Category Archives: Good News

The Little Engine That Could, Part Deux

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®.

The New Year: Just Grab That Ball and Keep Running

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 5Silicon 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.

O Come, Let Us Assemble It    

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.

Monarch Metamorphosis

A friend told me how her young sons pick a caterpillar from a milkweed plant every year. They put it into a container with some milkweed leaves for sustenance, and mesh over the top.

Crazily, the next day, this guy crawled towards me as I sat on our steps. I texted my friend a photo; she confirmed this was indeed a monarch caterpillar.

No idea what he was thinking, there was no greenery whatsoever in the direction he was headed. I grabbed the only container I could find. Clearly, the Forces had sent him my way.

It wasn’t a great container, but I was in a rush, afraid a bird would grab him.

He didn’t like it in there too much. He curled into a sad lump despite my careful selection of soil with clover growing in it. My friend said I needed some milkweed leaves and a stick for him to hang off of to do his thing.

Sure enough, he sprung to action.

You can see this is basically the container you get sesame noodles in. Not roomy. How was I to move him to something larger without causing permanent mental damage to us both?

Turned out I didn’t have to move him. Because I saw him that evening hanging upside down from the twig, shaped like the letter “J.”

I wondered, what’s he doing in there, man? I should have stuck around…taken some video…because look what I awoke to the next morning. I know I can watch it on YouTube, but I could have seen it live for God’s sake. It’s astonishing.

As my friend put, “They are like babies being born — always seem to do it at midnight!”

I don’t know what the heck is going on inside that chrysalis, but will research and report in for you. Honestly, how does it HAPPEN? How does he coat his entire self with silk? For that one, watch the short, time-lapsed link above from Fish and Wildlife.

This is how we know there’s something greater than ourselves in the cosmos. Stay tuned.

Think About What You Love

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 I love buying old foods. Things on sale, or holiday treats at 75% off the day after. Twinkies®, for example, expire the 12th of Never; I don’t mind eating red, white and blue dots even in snowfall. I also enjoy buying used medical supplies or ones with sketchy expiration dates on eBay. These toughen my immune system. Also buying electronics Open Box. I’ve never had anything go wrong, and saved a bundle. All I need now is an open box deep fryer and I can spark up those Twinkies—deep-fried, molten logs of dreamy goo. I have some very, very old bulgur I plan to eat. The other ancient grain.

Also loving: the Olympics, even without spectators. Surfing! BMX! Trampo! It doesn’t end till Sunday—closing ceremonies. People find it weird without spectators, but (1) pro sports fans are now used to it, and (2) you’ll see how little attention you actually paid to the audience. The athletes have trained their hearts out for this and Japan is taking a huge financial hit, so I, for one, am watching. There’s nothing like the look on athletes’ faces when they medal against the odds. I always dig the cultural stuff, like Mary Carillo’s train trip to Siberia or history of Russian Vodka (Sochi, 2014) or this year’s hosts plus Al Roker eating Japanese foodstuffs with barely concealed dismay.

I hate to say it, but: get out there and love your freedoms—like now. More COVID shut-downs are likely with variants feeding upon the unvaxed. As a former tracer, I don’t steep myself in virus news, but I do read the Wall St. JournalNew York TimesAtlantic MonthlyThe Herald… I don’t read, like, The Nutter Gazette or Half-Baked Theories Bugle. Pay attention, people, and quit pretending it’s over. Avoid crowds, mask up indoors and avoid close contact! Sigh. I wish it were over, too. 

Meanwhile: the stock market is still going up? How is this possible? One vision I can’t shake is of a bachelor’s DIY “bookshelf.” The kind where they lay a slender board over “legs” of cinderblocks. Only, over time, the low-grade wooden shelf sags more and more and eventually looks like it’s going to bust. Is this our economy? I’m spending on necessities and making charitable gifts because it’s my civic duty—and I love it—but I’m taking no big chances. These are weird tymes that we must surf wisely. Who knows what’s next.

