Five Ways Autumn Beauty Enriches the World

How Autumn Beauty Enriches The World

As I tweezed my almost invisible eyebrows the other day, I actually drew blood. Ouch! Why do I submit to magnifying mirrors? It’s only in their larger-than-life perspective those wild hairs even appear. I wondered, why does Vanity still hold me hostage?

On this day, suffering this “injury” brought back the memory of tweezing my mom’s eyebrows in her fifties and sixties. As a teen, I’d stand behind her chair with her head tilted back on my rib cage, and gingerly pluck microscopic hairs from her translucent skin. Every once in a while I’d grab a bit of flesh and her little squeal would bring me back to concentration. I would think, “Will my skin ever be this loose? This un-elastic, this wafery thin…? Yet she asks for this torture!

Smiling today, I know. Youth slips away slowly. The thick, dark hairs (which once made tweezing almost a matter of forest control) become pale by years, decades, not months. Gradually they turn in all helter skelter directions, and we continue to pluck in spite of both blindness and pain. We don’t succumb easily to any of it- the lines, the loss of muscle tone, the changing complexion. We push against it with the same stiff demeanor of those very hairs, and with all the seriousness a magnifying mirror can muster!

However, I strongly believe that beauty with aging enriches the world.

We should (and I use that word carefully) stand tall, pull back those shoulders, and go out the door knowing we own the wisdom of, well, years of experience. Not just years, decades of it. Decades of perseverance, mess-ups, successes and failures.

So today I offer my top five reasons why autumn women who keep working on beauty make the world a better place.

  1. Our Husbands Appreciate It.

Whether we dress up or wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, the amazing fact remains, husbands see us as the young girl he married… a lovely face, a wonderful body (even with ten extra pounds), a winning smile, charm and wit. What miracle keeps us looking very much the same to him over the years? No one can explain it– it remains a mystery. Now, though they appreciate us most when we’re naked, all the original qualities thrill him year after year after year…and when he’s proud of us, he’s a happier, better man.

  1.  The Young Who Fear Aging Need It.

If we work on replacing youthful color and see ourselves vibrant and alive in the mirror, our health improves overall. It’s an attitude. All the makeup and jewelry in the world can’t overcome a negative attitude, but those things help produce a positive outlook. If you never wore makeup, it’s okay. But if you decide at 50 or 60 to begin, you will likely take off a few of those last ten years, and look perkier.

Why look ten years younger? To feel ten years younger! During my trip to Canada I had the pleasure of meeting a 106 year-old lady in the nursing home. She walks with a walker, wears pearls, pink lipstick, and a stylish outfit. You can find her chatting with those who stop at the coffee shop. She’s proud of being a woman, and causes those who meet her to fear growing old a little bit less.

  1. Our Children and Grandchildren Appreciate It.

Aging parents remind children of their own mortality. They desperately need a model up close and personal. Should we shield them from our aches and pains? Not necessarily. But a smiling, warm, and positive mom or grandmother makes them proud. If we took a reasonable amount of time to be beautiful, they’d love showing us off more. They may even want to be first to run up and introduce us to their friends.

  1. Workplaces Are Transformed by It.

One of my friends worked in an extremely stressful care-giving job. A key requirement for the job was to wear make-up and keep a stylish haircut. These habits didn’t transform the employees into more productive workers, but somehow showed others they felt more up to the pressure. And thus they became more effective.

In any setting, skill, not hair, gets the job done. But beauty helps make the workplace a more pleasant place. Proverbs author Solomon says,  “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Can she be both at the same time? Of course. One just lasts longer. Even while she fears the Lord and honors Him, her radiant appearance puts the icing on the cake. It shows she is aware of her femininity to His glory. She reflects His beauty in her own. What a way to show the world your faith!

  1. Society Sees God’s Design for Sex in It.

Nothing reflects the sexual dynamic of marriage like a couple in love. So what in the world would this have to do with beauty? A few years back, my hubby and I were touring in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We saw an older couple, each with white hair, zoom by in a red Chevrolet open convertible. Her scarf blowing in the wind and their smiles gave me a picture I kept in my head. “That’s us in ten years, Honey!” I said. They drove past quickly, so their actions had nothing to do with my impression. It was her beauty sitting beside him.

