Author Archives: uppervalleygirl
I have a plan this year for Valentine’s Day. You might like it. But first, the conventional stuff.
Again, it’s marital engagement season. One of them, anyway. I’m in the in-between years where my peers are married or done with all that, and my YPs aren’t old enough to get hitched, so other than working the weddings of strangers for pay (often hilarious), I have gone to no weddings in decades except for those on Gilmore Girls. Which I did feel that I attended, with my niece. We cried and cried.
As things progress somewhat towards post-pandemic on Earth, and the “wow factor” heads once again to new heights at parties, I’m super looking forward to over-the-top wedding Port-o-sans®, which reside now inside a sort of mobile home. (“Rosalyn, aren’t you coming back to the reception?” “Oh no, it’s much nicer in here, what with the little fireplace and sconces and chutneys and all…I’m just going to knit a few rows…”).
Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby, since the 1969 Woodstock Concert in terms of portable toilets. Though its famous Port-O-San cleaning man’s noble attitude towards his job, which probably cannot be found in modern tymes, made up for lack of fancy amenities in the concert’s potties. See him excerpted here from that classic documentary, Woodstock (1970).
When figuring out what year something happened, I find that because I didn’t bear children to do the reverse math by (“Hmm, Trevor was utero then and now is 23, so it was the year 2000…”), I sometimes use disasters as time delineators. “It was right before the Oklahoma City bombing; 9/11; Haitian earthquake; Indian Ocean Tsunami; BP Crisis; S&L scandal; Hurricanes Katrina (2005) or Sandy (2012) or the slew of 2017—Harvey, Irma and Maria (paper towels, anyone?); Cali mudslides and wildfires (which ones?!). This is a horrible way to track time, which I highly unrecommend. I recall a few Valentine’s Days that were disasters in and of themselves—for friends or myself. Surely we are not alone in this.
So here’s my Valentine’s plan this year: on that day, I’m just going to spread love and affection. Why does it have to be about romantic love? My mother sent us “balentines” up until she died. A friend and I call each other “Val” because we decided to be each other’s, the year after our mens disappeared. Someone recently dropped off a great number of fleece hats at our church, with a note that said simply, “Use them.” Now that’s a valentine, a symbol of love, given freely. Thank you, kindly hat maker.
If I had a lot of time or coin I’d do something major on that day, but I’ll have to satisfy myself with small gestures. A door held open. Groceries carried. A wheelchair pushed. A phone call long overdue. It doesn’t have to be about Hallmark but if that’s what you want, no shame! Cute cards are all over, try Royal Towne Gifts—get one for your lonely neighbor or favorite librarian. An underpaid worker you see weekly. The mail carrier. Road crew.
I think our true Valentine this year will be the comet named C/2022 E3. Which I haven’t seen due to our seeming perpetual cloud cover. Hopefully, someone spotted the small asteroid 2023 BU as it whizzed by within 2,000 miles of South America last week, in one of the closest approaches ever recorded. Crazily, it was discovered by an amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennadiy Borisov, who has discovered other comets plus asteroids from his very own observatory. I like this guy!
Your last, best chance to see Comet C/2022 E3 should be during the Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 5 when it will be close to star Capella, so bundle up and look up – instructions here. Binos required. That’s what bird watchers call binoculars. Show yourself, C/2022 E3! Be mine. Be ours.
Promise to Dear Reader: if I ever get married, I’m going to have the most exquisite Port-o-sans you’ve ever visited. There will be Baroque décor, stationary bicycles, palm readers, hovercraft, origami – and a petting zoo for the children. When someone at the reception says, “I’m going to see a man about a horse,” s/he won’t be kidding. You’re all invited. Good Valentine’s Day.
In December, 1,500 toys were collected one by one for the children of our Vermont town’s “sister city” in Ukraine. Once again, our town thought it would be a miracle if our shipment made it. Once again, we gave it a go anyway.
Thought it might be nice to remind people of the good in this crazy world. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen. Here’s a great little video from the woman behind the sleigh. Break out the Kleenex®.
New Year’s Resolutions have a bad rep, perhaps deservedly so. That said, I made some and have been sticking to them. More or less. Has Dear Reader made any? Are you complying?
