She was waiting patiently in line, wearing a pink tea-length skirt, a yellow silk blouse, and a white flapper hat with a pink bow. Her long string of pearls came almost to her waist and was tied in a fashionable knot. The outfit she was wearing was more appropriate for a Sunday church luncheon, or maybe for a 1922 speakeasy, than for her medical check up.

I asked how she was doing and she answered confidently, “I am 95 years old and I am still on this Earth, standing on my own two feet. So I am okay.”

I complimented her glamorous outfit and she smiled broadly,  extending her gloved hand.

“Well, you know, she said, “I just don’t know how long I have left.”

“And I don’t mean that in a sad way, dear,” she reassured me.  “I just mean that it doesn’t make sense to wait for a special occasion to wear my favorite things.”

“So when I want to dress up, I dress up.  And when I feel like wearing pearls, I wear pearls. Life is just too short to leave my favorite pearls in the jewelry box.”

This week, a terrible and tragic loss, experienced by another, reminded me of the fragility of life.

So remembering my 95 year old friend, I asked myself a question:  Why am I not wearing pearls? Why am I not wearing pearls every single day?

So whether life turns out to be short or to be long, let’s make smart use of the time while we are on this earth, standing on our own two feet.

  • Let’s not wait for a special occasion to wear our favorite clothes.
  • Let’s not wait to do our favorite activities, or to spend time with our favorite people.
  • pearlsLet’s try to to learn new things every chance we get.
  • Let’s get the best dishes from the china cabinet when its NOT Thanksgiving and eat pizza on fine china.
  • Let’s love each other generously and if we can, unconditionally.  At times, this could be hard.
  • Let’s laugh as often as we can, at both really good and really bad jokes. This should be easy.
  • Let’s talk to strangers in medical office waiting rooms and share our age and maybe even wear lace gloves.

And above all, if we feel like wearing pearls, let’s wear them. Because life is too short to leave those pearls in the jewelry box.


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Words….frickin’ words

swear word2

I said frickin.

But I didn’t use that other f-word or the d-word or any other less than desirable word. I was doing my best to remain calm and to be respectful, but suddenly, the word blurted out.

Language is a powerful tool. I have always advised my children to steer clear of using swear words casually, because they could suddenly pop out of your mouth when you least expect them. But that day, my emotions impacted my language, and I spoke before I thought.

The person on the receiving end was offended and made it clear to me and to others that he considered my use of the word frickin to be crude and disrespectful.

Now, of course, this person was upset with me and was trying to paint me as a potty mouth. But here’s the thing……frick is a fake swear word.

To me, frickin” is like flippin”, or frackin”, and many people don’t always hear these as curse words.  In fact, fricking is listed both in Webster’s and in the Oxford dictionary, and it just says that this word is “used for emphasis or to express anger, annoyance, contempt, or surprise.”

Although I don’t say these words regularly,  fake swear words do fill a void when I need an expletive with weight.  Fake curse words, like dangdarn, holy schmoley, and fishsticks, let me emote, but without sounding like a trucker.

In the hit NetFlix comedy, Kimmy Schmidt drops the f-word all of the time. But for her, the f-bomb is fudge. When Kimmy asks “What the fudge?” or says “Fudge it to heck,” we aren’t offended.  We recognize the difference between curse words and, well…….fake curse words.

In TV and movies, we hear plenty of fake swearing.  Robin Williams, as Mork, gave us Shazbot and Tommy Boy gave us Schnikes.  And Yosemite Sam introduced us to rassafrassin and rackafrackin.

Orbit Gum took fake swearing to a new level and showed how Orbit can clean up a dirty mouth by introducing us to What the French Toast and Son of a Biscuit-Eating Bulldog. 

So I was surprised when this individual expressed such indignation at my use of frickin’. It’s fake, for pete’s sake!  Clearly, he was overreacting….right?

