Posts filed under ‘Life Preservers’

The Blue Hydrangea

Two years ago today, we lost Mom.

It’s been a terribly long time. And just a blink.

I remember, on the day of funeral visitation, two of our neighbors made dinner for us. When we stopped home between the afternoon and evening sessions, there was a delicious meal waiting, the tables were set with linens and silverware, and each table held a vase of fresh-cut flowers. Our two-doors-up neighbor Diana had contributed the blooms from her own blue hydrangea bushes. I remember thinking that Mom would have loved the gorgeous simplicity of those bouquets.

After the funeral, as each bloom wilted, I felt sad and wistful, as you feel about small losses that follow a big one. Eventually, only one bloom remained. I checked on it each morning and would be so relieved to see that it had not yet wilted. That single bloom lifted my spirits. It outlasted July. It lasted through August. It lasted into September! It remained vibrant and flowering and had even sprouted new growth. The blue hydrangea on the window sill began to feel like something more than a flower. Diana and I both agreed, it was a message from Mom.

Yes. I know that conclusion is unlikely to be substantiated by any botanist. But, in times of impossible longing, we don’t really want science; we want magic.

I don’t know how long the magic might have lasted if I had just let it be, but, about midway through September, I had the brilliant idea that I should plant it. I did so, lovingly and carefully, and it looked great, for a bit. But then, one day, I looked close and discovered that the stem had become a stick.

I was so disappointed. I had failed, miserably. I had ruined something irreplaceable. And (I can chuckle about it now) I kept that dumb stick in a pot of dirt for a very long time.

Eventually, I decided I should buy one for myself, but you know how it goes. Regret dampens your enthusiasm. Times passes. You think of it, but there’s no time for the extra errand. You have no time to clear a spot in the garden. There are no blue hydrangeas in stock. There’s a global pandemic.

As of July 12, 2021, I still did not have any blue hydrangeas. Then, my phone dinged. I had a text message from Diana:  Stop up when you get a chance.

I walked to her house and there, in a plastic container in the corner of her driveway, was a plant. I said, “Is that a hydrangea!?” She nodded. She’d dug up one of her beautiful blue hydrangea bushes, dug it up, root ball and all. I gasped. We hugged. It was one of the nicest acts of kindness, one of the very best surprises I have ever had. We shared a lovely moment. Then, we were grunting and giggling as we loaded that gigantic planter into a wheel barrow.

Friends, I give you the Blue Hydrangea, life preserver, show-stopping shrub, symbol of friendship, message from Mom.  

July 20, 2021 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

With Love to Aunt Theresa

All this talk of vaccinations got me thinking about my cousins and my Aunt Theresa, who was a nurse.

The occupation of adult relatives is not something you are generally aware of when you are seven years old. Additionally, it is unlikely at that age that you would have any inkling that nurses sometimes give out shots to family members. And, had it been you, you would have remained completely and blissfully unaware of the potentialities one fall evening when your Dad said, “We’re going to visit your cousins! Get your coats on and get in the car!”

Getting together with cousins was a particularly good time. It is still fun to see those people, but, when we were kids, it was epic. We saw my grandmother regularly, but a gathering of all 7 families with all 18 cousins was only undertaken on rarer occasions, like Thanksgiving, when the hosts would have a year to recover.

So, the idea of going to see my cousins, in the evening, on a weeknight, was unprecedented. I was giddy. I was thrilled. I have always loved good surprises. I shimmied into my coat and jumped in the car. And, when we arrived at my Aunt Theresa and Uncle John’s house, I dashed to the door, eager for hugs and laughter.

We were the last to arrive. When we stepped into the house, everybody else was standing in a line that appeared to begin somewhere in the kitchen before meandering to the living room. I remember feeling slightly confused, but I happily got in line, aware of the goodies that came from my Aunt Theresa’s kitchen and anticipating the treat that awaited us all.

