner.

2017

Then one year — it must have been during the late 1970s — the price shot up and a tree that had cost $10 the previous year was $50 the next.

We still got a real one until the end of the 1970s when Jeff and I divorced and I moved to Israel.

2014

By the time I came back from Israel (August 1987), a $10 tree was $100. Garry and I bought got real ones for a few years when we had the townhouse in Boston. One was so perfect — and so WIDE — it took up the entire living room. The following year I tried to find an unreal tree that would fit into our actual space.

Christmas cactus – 2018

Then we moved here and since we live 5 doors down from an actual Christmas tree farm (which today I noticed is for sale, so there goes Arrowhead Farms!), you could choose your tree in August or September, watch it grow, then cut it down yourself immediately before you were ready to put it up. Talk about a FRESH tree.

I never had trouble putting up the tree and everyone was eager to help decorate it, but no one ever wanted to take it down or put away the decorations. We still had a tree standing one year on my birthday in March.

2016

We had a few more live ones after that, but the bloom was coming off the rose. Even a six-foot tree took up more room than we could really give it. There was nowhere to walk around it — and the dogs were always trying to eat the glass ornaments.

NO ONE wants their dogs eating glass anything, much less those fragile ornaments. Cats just liked to play with them, but the dogs liked a good hefty bite! Then, for a while, it became almost impossible to get glass ornaments. Some sort of national agreement that all decorations would be plastic.

A few years ago when my son and his family moved out, Garry and I realized we didn’t need gigantic trees. We started buying little real trees in pots on the theory that we could plant them in the spring, but they never survived long enough to plant. They dried out and died long before it was warm enough to plant anything.

2014 – The year of two small trees!

Finally, three years ago, I found the perfect fake 4-foot tree. It looks so much like a real tree, most people think it is real until they touch it and even then, they aren’t sure.  I had a lot of searching to do to find it.

Also, it is big enough to have some presence. It feels like a tree, not like a toy yet it is small enough to put on our huge coffee table on which we never serve coffee. The table really functions as a place to show off old pottery and other small decorative things because under the glass top is a shelf for “stuff.” And it’s big enough to sort the laundry.

2013

Thus we found a viable version of Christmas for us. It is big enough to be a Christmas but sufficiently small and neat to make it something we could do ourselves without winding up exhausted with a giant mess following the holiday.

I think our 4-foot always-decorated tree is perfect. It safeguards all our earlier Christmases and it’s ready in half a blink to take its place. From last year, it also has lights.

2018 again

There’s nothing religious — per se — about the tree but there is symbolism in it and continuity. It means something because we’ve always had some kind of Christmas. This is easy, pretty, painless … so we get to keep our personal history.

A very little, very pretty Christmas from us to you! And don’t forget: at least one of us is sort of Jewish, in a casual sort of way.

TIME FOR A DRINK! LIFT YOUR GLASS TO BECKYB – Marilyn Armstrong

Time for a Drink for BeckyB!

It was party time in Massachusetts. I would probably have been content to stay home and process bird pictures, but Garry felt we needed an airing. Also, he wanted to find out how his cochlear implant would handle a really large party.

George Regan gives amazing parties. He’s kind of the best PR guys in the state, so if you’re trying to make it in politics or business or whatever, George is your guy.

He’s also a remarkably nice person, too, with dogs and a lovely house on the water in Quincy. We are lucky to get annual invitations. We often don’t make it because it’s December which is usually busy — with bad weather. But this year, we made it.

Time for evening light through tall windows

In addition to wanting to test out his new hearing, there was a friend who was going to be there who Garry wanted to see very much. He has been ill, so it has been a long time since we’ve spent time together — and George’s place is about as midway to our houses as you can get. They live in Bourne, on the Cape while we reside in Uxbridge, south-central of nowhere.

Quincy is one of those places which somehow is always in the middle of a traffic jam, so even though it should only be about an hour’s drive, it always takes at least two … and that’s on a Tuesday afternoon. I can only imagine the traffic on Saturday or Sunday, especially since they are on the road which goes to the stadium where the Patriots play.