When we were little kids in Oak Valley, the nuns at the area convent were on the lookout for blasphemy and were alert for any child who might casually take our Lord’s name in vain.  A kid on a bike who uttered “oh my God” would land in hot water, but so could any kid using a sound-alike interjection. Kids got called out for “oh my gosh” and “oh my goodness” and for “Jeez,” “Jeez-Louise,” and even “cheese and crackers.”  The nuns cautioned that these words were just substitutes for things we weren’t supposed to say and that, in our heart, we were saying the real thing.  The nuns would speculate about what was really in our hearts and they warned that we couldn’t hide that from God. We knew that we also couldn’t hide from those nuns, who worked to expose sin like it was their job, cause it was.

So were the nuns right? When we use a substitute word, are we really saying the real thing?  In my heart, was I really cussing that individual out?

Well, if I am honest (and the nuns would want me to be honest), I am pretty sure that I wanted to follow that isolated frickin with a frickity, fricking, frickety frick frick!  I was hurt and let one substitute curse word slip.  But in my heart, I wanted to say something worse.

So Son of a Gun and Gobb Dash It!  That individual was right to be indignant.

So moving forward, I will look into my own heart and will try to moderate my fake swears.

But then again, maybe I won’t.

Expletives and interjections help us to express frustration, anger, or pain. I would love to grow, as a person, to a place where I don’t ever have swear words in my heart. But sometimes I am wounded and my heart hurts. And while I cannot always control what is in my heart, I can try to control what comes out of my mouth.

So I cannot promise that I will never again let out a frick, frack, fudge, fiddlestick, or phooey, especially when I am upset or hurt.

And to the person who acted so high and mighty and appalled by my language,  and who went out of his way to speak badly about me, I can ask just one thing: What the French Toast?


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Dog Dreams

RoofTop Chalie is coming around the final curve. He is running close to 45 mph and he can hear the hum of the crowd as he moves closer to the finish. He can feel his spine stretch as all four of his feet leave the ground and then touch back down, pulling him forward in a frantic gallop. 

moon-1749422_960_720Joe and I were startled awake by the rattle of metal. Chalie’s paws were moving rapidly again and his crate was shaking. Chalie was breathing hard and whimpering in his sleep.

“Shhhhh, buddy, it’s all right,” Joe whispered in the dark to Chalie, whose sleeping crate is next to our bed.

Chalie’s legs were still running and he was whining now, so Joe whispered again, but a bit louder.  “Wake up boy. You’re okay; you’re here with us.”

The rattling of the metal crate stopped suddenly and I knew that Chalie was awake. Although it was dark, I assumed his eyes were open and he was taking in his surroundings, realizing that he was in his own bed at home, and not at the racetrack.

Chalie has been retired from his career as a race dog for almost eight years now. He came to our home as a bright eyed two year old, after competing in less than twenty races.  As a retiree, Chalie still runs, but now he bounds around in a big circle in our backyard.

In sleep, Chalie is a prolific dreamer. He runs, or he chases, or he is chased, we don’t know which, every single night and during most daytime naps.  We wish we could know what images fill his brain in sleep and why he often whimpers or cries out in his dreams. Is he running at the track in Birmingham, where he spent his youth? Or is he running in his own backyard, trying to catch that elusive rabbit who always ducks under the shed before Chalie can reach him? Or is he being chased by something menacing, like the aliens or vampires that plague my own nightmares?

I often wonder if it is simple genetics that drive Chalie’s dreams. After all, Chalie is from a long and well-documented lineage of successful race dogs, each hand picked to pass on his or her running genes to the next generation. Chalie’s father, or sire in race dog language, was an Irish racing champion whose athletic genes were passed on to over 5000 offspring.  Maybe Chalie can’t help but dream of the race, given that he was selectively bred for this purpose alone.

And if our genetics could truly drive our dreams, this might explain why I so often dream of work. My own lineage is that of working class people and like Chalie, I descend from the Irish. My own ancestors worked hard to make a living in this country and worked as factory workers, waitresses, craftsmen, and at other honest, but laborious jobs. So after a long day of working hard, I often fall asleep, only to continue working in my dreams.

If only Chalie and I had descended from royalty or from the privileged upper class, then in our sleep, instead of running hard, or working hard, Chalie and I could dream of eating bonbons on the beach.

