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Yesterday, a crocus pushed its shiny, new green leaves up in our garden. I remember always being surprised to see the little flower in the midst of snow and ice in the Berkshire Mountains. It is the harbinger of spring, just as sure as a robin jumping around in the grass. But this time, it’s too early; the first week of a new year should find us deep into winter with hats and scarves and gloves. Instead, today it will be 60 degrees.

“In addition to Crocus’ merit as a beautiful and cheerful winter bloomer, one species, C. sativus, is the source of the spice saffron. Henry Beston describes C. sativus in Herbs and the Earth (1935, D.R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.): “An autumn Crocus with a long history as a drug, a flavoring powder, and a pigment, only the golden stigma of the flower being used… May not overwinter.”  True enough, although many Crocus are perennial in Tennessee, as a USDA Hardiness Zone 8 plant C. sativus may not overwinter for many Tennesseans. If that doesn’t deter you from growing your own saffron, Steven Still writes that “about 7000 flowers are required to produce 3 ounces of saffron.”  https://ag.tennessee.edu/news/Pages/POM-2016-02.aspx

I had no idea the costliest spice in the world comes from a crocus!

Makes me want to dig up my old, Julia Child paella recipe. I was thinking about my younger, newly married self in the car the other day; living in Cambridge, MA and spotting Julia herself at the small green grocers’.  NPR was interviewing a chef about his “…worst kitchen disasters.” Of course, it was slicing off the tip of a finger with a mandolin his first time on live TV!

I’ve managed to avoid the dreaded mandolin injury – I use mine to slice whisper thin vegetables into my veggie lasagna. But one of my very first attempts at the fine art of cuisine in Cambridge does come to mind. I almost torched my kitchen when I tried making Julia’s recipe for Coq au Vin! Since then, I’ve left anything flambeed to the experts. Even resisting the urge to buy a tiny blowtorch to crinkle-brown creme brulee – my favorite dessert!

I wish my keyboard did l’accent aigu“Getting your (French) accents right is the difference between being a pêcheur (fisherman) and a pécheur (sinner). Which one would you rather have on your résumé?”

Parsley and rosemary are still growing in the garden, even some of Bob’s winter kale seems hardy and ready to be harvested. The Bride and her family are returning soon from Hawaii and I’d like to cook them something for their first night back. Maybe I’ll buy some red wine and make a big pot of Boeuf Bourguignon! Like every good semi-Southern cook I’ve got some bacon in the fridge and I know the L’il Pumpkin loves this dish.

Although, after hearing about their first Kalua Pig in a Pit, where the Love Bug definitely did not like the idea of unearthing the body of a full-on, dead, roasted pig, I may have to get creative with vegetables and her old stand-by, pasta. Maybe we’ll roast some marshmallows on the fire pit, and pretend it’s still winter! Here they are on a lava rock.

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We are busy cleaning up after our New Year’s Day shin-dig. Friends and neighbors brought side dishes – my favorite part of every meal – and I made the usual black-eyed peas, lobster mac and cheese, and a couple of roasted turkey breasts. It was a tight squeeze in our little city farmhouse, but Bob fired up the fire pit so some of us could flow out into the garden.  Totally recovered, Ms Bean was happy to stare at anyone with a Swedish meatball on their plate.

The night before we considered attending the New Year’s Eve concert at our Bicentennial Mall, only a few blocks away, but I guess we’ve become spoiled Nashvillians. As much as I love Jason Isbell, Keith Urban and Stevie Nicks –  https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/keith-urban-stevie-nicks-new-years-eve-932562/ – the chilling 50 degree weather kept us at home all snug in our bed.

We’d visited Great Grandma Ada and Hudson earlier in the day, and Bob paid a “house call” to one of their friends with a “medical question.” It seems he’s hardly retired, still doing remote medicine for family, with a small contingent of nonagenarians on call in the local mix. I kid my husband whenever we venture out, does he have his stethoscope with him?

Turns out Ms Berdelle, who is 92, DID walk down to the festivities on New Year’s Eve so shame on us!

I tried sending care packages of food home with people last night; for a Pot Luck we only had one duplicate, Hoppin John of course. We are all now doubly lucky in 2020!