I read odd ones that people had submitted to the New York Times. One person vowed to stop using the words “very” and “really” so much (seems innocent… I mean if that’s all you have to change about yourself, you’re doing really very well). So I guess we can resolve to do (or stop doing) whatever the heck we want! I’ll come up with something embarrassing for you by the end of this piece.
Important: If you had a resolution but dropped the ball, no need to chuck it into the stands and limp off to the locker room in disgrace. Just pick up that blasted ball and keep on going. There’s no ref, baby. No rules. It’s all you. I paraphrase the Alec Baldwin character in “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Always Be Resolving.
For now, I’ve resolved to: join a gym (or something); make more time for spirituality (of a cosmic stripe); learn a bunch of tech (e.g., how to operate 10 things on my phone that I don’t even know exist). Maybe how to insert a Box and Whisker into a Word document (what?). Hell, I might need that. To learn the lingo of the young people, such as “quiet quitting” and “flava,” along with “le dollar bean” so I know what the heck people are talking about.
Timing is everything. Who wants to jump out of bed on a winter’s morn? Perfect time to read. The local paper (ahem) or an actual book. Not screens. It feels a luxurious indulgence in the morning, not like a checklist item, and deliciously old school. When stuck somewhere traveling, delete photos, video, apps, and emails that eat up phone space. I deleted ALL on my junk email account with one motion… freeing! Timing.
Yes, timing. Who wants to drink booze in January after all that bloaty holiday merrymaking? Meditate, not medicate! It’s more calming, more slimming, and way less wear on your organs. Meditation and rest make your organs happy.
Further: I resolve to drink as much hot cocoa as want and cry as much as I please. Who cares? There is much to be sad about. Let it rip. Cocoa beats scotch, which is pricey, makes you loopy, and glosses over your sorrows. Why not experience your sorrows and wail away for a bit? Then you’re able to move onto Mood B, which just may involve Hope.
True Goal: Rather than focus on the problems I can’t solve, I aim to focus on those that I can, like helping with literacy (okay, “such as” helping with literacy). Give someone else hope. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the despair.
Mainly in 2023, I aim to laugh and make others laugh more because I’ve noticed that, for sure, people used to laugh a LOT more. Life has gotten harder which means we have to laugh harder. When you’re laughing, you can feel hope. Have I dropped this ball yet? Yes! But I can pick it right back up or pass it to the experts.
There are plenty of hilarious books. Countless funny movies and shows, e.g., Avenue 5, Silicon Valley, the John Mulaney standup shows (try New in Town and The Comeback Kid), and apparently mind-blowing Rothaniel comedy special by Jerrod Carmichael, or that clean old movie gem, Mother, with Albert Brooks. I allow myself two TV shows per week. My TV is mostly cheery background noise. Including football where grown men slam into each other for big paychecks. I can’t watch, but I can listen to the fans. It’s like an expensive radio.
Ah, radio! Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me at 11 am on Vermont Public Radio on Saturdays (or podcast) has you hooting no matter what mood you’re in. Get in a car or go to vermontpublic.org and play it there as you putter about if you own no radio. Who does?
Word to unload in 2023: this “huddle” word used in business, for “small group meeting.” It comes from sports, but it sounds way too much like “cuddle.” Cuddling with coworkers…the visual…snort.
In closing, I acknowledge that Dear Reader is tired. We all are. Sleep more while the nights are still long. Sleep well. Dream of dropped balls retrieved with ease, and laughter, and problems solved, and hope. Good rest, good year, and good day.
There seems to be some pushback this year, in various media, against the “Magic of Christmas.” I understand. Times have changed. It’s not Bing Crosby’s holiday so much any more. Hallmark’s cookie-cutter Christmas movies seem woefully out of touch. (The personal assistant saves the day and wins the heart of the widowed billionaire… again! The guy on the Snow Ball committee helping the down-and-out girl, able to value her quirky ways, is secretly… a prince… again! With the requisite cookie-baking scene…flour on his and her noses… adorable!). What happened to the good stories? They used to be good.
This year perhaps more than most, money is an issue, germs remain an issue, and weather, fuel costs and world events are bringing us down. Power outages have caused many people and businesses real hardship. Perhaps a creature or person you love died. It’s hard to care much about the Perfect Gift—or even wrapping it. I, for one, used to get very, very into wrapping.