Chalie sleeping

RoofTop Chalie, deep in sleep, and hopefully dreaming about his tea party with the Queen!

Maybe tonight, when Chalie is back at the racetrack and I am either being chased by that alien or crunching data sheets at work, Joe can help us shake off our lot in life.

“Shhhhhh,” Joe might whisper to us in the dark. “Shhhh, you’re okay.  Your having tea and crumpets with the Queen.”







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Changing Perspective and the Purple Flowered Snow Boots


I was up at 4:45 am, preparing for a conference call about the storm.  And by preparing, I mean that I was watching the news and cussing at the weather woman, who was taking professional vagueness to a whole new level.

When that meteorologist told me and the greater Philadelphia audience that the snow totals and the timeline for the storm would vary so much from neighborhood to neighborhood that she could give no real prediction, I knew that the bosses would decide to keep the office open. And so I went to work!

Snow always makes me super cranky. I resent the vague and inaccurate weather forecasts and  feel anxious driving in poor visibility, high winds, and in a pool of slush.

Walking with wind and sleet in my face adds to my unhappiness and my unhappiness builds to anger when I remember that the City of Philadelphia is fast to declare a state of emergency, but is crazy slow to plow the streets or treat the sidewalks .

And then there is stepping in ankle deep puddles, climbing over knee high ice hills and then falling in super slow motion with my arms flailing, just to land on my fanny.

All of these things happened that day, so for the record, I was having a bad day. Cause like I said, snow makes me cranky.

But then –

I could hear them before I saw them.

Our waiting room had been empty all day, with only seven out of one hundred scheduled patients making it in.

But now the waiting room seemed filled by just two little girls who were holding hands and jumping in a circle, and chanting about snow. They were preschoolers and they were smiling and laughing and hugging each other in our big empty waiting room.

“Look at our boots,” the two smiling girls said to me, each sticking out one foot for my inspection. They were both wearing purple suede boots that were embroidered  with pink and yellow flowers and trimmed with light purple fur.

“We are friends,” said one of the cuties, still smiling broadly. “And we have purple boots.” They both stuck out one foot for my inspection again.

It turns out that these little girls were not sisters or cousins or even neighbors. They had just met that day, in our large and empty waiting room. Of course they connected immediately, across the open space, because they were wearing the exact same purple flowered snow boots.

“Wow, girls!,” I asked, “Isn’t it neat that you both have the same boots?”

“It is because of the snow,” one little girl said confidently.

snow, snow, snow,” the other whispered softly.

“We get to wear our boots because of the snow.”

“snow, snow snow.

The whispering chant grew louder as the hand holding circle jumping resumed.

snow, snow, snow, snow, Snow, Snow, Snow, SNOW, SNOW, SNOW..”

“If it didn’t snow,” one of the gals said suddenly, as if this was just occurring to her, “she wouldn’t be my friend.”

For a moment, they looked at each other thoughtfully and considered this.

When the staff called the first little girl in to see the doctor, those two hugged goodbye and held onto each other like the oldest and dearest of friends until their mothers pulled them apart.


Perspective can come from experience. My experience that day involved planning my day without a reliable forecast, walking in the city with sleet beating my face, and navigating, on foot, the untreated sidewalks of Philadelphia.

But those little girls had faced those same experiences and yet, they were now holding a rave in the lobby and making friends.

Of course, I had also fallen on my butt in the snow. But these girls had fallen several times right in my presence as they ran and slid across the wood floor and had jumped up, unfazed.

So how was their perspective so full of positivity, while I was caught up in my own grumpiness?

Was it due to naivety or a childhood unburdened by responsibility?  Was it due to youthful wide-eyed wonder at a landscape covered in white?

Or was the joy of those girls driven simply by those purple suede boots with the yellow and pink flowers?


Today, the weather report told me indecisively that winter may not be over. The temperatures are still below freezing and that snow on the ground is lingering. Another storm could be on the horizon.

It might be time to find that new perspective.

