Category Archives: Personal

CHRISTMAS MANIA

Originally posted November, 2012.

For Biff and Bill, two of my younger brothers

Christmas has always been, throughout my life, the most special holiday of all. I was one of seven children and we were encouraged at a very young age to give presents to one another, our parents and our grandparents. Consequently, as Christmas approached, there would be much giggling and whispering, along with outraged threats when one became annoyed with a sibling. “Just for THAT, you aren’t going to get a Christmas present from ME!”

Of course, those threats were never carried out and as Christmas approached, we all fell pell-mell into a frenzy of shopping, making and wrapping up presents. I remember Santa ornaments made out of walnut shells, a lot of Woolworth’s hair nets and cards of bobby pins, and a bottle of nail polish that had a cap resembling a fingernail. There were dozens of bottles of Midnight in Paris cologne on my mother’s vanity and odd little gifts like miniature German-American dictionaries.

For we didn’t, of course, have much money–this was in the early 1940s after the end of World War II. The gifts we children made or bought were devised out of our own ingenuity or resources. We didn’t have any such thing as an allowance, and it was difficult to earn money. We did, though. We mowed lawns and shoveled snow; I sold greeting cards from Cardinal Craftsman for my mother, to the neighbors; we picked apples from my grandmother’s back yard trees and cherries from our own back yard. We ran errands for all the neighbor ladies (usually good for a nickel—but sometimes all you got was a cookie…it was considered bad etiquette to ask in advance how much you might get for running an errand. You ran the errand, and then crossed your fingers.
We collected soda pop bottles which were worth two cents each, and cashed them in. When we got a little older, there were babysitting jobs and paper routes and for my older brother, Jim, setting bowling pins at St Bonnie’s bowling alley (before automatic pinsetters were invented). He also had a parttime job working for Durkee Foods, where our Uncle George worked and occasionally brought home items that had expired dates on them. sometimes the expired cans of biscuits would explode when you began to open them.

We saved old gift wrap and ribbons from one year to the next and ironed out the paper and ribbons. We made tags out of old Christmas cards, construction paper and those little stickers that didn’t stick to anything else.

Throughout all of this, as Christmas approached, we memorized Christmas songs—hymns and tunes like “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. I happen to belong to the generation that remembers when Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman were first released. We had the sheet music for piano and learned all the words. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my grandmother’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet and we practiced these melodies ad nauseam, until everyone around us was thoroughly tired of hearing them. When we got tired of hearing each other, my mother would sit down at the piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think, the only Christmas song she knew how to play. She never had lessons and played entirely by ear. Incredible, when I think of it. She was actually pretty good. And because she never could read music, it was probably also why she pushed so hard for us to have music lessons. **

My younger brothers and I went downtown, in Cincinnati, once a year – sometime just before Christmas and a few times right on Christmas Eve day. We’d have our hard-earned pennies and nickels and dimes tightly guarded against potential pickpockets—sometimes as much as a dollar—to shop for Christmas presents. We took the bus from Fairmount to the downtown area, do our shopping, visit all the department store Santas (we knew they weren’t the real Santa but each one was good for a peppermint stick) and have lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter as well. You could get a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle, and a coke, for fifteen cents. We three shared one sandwich, one coke. Bus fare each way was a nickel, leaving us at least seventy five cents to shop with.

Not too many years ago, my childhood girlfriend Carol confessed that she was always jealous of me on those shopping trips.

“ME!” I exclaimed, “Whatever FOR?”
“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than
anybody else.”

My brothers and I have fond memories of those shopping excursions.

Late in the afternoon, we’d board the bus, elated with our purchases and go home to wrap them up in ironed-out previously used gift wrap. I think we ironed out the ribbons too (this was long before pre-made bows became available).

“The funny thing is,” I told my friend, Carol – “I was no more than ten years old when I began taking my brothers downtown. Can you imagine letting one of your own children do that at the age of ten?”
Times have changed, we agreed. **

We listened, from Thanksgiving on, to Santa Claus reading children’s letters on the radio –all the way from the North Pole! That, we knew, was the real honest to goodness Santa. The Santas in Department stores were just helpers.