It’s close enough to Boston so over the years, it has become part and parcel of the Boston mega-traffic-jam, so we got stuck in it going there and coming back. We thought there had to be an accident or something along the way, but no accident that we found.

Time to drive to the party

Just traffic and a lot of it.

We made it. Not only did we make it, but we didn’t get lost, which may be some kind of record for us. We often set out for events, but get so lost, we end up going home without ever going to the party.

Time for that drink!

The moment we got there, I realized that wearing a black coat — Garry was wearing a gray one — were mistakes. In the “throw the coats in there” room were dozens of black and gray overcoats. We are nothing if not consistent.

I keep intending to get something in some other color, but somehow, best intentions notwithstanding, my coats are always black or gray and I can never find them.

Dinner was constantly served – Always time to eat!

There were a lot of people at the party. Garry eventually spotted three (other than the host) who he knew.

I knew Garry. And the host.

I used to know George’s beautiful Golden Retriever, but he passed a couple of years ago. During parties in the summer, the swimming pool belonged to the Golden. He used to swim around the pool trying to corral about 100 tennis balls. Then he would emerge from the pool, sopping wet, and shake.


Not square, but the beautiful Golden Retriever needed remembering too.


Almost everyone was all dressed except me because I don’t dress. It is one of the few privileges of age, so it made me laugh as guests ran in every direction as the dog shook off the pool water. Then he’d jump back into the pool because keeping track of hundreds of floating tennis balls is a pretty big job, but he was a dedicated retriever.

You better believe that NO ONE complained about the water and the shaking retriever. George adored that dog and his two other pugs who were carried during the party because they were old and couldn’t manage in a house that crowded.

Time to drive home

And then we were homeward bound with about a million other cars. Now, we can say we have partied, celebrated, and hobnobbed. Oddly, I enjoyed the party. I met the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a bunch of people I didn’t know. Ate pieces of hot pizza from Bertucci’s and took some interesting pictures.

These days, that’s a party!

SHARING MY WORLD OR YOUR WORLD OR THEIR WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

What traditional Christmas decoration is actually a parasitic plant?

I do believe that is mistletoe.

Name something about this holiday season (whatever version you may celebrate) that most people like, but you dislike?

Wrapping packages. I hate wrapping packages. I used to like it but over the years, I would just as soon just hand out the gifts and say “hope you like it.”

What’s your favorite – or least favorite –  song is sung traditionally at this time of year?

“Angels We Have Heard on High.” I used to love singing it. All those glorious Ooooohs!

And the last one ———>  In the song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” what “incriminating” evidence was found on Grandma’s back?

Hoofprints on her forehead and Claus marks (what are they?) on her back.

What would you like to share with the world, if time or cost were no object?

Freedom. For everyone. And enough money to live comfortably.

And may we all feel better and more festive very soon!!

HAPPY NATIONAL ASSHOLE AWARENESS DAY!

There has never been a dearth of assholes in our world, but I think recent years has raised them to a level of importance they never previously enjoyed.

The assholes are everywhere! Obviously, we know who the biggest asshole of them all is, but please don’t forget the rest of the crowd.


No need to name America’s biggest asshole. We all know him.

I have to thank my husband and his friends for bringing this important holiday to my attention. I had long felt that the morons, jerks, and assholes in our lives were not getting the recognition they deserve.

Often ignored and disrespected, this is a special day, dedicated to them all. The assholes we love, the ones we meet on the street. The ones we worked with and for. And most especially, for those we elected to run the nations of our world. If you voted for the asshole, please feel free to add yourself to the list.


To all assholes everywhere, this is for you.

Obviously, we have one overwhelming asshole, but he has gotten more than enough recognition. I think we should try to remember our local and less-international assholes. Not world leaders, yet somehow, they manage to get under your skin. They are the people you really don’t want to invite to your next party, but sometimes, you just don’t have a choice.

We worked for them and with them. We’ve lived with them. We are related to them.

This is your day, assholes. Enjoy!

GOOD MORNING – MEMORIAL DAY IN THE U.S. – Marilyn Armstrong

Unlike most other American holidays, we retain a bit of respect for a day that honors veterans of our many wars. The cemeteries will be full of flags and visitors.

Otherwise, this is “grill your meat” day. It is the official opening of summer. Everything closed all winter opens on Memorial Day.