I wonder where I can find purple flowered snow boots in an adult woman’s size 8!

snow, snow, snow, snow, Snow, Snow, Snow, SNOW, SNOW, SNOW!!



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Restoring Courtesy on the Train

A young mother boarded the train, holding the hand of a toddler who was pulling her arm energetically and looking ready to bolt.  I stood up and offered my seat. The mom quietly thanked me, sat, and plopped the boy on her lap, tightly wrapping both arms around him.

At the next stop, the conductor hit the breaks and I veered forward, stopping myself just before I smashed into the young man standing in the aisle alongside me.

Okay- I may be a bit sub par in coordination and balance. Plus I also worry about safety more than the average gal.  But I always follow the valuable instructions I found on SEPTA’s website regarding safe train travel and I hold on tight to a pole or seat rail and I also keep my feet shoulder width apart with knees slightly bent.

Clumsy or not, I am a competent and safety conscious commuter.

If I were in a car, of course, the rules would be different. I’d be expected to wear a seat belt and that energetic toddler would be harnessed into a federally approved safety seat.

I do abhor the train. But it is not because of how deeply I hate having to stand in a moving vehicle.

The reason I despise the train is because the rules are different there, and I don’t mean the rules about seat belts. It is the rules of human interaction that differ and that lead to my disappointment in fellow travelers, every single day.

The woman with the toddler walked past four rows of seats before reaching  me. She passed 16 seats, whose occupants kept their eyes straight ahead. Burly men in work coveralls, professional women in business attire, and students in school uniforms, all avoided eye contact with a woman who seriously needed a seat.

passenger-trainEyes straight ahead is the rule, not the exception, on the rush hour train. People move like worker ants through the turnstiles, file into the train from the platform, and with their eyes glued to the morning newspaper or to the bright screen of a smart phone, they completely ignore everyone around them.

I have stood on the train, without a seat to give, alongside a very pregnant woman, an elderly woman with a cane, and another mother and child, while others sat with eyes straight ahead.

The Urban Dictionary calls this phenomenon Tube-face, named for the London subway system, the Tube. The fact that this is an international phenomenon, and not unique to Philly and South Jersey, makes me worry more.

But I am not accepting the Tube-face status quo. I will be the change I want to see on the train and I am making it my mission to model and exemplify good old-fashioned common courtesy.

“Achoo,” the woman sitting in front of me sneezed loudly. Both instinctively and purposely, I replied with a heartfelt “Bless you!”  I was the only rider in the car to speak. But the sneezer, seated inches in front of me, did not reply.  But since she and I have similar commute times, we will share a train again, sooner or later and cold season is coming.  In time, I will break her down.

“Excuse me,” I said when I accidentally  bumped a seated man with my purse as I walked down the aisle. He did not respond. I considered hitting him again with my purse, so I could apologize again. Maybe next time.

Thankfully, during this crusade to bring manners to the Tube-faced commuters, I have also witnessed a splash of courtesy. I  have seen mannered folk offer their seats to those in need. And exiting the PATCO station last night, the man in front of me lingered to hold the door.

And once, a teenager even offered his seat to me!  On the El train, I was swaying as I held on  tight to a pole, knees bent, of course. “Ma’am,” he said politely, “would you like to sit here?”

Once safely seated, I smiled at the young man. But he did not respond, eyes forward. I realized, with disappointment, that he may not have abandoned his seat for the sake of manners alone.

Instead, he may have given up his seat in the simple hope that I would not fall on him.

But clumsy or not, I will continue to spread manners and courtesy on public transit!  So look for me on your area trains, buses, and trolleys!!

But for your own safety, be prepared to offer me your seat!



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To My Neglected Friends: Smartphone Technology Is Hurting Our Friendship

THEN: Sitting around my  kitchen table, eight friends passed around vacation photographs. One friend told anecdotes of his summer adventures as I filled wine and soda pop glasses and fetched beers for our guests. Sharing vacation pictures was a great excuse for a get together.

NOW: Today I saw my friend’s beach vacation pics on Facebook on the same day they were taken. To show her my heartfelt interest, I posted, “Have fun in the sun!” To show her that I really meant it, I added an emoji of a smiley face wearing sunglasses.