As we stood in line, innocent and jolly. As we shuffled closer to our doom. As I heard snippets of the adult conversation and a few odd yelps. As people returned to the living room without a slice of cake. The realization dawned:  We are here to get flu shots!

I don’t believe I have ever been quite that disappointed before or since. I was crying before I reached the kitchen. I cried when I got my shot. And I was one tearful and cranky kid during the long ride home.

Let’s just say that I handle getting a flu shot better as an adult than I did as a kid.

To be honest, I have handled it “better” by never getting a flu shot throughout my adult life. And, in 2019, when my Dad’s PCP told me that not getting the flu vaccine was tantamount to risking the lives of all old people who crossed my path, I felt extra guilty for not getting a flu shot.

Then, last fall, with the complications of Covid in the air, I knew what I had to do. I tricked myself into the car, drove to the drug store, and walked in. Spoke to the pharmacist. Filled out paperwork. And was told to get in line. The line led to a smaller room in the back.

Eerily similar. But I did not expect cake.  

My name was called; I entered the room; the door closed. I was told to sit and bare my arm, and I complied. I looked straight ahead and focused on my breathing. I disassociated as if I were in a three-day meeting to examine, discuss, and practice the power of teamwork. I was only slightly aware that the nurse was chatting pleasantly on my left. I do not think she could sense my terror or hear the screams inside my head of “Stop talking and get it over with! Do it already. Do it! C’mon!!!!! Dude. Just give me the shot.” I waited.  

Then, she told me to leave.

Ha! It was over and I never felt it. Not a thing. No stab. No pain. No amused chuckles of once-trusted relatives. Not a poke. Not a pinch.

Needles and syringes have changed a bit in the past 50 years. But I still love good surprises.

So, I will get in line for my Covid vaccine when I’m able. I’m sending out a bunch of love to all those (older) cousins who are ahead of me in line. And I’ll raise a shot to my dear Aunt Theresa, who was a lovely woman, a funny lady, a caring human, and a Life Preserver.

March 22, 2021 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

For the Love of Seuss

I generally try to avoid conflict on my blog, but I am compelled to say something about a favorite life preserver (books) and the recent uproar over Dr. Seuss. It is a timely and rather ironic example of poor communication habits and the gigantic barfnozzle of social media. Here are some pieces of the actual story:

  • The decision was made to remove some books from publication. Not all books. Probably not your favorites.
  • The decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a company founded by Dr. Seuss’ family to protect his legacy and preserve his memory.
  • After months of discussion, which included feedback from parents and teachers, the company decided to remove 6 books from publication: (1) To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, (2) If I Ran the Zoo, (3) McElligot’s Pool, (4) On Beyond Zebra!, (5) Scrambled Eggs Super!, and (6) The Cat’s Quizzer.
  • The decisions were made primarily based on outdated imagery. Examine the stories for yourself. I suspect that, if you are a decent Whovian and you had been on the panel—with an eye to protecting his memory as well as the hearts of those he wrote for—you would support the decisions.

So here we are. The company in charge of Dr. Seuss books, with much thought and good intent, made some changes to keep up with the progress that society has made in the past 80 years. But, someone took a nugget of that news and twisted it into an attack on Dr. Seuss (which it is not); people started making memes that the famous Cat had been removed (which he has not); some even tried to politicize it (ya crazy conspiratinkers), and boom. Within moments people were blowing their floofloovers and banging their tartookas over click bait.

The passion to protect Dr. Seuss may be genuine, but it is misguided. Dr. Seuss is fine. (Well, you know, he’s dead, but his fame remains.) His books are beloved. His lessons are positive. His imagination is inspiring. Maybe not every single phrase or illustration will stand the test of time, but that’s okay. I suspect that, if he could, he would do a bit of editing himself.

Change isn’t always bad. Sometimes change comes about from people trying to do the right thing. And memes are never the whole story. If you see news that seems really outrageous, step back from the blindly enthusiastic domino clicking of likes and shares. Take a moment. Take a breath. And embrace the things that Dr. Seuss taught us, like optimism, respect for others, open-mindedness, love, the importance of reading, and the perils of entertaining ideas from crazy strangers.

