Under the Rainbow in the Land of Eire 🌈🌿🍀🎻🌳🍀🎶


Getting in the spirit of the Gold and Green! 

Flute, fiddle, harp, bodhran, Uileann pipes, tin whistle

Vocalists heard and dancers seen

Dancing a jig among the sprig of shamrocks and brambles

Playing the tune, conjuring wee fortune

Ready to spy the eye of elfin man and his pot of old

Coins and gems with tales told

Tis very fine this national holiday to come

Where music is heard the whole town over,

In glen, in chapel, in school, pub and home

Where hearts are lifted, wishes born

When hikes through cowslip, rosemary and lily

Make lucky discovery of four leaf clover!

Ode to the beauty, ode to the music 

Ode to the legend of Saint Patrick!

3/3/21

Malibu Rendezvous

🌊🌝✨🌊🌝✨🌊🌝✨🌊

Just being able to say I live on this mere sliver of land along the California Coast is a precious thing; so prized in my heart as the shine of silver. How fortunate for this native girl to attend college in the state of her birth, at the school connected to her religious spirit. Pepperdine. But, even more so, the Malibu campus. A miniature oasis of relished learning, forged creativity and bolstered adventure. 

Simply put, I was an Education Major. Pure of focus and ambition, I had always known I wanted to be a teacher. But once having loosened the ties of family’s hearth and home in Southern Cal suburbia, I was ripe for untethered travel. Travel of mental state, as well as to locales new. Before going to university, the seedlings of exploration had already been sown by vast reading of books describing the worlds of famous writers, artists, politicians and scientists. I knew there was a wide inventoried planet out there- ready to be tapped and noted. Higher learning was to be my stepping stone, leading to great unknown. Would I teach abroad? Would I teach with missionaries? Would I tutor child actors in progress in film and television? Would I conquer a second language and live in a nation where it was spoken? Would I represent America in countries of my ancestry? All these choices lay before me, and really the only thing left to do was to take the baton, run the hurdles and head to the finish line.

But, not all escapades need to be so big. Indeed, some can be quite small, and their minuteness is what hones their specialness. When I think of my pristine temperament that first year, I fondly remember my young self totally unfettered from worry of any kind. I attribute this glorious liberty to my generous, kind upbringing. Having been raised to believe in the power of the positive, I truly had little sense of any negativity which could come around the hallways of experience. To me, each day was a bonus point to collect and partake. 

On one particular occasion, I had the wherewithal to join a fellow classmate on an impromptu hike up in the hills hugging the perimeter of our school. All we needed to do was don our jeans, bring along a sweatshirt, wear sturdy shoes and carry an ambitious attitude. My companion was a classmate who was fast becoming a best friend. Even though he was a He, we had a platonic friendship, which was fueled by the love of conversation and appreciation of nature. He was invaluable because he had a long history of hiking, and mine was a spotty one, only having hiked now and then in the hills behind my hometown. 

Seated in our school cafeteria, over the sharing of a hot fudge sundae, we decided to take a night hiking trip. Completely a spur of the moment event, we set out with one flashlight and sugar-fueled adrenalin leading us onto a quest of discovery. As we walked and chatted heading up the road behind the furthest dorms to where the stables were located, the moon was our beacon. Bright. Beautiful. Illuminating. A part of me wanted to go inside and pet the horses, but that would have started a stir, so no, that idea was abandoned. We looked up at the hill before us. I knew the rock soil was crumbly shale, and the landscape was comprised of a combination of soft wild-flowered tufts and thorny chaparral. I never even stopped to consider the night creatures who might have been at play, such as snakes, gophers, squirrels, rabbits, and likely mountain lions. I did however, concentrate on the possibility of birds of prey and bats lurking in crevices, under out-cropping and atop cliffs.  My hiking buddy said he had found a look-out spot where he could see the ocean from up inside a cave. 

With heightened interest we started out. Footsteps followed flashlight, and a sense of camaraderie was felt each time my scout looked over his shoulder to see I was there. For awhile we were subdued into silence. After all, we were entering another “living room”, uninvited. We took good care not to stamp down anything, and to track a trail that looked as if it had already been explored a few times. I took in the scents of nocturnal blooming flowers, and enveloping gossamer breeze. If heaven had kissed the earth at any time, this was one of those times.

Our perfectly executed upward trek ended up at a nearly vertical path. My trustworthy leader pocketed his flashlight, and we relied solely on moonbeam navigation. “Just up there, Juli, do you see it?”, he whispered. “There is a crawl space in the cliff, and you can sit inside and see outward. Ready?” I nodded us onward, and I felt an excitement beating in my chest which was welcomed by my inner child. I watched him grab certain boulders and brace his boots on specific rocks. I copied every detail. We commandeered upscale about twelve to fifteen feet, not that high really. Then, as I paused to catch my breath, I saw one of his knees hoist up into a dark mini hollow. I wondered if it would afford enough room for the two of us. Once he was in, he offered his hand and pulled me up inside. Good ole sneakers did just fine even in a mountain terrain, I thought…

Suddenly, I was swallowed inside a cavity of mystery and joy at the same time. It was the same feeling one has when greeting a stranger’s smile. Initial impact: Brazen, thrilling, wondrous, and mystifying. We were able to stand in a question mark shaped crouch, but decided to nestle into a comfy cross-legged niche on a fairly smooth floor. The entire space was no larger than six feet across, and four feet high. Looking what seemed westward to me, was an open window fashioned completely by Mother Nature. I remember the opening to be about a yard across and about 2 feet top to bottom. At first, it just looked black out there. My buddy had a canteen of water slung on his shoulder, and he offered me a sip of good fresh agua. A quiet, gentle wind siphoned in as a comforting presence. Still under the spell of an unfolding view, I failed to notice another natural, physical phenomenon. But, then, there I saw it! Up above my head in the ceiling of this little cave, was another opening. A skylight view beyond measure! I saw a spread of onyx glittered with teensy diamonds piercing the black. To this very hour, I recall my gasp and total surrender of soul to what my eyes beheld. It was one of the most formidable spiritual moments in my entire life. I felt close to our Maker as if he had planned it just for us, there in that hole in the earth, beneath his celestial lense and feeling his feather-like breath.

In tandem we sat mesmerized. I was aware of my silence and his. Our shoulders were touching, and it was the only physicality noticed. The rest was pure, mental, ethereal dance. If happiness could ever be truly defined, this was it. Immobile, yet fleeting magic.  A treasured gem in time. One I call upon in my most somber of moments. 

I know not how long we remained fixed in bliss, but that is not important. Eventually, we regained consciousness and I endeavored to see that ocean which had been my impetus for the hike in the first place. Our heads lowered to look out westward. Not too far beyond that window vista, the Pacific lay as proof we were still on this planet. I peered and peered, yet the first inkling came from my ears not my eyes. I heard a faint thunder of surf, followed by a flush of white wave on indigo. Yes! Ah… It’s there. Our Pacifica! Our resilient beauty. Our home of all things. There she was. A rich, bluish-ebony flowing into unraveling, scrolling white. The longer we listened the louder and more detectable the waves became. Every so often swirls of white manifest. It was dark as velvet, inside the cave itself. I felt safe enough to let a tiny fervent tear flow in echo to the descending curl of water. Imagine, my own teardrop may have once been borne from the salty sea! Was I a land-locked mermaid? Was I a star-traveler? Was I engulfed in angel-winged lift of thought? Was I home or in the midst of emprise? 

Tuning in to the sea symphony of sound, we engaged in lengthy discussion profound…Oh, how youth relishes words dipped in concept! Such was a far better version of elation than any glass of wine could render. Our ideas sprung, tantalized, compromised, surmised and realized. We felt like Professors of Life. The clap of waves issued compliment, and other times pounded their gavel of judgement. To our amazement, the sky listened and twinkled in approval. We even spied a shooting star. An exclamation point? We liked to think so. Even the zephyrs breezed approbation. It was all very good…

Few true gifts are given in one’s lifetime. This was one of mine. What made it so special was that it was shared. My expert comrade long gone from the pages of my life’s book. I do hope he once in awhile sits in repose, remembering this tranquil evening episode of our youthful rendezvous in Malibu.  