I read that today is National Return Day. Every gift you never wanted, or maybe Aunt Anna sent you something you already have, will be returned today! Whenever I see a duplicate of anything, I remember our little Bride receiving the same exact My Little Pony for her birthday one year. She jumped up and down yelling, “She has a twin!” How could I deny her a twin pony?

Maybe that’s why I’m not a returner. About 10% of purchases in brick and mortar stores are returned after the holidays, but 20% of online gifts are returned. Obviously, it’s easier to send something back via your mailbox than it is to get in the car and try to park around this time of year. But I’m more of a re-gifter. OK, now you know. It’s a lot easier to shove something in a closet and wait…

Here’s to a very happy and healthy 2020 to all of you! I’m wishing my children and anyone on the road this weekend safe travels home. And if you’re taking a child back to college after winter break, consider picking up an absentee ballot at your city hall before you go!

I’m not a resolution type either, which makes me wonder what the heck am I?

Let’s see, I’m trying out a new elliptical at the Y, it makes you feel like you’re cross-country skiing and it’s good for my knees. I’m learning to say, “No” more often (see the last blog post). And I’m singing more torch songs. And if you clicked on the Rolling Stone link above, you’ll hear “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” In this #MeToo age, those Tom Petty 1981 lyrics from the New Year’s Eve Urban/Nicks duo don’t translate very well. But we could all try not to “…buckle with the weight of the world” in 2020.

“You need someone looking after you
I know you really want to tell me goodbye
I know you really want to be your own girl
Baby you could never look me in the eye
Yeah you buckle with the weight of the world
Stop draggin’ my…
Stop draggin’ my…
Stop draggin’ my heart around”

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Loneliness isn’t just for the elderly anymore. Half of all adults in this country have suffered from feeling left out, alone, and bereft of any meaningful connections. In fact, the acronym FOMO sums up a generational fear that actually surpasses their fear of cancer!  https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/#57f19e297676

“Yet of all age groups, Generation Z — anyone ranging in age from 18 to 22 — seems to be particularly impacted. According to a recent study conducted by Cigna, Gen Z is significantly more likely than any other age group to say that they experience feelings that are associated with loneliness; 68 percent said they feel like “no one really knows them well.” Cigna gave Gen Z a “loneliness” score of 48.3 out of 80. “

In this Instagram age, where our lives get filtered through a rosy lens, young people are comparing and contrasting themselves to others constantly. How many “Likes” did they get, how many “Followers” do they have? It’s a non-stop, personality quiz show that often leaves them lacking, and sleep-deprived. Why are there less face-to-actual-face opportunities out there, that would allow a friendship to flourish?

Look around the next Barista Parlor (ie coffee shop) and you’ll see singletons transfixed by their computer screens.

I just finished a book that tackles some of these questions, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman. The protagonist sits in any office, a loner who rarely speaks until spoken to, and seems as if she’d dropped out of the last century – her archaic language, her long, straight hair, right down to her sensible shoes. We’ve all known someone like her, and we fall for her anyway.

Given the number of books about dementia, memory loss and other mental health issues, it is surprising that it has taken profound loneliness this long to take centre stage. It is, after all, by many accounts one of the great scourges of our age, when everyone is meant to be having the most amazing time eating avocados with their friends on Instagram.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/04/eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-by-gail-honeyman-review

Eleanor is prodded to help care for an older man who falls in the street, which starts the ball rolling toward connection. “Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”  she says, after noticing her status change in the office.

She’s asked to organize her company’s Christmas Party! Which leads me to the opposite of FOMO – JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out!

For that person who has 3 parties to attend in 2 days, sometimes saying “No” is the best thing you can do for your health. Holiday anxiety is not just for the dysfunctional family, it’s true for working couples trying to cope with traditions like baking cookies and sending out cards, while putting up a tree and getting the kids to school on time. Carving out a little self-care time (yoga, meditation, reading) for themselves is crucial.

I’d almost forgotten the last Christmas party, but was happy to be with friends who had the courage to ask for Trump’s impeachment on their holiday card! And when they gushed over our holiday card, I said, “Oh good, you liked my messy kitchen in the background?” Because a messy kitchen is the sign of a gourmet cook!