Macro Begonia

I have a problem with grilling insofar as we don’t own a grill. Well, we do, sort of. A tiny hibachi which uses charcoal. The amount of labor required to cook two hamburgers on a hibachi exceeds any joy we might get from eating them, so I think I’ll cook normally. Finally, I understand why gas grills have become so popular.

Flick, it’s on. No lighting the charcoal and waiting until it finally gets to the right color … and then waiting for it all to chill down so you can figure out what to do with the ashes. (Answer? Put them in the garden; they make a pretty good fertilizer.)

Tomorrow isn’t supposed to be a nice day. Grey and chilly like today, though we might get a little bit of sunshine. Hard to know. By Wednesday, summer will make another appearance.

We used to give barbecues in the summer. When we were younger. When I could still get from the deck to the lawn without a chair lift. For that matter, when Garry could get from the lawn to the deck on those long, steep stairs.

If the sun comes out, maybe I’ll take some pictures. Otherwise … it’s will be another Monday. Holidays don’t pack the same oomph they had when we were working.

When every day is a “day off,” a three-day holiday is another day off, but with a lot more traffic.

MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school. She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

1963

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

FUN AND EASY WEEKEND TRIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just heard about a fun and easy new way to take a 3-day weekend trip. I don’t travel very often for one simple reason – I hate the planning process. Too many choices! So much research! Too many logistics and details!

A company called “Pack Up & Go”  (https://www.phillymagicgardens.org) has solved this problem for everyone. Not only do they do all the planning for you, but they add an exciting element of surprise to the enterprise.

My son, David, and his fiancé, Katie, recently used this service and had a wonderful experience. Here’s how this service works. You give the basic parameters for the trip, like budget and how far you are willing to travel. Also where you have been recently so they don’t send you there again. Then you decide if you primarily want action, relaxation or culture on your weekend.

The main part of the Pack Up & Go questionnaire narrows down your interests and preferences, for food, entertainment and activities. For example, do you prefer fine dining or hole in the wall restaurants? Vineyards or breweries, or neither? Do you like to go to museums and galleries, historical sites, parks and nature, all of the above? Do you like to shop? Flea market or thrift shop?

You also have to list your favorite forms of entertainment, like live music, dancing and clubs, theater, movies, comedy clubs, etc.

David and Katie decided to embrace the surprise element of the service, so they didn’t open their package of trip information until the day of the trip. In case you choose to be surprised on the day of your trip, the service gives you packing tips in advance to prepare you for the weather where you’re going and for any activities that need clothing or equipment, like swimming, hiking or tennis.

David and Katie live in northern Connecticut. When they finally opened their travel package they discovered that they were being sent on a four-hour drive to Philadelphia. The hotel they were sent to was fabulous and they loved the surrounding area. They were also pleased to find that their package didn’t just include suggestions about things to do or places to eat, which was what they expected. It turns out that all the decisions are made for you so you just have to relax and follow your itinerary. The package contained dinner reservations and tickets for one show each night!

The first night they were sent to a theater production of “Noises Off”, a slapstick comedy which they loved. David said it was laugh out loud funny. The next night they went to a comedy club with top-notch performers. And David is an aficionado of Comedy Central, so he knows good comedy. These were too excellent choices for David and Katie.

The restaurant choices were just as spot on. One of the restaurants they were sent to is owned by an Iron Chef from the Food Network, Jose Garce. Iron Chef is one of David and Katie’s favorite shows, so they knew about Garce and were thrilled to be going to his restaurant. It was a fantastic meal and they might never have found the restaurant on their own.

For the afternoons, the package included suggestions for lunches and for activities in the area. David and Katie ended up going to an amazing, unusual and unique ‘museum’. It is an indoor and outdoor space encompassing several rooms and courtyards. They are all covered, from ceiling to floor, in mosaic art, sculptures and other design elements, like bicycle wheels and colored bottles. As you walk through the spaces, you are literally surrounded by the art.

This magical place is called “Philadelphia’s Magic Garden”.  https://www.phillymagicgardens.org.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete it! I wish I had seen it in person, but David’s photos are phenomenal (so are the ones on the website). The You Tube videos on the website are also worth watching. They allow you to immerse yourself in the rooms and get the experience of what it feels like to be there in person.