Hometown Christmastime Memories

When thinking of Christmas in Glendora, from many years gone by, one immediately conjures up images of clear as a bell blue skies. Accompanying this azure wash were always snappy cold temperatures dipping into the Southern Californian perspective of what we deemed as “really cold” : low 6Os, 50s and at night even oh heavens!- the 40s. Everyone bustled about wearing unearthed from moth ball storage, favorite woolens, mufflers, snow caps and mittens. We rejoiced because we knew the significance. It meant our foothills might get a good frosting of powdered-sugar-like snow or in the very least, our beloved grandfather peak: Mt. Baldy, would receive his first layer of pure white fondant snow. Definitely that assured us of countless hours of skiiing, snowboarding and awe-inspiring views. 

As we walked the downtown beat, we heard the First Christian Church bells chiming out carols to the shopping frenzied crowds. (Though back in the 1960-1970s a “crowd” in Glendora meant having to step aside on the sidewalk for another pedestrian bound in the opposite direction. You know, the “two is a crowd” thing…) But, it was all quite jolly and if only we could have read others’ minds back then, what a reveal! Perhaps moms were thinking: “Must get to Finkbiner’s Market to pick up my London Broil Ernie has prepared for me”…or “I only have four hours left to make chocolate fudge, get myself spiffied-up for our guests and decorate the table for dinner!” Children would be musing over what gift to buy for siblings or whether to go to the rec park and play a game of backgammon. Dads were likely fretting over their time constraint left in which to erect the Christmas lights along the house eaves and perhaps go full length and create a Santa perched on the roof about to go down the chimney. Everyone had Christmas themed thoughts rolling around in their brains and the belltower melodies surely hindered any other mental diversion. It was a time of activity drenched in goodly spirit. 

Shopping downtown was a delight in Nelson’s Drug Store, Apropos, The Village Bookstore, Bock’s Variety Store, Neufeld’s Jewelers, Andrew’s Clothiers, and Till the Cows Come Home Antique Boutique. One could count on running into friends’ parents on the sidewalks or bumping into best buds among the aisles. Sometimes even seeing a teacher or two, buying something in Ellsworth’s or the Kitchen Shoppe was a possibility. A general cheerfulness ran amuck for days on end in the downtown village of Glendora. 

The Christmas parades took place at night going southward down Michigan Avenue with decorations stretching across the street at intervals, from curb to curb. They depicted sparkly snowflakes, candy canes, holly leaves and reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, each brightly lit and arching above from end to end. Children’s eyes were dazzled as their hopes for long desired toys were prompted. In more recent decades, the Christmas Parade was always held on a very brisk Saturday morning and was kick-started by a rousing performance by the GHS Tartan Matching Band and Drillteam/Pageantry. The familiar whistle and call of drum major, the skirl of bagpipes signaling “Scotland the Brave” and the band brigade was off! It was a moving machine undoubtedly fascinating wide-eyed, little, future musicians and precision marchers. Band members doffed off their glengarries for the day to instead wear Santa Claus caps and robust march music was cast aside to make way for “Jingle bells”. Gladly, the town still enjoys this tradition! True, the baton twirlers of yesteryear have been replaced by flag twirlers; no more feather bonnets and tams on heads, but the spectacle of youth, music and presentation marches on. 

Down on the southeast corner of Foothill Blvd. a civic treat always took place. A giant deodar tree two stories tall, was decked in primary-colored lights. Hot chocolate and toasty chestnuts were served under the Christmas tree on the City Hall turf with evening Nativity scene in full swing. Live sheep, a donkey and principle characters role-played the manger scene which was a good reminder as to why we even had the festive season. I loved taking my own kids to enjoy this tradition as it was always focusing, humbling and poignant. 

Walking homeward, after having had our hearts and tummies warmed, we were guided by the Christmas Star perched on a foothill directly at the north end and above Glendora (Michigan) Avenue. One would pass by the Christmas tree lot on the southwest corner of Bennett. Noble Firs and Pines straightened up their topmost needles pointing toward the starry sky, in deference to the still tolling Christmas bell church chimes. As feet drew paths on pavement, they trailed through residential streets. Caroling Girl Scouts might be spotted sitting on bales of hay in truck beds, driven throughout recipient neighborhoods. Excitement seemed to ooze from station-wagon windows, as entire families piled into the backseats, for a special night ride to look at Christmas lights on houses all over town. Some neighborhoods displayed large, homemade and hand-painted standing wooden Christmas cards. They were lit up on their front lawn in civic greeting. Walking oak-lined sidewalks, our eyes viewed candles lit in windows heralding welcome home messages to loved ones returning from afar (college?, Vietnam? the Midwest?) One could note the whiffs of scents of baking in progress threading through the air from kitchen windows and infiltrating sidewalks and streets. Whilst on this nighttime stroll, the Victorian street lamps beamed salient message: “Hearth and home is where the heart is”. 

Come Christmas morning, frosty snow or not, numerous sightings of shiny bicycles, scooters, roller skates, roller blades and even pedal cars, were tested-out on those same neighborhood streets and sidewalks. The riders typically still in PJ’s. It was unfettered play. Pure childhood. An ingredient in Christmas magic. 

December had already known her holiday charm. Public schools annually held Christmas pageants and music performances by our city-wide Stringed Music Program begun by a single teacher, Mr. Ross. Choirs sang out to parents of junior high and high school students. Indeed, every week some form of musical Christmas tribute was taking place somewhere in the town. This still continues today. Long may Glendora’s public school cafeterias and gyms be filled with this enrichment galore!

One can expound about Christmas in Glendora in a general vein. But, I cannot keep personal accountings at bay. There is just so much to be happy about!  When I recall Christmas of my youth, I think of so many things…all diverse, but each making the holiday a real treasure. I think of Mr. Bock greeting last minute customers and offering up gift ideas. I loved discovering Christmas trees strapped onto tops of cars trekking Glendora roads to home, quite cautiously. I think of laughter, silly hide and seek shenanigans in and about the stores, and Christmas gift-wrapping tables manned by all sorts of folks from: Boy Scouts, Kiwanis Club, Little League, etc. The shopping and thoughtful present selecting was a huge part of Glendora Christmas, for sure, but, my family gathering was the most prized of all memories. Perhaps, my memories are similar to yours…

As a child we went to Christmas morning church service. As an adult, my kids and I attended midnight service on Christmas Eve. We would walk around the corner afterward, souls replenished, but also feeling a tad bit “on the lam”. After all, if you’re not snug in your bed fast asleep, Santa’s sleigh would pass you by… But, when I grew up many decades ago, Christmas officially began on Christmas Eve Day in my parents’ household. Christmas Stolen and Apple Strudel were bought from Alpine Delicatessen and consumed on Christmas Eve.(The strudel always had a slice of cheddar on the side). I loved how my mom baked with pride her fluffy, melt-in-your mouth, homemade lemon meringue pie. It was always set on the table next to her pumpkin pie and my Aunt Lenny’s fudge, just before midnight on Christmas Eve. They were situated along with everything but the kitchen sink amongst the spread. Percolating coffee permeated all the downstairs and glasses were set out for Martinelli’s Apple Cider. There would be meats, pickled watermelon, olives, cheeses, relishes, mixed nuts, kipper snacks, rye crisp, butter, lefse, dates, tamales and pandulce from El Patio; truly smorgasborg style. Topping off the array was See’s Peanut Brittle especially for our dad who loved it so, Scotch mallows, Scotch Kisses and that fabulous 3 pound, 3 tiered, box of chocolates our family easily, expertly and even competitively consumed in a matter of a day and night! Sometime between Christmas Eve day and Christmas Eve night, my uncle would arrive bearing trinkets and jokes and ready to play Christmas carols on the organ for us. We cajoled, sang, frolicked and just plain made merry until all the food was gone and our remaining energy was running on empty. 