What does this mean? Whether with her husband or alone, shopping, working, an autumn woman’s countenance can show the world the dynamic I admired in the couple above. Of course  women who wear makeup and dress beautifully might be single. Or have no love life. But a woman who cherishes her role as her husband’s lover, (or acts as though available for that), and gives off a pleasant aroma wherever she goes, inadvertently broadcasts the purpose of marriage – to reflect the relationship between Christ and the believer, his Bride. That’s a sermon the world craves. Do you know you preach a sermon about aging?

So I’m not just talking about physical beauty. If a woman’s outward beauty becomes her highest priority, she appears shallow and both “deceitful” and “fleeting.” As John Piper reminds us, “He is most pleased when we find our desires filled in Him.”

Summer Break


Brutal Wisconsin Winters packed an exhilarating punch around the holidays; but by spring they grated on my nerves. The overcast skies of March and the ever-increasing dirty gray slush made spring seem a figment of our imaginations; and even April could spitefully spew out another snowstorm.

Our high school sat on the other side of a super highway, which ran parallel to our street. School days we’d walk right, to the end of our block, cross over to where on the left a large tunnel took us under the highway to school. As far north as our city, the sky was often dark when entering the lighted tunnel in the morning. It was dark again when we returned in the late afternoon. This darkness marked our winter.

The school, normally part of the view from our living room picture window, hid in winter behind gargantuan heaps of snow. Reliable, persistent snowplows pushed the snow into the wide median month after month until the school disappeared. The snow on our side stayed white, but on the highway side, cars and semi-trucks caused strata-like layers of ugly dirt-  black snow on the bottom gradually turned white about six feet up.

Then, finally, change! Snow piles began to shrink. Almost overnight the longed-for melt formed ponds. Ponds to ford whenever we walked or drove anywhere. A bother? Not at first. Water meant spring!

Would spring really change its mind and come to Wisconsin?

School changed too. Pressure. Life became increasingly serious, and busy, and hard. With theatre rehearsals, projects, and finals, April daylight hung around for the chilly walk home. I would hurry through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, to the tunnel where a month ago my breath would freeze in the scarf over my face, chapping my lips. But now, with the scarf draped under my collar, I would emerge jogging from the tunnel, deftly avoiding the lake in our road.

Then up the driveway, warm house, hot supper, homework, and sleep. Only to begin all over again.

The next day proved warmer and longer. And the next one warmer still. (This week will the wool scarf stay home?) And, finally, Flowers!- the intoxicating aroma of glorious lilacs. Tulips popped up, albeit late for Easter. Hydrangea, rhubarb, with all sorts of flowering bushes, filling my head with perfume akin to- well – a spring day in Wisconsin.

And what in the world now blanketed our yard? A soft green carpet.

Like the bright sun sliding out from behind a cloud, grass signaled the end of school. Finals passed, ceremonies done, good byes said all around, my neighborhood friends came to our yard to celebrate. Tumbling and rolling, leaping and turning cartwheels, we giggled in sheer wonder! Lying on our backs, those snow angels forgotten, grass angels stared up at the sky as if we hadn’t seen it for ages. We hadn’t.

I pushed my face into the grass trying to feel the tickle of its blades in my nostrils. Then I’d sit Indian style and grab the grass under my nails and between my fingers, as if it might disappear.

Spring here, and in a few short weeks we’d have summer— hot, exhilarating summer.

Summer, oh, how I’ve missed you!

Gone are thoughts of papers and tests and grades.

Gone are thoughts of work, and hurry, and push.

It’s time to rest and just be.

So stay, Summer.

Stay just for me…


The monthly ritual of cutting my husband’s hair spans 35 years. About ten years ago I began to notice my sweepings. Not only much less in volume, the strands started to take on the look of shimmery slate. As more years went by, the slate grew lighter and lighter. You still couldn’t see the extra-fine white hairs, just the gloss that changes with the light. Beautiful.