March 4, 2021 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

Stuffed Shells

Yesterday, for the first time, I made stuffed shells.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal. I’m sure there are those of you who could say, “Honey, I’ve made 300 shells with one hand tied behind my back.” or “I’ve been making those since I was 10.” or “Whoop-de-do for you, ya weirdo.” And that’s fine. I’m not writing this to impress people. Feeding people brings me joy. (And food and joy are life preservers.)

Yes, friends, I was intimidated by pasta. I always thought stuffed shells were rather fancy and complicated. It seemed like one of those things that required you to have lots of practice, Italian heritage, and fewer than 3 points left on your record for prior kitchen disasters.

Which reminds me that I did actually try to make stuffed shells once before. That recipe called for homemade pesto rather than store-bought marinara. Here’s what I can tell you:

  • You generally shouldn’t attempt to use a blender when a recipe says food processor.
  • If garlic jams in blender blades, always turn the blender off before removing the lid for a closer look.
  • Even in a small kitchen, it takes years to find every splat of pesto.

I wish I could share a photograph of my pesto-covered face—blank only where my glasses had been, bangs “moussed” straight up—but this occurred in the days before cell phones.

So, I guess it’s fair to say that it wasn’t just my lack of an Italian grandmother that made me hesitate to try my hand at stuffed shells. But, yesterday, I needed to make dinner for two different households—one with a person who was part Italian/part Vegetarian—and I thought of shells. They would be easily dividable and, if all went well, would be nice enough to be given as a “gift meal.”

If all went well.

Googling brought me to Dinner at the Zoo and an easy-to-follow recipe. (Thank you, Sara.)

As many of you probably already know, I should not have been afraid. It was laughably simple. Stuffed shells are a bit fiddly and somewhat time-consuming (for a person who has been known to open a bag of chips and jar of salsa for dinner), but they are not difficult. There were no crazy ingredients, no complicated techniques, and mama mia! they were delicious. Roar! ROAR! I am woman! I made stuffed shells! Whoop-de-do for me! (Yes, I am a weirdo. But, I’m okay with that.)

To this small story of culinary success, I will add just a dash of philosophy: If you want to be able to do a thing, but it seems too difficult, give it a try. If we never attempt anything new, we will never see the extent of our abilities, and we miss out on some of life’s simple joys.

Watch out for pesto, though.

February 15, 2021 at 5:33 pm 2 comments

Dearest Diary

In 1991, my Mom, Dad, Aunt Mitzie, and Uncle Bill retired, and they decided to celebrate with a road trip across the country. They left Pennsylvania in a van, headed West. For 40 days, they drove across the United States and back again, seeing sights, visiting old friends, and proving that life after retirement is still an adventure. From August 1 to September 9, my Mom and my Aunt took turns writing in a blank book, keeping a daily diary of their trip.

I recently came across that book. (Wow.) And noted that it was written 29 years ago. (Whoa.) I am now one year younger than my Aunt and one year older than my Mom while they were on that trip.

{Please type your own cliché about how time flies because I need both hands to stop my head from spinning.}

It’s 2020. Just a little over a year since we lost Mom to dementia. Just a little over a year since my Aunt moved into a care facility for the same heinous disease. To open a book and hear their voices again, clear and strong, sweet and smart, cracking jokes and spying rainbows. Well. It’s wonderful. Or, it’s what wonderful would be if you could drink a glass of it and feel it tingle your belly, lift the hair on your arms, and blur your vision a bit.

This massive dose of joy impels me to suggest, to nudge, to encourage, to shout from a rooftop to anyone who might listen: You should keep a diary. And perhaps this year of odd lulls and extra space is the perfect time to start.