And throughout all of this planning and preparing, none of us lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. It was there for us to see in the crèche made up of almost-life-size statues in our church. There was a living nativity downtown at Garfield Park that we visited every year too. Real animals. Real Mary and Joseph. Not a real Baby Jesus though. We had advent calendars and we sang Christmas hymns in church and school. We went shopping with our mother and got new shoes at Schiff’s, and a new hat and outfit to wear to church on Christmas morning. I think some of the new clothing was ordered by mail.

Christmas was celebrated, officially, at our house on Christmas Eve. We children were usually sent to my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue, for the afternoon. If my brothers and I had gone shopping that day, we went to grandma’s house afterwards. There wasn’t a hint of Christmas in our own home prior to Christmas Eve. Then my father would come with the car to pick us up. His cousin, Barb, who was my godmother, was often with him. Everyone piled into the car to go home. As we pulled up in front of the house, we would see the lights on the Christmas tree through the living room window. Sometimes snowflakes would begin to fall.

“He’s been here! He’s been here!” all of us children would shriek, tumbling out of the car and up the steps to the house. My mother would meet us at the door. “He’s just leaving!” she’d cry. “If you hurry you might catch a glimpse of him from the back door—“

The pageant never changed. We all shouted the same words every year. My mother’s responses were always the same. We’d fall all over one another trying to catch a glimpse – too late! He was gone – but oh, boy, see what he’s left behind!

The tree would be in a corner of the living room—surrounded, it seemed to our childish eyes, with a tremendous wealth of toys and presents. My mother would call out the names on the packages, one by one. One year she was in the hospital right up until Christmas. She came home to be with the family and had to return to the hospital shortly thereafter. (In retrospect, I think this was a year when she had a miscarriage, followed by a blood transfusion, which led to a bout with Hepatitis—she was in the hospital for most of one winter).

I realize now that there weren’t so many presents under our tree—and much of it consisted of what we gave to one another and the bulk of gifts from our parents were practical –generally socks and underwear –but the delight was always there. My two younger brothers always asked for (and seems like they always received) gun-and-holster sets, like Roy Rogers wore, and wind-up trains that never seemed to last from one year to the next, although my older brother Jim had a Lionel train set that survived a lot of childish abuse.

At a very young age, I developed a great love for books—one of my favorite Christmas memories is the one when my brother Jim gave me five – FIVE! brand new Nancy Drew books. It was heaven.

Is it any wonder that the joy of Christmas spilled over into my adult life? At our house, we began “thinking Christmas” as early as May, when the first raspberries ripened to make raspberry jam. Later, we made pomegranate jelly and pomegranate cordial, and I would begin stocking up on nuts, chocolate chips, sugar and flour, to make fruitcake and cookies. I collected a huge assortment of Christmas books and magazines and the pages often became dog-eared from so much handling as Christmas approached. Every member of the family had their particular favorite cookie and no matter how often I resolved “not to let everything get out of hand this year” by the time I’ve baked everyone’s favorite, every container in the house is filled to the brim with cookies.

When my sons were really little, I’d buy gifts all year long and wrap them as soon as possible, to hide in a closet far out of the reach of inquiring eyes and poking fingers—but no matter how secretive I thought I was, my son Chris’ packages always had a finger hole punched through each one of the packages that had his name on it. (One year, I overlooked an entire box of wrapped gifts and didn’t find it until after Christmas – but we were celebrating Hanukkah with my girlfriend Rosalia and her family, so I took the gifts to her house to give to my sons as Hanukkah presents. They thought celebrating Hanukkah was just fine).

Christmas catalogs started arriving in the mail around in September—happily, I was not alone in my mania and a number of friends shared my enthusiasm; we’d swap catalogs and go through them until they were almost in shreds from handling. The children would go through the catalogs too.

“I want this,” they’d say. “and this…and this…and this…”

We saved fruitcake tins and collected baskets of all sizes. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if each of our friends didn’t receive a goody basket when they came to visit. One year, the boys decorated “gingerbread houses” made out of graham crackers. Another time we made gingerbread boys and girls for all of the children. We have, on different Christmases, baked dozens of different kinds of cookies and confections…not so difficult to do, really. I would make up batches of cookie dough to freeze or refrigerate—this could be done months in advance—then spent a week (evenings only since I worked full time) baking up one batch after another.

