By The Sea

Seaweed. The taste of salt on my lips. The smell of sea air. These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of childhood summers spent on Cape Cod.

            The year was 1966, and it was the first time we had ventured to that popular ocean getaway favored by so many upstate New Yorkers.  On the advice of family friends who rented a house there every year, my parents thought it sounded like just the ticket for our young family of six.

            My five-year-old self was beyond excited by the prospect of dipping into the ocean for the very first time.  Up until that point, my swimming was confined to our navy blue kiddie pool, constructed of canvas and supported by a frame of metal tubing; or the lake at Cherry Plains where we had huge family picnics with my parents’ relatives.  At one of those affairs, an old Italian great-aunt tricked me into eating a piece of barbequed “chicken” which later turned out to be rabbit. But that’s a story for another time.

            My father rented a cottage for us in Dennis Port.  Just the word “cottage” thrilled me, since cottages where only ever mentioned in fairytales.  I pictured an enchanted house built of cobblestone and thatch, covered in flowering ivy. It had a beautiful garden and a wishing well. If they had called it a bungalow, I probably would have envisioned jungles and men swinging on vines; certainly a different kind of vacation altogether. But no. I would spend one charmed week in a cottage by the sea.

For several days leading up to the trip, my mother prepared. She bought each of us new sunglasses. She packed our clothes, our sheets, towels, pots, pans, cleaning supplies… Were we moving to Cape Cod? 

I distinctly remember the chaos of jamming everything into our sedan.  My father packed the trunk without success.  There were things that simply wouldn’t fit.  

“We just can’t take everything, that’s all,” he said with a shrug. He started to eliminate items based on I don’t know what.

Enter my mother. When she saw what he was doing, she bolted from the house.  There were words, if I recall.  She unpacked the trunk and put everything on the ground next to the car.  With her hands on her hips, she surveyed her inventory and then slowly and methodically repacked all of it into the trunk with not an inch to spare.  She shot my father a look of great satisfaction, he muttered something under his breath and, with that, we were ready to go. 

Dramatic Reenactment

            My father slowly inched our over-stuffed boat of a car down the slope of our driveway, scraping the bottom of it just as we pulled onto the street.

            I remember a few things about that interminable drive to my storybook vacation. I remember my oldest brother, Dominic, trying to ignore the rest of us because he was a teenager and simply too cool.  I remember being sandwiched between my brother, Michael, and sister, Diana. They were needling each other so much that my parents threatened several times to turn the car around and go home.  I remember the floor of the car had a hump upon which I rested my feet. But what I remember most was being too little to see out of the windows and all the horn honking, swearing and swerving my father did during that ride made me nauseous and terrified. Not being able to see made it just that much more unnerving. Is this how it would all end? I simply couldn’t die before seeing my cottage!

            By the time we crossed over the Bourne Bridge, I was barely holding on.  But I knew if I threw up on my siblings, I would die a worse death than anything a major car accident could hold in store for me.

“Look out the window, kids!” said my mother, as she opened hers to the fragrant salty air.

            I got up on my knees and could see the water and blue skies and sail boats.  It was nothing short of magical.

            Consulting his maps and handwritten directions, my father drove to the rental office, picked up the key and we headed to our rented property. The paved roads became narrow bumpy lanes covered in sand.  We pulled up next to a modest wooden affair, with sun-bleached cedar shingles, an asphalt roof and a screen door.  

“Here we are,” said dad brightly. “Home sweet home!”

This? This is my cottage? Where’s the stone? Where’s the ivy?  Where’s the ocean?! Instead of a garden and a wishing well, there were some spiky clumps of sea grass, two Adirondack chairs, a charcoal grill and a yellow plastic sand pail the previous occupants had likely forgotten or couldn’t fit into their trunk.  The cottage was situated among a cluster of others just like it. There was not a drop of water in sight.  I was totally and immediately disenchanted.

(L-R) Me with my sister Diana that first summer in 1966

At this point, I’d like to switch gears for a second and tell you about the very first date I had.  Out of necessity, it was actually a double date – with the boy’s parents.  We were both 14 and therefore too young to drive. They took us out to dinner and I ordered the Salisbury steak, for two reasons. One, it was the cheapest thing on the menu so I thought that was the polite thing to do. Two, it was steak.  When it was served, imagine my surprise to learn that it was not a steak at all. Rather, a Salisbury steak is a gargantuan oval-shaped patty of ground beef covered in a brown sauce. 

So, why am I telling you this?  Well, right about now, you might be thinking I was an ungrateful brat. And who could blame you? But try to bear in mind that I was five.  A five-year-old doesn’t understand that her father works long, hard hours, often missing dinner and bringing work home from the office, so he can take his wife and four kids on a vacation.  A five-year-old can’t appreciate that for her mother, this is not much of a vacation at all. It’s more of a relocation. She’s still cooking, cleaning, and tending.  So, in my defense, I was simply a five-year-old child – with a wild imagination and impossible expectations – who didn’t get the steak she thought she’d ordered. Now, back to Cape Cod:

We spent the next eternity unpacking the car and fighting over who got which rooms. 

Children are not famous for their patience, and in that respect, I was a normal kid.  At about this time, I started whining, “When are we going to the beach?”

“The beach? Well, if there’s time, we’ll go after we get back from the supermarket,” my mother said while making up our beds. 

If there’s time? The supermarket? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Wasn’t this supposed to be a beach vacation? Since I was not running the show, it appeared I had no say in the matter. We piled back into the car and left to partake of every child’s favorite vacation activity – grocery shopping. Once the food was purchased and unloaded, I could stand it no longer.

“I thought…we came here…to go…to the beach,” I cried, lips quivering and voice cracking.

I’m not sure if my mother took pity on me, or wanted us out of her hair while she made dinner, but she told my father, “Start the coals and then take them to the beach. Come back in half an hour.”

“Yippee! We’re going swimming in the ocean!” My tearful sobs turned into gleeful delight. I was alternately jumping up and down and running around in circles. “Woohoo!”

“Um…” my father proceeded gently, “we’re not actually going to swim.”

I stopped mid-twirl and stared at him, confused.

“Tomorrow,” he said. 

When he saw the waterworks about to start again, he quickly added, “I promise! It’s too late to go swimming today, but tomorrow we’ll spend the whole day at the beach. And the day after that, and the day after that, and every day we’re here. Today, we’re going to go to the beach and see the ocean. We can even put our feet in. But tomorrow, we will swim.”

My father kept that promise. We swam.  Boy, did we ever! And when we weren’t swimming, we sat in the warm sand and ate the sandwiches my mother packed in the cooler.  We were even allowed to drink soda, which was normally reserved for only the most special of occasions. Dominic decided he wasn’t too cool to play with us and taught us how to body surf. He and Michael pulled Diana and me around on rafts. We peacefully played games together. We all collected seashells, flew kites, played miniature golf, went out for ice cream, visited a lighthouse and a sailing museum, and on and on and on.