Unlike mine. In my mid-thirties my hair took on Mousy. For over 20 years I’ve fought the dreary-weather color of gray. But sooner or later, in a thousand variations of time and hue, we all turn white. And that is beautiful. Let’s be positive about it. I have two close girlfriends, young autumn women, with radiant, pure white hair. So today, while I salute the shimmery slate of my husband’s head, join me in a whirlwind trip back. Way back.

Do you  remember when Johnson and Johnson brought us “No More Tears” shampoo in 1957? It sure made washing hair for us little ones a lot better. Saturday nights, freshly bathed, smelling like cherry blossoms, we’d sit cross-legged in our flannel pajamas as Mom used rags to produce pretty Sunday curls. She’d wind a small section of hair around the cotton strips and tie the two ends together, loose enough to remove easily in the morning. The results? Bouncy ringlets that would last several days.


When bobby pins came on the scene, so did hope for perms gone bad. Actually any hair problem could be solved with a simple bobby pin – or five or ten. I loved them. At about seven, performing a solo in front of the whole church, a bobby pin came loose and dangled by my ear. Would this deter me from my moment of glory? Not a chance. In the middle of the song, when my bobby pin fell to the floor, I stooped down, opened it with my teeth, and replaced it. Without missing a note. Why the congregation found that funny, I had no idea.

Just a fact of life, dealing with hair. At eight, Mom decided I needed to shampoo my own. Angry, abandoned, I filled the sink and flipped my hair upside down. Bang! my forehead hit the side, adding pain to insult. Mom’s fingers always felt like love as she massaged my head. Yet afterward, despite sloshed water on the floor and stinging sinuses and eyes, I saw a slightly older girl in the mirror. And that felt good.

In 5th grade bangs became popular. Both parents wrinkled their noses at the idea, yet I had to find out what bangs would look like on me. So I rolled a fringe of my front hair into a sort of flat hotdog– and kept it in place with lots of bobby pins. By supper, though, I decided against showing up with a hair hotdog on my forehead.

In the eighth grade a group of us girls attended Charm Class at the YMCA. We learned how to walk and dress well. But mostly we learned grooming and how to style, or I should say poof, our hair. Charm class changed my life– from a plain, giggly school girl to a coiffed, giggly school girl. That year my head grew at least three inches in diameter.


In the 70s, with the advent of acid rock music, wild, straggly hair became a sort of free-spirit identity. This both shocked and disturbed me at the time.

And what did I marry?


Yup, this is my hubby during the 70’s.

Which brings me back to his disappearing, almost white locks. Ahhhhhh… Huge relief as my mind settles back into today. I sure prefer our autumn married life kind of “free-spirit identity.”

Sometimes out by the pool, dripping wet after a nice dip on a hot day, I’ll pour him a cool drink and give him a haircut.

Then, in utter splendor he’ll sigh, “What a great setup. I actually get to sleep with my barber.”



First Love



I remember his last name. But I will just call him Danny. We lived in South Dakota and I assume he had been around all along in the 4th and 5th grades. But we didn’t talk until 6th grade when during the first week of school he commented on my handwriting. I said I liked having nice handwriting- and he said he did too, but guys weren’t supposed to be into that sort of thing.

He noticed my handwriting! He had me. From then on my thoughts strayed to Danny. As a student first, and a girl second, my thoughts stayed on his character– his good grades and wrinkled brow when writing so neatly. But especially I noticed his books with machine-stitched cloth covers. Book covers no red-blooded boy would carry.

But did I say my thoughts “stayed” in the realm of character? That wouldn’t be completely true. As a girl, I noticed the curls around his ears, the smell of Tide as he walked by my desk, and the tightness of his chin when he spoke. All of that created a funny feeling in my stomach. But it only lasted a few seconds.

Three “Danny” events from the 6th grade stand out. First, he confessed on a walk home from school one spring day that my valentine had been the only one with a sucker in it. I guess I needed to know that.

Second, he asked if I’d stop by his house with an armload of his cloth-covered books, while he stayed after for sports. Only a block or so from the school, this caused no anxiety in me at all. He just asked me to do a small favor and I would do it. That I would meet his mother and see inside the front door did interest me some.