We were all amazed at how appropriate and high quality the Pack Up & Go picks were. The package was really tailored to David and Katie and to their interests. I was very impressed.

I’ve never written a blog singing the praises of a particular product or company. But this seems like something that many readers could use and enjoy. So check out the website and treat yourself to a work free, stress free weekend away from home! Go for it!

IT’S NATIONAL “CLEAN OFF YOUR DESK” DAY

I’m not making this up. That’s what it says on the calendar “a holiday per day” app I have.

“The second Monday of January each year recognizes National Clean Off Your Desk Day as an opportunity to begin your new year with a clean and organized work-space.  Whether in a private or shared office, cubicle,  home or a make-shift desk on the counter, having an uncluttered, organized, refreshed, and clean place to work will improve your efficiency and improve your serenity.”

Or, in my case, a place to store the Christmas tree for another year.

This is good because I was actually planning to clean off my unused desk so I can put the Christmas tree there to await next Christmas. We had been putting it in the attic, but the ladder to our attic is getting increasingly rickety. Every time Owen goes up that ladder I wince. I’m sure it’s going to collapse under him.

Previously, my office. Now it has the guest bed and the Christmas presents that still need wrapping. And, of course, a giant oak desk. Anyone need a giant oak desk?

I decided this year, since we aren’t really using the room or the desk for anything much, why not put the tree and the nutcrackers there, thus saving Owen from a death-defying clamber up a creaky old ladder.

So. Just this once, I’m aligned with the calendar. I am cleaning off my desk on the official day. Are you impressed?

FINALLY, THE LONG SHADOWY DAYS OF 2017 DRAW TO AN END

This year has felt like two years, at least on a national and political level. Frankly exhausting. If this were a person’s life, I would be counseling them to try to put a lot less drama in their lives. This much angst isn’t good for anyone, much less a country.

But aside from the painful political mess, it has been a pretty good year. No one got sick and despite everything, the house is still standing. We are significantly poorer, but that is the way our cookie crumbled. I can hope the next will be better, but I’m not holding my breath.

We’re going to eat meatloaf, our best “comfort food” and maybe I’ll go wild and also make mashed potatoes. Double whammy in the comfort food department! We’ll watch the big shiny ball come down in Times Square, kiss each other and load a movie into the DVD player.

May you all have a wonderful evening, whether you’re partying or dressing in PJs and snuggling up. If you live up north, snuggling sound pretty good to me! It’s a cold winter’s night!

I AM HOME – By Rich Paschall

A piece of home alone fiction by Rich Paschall


The alarm went off at 6 am as usual.  Instead of hitting the snooze bar, George turned off the alarm and got up.  It was Wednesday, trash collection day in the small Florida town.  He no longer had Ethel to push him out of bed so he had to muster the resolve to get up and take care of the chores.  Jack, the faithful terrier, got up as well and was running around George’s feet as he tried to go through his morning routine.  Terriers do not lack morning energy.

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After he got dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he started the coffee.  Ethel used to take care of this while George took care of the hyper active dog, but his wife of 40 years was gone now.  George had to make his own coffee.  George had to do all the chores.  George had to eat his meals alone.  This is not the retirement George had envisioned.

A little over two years earlier, George retired and moved from a big Midwestern city to a small town in a warm climate.  This was the retirement George always wanted.  He was no longer going to cut the grass.  There was an association for that.  He was not going to do major repairs because there was an association for that too.  And he certainly was never going to shovel snow again.  Before he moved south, he sold his snow blower, gave away his shovels and winter coats and vowed never to return north in the winter, if at all.

As the coffee was brewing, George set down a fresh bowl of water for a disinterested terrier.  Then he went to the kitchen door that led into the garage.  As he started down the two steps to garage level, he reached for the button that opened the garage door.  At that Jack came racing out the kitchen door and when the garage door was open just enough, he ran under it and onto the front lawn.  There he ran around in a circle for a couple of minutes before looking to see what George was doing.

