I Love the smell of carburetor cleaner in the morning

There are people who can work on cars and those who cannot.  The trick is to know which one of these categories you fall into.

My father fell into the CANNOT category, but he thought he was a CAN kind of guy   Disclaimer:  my dad could repair most anything around the house including gas and electrical as well as appliances and more; and has walked me through many a repair over the phone to repair my washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, lay floors……

Example picture, not Bessie


My memory of my father’s inability to work on a care (or any combustion engine for that matter) goes back to an old baby blue Chevy station wagon we lovingly called Old Bessie.  Bessie was a 1961 Chevy station wagon (or thereabouts) with matching blue interior and a crank down rear window.  She had rear fender wings and chrome detailing down the side.  Those corner side windows that my dad would crack open in the winter to flick his cigarette ashes out of.  Over the years, my father had attempted to work on various parts of Bessie; the engine, brakes, the back window and more.  By the time we took Bessie off to the metal scrapyard in the sky, she barely ran and the back window hadn’t been able to crank up or down for a few years.  Being half-down, the back window was covered with plastic and held there with black electrical tape – my dads favorite.

After Bessie’s demise, there was the introduction of a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon.  It was dark green and had fake wood paneling down the sides and across the back.  The way-back had a hidden seat that could flip up and offer an additional row of seating – facing backward.  My brother Neal and his now wife of 39 years dated in that car and eventually my parents gifted it to my brother Todd when his family grew unexpectedly.  The wagon wasn’t a mess when Todd received it, however in typical Chicago style it was a rust bucket by the time Todd took it to the wrecking yard.

Move on to 1977 and an International Harvester Travel All was the Geitner family mobility device.  The Travel All was International’s answer to the Jeep Wagoneer or the SCOUT.  International Harvester (now Caterpillar) made cars you ask?  Why YES, yes they did; though no one else on the planet knew this, but my father.  The International Harvester headquarters were in Peoria, Illinois, where my father grew up.  As it turns out, we had several family members who worked in the factory there, so the stage was set.   I learned to drive in this car and can still hear Sue and Nancy cackling when they saw me driving it for the first time.  I will add, however, that my (our) friend Gini’s dad also had a Travel All – so we were destined to be friends when we met in high school.   Over the years, my dad tried to “fix” things on the Travel All, yet sadly and not so surprisingly, it ended up with the same demise as old Bessie with a back window that didn’t work and all of the pieces taken apart to try and repair it, left to rust in the back and the window no longer going up or down.  Bring in the plastic and trusty black electrical tape, which remained there until my Dad took the Travel All off to the junkyard in the sky.

In case you haven’t noticed, my father did not have a good track record with fixing cars, but I had friends who I loving called Gear Heads and thanks to them I was able to surpass the “Dad” gene and learn how to repair my own vehicles.  It started with my first car, a 1974 Honda Civic named Ben.  When Ben began constantly getting bogged down, sputtering and such  I became friends with  the guys up at the NAPA auto parts store in town because I was up there so often to get a new fuel filter.  Gas was leaded then and clearly I was not getting it at the right place.   That started the trend of repairing my own vehicle and thanks to many of my Gear Head friends I learned how to change oil, tires and recognize the sound of open headers.

My husband Michael is a lover of cars.  He has completely torn down and rebuilt the engine in a tractor, a 1994 Isuzu Trooper and my trusty chipper-shredder.   Thanks to him, our cars will last as long as we want them to and look good doing it.   Years ago when my father’s eyesight was beginning to fade, he had come to visit us out in “the country”.   Michael was working on our F250, giving it an oil change or what have you.  My father wandered out there to “watch” and lend a helpful hand.  Mostly he asked a lot of questions and pointed in directions that did not make sense based on what he was asking about.  Yes, my dad did have failing eyesight at the time, but it was further proof he just wasn’t good with cars.  Nowadays, Michael and I spend a good bit of time watching ‘Fast n Loud’, ‘Wheeler Dealers’ and the GOOD (now defunct) version of Top Gear BBC– the American version STINKS.   Before I met Michael i was listening to  Car Talk on NPR.  I would listen and play this game with myself to figure out what the problem was before Tom and Ray gave their diagnosis and see if I was right or at least in the same ballpark.