THEN: I stopped after work at the area card store to pick out a funny birthday card for my friend. Of course, the super market had a greeting card aisle, but the selection at the card store was so much better. I needed to hurry to get it in the mail so that it arrived in time for her birthday.  On her actual birthday, I called her house phone during the day (this was before cell phones) and sang Happy Birthday to her answering machine so she’d hear it when she got home from work. 

NOW: I wished my friend an awesome birthday by posting a picture on her Facebook page of a hamster wearing a birthday hat and eating a cupcake with a birthday candle.


THEN: Planning a friend’s surprise party, I spent an entire evening calling our other friends to ask for food donations and to give the details of the big bash. Of course, I had to allow at least fifteen minutes for each call, since we also needed to catch up on kids, family, and work updates.

NOW: These days, I make a Facebook invitation, send a group text, or use Sign Up Genius for parties and holidays. This year, since I didn’t have to actually speak to everyone to find out who was bringing pasta salad or desserts for Easter, I was able to invest that time searching for the perfect adorable bunny image for the cover pic of the Facebook invite.



Technology has certainly changed the ways we communicate. And modern tech, like email, texting, and Facebook can be a giant time saver in our busy lives.  Nowadays,  I can send out a text and also get a response, in less time than it would take to dial a rotary phone.

But efficiency, sadly,  has trumped quality and true interaction, and frankly, I am neglecting my friendships. A hamster in a birthday hat is not a replacement for a phone call. A smiley face with heart-shaped eyes is not a replacement for an afternoon visit.

So to my neglected friends, from your neglected friend: I promise to do better. I promise to try to call you more often and to chat. I promise to invite you to go shopping or to have lunch. I promise to make time for real conversations that involve actual spoken words.

In this frenzied world, your friendships are the glue that keeps me feeling sane. I lean on you in hard times and I love your company in good times. Without you, my dear friends, my life would be sorely lacking.

So expect my call. Expect a push for get-togethers and for coffee klatches.

And if all my calling and bugging you for visits becomes an inconvenience, our newfangled modern technology should help, since you now have caller ID. So when I do call, if you aren’t free, or if you just don’t want to chat, then don’t answer.

smileyTo keep me from feeling neglected though, you might want to send a quick text that says “Can’t talk right now.” Even better, you can add a cute emoji like the smiley face with sunglasses, or maybe a funny picture of a cat in a shirt and tie, or a pug dog on a rocking horse.

That way I will know that you really do care!



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New Addition

To the yard sale family on Warren Street, thank you for giving him up.

Because when I laid eyes on him, I could tell that you had loved him once. But now he was old, neglected, and ragged. As I assessed his well-being and strength, I could almost hear Sarah McLachlan singing softly in the background. You and I both understood that he deserved a home where he would be appreciated again.  Patting him gently, I imagined him cleaned up and in better shape, maybe in a warm home with laughter, friendship, and music. I don’t know if it was hard for you to part with him, but it was clear that you were relieved to see him relocating. I think you knew that you were doing the right thing.

So I handed you the five dollar fee and your son helped me wrestle his bulky body into the trunk of my car.

All cleaned up and refreshed, that once battered wood cabinet, with the chipping veneer and the badly mismatched handles, found its new home today.

Wait. You did know that I was talking about a piece of furniture, right?

For me , the labeling of an inanimate object as a “he” or a “she” is not so much personification, but is more of a reminder that this object has history. This old cabinet was brand new once and was a part of a human household for a very long time. It was there as children were raised, as holidays were celebrated, and as the homeowners aged.  If this cabinet had eyes, what would it have seen in its many, many years?   If furniture could people-watch, imagine the stories they would tell!


This five dollar treasure was purchased specifically to be used as a turntable cabinet at Josh’s new rental in Philly.  Short on time, I gave him a quick restoration with a bit of sanding and a touch of paint, plus some glue to affix the peeling veneer, and two new knobs from Home Depot. It was such a quick fix, in fact, that I actually screwed the new hardware in place right in the Home Depot parking lot, en route to Josh’s this morning.