They say nostalgia glosses over the past. Makes it seem prettier or more enchanted than it was at the time. As a nostalgic, who talks to other nostalgics, I don’t buy that. We say it was in fact enchanted. The following story illustrates when Christmas was pure magic.
I preface the tale with my own childhood proclivity for holiday snooping. Driven in part by our keen sense of smell, my siblings or I would notice something in December when we went to, say, get a towel from the closet. That smell. Sniff, sniff. Why does it smell like that in here? The unmistakable smell of… fun.
The smell of toys. Plastics. Whatever they pumped into the air in toy stores to make you want live there. That smell was, weirdly, right in our own closet. Let us get a step stool and investigate! Dear Reader knows where I’m going with this. Snooping for presents secreted away by the parents during the weeks leading up to December 25th. Many of them mercifully already wrapped by the grandparents and aunts who’d mailed them.
On to the story. I hope to do it justice.
My Vermont friend was a little boy growing up with his older brother in the 1960s. Remarkably, their parents took seasonal nighttime jobs in addition to their already demanding day jobs in order to pull together a nice Christmas for their two sons. Which left the sons entirely to their own devices several nights per week. At which point the snooping naturally began.
They found in a closet one year a well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. Overcome with excitement, they got on the step stool and brought it down. Very, very carefully, they unboxed it. And proceeded to put it together. It was complicated and took a long while. Then they played with it happily for hours. With an eye to the clock, they very, very carefully re-boxed it, got on the step stool, and put it away. Each night they went through this ritual. Each night they got faster at assembling the set, and at re-packaging it perfectly.
On Christmas day the boys could have won Oscars® for the gleeful surprise they displayed upon opening the well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. They were eager to put it together, this time without fear that they might get caught. The train set was finally theirs.
The parents were beside themselves with the Christmas Day delight they had brought to their sons. All their hours of hard work had paid off. They felt as much joy as their sons. Their joy was overtaken by astonishment. Look at them go! Our boys! How could our sons be this clever, this talented, that they could assemble the thing with such rapidity? They must be advanced, possibly even geniuses! Clearly, they must go into engineering.
I love that story. I don’t know if they ever told their parents—ask David Atkinson for the full story. For now, it stands as is: a charming, true tale told at dinner one night at a holiday party in Vermont. It brought the house down. Magical times revisited.
The story takes me back to our own childhood. When Mommy would make a huge deal about snowfall, illuminating the outside lights and opening the curtains so we kids could gaze at the different sizes and shapes of the swirling flakes. When Dad building a fire was a thrilling and special occasion; even the dog got excited. When hot chocolate was made by us children with 50% marshmallows—the big, fat, “jet-puffed” kind—as tinsel clung to our polyester pants and dog, and the parents sloshed brandy into their eggnog. Our hearts soared at the holidays.
Now Mommy is gone and Dad can’t build a fire. But there is still something about snow falling, seeing someone drive by with a carefully selected tree atop their car, children terrified or overjoyed to meet Santa at a town gazebo, and the first few bars of pretty much any Bing Crosby carol. It legitimizes our nostalgia. There was holiday magic. There was. I was there, I felt it. As, hopefully, Dear Reader, did you. If we can’t feel it this year, for whatever reasons, let us quietly watch others feel it. It’s out there. Even if we’re taking a year off ourselves. Good (holi)day to all, with love and memories.
Tip for Parents: Hide the step stool.
All the old Vermont post cards depicting fall foliage had on the back the phrase, “ablaze with color!”
Ever since I had a tiny bush at my then-house go ablaze 20 years ago, I’ve looked for the underdogs during foliage season.
Look at this runty little feller, admired by none.
Virginia Creeper, I presume.
Truly sad. But it’s happy you’re looking at it!
This is some kind of weed. But ablaze.
I love this thing. No idea what it is. Wait –there’s an app for that (“Seek”)!
It’s a Smokebush. I highly recommend. Obviously can stand nasty winters and summer drought. Doesn’t grow too quickly.
It drops mini tumbleweeds. And it’s turning…maroon.
Surprised you made it this far.
Every dog has its day? Not always, IMHO, but today they did.
THANK YOU from the underdogs of foliage.
Our small church in Randolph, Vermont, which takes “our hands doing the work of God” seriously, undertook a risky initiative early this summer. No religious affiliation was required.