Of course, now cars are mostly electronic and fuel injected and I take them into the shop for repair now; which is what brings me back to the title of this little anecdote.  A few years ago my neighbor Steve bought a SWEET 1961 Chevy Impala; the 4 door version of Bessie.  We have named Steve’s car Vlad, the Impala.  Its Chevy blue with a white hard top, white wall tires and a solid metal dash.  The wings on the rear fenders are just the perfect size and if you were in the mob, you could fit 6 bodies in the trunk – easy.  When Steve was working on the engine one morning, I happened to walk out my front door just as he was spraying some carburetor cleaner and caught a whiff.  I had an immediate flashback to high school and my old gear head buddies and shouted down to him…….”I love the smell of carburetor cleaner in the morning, Mr. Steve!”

The best part was when he later told me he was impressed I was able to name that smell.



Me – Kindergarden

I got my hair cut today. Its funny how things come around over time. Our parents take care of us when we are kids and as they age, they become more like children and we end up having to take care of them.

I am the youngest child in my family AND the only girl. If you were to ask my mother, she would tell you they kept trying until they got a girl. My dad would always comment on a little girls hair if it was long and pretty. Me? I never had long and pretty hair. I had long hair for awhile, but I would never call it pretty.

When I was 5, my mother entrusted me to our neighbor, Lisa Rouse, to take me to her hairdresser for a haircut. At the time, I was a toe-head blonde (whatever that means – what does toe-head have to do with anything?) with super-fine hair a bit past shoulder length and it was slightly curly. I don’t recall the name of the place where Lisa took me, but I do remember it was on Old Skokie Road in Highland Park, not far from the pedestrian overpass over HWY 41 and near the scrapyard along the railroad tracks.

The Pixie cut was all the rage in 1967, though I would say far more so for fashionable young women, not so much for kindergarten girls. Nonetheless, I came home with a pretty raggety Pixie hair cut as pictured from my 1st grade picture. My Father was devastated. My Brothers teased me relentlessly and I am fairly sure my mom and dad “had words” about it. Thankfully, my father was never one to hold a grudge. Over that weekend, he went down to the Rouses’ house, they all had an Old Style and laughed at my haircut for the next month or so.

That was when I was 5. I don’t think I cut my hair again until I was at least in my 20’s. From 25 – 40 there were various perms, highlights, trims, bangs, cutting my own hair, letting Jamie cut my hair and lord knows what else, but the length remained relatively long.

I had my first child at 36. I cut my hair to my shoulders. I had my second child at 39 and my hair got a bit shorter. For years I thought about going all the way and really cutting it short. I would think, try to visualize, but never got up the nerve to do it until one day it happened.

I was determined. I found a picture in a magazine and headed up to Super Cuts, one of those walk-in and for $10.00 they will cut your hair any way you want. I had never been there and didn’t know a soul, but showed the hairdresser the picture and asked her to cut my hair. Her name was Pam and she was pretty hesitant. Throughout the cut, she kept checking and I would say shorter!

When she was finished, I was thrilled! Here I was at 43 years old and I had finally found the haircut that made me happy. I will admit, my husband was not thrilled (what is it with men and hair), but he has grown used to it. And…….he likes to see me happy. J

Me now
Me now

Summer Solstice

Wedding Day 1947

June 21st is the longest day of the year.  Summer Solstice is what astronomers call it.  I learned about the Summer Solstice when I was old enough to understand and remember my parents wedding anniversary.  I guess my mother started me out with using major events to help me with my date/time references.

My parents were married June 21st, 1947 only to be separated by death on March 16, 1994.  47 years, still holding hands and thoroughly enjoying their retirement in Wisconsin (when they weren’t in Vegas).  The period that lead up to their wedding was pretty interesting and I am proud to say that I know my mother is the source of my stubbornness.  It is because of her stubbornness, and her love for my father that I sit here writing about this story.

My father was in the Army during WWII.  He never talked about it much other than to say he was in Europe on a “clean up crew”.  I took that to mean he and his team had to pick up the mess left behind after a battle, including the people.  I guess I wouldn’t talk about it much either.

When my dad returned to the states as a skinny 21 year old member of the US Army, he was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois where at a USO sponsored dance in Highland park, he chanced to meet Jean Briscoe, a 5’8″ dark-blonde who I am certain dazzled him with her dance moves.  My dad could not keep a beat to save his life (thanks for sharing dad), but my mother was a fabulous dancer.  A romance quickly ensued and my father proposed.

