Archive for February, 2016

Denim is the new black

I know you are somewhat surprised to be hearing fashion statements from me, but I read recently that all the fashionistas are wearing denim this year. They’re mixing and matching their denims, too, with jeans and a chambray shirt, topped off with a denim jacket. The fashion industry has already reinvented miniskirts, wide leg pants and low-rise blue jeans. Notice that I said “reinvented”. For those of us who were teenagers in the 70’s, these styles are nothing new, and although denim was worn long before that, we were the first to make it fashionable. My closet was filled with wide-legged hip huggers and denim jeans of all shapes and sizes. My wide-legged pants were long enough to drag in the dirt until the hems were ragged, something that my mother never could understand. If the legs weren’t wide, the jeans had to be skin-tight. So tight, in fact, that we would lie down on the bed to squeeze into them, sometimes even spraying them down and putting them in the dryer to make them even tighter. I usually wore them with my favorite Earth Shoes, which had a wide toe and negative heel and were really quite comfortable. My pride and joy was my denim jacket, known in those days as a jeans jacket. It was a plain old jacket with plenty of pockets and metal buttons which any farmer would have purchased, but I embellished it in my own style with hand-embroidered flowers and an eclectic group of sewn-on patches, including the American flag, a peace sign, and one that read “Don’t eat yellow snow.” Before sewing on the patches, I washed it about fifty times in the washing machine, adding a touch of bleach each time until it was faded just right. Later, I punched holes along the hem and added metal eyelets of different colors. Yes, I was cool. These days, although I still wear comfortable wide-toed shoes due to bunions and arthritis, my own personal fashion statement has changed. I still wear jeans fairly often, but probably even worse than the “mom jeans” that everyone laughs about, I wear “grandma jeans”, which have a touch of spandex added to the denim and are more forgiving in the waistline and hips. Even better are my yoga pants, which I have in several colors. I have to be careful when I buy either that they are not the low-rise type of pants, because I no longer want people to see my navel. My beloved jeans jacket is saved in my trunk of memories for future generations to laugh at or bring to Antiques Roadshow, where it would probably be considered iconic 1970’s fashion. Oh, and one more thing: If my jeans are ever tight enough that I have to lie down on the bed to zip them up, I am certainly not going to tell anyone!

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To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; Whenever you’re right, shut up.” ~Ogden Nash

I have spent several weeks this winter in bed or recliner recovering from foot surgery. Preoperatively, my plans were to 1) Read loads of books. 2) Write loads of columns/blog posts. 3) Reorganize the closets. 4) Sort through a gazillion family photographs, and write on the back of each one. Postoperatively, I have managed to 1) Read only two books. 2) Suffer through the longest case of writer’s block I have ever had. 3) Halfheartedly reorganize two bathroom drawers. 4) Spread a gazillion photographs over the dining room table and kitchen counter. 5) Become hopelessly addicted to British reality TV, particularly the obesity shows. HE has been the busy one. Not only has he been going to work every day, he is doing the grocery shopping and cooking the meals, even giving me breakfast in bed the first few days. The first week, he actually dusted UNDERNEATH the couch, finding a few odd socks, stale dog treats, and a couple of toy trucks. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I rarely dust underneath the couch when I clean, but I think he (and anyone else who would happen to look there) could easily figure that one out. It hasn’t been too bad, really. I lie in the bed, foot up on a pillow with my electric blanket control in one hand and the TV remote in the other. My computer, phone, and a stack of unread books are within easy reach. He is also feeding and watering the chickens as well as gathering the eggs. I think the girls miss me as much as I miss them, because they are acting out by laying eggs all over the coop and he has to search for them, which he describes as his daily Easter egg hunt. If it weren’t for the limp, I could easily get used to this. We have been getting along splendidly with all this togetherness, too, without even the slightest disagreement. I am too relaxed to feel disagreeable, and if HE was, he’s done a good job keeping it to himself. If you ask HIM, though, he will probably tell you he is quite disagreeable about having family photographs spread all over his nice clean house. I think that the secret to a long and happy marriage is remembering those long-ago vows of caring for each other in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, in separate TV rooms, and keeping your mouth shut. If the vows didn’t go exactly like that, they should have.