When I was a newlywed, our first Christmas tree ornaments were some old glass blown ornaments from Germany that had belonged to my husband’s mother. The original hooks had been lost and my husband, when he was a teenager, had twisted bits of flexible black wire on them instead. We still have those glass ornaments with the black bits of twisted wire. Way back when, I started collecting ornaments – originally with the thought in mind that as each of my sons got married, they would have a collection of their own ornaments. My collection grew so much that it became impossible to get them all on one tree. So we added a second tree. Then a third. Our last Christmas in Arleta in 2007, we had eight Christmas trees throughout the house.
Whenever I went on vacation somewhere, I’d look for a Christmas store—amazing how many cities have one! (Favorite Christmas stores? One near Carmel, California that my sister Becky and I discovered one year, and one in Atlanta, Georgia where we had flown for a niece’s wedding).

Ornaments make great gifts too and over the years my many nieces and nephews have received an assortment of homemade ornaments from Aunt Sandy. One year they received clothespin soldiers, another year a friend’s mother made up crocheted snowflakes for me. Still another Christmas the children received ceramic gingerbread boys and girls that a penpal of mine in Maryland made up for me. And another Christmas, a penpal in New Jersey made up tiny clothespin gnomes for me. Christmas ornaments, I always felt, were the ideal gift – they’re put up on a tree for a short time during the holidays, no one ever tires of seeing hem and remembering where they came from—and every Christmas, and those ornaments bring back memories to the recipients.
The plaster of Paris crèche in our home was purchased piece by piece in dime stores back in the late 1950s; many of the pieces are chipped from being handled repeatedly by my sons when they were little. They liked to re-arrange the figures. One year we somehow misplaced St Joseph and had to have one of the Wisemen stand in for him.

One year, I fulfilled a lifelong desire to make an entire gingerbread house (it was a lot of WORK and I don’t think I will ever attempt it again–Bob did a great deal of the work putting all the parts of the house together) – and another year when we were in northern California for Thanksgiving weekend, we found a Lionel train, fulfilling another lifelong dream. (Then I didn’t want the younger children handling the Lionel train, so we began buying battery-operated oversized train sets).

When I was living in Florida, I acquired two penpals who loved Christmas as much as I, and we forged a special friendship, sharing memories and exchanging (what else?) homemade ornaments.

Christmas is too commercialized, you say? I don’t think so. There are still many of us around who love Christmas, who have never lost sight of the fact that Christmas is our celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus.

Christmases, from the time you begin to create a family until your children are grown and bringing their children to Grammy and Grandpa for Christmas—are a collection of memories and maybe that’s what much of Christmas is all about – all those memories, spanning decades, going back to your own earliest childhood.
**
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Sandra Lee Smith

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STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Sandra Lee Smith

I an the first to admit how little I know about computers and how they work. For many years I worked in an office (I am reluctant to mention the name; I don’t want anyone from the office showing up on my doorstep or suing me for naming names.) I clearly remember the year–1982–when the Office began to convert to processing claims by computer–prior to this, all the claims were processed by filling out a form, determining whether or not the person was entitled to be reimbursed for his or her medical expense, figuring out what the 80% reimbursement came to, deducting any deductible (oh, those were the days! the annual deductible was $100.00 per person) and routing the claim to the person who typed the checks every day.

As time went by, computers improved by leaps and bounds–we changed computer systems three or four times in the period I was working there–when I decided it was time to retire, another computer system was scheduled to be installed the following January. The time was right, I thought.

Well, one of the first things I did that following January was buy a new computer of my own. My sister’s stepson helped me choose a computer and he also installed it for me. I wanted to get back to freelance writing and it was senseless to type articles or manuscripts on a typewriter. I didn’t even own a typewriter by then–I had lent my portable Smith-Corona to a friend who never returned it. (Even so, the first poems I sold were typed on that portable Smith-Corona).

Now I had advanced to the world of computers–back then the paper was 3 thickness, an original with two copies–and the paper was continuously fed through the computer–if you’ve been around a long time, you will remember how that paper was fed through the computer. I have to admit, today’s keyboard, choice of lap top or desk top, and plain white multi-use paper, versatile for lasers, inkjets and copiers does a much better job of printing my material than anything I had used before. (I am old enough to remember typing a manuscript with a carbon copy, double spaced, word total indicated at the top of the page (no, your typewriter didn’t compute the word total for you–today’s computer does that job, though). I had an experience recently that made a believer out of me–a computer geek was helping me with some computer issues…I don’t know how the subject turned to my blog, but it did–this person, who was far away, was able to retrieve my blog and enabled me to return to writing for my blog again. I didn’t think it was possible–but I have under estimated computers for years–and I am as happy as a clam to be working on my blog again.