When my father and mother went to Grandpa Briscoe to formally ask for her hand, he refused.  It all came down to religious beliefs.  My grandpa was a Christian Scientist and dad was not.  Interestingly, neither were my nana and the girls, but that didn’t matter.  There were tears, raised voices between Grandpa and Nana.  More tears.  My mother and father (ok, my mother) forced ahead to plan a wedding at a church in Highland Park.  Invitations printed and all.

Shortly before the wedding, when my mother, father and even Nana had failed to sway my grandfather, my mother hopped a train and headed to East Peoria where my fathers family lived.  My mother moved into an apartment with my dad’s sister, Ruth.  Without any help from her family financially, she borrowed her sister Shirley’s wedding dress (which was also borrowed), found a church and walked down the aisle to become Mrs. Gene Geitner on the day of the Summer Solstice.  Standing up for her were my fathers sisters, Margaret and Ruth, my fathers brothers Jack and Joe, and Margarets girls Kay and MaryLou as flower girls.

There was one person who attended from my mothers family.  My Nana.  She had begged her husband to reconsider, this was the daughter who wouldn’t have to run away to get married, but he refused.  She begged him to drive down to Peoria and participate; he refused.  So, without my Grandpa’s knowledge,  my Nana got someone to drive her to the train station, took the train down to Peoria and watched her daughter walk down the aisle.

I said earlier that my mother was the source of my stubbornness.  Scratch that – Thank You Nana, for always speaking your mind and standing up for your girls.  You taught them well, and they taught theirs girls too.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad….The Invite 1947

I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes….well, snakes are ok.

Puppy and spider

Isn’t this picture cute?  I don’t know where he finds them, but my husband seems to be able to snag these cute pictures and send them to me a few times a week.  This one in particular, he sent to me after we were talking about that time when he had to get the spider out of the living room.

Several years ago when we were living out in the country, my husband and I would get up early in the morning and drive into work together.  We lived about 45 miles from town and in an effort to save gas, we would drive both cars into town on Monday and share a vehicle home all week, then drive separately home on Fridays.  Every little bit helps as they say.  When I say we got up early, I mean 4:30 in the morning early.   It was about this time of the morning when The Great Spider Incident occurred.  <cue scary music>

Living out in the country, we didn’t have any blinds on our windows.  We had no neighbors and lived on a private road so unless someone was lost, they would never end up down our street.  Being a city girl, this took me some time to get used to, but after roughly a year in the house, I was pretty comfortable walking around in the dark by the moonlight through the windows.

It was any random day of the week and late in spring, so it was starting to get really hot in the house overnight.  We had installed an attic fan in the walk-up attic over the weekend to help regulate and move some of the heat out of the 3rd floor and still had the boxes out on the screened in back porch.  I had gotten up about 4:30 to open some windows and let the air move through to cool down the house a bit.  Maneuvering through the house by moonlight, I had opened windows upstairs and had moved downstairs walking through the rooms, starting with the windows on the front of the house.  As I opened the window in the living room, I turned around to step and noticed something, a shadow or something on the dark green oriental rug.  Even though I didn’t have my glasses on, I knew something wasn’t right.

I turned, clicked on the lamp and was paralyzed by the sheer size and hariness of the spider that was on the rug before me.  It gives me shivers to think about it now 15 years later.  I heard Michael moving around upstairs so, while keeping one eye on the spider, I moved toward the stairs to call for him.  I got his attention and told him there was this huge spider on the carpet in the livingroom.  I told him it was far too big to smush and I wouldn’t go near it.  I am terrified of spiders.

Michael, thinking I am over-exaggerating as if saying a tiny mouse is the size of  a New York Subway Rat, takes his time coming down the stairs.  He walks around the corner to see what all the fuss is about and when he lays eye on what I was talking about stopped dead in his tracks and exclaimed “Holy Crap!”  He stammered a bit, looking around to try to figure out what to do.  It was far too big to put a cup over and slip a piece of paper under like one would with a small spider.  So he asked me to keep an eye on it while he went to get a box.  It felt like 100 years until he came back with the box that the attic fan came in.  It was a bit awkward because the opening was at the top of the box, not on the wide part of the box, so you can imagine that he is at one end, with the opening away from him and trying to reach across with a stick to coax the monster into the box while I watched in horror.    Once the spider was in the box, Michael put it upright, closed the top flaps and put something heavy on it so the spider couldn’t get out while he went off to put on shoes.