Arriving, we parked illegally and dropped off the cabinet at the door for Josh and his roommate to carry inside while Joe and I found street parking. By the time we walked back, it was like that cabinet had been part of this household from the beginning. The sun was streaming in on him from the dining room window and Josh, his roommate, and my adopted cabinet were relaxing and listening to the cool big band sound of Artie Shaw, the King of Clarinet.

He will definitely have a good life here.



Postscript:  Although my cabinet is a “he,”  he does not have a name.  But to my surprise and pleasure, it turns out that the six wooden dining room chairs at Josh’s apartment do. I learned today that the two that are a matching pair are affectionately known as the Twins. Then there is Nicholas, Bluie (rhymes with Louie), and of course, the sturdiest one is known as Bestie. With equal logic, the chair that is in need of repair and that seems as if it might collapse beneath you at any moment is rightly named Sh*thead.

So being an advocate for keeping good furniture in good homes,  I gave Josh some suggestions for poor neglected Sh*thead. Hopefully with the tightening of some screws and a bit of wood glue, that old boy will have a good long life alongside my cabinet, listening to jazz and people-watching.


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Little Black Purse

black purse

“I don’t know why you are still carrying that hideous purse after all these years,” my sister chastised.

We were at a wedding and since I was dressed in my fanciest clothes, I was also carrying my fanciest bag, a black leather clutch with a kiss lock clasp, circa 1960.

“That bag is old and downright ugly,” my sis went on. “The Prada knockoff that I gave you for your birthday is much cuter than that.”

My sister, by the way, is a bit of a purse-a-holic. She knows about purses and buys new handbags often. But in the wide arena of purse obsession, she is not alone.

Every year, the fashion world watches the New York and Paris runways intently, waiting to view the IT bags of the season. The most coveted handbags carry five or six figure price tags and lengthy waiting lists for the uber rich who will proudly display those bags all around Hollywood.

And according to studies, the average American woman grooves on handbags as well, and she purchases three purses every year.  Department stores carry an extensive variety, many imitating those runway favorites. At my local Kohl’s, I counted close to 100 different purses for sale, some with price tags up to $200.  One in ten American women say she is very comfortable spending $150 or more for the right purse.

But even for those who are NOT among the one in ten big spenders, purse admiration and purse envy are still very real for some women. I have noticed that my black and white floral print bag from Relic, retail price $64 (before my 30% coupon, of course) draws more compliments than my clothes, shoes, hair, my professional work, or even my stellar personality!

So it seems that a snazzy purse can draw attention. Some even assume that purse choice makes a statement about who you are and what you value!  When it comes to my little black purse, these assumptions are absolutely correct.

I am not the first owner of this black leather clutch. Before it was mine, I borrowed it, again and again. My mother kept that purse wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside a shirt box, tucked in the top of her bedroom closet. She always unwrapped it with a bit of ceremony and fuss whenever I asked to borrow it.  I have carried that purse to five high school reunions and to almost every wedding I have ever attended.  The purse became mine after my mother’s death.

My mother was a strong woman who was strong because it was her only choice. She became a single mom at age 37, with four children, including an infant, at a time when divorce was uncommon. Desperately needing to take care of her brood on her own, she went to work and she learned to drive. It was a time before car seats and Baby Lisa (me) traveled in a bassinet, laid on the back seat of our big sedan. But those big ole automobiles of the 1960s were not exactly built for a petite 5 foot female driver so my Uncle Herb helped out by strapping wooden blocks to the gas and brake petals so Mom could more easily reach them.  Sitting tall atop a phone book or two, my mother managed to get us where we needed to go.

To my 2016 sensibilities, this scenario sounds ridiculously unsafe and a lot like a wacky sketch from I Love Lucy, with reckless, but comical, driving and lots of screaming by Lucy and Ethel.  But it was 1967 and times were different.

Like all moms, mine did some things very well and some things not so much. Like most of us, she was a work in progress. But she was gritty and resilient and she stood back up when she was knocked down. I watched her face hardship and extreme grief and she soldiered on. Because, as a mother who loved her children deeply, she had to keep doing her best, for us.