THE JOY OF PENPALS IN 2016

My Very first penpal was a distant cousin that I met when my family visited hers in Detroit; I was 9 or 10 at the time. Pat & I became friends and exchanged addresses and corresponded for a while. My next penpal, I believe, was a Vietnamese girl who was attending high school in New York State. During my freshman year, teachers asked if we wanted to exchange addresses with girls attending the NY school. Anne’s family were political refugees–in the mid 50s! and sought sanctuary in the United States. We corresponded until after graduating from high school.

I don’t think I thought a lot about penpals for a few years, while getting married and becoming a mother I married in December of 19 58 and my first son Michael was born in September of 1960. . We moved to California in 1961 and I began corresponding with friends and family in Ohio.

I began subscribing to Women’s Circle in the mid 1960s. Specifically, I think I “discovered” WC in 1965. I think I began finding the magazine on the magazine racks of the supermarket where we shopped. Around that same time, I became interested in collecting cookbooks. Simultaneously, a friend of mine told me about a Culinary Arts Institute cookbook on Hungarian cuisine that she was searching for.

“I bet I know where we can find it!” I told her. I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle, asking for the cookbook, offering to pay cash. As an afterthought, I added that I was interested in buying/exchanging for old cookbooks, particularly club-and-church cookbooks. Little did I suspect what an avalanche of mail would fill my mailbox when my letter was published! I received over 250 letters. We purchased several of the Hungarian cookbooks and I began buying/trading for many other cookbooks which formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection. And I have to tell you something that I think was pretty spectacular—I was never “cheated” or short-changed by anyone. Even more spectacular were the friendships that I formed, as a result of that one letter, which still exist to this day.

One of the first letters I received was from another cookbook collector, a woman who lived in Michigan. Betsy and I—both young mothers at the time (now both grandmothers)—have remained pen-pals for over fifty years, while our children grew up, married, and had children of their own.

The first time I met Betsy and her husband, Jim, they drove from Michigan to Cincinnati, where I was visiting my parents, to pick up me and my children, so that we could spend a week visiting them in Michigan. A few years later, my friends repeated the gesture – driving hundreds of miles to Cincinnati to pick us up and then returning us to my parents a week or so later. On one of those trips, I took my younger sister Susie along with us and we all have fond memories of going blueberry picking at a berry farm. We visited the Kellogg factory and went to some of the flea markets where you could find hundreds of club-and-church cookbooks for as little as ten cents each (remember, this was the 1960s!). On one of those visits, I met Betsy’s British pen-pal, Margaret, who was also visiting. We had such a wonderful time together.

Around this same time, I responded to a letter written to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” by an Australian woman (whose name I no longer can recall). She received such a flood of letters from the USA that she took them to her tennis club, spread them out and said “If anyone would like an American pen-friend, here you are!” A young woman named Eileen—who was, like myself, married to a man named Jim, and—like me—also had a son named Steven—chose my letter. We’ve been corresponding ever since. In 1980, when we were living in Florida, we met Eileen and Jim for the first time and from the time they got off the plane and walked up to us, it was just like greeting an old friend or relative. (We liked—and trusted—them so much that we lent them our camper to drive around the USA). When they reached Los Angeles, they contacted, and met, friends of ours who lived in the San Fernando Valley. About a year later, our friends from California were visiting us, when the best friends of my Aussie friends’ (who lived in London) contacted us in Miami and paid us a visit. The following year, when my California friends visited London, they paid a return visit to their new London acquaintances.

(I hope you have followed all of this). I think during those decades when penpals became fast and lasting friends with one another it was sort of like belonging to a particularly friendly club, whether you MET in person or not.

Another young woman who wrote to me (around 1974, we think) was a housewife/mother who lives near Salem, Oregon. She wrote in response to a letter that I had written to Tower Press, noting that we shared the same birthday. In 1978, my husband and children and I drove to Oregon in our camper, where we met my pen-pal and her family. I’ve lost count of the number of times they have visited us in California. And yes, we’re still penpals.