It was that time of day where the sun isn’t up, but the sky brightens enough that you can see fairly well where you are going and what’s before you – so long as it is large enough.  Michael now had his shoes on and is ready to dispose of the monster.  He has with him a flashlight, the stick he used to coax the spider and the box and heads out to the garden to set it free.  Michael is big on setting things free (except for that one cotton mouth under the house that one time, but that’s a different story).

The garden was about 100 yards from the house.  From the front door, you went through the circle part of the driveway, turn left to the end of the pasture fence and where the driveway turns right to go out to the road, just keep walking straight to the garden and the shed beside it.  It seemed like he was out there forever.  I had gotten the coffee ready and was cleaning up in the kitchen when he came flying back in the front door a bit breathless saying “I hope you didn’t want that box for anything, because I am leaving it out there and I am not going back anytime soon!”.   Surprised to hear this exclamation, I ask why and this is what he described.

He got out to the shed and gently set the box down with the flaps to open it facing away.  He could see pretty well, so once he was ready, he used the stick he brought out to slowly reach over and pull open the flaps.  When he pulled the top flap up, he saw this hairy leg (paw is the word I think he used) reach over the flap, grab it and threw itself onto the top of the box.  It faced him, reared up on its back 4 legs with its front 4 legs in the air and started to move toward him.  He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, was it the light?  Was this thing really thinking about coming at him?  As he was rolling that through his head, it began to run at him like it was going to lunge or take flight at his face.  Michael was so stunned he turned and double timed it back to the house, not looking back.

I have been known Michael for a long time.  Michael is a Marine.  I don’t think I have ever seen him even nervous about anything, let alone scared.  And for this,  I would not say he was scared, I would call it surprised.  For me, even imagining what he saw scares me.  I can picture every hair on the creepy little crooked leg of that spider.  I imagine the 8 freakish eyes staring me down with its fangs sticking out ready to bite.

As I write this story, it is one of the first warm days of the season.  We have a large retaining wall in the front yard with vines covering the ground from the wall down toward the street.  I have seen large furry spiders, sometimes with babies on their backs, when doing yardwork near the wall.  I always make a face and stare in horror until they go away.  They creep me out, but they are nothing like the horror of that monster spider I found that hot morning in the middle of my living room rug.

It was January, 1999

LOVED being pregnant. I got to eat whatever I wanted, didn’t worry about my body image and had an awesome man for my child’s father. I also swelled up to the size of Cleveland, waddled around (though I truly didn’t ever think I waddled) and at some point had to go buy a pair of really expensive “clog-slippers” because my big fat swollen feet would not fit into anything else. I was most definitely nnot one of those beautiful Madonna-esque mothers to be.

Michael and I had purposely not found out the gender of our child. I told him if I was going to have to go through labor, I wanted some sort of a surprise at the end. On this particular day, I got my surprise. It was 4 weeks until my due date. Thankfully, I had managed a project for my company to implement remote access and given I was a piloting member, I was able to work from home. Being as swollen as I was, I had promised my doctor I would work from home at least 2 days per week.

On any given day, I may have tummy troubles. I have been blessed with a pretty messed up inside and as a consequence, my intestines get tangled up fairly easily. A tangle can equal an awful lot of pain, a visit to or stay in the hospital, or in my case, I got to get a nice chunk of my intestines removed while vising Michael when we were first dating. (That’s another lonnnnnng story or later). This particular day, I was having tummy troubles. It had gone on for a few days and was escalating rather quickly.

Michael and I lived out in the boonies, about 45 minutes west of Richmond. It was a month before my due date and Michael was in a day-long session for work. At some point in the early afternoon, I called him to say I wasn’t feeling well and was going in to see the doctor. Nothing to worry about, I would just let him know what was up after I saw the doctor. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, it was getting worse. My normal doctor wasn’t around, so I had to see some random guy who didn’t know anything about my history.   Without a thought, he decided I was in labor and sent me over to the birthing center.