Buy a fancy journal or get a notebook from the dollar store. Make your own rules, but give it a try. Create a paper time capsule in which to stash silly, boring, beautiful moments. The moments that don’t make it into frame or album. The moments that go by in a blink. The bazillion little bits of life that make up the everyday: What you had for breakfast, an inside joke, the price of gas, your favorite snacks, songs to sing, places you’ve been, the way a day can go from rain to sun.

Whether you decide to write a diary or not, take a moment today to notice that life is extraordinary. And so are you. Cheers.

September 6, 2020 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Free Doodle Friday

On my Facebook page, I take requests for Free Doodles that I post on Fridays. Here are some samples. If you would like to make a request for the next Free Doodle Friday, visit my Facebook page. For more information about custom requests for business or personal use, you can contact me via my website.

All images are the property of me. All rights reserved. Etc. Any questions, get in touch. Happy Friday!

BethSlagel_RGB

Free Doodle Friday request (a different Beth S.):  A princess riding a unicorn with puppies.

Free Doodle Friday:  Elvis Walking Around

Free Doodle Friday request (Lynn H.):  Elvis walking around wearing a mask.

Squirrely Squirrel

Free Doodle Friday request (Marki M.):  A squirrely squirrel.

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 11.44.45 AM

Free Doodle Friday request (Meg A.): Two college boys with flippy hair staring at their iPhones while the world passes them by. To view the full video, click here.

June 19, 2020 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

MacGyver Mode

LP_Macgyver

I live with my Dad. His car is in the house garage, and I rent a garage across the street. One day, my garage door opener remote stopped working. (The garage door opener worked fine; it just did not work using the remote.)

We called our garage guy . . . who said that it was an old system and suggested we replace the entire garage door opener, with a quote of $500-600.

Whoa. It’s not even our garage. And, while it is an older model, there is nothing wrong with the mechanism. Plus, I am perfectly capable of getting out of the car to open a garage door. (I’m old enough to remember when me and my siblings took turns being the garage door opener.) So I went into MacGyver Mode:  that’s when I believe I can figure out anything and am surprised when it takes me more than an hour.

Well, the remote needs a battery. The $1 battery didn’t work. The $10 battery didn’t work. While trying batteries, I did notice that the remote had no way to reset or change frequency.

We probably need a new remote. I checked around. Our extra remote did not work either. And, on all of eBay, there was one.

Let’s ask the manufacturer. Genie customer service tells me there is no replacement remote. They recommend that we get a new garage door opener.

Let’s check amazon for universal remotes anyway. (MacGyver Mode has a sidekick named Stubborn Girl.) Okay. It’s confirmed. Universal remotes will not work on the Genie Model 450.

Let’s check the system. And there’s me on a ladder, checking connections, unplugging things, plugging things back in, unscrewing things, searching the garage floor for screws, etc.

Well, that didn’t work. Let’s visit the internet. Hmmm. It appears as if the problem is that the frequency used on this old model has become too overcrowded OR the remote receiver itself is kaput. Either way, there are products designed to update the signal/change the frequency without installing a completely new garage door opener. Sweet!

Hello amazon. Ooh. I found the Genie GIRUD-1T. I felt nearly certain that, for under a hundred bucks, I could have the solution delivered to my door. But then what?

Okay, YouTube, what have you got? Yes! A-ha! It is indeed do-able. Step-by-step instructions are playing right before my eyes. But. Oh. It requires electrical wiring.

Note:  I once MacGyver’ed myself into a situation that ultimately resulted in me making a solemn vow to never do electrical work ever again. And a promise is a promise.

Ah. Well.

So, we called the garage guy again and explained that we didn’t think we needed a whole new garage door opener but were curious about replacing the old receiver with a Genie GIRUD-1T or something like that. That guy shared his opinion of “people who find things on amazon!” and never got back in touch.

Okay.

Then we called our new garage guy (David P. Giel Garage Doors, Allison Park) and explained the situation. This guy showed up within 48 hours, fixed the door in about 15 minutes, and charged only $125. Best of all, he was really nice to my Dad who has been a caged social butterfly for nearly 4 months. The smile on Dad’s face was worth every penny and then some.