Another pen-pal acquired in the 1960s was my friend Penny, who lives in Oklahoma. We first visited Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons in 1971, on our way to Cincinnati for a summer vacation. We spent a night at Penny’s and were sent on our way the next morning with a bagful of her special chocolate chip cookies. What I remember most about that visit was my father’s reaction when we arrived in Cincinnati. He kept asking, “How do you know these people in Oklahoma?” (The concept of pen-pals was a foreign one to both my parents. I think they sometimes wondered what planet their middle daughter was from!)

Two other pen-pals were acquired when we moved to Florida. Lonesome and homesick, I wrote yet another letter to Women’s Circle, and mentioned my love of Christmas (and preparing for it all year long). One of these was a woman in Louisiana and the other was an elderly widowed lady who lived in my home state of Ohio. Years later, I think both ladies passed away and had no one to notify me.

Before everyone owned a computer and Internet services flooded the market – we had Prodigy. The concept of Prodigy, at that time, was to offer bulletin boards to which you could write, asking for friends, recipes, whatever. It was through Prodigy that I became acquainted with my friend Pat and her husband Stan. We met for the first time when Bob & I went to the L.A. County Fair one year. Pat & Stan came to visit us at our motel in Pomona; they lived in nearby Covina. Eventually, Prodigy would be overcome by AOL, Earthlink, Juno—and the dozens of other Internet services which have changed our lives so drastically. I think the one greatest thing about the Internet is that it has brought so many of our family members and friends back together again.

I don’t know when I acquired a penpal in Ithica, New York—a girlfriend named Lisa, who, at this time, still doesn’t have a computer and writes all handwritten letters to me. (sometimes I respond in pen and ink and sometimes I type letters).

In 2006, I acquired two Canadian penpal girlfriends—ten years later, our friendships are going strong, whether by handwritten letters, emails—or visits in person. One thing these two friends and I have done is provide names and phone numbers of family members—just in case one of us falls out of contact for whatever reason. These two friends are as near and dear to me as sisters but none of us are spring chickens anymore.

You would be surprised to know that writing letters is NOT a forgotten art—there are many of us alive and well and a handwritten letter is such a welcome sight in our mail boxes.

Sincerely Yours,

Sandra Lee Smith

THE BEST OF THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

You know, I am constantly trying new or different chocolate chip cookies and I have read about my quest on my blog. Not long ago I found the following recipe & decided IT is the best yet.

I have gotten in the habit of putting all the dry ingredients together—I line up the flour and other dry ingredients and put them through the sifter, then set it aside.(and I put away those ingredients so that I know I am finished with them. You may say well, duh, who doesn’t do that but I am well into my 70s and it’s a reminder for me.)

I have the room temperature butter and eggs set aside with the two kinds of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of vanilla. The chocolate chips and, if I am adding them– finely chopped walnuts or pecans are set aside to go in last. I am now ready to prepare the cookie dough.

To make these cookies you will need the following ingredients:

2¾ cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder ( yes, both baking soda and baking powder)
1 tsp cinnamon (this wasn’t in the original recipe; I added it).

Put all of these ingredients in your sifter in the order given so you will have a good distribution of the ingredients. Sift and set aside.

You will need 2 ½ sticks of unsweetened butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar*
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp real vanilla extract (I have learned over time to use good authentic vanilla extract)

*if you can’t find dark brown sugar, use the regular golden light brown sugar. for some reason I was unable to find dark brown for several months. When I did find it, I loaded up the grocery cart.

Beat the butter until it is well blended, then begin adding the dark brown sugar, then the granulated sugar. Next add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Lastly, add the vanilla. Now you begin adding the flour, usually about a cup at a time, until all the flour has been incorporated. Now remove the bowl from your electric mixer.

You will need to hand mix in the final ingredients.

When all the flour is mixed into the wet ingredients, stir in the chocolate chips. OK, the recipe says 2 cups of chips. I add a lot of chocolate chips (the good semi-sweet chocolate chips. I probably double the amount of chips to the recipe. If I am adding chopped pecans, I generally bake about half of the chocolate chip dough and then add the chopped pecans, because my family loves just plain chocolate chip cookies & they aren’t about to change their taste buds any time soon. I add pecans when the cookies are for the women I bowl with or anyone else who likes pecans.