I hold dear in my heart the memory of my father reading the Bible Story of the Nativity as we sat on the Persian carpet in our living room listening to his soothing voice into the wee hours of Christmas. We were then allowed to open one gift before shuffling up the stairs to bed to dream of sugarplums. I would stay and sit facing our fireplace; entranced and pensive. I loved hearing and watching the final crackling of blue-gray logs as they crumbled to the bottom, joining the glowing embers. After all siblings had gone to bed and my parents off to wherever, I’d flick on a switch and voila!—the magical spirit from our Christmas tree lit the otherwise dark living room. Wishes tantalized, Bible verses kindled within and pleasant chills of true joy were made manifest for The Season. Knowing a California navel orange would be in the toe of my stocking come morning was a happy thought. And it would taste sweet as candy. These recollections fill my soul and I do hope they are similar to others’ as well.

I suspect many “old-timers” such as myself, hold these memories in common. For us they are precious souvenirs. We loved growing up in Glendora. But we didn’t know it until we had moved away to other locales. Then, like a fine scent of a rose, tender memories imbued the recesses of our minds, a mental fragrance sweet and mellow. Christmases prized, sentimental and filled with the fullness of home. 

Morning Gray

💦🛌☁️🌊💙🌫💦🛌☁️🌊💙🌫💦🛌

The morning has greeted and comforted my coastal hamlet with a whisper soft blanket of fog. Mother Nature must have bent down to offer us a gentle kiss, for the homes are quiet. Barely a sound is muffled. The last trumpet call of the Surfliner train made her midnight debut, and that was the last piercing of silence to be heard, really.

Thus, here I sit in my daybreak spot waiting to notice the tumble tap of egg in pan. My blinds open, welcoming in the soothing gray. Muted garden foliage is shrouded in bleak verdant reticence- not even a hint of green. In my balcony view pools of water lay on chairs, tables and floor. Plants look surprised and replenished. Even “Susanna” has two new dew-speckled blooms. Perhaps we had a spell of rain as we citizens were locked in dreamy repose. We are at rest in a gentle waltz with only time as our rhythm. 

What gifts shall emerge from underneath this silent veil? Will tinkling birdsong chime melody? Will my dear ocean rescind its argentine sheen, revealing her assembly of blues? Will soaring seabird cull away the drab, slate of sky; beckoning whitecaps and sparkling waves? Will the cotton batting clouds pull away and allow hopeful sky its chance to present on seascape stage? Maybe those ruling, subduing clouds will gather together and take a Cumulus bow, then drift apart to stage right and left! 

Indeed, such would be most welcome. Hark! I hear the click of neighbor’s gate. There are footsteps on path unknown, and a muffled knocking. At someone’s door? In open garage workshop? Possibly those footsteps were returning home. Could be the knocking was on door of sleepy home threshold. No start of engine turn-over. Who knows? The village is still in hiding, I guess. No spray of water in garden heard, no dogs on leash out for their early morning constitutional. I think the town has rolled over, pulled up her coverlet, decided to shut down cellphones and settled back into that warm puff of pillow. It may be a new day, but most all are still sailing among the stars. 

Well, my egg and I are ready and awake. I don’t want to miss the curtain call…

The Weatherman is Reporting Cloudy with a Chance of Flour Flurries…

Yep, it’s that time again, for the family Viking ship to sail into home port… It’s Christmas and the Norsky/Svenskas are about to bring out the: griddle, ricer, cloth boards and rolling pins!!! 

They can’t wait to doff off their Viking helmets, roll up their sleeves, scrub up their hands, and peel 10 pounds of potatoes! They’ll need butter from milk from the Ole Milk Cow, and mountains of flour! What’s this all for? 

Scalloped potatoes? No!

   Potato Pie? No!! 

       Bangers and Mash? No!!!

              Knodel, or Kugel? Nein!!!! 

                     Latkas? Nope! 

                          Papa rellenas? Nope!! 

                                Pasties? “My word”, No! 

                                     Pommes Annas, Non!

Niet! – to potato bread, potato salad, or even a potato waffle! 

          Nor, are they about to make Rosti from Switzerland.

                 Or even Rumbledethumps (yes,a bona fide dish made of potatoes from bonnie Scotland)!!

 No, for the Viking clans throughout the world 

who truly love their fars and mors, their hjems and hems, their fjords and dals, innsjos and sjos, trads and tres, there is only one beloved delectable to be made this Christmas…

It is… 

LEFSE

Now I have to clarify:- This is a scrumptious Viking viand created in Norway, so technically, it is a Norwegian thing. But, ya know… good neighbors sometimes share… ”Ja, they do and they swap ideas for recipes!” Thus the Swedes are happy to join in the fun… for they know how Sweeeeet(de) it is! 

Especially

the ones in MY family!!! So, where does this flurry of flour come in? 

Well, I’ll tell you:-

It all started with the first batch of Vikings to undertake this much coveted tradition with their eldest brother, who fondly remembered their Norwegian grandmother making them in her kitchen. We all, including myself, parked our knarrs, knorrs and drakkars close to the Head Master Lefse Chef’s Shoreside Longhouse. He, the Captain of this somewhat scandalous Scandinavian endeavor, allowed Svenskas in on the secret! I mean, think about it… Would your grandmother share traditional recipes with folks from across the border? Well of COURSE she would like to keep them exclusively under surreptitious lock and key. Ha! That was the old days. This is the 21st century, and the Swedes and Norwegians no longer feud over who does things better… at least I hope so!

So at that fateful gathering 

Our good, kind, wise Odin-like brother had researched with his sweet, lovely wife, who was Frigg-like as well. In case you don’t know your Norse Gods they are the equivalent of Zeus and Hera. Anyway, they procured through bookish research the traditional recipe (is there any other kind, really?), and the ‘how to’ and the ‘should nots’ and the better ‘must haves’. 

They were awesome students and by the time my family of Vikings and myself, showed up on their doorstep one fine December day, they were organized for success! Before us in their humble yet fab kitchen, on their workspace countertop, was a linear display of embroidered bakers’ aprons. There was one for each of us; embroidered with our family crest (NO- just kidding)- our family NAME, the year 2009 and a nifty figure of a rolling pin. We had all been bestowed our own personal lefse rolling pins, ricers, supply of lefse boards, and a few other necessary accoutrements. It was a presentation that won my heart from the start! 

Once the proverbial coffee was served to get us going 

(a requirement especially for the Swedishness in all of us), we set out to pay strict attention to our Lord Lefse give his morning spiel. Granted, some in the bunch were still working on waking up, and it occurred to me those still clinging to the Northern Lights dreamscape, must have had their drakkar riding on cruise control. Now to my left, was another brother extraordinaire, who embraced his Norwegianness so much so, that he had named his son a Norwegian name and chose a good bulk of his life to live by sea or mountain. I noted his vim and vigor for our tasks at hand, and his quite typical habit of trying to knock the chief off his game. Well, the verbal cleverness was fun, but “no can do”, our Head Honcho had everything under control. Well… ALMOST everything. But more of that to be revealed…

Situated to my right was my big sister,  primed for the prize

(No this wasn’t a contest), well, it kind of, sort of, always does become one cacophonous, rivalrous affair when we siblings assemble. But, she already is a fantastic baker whom among other things, stands way taller than me, and makes the wearing of jeans, a white t shirt and an apron look stylish! As the superb scholar she has proven to be, she listened astutely to our brother’s directions. Thus, there we were, all fired up like Thor’s Thunderbolt, poised and aimed to make our mark in homespun history; our lightning bolts darted toward perfection! 

Our Master Lefse Chef engaged us in a variety of toilsome work

But initially,  Odin and Frigg had broken the morning sunrise with their own self-appointed, grueling task of peeling ten pounds of potatoes!! When you have a HUGE family, you need LOTZA LEFSA! About 160 count to be exact. They really were the workers whom as the warm orb greeted the day, slaved over such a gargantuan chore. Then, they chopped and boiled those potatoes to have them still piping hot and ready for us, The timing was coordinated with our fleet of “Viking ships” arrival and the always necessary jubilant kisses and hefty bear hugs. As the figurative trumpet lur sounded, we knew this was our introduction to the art of lefse making. As invited guests, we sipped on Odin’s favorite morning beverage: his Kona Coffee stash! Yes, his “ship” has sailed to Kaui, and brought back the much loved tropical beans he generously shared with his fellow bror and systers. And those potatoes were hot, but not too hot, for our novice hands… 

Such joy can only last so long. 