Myrhorod (pronounced by Americans as MEER-A-GWOD) is our Vermont town’s “sister city” in the middle of Ukraine, 5,000 miles away. When the invasion began, concerned people from our town who had traveled to Myrhorod decades ago got in touch with its residents.
Our fretting town learned that the residents were gearing up their hospital because the city was becoming a haven for refugees from areas under attack (refugees currently number 30,000). Ukrainians that had left home with only a backpack and the clothes on their back.
So, during Lent, our church got the crazy idea of shipping medical supplies, clothing, and other critical items from Vermont to a cargo ship in New Jersey, across the ocean, and on to the Poland-Ukraine border. The Myrhorodians would take it from there (1000s of miles across land, under threat of piracy).
The incredible outpouring from our community over the weeks, including corporate sponsors who donated manpower and supplies, made me bawl. Vermonters of all ages with very little money of their own dropped off blankets or a stuffed animal or bandages, writing checks for 10 dollars. The church filled with supplies. With 93 year-old goddess Irene at the helm, volunteers sorted and boxed it all. The Youth Group painted beautiful messages of hope on the boxes. I bawled more.
I remember Lee at church first saying when she proposed this “Project Dove” to the congregation, “How likely is it that our shipment will make it all the way there? We don’t know. So we can either not try, or… try…and see what happens.” Well, here’s what happened:
Miracles happen. Keep trying. You just never know.
Here we go. The Night Blooming Cereus night blooms once again! It reminds me of women giving birth in the back of a taxicab.
Ah, the guts are becoming visible.
It’s like the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau in there. Or another planet. Or a concert with the diva star out front.
Can’t photograph the smell.
(Photo courtesy of Chris.)
Thanks for the show, NBC, after your harrowing 80-mile ride.
You’re a tuffie. We LERV you.
The NBC did NOT bloom last night as I badly needed it to before I skipped town. Unable to leave her to bloom unobserved, I enlisted a kindly neighbor to get her in the car, knowing full well how unlikely the bud would hang onto the plant during my drive east. What with my crap suspension system and Vermont roads and all. She is buoyed by an old printer, a pillow, a beater bathing suit, and a back rest.
We stopped at my favorite gas station in the world, Irving (Hello!). I added an ugly brown fleece to the support system.
There is no way I am the only nutter in the history of the world to take a blooming cereus on the road rather than let it bloom alone. Hopefully another nutter will report in.
Praying this one makes it to New Hampshire, but if it doesn’t, hell, we tried.
I have never named the plant. On the drive it came to me: Luna.
We made it to New Hampshire. Thank you, Forces!
My hosts and I took a celebratory pond dip. Heavenly.
See the fraying tip?
It’s uncertain, though, because the stem is too bent where it comes out of the leaf, due to sag during the drive. I’m afraid to adjust it. We’ll report in as able, Luna and I.
Couple days ago.
I was told that when she starts to turn pinkish, the big moment is coming. She’s been pink for days, but I know two things. The bud has to be FATTER, and the very ends of the bloom begin to FRAY right before it’s time for BLAST OFF.
Not there yet.
Last night. The stem, if you will grows directly out of the leaf somehow (you can see this, like, feeder vein in the leaf). It starts to bend upwards.
The stem also gets PHAT. To send all those nutrients, fluids, energy, and LERV to the bud for Show Time, one night a year.
This is the first year I noticed how much the stem bends into a J shape, just like the Monarch caterpillar before it spins its chrysalis.
Sacred geometry? Sacred Spelling? Who know, who cares…something’s coming, something good. Maybe tonight, maybe tonight….maybe toniiiiiiiiiiiiight!!!
There has been a series of hatchling batches over the last few weeks, so they’re different ages. I missed my shot with this big fatty elder-pillar who was perfect to bring indoors in a container to do its chrysalis thing.
But I was going out of town and didn’t want to drag the poor thing along. I only hope it wasn’t eaten by a bird.
The milkweed plant serves several purposes. A place to hang your hat, a buffet to be ravaged, and…
And a latrine.
I’m not sure where they sleep, but they climb down the milkweed well before dusk. Surely napping not far from their beloved milkweed plant that provides All. A home you can eat!
Hoping to show you a chrysalis from one of the now-toddlers one day soon.