Being raised an only child, I actually crave time alone, time to sit with my thoughts, to read or write, maybe binge watch The Crown. But it’s easy for me to say, since I’m lucky enough to be able to step back into the stream of family and friends at any time. If you know someone who might be lonely right now, knock on their door. Set another place at your table. Take them on a holiday lights tour!

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Sure, I was bullied as a kid. But that one boy who tripped me up on my bike, when I fell and broke my arm, I got back at him. I pushed an ice cream cone right in his face, and I don’t remember being bullied ever again. Well, except by a teacher.

Over sushi I was telling the Grands about Catholic school. How we had to sit still with our hands folded in front of us all the time. One teacher made me stand in the corner for half a day, luckily she didn’t have a dunce hat. “Why,” they wanted to know.

“Because I was talking to a boy!”

And I swear, we all broke out in belly laughs. One of the worst moments in my young life seemed pretty comical now. I mean shaming a child, it just doesn’t compute or translate well in today’s world, or maybe it does?

I’ve been having an ‘on and off’ conversation with the Love Bug and the L’il Pumpkin about “bad people” ever since someone stole my wallet while we were having lunch at Panera. What should we do if we have to confront a bad person. Their parents have been telling them that everybody is good, that you turn and walk away from a confrontation, and I get that. You don’t want to color their young minds with horror stories – and yet, they already hate Mr T cause, well, we ALL do.

I was thinking about this after the Democratic debates in Atlanta. I was surprised at how much I like Andrew Yang. He seemed to be the only authentic person up on that stage, like he was talking to me. When he spoke about looking our kids and Grands in the eye, and leaving them a better future, when he shared that he had an autistic child, when he talked about keeping America safe:

While it was well into the debate before Yang spoke, his answers about some of the threats to American society once again, brought new ideas to the debate stage. Artificial intelligence, which he’s mentioned in previous debates, is a future threat that must be taken seriously. And setting up something like a WTO (World Trade Organization) for data? His ingenuity was astounding. Bold ideas suit Yang well — and, when well thought out and pragmatic, they get high points in a debate.  https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/21/opinions/buttigieg-yang-stole-the-show-debate-opinion-graham/index.html

A WTO for Data?!?! I mean, AI is coming, along with the Russians and China, and will we be ready for it? Then the Rocker sent me an article about Yang;  “As President, I will establish a Department of the ATTENTION Economy,” https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/18/perspectives/andrew-yang-technology/index.html

He wants to study what social media is doing to our kids. It’s like “Back to the Future,” will they become (expletive) or something? My kids didn’t have smart phones growing up, tech was in its infancy, email was a new thing. And the Grands don’t have a tablet or phone or anything YET; but they DO use tablets in school and see everyone else around them staring down into their hands. The Love Bug recently asked her Dad if they could have a “Device-Free” day because she’d heard about this from her teachers.

A young mind can become addicted faster than our old brains want to believe. And social media is simply another method for bullies to do what they do best – shame and humiliate. A 12 year old girl in Nashville just committed suicide after being bullied mercilessly. How many “followers” do you have? Did you see that picture of so-and-so on Insta?

Remember how inadequate you felt your Freshman year in high school?  Well, add a few years of comparing yourself to others on top of that. I walked straight outta Catholic school into a public high school, and was lucky to find a bunch of nerdy, pre-college kids to welcome me.

Running around the neighborhood on my bike was pretty care-free in comparison to today, even if a bully thought he could hurt me, I didn’t let him define me. I got even. My not-so-polite message is not to run away from a fight, not to make excuses for someone’s bad behavior. My Grands will eventually meet up with a real “bad person,” they will eventually have a smart phone in their hands or maybe a piece of Borg machinery hard-wired directly into their skulls.

Should we employ algorithms to cap a child’s screen time per day, or just boot them out the door to play? We are experiencing a “GLOBAL epidemic” of childhood inactivity, what do you think? https://www.bbc.com/news/health-50466061

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My Nashville family has returned home from New Zealand and Australia. They Ubered straight from the airport to their home, just a few hours after we’d tucked the Grands into bed. Bob and I were happy no bones had been broken during our tenure. Well, just my left thumb, when a basketball landed straight on it in the Sound Waves pool. This was ostensibly the highlight of their week with us, the biggest water park in the world!! (maybe) at the Grand Ole Opry; but for me it was always those tender bedtime talks.