This is because the first step for us, the “galley bakers crew,” involved mega muscle strength while compressing the kneaded, boiled potatoes into the ricer. It was laborious work, because, it isn’t as easy as it looks. But my siblings were handling the ricing just fine. Suddenly, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch (ME) wrestle with the ricing contraption. My face must have looked beet red and I hate to think what my determined facial expressions resembled. One who was frustrated to the max? In pained constipation? Crazed to do or die? However, I muscled through that task and felt I had channeled the brute strength of my ancestral bakers. Once the athletics were over, we were about to begin the next step. But not without more sips of rich, robust coffee, of course!

Well, my goodness, did I fall in love or WHAT! 

We had bowls brimming with boiled and riced potatoes and all we had to do was add salt, powdered sugar and butter chunks. We then kneaded the potatoes into a supple-like potatoey dough. I found this little task unusually pleasurable! I mean… there it was for the tactile taking… warm, buttery, creamy cloudettes of taters, simply there to be scrunched and folded and squished. I felt like a kindergartener discovering playdo for the first time, but this was a lot nicer!

Our illustrious “Leder Bagare” stood at his kitchen “lectern”

and showed us his obvious prowess in baking! He grabbed a smooth rolling pin and placed the dough from one of our bowls onto the kitchen counter. He proceeded to press down and with his hands rolled a long log. Naturally we siblings, tried to outdo each other’s perfectly formed log. “WA-wuh…” 😳🤨 But, my older sister is the only one who came close to our instructor’s example. The rest of ours resembled eels and snakes. Far from professional, it was very important to have the cylindrical shape even-sized throughout. This is because the logs needed to be cut into 1/3rd cup sizes and then rolled into walnut size balls. 

Frigg was busy divvying up workspace all over the kitchen for each of us, replete with an open bag of flour within reach, a regular rolling pin, a smooth tapering rolling pin and a gridded rolling pin. Everyone needed about three feet width of room in which to do the rolling.  As always, some family members haggled over who got what space, but I was quite content in my nook that gave me ample room. It took about 15 minutes of joking around to get this endeavor started; I think because we all kind of knew we were now in the thick of it! Odin delegated the work to commence and challenged us to see how quickly we could line up neat, hand fashioned, golf-ball size balls using-up all our own dough-first!  Frigg in her festive, felicitous demeanor put on some classic Christmas music and we were sent into motion. Hips and toes swayed and tapped, just a tad, in our designated corners, and jocularity was rampant, “By Jupiter!”

It soon became apparent who was taking longer and who had the skills of a pro. Odin the Leder Bagare, kept facilitating the industry taking place, being extreeeeeeeemely picky about the even size of each ball rolled with our hands and placed in countable rows. “Don’t forget, many mouths to feed!“ he in instigated. Brother All Things Norwegian, continued trying to steer our “slave ship” off course with his jibes and innuendos. However, we played along and ultimately, the undertaking was a reflection of teamwork we were all proud to be a part of. Once All Hands on Deck finished rolling, it was time for —  you guessed it! More kaffee☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️, plus a few nuts for nibbling nourishment, kipper snacks for protein kick and tangerines to add that sweet note.


Rejuvenated, now came the REAL FUN!

Our Professor Potato Head ..(truly an affectionate nickname applicable only to this story), was poised to reveal his next level of pro-baking skill. He showed us how to use a smooth rolling pin to roll one ball onto a lefse board: floured on top, and underneath. It is not a piece of wood at all, only a stiff, canvas-type cloth. The goal is to squash down the ball with the rolling pin and make a circle about 12-14“ diameter. His masterful demonstration showed how re-angling each roll of the pin: ⬆️↖️ ⬆️↗️ ⬆️↖️ ⬆️↗️, was supposed to create a 14 inch circle. UNFORTUNATELY, when we all gave it a try, weeeellllll, we weren’t quite so proficient. The giggles started bubbling forth and for me, I felt a mixture of exasperation and embarrassment. My first ever created lefse clearly was the shape of the continent of Africa! I suspected my sosken (Norwegian for siblings), were garnering the same results. 

Not surprisingly though, our All Things Norwegian brother managed to pull off a perfect lefse just as his Norsky-named son did years later!!! “Nice-uh, and-uh, oh, so  Rrrrround-uh!”  Ahem, that sounded more Italiano. Not nearly Vikingish. Anyhooo—he did an excellent job. Odin and Frigg were beaming with approval.

Before you knew it, 

we were all in a synchrony of sorts, dusting flour on pins, and boards, determined to ride the waves of a baking arts adventure! We learned many details along the way:

1.) Our chunky smooth rolling pins need a cloth sleeve slipped over them. (Odin called them socks) 😳!!  I hope they weren’t  really🧦🧦s ! More importantly, they must be kept dusted with flour.

2.) We learned that after rolling the ball into a flat circle, then the other heavier, gridded rolling pin is supposed to be rolled from bottom to top, slowly creating a tiny pattern as well as making the lefse thinner. It is best to keep this pin not moist in any way and to avoid getting flour in its grooves.

3.) The third pin is actually a smooth rounded stick that is tapered on both ends. It is the tool one uses to roll and lift the lefse off the board to be transferred over to the griddle. It, too, must be kept dry with a good dusting of flour powder. Some use a flat or rectangular lefse stick that is long, narrow and flat on all sides.)  

4.) In order to pick up the lefse one has to flatten it into a crepe-like consistency. Thin in depth, it looks like lace and should not be thick as a tortilla. It is in actuality, flatbread! As long as the lefse board has remained floured, grasping it at the bottom edge with the slender pin pressed down, at midway point, press that edge. Immediately after applying pressure, make a quick, slight lift so you can catch the smoothed out dough onto the pin and roll it like a horizontal crank. Gentle, quick turning of one’s fingertips in doing so, is all that is required. In last year’s lefse making gathering, a most adept niece proved to me how she had made this technique her art-form!

5.) Once the lefse has been rolled with about six inches remaining hanging from the horizontally held pin, (stick), your job is to be swift and graceful as a ballerina or a very refined waiter. For you must get the delicate lefse over to the griddle before the hanging portion decides to break off due to gravity. Too much lefse rolled onto the pin creates moisture and it won’t roll out onto the griddle as well because of stickiness. Timing is everything!

Our dear Goddess Frigg kept an eagle eye on the operations. 

She stood at her griddle station, with two hot iron griddles set over her stovetop burners. Her work space had Tupperware lined with paper towels as a way to instantly stack and keep flat each lefse. Her only utensil at hand was a flat spatula in which to lift the finished product off of the griddle and scoop remaining burned bits into a corner creating room for the next incoming Lefse. Her eagle eye was quick to zoom in on any of our technical troubles in the works. Being a good mentor, she called out advice and many “heed this” and “heed that”s. Amazingly, like the majestic bird’s head, she could swivel her attention from one of us rolling, pressing, flouring, to another engaged baker rolling pressing and flouring and still nan griddle duty. Her twinkly voice made our slip-ups, which were aplenty, easier to deal with and bolstered us away from discouragement. Every Christmas I am impressed by her rapid thinking and her nurturing manner in this process. 

The tutelage of the Norse Gods of Lefse

was a time of great joy and discovery. We had Odin barking strict orders, making side demonstrations with one tutee after another, and Frigg frying’ up the bacon (NOT)— the Lefse, I mean! That Viking home above the sea was alive with music, laughter, cajoling, and very, very busy hands. There was sneaky switching of dough balls from one station to another going on, while one of us was rolling our just made lefse onto the piping hot griddle. This way, one would look as if one were further ahead in the production race than the other bakers. We did figure out the culprit and dealt with the crime accordingly- probably having that scamp wait to receive the initial taste of lefse after the rest of us. And that would feel like torture!

We were a factory working so hard the rafters were bouncing off the eaves. Christmas glee was abundant, and it didn’t take much for creative humor to manifest. Many “ooos” and “ahhhhs”, and “Only 15 more to go!” comprised conversation. Then you would hear another say, “How did you get ahead of me?” You could hear “Oh darn”, “Not again!” “Whoops”, “Oh man, it broke!” and especially “My lefse board is now officially ruined!!! WAAAA!” Dramatics, yes, but honest ones! We churned out lefse after lefse, like a rotating wheel on a locomotive train; the wheels of progress lubricated by the elbow grease expended. And it was well worth it. 