When I rang the doorbell, she came, all smiles. I couldn’t help my blurt. “Hi, Mrs. ‘Smith.’ I really like the book covers you made for Danny. They are nice.”

“Thank, you, Dear. I am amazed he carries them, being such a boy boy. You are a sweet girl. Thanks for bringing his books.

Oh, boy. That was cool. His house smelled clean, like him. On the way home I pondered. Would I marry Danny? Or would I marry someone handsome and charming and smart like him? Next year we would be in junior high. Would he even remember me?

The third incident happened the first week of summer vacation. He rode over on his bike and found me in the yard. “How about a bike ride?”he asked.


Now you may wonder if I went inside to either ask permission or tell my mom the plan. To that I can only say, life was so different in 1961. During summer, parents saw their children at meals. In between existed a whole world of exploring and play. If a child didn’t return for the next meal, or couldn’t be found with a little help from neighbors in an hour, then concern might make its entrance. But summer independence had long been familiar territory by 6th grade. We felt safe because, except for the rare freak occurrence, we were.

To get back to Danny, little kid cartwheels, adolescent fireworks, and grownup picket-fence images jumbled around in my head. Was this a date? Was this a date!?

On the bike ride we saw parts of the town unfamiliar. In a more country area the chain came off my bike. Laying his down, he put it back on expertly and wiped his greasy hands on the grass. There it was, that jaw thing again. He seemed to clench his teeth when in thought or stress. Could he be sorry he did this?

He led, I followed. Almost no talk.

After about an hour I found myself back in my front yard. He threw up his hand and away he rode. As I got off my bike, a bit breathless from trying to keep up and riding for so long, I felt a mixture of emotions. Pride that just possibly this had been my first date, and confusion about what he might be thinking right now. What did all this mean? Had I acted stupid on our ride? (How could ten words be construed as stupid?) Had he crushed himself with remorse over his nerve to do this? Had he stirred up feelings in both of us that neither could do anything about? Or did these emotions bring us up short? Get real. This is the summer after 6th grade.

In a month, my dad brought news that we were moving to a new state. I would begin junior high in a faraway school.

Danny had just become history. Funny, I still remember his last name.

Do you recall the whole name of a special boy in your past?

Safe, summer independence for kids has been gone a long time.

When did it go?


Don’t Mess Up My Picture!

jessicas painting     What quirky traits have you inherited from your mother? And what about your girl from you? I bet you can think of quite a few. As for me, take school art.

In my elementary grades we had an easel or two at the back of the classroom. When we finished our work, fresh white paper and nice mixed paints awaited. Maybe if I had worked faster or smarter, getting back there more often, I would have had a different experience…

But each and every time, without exception, I drew the same thing. A big tree on the side, a house in the middle, and a swing set beside the house. It never occurred to me to put a car beside the house, or children playing on the swing set. That level of drawing, totally out of my reach.

I remember more than once, standing in front of blank paper in the 3rd grade, having this conversation with myself.

Me: You dummy, why can’t you paint something different this time? You’ve been waiting for this chance all day. Be brave, be creative!

Me: But I can’t be brave or creative. If I draw something other than my tree, swing set, and house, it will look horrible. I’ll hate myself for making a mess of the paper. No, I have to do what comes out of my brush.

Now, fast forward twenty-five years to my daughter’s kindergarten class. The teacher sent home special paper and issued a challenge for all the students to enter a painting into the state fair. The rules, however, required all the paintings to begin with crayon drawings, then washed with broad stripes of watercolor in varying hues over the top.

So on a Saturday morning Wee One and I assembled our supplies on the kitchen floor, so she’d have plenty of room. Then I informed my budding artist she could draw anything she wished with the crayons. Without hesitation, you guessed it– a tree. Then a house. Finally, the swing set.  My smock-clad five-year-old’s brain worked just like mine!

But when the rules added a twist, the twist quickly became a tornado. The conversation went something like this:

Wee one: Mother, Mom! Not paint on top! Maybe stripes on the top and bottom. That might be nice.

Me: But that doesn’t finish the piece, Dearest.

Wee one: No! I will mess up my paper!