Now, I have never been in labor before, but I could tell you I wasn’t in labor. I called Michael on my way over, told him I didn’t think I was in labor, but they were going to hook me up to monitor me and check it out. My doctor showed up what seemed to me to be a few hours later. She agreed with me that I wasn’t in labor, but she didn’t know what she should do. By this time, the pain had escalated to a point where I could barely concentrate when people were asking me questions, so I wasn’t much help.

Thank goodness for Michael! He came in about 30 minutes after my normal OB arrived, took one look at me and started asking the right questions. Remember, he had seen this before. He reminded my doctor of my previous surgery and the reason for it. They talked about options for awhile, but the bottom line was, the baby was going to have to get out of the way or I was going to be in some serious trouble.

The neo-natal doctor was called in along with a GI doctor to deal with my insides after the baby was born. They prepped me pretty quickly and wheeled me back into the operating room. Michael scrubbed up and was allowed to be in the room for the baby’s birth. Due to the nature of my illness, they didn’t do the nice little “bikini” cut for the c-section, but had to follow my original scar from above the belly button down. Michael would later describe what he saw as one lady on my right and one on my left side, each one pulling as hard as they could to move the muscles to allow access to the baby. Then when the baby was removed and laid on my abdomen, he thought they had removed my liver!

They took the baby away to clean her up and do all that stuff they do with newborns and in moved the GI doctor to finish the rest of the surgery. They told Michael he could leave or they would raise the curtain, but he asked to stay and watch. The doctor just shrugged and said sure and went about his business. All was well…….they patient was going to live. J

Later that evening, after the baby had settled in the NICU and I was resting in the recovery room, Michael came to say goodnight. He left with me the polaroid the nurses took of him holding the baby with me so I could see our little girl when I woke up.

I didn’t get to see her in person for 2 days, but finally insisted they take me down so I could see her. For showing up a month early, she was still a 7lb 9oz baby – fully baked in most edges of the universe. She was beautiful then and now at 16 is tall, beautiful, brilliant and talented.

I have heard people say that God puts some chemical in our brain or erases our memories to cause women to forget what labor is like almost immediately after birth. They say if He didn’t, then women would never have more than 1 child because they would never go through that again on purpose. I agree.  I remember all the details of that day, everything except the pain and discomfort….

And then………there were two………..



Memories of Christmas Past

This year, as with every year, I took my Christmas decorations down on New Years Day.  I don’t know when this tradition (if you can really call it that) even started, but I have been following this timeline for years.

As I always do when I put UP the Christmas tree, I drift off down memory lane as I put the Christmas tree away as well.  I can tell a specific story about every single ornament on the tree.  Today, I want to share a story about these.

Todds Ornament

The first ornament is not a pretty one.  It is made of plastic and is supposed to look like winter flowers.  My brother Todd made that ornament while he was in Boy Scouts probably 50 plus years ago.  When I was a little girl and decorated the tree, Todd’s ornament was always the first one I would put on the Tree – even on the ugly Silver Aluminum Tree.

Nana's ornaments

The set of 3 are a small example of how my Nana would spend her time in the late 60’s.  Even with her arthritic hands, my Nana would spend hours upon hours in a chair watching the Cubs play (she was a die-hard fan) and making Christmas Ornaments.  These are made by starting with a satin covered Styrofoam form, stick pins, pearl beads, ribbon, sequins and whatever else your imagination could come up with.  Between myself and my mother, I suspect I had over 100 of these at one time.  Not one exactly like the other, they are all amazing and I truly cannot pick a favorite.  Unfortunately, over many moves, I am down to about 20 of these ornaments now.

Jills first ornament

One of my favorite rememberances, however, is that my Nana taught Keith and I to make these ornaments.   In hindsight, I assume my mother sent us down to Nana’s house to get some time to herself, but I loved to hang out down there and make ornaments.  The ugly sequined ornament pictured above is the very first ornament I had ever made.  When I put it on the tree each year, I have flashbacks to sitting with my Nana and Keith, watching the cubs on her console TV in the hot summer days and her patience as she showed us how to make ornaments too.

I have been telling these stories to my kids for years.  Not just about these sequin ornaments, but each one on the tree.  Now they tell the stories without me even asking as they admire each ornament while decorating the tree.  One day, I hope they will do the same with their kids.

THIS is how family stories are shared…….