Sometimes, we had to stop and just belt out a hearty laugh, especially the occasion that once again, put ME,  in the center of attention. SOMEBODY, happened to notice on the floor, below my work station, were piles and piles of flour!  Underneath was a snowstorm of the soft white stuff most crucial to the success to mak ing our beloved lefse. Razzing ensued: “What were you doing? Were you conducting “The Ride of the Valkries” with your lefse stick?” The hilarious as it was, I had no idea HOW my flour got onto the floor!🤷‍♀️Seriously!💁‍♀️If, there had been mice in that kitchen, they could have had loads of fun snowshoeing or skiing through the “snowbanks” of flour!  I’m sure my look of innocent quandary was perhaps the most comical thing. A self-made story to endure the ages of family folklore. Well, The Master Chefs and their underlings had a good round of jeering, and it was all in the name of sibling impishness. I, in turn started naming the lefse shapes: There was Elvis, Connecticut, Half Dome, Sponge Bob, Nemo, Dory, Saturn, and Humpty Dumpty!  We duty driven adults were immersed into another world, leaving behind normal things, letting ourselves surrender to innocuous banter and rich imagination. Christmas had arrived early, a day before before the 25th..

After five plus hours,  Thor’s hammer was done. 

All thunderbolts thrown, 

      All good cheer brightened, 

            All poking fun packed away,

                    All competition come to an end.

Our omniscient, generous hosts gave us replenishment for the final time, yes, you guessed it-COFFEE.

With that coffee came the little miracle that occurs around Scandinavian tables far and wide, a coming together of brotherliness, sisterliness and family, We slathered our warm lefses in butter, or sprinkled white sugar blended with cinnamon on the top of them. We popped those divine delights into our mouths faster than you can say Leif Eriksson, Sven Forkbeard, Erik the Red, or Olav Tryggvasson!

All in the day in the life of a Norwegian-Swedish Viking… our job fulfilled, our bellies happy and our hearts full. We bade farewell till Clan Christmas morrow, and our individual knorrs, knarrs and drakkars sailed homeward. I’m positive Odin and Frigg savored a suspended moment of peace on their deck that late afternoon. As they watched the Pacific sun set into the cobalt ocean, they sipped on mead, ate fresh grapes and had some more Lefse….

Christmas Lights Say A lot!


♥️💚🎄♥️💚🎄♥️💚🎄♥️💚🎄♥️💚🎄♥️

It started with one guy up the street. He hung up some snowy white twinkle lights on his balcony. This was a week BEFORE Thanksgiving. The next day, another neighbor put up a string of lights as well: multicolored and rather a fine harbinger of things to come. The third day, yet another house decided to wrap lights around the trunk of their king palm which made a stunning visual effect! Yep, the Christmas bug was awakened, days before Turkey Day. Unheard of! Well, this phenomenon has exploded around here! We have lights on a colorwheel spinning about splaying speckles of cheeriness. A scalloping of red and blue lights are now draping the balcony directly across the street from me, with an American flag hung to punctuate the point! Still further down the street and around the bend, but quite visible from my house, is a light show…greens turning into teal turning into ocean blue turning into red, and back to green again. There’s also a Nativity star prominently placed and lit above something else obviously in the works… It’s like this neighborhood has come alive with a jolt of Christmas spirit and you know what? I LIKE IT!

I mean we have had a year that will undoubtedly create entire chapters in our children’s history books. I think back to March when the gloom and doom bell tolled. We were shaken, no doubt. Then the stay at home order turned a seaside community into a hushed hamlet. I have a “pit in my stomach” memory of looking out at our village neighborhood roads all twisting and twining and coming together in a design of utility for the horse and cart of long ago. They are now the thoroughfares of SUVs, surfboard-topped beetle bugs and GMC trucks. Usually, our roads are a beehive of activity…cars, golf carts, joggers, dog walkers, skateboarders, all endeavoring to enjoy being coastal Californians. But that mid-Saturday morning, I remember looking out my window to find everything very, very, very, shhhhhhhhhhhh, eerily quiet. The world was in that “What the heck is going on?” phase, and it created a pit at the depth of my stomach. 

Well, we are long past the initial fear- calculating our every move, touch and breath. Presently, we have this imminent wave (and I don’t mean one rising from the sea), but instead a dreaded spike in COVID, predicted yet, again. We were almost to the point of feeling at ease, and then the surge came back, for whatever reason. But people just can’t take it anymore! Easter had to be aborted, then Fourth of July, then Halloween was slapped with all kinds of safety restrictions, and then we heard Thanksgiving was on severe restriction. We have heard for the umpteenth time, no to this and that, all for our own good, but still a bitter pill to swallow. I think Americans just decided, “That’s it! I’m going to make merry if it’s the last thing I do! I can imagine fathers banging their fist on their countertops and saying “Son, help me get the Christmas lights out of the garage!”, or moms looking at their children’s dreary faces as they hear the television news trumpeting edict after edict. You know the kids must have all whined, “Why can’t we see Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving?” I suspect whether one is single, married, living with roommates, or living alone, we all have kind of had it up to our eyebrows with losing so many traditions and even our typical way of life!  I’m sure my community must not be the only town prematurely set in motion to celebrate Christmas. I am really glad we all are! 

With so much that has gone wrong, with the mind-boggling numbers of deaths, threats to jobs, closures of businesses, shutting of schools, and loss of good ole human interaction, one might question if there is anything to celebrate. Well, there is! There is MUCH to celebrate! We have made it this far, for one! We can turn our eyes and take a good look at who and what is still amongst us. Like the Plymouth Plantation Pilgrims did in their March 1621, they counted their blessing for the half of them who made it to the New World and survived the harsh winter. Half is a bitter number, yet like the glass being half full it was and is the same thing. So, I say, even though we are in the thick of this COVID CRUD, we have all survived 8 months! So, “Hear ye, hear ye, ON WITH THE LIGHTS!” Hang up those twinkly dinklies, and fashion pizzazz on your front lawn! Create a manger scene and have the kiddos stake in the standing candy canes! Erect a Charlie Brown Christmas tree on your front doorstep, and why not pump up your Frosty the Snowman?! Get on that ladder and hammer the family Santa Sleigh and 8 coursers led by Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer on top of your roof! You can do it! And all the while, get those Christmas bulbs a blinkin’ and a winkin’, lighting the hearts of all who drive past to see! 

For Christmas 2020 is about feeling the JOY! The inherent joy, we all have inside. The light that is truly a prism of color emanating within our soul! Bright is our Love. Our love for Life. Our love for each other. Our love for faith that there will be a better tomorrow, a truer tomorrow, a safer tomorrow! As we tighten each bulb, hug tight what you appreciate- whether it be your loved ones, your hearth and home, your job, your experiences or your memories. Hug them all the tighter. I am proud Americans have begun early to shine their beacons of hope! After all, that is what we have always done best. We set our compasses onto a better place, a better future and a better world. May I be the first to kick off the official Christmas Season, and in the timeless words of Charles Dickens’ sweet Tiny Tim, “God Bless us, Everyone!”

by Julianne Cull c/w 11/29/2020

2020

2020

The 2020 Demise

Came like a left hook surprise

We tried to duck

Then got stuck 

And almost took it in the eyes

Among the “annoys”

Have been the COVID “joys”

Rendering angst

Forging our fear 

Our psyche becoming veritable “toys”

Fault, blame, death and disaster!

Squelch of spirit 

Suffocated souls

Separate loved ones wile away

Falling prey, whittled down to a wither

Oh 2020 a sinister cad!

Thou art a villain most bad!

‘Tis is an unrelenting enemy

claiming lives once sweet

Laying corpses at feet

The numbers incredibly sad…

But virus is not only amongst us!