Bake the cookies on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven. If I am not in a hurry, I will do one tray at a time, 6 cookies to a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. I use a scoop that is the equivalent of two tablespoons, leveled. I bake the cookies for 5 minutes, then turn the tray around for another 5 minutes. If I am baking two trays of cookie dough at a time, I switch the trays, top to lower and front to back, for another five minutes of baking==in which case, you need to adjust the two racks as best fits your oven.

BEST thing you can do is bake a couple test cookies to see what works best for your oven. I have a very old 1940s stove that I love. and just so you know, I can still burn a tray of cookies, if I forget to set the timer–this usually happens around the end of the cookie baking when I start to clean up my baking materials. I have been doing this since my sons were young boys, so it has nothing to do with AGE, just a matter of paying attention to what I am doing.

I have been baking cookies once a week for the ladies I bowl with–they like them so much that when the league ended at the end of the year, the ladies gave me a big basket filled with flour, butter, chocolate chips, baking powder, 4 pounds of granulated sugar, 2 pounds of brown sugar, a bottle of vanilla extract–everything you need to make chocolate chip cookies! (how SWEET was THAT?)

I like to buy new cookie sheets about every 2 or 3 years but if you line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, the cookie sheets will last a lot longer. Just saying!

Sandra Smith aka the cookie lady

THE END OF A BOWLING SEASON, May, 2016

Yesterday was the final morning for our Early Birds bowling league—to celebrate I took three kinds of cookies for the bowlers to enjoy—I knew we would be eating a large lunch at Black Angus after we completed our final three games.

I’ve had months of despairing I would ever get my average back to normal and toyed with not going to the final games. My sister and girlfriend Iona said oh, no, you can’t do that – we’ll be having a good time.

Our league had collected enough money selling 50-50 tickets to pay for our lunches in a restaurant and not the usual in one of the bowling alley’s spare rooms. (you bought tickets in strips of three—tearing off the copies of the numbers to put into a tin; $2.00 got you three strips). We must have sold a lot of 50-50 tickets!

I gave the few remaining cookies to Iona and my sister Susie.
By the time WE reached the restaurant, almost everyone else was already there—our league secretary and another person were compiling the results for the season and the last three games. We entered a special room for parties and I promptly fell over ONE step—Susie and another bowler helped me get back on my feet and sit down on one remaining seat on one side – and Iona and Susie had the two seats opposite.

To get things going, a bowler named Toni had baked giant tall cupcakes with themes, such as red velvet cake. Mine was German chocolate cake topped off with the traditional German chocolate frosting and some walnuts.

We also received something like a shot glass (but larger) with the date and 235 etched on the side; well Susie’s last game was a 235 so that seemed appropriate!

We had filled out menus providing choices of meals a few weeks ago. Wait Staff competently brought out our choices, starting first with salads and non-alcoholic beverages.

Our lunches came out and were distributed.

At some point in time (I honestly don’t remember when) my sister, sitting across from me, pointed out a big basket that was next to me. It was a very large basket with yellow ribbon and a sunflower , and filled – I kid you not –with the largest assortment of butter, eggs, chocolate chips, granulated sugar, brown sugar, walnuts, pecans, even a couple cans of Carnation Evaporated milk and some other things to fill this large basket. I had not paid the slightest attention to that basket next to me. (shades of a surprise party held for me by coworkers at SAG when I turned 60—all these little give-aways that I did not GET then and I didn’t pick up on the basket next to me—maybe spoiling it for a little speech one of the bowlers was going to say. You know what? It didn’t cross my mind that the bowlers at the Early Birds would do something like that; the women who put it together were pointed out to me. Susie & Iona helped me get everything into the car after the party, and I sped as fast as I dared to go, to get home before the butter and chocolate chips could melt.

I spent a couple of hours taking the basket apart and writing down every item inside.

8 or 10 pounds of granulated sugar
2 pounds of good brand name butter
1 pound of walnuts
1 pound of pecan halves
One pound of Hershey’s unsweeted cocoa (always a welcome pantry item!)

3 or 4 bags of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips—they are in different sizes and I put them into the garage frig, so I am not sure of the total weight.