George was busy dragging the plastic trash can down the driveway to the street where he parked it right next to his old-fashioned mail box.  After that he walked back to get the recycle bins.  One bin held old newspapers and magazines and the other had some cans and bottles.  He put one on top of the other and then maneuvered them on to a two-wheel “hand truck.”  They were too low and too heavy for George to drag down the drive way.  When this task was complete, George went back inside to get his American flag, which he promptly took down to the post that held his mail box.  On the side of the post he had affixed a flag pole holder so his flag could be seen as he came down the street.  George would never admit that it was a reminder of where his driveway began so he could find it easily when he returned from a drive, but that is why it was there.

“Come on, Jack,” George called and the dog raced half way to George and stopped.  It was a game and Jack expected George to play.  George was well aware of this game, every time George would move, the dog would race around in a circle and stop.  There he would wait for George to make another move and the race was on again.  George was too old for the game today and went into the garage and headed toward the kitchen door.  Jack watched carefully from the driveway.  When George hit the button to close the garage door, Jack raced inside.

On their return to the pale yellow kitchen, George put down a bowl of food for Jack.  Then he fixed some toast and took that, a cup of coffee and a newspaper he collected from the front porch and went to sit on the screened-in patio.  Jack came and laid down at his feet.  George liked reading the local news each morning.  Everything about small town America seemed exciting to him.  He read about civic improvements, about events at the library and about meetings at the town hall.  He read about the plans for the upcoming year and even the New Year’s party at a local hall.  George survived Christmas on his own and guessed he would not even be up at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Without dear Ethel, he had no desire to stay up late.  While ringing in the New Year at a party might help bring back fond memories, they would also recall his dear wife who was gone too soon.  He was not sure he could bear that.

When the news had been devoured, George got up slowly and took his plate and coffee cup to the kitchen sink and placed them there.  He looked all around the room and could not decide on another thing to do so he thought he would go lay down awhile.  It was 10 am.  At that moment, the phone rang.

“Hello,” George said with a hint of surprise that anyone would call him.

“Hello George,” Ethel said softly.

Soon after George and Ethel moved to Florida, Ethel’s father had passed away.  He left her the big family house in rural Iowa.  It was the sort of house Ethel always wanted.  It had a big front porch where she could rock away the summer hours in her own rocking chair and a nice fireplace where she could get warm and read good books all winter.  George had no idea this is what Ethel had wanted for years, just as she had no idea he would take them to Florida on his retirement.  When she got the big Iowa house she announced to George she was moving there without him, and soon thereafter she was gone along with virtually every personal effect she could take.

Once every few months she called to see if George was OK, nothing more.

“Please come home, Ethel,” George said with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice.

“I am home,” she said and quietly hung up the phone.

HARK! THE HAROLD CHRISTMAS RINGS – RICH PASCHALL

A SUNNY FLORIDA HOLIDAY, By RICH PASCHALL

It was the Sunday before Christmas and all through the house the only creature stirring was Harold, the well-organized man from the Midwest.

Harold had retired and moved to the beautiful, peaceful community on the gulf coast side of Florida. There he carried out his days according to the perfect retirement schedule. Every day had a purpose, and Harold executed the day as if he was the sole architect of the universe. Sometimes the universe cooperated.

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On this beautiful Sunday morning the Oracle of Organization marched to the front door to collect his newspaper as always. As he stepped out onto the small cement landing he called a porch, Harold discovered that the weather was already warm and delightful. The 7 am temperature already hit the mid 70s. Harold just knew the day would be everything he planned when he reached retirement and moved from a snowbound city to a place where he would never shovel snow again.

He took in the pleasant atmosphere for a moment before seeking the paper. “He missed the porch again,” Harold said to himself referring to the “paper boy,” who was actually a hard-working college student. He then went to the walkway to retrieve the local news and sports.  He did not mind this time as the weather was better than can be expected in late December, even for Florida.

When Harold finished his breakfast, his coffee and his local news, he was preparing himself for a thorough cleaning of the apartment that was already cleaner than anything you have ever seen. It was the Sultan of Sanitation’s normal Sunday routine and even a sunny day with a deep blue sky would not deter Harold from his appointed rounds about the apartment.