I found out that the L’il Pumpkin loves school. He really loves learning, and can now count by tens! He also plays alphabet Go Fish with aplomb, proving he’s ready to read. And the Love Bug is so sweet she offered to finish singing my Yiddish lullabies because my Fall cold was having its most severe effect on my throat. In fact, my croaking voice wasn’t relaxing at all, it only made them giggle.

Pop Bob had fun fixing little things around their house. Like any good pilot, he had his checklist of things to do – new batteries for the dogs’ invisible fence collars, fix master bathroom door, replace the silverware holder in the dishwasher. I texted my daughter in the middle of their trip, asking her if they might mind all this fixing-up? Great Grandma Ada had once warned me about stepping on the toes of in-laws.

The Bride replied, “You are welcome to fix as much as you’d like!”

After all, they are a busy professional couple. The Groom was accepting an award for his Vanderbilt research in Melbourne, at the World Congress of Intensive Care in collaboration with Australia New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS). As much as we’d like to think the world is flat and connected by technology, there is still something to be said for actually meeting up, face to face, with others around the globe doing research in your field.

Still, we could Facetime with them after meeting a koala! And I could pull out my smart phone at Sound Waves and slo-mo video the Love Bug under a waterfall!

I was reminiscing with Bob about his primitive use of early video cameras, the kind you hoisted on your shoulder in the 80s. Just then the Rocker texted us – did we happen to have that stop-action film he made in our NJ garage with his Star Wars action figures? He was just about the Bug’s age when he and a friend would spend hours recording Luke Skywalker’s adventures in minute detail. If the weather wasn’t conducive for a trip to the beach, creativity ensued on that cement floor.

The L’il Pumpkin and Pop Bob assembled an incredible Star Wars battle station in Legos while I drove the Love Bug to basketball practice one night last week. And just like that, this morning, my son and his new company Totem has released another amazing Star Wars trailer, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

All those years ago, in our garage with his imagination, and later with his bandmates. Music was always playing in his mind and through his fingers. I am trying to convince the Bride that we should all be Star Wars characters for Halloween because,  “The Story Lives Forever.” Here are our little Jedi Knights at the museum.

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Virgo has moved on to Libra and my worlds are colliding! There was a full moon the night before the Bride’s 40th birthday, which she celebrated in Asheville, NC. She refused to make a big deal out of it and insists she’s totally fine. Well why wouldn’t she be? She’s got a beautiful family, an amazing career, and just became a certified yoga instructor to boot! According to Oprah, at 40 “…you can stop living your life for other people and start living it for yourself!”

Wait, I thought that happened at 50? I’m pretty sure Great Grandma Ada would NOT agree as she lives primarily to help other people!

But here’s the thing. According to the Bride, her Enneagram Type is 1… The Reformer! Now this is your basic Type A personality; she is the Monica of her friends, the girl who gets things done. Hard-driven, “rational, idealistic, principled, purposeful, self-controlled and…wait for it…perfectionistic.” That’s pretty right on.

So for my birthday I was instructed to take the test! This Libra will be turning 71 soon and figured why not? Numbers no longer bother me, it’s a slow roll to 80 when I’ll probably need new knees. Turns out I’m Type 9 – The Peacemaker! Yep that’s me, always wanting to make connections and keep the family together, a typical Welsh Corgi in the dog eat dog world of life. I avoid conflict whenever possible, but I’m not afraid to stand up to bullies. “Easygoing, self-effacing, receptive, reassuring, agreeable and complacent.”

Complacent?! I’m blaming Catholic School for that one! The Ennegram Institute goes on:

Nines tend to adopt an optimistic approach to life; they are, for the most part, trusting people who see the best in others; they frequently have a deep seated faith that things will somehow work out. They desire to feel connected, both to other people and to the world at large. They frequently feel most at home in nature and generally make warm and attentive parents.