When the week was up, I hated to leave the beautiful little gray cottage I had fallen in love with. Nearly every summer after that, we did our best to return to Cape Cod. Each time, I dreaded the long drive but turned giddy and relieved as soon as we reached the Bourne Bridge. Our rented homes got bigger with each vacation to accommodate more of our extended family – aunts, cousins, and eventually spouses and children of our own.

(L-R Circa 1970) Dominic, Diana, Michael, Mom, Me, Dad in another rented house in Dennis Port

I still come back from time to time.  My husband and I take our children to play mini golf at the same places I played. We go out for ice cream at the same parlors. We swim in the same big ocean. In fact, this post was written in Dennis Port. From a house by the sea. 

Many years later, my father flying a kite with his first grandchild on West Dennis Beach

Root Bound

 

Plants are a great way to jazz up any room. They add life, fresh air and cheer to any décor. 

While recently brainstorming on how to redecorate my home office (a/k/a The Mother Ship), I knew one thing for sure – I wanted lots of plants. Succulents are my greens of choice. They’re beautiful, easy to grow and don’t hold it against you when you forget to water them for two weeks.

My friend, Bradley Bemboom, was helping me with the project. Among his many other talents, Bradley is an accomplished interior designer. He suggested we install a succulent wall.

A what?

“We’ll drill containers into one of the walls and fill them with succulents,” he said.

Who’s gonna do what now? Drill? Into the walls? The ones I just had patched and painted? 

While creative, this concept was way outside of my comfort zone. You see, my house is old. It was built in 1896 and all the walls are constructed of lath and plaster. We’ve lived here for nearly 14 years and in all that time I have managed to avoid making holes in the walls. This is not to say that I haven’t hung a few things. I have, using those 3M hooks that stick to the surface and don’t leave marks when you take them off…allegedly. I don’t know if they do or they don’t because I’ve never removed one. I’m afraid to go near them once they’re up. They might be strong enough to hold potted plants but that wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.

I reluctantly agreed.

“Trust me,” said Bradley.

Well, trust him I do. And so, we began the hunt for the perfect containers. Once we found them, Bradley started drilling while I hid under the couch. Much to my surprise and delight, the wall did not crumble into a pile of 127-year-old dust.

Now that the scary part was over, the fun part could commence.
I knew exactly which succulent varieties I wanted. One of them, known as a burro’s tail, is a pale green trailing showstopper. Gorgeous! It would be perfect for the French flower market pail we used. Bradley told me the burro’s tail had to be in a six inch pot to sit properly in the pail. I knew that the local nursery had them, so I went to get one.

The Succulent Wall

As expected, there were several, but none of them came in a six inch pot. So I picked up a four inch plant and brought it to the register.

“Can you transfer this to a six inch pot for me?” I asked.

The salesman pursed his lips and said, “Hmm…I don’t think so.”

“You don’t have six inch pots?” This confused me. After all, it was a nursery.

“Oh no,” he continued, “we have them. I just don’t know if it’s such a good idea. I mean I’m looking at it from the plant’s perspective.”

I didn’t know plants had perspectives.

The succulent wall from a different perspective

“You see that house plant over there?” He motioned to a little rubber tree. “I had one just like it. I transferred it to a great big planter. It died.”

I furrowed my brow. “I only want to go up two inches,” I said.

Apparently this was the wrong response. I guess I should have mustered up some sympathy for his loss and validated his grief before getting down to business. He looked annoyed.

“Hold on,” he sighed. “Let me get Gretchen. She’s the expert. She’ll know what to do. Gretchen!”

Gretchen The Expert strode past me to take her place next to the salesman at the register. She looked to be about 20 (young as far as experts go) and possessed an air of superiority in the way that experts do. I disliked her immediately.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked.

“Problem? Well, it’s really not a problem,” I chuckled. “I just want to transfer this four inch burro’s tail into a six inch pot.”

“Really?” she asked. Her tone implied the very idea was preposterous.

“Look,” I said, showing her a photo of the empty pail attached to my office wall. “I want to put it in a pot to sit inside this.”

“Does that have a drainage hole?” she asked.

A drainage hole? What kind of an idiot would put a drainage hole in a planter mounted on a freshly painted wall over a brand new rug?

“No,” I answered.

“Here’s what you need to do…fill that container with gravel…”

I interrupted her, “You don’t seem to understand. The container is bolted to the wall. I can’t take it down. I want a pot to sit inside of it, so I can take it out when I need to water the plant.”

“I got that,” she snapped. Then, ignoring me completely said, “You fill it with gravel almost to the top and sit this on top of it.” She pointed to the plant in my hand.

It took everything in me not to roll my eyes. Buying our dog was less complicated than this.

“I have an idea,” I countered. “How about you sell me a six inch pot and I’ll fill that with gravel and sit this on top of it?”

She and the salesman looked at each other. Their non-verbal communication suggested they might actually refuse to sell me the plant. Any minute now, they would ask me to place the burro’s tail on the counter and back away slowly. I decided to keep any other ideas to myself. I might have said too much already.

“You have to understand,” Gretchen proceeded, “this plant must assimilate to its surroundings. If you were to transfer it, well…we can’t have it stressed now, can we? Understand?” She spoke in that slow, condescending tone one might use while teaching a simpleton how to butter toast. “It likes the coziness of the small pot. It likes to be a little root bound. And it has to become familiar with its new location for at least a year before you give any thought to transplanting it.”

The only way I was going to get out of the store with this plant was to humor her.

“Ohhhhh!” I said, as though the lights had just come on. “Yes. Yes. Of course. I get it. Absolutely. That’s exactly what I’ll do!”

“Great.” She seemed satisfied. “Is there anything else I can get for you today?” she asked.

“Actually…come to think of it…I do need a six inch pot for a geranium on my patio.” This was now the second lie I had to tell just to buy a silly little eleven dollar cactus. But was I being too obvious? No. Gretchen fell for it. Who’s the simpleton now?

She retreated to another part of the store and came back with two pots. “This one is five and three quarters. This one is six and two eighths.”

Gretchen The Expert was nothing if not precise.

“Six and two eighths did you say? I’ll take that one,” I told her.

I paid in cash so they wouldn’t know my name. Walking briskly to my car, I glanced over my shoulder. Had they put two and two together? Did they figure out what I was going to do with that six inch pot the minute I got home? Would they try to stop me in the parking lot? I picked up the pace.

My burro’s tail is thriving and assimilated to its new six and two eighths pot. It is happy, well-adjusted and, above all, relaxed. In fact, just the other day, it told me it appreciates its slightly bigger container and was surprised to find that being a little root bound isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Then it thanked me for this new perspective.

I love it here!

It’s About Time

Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children.  College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way.  That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.

We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year.  Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.

I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.

Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.

New York. January 9th, 4:00 am

It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.

I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen?  Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?

Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation.  My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.

Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either.  Here’s what happened instead…

New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm

With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four.  So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”

When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.

Uh-oh.

He emerged within moments.  I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt. 