1975 – The Filet knife Christmas

The year was 1975, I was in the 8th grade and Christmas was coming.  I had been babysitting, making pretty decent money between the two families who fought for my services since I was 10.  It was this year that I decided I was going to buy my dad a really nice Christmas present.

My Dad was a lineman for Commonwealth Edison, the Chicago based power company and for all the years I could remember up until this particular year, my Dad worked.  He would drop in at the Rouses’ Christmas Eve dinner in his CarHart coveralls and grab some dinner (if there wasn’t a storm going on) and work all night.  On Christmas morning, he would park his truck in our driveway within eyeshot through the window so he could see the orange light on the dashboard.   If the light shone, it meant he had a call on the radio.  This was high technology in 1975.

This year, however, my dad was going to be home because on December 26th, we were packing up our Pop Up Camper, throwing suitcases on the roof rack of the 1972 Ford Station Wagon – the kind with the fake wood paneling on the sides – and heading off the Florida for a 2 week vacation.  We were even taking Neal’s girlfriend Robin with us.

Christmas Eve we went to the Rouse’s house for the Christmas Eve dinner party.  As always, a great time was had by all and we came home to ready ourselves for Christmas morning and leaving on vacation the next day.

It was Christmas morning.  I was so excited to give my Dad his gift.  My Dad was a HUGE fishing fan.  He and my mother went fishing every year I can remember with my Aunt Marg, her daughter Marylou and Marylou’s husband Kent.  In addition to that, my dad would take the boys almost every summer for a long weekend or a week.  His ultimate favorite fish to catch was a Northern or a Walleye.  Not for the meat, so much as the fight.  His eyes would sparkle when he would talk about landing a Northern.  With this in mind, I had gotten myself up to Montgomery Wards and bought him the best Filet Knife I could afford.  It was the perfect size, with a carved leather sheath and a pearled handle.

It was pretty early in the morning as we were opening gifts.  I am pretty sure we had to wake my dad up so we could start opening, so he was a little groggy.  When he got to my gift, I sat on the edge of the couch to watch.  He opened the package and saw what it was.  He looked closely at the sheath, admiring the carving in the leather, then he unsnapped the strap around the handle, grabbed the sheath and pulled the knife out.  As he did, he sliced open the palm of his hand…….

There was blood everywhere!  He ran into the bathroom, put his hand under the water and tried to stop the bleeding.  After some time, he finally tore up a t-shirt and wrapped it around his hand.  He held it that way until we finished unwrapping gifts, then drove up to the hospital for stitched.   I don’t know how many stitches he received, but I do know it was a lot – and in such an unfortunate part of his hand.

I felt horrible.  Here we were leaving for vacation the next day down to Florida where my Dad could do all kinds of fishing.  We went deep sea fishing, snorkeling, to the beach and he couldn’t participate in any of it because of the wound on his hand.   All that driving, hand-cranking the pop-up camper up and down, building fires at the campgrounds.  I could only imagine how awful it was for my dad.

I have told this story of our trip to Florida a million times.  Every time I told it, I would include the part of ruining my dads vacation with my gift of a filet knife.

Fast Forward to 1994.  My mother had passed away.  All my sister in laws and myself went up to my Dad’s to help him go through some of my mom’s things.   We stayed the night and went out to my parent’s favorite Pizza place for dinner.  As we were sitting there talking and sharing stories, this one came up.  Only this time, it was my Dad telling the story.  As he began, he started talking about the Christmas Eve party at the Rouses’ and how he had too much to drink and how hung over he was the next morning……..and how being hung over is what caused him to draw the filet knife from the sheath wrong and slice open his hand.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what he was saying.  I’m pretty sure I was in shock at what I heard.  “WHAT???”  I said. ” You were HUNG OVER??? ”  “All these years I thought it was my fault!”  I felt redeemed.

We all had a good laugh and chalked that one up to another fun filled evening at the Rouses and my families rotten communication skills.

I still tell that story.  Its a fond, crazy memory and one day my kids will be telling it as well.  My family may not be the best communicators, but we sure make for some good stories.

Merry Christmas!


‘Tis the Season for Sugar Cookies

When I was a little girl, and frankly, until the time I moved away from home (the 2nd time), I would look forward to the month of December, not JUST for Christmas, but for the annual Christmas Eve party at the Rouses’ and the annual Christmas Cookie Decorating party that preceded it .