It was the receiver that needed to be replaced. So I had been in the ballpark with pretty good seats. But I’m relieved that all I had to do was sit back and cheer.

 


If you are in the Pittsburgh area and need help with your garage door, I very highly recommend:

David P. Giel Garage Doors
4055 William Flinn Highway (Route 8)
Allison Park, PA  15101
(412) 487-7295


 

 

 

June 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Happy Mother’s Day, a Little Bit Late

bethaschmidt lifepreserversblog tea partyWhen I was a child my built-in girlfriend and playmate was my sister. We dressed up, played dolls, did arts & crafts, and enjoyed a lot of basement make-believe. One day, as we two princesses were sharing invisible lunch at the kid-size table, Mom came in and presented us with a special tea set.

It was the tea set that she and her sister had played with when they were children. We liked it. But. I don’t think we appreciated it. We were not careful enough, or perhaps we were only young and clumsy—it’s not like we were sipping fake whiskey and then throwing the cups into a pretend fireplace—but, on multiple occasions, Mom had to come in and clean up another shattered piece.

It is impossible to look back and remember exactly how I felt in my child’s mind, but I suspect that I didn’t feel bad enough. I am almost certain that I did not empathize with Mom’s feelings. I am absolutely sure I did not fully understand them then.

It is one of the most marvelous and vital a-has of adulthood to realize our parents are people, too. It’s the thing that makes up for the moment when you learned about Santa.

Our Mom gave us everything we needed and then some. She gave up new things for herself to make sure that we got extra things. And I’m afraid that we behaved like hooligans. We broke her tea cups. And we used to raid her closet to play dress-up. I remember one occasion when we took a dress and other things that still had tags on them, and we went romping around, indoors and out, wearing her brand-new clothes.

We never did that again. The house had a new rule:  We were forbidden to go through her closet. (Poor mites. We had to make do with the gigantic barrel full of her dresses, shoes, purses, scarves, jewelry, and other accessories she had previously donated to play time.)

A couple of years ago, I moved back into my parents’ home. Yesterday, I broke a rule. I stole from her closet again. When I awoke on Mother’s Day—my first Mother’s Day without my Mom—I was missing her. I went to her closet and took out a robe that she liked. I wore it all day. I was still wearing it in the afternoon when, on eBay, while looking for something else entirely, I chanced upon a tea set that looked familiar.

When the new old pieces arrive, I’ll slip them into Mom’s curio cabinet, next to the other pieces that survived our childhood. And I will invite my sister to tea—very careful tea—the next time she’s in town.

I know most people don’t need to hear it, but perhaps I need to say it, so forgive me if this next bit feels at all preachy.

Don’t ever take your Mom for granted. Enjoy every single minute that you can with her and, whenever you get the chance, make the effort to return her most special things, like Generosity of Spirit, Undivided Attention, and Unconditional Love.

Happy Mother’s Day, a little bit late.

 

 

May 11, 2020 at 5:11 pm 2 comments

Keep Your Hands Clean

Don’t let these odd times damage your point of view. There are lots of good people out there. There are people trying to figure out COVID-19. There are people trying to manage policies and next steps. There are people concerned about their loved ones. And we are all human, each and every one.

Yes, some people will horde. Some people will try to take advantage. Some people will do anything for profit. But remember that acts of craziness get attention—because they shock and surprise, because they are not normal.

One thought:  Manufacturing and distribution systems (and employee shifts for shelf-stocking) run on data from normal, everyday shopping habits, not the habits of people who were all told at the same time that they have to stay home for two weeks. Changes in group behaviors, even when we are trying to do our best, can be misinterpreted or misrepresented.

Look at your family. Look at your neighbors and friends. You are good people.

I believe that most people are good. I believe people want to help. I believe that human beings, as a vast majority, are brave and funny and kind.