There’s dissension of most vicious kind

Political spats

Now boiling vats 

Brewing disparity, hatred, mistrust…

And in this year’s election 

One goal imposed ejection 

For at the poll 

Fate of the toll

The polarity foisted rejection

Many question the legitimacy

Was this process by bureaucracy?

Were all votes fair?

Any left to spare?

Was it democracy or conspiracy?

Two men in opposing corners of the ring 

Lean on the ropes a’wondering 

They sit and plot 

Wipe down their snot

Devising how to finish off the other!

But who is the true loser here?

Not these men of varying acumen!

Surely not the rude dude

Or the simpleton cued

But we the populace screwed!

Whether you abide on one of the sides 

The reality is bleak my friend

We still have COVID

Of which we’re not rid 

And no dignity in whomever presides

Our America slammed down to her knees

Is crying a heart full of tears

Either losing the match 

Or clicking shut a loved one’s latch

To cold coffin that shields from the weeds

We ALL are the losers unfortunately!

For what we have lost— pervades our time

We sipped from our flask

Then donned our mask 

We protested and detested

Spewed holier than thou’s

Rancored and rallied

Bullied and sullied

Tore up the old

And rammed in the new

A good many lied

So the children spied…

And all in the name of justice?

Left without moral compass

There remains a ruckus 

Which might never dissipate 

Our country, 

Our citizenry

Our debacle, debate, still instigate

A round robin of fate

Leaving Americans

Scrambling for hope and trust

We wish exists amongst us

As patient breath comes to pass

The virus ultimately wins…

And in temptation to pander

Any future slander

We’d be wise to recognize:

What has been the cost?

How many have we lost? 

We must not let

Foul will offset

The colors in our emblem flag!

May they not fade to dim 

Painting message grim

For instead, if we use our head,

And set foot on GOOD action

We can in fine order

Proudly embroider

Old Glory in fringed gold trim…

What Sort of Person?

🇺🇸

What sort of person becomes a soldier? Perhaps a boy or girl, who pretended to be Robin Hood, Annie Oakley, General Armstrong Custer, Joan of Arc, Captain Kidd, GI Joe, Lord Cardigan of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Ivanhoe, General George Washington, Alexander the Great, Eric the Red, Captain John Paul Jones, Napoleon, General Patton, Ulysses S. Grant, Colin Powell, Lafayette, Chief Red Cloud, The Flying Ace…? The list of warring heroes is quite long. The archive of inciteful tales overflowing. The banner of bravery waveth on…

But today, we honor those who carve a closer niche in the core of our hearts. They are soldiers we either know of from recent history via tales of valor, or they are veterans who have served in the armed forces for our country. This is a comprehensive number of people, men and women, all giving selflessly to our nation. They have done so in hopes that the maintenance of safety and peace at home, as well as abroad, is ensured.. 

But, I ask you, what kind of individual volunteers to essentially serve up their life on a silver platter for the good of the rest of humanity? A very, very, very COURAGEOUS one, that’s who! 

 I mean, I think it is bold of me to just get on the 101 traveling north up through the grapevine— or to drive solo through the Mojave Desert in 118 degree heat in my air-conditioned vehicle… But seriously, such “valiant” choices don’t come one scintilla of a second within range of the spirit it must take to decide to become a soldier. For that very reason, I always find Veteran’s Day to be a most sobering occasion. Moreover, I am reminded of the breadth of sacrifice these women and men have made. It is a mindset beyond the guts and glory of folklore. It is blatant brass. It is “face the music” time. It is do or die. So I once again pose the question to you, what person of mettle decides to do this?

People with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, perhaps children of their own already. Yet, they still claim the bold choice. They are the unselfish. They were the kids you knew in school who shared their good pencil with you; who stood up for you against the playground bully. They were the ones who didn’t get scared in an earthquake or tornado. They kept a level head. They were the kids who didn’t ask first, they just dove right in and helped. They protected, guided, sympathized, faced problems, and never lied to you. They were born to be heroes. 

You know, someone to whom you owe gratitude. They served years out of their personal lives for you and this country. They may have had actual battlefield experience. They may have had to salute a fellow fallen soldier they had come to know like a member of their own family back home in the USA. They might have suffered injury. They could be fighting mental foes of nightmarish proportion. They may still be in battle, facing longterm disease. They may have died.

Today, I remember and honor them all. But my soul feels an indebtedness beyond measure. I thank in no particular order, my brother Todd an Air Force Veteran and his son, my nephew Lars, an ex-Marine who served in Iraq. I thank my dad, who was in the Navy in WWII, and my Uncles Willis, and Rodger. They were also in WWII, serving in the South Pacific. Not a pretty story for them, but, indeed survival stories of the highest caliber of bravery.  I thank Uncle Pete, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Lynette who all did their part. I thank my grandfathers who marched through France in WWI. One recalled hearing the American GIs being called “suckers” for being there, for fighting for freedom for another country…

Today, no matter whether you are a pure-bred Pacifist, a “one globalist”, an anti-Patriotism badge wearer—you have no right to judge those who have stepped into the fray, for you, for us, for us ALL. The fact is, we need to think past the trumpet call, past the Waving of Colors and sounding of fanfare. We need to look above the golden braid and fringe of epaulet. We must let the snap of rifle and the smack of clipt step on pavement no longer impress us, but instead meld into background memory. Because….

What is so much MORE important is our looking upward above every helmet, cap and shining mace. Up to the clouds, up to the sky. Up to the Truth. The truth that we are here, in the United States of America, on this bursting, beautiful planet which is utterly bubbling with active communication right now. Earth is saying, “I’ve got your PEACE! Just like you have YOURS! I’ve got my wildfires, my winds, my tsunamis, my searing heat, my icy inclemency and dag nab it, if you don’t get the message, my earthquakes! Seems I need to shake y’all up every forty years or so with a fully orchestrated, full-throttle assault!” ….I think Mother Earth, God, the Higher Deity of your choice, is pretty fed up with all of our soldiering. 

Mankind has battled since he first argued over the meat on the stick in the flames. But, we can show our grateful wisdom as a more highly evolved consciousness. We owe our predecessors who fought to bring freedoms to this globe by our continuing to keep tyranny at bay. Let’s save the BULLET, and cast the BALLOT the next time we need to vote for peace as well as protection. Unfortunately, half of the planet is not on our page. So, we must still fight the good fight to protect. But, maybe, just MAYBE – we can find a way to truly accomplish that without bombs and bloodshed. After all, We are THINKING MAN, (and WOMAN), and there’s a reason why our brain has a lot of extra dendrite space in it. Get my drift?

In the meantime, while it is always fun to have action heroes jumping through hoops of fire, shooting off arrows and lasers, riding the tops of locomotive cars – pointing pistols down into windows at passengers caught unawares, swooping down on ropes onto galleon decks or commandeering an encroaching Army tank; I think it is time to put away childish things. Pack up flashing swords, the bazooka guns, and the model helicopters! Whip out the pen, the paper, the IPAD! 

Let future battlegrounds take place in the World of Words…and I do not mean the name-calling, imbecilic, born of infantile behavior sort of words! Words that mean PEACE. Why not think of future “wars” as war of words, where WISDOM is “shot out of a cannon”, just like t-shirts are ejected from a T-Shirt Gun in a football stadium. Aim the Truth, don’t fire falsehood. Claim the victory! Right the Wrong. But please, may our quiver of arrows simply be divergent thoughts,  intersecting agreement. 

I know this sounds impossible. But maybe not! I personally feel we have not yet begun to realllllly fight. We have not used the best arsenal we have, our brains. The WORLD LEADERS have looked and sounded pretty ridiculous of late. C’mon, YOU know that. We all do. It’s time to get off the high horses, sit at King Arthur’s Round Table, and tell it like it is. And listen to someone else tell how they think it is. and so on and so on and so on.

The Battle of Words. Long may it endure. Until it resolves. Yes, of course Rome wasn’t built in a day, but how may thousands of years do we need? Surely a little creativity and selflessness can accomplish a better outcome. We will probably always fight over whose water is on whose land, but maybe a better mindset can find compromise. I sure hope so. In the meantime, let’s at least keep our hemisphere peaceful. It is our right to defend. It is a good thing to aid others that also need defending, but let’s put the war accoutrements into a place where they belong: a museum. Pack up the polish, the medals and the feathered helmets. We don’t need them. There is nothing glorious about bloodstain on a corpse. Full regalia or not. 