Oh no.

“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!” 

Oh, dear god.

His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).

Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone.  According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)

“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“I just won’t go,”  he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”

There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.

“Get in the car,” I said. 

I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm

The entire college was closed for winter break.  We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm.  While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze.  We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.

As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas.  Hello putrid garbage.

Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.

Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car.  My son looked stricken.

“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”

“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!” 

“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.

“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”

“Dad found my passport.  In my room. At home.”

For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”

As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.

“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.

“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.”  And this was the truth – for three reasons.  One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore.  That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy. 

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm

It was time to stop for gas.

And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing.   It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real.  You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day.  It can be on your side or your worst enemy.  And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it.  So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first!  Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.

Anyway, back to the gas…

We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.

At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?

Screw it.  I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.

New York. January 10th, 4:02 am

As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front.  My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it.  I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport. 

Now, you probably think this is the end of the story.  Well, it’s not.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am

Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes. 

My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.

My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass.  She tried it again.  BLOOP! Nothing.

My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again.  Still no boarding pass.

Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid.  She tried the scanner.  Same thing.  No boarding pass.

“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”

What a relief.  She saw the problem.  She was going to fix it. Problem solved!

She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am

I could not breathe.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am

Everything went silent.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am

The blood drained from my face.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am

There was ringing in my ears.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am

Time stood still.  Now time stood still?  THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am

The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”

I looked at my husband.  I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did.  Maybe it didn’t.  What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt!  Danger!!”

My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”

I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister.  I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”

San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am

When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away.  I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm.  The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.

After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.

The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.

My Gifts To You

A few Decembers ago, I was being really very Scroogie and not at all in the mood for the holidays.  Ever since that time, I’ve practically made it my business to immerse myself in holiday cheer (and I don’t mean by diving into a punch bowl).

No, what I’ve discovered is that nostalgia is the secret sauce that puts me in the festive swing of things. So, starting the day after Thanksgiving, I play holiday music in the house as I put up Christmas decorations and wrap the presents. Then, every night I tune into one of my favorite holiday programs – the one’s I grew up with.

My love of holiday films was sort of ignited by accident. At the age of 16, I saw a made-for-TV movie titled “It Happened One Christmas” starring Orson Wells, Marlo Thomas, Cloris Leachmen, Doris Roberts, Christopher Guest, and Beans Morrocco…an all-star lineup.

To hear the SNORK Christmas Classic “What The Dickens? Click here! 

Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey Hatch, a woman contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. She’s standing on a bridge and just when she’s about to jump, her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody (played by Cloris Leachman) jumps in the water and Mary ends up saving her instead.

As I described this plot to my parents, my father said, “It’s a wonderful life.”

I smiled at him. “Yes, dad. It sure is. So anyway, this guardian angel shows Mary what the world would have been like if she was never born…”

“No,” my father interrupted, again. “It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the name of the original movie.”

He then explained that I was watching a knock-off of a great American classic. When I finally saw the Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed version, I never looked back. It’s A Wonderful Life was the gateway drug that got me addicted to classic films in general and Christmas movies in particular.

Then about four years ago, I discovered the joy of listening to vintage radio programming, which inspired me to start SNORK, the podcast.

This brings me to the two little presents I’d like to give you, since you’ve been so good this year.

First, if you’ve been enjoying my podcast, I’m giving you a slew of old-time radio shows, all with a holiday theme.  Click Christmas Old Time Radio to enjoy everything from Burns and Allen to The Gift Of The Magi!

My second gift is a list of the best Christmas movies and shows of all time (or at least as far as I’m concerned).  You can’t watch these and remain a humbug!

Holiday (1938)

This wonderful tale spans Christmas and New Year’s Eve, making it my favorite holiday twofer!  Cary Grant’s Johnny Case (a dashing, handsome, regular Joe) is engaged to the fabulously wealthy Julia Seton, played by Doris Nolan.  But is she really the right girl for him?  Perhaps he’d be better off with Julia’s down-to-earth sister Linda (played by none other than the great Katharine Hepburn). There are great party scenes, acrobatics, tantrums, and excessive drunkenness.  What more could you want from a holiday movie?

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck’s Elizabeth Lane has made a name for herself writing a food column about her incredible culinary and hostessing skills.  There’s only one problem – she can’t boil water.  Watch one lie lead to another and another when her unsuspecting publisher decides to run a feature of her entertaining a war hero for the holidays.  Where will Elizabeth get a Connecticut farmhouse, a husband and a baby in time for Christmas?  The movie also stars Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.

White Christmas (1954)White-Christmas-1954-15

It’s kind of a toss-up as to who performs the “Sisters” number better – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen or Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in semi-drag.  With energized choreography and songs you know well enough to sing along to, this holiday classic will put you in a merry mood. It will also encourage you to go easy on the Christmas cookies as you marvel at Vera-Ellen’s teensy-weensy waistline.

Desk Set (1957)Here’s Katharine Hepburn again, this time matched with Spencer Tracey. She’s the head of a television network’s research department and is dating an ambitious man who underestimates and under appreciates her, while using her smarts to advance his own career. Tracy’s an efficiency expert who’s wants to outfit her department with a computer called EMERAC (which Hepburn and her office mates think will replace them).  In one of my favorite scenes of all romantic comedies combined, Tracy takes Hepburn out to lunch – on the roof of her office building – and gives her a personality/IQ test.  It’s priceless.

Elf (2003)

Who doesn’t love Buddy the elf, his childlike innocence and his legendary sweet tooth? Fun and funny, Elf is the only Christmas movie on my list that was produced in this century.  Why?  Because unlike the recent oversupply of sappy, sentimental, tear-jerking films, Director Jon Favreau goes for old-school charm and comedy.  So, if you’re tired of crying into your fruitcake because some kid needs a Christmas miracle to find his deadbeat dad who is a perfect kidney match for his dying baby sister or because Gramps has to sell the farm but then buys the farm when he falls into the wheat thrasher on Christmas eve…well, you get the point. I’m talking to you Hallmark Channel!

A Christmas Carol (1951) and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

 

I can’t choose between Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge  and Jim Backus’s Mister McGoo’s Ebenezer Scrooge.  So I won’t!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

When David Niven finds himself preoccupied with building a cathedral and losing perspective on faith, charity and his lovely wife and daughter, he prays for guidance.  Enter Cary Grant as the angel Dudley.  Loretta Young, as the title character, teams up with Dudley (not knowing he’s heaven-sent), to help her husband reconnect with his family and his congregation.

A Christmas Story (1983)Christmas wishes in 1940’s Indiana can be frah-GEE-lay for a kid who wants nothing more than a BB gun under the tree – but his mother’s worried he’ll shoot his eye out.  Narrated by its author, Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story follows Ralphie Parker as he schemes and daydreams over the elusive Red Ryder.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion, as Ralphie’s parents, charm and delight.  I love everything about this movie – it is perfect!