Me: But we have started a project, and the paint won’t mess up your art at all. It will make your crayon picture look different and lovely.

Wee One: (sobbing) But… but, I know I will mess up my paper!


Looking back at that moment, I think of how many times since then I’ve gotten stuck thinking I know what lovely looks like.

“This was to be our special weekend to do the river together. Now a major back ache, really?”

And we read an awesome book together– and we learned important stuff…

“I’m settled and happy here! Don’t make me make this huge move!”

And the move turned out to be so wise- especially for the children.

“No, Father! You know I just finished menopause; things look much better now. Do I have to go through breast cancer?”

And cancer unearthed, for healing, important realities in a stuck heart…

On and on it goes. Loveliness so often doesn’t fit our picture of it. God has to wash over our routines, schedules, and goals. Kicking and screaming, I follow his rules. For I am not really my own. I am His.

My Wee One won second place in her division. Her stripes of color must have impressed some judge. For there it hangs now on her wall. As a mother of five, soon to be seven, she lives with a constant reminder that His version of loveliness trumps ours- if we let it.



When I was a little girl in Ireland I remember more than once being moved from one bed to another in my dad’s arms. When he picked me up I was aware that He was lifting me high above the floor. But if I woke up, there was a good chance- like 100% chance- that he would ask me to walk. And that would be awful. To miss a chance to be carried by Dad? No, I would feign sleep, deep sleep, in order to feel the feeling of his strength. Being limp in his arms was easy. Do you have any such memories?

Being limp in our Heavenly Father’s arms, however, is usually a different thing. We resist Him, afraid He will drop us, even when we need His help profoundly. Anyway, we reason, doesn’t He require tough obedience, hard work, and our own legs (though sometimes wobbly) to get us to the next place?

But being carried by Him when we have no strength is an awesome thing! Fully aware of our surroundings– the little darling who cries while I brush her tangled hair, or the cat who throws up on my good chair- we keep going through the day. But when out of the blue, thoughts turn dark and pain begins to close in, it is then more than ever, that I’m aware of Him under me, around me, holding me.

Our family has experienced this reality during these almost two months of missing our precious baby boy, TJ.

Recently at church we sang this “Oldie But Goodie” hymn. One of my favorites, in spite of the “thy”s and “doth”s, it has always spoken to me of hope. When I go about my duties amid “changes” and “thorny ways,” he will remain…. faithful….leading me (carrying me) to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves the winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, fear, and grief are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

How can you beat that?

Each line is either a fact or a promise. We serve a God who is both fact and promise all at the same time. Each promise is FACT in His Son, our “joyful end.”

Beware the Dead Ends!


Can you picture it? A bright Saturday morning, a car full of energetic, breakfasted grandchildren, and a hunt for yard sale signs in a maze-like neighborhood. Yup, this is standard fare for a weekend at Granna and Granddaddy’s. Newly bequeathed dollar bills clutched tightly in their fists, all glee-filled eyes stay peeled for a yard sale with toys! Everyone wants to be the first one to spot the sale.

But sometimes there are “rabbit trails”- those times we drive for a long while with no luck. Dollars soften and crumple in sweaty palms as we pass street after street with only neatly-trimmed lawns and dogs walking their owners. On this particular Saturday one of the kids spots an old familiar “Dead End” sign. Have you noticed that these are slowly being replaced with “No Outlet” signs? Well, I’m wondering if the change could have been prompted by other conversations similar to this one:

Myles (8): Granddaddy, let’s not go down this road! See that sign? It is a Dead End!

My Hubby: Hmm. I thought I smelled something…

Richard (10): Ewww….Granddaddy, that is bad.

Margaret (3): What? What did you say? I want to see that dead end!

Me: (trying to cover giggles…) Hey, you’d better stop… and don’t laugh. She won’t drop it…

Five minutes later, after several turns….

Margaret: (“sniff, sniff”) I smell something. I think it must be a dead end!

Uncontrollable laughter followed by a convoluted explanation by a silly granddaddy….

Looking back I am amazed at how many dead ends there are in life. They are so common one doesn’t even feel compelled to use quotes around the words. You’ve heard it a thousand times.