With foreigners, it’s nice to connect with them in their own language, even if it’s only “thank you.” Or something funnier; I won’t tell you what I can say in some languages. People are always amused, grateful for the effort. The best thing we can do to counteract the foul energy of haters and terrorists of all stripes is to be globally loving. If there’s one thing the world needs now, it’s love sweet love (nod to Burt Bacharach). Reach out and touch someone (nod to AT&T). You know, with your words or elbow.

Maybe you, like me, wake at odd hours and fret. I find it helps to briefly ponder the threats to mankind and Mother Earth, then think of locales, people, and creatures you love. You’re soaking in it (nod to Palmolive®). You get this lovely floating feeling, just sending out love to beings and places. I’m pretty sure they receive it.

OBSERVATIONS CORNER

-Everyone got a pandemic puppy now got a pandemic dog.

-Intelligent people are saying “for you and I.” That is incorrect. It’s for you and me, each pronoun as object of the preposition for. Take out the other person. Would you say, “There is one deep-fried Twinkie left for I”? I hope not. In part because I want it for me, or at least half.

-Also: yeah and yea (used in formal voting) mean yesyay means hurrayHell yeah is spelled Hell yeah.

-Autocorrect changes “fully vaxed” to a variety of nonsensical words. My favorite: “waxed.”

-This is your last push to lose the COVID 19 pounds you put on. Before Eating Season kicks in. I hiked Mt. Peg with a ranger pointing out flora and fauna—I highly recommend. Killer views of Quechee—for your picnic at the top!

– I suggested to someone I hadn’t seen in years that he’s starting to look like his father. He said, “Y’know how you look the same for like 10 years, then you age in one year?” I asked, Like a growth spurt? He replied, “Like an old spurt.”

It has been a pleasure communing with you via the (inimitable, formidable, and sorely missed Dickie Drysdale’s) Herald. I send you loving vibrations and heartfelt wishes for a…good day.

Blossom, Blossom, Who’s Got The Blossom?

It’s a miracle, children. A Flag Day miracle.

Thing never blooms this early.

You have to look hard.

Authentic!

Not only did I receive by mail this commemorative print (avec chiens) totally unsolicited, they enclosed a Certificate of Authenticity so that I can be 100% certain it is neither uncertified nor inauthentic.

A friend regarded it with puzzlement. “Like, why wouldn’t it be real? Are people mailing out unsanctioned reproductions of original works of art depicting the White House? And if they were, couldn’t they throw in a dummy Certificate of Authenticity quite easily?”

Duly noted, but this simple certificate gives me a boost of confidence that I, for one, could use in uncertain tymes. As for the Limited Edition part, I’m not sure how very few of us were lucky enough to get one, but the limitedness of it and its sheer authenticity really kind of made my day.

Haven’t decided which part to frame, but either way: Thank you, nutters!

Nothing in This Column Is About COVID

In a college semester abroad, I asked my host family “mother” in Dijon how they could endure the constant peril of WWII.  She said with a certain French intonation that’s hard to describe, “It was wartime. But life went on. We cooked. We ate. We laughed.” I was baffled.

Wiser now, I know that even during wars and pestilence and other supremely difficult tymes, as long we have food in our bellies and a bed, humans find a way to laugh. I lived by a funeral home in Randolph for years, and some of the rowdiest parties I’ve ever heard were wakes. People just rip it up, man. Recalling the deceased’s antics or foibles … hair … footwear … who knows?

Because we all struggle daily now, this month I’ll distract you with gems old and new that made me laugh. Won’t you join me? 

Last month I received a birthday card depicting a fish wearing a halo. I anticipated a joke inside about an “angel fish”  with a reference to my angelic personality. Inside instead was Holy Mackerel! with a reference to my age. I asked my housemate if mackerel was a greasy fish. He said, “Yes, very…Mediterranean. Served with olives and the like.” Holy Mackerel, the official entree of the Vatican. At least on Fridays.