Imagine if you will, a small 3 bedroom, 1 bath ranch style house with a front door that opened directly into the living room and a side door that opened into a small hallway between the living room and the kitchen. The only reason for this small hallway was to house the door to the basement. The kitchen was about 10 x 10, had only a small counter space in the corner of the kitchen and an even smaller space between the sink and the cabinets to work with. The rest of the room was filled with the table and chairs where the family of 6 ate all their meals. It was in this tiny kitchen, kids from families of 3 different neighborhoods would gather one Saturday afternoon in December to decorate cut out sugar cookies.

Each year, Lisa Rouse would cut out and bake what seemed like hundreds of Christmas cookies. She would make the frosting from scratch using powdered sugar with milk, vanilla and food coloring. She would fill bowls or tea cups with the frosting and give us the food coloring to mix our own colors. There would also be all different kinds of sprinkles and baubles and all the fun other trinkets we may want to bedazzle the cookies with. Lisa would let us eat one or two, but for the most part, as they came off the kid assembly line, they would be stored away for the annual Christmas Eve Dinner. Each kid usually would pick one cookie that would be their “feature” cookie for their parents for the dinner.

I would look forward to this Christmas dinner with such anticipation each year! I couldn’t wait to get down to the Rouse’s house to find my special cookie. This Christmas Dinner was typically for 40 – 50 people. As you can imagine in this small house, there were people everywhere and Lisa would have plates scattered all throughout the house with frosted Christmas cookies on them. You had to get there early if you were going to find your special cookie and be able to give it to your parents before someone ate it. All the kids were doing the same thing. Not unlike a scavenger hunt, we would all be rushing to find our cookie and once found, would run it to our parents so they could save it for their dessert after dinner.

Now I have my own kids and I still love nothing more than to bake cut out sugar cookies and frost them together. We have a big party every year where all the neighbors come by and I always have our frosted cookies out for everyone to enjoy. We eat, drink, and are merry together to ring in the Christmas season, just like at the Rouses house.

I thank Lisa Rouse for all the years she hosted the most wonderful Christmas cookie decorating parties and Christmas Eve parties ever. A Christmas will never go by without me thinking of the wonderful times decorating cookies and spending Christmas eve with all the neighborhood families to walk home late at night with the crunch of snow under our feet, sleep and wake up to surprises left by Santa.

Every Family Has One

If you have ever seen the movie A Christmas Story, you know what I mean when I say:  “Every family has their own version of a leg-lamp”.  It just may not actually BE a leg-lamp.  For some people, its the creepy shelf elf, or some Christmas cookie platter your distant aunt gave you from her attic, something you put out out of obligation, not because you really like it.  For my family, ours was an Aluminum Christmas tree.

I grew up just down the street from my mothers parents.  To give a bit of background, my mom was a middle daughter of 4 daughters.  One of them passed away at age 12 (my mom will forever say she was the favorite) and the other two married people who my grandfather did not approve of and ended up quickly divorced.  While my grandfather didn’t approve of my father initially, he grew to love my father and helped my parents out when they were first married.  Ocoassionally, he would gift my parents things to help make their house a home.  A beautiful Cherry hutch, a Cherry dresser and one time, it was an Aluminum Christmas tree.

The tree was made up of an aluminum pole that stood about 5 1/2 feet tall and had holes all up and down the pole.  In each of these holes, an aluminum branch would fit in, the longer ones on the bottom and moving up to the smaller ones on the top (similar to the modern day artificial trees).  The tree itself sat in a stand that not only rotated the tree, but it played music too.  The tree with the stand was placed on a 2-piece mirror  that was about 6 feet in diameter.  And to top it off, my grandfather had also given us Pink and Blue ornaments to decorate the tree.  Why Pink and Blue?  Why, to go with the Pink and Blue spotlights that shone on the tree, of course!

This was a tree that you simply could not hide.  If you were to stand out in front of our house at Christmastime and looked at our picture window, there would be our own personal “Leg Lamp.  A Silver Aluminum Christmas Tree, decorated with only large Pink and Blue ornaments, lit only by a Pink spotlight on one side and a Blue spotlight on the other side, rotating on a musical stand.

As I think about it now, I imagine what this gift meant to my grandfather.  A man who raised his kids during the depression, and  pulled himself out of it to have a comfortable living, this was like buying her a Cadillac.