As he gathered up his cleaning supplies and retrieved the vacuum from its storage room, the phone began to ring. Harold was quite surprised as few people had his phone number and the device rarely rang. He could not imagine that marketers would disrupt a Sunday with their meaningless calls. “Perhaps it is Bill,” he thought. Bill only called on Mondays to make a joint venture to the supermarket, so the ringing was totally out of character for a Sunday. Reluctantly, Harold went to the phone.

“Hello?” Harold said as if asking a question.

“Hello, Harold, it’s George.”

“George?” Harold said, unsure of the voice at the other end.

“Yes, George. You know, your former colleague.”

With that clarification Harold could place the voice. When he was the chief mechanical engineer at a Midwest manufacturing plant, Harold worked with George. He had even run into him in St. Petersburg when he went to a baseball game. He could not imagine ever hearing from George again.

“Well, George, what can I do for you?” Harold replied in a rather business like way.

“Do for me?  Why, nothing Harold. Martha and I just thought we should call and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Really?” Harold said rather incredulously.

“Of course,” George said with a laugh. “We just wanted you to know we were thinking about you and want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Well, uh, that’s so nice, George. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Perhaps we will run into you again on our next trip to Florida. Take care, you lucky retired guy.”

“Thanks, I will” and at that George hung up. There had been no phone calls on Harold’s Sunday itinerary, but he was glad for this one.

As the week wore on, Harold wished a very Merry Christmas to the few people he encountered. On Monday, he wished his neighbor, Bill, and all the folks working at the supermarket a Merry Christmas.  The same happened Tuesday when he went into town.

On Wednesday, it was Christmas Eve. Harold saw no reason to vary his schedule and at the appointed hour, he headed out to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He greeted everyone with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” As usual, the crowd shouted out to Harold, but they were surprised when the normally reserved retiree from the North answered with robust greetings.

To add to the Christmas joy, Harold’s favorite waitress, Tiffany, was on hand to serve up the soup and sandwich special. “Harold, you are in a festive mood,” she told him when she came to take his order. Harold beamed as he had never done before.

When Harold was ready to leave, Tiffany rushed over and gave Harold a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Harold, it is so good to see you in such a joyous spirit.”

Harold did not know how to respond. He was unaccustomed to such a show of affection. He stood there with a rather embarrassed look as he tried to collect himself.

“Thanks,” Harold said sheepishly. “I am glad to be here on Christmas Eve.” At that he waved to the staff and they all shouted holiday greetings in return. Harold marched out of the restaurant and into the warm Christmas Eve afternoon with the biggest smile Harold had in many years.

For Harold, a short phone call from a former colleague just days before Christmas brightened his mood for the entire week and was the best gift he had received in many years.

GHOULS DON’T DO TAKE OUT

No Halloween visitors expected here on our street. It’s dark and quiet with long shadows from tall trees.

We used to run out of candy back in Boston. Here, we don’t buy candy. At all. We live so far from anything kids won’t come down our long, dark street … and especially not our long, dark driveway where the trees lean in from both sides.

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It’s dark and lonely and it would be a perfect Halloween path for the brave of heart. But kids are not brave. They want well-lit suburban houses.

Scary should not be really scary. So they go into town where the street lights make everything cheery and every household has pounds of candy. “Boo” they say, and that’s plenty scary enough.

We used to give out 20 pounds of candy every year when in Boston, but out here? No one comes. Even with the lights on. So, happy Halloween. Have some wine with that candy, why don’t you?

HAPPY NATIONAL ASSHOLE AWARENESS DAY!

Although there has never been a dearth of assholes in our world, I think this year has a special importance. Assholes are everywhere! I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out which asshole is the ultimately biggest asshole … but … wait … I think maybe I’ve got it. I don’t want to overly influence the election, so I will leave it to you, my friends, to make this critical decision.


Who is America’s biggest asshole?

I have to thank my husband and his friends for bringing this important holiday to my attention. I had long felt that the morons, jerks, and assholes in our lives were not getting the recognition they deserve.

Often ignored and disrespected, this is a special day, dedicated to them all. The assholes we love, the ones we meet on the street. The ones we worked with and for. And most especially, for those we elected to run our country.


To all assholes everywhere, this is for you.