“She tried talking to him, but that was sure a dead end.”

“The litigation went on for months, but it was a dead end after all.”

“Rather than producing a solution, the surgery was just a dead end.”

Not only are these “pesky varmints” (sorry, just couldn’t help myself…) strewn throughout the journey, many of them are clearly marked. Those are the ones over which we berate ourselves, and with good reason. With 20-20 hindsight, we wonder, why so curious? Why the compulsion to actually see the dead end? Later, full of regret, but much wiser, we wish we had looked at the sign and turned around.

Here are my top five Dead Ends for your pondering today. No smell included. See if after living life up to the autumn years, you might agree.

1. The “He Will See It My Way” Dead End.

No matter how hard you try you can’t cajole others to do for you or be for you what you want them to do and be.. it is a disappointing dead end. He or she will feel controlled, resent you, and pull away, even though all you want is to draw them closer into your world and your heart. I have taken a few rabbit trails down this sad dead end, and it hurts. It hurts to find out at the end that you have to go back and accept him just as he is. Eating the humble pie is not as delicious as the dream was– the dream of getting what we want. But the new route is always interesting and much more rewarding.

2. Give Me the Good Life First Dead End.

Grabbing the good times first and worrying about the possible hard times later is a terrible dead end. You end up having to go back to square one, do what you should have done in the first place, prep before you paint, study the map, take the class, read the book. It usually takes longer the next time around. So if you are thinking about a picturesque, scenic route to get where you want to go, there are dead ends on that route, and you may have to skip the scenery the second time. One of my favorite classics is “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Over and over he tried to get to the destination an easier way……

3. The Don’t Make Me Move! Dead End.

Two forms of this dead end are: I’m young, I’m fit. I don’t have to worry about exercise. Or, I’m too old and sore to worry about it anymore. Granted, exercise is a god in our society. Don’t worship at the shrine of a rock hard body. But if you are past 50 and thinking the couch is now an earned right, you are on the road to pain. At the dead end is atrophy. Think about poor Tin Man in Oz. He stopped moving, so he couldn’t anymore. So stretch, walk, lift– enough to sweat– several times a week. “I don’t have to do it yet” is a dead end statement.

4. The Emotional Laziness Dead End.

Smiles atrophy too. I have to think to smile in my home sometimes. And that is sad. It happened very slowly, but my face doesn’t light up automatically when my husband walks in the door, not like it used to.  I think smiling goes away with age, unless you see the dead end sign, turn around, and head the other direction. I must now smile often, on purpose, especially in my kitchen with my hubby.

5. The I Can Figure This Out Myself Dead End.

This is really the worst dead end of all. For reality has certainly taught me,  I can’t always figure things out myself. I need to think, of course!  But the question is: how truthfully do I think? Where does my responsibility to do and act leave off, and getting wisdom from Above begin. This is not a silly dead end. That’s why it is the worst. I am a Christian, but I don’t realize how much wisdom I miss by not waiting, praying, and waiting some more. So it requires a lot of turning around to get back to the Source of all truth.

So there you have them. Each one smells bad, wastes time, energy, and a lot of happiness. Do you struggle with side trips down any of these stinky dead ends?

From the Alley to the Stage…..

Thirty-five years ago, when our family lived in one of the most beautiful cities in North America, Vancouver, B.C., our home was part of a middle class neighborhood where alleys commonly created a no man’s land between back yards. Though unpaved, rutted and dusty, these passageways conjured no images of terror like their dank, rat-infested and dangerous counterparts we often see in the movies. As a matter of fact, most neighborhoods needed alleys for trash pickup and storm sewers, and to pack or unload cars.


The alley which ran between my back yard and my friend’s back yard was our place to play if it wasn’t too muddy. It did smell back there. After all, our garbage cans couldn’t have been more than ten feet away. But it was our own No Man’s Land. And since we weren’t in anyone’s actual yard, and with no jurisdiction, a sense of equality and freedom prevailed. My friend was not a bit older than me, but she was tougher, and it was through her I learned that some dads had beer in the refrigerator, and that when you fight with a girl, you go for the hair. Ouch.