I applaud my mother for continuing to try to make that tree special for our family.  She tried to honor him by putting it up each year even though I knew she secretly hated it.

Its now 50 years later and as I walk through some of the stores at Christmas, there are trees in all kinds of colors.  Pink, Blue, Green, White.  But never Silver……….you never see Silver…….images (5)



There is a woman in my neighborhood who walks faithfully every morning.  If I am out and about early enough, I can catch her walking her speed-walk and she waves or says good morning.  She is not one to stop and chat.  She almost always wears Pink.  A Pink hat, a pink jacket or both.  She also always……always wears bright red Lipstick.

My mother was a lipstick wearer.  I don’t know that I can remember a time when my mother didn’t have lipstick on.  The colors ranged from a darker brown-reddish color to a more peachy-reddish color.  She never wore RED DOOR red, but she always wore lipstick.  In fact, I cant remember a time when my mother went anywhere without lipstick, her hair fixed just right and her fake eyelashes.  My mothers fake eyelashes were not like those worn today – the ones that really look fake and no one seems to care.  She painstakingly glued individual eyelashes onto her eyelids in an effort to look like she even had eyelashes.  Like me, hers were sparse and very blonde.  Thankfully I have enough that I don’t feel I need to glue any on.

When I start walking down this memory path, I am  reminded of a time when ladies, including my mother, wore wigs.  Lord only knows what possessed sane women in the late 60’s and early 70’s to don a wig, but it was popular.  In our neighborhood, Margaret Weil, Lisa Rouse, Trudy Sieffert and my mother all wore wigs regularly.  My mom and Margaret wore “frosted” wigs.  Essentially, the wig was supposed to look like their normal hair, though more voluminous, and had a “frosted” or “streaked” look to them.  Trudy and Lisa’s wigs were less flashy and were closer to their true hair color.  Sometime later, I think when I was in 3rd grade, I used one of my mothers old wigs to dress up as Phyllis Diller for Halloween – it was perfect.

Back to the ladies who wore wigs…..I recall this one random Saturday.  It was fairly early in the day, say mid-afternoon and we kids were all out playing.  Me, Lisa Weil, Lynn Rouse and some of the Klemp kids.  It was warm enough that the house windows were open, so it was likely early summer.  Who knows what we were doing, what game we were playing, but we started to hear some raised voices coming from the Weil’s kitchen.  The noise wasn’t as much of a yelling/screaming as it was some sort of a squealing, laughter, gasping noise.  It was definitely a female.  Then it got louder with more voices.  We were just kids.  We weren’t going to go inside and get in the middle of whatever was going on, but here’s how the story goes afterward:

The ladies were in the kitchen around the table.  There was liquor involved.  I can tell you my mom and Lisa didn’t do much drinking, but they did once in awhile.  This day, they were ALL drinking.  The conversation went to clothes, looks, makeup and finally hair.  Trudy said something about Margaret’s wig.  Margaret claimed not to be wearing a wig, Trudy disagreed and snatched the wig right off Margaret’s head.   Margaret was incensed and the rest of the ladies started to giggle.  Margaret stood up, reached over and yanked the wig off of Lisa’s head.  They laughter becomes a mixture of squealing, screeching and more laughter.  Lisa grabs my mom’s wig off and finally Trudy’s comes off.  By the time one of the husbands gets there, these ladies (ages ranging from 50 down to 40) are hysterical with laughter all around the kitchen table in their wig-caps while they continue with their little afternoon party.  Eventually, the husbands come along to get their wives and everyone goes to their respective houses to sleep off the afternoon.  My dad took us to Dairy Queen for dinner since mom “didn’t feel well”.

I sit here writing this and have to stop to giggle at the thought of these ladies getting wild in Windsor Road.  When you’re a kid, you don’t get it at all and you think your parents are crazy.  As an adult who has great friends like these ladies were, it makes me think of all the belly-laughs I have had with my long time friends and that everytime we see each other there is typically some incident, discussion or story that causes us all to squeal with laughter until we cant breathe!

Finally, and my long-time friends can attest to this too, I am indeed my mothers daughter.  I do not now, nor will I ever wear lipstick, BUT I will get up, shower and “put my face on” to cut the grass.   I can still hear Sue and Nancy teasing me about that when we were in Canada…….where we laughed a lot.