So occasionally, I carry her little black purse.  And it does reflect what I value.

My favorite picture of my mother is from New Year’s Eve, 1966. She is wearing a cocktail dress and a New Years party tiara adorned with crepe paper and glitter.She has a cigarette in one hand and a high ball glass in the other. She is nine months pregnant, as the photo was taken just days before I was born. (Different times, remember? )  Given the flux she was experiencing in her life at the time, I imagine that she was mustering strength for the challenges to come.

And given her fancy dress, I also imagine that sitting on a table, just outside of the photograph’s frame, was that little black purse.

To all of you scrappy, resilient REAL moms who have worked hard and put your kids before yourself, even when motherhood wasn’t all white picket fences and Prince Charmings, I applaud you.    

 Happy Mother’s Day!  




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Behind the Walls

In my South Jersey house, the older children once slept in the unfinished attic, with its wooden floor and exposed wooden beams. The baby, however, slept downstairs.  He didn’t have a crib, so his mother tucked him in every night, safely in a dresser drawer. It was 1924, and my house was newly built.

When Joe and I moved here in 1993, we were welcomed to the neighborhood by a kind man who has shared the history of this neighborhood and our house with us. He has become a role-model and a friend.  Earl is 93 years old now and his initials and childhood hand print are still visible in the cement landing at my back door.  It makes me smile to imagine him sleeping in a drawer in the exact spot where my refrigerator now sits.

This house has seen a lot of change since Earl’s childhood days.  New owners came and went and newer owners arrived. Woodwork was painted, stripped, and painted again. And long before Joe and I took up residence here, that unfinished attic was finished, becoming three distinct rooms, each with actual walls. But about ten years ago, Joe decided it was time to open those walls up, with big plans for improved insulation and energy efficiency. But behind those walls, we found a few things we didn’t expect.

Newspapers, small wooden toys, and even a military dagger and belt were tucked away in those walls.  The dagger had belonged to Earl’s father, who had served in WWI before moving to this house.  While Earl had no explanation as to why his parents had chosen to entomb the weapon, I had a few theories. After all, that dagger may have been tied to a time in life that Earl’s dad was willing to bury away.

But what about the shoes?

A pair of lace-up leather shoes and one single woman’s slipper had been scattered, each sealed in a different wall. Now why would someone seal a shoe, or three, into the walls of their home?  I could not imagine that any shoe could possibly represent memories strong enough to warrant locking them away in a wall forever.

Those shoes were decaying and musty. Some of the stitching looked to be done by hand and the soles were attached with tiny little nails.  I don’t know what it is about those shoes, but I just loved them.

McEwen shoes

Mcewen shoes3

Earl and his family had gratefully taken the WWI dagger back into their family. But what to do with those dirty shoes?  No one seemed too excited about keeping the deteriorating and moldy shoes, well except for me.  To me, those shoes felt deeply connected to the history of this house. After all, they’d been with the house longer than any other object here.  So against my family’s wishes, I kept them, and they have been quietly sitting on a shelf, in my living room, for the past 10 years.

But finally, after all this time, the internet has clued me in as to why Earl’s parents might have tossed those shoes into the open space as the walls were being sealed.

Concealed shoes, or concealment shoes, have been discovered in buildings around the world, but mainly in Great Britain, Western Europe, and the Eastern United States. Folklore says that hiding a shoe, especially a well-worn shoe, can provide luck, and can also ward off all types of ill-fortune, including evil, ghosts, and even witches!

Northampton Museum, in England, is home to the Concealed Shoe Index, a detailed list of nearly 2000 accounts of shoes, all hidden within the walls and under the stairs of houses, cottages, public buildings, churches, and even monasteries and colleges. Most concealed shoes are found near the possible entry points of buildings, like windows, doorways, and chimneys, and children’s shoes are much more common than adult’s. Concealed shoes have been found from as early as the 15th Century, but the practice seemed to be most prevalent from the 1800s through the 1930s.