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Natalie Wood’s natural, flawless performance makes you forget you’re watching a movie. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle – just a kindly old man or the real deal?  It’s a heartwarming story about generosity, faith, second chances and, of course, Macy’s.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s hard to imagine, but this beloved Christmas classic was not well-received when it was originally released in 1946.  Now, no holiday season is complete without it.  When Harry Bailey wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel takes him on an eye-opening odyssey.  He learns that his life touched so many others for the better and that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

This list is far from complete. It doesn’t include all the TV shows I’ve loved since childhood, like the original Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without A Santa Claus, and so many others.  And if I’m going to see them all before the end of the year, I better get cracking!

In the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  See you 2016!

Sustenance

Food. Nourishment. Grub. Whatever you want to call that stuff you stuff into your mouth, its intended purpose is to support life.

I remember watching a TED Talk comparing the human brain to other animals. Our brains are more evolved because we cook our food. Could it really be that simple? It is, and here’s why: In order for the brain to grow and develop, it must be fed. The number of calories a human body burns in a day depends on its level of activity; but not your brain. It makes no difference if your brain is sleeping, designing rocket ships or trying to figure out common core math, it will burn 500 calories each and every day, no matter what.

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If you were a gorilla, and only ate raw twigs and leaves, you would have to spend most of your waking hours eating to consume enough calories just to stay alive. If a gorilla had the capacity to cook (or, at the very least, make a smoothie), it could reduce large volumes of food into smaller, more easily digestible meals. By doing so, it could consume many more calories in much less time, making it’s brain larger and, presumably, smarter.

“Hmm, I think this paleo diet is really working.”

So, it was the discovery of fire that essential transformed us into the species we are today. These are scientific facts, people, and I don’t dispute them. But here’s where I get tripped up: what was the turning point that changed our fuel from throwing the day’s kill onto the fire into dinner parties for eight, complete with wine pairings?

Who was the first Homo erectus Martha Stewart? Did she one day think, “Hmm, I wonder if this animal flesh would taste better combined with sprigs of vegetation and some roots?” Was it she that decided meals tastes better when shared with friends? “Hey, let’s invite the Uga-ugas over this Saturday night!”

Was this the advent of our complicated relationship with food?

It’s hard to picture an early ancestor sitting around the cave thinking, “I’m not really hungry, but I could go for a nosh.” I don’t think lower-food chain animals behave this way. Would a lion ever hunt down a gazelle because it’s feeling a tad peckish? Can you imagine a bear polishing off a salmon because there’s nothing good on TV? Or what if a chipmunk’s mate ran away? Would it scarf down all the nuts it was saving for winter because it had no access to raw cookie dough?

No, these disordered uses of food are strictly human. I hate to be a downer, but let’s face it: we sometimes take the very thing that’s meant to keep us alive and use it to slowly kill ourselves. They don’t call it “death by chocolate” for nothing.

And even if you have a very healthy diet, I doubt you view food as simply a way of transporting nutrients into your body. No, we modern-day humans have turned our food into so much more.

Food is a major component of our social lives. We use it to celebrate, to bring people together, to give pleasure, to comfort, to express love…all good things in moderation.

My personal relationship with food, and more specifically eating, is based on romance…and sometimes anger…but mostly romance. When I speak about a good meal, I create a narrative, a sensuous, seductive story detailing every nuance of every bite.

Once, while recommending a restaurant to a friend, my husband said, They have good ravioli.”

WHAT?

“Oh, no, no, no” I said. “They have delectable cheese-filled pasta pillows, that taste like they are lovingly assembled by the chubby hands of baby cherubs…so tender, I could have rested my head on them and slept.”

Now, that’s romantic. Want to know what’s not romantic? A date that does not involve a meal, that’s what.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go on a date. Whether we’re seeing a show, or going to a concert, we always start by going out to dinner. One night, to mix things up a little, I suggested we have a quick bite at home and spend our date playing tennis. Great idea, right? Sure, if you think throwing a hissy fit on date night adds a nice spice to a marriage. I played so badly that the evening devolved into a lot of excuses, blaming, cursing, and pouting. Sexy, no? After that failed experiment, it was back to candlelit restaurants for us – back to savoring each seductive morsel with a good glass of wine and relaxing conversation.

And we judge others by what they eat.

I once threw a dinner party, not knowing one guest was in the middle of a cleanse. Why would someone on a cleanse come to a dinner party in the first place? You tell me. Anyway, he couldn’t eat anything I served, but as luck would have it, I made floral arrangements out of carnations, clementines, squash blossoms and Nasturtiums. So, he ate the centerpiece. True story! And, yes, we all judged him.

The bottom line is this: Food is complicated. We don’t really know why we eat the way we do, or why we like some things but loathe others. All we can really be sure of is that grub does more than just sustain our bodies. It nourishes our hearts, our imaginations, our relationships and feeds the soul.

Happy Thanksgiving from SNORK!

So, this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself sitting at a table with the people you love, feeling full of life’s blessings and enjoying all the flavors of this world’s abundance.

Tips For The Serious Candidate

keep-calm-and-no-politics-no-religionWhen I started SNORK, I made a few promises to myself. For starters, I vowed to create a virtual happy place where visitors would feel welcomed when they arrived and happy or uplifted when they left. Which also meant I would not pick fights or incite controversy – a shock tactic sometimes used to promote things on the Internet.

Now, I can’t say for sure what every person’s hot buttons are, but there are two topics that are notoriously high-voltage: religion and politics. I have seen discussions of religion and politics clear rooms and bring otherwise-reasonable people down to their explosive worst selves. So, as far as I was concerned, those two subjects were verboten for SNORK.

***Click Here to Listen to SNORK, the podcast!***

Well, today, I’m breaking one of my rules, but not in a way you might think.  I’m just trying to be helpful. 

Close friends would probably describe me as a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. I play well with others, don’t much care where we eat or what movies we go to see. Yet, there are still a few things I simply cannot abide, and will not do. Take political discourse, for example. I enjoy discussing politics about as much as – oh, I don’t know – falling out of a moving car…which I have actually done (it’s even less fun than it sounds).

Whenever an election year rolls around, I have to put on a Hazmat suit before I look at my social media feeds. The venomous spitting and mudslinging that goes on among “friends” turns Facebook and Twitter into “anti-social” media at it’s nastiest.

At the gym, I’ve already threatened my workout buddies that, if they don’t put the political arguments on ice, I might have to start drinking every morning. If you see me on the elliptical with olives floating in my “water,” you’ll know that I’ve hit the wall.

My disdain for politics is especially ironic considering I once ran for public office which, to be perfectly honest, wasn’t even my own idea. [Disclaimer: Not all politicians are perfectly honest, but you can trust me]. Without my knowledge, there was a group of politically active citizens in my town who had been vetting me – some were friends of mine, some I didn’t know. Meeting with their approval, I was approached to be their candidate in an upcoming town board election.

How I came to be on their radar is not an interesting story. Suffice it to say that, back in those days, I agreed to nearly every volunteer request and sat on a number of boards and committees.