Here is one example. Last night, KDKA news showcased Rocco’s Pizzeria in Youngwood, PA. They are making and giving away free lunches for kids. The owner, Rocco Pifferetti, says he promises to do it for two weeks, longer if he can. (The Trib Live website is keeping a list of other restaurants doing the same.)

I suspect that donations to these wonderful humans would be welcome.

Crisis situations are going to provide an interesting view of the world. Remember to look through your own eyes. Keep your head. Keep your heart. And keep your hands clean.

Seussquote

March 18, 2020 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

With a last name like Schmidt, you probably wouldn’t expect me to be Irish, but my mother was Irish. We have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and, in the past 10 years or so, the annual gathering included me, my mom and dad, and my uncle and aunt (Mom’s also-Irish sister). We’d all wear green, put on leprechaun hats, and cook up something like shepherd’s pie or corned beef. Then we’d sing some special songs and raise a glass to our Irish relations and ancestors. The mixture of tradition and shenanigans made it one of my favorite days of the year.

As happens in life, sometimes you do a thing, and you don’t know that you are doing it for the last time. I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Mom on March 17, 2019. In July, she passed away.

In January of this year, I saw an advertisement that the traditional Irish band The Chieftains was going to be in Pittsburgh in March. I cannot claim to be an expert, but I have an album or two that I like. It was called a good-bye tour, so I thought it might be my last chance to see them. And I thought of St. Patrick’s Day and how March was going to be a tough milestone. And, in that moment of jumbled sentiment, I bought tickets.

When the day of the concert arrived (March 9), I considered whether I should go. I had some concerns about germs. I had greater concerns about a previous occasion when I bought tickets to a (potentially) similar performance that turned out to be excruciating. And, beneath it all, I was experiencing the inertia that often threatens to overwhelm me these days when I anticipate going anywhere that requires makeup, bra, and shoes.

But I’d paid for the ticket and invited a friend, so I went. I went expecting to see three old Irish guys sitting on a stage with a flute, a tin whistle, and a drum.

The three guys were there all right (and they are phenomenal), but they were not alone on stage. There were also tap dancers, Irish step dancers, and The Pilatzke Brothers (a mix of Irish step, tap, crazy legs, and boyish abandon). There was a pipes and drum band. There were singers. There were fiddle players, a harpist, a guitar and accordion player, and, for the second half of the concert, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Talk about your bells and whistles. It was quite an extravaganza and one of the best musical shows I have ever seen/heard anywhere. All the adjectives feel trite, but it was superb, inspiring, moving, wondrous, magical.

There were jigs and good humor a’plenty. There was laughing, toe-tapping, and clapping. There were also ballads. Oh the ballads. When they played the sweeping melodies of the slow songs—haunting, beautiful, magnificent—I was done in. Had I been alone, I would have wept. Not for grief or longing or sadness or regret (although there was a bit of all of that). Not for joy or beauty or love (although there was a bit of all of that).

I wanted to weep for being. 

It’s not the prettiest of analogies, but:  If you ever had an old furnace with a re-usable metal filter and if you ever removed that filter and took it outside and turned the hose on full blast and blew all the gunk away . . . and in the end, the filter is sunlight-glinting clean and it can function again . . . it was kind of like that.

Live music, when it’s really good, it’s physical. It creates and transfers an energy, like an ancient Ley line from performer to audience, that vibrates every cell. It lifted me. It carried me. It was metamorphic.

We humans need music. We need music like we need air and water. (It’s a life preserver.)

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, take in some music. Blast your stereo, buy the tickets, support some local musicians, or just encourage your descendants to sing and play and stomp their feet.

To Rebecca Douglas, my great, great, great grandmother; to the Crokers and the Yochums and the McNallys; to the Maloneys; to the Daughertys. To Aunt Mitz. To Mom.

To you all, Sláinte.

 

Video:  One of the Chieftains (Matt Molloy) playing Easter Snow.

March 13, 2020 at 5:05 pm 2 comments

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