Now, though already a staple in many a household, our family owned no TV. It would be a full year or so before my father even thought of buying one.   “Hhhm, half the time it’s just fuzz!  No decent programs on anyway,” he would say.

So we were definitely not “cutting edge.” With only a radio which played solely the news and some sports, the alley was where I learned about entertainment.

Early that year the Elvis Presley phenomenon took Canada by storm. My friend said I had to learn “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” And learn I did. Let me tell you, she had it down– the shimmy, the shaky voice, and the pretend microphone. Though my parents would certainly not have approved, that dusty alley is where I discovered I was born to perform. Unwilling to give it all she did, I did put my voice out there and learned the words perfectly.  She also taught me “Tan Shoes With Pink Shoelaces.” Remember?  “…a pokadot vest, and man, oh man….” Surely you remember! The last line was,  “…a big panama with a purple hat band!” Now all I needed was a cane and a hat! Sadly, the younger men had begun to quit wearing those handsome panamas to work and town, and my dad was one of them. I had no straw hat or fine felt one. But somehow I always found a bit of a hat around the house, and a broom or mop handle made a great cane.

You know I never saw the front of my friend’s house, nor did I ever consider she had one. I was six, in the first grade, and to me her house was only a back side, a tiny yard, a fence, a gate, and an alley. We sang and danced hour after hour. Even after teaching me the Charleston it still never dawned on me I had no earthly idea what Charleston music sounded like, nor had I ever heard Elvis sing. Leaning forward with that “hands to knees crossover” move, I was ready for the stage.

And strangely enough, within the year I had my shot at it. Our public school was putting on a Christmas program, and there was a boy in my class who supposedly was a “professional” singer. How he earned the title I never knew, but we, being the class “singers” were to perform a duet, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” And because we were thrown together in this way, I was horrified to find out that we would be staying after school to practice. I was further horrified to discover that he stank.

It couldn’t have been greasepaint from performing, or the food his mom cooked in an ethnic kitchen. I wouldn’t have been so put off by either. This was a unique and distasteful body odor with which I had never before come in contact! And there we were, a singing team! What a conflict! On the one hand, what a thrill to perform for all the folks; on the other hand, that smell permeated every practice session.

Now although I was dressed as a regular first grader in holiday attire, he performed in the whole Elvis garb- fringed leather jacket, white pants, slicked back hair. At the time, I thought maybe he just liked Elvis, but looking back, maybe he was a six year-old Elvis impersonator. Did I care? No way! As a matter of fact, show business had greatly paled by the end of first grade. Overrated if you had asked me. The applause after the show meant that it was over. The whole experience.


Who knows? Maybe I was spared some future trauma by giving up my dream. But in the early 50’s, Elvis rock n roll, Softshoe, and Charleston slipped into the alley of my childhood city life.

Vanilla Isn’t Boring Any More

Not every day, but often I try to remember things which are surprisingly different now than they used to be. How long has it been since you just thought of some little smell or comfort from decades ago, and it made you smile? Dozens of tastes and comforts are different, and remembering is a great part of aging. It exercises our minds and also makes us more grateful for the present creature comforts we enjoy. So, take a stroll with me into a few of the little memories and memorials, of youth.

What about vanilla, for example?  As a child I remember vanilla as a taste only, a yummy, yet oft-considered boring flavor for ice cream, pudding, cakes, and cookies. Just a sort of non-flavor flavor.

But it was my flavor. Always afraid of trying anything new, it was my automatic default flavor.
“I’ll take vanilla please.”

Ice cream

“But, honey, There are so many other fun ice cream flavors to try. How about raspberry?”

“No, Mom, I just want vanilla.”
Vanilla was safe.

So, who would have guessed that, no longer boring, it would grow up to become one of the most common and versatile aromas any old ten bucks can buy? Who would have thought of mixing it with a thousand flavors and aromas –fruits or flowers — and then put it in pretty much anything: candles, perfume, shampoo, room deodorizers, incense, shelf liners- to name only a few! Vanilla Something or Something Vanilla is everywhere. Why, oh why, in my youth, didn’t I buy stock in a vanilla bean plantation? For that matter, why didn’t I marry into the vanilla business? Caribbean paradise? Vanilla by the boatload? Sure missed that boat….