I do today, with great solemnity, honor our Veterans. I am extremely grateful.  I will show my appreciation by doing my utmost to keep the peace. To make a good difference. Thank you brother, nephew, uncles, father and grandfathers. Thank you very much indeed. ♥️🤍💙

I promise to be a soldier for peace.🕊

Julianne Cull c/w11/11/20

Cranking up the Crankiness

There’s a few of us curmudgeons who are flexing our hyper-critical, crotchety cantankerous tendencies these days. The need to spout off opinions at the drop of a dime, a pence, a peso, a frank, a centime or nowadays the universal euro, has definitely escalated. I mean citizens of Autumnal years have always had the proverbial right to complain about this and that. It’s rather a well-earned spot in society, gained only through accumulated years of experience, toil and adventure. But, we have every right to be so! I mean, just think about the state of affairs in the last two years! It has kind of been quite similar to a speeding solo railway car, unhitched, gaining momentum down the hill of disaster…

You see, we bearing wisened wrinkles in place of youthful smooth complexion, have witnessed a plethora of changes. They began a decade or or two, ago. Subtle tweaking of givens, norms and reliable conditions began ruffling a few of our feathers. And with each passing year, the number of alterations, substitutions and God-forbid– omissions, increased. The list first comprised little things. Nothing really earth-shattering, but definitely noticeable. Eventually, the changes somehow became more significant. They no longer ruffled, they confounded!

I first noted one day, that the long-standing use of milk cartons in school cafeterias was suddenly replaced with the provision of plastic bags resembling breast implants. Now think about it, maybe it’s logical to have milk served to childen in wiggily plastic bags which makes stabbing them open with a straw a potentially humorous, wet and sticky situation! And my, they are! Oh, how I miss the waxed cardboard milk cartons and all the school art projects that can be created using them.

Another change was the sudden loss of gas station attendants. It seems one day we had them, the next day they were gone! Now, when in heels and stockings, manicured nails, all powdered and perfumed for work, an event, church or a date, women have to now pump their own gas. Our hands wreak of gasoline and our clothing gets an extra wrinkle or two in the process. How I long for the camaraderie between energetic, conversational gas station guys, often adorable to behold as they windexed my windshield. Alas.

Not too long ago, a not so subtle change came about in the market. We started noticing the boxes of cereal, crackers, cookies, rice, pasta, etc., were suddenly less ounces and clearly smaller in size. We thought, oh they are saving on cardboard, but I think it was more than that. One day I noticed my toilet paper roll was smaller in width. More room to slide around on that toilet paper holder. They saved on paper by cutting the squares at shorter dimensions. Bizarre. In addition, the same thing applied to tape and candy bars. One would think there was a robbing of the masses sort of conspiracy going on! Yet, these “adjustments” were quite subtle.

I wonder who decided these things? What more could change? Will fabric become rougher? Books less wordy? Soap bars smaller? Only eight songs on an album vs. the standard ten? Less stationary in the box one buys? Less juice? Smaller raisins? Blander soups? Watered-down soft drinks? Anything could be diminished.

If I didn’t know better, there seems to be a vast trickery taking place. I realize portion size is a factor in losing weight for people. But, do I need “Mother Manufacturing” to decide for me how much I can have? For years our food has been “messed with”: oil and water in bread, fruit picked unripe and stored too far in advance, dented cans stocked on shelves, savory salt restricted from saltines, or replaced with chili powder instead. I’m sorry, I don’t want chili spice in my gravy. Are these decisions supposed to be an improvement? Who says so?

Up until about ten years ago, I used to feel I was an independent American, able to commandeer most aspects of my life. Then things just started morphing all around.

Is there at least one clerk available to man one of the six cash registers on this department store floor? It’s always a woman or man hunt!

Courtesy wrap means you are given a bag and tissue or a fold it yourself flimsy box, with a skimpy ribbon for a bow–a do it yourself deal. A “curt”easy alright! I long for the skilled, nimble handiwork of the backroom gift-wrapping artist, disguised as clerk. So….economically, on what exactly is the business saving? Oh, right, employees. Jobs. Opportunities. Plus, the stripping down of our zeal, the zeal we enjoyed when we saw a present we just bought wrapped with finesse beyond common ability. Oh well…they seem to think we will keep our patronage going. Will we?

Each purchase is preferred paid via plastic, and then you get a “gift” back of the receipt in your email. Instead of remarking about the moon last night or the latest designer line heeding plus sizes, we are forced to speak only of how we want to pay and in what form we would like our receipt. Do we even want a receipt? Is that a trick question? But I want to know if someone else saw the ring around the moon that I saw…

I suppose we ought to be glad actual brick and mortar buildings still house shops and restaurants. The powers that be, seem to relish the idea of everything being purchased online and sent via courier. No more supporting Ma and Pa establishments, unfortunately, unless they are part of a chain of businesses. This is a sad thing to my generation. We understand what it takes to start those small shops from scratch and maintain them in the midst of Mega-Store monopoly.

No, I’m afraid there are just too many things to get up my gander over. As long as no gag order has been ordained by the governor, I’ll just list several random modifications, deletions, and switcheroos.:

Polite persons holding doors open are now passee, Heavens, they might insult the person going through the door!

The use of gender titles are beyond being frowned upon; they are no longer being used in formal communication! We address everyone by their name only, and can only assume what “Leslie”, “Adrian”, “Frances”, “Casey”, “Madison”and “Taylor” look like when calling or writing to them.

Change in coins and cash from the register is dumped into one’s palm, the till door is slammed shut, and a call out of “Next”, is pretty much the norm these days. Abrupt and devoid of civil connection.

Too many corporate persons unable to answer questions that veer from memorized expected inquiries. Happenstance conversation is equally difficult to navigate – a single adverb or adjective seemingly enough to send comprehension into a nosedive…

Sturdy brown paper grocery bags have been taken over by plastic bags that are flimsy and hurt marine life. Actually, Trader Joe’s not only sends you home carrying your goods packed in thick brown sacks, but they also are double-bagged with sturdy handles! However, the majority of grocery stores hide their own brown bags. Why???

Batteries are not energized “forever” like they used to be.

Lightbulbs flicker-out way too soon than expected. Who knew “Energy Saver’ meant less use?

Need to call a company? Better have an arsenal comprised of cell phone, doodling pad, pencil, paper, calculator, munchies, beverage, pillow to scream into or punch, whatever quells your temper and either a cup of coffee or a good stiff drink. You’ll be pressing this number and that, and wait “on hold” throughout the entire length of all the “Bee Gees” career– heard in fine listening music. And a real option to choose “O” for operator rarely exists anymore…much like the gas station guys and store clerks. Is this modus operandi?

Parking spaces in parking lots are far narrower than ever before. As the SUVs started kicking out the compacts, ironically, the spaces seem to have shrunk!

Books often have incomplete edging, so now and then, you come across two pages still fused at the corner…very annoying.

Because water is a commodity, storefront sidewalks are no longer hosed down. Definitely not swept, either. Where did the kid with the long apron disappear to?

Where’s the cobblers? I used to love watching my worn-out shoes revived back to polished splendor by these industrious, elfin-like craftsmen!

Gone are the soothing plots of green in the planter beds of concrete medians dividing boulevards. The emerald green was hopeful, happy and eased our worries just a tad. Instead these eyesores are painted cement, “carpeted” in bark, or filled in with whitewashed stones. Come on…we want to see trees, shrubbery, or flowers planted in those medians! This is Southern California for goodness sakes. We are supposed to shine color like a rainbow!

You have to beg for dinner rolls at restaurants, now. Same thing with water.

The gentile art of making proper introductions is definitely lost.

Our towns are all cities and they are polluted with sirens, police helicopter night beams, and ensnaring traffic jams.

All fireworks shows are forbidden. Our patriotic tradition fizzled out like a sparkler that was a dud. Why? Oh that’s right…not enough brainiacs around to ensure water and fire safety is in place. Oh brother!