In any event, since they asked me and believed in me, I felt it was my civic duty to accept. There were other reasons, of course, but none so compelling as my inability to decline a call for help. (Please refer back to the previous “volunteerism” statement).

My story does not have a happy ending (or perhaps it does, depending on your perspective) because I lost the election. I did, however, gain a wealth of knowledge that I’d like to share with anyone willing to throw his or her hat into the ring.

So, without further ado, I’ve put together this handy-dandy campaign management primer called “Tips For The Serious Candidate.”

Lesson #1: Clean Up Your Act

The day before I publicly announced my candidacy, I completely sanitized my social media by deleting anything that could be twisted, misconstrued, exploited or spun negatively in any way.

Depending on one’s lifestyle, potential embarrassments are easy to spot. For example, if you have a habit of posting underwear selfies, or worse yet, tweeting photos of your “equipment,” you should know these will reflect badly upon you (regardless of how magnificent a specimen you believe yourself to be). If you post offending remarks about the opposite sex, your next-door neighbors, fat people, skinny people, religious groups, children, animals, the elderly, trees…you should probably delete those, too. Most rants, no matter how well intended, should probably go bye-bye as well.

This should all seem fairly obvious. However, as we’ve learned throughout history, some candidates are either too egotistical, or too dim-witted to know what’s considered inappropriate. Mainstreaming oneself is the name of the game. You want to appeal to the masses. If you think that’s manipulative or disingenuous, you would be right. But if you plan on running for office, you’ll to have to get over it. Those votes aren’t going to cast themselves, honey.

Bottoms up!

My social media was all very tame. It wasn’t so easy to see things that might be interpreted as transgressions or cause embarrassment to me, should they be made public. I had to pour over everything with fresh eyes, looking for possible land mines. There were some things that stood out more than others, like a photo of me enjoying a 2-liter mug of beer at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus (which, incidentally is where Hitler was rumored to do his best thinking). Delete. There were some photos of me in swimwear. Delete. Cleavage? Delete. How about those jokes or witticisms that one wouldn’t understand unless they knew me personally? Delete.

Most of this stuff was on Facebook and could only be seen by friends, right? Wrong. When you run for office, somehow everything has a way of becoming public and you can’t be sure whom to trust, even among your friends. Which brings us to…

Lesson 2: Trust No One

I learned this lesson the hard way. There was a reporter who befriended me very early in my campaign. Let’s call her Beyotchne. Beyotchne would call to chit-chat. She’d show up at events and make small talk. It was all very innocent, I thought, and she seemed very supportive in a “we women have to stick together” kind of way. Girl power!

...and Beyotchne!

…and Beyotchne!

I had no idea that all those innocuous conversations were actually interviews. It didn’t take long to see that Beyotchne was not a stickler for fair and balanced reporting. Rather, her agenda was to make me look like a moron. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Beyotchne asked me how I planned to spend Election Day. While going over my full schedule, I also lamented that my children had dentist appointments, which could not be rescheduled. When Beyotchne ran the article, it outlined all the candidates’ Election Day programs: setting up phone banks to call constituents, visiting the senior center to schedule transportation for people who needed rides to the poles, canvassing neighborhoods for last-minute votes…the lists went on and on. Then it said, “Anita Rotondi Rosner will be taking her kids to the dentist.”

Lesson #3: Go Through Your Closet

For the serious female candidate, political apparel is challenging. When a man is stumping, all he needs are a few conservative suits and a comfortable pair of walking shoes. If he wants to look casual, such as when he’s munching on a hot dog at the county fair, all he needs is a polo shirt and a pair of chinos. When he wants to look like a hard-working common man, he simply removes his suit jacket and rolls up his shirtsleeves. Women can’t get away with that.

Before I hit the campaign trail, my niece, Lina, and I went through my closet. I enjoy being comfortable, and only dress up for formal occasions. The result: a wardrobe of peasant skirts, sundresses, jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, flip-flops and ball gowns. None of these were practical for my purposes. So we went shopping.

After trolling rack upon rack of professional attire, and several trips to the dressing room, it became abundantly clear that, unlike the Geraldine Ferraros and Sarah Palins of the world, I cannot rock a suit. We tried every cut and style imaginable. If the suit had a boxy silhouette, it devoured me. If it was form-fitting, I looked like a naughty flight attendant. I’m just not built for business, if you know what I mean.

Lina and I finally managed to put together a collection of skirts, blouses and conservative dresses (all of which I hated). And what about the shoes? Darlings, you can’t wear flats with a skirt or a dress, so it’s all about the pumps. Have you ever canvassed a neighborhood or marched in a Columbus Day parade wearing high heels? No? Trust me, you wouldn’t like it.

One more note about going through your closet: if, while you’re rummaging around back there, you come across your old KKK uniform, or an illegitimate second family that your current family knows nothing about, please rescind your candidacy immediately. America will thank you.

Lesson #4 – Work With What You’ve Got

My town is predominately Irish and Italian. My co-candidate, John, and I were running against two men. One Irishman. One Paisan. My maiden name is Italian. I married a nice Jewish boy. John (also Italian) insisted I use both my maiden name and my married name during our run, hoping to attract Italian constituents. It’s hard to fit “Elect John Filiberti and Anita Rotondi Rosner for Town Board” on anything smaller than a dirigible, but we managed to squeeze it onto our campaign materials. In the end, I swept one part of town, the one with the largest Jewish population.

Lesson learned, although by whom and for what, remains unclear.

Lesson #5: Rules Are For Suckers

Our fifth and final lesson revolves around the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life.

The League of Women Voters traditionally organizes televised debates every campaign season. My team totally downplayed the event in an attempt to keep me relaxed. They were unsuccessful.

I’d seen debates on television. That was the extent of my preparation. Naively, I believed it would be better not to appear too practiced. I simply wanted to answer questions with truth and authenticity – this was my first mistake. I should have rehearsed sound bites and delivered them with the off-the-cuff aplomb of a skilled Oscar winner.

Upon entering the debate venue, we four candidates were seated on stage. Our opponents surrounded themselves with canyons of three-by-five cards, arranged in piles. John opened up several file folders and fanned them out in front of him. Me? I brought along a piece of paper and a pencil, just in case I wanted to jot down some notes.

Remember that Sesame Street song “One of These Things (is not like the other)”?

Look, Ma! No notes!

Look, Ma! No notes!

Yup, I was the one not like the others. Not only was I the only woman on the panel, I was categorically out-papered. So, listen up…even if you don’t need notes and have a memory like a steel trap, bring tons of documents to look serious, official and intimidating. Voters love that.

At the start of the debate, the representative from The League Of Women Voters went over the rules: We would have two minutes to answer each questions. During those two minutes, we were to answer the question asked and only that question. We were not to use the time for any other purpose. There were additional rules, but I can’t tell you what they were, because after I heard “two minutes,” my brain went out the window.