Silly superstition or traditional wisdom?  Either way, my hope is to put those shoes BACK into our walls some day.  Perhaps I will even add a shoe or two of my own!

Because if Earl’s family wanted those shoes in the wall, then I will abide. After all, those shoes have done right by my household all these years.

On a different note, Earl’s momma also could teach us a lesson about unnecessary spending.  Who needs a fancy and expensive bassinet when you have a dresser drawer?



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Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!

Back when Jake was just a tot, the show Bob the Builder was a staple in our household. And whenever Bob asked his enthusiastic and optimistic question, “Can We Fix it?,” it was near impossible not to answer with a confident “Yes, We Can!!”

But in the real world, things are not always as easy to fix.

Over the past few weeks, Jake has been working on a project for school.  The high school Physics Olympics remind me of the Engineering Contests of my college days where once a year, all of the Engineering students gathered on the roof of the tallest building on campus, and dropped eggs off of the ledge. These aspiring engineers had each built some type of protective vehicle to shield their delicate egg from harm as it fell five stories to the hard ground below. For them it was a day to prove their engineering prowess. For those of us outside of the Engineering school, it was a day to either avoid the area entirely or to test our ability to dodge debris falling from the sky.  I was never that fast of a runner so I hated egg drop day!

But these modern Physics Olympics pose many other complex problems in addition to the classic egg drop scenario. Jake was charged with creating a car with no electronic parts that could self-propel and travel a predetermined distance and then stop on a dime. The winning vehicle will be the one that gets closest to a wall without hitting it.

Jake’s car is powered by rubber bands and wing nuts and some mechanical engineering stuff that I only half understand.  Frankly, when he explained it all to me, I only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher saying “Waa Waa Waaa Waaa Waaa.”

But by golly, it worked. That super light combination of balsa wood and Elmer’s glue made it to within an inch or so of the wall, every single time.

And then, yesterday….Physics Olympic tragedy struck. Walking in the hall at school, after testing his car again, Jake stumbled.  And sadly, balsa wood and a fragile egg have a lot in common when they hit a hard tile floor.

So at 5 pm, the night before the competition, Jake sat with his vehicle in pieces; many pieces.

Taking in the remains of what was once a competition contender, I asked, “Do you think you can glue it all back together or maybe use duct tape?”  My tone wasn’t very optimistic.

“Nope,” he replied, but without a hint of defeat. “I asked Dad to go to the hardware store for supplies. I’m gonna build a new one.”

Now that seemed impossible to me, knowing that the first car had been built in stages and remembering that glued pieces were often left overnight on my dining room table to dry.

But then I saw that spark in Jake’s eye and before I knew it, he was sawing and drilling and sanding once again.  Of course, modifications had to be made, so instead of allowing glued pieces to dry overnight, he shortened the drying time for each stage to a mere thirty minutes and added hot glue in places as a quick replacement.  Jake was upbeat as he worked and he seemed confident that things would to come together okay.

He was channeling that optimistic YES WE CAN attitude that Bob had taught us way back when.

I, however, watched the clock and quietly panicked. Pessimistic thoughts were racing in my head. He is going to be up all night.  This will never work. He is going to have to go there tomorrow with no sleep. This will never work. How can he possibly get this done in a few short hours?  Oh this will never work.  


But to my amazement, by 9:30 pm, Jake was holding a finished car.  And to my further amazement, car #2 performed just as well as the original.

jake car

It remains to be seen how the actual competition will go today. But win or lose, Jake and I (mostly me) learned a valuable lesson about the power of a positive attitude.  Without my negative-nancy mindset, Jake managed to keep a cool head and focused on the task at hand.

So good luck to the West Deptford Physics Olympic team today!

And a special note to the egg drop competitors: if you need additional materials to protect your fragile egg, just go see Jake.  For transporting his car to the competition, he isn’t taking any chances and  that little car is packaged in corrugated cardboard and enough bubble wrap to drop a dozen eggs from a roof!

Also- take a look below before you drop. If you see some slow moving social work student passing by, please give her some time to get out of the way before you let that egg go!




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