Outdoor concerts on the green, no longer part of our scene. And why? Oh that’s right, not enough decency in people to have consideration and respect for others. No “Sunday Afternoons” like in Seurat’s famous painting.

There’s a multitude of complaints to record. But, as I have typed my list of grievances, I actually can’t type anything super serious. I know they exist. I’m not an ostrich. I know healthcare, economy, environment and social welfare are all teeming with tribulation. But, it’s the little things that worry me most. How can that be? Am I Winnie of very little Brain? No. Well, maybe I am. That is, I am Winnie of very big Heart. I want to have those little things stay, in my heart.

I love my pot of honey, must it drip dry?

I cherish my friends. I want us to sit and bounce and play with balloons.

I want to see, smell and hear the blustery days.

I want to take care of Piglet and have Christopher Robin at my side.

I never want to get lost in the 100 Acre Wood.

I believe we crabby codgers have become choleric over a slow spanse of time. We have come to realize our fondness for the simple good in life is the treasure of all treasures. We want to get back to being Pooh Bear. We adore our once untainted innocence. We know what a prize it is! We want to skip along hum-humming our songs, and catch hold of our bumbershoots in the windy rain. We would like to taste sweetness in the company of our dearest ally. All these things are achieved in the “Kingdom of Nicety.” We remember when a customer was a customer, not simply a walking wallet. We know very, very long before our time, when met with a new acquaintance, it was customary to claim, “At your service”, followed by a reverent bow. This translated to: “I realize our paths have crossed, and your need to travel must be just as important as mine, thus how can I help you, just as much as perhaps one day, you might help me?” Hence, the consideration of other human beings.

Pooh Bear pinned Eeyore’s lost tail onto his backside. He hugged, and loved and fixed. He went out of his way to try. He gave his best effort because he focused on the importance of the gestures he made. These are the things we spot missing from society’s landscape. We notice the paintbrush is a bit dry. The richness of color gone. The blustery blue has turned gray. Worst of it, we know why. Common decency is missing. Something so simple as thinking of others besides yourself.

The next time you hear an irascible grouch grumble, consider perhaps why. It could be crickety old bones is to blame. It might be there are some things gravely wrong. But when deciphered deeply, that old coot may be channeling his desire to be a happy go-lucky Winnie the Pooh. Living a life of simple kindness and serendipity.

Mercantile of Mercantiles

They say America was founded one outpost general store at time. The pioneer spirit drove settlers westward, and often, the only connection with civilization were the little “Everything Shops” out in the boondocks. Abe Lincoln figured out he’d learn about this country by working as a clerk in one. He found that the news “on wind” and “word of mouth” always made its way to an over the counter conversation in Mr. Offut’s store in New Salem, Illinois. Amongst the pickle barrels, rope and pitchforks, glad tidings mingled with idle gossip. The latest political and societal topics were debated amongst locals with the “out of towners”. Peddler, traveling salesman, settler: all brought their own colorful brand of noteworthy subjects. Indeed, these country stores bred the American spirit of adventure, inspired by tales adrift, aloft and captured over a cup of cider and conversation.

When one went to the general store it was in mind of bringing back specifics. Perhaps, some coal, coffee, an iron skillet, flour for baking, thread for sewing, seeds, bandages, quinine, whale oil, beeswax, wire, lantern, candles, French soap, feather bedding, shampoo, and, an indian rubber ball for the children, comprised the shopping list. As one packed one’s wagon, lively talk would ensue and perhaps a riddle, song or poem was shared. Then, a sarsaparilla to induce refreshment was in order, whilst picking up a post and reading its contents with clerk and fellow customers leaning on the counter, lending an ear. It would be the last visit until Spring for distanced folk, or the weekly mecca for those who lived close by. It was the supplier of chit chat, newspapers and books. Not everything bought was necessary. These stores had delights for the children as well: they sold candy and kaleidoscopes, jumpropes and tin soldiers, caps and sunbonnets, unicycles and velocipedes, even roller skates and ice-skates. For the precious littlest ones, there might be rattles and teething rings, eventually to be replaced with Porcelain dolls, wooden alphabet blocks and slates, all begotten from the American outpost general store.

In the 21st century, these stores not only have been swallowed up by two centuries of increasing urban sprawl, but the very size of these shops have expanded into what we call department stores and now superstores. The Wal-marts of today, owe their very existence to the humble beginnings of the general store. Despite the citified, modern world expanding commerce in spit-spot, quick-flash fashion, there are still some remnants of the homespun neighborliness to be found in some of the quieter-long-lasting general stores. Just such a store was still keeping its doors and heart open to its surrounding community of Glendora.

Bock’s Variety store had been frequented and truly loved by all, until the owner passed on and his son sold the business. Only less than a decade ago patrons could still walk into Bock’s and buy a last minute Father’s Day gift of Old Spice and Golf Balls or casually peruse McCall’s dress patterns. It was considered a magical oasis for anyone who could appreciate service with a smile and might overhear the next discussion about the mayor and his intentions. You heard what the Boy Scouts were doing, when the next Little League Pancake Breakfast fundraiser was, and what date in December the Town Hall Christmas Tree would be lit. If, one were lucky to have been a child of the 60s, then a trip downtown meant a step into this veritable treasure house ready at one’s disposal; shelf after shelf stocked with imagination inspiring products.

You stepped through two glass swinging open doors and were presented with numerous paralleling aisles neatly organized and thoughtfully planned display shelves. Under some of the shelves were cabinets. The cabinets held drawers full of more items for purchase. One such drawer stored the latest 45s, another drawer kept various kinds of stationary. You kind of knew what was in each but needed permission from the store clerks to open and inspect the contents. Up out of reach from curious, tiny hands was a locked glass cabinet displaying little international dolls – each in its own traditional dress. The list of purchasable goods was endless : Fenton-ware was on display in the storefront window, Big Ben alarm clocks, the sports section with mitts, bats, tennis rackets, croquet sets, the fabric & textiles department replete with corduroys and calicos, paisleys and plaids, the silk ribbons on spools, music boxes, stargazing constellations dial cards, pocket binoculars, the children’s books in the back of the store display shelf, the chemistry sets and telescopes, wooden Brio building sets, the paint by number and various card sets, Etch-a Sketch, Erector sets, Fisher-Price Circus set, jacks and marble sets, 1,000 word puzzles, Silly Puddy, hair brushes and hand mirrors, even harmonicas and castanettes! Bocks always had an ever friendly, helpful staff, the long candy aisle to occupy you while you waited in the register line with friends or siblings, Bazooka guns and Davy Crockett rifles, card sets, Chinese checkers, Ouigi Board games, paper doll booklets, plastic horses, cowboy hats, firefighter hats, doctor role-play sets and costumes,  lava lamps and hula hoops, view master slide viewers, macrame kits and knitting skeins, crochet kits and needles. You might spy Timex watches, Red Flyer Wagons, Mr. Wiggles & Slip n Slides, Slinkies, 1,000 piece puzzles, paint by number sets, art chalk, poster boards, sketch pads, colored pencils, rubber cement, sequins, glitter, Rick a rack, flashlights, cedar keepsake/ jewelry boxes, candles and pine incense to burn inside miniature wooden log cabins, kites, snow globes, leather belts, shoe polish, ties and bandannas… these were all part of the merchandise sold in this creaky wooden floored, shelved ground to ceiling, richly stocked,  mercantile of all mercantiles…the heart of town.

But a mercantile can’t exist without its merchant. If the store had heart, it was because Mr. Bock was the heartbeat behind the operation. Every youngster in Glendora knew him. And HE knew all the kids’ names. He even could associate you with your family and say, “Oh, you must be So and So’s brother”… Mr. Bock had come home from the war missing an arm. But he carried a smile all his days. He listened to the chatter of children and provided merchandise to tantalize. I remember being charmed by mood rings, and torsion pendulum clocks. I introduced my baby brother to a Lionel Train Set as it was set up and working in action on a low table up near the front window ready to snatch the glances of wide-eyed faces. He would hear us talking and the next thing you knew, he was now selling them. His store was his world. A world he shared with everyone. A world of wonder. Yes, the mercantile beyond all other mercantiles…Bocks Variety Store.