Each time a question was directed at me, my eyes darted to the timekeeper (making me look shifty). Then my response would tumble out, riding on the stream of a single breath. I’d complete my answer with seconds to spare. Only then would I inhale and relax my butt muscles. Unlike other candidates, I did not use my time to clarify something I might have said or to rebut someone else’s remarks. Nor did I ignore the question entirely to barf out my own agenda. I left the debate grumbling that my parents, who taught me to play fair, had failed me by doing so.

In the end, I can take comfort in knowing I fought a clean fight. My campaign was honest and civil. I told no lies, threw no punches. I wanted to make things better. I learned what’s important to people and took their concerns to heart. I had the full love, respect and support of my family and friends. I tried. Did my best. And while I may not have prevailed, I gained more than I lost.

And, yes, I voted for myself. What's it to ya?

And, yes, I voted for myself. What’s it to ya?

Empty Nest Syndrome

01857bf74df15df4e47a9ff442f79b42Unlike most parents, I used to dread the end of summer when it was time for the kids to go back to school. I’m all about the loosey-goosey lazy days of unscheduled relaxation and the freedom to be spontaneous. For me, sending them back to school meant setting the alarm clock, making lunches, pick-ups and drop-offs, and scheduling life around homework and extra-curricular activities.

And let’s not forget all the back-to-school paperwork. I can never understand why schools make us fill out the exact same forms every single year for each child. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to send home one printout of your vital information and ask you to send it back only if there are changes needed? But I digress.

{If you’re not listening to the podcast of this post, you’re missing half the fun! Click Here}

As I was saying , in the past got a little blue at back-to-school time, but that was before I became an empty nester. Last year was the first time in 16 years that both kids were away at school and it was an adjustment for my husband and me, but not in the way you might think. When the first one was preparing to leave for college, I was slightly beside myself – and I’ll share that story in a moment – but first I’m going to tell you something that other parents think, but dare not say:

“This whole empty-nest thing is freaking amazing!”

My husband and I can’t remember when we’ve had so much fun. We travel, go to music festivals and rock concerts, dine out, sleep with the bedroom door wide open… There are never dirty dishes in the sink. The countertops bear no backpacks, books, pencils… I do laundry once a week. ONCE! Nobody calls me in a panic to tell me they forgot their computer in their room, probably on the floor under a wet towel or next to their gym bag, which was also forgotten and could I please drop that off, too? No! There is none of that!!! No forgotten lunches. No back-to-school nights or PTA meetings. That mishigas is all in my rearview mirror.

Now when they call, it’s to ask “How are you?” or “What’s new?” or once in a while it’s, “Can you transfer some money to my debit card?” And ever now and then, they call just to say, “I love you, mom.” Doesn’t that phone call sound a whole lot better than, “I’m in the nurse’s office with a headache. Can you come pick me up?”

re-6-216x300Oh yeah.  Those headaches are somebody else’s headache now.

Yes, these are the things empty nesters don’t tell you, or their children. Because, after all, nobody wants come off as an unloving parent – and let me be very clear, we love our children with all our hearts whether they’re home or at school. All I’m saying is, like anything else, you get used to the changes, you make the adjustments, and then you put your feet up and make a martini.

I never thought it could be this way, or that I’d be so relaxed with them out from under my wing. Kicking that first kid out of the nest was actually quite hard. At the time, I wrote a sort called “Please Release Me.”

Here it is again.  Enjoy!

Please Release Me

Parents have lots of endearing nicknames for their kids: Budgie, Smoojie, Jellybean…  For occasions when their children are being needy, I’ve heard parents call them Velcro, The Warden, The Cling-On… And during those especially trying times: The Barnacle or The hemorrhoids (always said with love, of course).  In our house, you would be known as Whiny Clingman or Grumpus Minutus.

As a tyke, whenever my Sonny Boy was feeling codependent, he’d stand in front of me with his arms raised, saying, “I hold you, Mommy?”  This meant, “Pick me up.”

I know what you’re thinking: how cute!  Yes.  It was cute…for the first seven thousand times.  After that, as I’d try to cook the food, launder the laundry, or tend to our younger child, it would become a tad less darling.

If I couldn’t pick him up right away, he would swiftly transform from Whiny Clingman to Grumpus Minutus – turning me into Grumpus Minimus or Grumpus Maximus, depending on my hormone levels.

Sonny Boy would often wait for the most inopportune time to require cuddling – usually when I’d have his little sister on the changing table.  I would have to bend down, raise my ointment-covered hands like a surgeon, press my head against daughter to keep her from rolling off the table and hug Sonny Boy with my knees and elbows. Try it sometime.  It’s a herniated disk waiting to happen.

He would come from out of nowhere, like a toddler ninja, and insist on human contact.  So stealth.  One time, I didn’t even know he was standing right behind me until he squeaked, “I hold you, Mommy!”  Nearly jumping out of my skin, I jerked, flinging diaper rash goop onto the ceiling and alarming the daylights out of poor Peaches.  The result?  Two disgruntled employers.

Now before you judge my Sonny Boy as demanding, let me tell you, he was the ideal child.  A delight!  Cheerful and sweet 99% of the time!  He loved to sit quietly and look through his books or play with his toys for hours on end.  That’s why I’d feel especially guilty if I couldn’t hold him at the precise instant he needed some extra attention.

Whenever I could, I’d scoop him into my arms, and squeeze him with just the right amount of squish.  I’d nuzzle his sweet ample cheeks, and whisper, “Sometimes you love too much, my little man.” And then we would laugh and he’d kiss me.  It was our little joke.

This all happened nearly two decades ago which, in parent years, was yesterday.  It’s an age-old cliché, but truer than true: time passes faster than you ever thought possible.  These days, Sonny Boy is nearly a foot taller than I, so I’m grateful he hasn’t asked me to pick him up recently.  But he hasn’t asked for hugs either.  If only.

Very soon, we will drop Sonny Boy off at college for the first time.  We live in New York.  His college is deep in Pennsylvania, so it’s practically Kentucky (or Pennsyltucky, as the locals call it).  Being a six-hour car ride away, it may as well be in another galaxy.

I have already warned him that I might be embarrassing on move-in day.  I’m pretty sure there will be tears.  I already wept at orientation, and I wasn’t alone.  It happened when the bursar spoke to all of us parents about college loans and financing.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

But move-in day is sure to be worse.  I will hide behind my huge Jackie O sunglasses.  I’ll probably tear up on the ride there, but as soon as our wheels hit the campus, I will begin the “ugly cry.”  I will try to be brave while meeting his RA and put on a jolly façade as I’m being introduced to his roommate.  By then, however, my nose will be red, my eyes will be puffy and I will be fooling no one.

When it’s time to say good-bye, he will walk us to our car.  He will hug me and, if I’m lucky, he’ll kiss my cheek.  Hubby and I will drive away, leaving him behind.  In that twinkling of an eye, I will have to let him go, for real.  And this will cause me considerable pain because, my name is Whiny Clingman, and sometimes I love too much.