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A Thousand Words

We have a lot of pictures at our house. By a lot, I mean A LOT. There is an entire dresser in the guest room which is stuffed full, plus a tote taking up room in the closet. These days, pictures are digital and many can be sorted and stored on a computer, in a cloud, on a disc, or on a flash drive that fits right into the computer when you need it and doesn’t use up all the memory. Several shots can be taken, viewed, and if the pictures not any good, can be deleted. My own personal rule is that any photo of me with more than one chin must be deleted immediately. Since we are the parents of an only child, we recorded every event, every birthday, and practically every breath of her life. We brought them to the drug store to be developed, and often received “free” double prints so we could send copies to her doting grandparents. I couldn’t bear to throw a single photo away. I also inherited my parents’ photographs. My sister, who knows me for the sucker that I am, told me that I had to take them. I have albums, envelopes, and boxes of both black and white and kodachrome photos of old relatives and friends, many of whom I don’t even know. I have plenty of faded scenic photographs of long-ago vacations. I had asked the folks years ago to write on the backs of the photos so future generations would know who and what they were, and they each did about ten. That leaves only 4,984 for me to do. Along with the old photographs, my parents’ collection contains all those extra prints that my sister and I sent them over the years. My project this past winter was to make an attempt to sort through, organize, and WRITE ON THE BACKS of the pictures. Let me tell you, even a long Minnesota winter wasn’t long enough to finish a project such as this. I have mailed several packets of photos to old friends of my parents. I threw away a large stack of blurry or otherwise useless or unrecognizable photos. I filled a large bag of unknowns for my sister and cousins to help identify. I filled an even larger bag for my daughter with photographs of her, her friends, and her friends’ friends. I took photos of the photos and posted them on Facebook for everyone to enjoy. I should have realized long ago that parents and grandparents are not around forever, so I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Sit down with them and go over your family photographs sooner rather than later. I know that you must have boxes and albums of them sitting around gathering dust just as we did. Get a magnifying glass to help them identify the subjects, and WRITE ON THE BACKS as you go along. I am certain that there will be plenty of stories to go along with the pictures, too. Write them down, record them, or keep them in your memories to tell your own grandchildren. You won’t be sorry. I think my project will stretch over at least one more winter. In the meantime, thanks to modern technology of cropping and pasting photos side by side, I found a rather uncanny family resemblance. (Me, about 1962 and Mom, about 1929)

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Cut and Dried

I spent a cold and snowy Valentine’s Day sorting through old letters that my parents wrote to each other when they were dating, from 1955 until they married in 1957. Back in the day, Mom would have been called a Career Girl. She was a Korean War widow from the upper peninsula of Michigan, working at Northwestern Bank in downtown Minneapolis. She enjoyed the city life and was very active with shopping, skiing, golfing, and bridge. Dad was 34, a WWII veteran and confirmed bachelor, working on his Master’s Degree in education, unemployed, and living with his parents in Chisholm. An avid outdoorsman, he hunted and fished with his brothers and buddies and worked occasionally in his father’s service station. Since he had little to do, he took up oil painting, completing a portrait of his dear Jean which we found in the attic when we cleared out their house before it sold. My mother hated that picture, and although it is the source of many family jokes, it hangs in my dining room to this day. He had asked her to return it if she didn’t like it, and I smiled as I wondered what she told him. The two of them met on a blind date, set up by mutual friends. Mom didn’t like blind dates and had turned it down, until they told her that her date was from northern Michigan, which wasn’t exactly true. (He had taken a teaching job there for one year.) Luckily for me, they hit it off. Theirs was a long-distance romance in the days when long-distance telephone calls were a luxury that few people could afford, so they wrote letters. Chisholm was over 200 miles from Minneapolis, and my father had little money and no car. He depended on his father and brothers to lend him a road-worthy vehicle, and more often than not, laments the fact that he couldn’t get there to visit. He finally got a teaching job in Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, which was even further away. He wouldn’t get a pay check for a month, so she lent him money to cover his rent and living expenses. I had to smile at this one, wondering what either one of them would have said had my sister or I brought home an unemployed boyfriend who lived with his parents, had no car, and borrowed our money. The letters are full of daily activities and family news, births, and deaths from both sides. Most of the friends that they mentioned remained friends their entire lives, so the names were familiar to me. Once he was working, Dad was very frugal with his money, and suggests that she should be, also. That one made me smile, too, because I can’t imagine anyone telling my mother what to do with her own money! There are obviously a few missing letters, and I think she saved more of them than he did. I put them in chronological order and savored each one as I sipped tea and watched the snow fall outside my window. I knew their love story, but to read it in their own words and in their own handwriting made it even more special. My dad was a writer, and his words of love are meaningful, articulate, and eloquent and the margins are occasionally decorated with his illustrations. At the bottom of the pile, with no envelope and no signature, are two pieces of paper, which I have surmised is a partial first (or second, or third) draft of the final letter he wrote before they married. Perhaps I will find the final draft or the actual letter in the boxes of photographs and memories, perhaps I won’t. Either way, I know the rest of the story.

“Tomorrow, I plan to buy a suit for myself…a pair of shoes, and get a haircut. (Although I really don’t need one.) Tuesday, I plan to cast out a few worms for trout. Wednesday, I plan to see you. Saturday, I plan to wed you. For the rest of my days, I plan to love you. You see, Jean, it’s all cut and dried. You and me. Wonderful, isn’t it?”

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