Things sure are weird now, early and often. Reminds me of past peculiarities. Like on a fundraising trip for Dartmouth-Hitchcock when in the hotel gym I came upon a lone, elderly gent motionless on a weight bench at 6 am, pondering. He says, “I’m thinking about a bread.” Originally from New York where such encounters are common, I ran with it. “What kind of bread?” What he mimed, with a swirling flourish of his hand indicating filling, became clear: “A danish!“ I said. Yes, a danish.  He was thinking about a bread. 

Tech oddities abound now. Why? Who knows? I’ll text someone and the dog walker or my banker gets pulled into the recipient list for no apparently reason. Occasionally, “U” appears on my phone’s calendar. Stands for what, “You” Meaning “me”? I scheduled “Me Time”? I hate Me Time. Also “pampering.” Sounds like a big baby who needs coddling and special hands-on “treatments.” Like you’re being diapered. That could be a new service. Big Baby Treatments. $350/hour. It probably already exists.

In August, my phone Facetimed someone by itself while sitting on a table. I hadn’t summoned Siri and, besides, what could I possibly have said that rhymes with “FaceTime Colleen” —Peacetime Latrine?  Holstein CareensSpacetime Continuum?  I don’t say those very often. Sometimes my texts, right before I send them, now add Yes! at the end. It happens too quickly for me to delete.  It’s generally to comedic effect, whether making sense or not within the context of the text (e.g., “Let’s go biking. Yes!” Or: “I can’t stand that place. Yes!”). But does it make me appear an overly enthusiastic dork? Yes!

Recently, my dear Vermont nutters and I held a gathering that was a competition, a Curbside Drop-Off. Our hostess dusted off her FREE sign, and we each put unwanted but usable items – chicken wire, tires (mine), an old Atlas, a tabletop Santa Claus – at her roadside curb as we cocktailed and watched from a distance far enough so as to not intimidate our “shoppers.” The odds were heavily in favor of my tires going first, and I was anticipating this big win, but no:  the marital aids, in concert with two plastic pumpkins. God love the playful young couple that claimed them, and the

timeless allure of silicone and plastics. My tires eventually went; some items didn’t go; prizes were awarded. I won nothing, but was handed the booby prize by someone who didn’t want it: a can of mushroom pieces and stems. Usable? Yes!

The last laugh involves foliage, which was as spectacular that year as it was this year, presumably due to drought. I grabbed an old camera with film in it and took a friend who can’t drive on a scenic tour of the foliage. I made him pose against stunning vistas and ravines, the colors forming a rich background for his handsomeness. When I finally got the film developed months later, surprise! The film had been black and white. We laffed and laffed. B&W foliage shots: a first? Yes! And last.

Okay, I lied. One thing I must relay to you in closing. The good news is that, while COVID tracing, I speak to families from all over the world that were born or now live in the US. Sometimes in English, sometimes with a translator. Astonishingly, almost everyone is very nice, regardless of race, birthplace, gender or age, wealth or poverty, how midly or hard-hit they are by the disease… and almost all agree to stay home so as to contain the virus. Mediterraneans, Danish, Americans… Most people are good. So don’t pay too much attention to American politics right now, it’ll sink your view of humankind. We’re just not that bad. Good day.

Night Blooming — But Cereusly, Folks

My Night Blooming Cereus, which has suddenly grown up, is going to put on a hell of a show this year. Multiple blooms, surely!

It’s gotten so leggy I can’t move it to the middle of the room for a viewing party this year or the delicate flowers can fall off, which I assure you is tragic. No one can come over to see it anyway — unless I set up some ridiculous one-way walk-through with floor arrows and a :15 timer (which I just might do). BUT: the window. Hmm. There’s a spot by the hydrangea for people to view NBC’s glory from outside, like a creature in a zoo. I can open a different window and, with a fan, blow the scent all over the neighborhood; its smell is half the fun.  I’ll do a time-lapse for ya if the reflective glass allows a decent recording.

You can see the first year here, with some background info.

(The sad part is that any COVID shopper will understand “floor arrows.”)

A Modern Stone Age Family

. . . must have used this slot for processing transactions, like payments for commissioned cave paintings and wooly mammoth chops.

Other ideas?

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