 

sindrome-ninho-vazio-2

Ham and Eggs

Top to Bottom, L-R: Coral, Foghorn, Ham, Rocket & Big Bertha

Top to Bottom, L-R: Coral, Foghorn, Ham, Rocket & Big Bertha

As many of you know, I have a fondness for backyard chickens and I believe it’s important to have an awareness of our food’s origins.  Admittedly, I am far too glamorous (read: lazy) to create a fully sustainable homestead, however I do love and care for our family pets (hens Foghorn, Big Bertha, Rocket, Coral and Ham).  They are charming, playful, funny and earn their coop and board by the eggs they so generously provide for my family.

Our yard is a popular hangout for people to drop by and watch our beautiful feathered ladies.   We actually find it therapeutic to observe them while they preen, fluff their feathers, bask in the sun and get ready for “bed”.  They are such peaceful creatures.  Kids delight in feeding them treats while their moms and dads ask lots of enthusiastic questions about keeping hens. Best of all, “the girls” make it possible for us to give the gift of organic, just-laid eggs whenever we receive a last-minute invitation, as a “thank you” present or when we have to get something for “the person who has everything”!  It has upped our popularity by a hefty margin among our friends and relatives (or perhaps they’re just using us to get to those amazing eggs.  Hmm…).

For us, it’s been a labor of love.  I could go on and on about the keeping of backyard chickens.  Instead, however, I have a special treat for you today. With the help of the lovely folks at Made by Custommade.com, it is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger, Laura Grace Weldon, to tell you all about raising chickens (and ducks!).

Laura lives on Bit of Earth Farm (notable only for its lovestruck goose). She’s the author of a poetry collection titled Tending as well as Free Range Learning, a handbook of alternative education. She blogs about learning, creative living, and mindfulness. She’s also a senior content editor for GeekMom and regular contributor to such publications as Wired.com, Mothering.com, Culinate.com, and Shareable.net. She invites you to visit her author site, hang out with her on Twitter, and check out the Free Range Learning page on Facebook. So, without further ado, here’s Laura…

Raising Chickens and Ducks With Old-Style Ingenuity and DIY Hacks

Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon

We’ve only recently become separated from our food sources. Until a few generations ago millions of people lived on farms. Millions more grew vegetables and raised an animal or two in city lots. Those who didn’t were still connected to what they consumed. They had to be: There were few choices other than milk, eggs, meat, and produce Now we’re learning what our great-grandparents knew to be true: Growing food locally helps communities directly maintain autonomy, cultural integrity, and environmental stewardship. An important step is bringing back neighborhood livestock. There are logistical and legal issues to solve such as zoning restrictions, nuisance laws, and noise ordinances. But it’s time to re-envision our neighborhoods as including more than our human neighbors. Here are a few helpful tips and convincing reasons to raise the least complicated livestock: chicken and ducks.

Chickens vs. Ducks: Which Is Best for You?

Raising backyard chickens and ducks is increasingly common. More and more urban areas are making it legal to raise backyard poultry, including Chicago, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Ft. Collins, and South Portland, Maine. It’s downright meditative to sit out back and watch chickens peck and cluck and amusing to watch the antics of ducks. These may be reason enough to add them to your life. But there’s nothing like harvesting fresh eggs. But before you take on a flock of your own, make sure to check city ordinances. Chickens vs. Ducks: Which Is Better For You? It's All In The Egg: Benefits of Backyard Eggs

Backyard Chicken and Duck Hacks

Coop Hacks

Use repurposed parts

There are two standard options for housing chickens. One is a stationary coop. The other is a moveable coop, commonly called a chicken tractor, which can be situated in different places around the yard. Both types have roosts (necessary for chickens, but not ducks) and nesting boxes, and most have a fenced-in pen attached. Stationary and moveable coops can be made from repurposed partssuch as old shedscable spools, and doghouses.

Set up a temporary pen

If your birds aren’t able to range freely in your yard you may want to set up a temporary pen as well. Such pens are great to move into garden areas before you plant and after you’ve harvested so your poultry can enjoy eating insects and plant waste while aerating the soil as they scratch. A temporary pen is also a good way to let them do the weeding for you in hard-to-weed areas. And giving them access to different parts of the yard keeps them from denuding your grass. One approach to temporary pens is to make poultry tunnels. To create the tunnels, loop chicken wire or hardware cloth into tunnels temporarily staked into the ground. There’s no limit to how cheaply you can make chicken and duck pens. You can use cable ties to surround an old plastic patio table with chicken wire for a lightweight, shaded, easily moveable grazing pen. An equally ingenious and much larger moveable pen can be made from a trampoline frame.

Use a plastic baby pool

Ducks can be raised without a pond but need a reasonably large container of water so they can dip their heads in to take a drink and rinse their eyes. They also need to splash water across their backs to activate an oil gland that waterproofs their feathers. They prefer a container with enough room to climb in and paddle around a bit. Fill a plastic baby pool or low washtub, and rinse regularly to keep it clean.

Feeding Hacks

Set up grazing frames

When you have limited space, another way to give chickens access to fresh forage is to set up grazing frames. (Ducks may enjoy them too.) These are basically boxed gardens for your poultry. You simply grow grass, lettuces, herbs, or other plants. Then cover the grazing frame with chicken wire, weighted or tied down at the sides so the chickens can eat the tops of the plants but can’t reach the soil to uproot them. (Read My Chicken Scratch shows how to build a simple covered frame.) Remember, you can use almost anything that can hold soil and be covered with wire or netting. You can even repurpose a child’s sandbox or wheel rims.

Make a DIY waterer

To cut down on starting costs, put together as much as you can without resorting to pricey accouterments. Instead of buying a waterer, consider making one. You can make a waterer from a glass canning jar and a glass dish, a nifty rail-mounted automatic waterer, or a mess free waterer from PVC pipe and a bucket that fills outside the fence. Keep in mind that most chicken waterers cannot be used with ducks because duck bills don’t fit into the small spaces chicken beaks can. For ducks, you can modify a five-gallon poultry waterer or set up a reservoir with a float valve to help keep the water clean.

Create a DIY chicken feeder

Instead of buying a feeder, build a feeder out of PVC pipingwood, or a 5-gallon pail. Remember, ducks need a wider opening to reach their food.

Feed on the cheap

There are all sorts of ways to feed your chickens and ducks frugally. Consider allowing them to scratch in the compost pile and keep a vermicomposter in order to add more high-protein worms to their diets. You can also sprout grains, which will turn one pound of barley seeds into 4.3 pounds of fodder in one week. Fresh Eggs Daily offers all sorts of ideas for a more varied poultry diet, plus a list of safe and unsafe foods. Ducks use their beaks as shovels to get at weeds and insects, but they don’t scratch at the ground as chickens do. That means they do less damage to grass and gardens. Ducks eagerly feast on slugs, snails, and other pests while leaving most garden plants alone (except for lettuces and berries), although their large feet can flatten plants. You can keep the cost of feed down by making sure your ducks have space to forage. They’ll happily dine on insects and weeds, thereby eating less of the commercially prepared duck layer or breeder feed you provide. To supply both chickens and ducks with extra bugs, whip up a DIY solar bug trap. You can also offer all sorts of kitchen and garden scraps to your ducks, although it’s best to avoid bread, crackers, popcorn, and similar foods. Backyard Chickens offers an extensive list of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and proteins that are good for ducks as well as a list of foods to avoid. While chickens can peck at foods of all sizes, keep in mind that ducks swallow their foods whole, so whatever you share with them should be in small pieces to prevent choking or blocking their digestive tracts.