Turning 30 I nearly had a meltdown. Baby Boomers always thought you could never trust anyone over 30, that was the watershed moment; old age was right around the corner! The beginning of the end, the reason to buy black balloons. I was single, childless, and adrift about the big questions. I put a fire engine red henna rinse in my newly permed strawberry blonde hair – it made me look like a lion! Even my sister didn’t recognize me.

When Bob turned 40, we had a “Back to the Sixties” party at the beach and I’m not sure we’ll ever top that one! 40 wasn’t such a big deal for me, although we’d left my beloved New England, my bird sanctuary for the NJ suburbs. I wouldn’t say it was the best decade with menopause on the horizon, but it wasn’t bad either.

One of the highlights of my 40s was leading a group of moms in a No Doubt rendition of “I’m Just a Girl” (Except it was I’m Just a Mom) over a middle school campfire! Why are we here if we cannot embarrass our children? And why does Gwen Stefani still look the same, so gorgeous? And how did I become the mom of a 40 year old?

Consider this my puff piece to the latest breaking news. We’ve been celebrating a lot of birthdays lately and I’m getting hopeful about our country’s future; but maybe it’s just early onset Alzheimers. Or maybe it’s not so early?

Take the Classical Enneagram test yourself, it’s better than the zodiac! And please stay WEIRD! https://www.eclecticenergies.com/enneagram/test

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I call us the Christmas party babies – the seven family members who celebrate their births during August and September. The Rocker almost always had a beach party in August; I remember painting a hundred rocks gold for a Dick Tracy treasure hunt one year. The Bride’s party, in September, was a bit easier rounding up (or rather down) a guest list since school had started. We could invite her whole class instead of the whole beach club. This was before Evites and cell phones people!

And today is Bob’s big day. Happy Birthday to my honey.

Bob is now officially older than dirt, um me, for a few weeks at least. He’s been celebrating early, recreating our time in Tuscany last year, by making pasta with Ms Berdelle’s vintage pasta machine. We figure he’s got the ravioli down, which is a good thing since our local Italian market was just demolished to make way for progress. Will this new chef be able to recreate Lazzaroli’s goat cheese and pear ravioli? He’s already perfected the classic spinach and ricotta.

And I must admit Bob’s fettuccini this week, paired with our home-grown-home-made pesto, was bellissima!

What to get the man who wants nothing? I married a guy who defined “Minimalism” long before it was cool. Every few years we go into a store to buy him the same number Levi jeans he’s been wearing since I first met him 57 years ago! No wait, he needed a new alarm clock this week so he tried battling it out at Target with incoming Vandy students. He lost. Only two small travel clocks were left on the shelf. So he gave up and drove home in a huff, reluctantly searching the evil Empire of Amazon.

Which only reaffirmed his opinion of shopping.

Tomorrow the Love Bug turns 7! I think she grew 3 inches this summer. I was lucky enough to have Nana Camp extended another week because she came down with an ear infection and persistent fever; unlucky for her, she missed her first week of second grade. We played games, watched Disney channel, painted with water colors, and once we even ventured out to the Farmer’s Market. So even though I wanted to give her a new bike for her birthday, she told me she wanted another American Girl Doll.

Now I hate, really hate to sound old, but when I was young we got ONE doll and lots of different clothes. That doll would even cry and wet her diaper! Sometimes our mothers would even sew the doll clothes, and if we were lucky we had a doll trunk or a wardrobe to keep everything nice and organized.

But the Bride had lots of Barbies growing up since her allergies only allowed for plastic toys. The price differential however of a 1980s Barbie and an almost 2020 American Girl Doll is off the charts. My effort to convince the Bug that she only needed one doll was futile.

We’ll have a small family party tomorrow, highlighted by my 3-layer carrot cake, the Groom’s favorite. She has already had a class party shared with one of her school buddies – now why hadn’t I thought of that?

How is it possible Labor Day is right around the bend? We’ve been thinking if the Second Coming returns from the G7 with his proverbial foot in his puckered mouth, we may have to reinvent ourselves and go back to work. I could always try selling my necklaces and Bob could start a pasta food truck! Here are my birthday babes learning all about honey!

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