Oh, I have more! Check in tomorrow!

Ice Skating Days

vintage skating cabin

Who doesn’t just love that opening skating scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas? How many movies regale us with skaters gliding on the ice rink of Central Park? And what about that musical jewelry box with a figure skater piroetting on glass while the music plays the theme from Dr. Zhivago? Everybody remembers Charlie Brown. There are dozens of Central Park scenes in movies. And girls with that very jewelry box? Too many to count.

But I remember the real thing. Wisconsin, where in long and bitter cold winters, one of the presents all kids wanted to find under the Christmas tree was a new pair of ice skates. My sister and I wanted figure skates. They had to be white with nice blade guards, and have high tops, with a thousand hooks and holes to lace. When they come up high on the calf, your legs look so pretty.


And after Christmas, to use those precious gifts didn’t take a very long wait. As we’d finish a lunch of piping hot vegetable soup on a sunny Saturday, clouds billowing over a glistening cityscape, we’d decide, “Hey, Mom, can we go skating? Look how perfect it is out there! Sunny, cold, and not too much wind!”

“Ok, kids,” she would say. “Stay warm out there!”

Then bundling up like round, pudgy snowmen, we’d tie the laces together, throw our skates over our shoulder, and half waddle, half run down the street to the neighborhood ice rink. A short walk, chilled toes vanished when the sparkling rink, full of stumbling and streaking bodies came into view! Why oh, why did we have to go into that little oven of a warming house to get our skates on? It was hot in there, I mean really hot, like 75 degrees! So in no time flat we were laced up, crashing over the rink’s rough edges, into the bracing wind, on the glorious ice.

Whee! Around and around we’d go. It was fun to try to hold hands with a brother or sister or friend. Thick layers of gloves and mittens made a solid hold almost impossible. But we’d still try to throw each other in circles, quickly losing our grip, someone always ending up “down.” The ice smelled like a musty mixture of wood and dirt, like snow. Up again and around and around…
If you wanted to try some fancy spins and figure eights, you could head to the middle where there was always a party. Skaters laughed and taught each other new skills. When the cold began to bite, out to the outer circle we’d shoot, leaning forward to pick up speed. You could stay warm a lot longer doing that.

Of course at some point everybody gets cold. That’s when the miniature warming house with smoke pouring out a disproportionately large chimney, like the pair of arms you rebuffed earlier, stood ready to embrace you. Inside, crude wooden benches lined the walls surrounding a potbellied stove of coal or a crackling wood fire. The smell of the fire was easily trumped by the powerfully pungent smell of steaming wool. Filling every inhaled breath it made my head swimmy.  I loved it, yet every time I entered the warming house I had to brace myself against the wool’s intoxicating aroma.

Upon entering the tiny house, every skater knew he only thought he was chilled to the bone. It was a trick their minds played. The actual only cold parts were fingers and toes- and sometimes knees and noses. So this was a routine- a ritual.. Find a seat, talk very little, remove mittens, scarves, gloves, laying them beside the fire. Next, hold bright red fingers as close to the door of the stove as you possibly can. Talk little, take off your skates, and hold your feet up as close as you can get. Then put it all back on again! Amazingly this ritual often only took 10 minutes! And you’re out the door again, relishing the cold.

Throughout the years I never wondered who stoked the fires of the little house, keeping all of us continuously toasty. I never wondered where the little warming house went during the summers. Maybe I thought it magically appeared at the first week of below-zero temps. Maybe all children are so accustomed to their world “just being,” when it goes away it’s never thought of again. Or maybe many years later they remember and question how something came to be or how it disappeared. I never knew and never wondered. It just “was.”

But what I do know for sure, I was there for the real thing. No Charlie Brown cartoon or Central Park fantasy. It was winter in Wisconsin, and I was the girl in the jewelry box- on real ice, studded with diamonds, skating a Saturday away.

What about you? Do you have any outdoor winter memories from childhood?