Conclusion

As we begin to grow more food locally, we are reclaiming the best of old traditions while at the same time incorporating the newest ideas. If you have the time to commit to a backyard coop and flock, consider adding some chickens or ducks for fresh eggs, companionship, and a closer connection to one of your food sources. If this article has you thinking about raising chickens or ducks on your property, you may be interested in one of these outdoor gardeng gates. — http://www.custommade.com/gallery/custom-gates-fences-railings/

Happy Birthday to SNORK!

SNORK turns 2 today!

Many thanks to all of my subscribers and supporters. It’s been two years since SNORK’s painless delivery, and it’s been a labor of love ever since.

I recently had the chance to share some thoughts about reading, writing and SNORKing in an interview with Prose.  You can read it by clicking HERE.

As you know, SNORK has a new feature, our podcast of the same name (available on iTunes and everywhere else – or by clicking on the PODCASTS tab on our homepage).  I hope you check that out.

So many thanks to you for being there when my kids went away to school, when my dog got a Brazilian, and when my mother got a tattoo.  I could never gotten through the road rage, the kitchen mishaps or the drama of Cowgate without you!  There are a lot more these true adventures in store, because my life just works out that way, and I can’t wait to share them.

It’s been such a joy to entertain you.  With an ocean of content out there, and the fact that you give your valuable time to SNORK means more than you know.

Sincerely,

Anita

Daddy’s Greatest Hits

On weekdays, we didn’t see much of my dad – he’d usually leave the house before we got up for school. If he made it home in time, we’d all have dinner together and then, after the dishes were cleared, Dad would open his briefcase and spread out the work he brought home. He’d toil until after we’d gone to bed.

***For the podcast, with additional interviews, stories and merriment, click HERE!***

This was perfectly normal for typical, middle-class American families of my generation. Moms worked inside the home, Dads worked elsewhere. It seemed that moms did all the heavy lifting.  She was responsible for the house and kids, laundry, going to school meetings, making and keeping dentist and pediatrician appointments, shopping for groceries, cooking, pet care – the list goes on and on. It’s funny, but none of us thought of them as “working.” Some people still don’t, but I’ll save that rant for another time.

How do regular women manage?

How do regular women manage?

There was only one mom – our neighbor, Mrs. Norris –who always managed to look as glamorous as Tippi Hedren did in The Birds (before the avian invasion of her beautifully coiffed French twist), even though she had four or five kids and no husband. Full disclosure: they all lived with Mrs. Norris’s parents so, in retrospect, I suppose they did all the work while Mrs. Norris bleached her hair in the kitchen sink (which I’d seen her do on more than one occasion).

Dads were of a completely different species. They got up, shaved, slapped on some AquaVelva, dressed, grabbed their fedoras and backed out of the driveway. Eight hours later, they’d drive back in, looking as fresh as a daisy.

On weekends, however, the tables were turned. Our dad would take us off our mother’s hands so she’d be free to go out for coffee with her friends, or wallpaper the bathroom.

There are so many wonderful things I did with my dad, too many to mention.  Instead, I’ve put together my Top 5 favorite moments.  Here we go:

Number 5: The time my mother had to go to a PTA meeting and left my father in charge of our dinner. He was supposed to make hot dogs, which he did, but he also treated us to a nutritious side dish of popcorn. There was no such thing as microwave popcorn back then because there were no such things as microwave ovens. So, dad made it on the stove and, to entertain us, kept taking the lid off, letting the popped kernels shoot all over the kitchen. Dinner and show!

Number 4: The hours spent tobogganing at Frear Park in the freezing cold. My dad had an analytical approach to this winter pastime focused on maximizing speed. He had four little kids on a heavy five-man toboggan. In order to balance the sled, he took great care in the distribution of our weight and would, therefore, seat us oldest to youngest from the front. He’d then push us to get us moving. Just as the toboggan began its decent down the hill, Dad would make a flying leap to take his place on the back. The set up took ten minutes, the ride took five seconds. We’d reach the bottom and trudge back up the hill to do it all again. If we complained about getting cold, he’d look at his watch and say, “We can’t go home. Your mother’s making hot chocolate and it won’t be ready yet.” I suspected he was under orders to keep us out for a certain amount of time or he had no concept of how long it takes to make cocoa.

Baby, it's cold outside.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Number 3: Miniature Golf. This activity should have it’s own special exhibit in the Fatherhood Hall Of Fame. I don’t know about you, but we loved playing miniature golf with our dad. On one memorable evening, while playing mini golf on vacation in Cape Cod, Dad was at his hilarious peak. He was goofing around, cracking jokes, using his golf club as a pool cue…he had us all in stitches. At one point, he fell down on the ground. A coup de grace! We roared. Pratfalls were not previously a part of his customary comic repertoire. It took a few moments for us to notice, through our joy tears, that he was rolling around on the ground wincing in pain. Turns out he fell due to a twisted ankle and not for our personal amusement (although, truth be told, we still laugh whenever we tell this story).

Number 2: What favorite moment between a woman and her dad is more memorable and sentimental than the day he walks her down the aisle? In the months leading up to my wedding, the anticipation of this short stroll brought tears to my eyes every time I imagined it. I’d be walking to my office, think about it and start crying. I’d be in the grocery store, think about it and start crying. I’d be riding the subway, think about it and start crying. I went through a lot of tissues and so, I figured, by the time the big day came, I’d be all cried out and we’d sail down the aisle of the chapel dry-eyed with beaming smiles. And that is exactly what did not happen. I wept and, as everybody knows, when the bride is crying everybody is crying. It was a 5-hanky wedding, for sure.FullSizeRender

Number 1:  The time spent with my father cannot be boiled down to a single moment at all. Rather, it’s a collection of lessons, all of which lifted me up, advised me, assured me, or set me straight. He eased my anxiety about motherhood when my first child was born. He coached me on how to ace a job interview. He gave me pointers on buying a car. He explained what to consider when purchasing a house. He counseled me on navigating the minefields of those tricky newlywed years. He taught me how to make French toast. And he probably didn’t even realize the weight of his words in those moments because my father is not a “let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart” kind of guy. Much of his wisdom was imparted to me simply by his being. I learned by watching him, listening to him, laughing with him and loving him.

My Dad

My Dad

So, thank you, Daddy…for everything. Happy Father’s Day.