Two one lb boxes of dark brown sugar
2 one lb boxes of golden brown sugar
2 cans of Carnation evaporated milk
one can of baking powder (I guess I will let my old can retire now)
One dozen large brown eggs from one bowler who has a farm! (I didn’t know!)
I may be forgetting an item or two; I tried to get items that needed refrigeration into the frig right away; I transferred granulated sugar (almost 10 lbs) and the different brown sugars into Tupperware or glass jars. While I was at it, I transferred a box of Bisquick into a Tupperware container and added a bay leaf to the contents; whenever I buy flour (or any other kind of grain) I put bay leaves inside—you will NOT get any beetles or any other kind of little creepy crawlers if you put bay leaves into the containers. This was a trick we all learned from my mother and I have passed it along to my daughters-In-law and any girlfriends at work who would listen.

Well, that was the surprise of a lifetime – I never in a million years would have guessed these women would do something so kind and thoughtful—you know, I wasn’t baking cookies all year long to get any atta girls out of it; I bake cookies because it’s something I love to do. Ask my family – I am always baking cookies. I also start mixing cookie dough when I am stressed about something.

Everyone who knows me knows this is just something that I do. So, to all of the Early Birds from 2015-2016 at SANDS bowling alley—thank you VERY much. I think my pantry is stocked well for about a year!

–Sandra Lee Smith

SOME OF MY PET PEEVES

SOME OF MY PET PEEVES
(The following was originally posted on November 7, 2015 but I have collected a few more pet peeves and decided to do an update):

I know none of you have ever written and asked what my pet peeves are but I was making a double batch of crispy lemon cookies that are made with lemon cake mix—a couple cups of rice krispies which I happened to have on hand, and 2 sticks of butter or margarine, plus a couple eggs—well I dug through the pantry and found two boxes of the Betty Crocker “original” cake mix size that is something like 18 ounces. I made up the batch of cookies and the cookie dough was perfect. You roll the dough in balls and bake them in the oven—when the cookies had cooled, I also drizzled on lemon glaze because I had some of that on hand as well. My peeve? The sizes of all the cake mixes have been reduced by about three ounces.

Now, if you do a lot of cookie baking (and I know I am not alone in this pastime) and have gotten used to making ever-so-easy batches of cookies made with cake mix—the dilemma now is—how can we continue to make the easy cake mix cookies?
It crossed my mind that this was a two-fold manufacturer’s ploy to sell more cake mix but reduce the size of the product. They change the size of the cake contents and not only save money—every cook in America has to figure out how to change the original recipe.

Another pet peeve – I was reminded of this at the supermarket recently–to get the best price on a product – you have to buy 3 or 4 of this or that product. Well, it’s maddening. to get the best price on 2 liter ginger ale, I have to buy 4 of them. Well, I can tolerate this ploy with the ginger ale because I will use it – but to be REQUIRED to buy one of several dozen products to get the cheapest price? MADDENING! I have purchased far more 12-packs of soft drinks in order to buy two and get three free (no, I don’t do this anymore because the son who used to drink the most coca cola at my house no longer drinks it—so I no longer buy it).

For all the years I was raising four sons and buying a lot of groceries, it wouldn’t have be an issue to buy four boxes of mac and cheese – I knew it would get eaten. But NOW – I am a senior citizen on a fixed income—this is outrageously unfair. I think a 75 year old customer should be exempt from such requirements. Give senior customers an exemption card! The supermarkets I shop at should be used to seeing me by now – and they are liberal about sending me ads for their sales. Isn’t this biased against seniors???

Another pet peeve? Not knowing the difference between your and you’re:

The easiest rule of thumb is that you’re is a contraction of you are; plain old your is simple – your book, your dog, your house. Whereas you’re going to the parade (you ARE going to the parade). I don’t think any kid going to Catholic school (in my case, St Leo’s) in the 1950s would ever get passed to the next grade if you didn’t know these simple rules.

To, too, and two (should be apparent but… maybe not) –We are going TO the park; I have TOO many cookies on my plate; I can only eat TWO of those cookies. Another one is the difference between “there” and “their”. (“There” are four people. They lost “their” books.)

** my biggest pet peeve takes place on almost all of my favorite weekly television programs—invariably, they film at least one scene (or more) in the dark. NCIS does it. Recently, the opening scenes in NCIS Los Angeles was shot in the dark—if you were a new viewer to NCIS, how on earth would you know what was going on? NCIS does this all the time. So does Criminal Minds. (I think the latest Criminal Minds started out with three scenes in the dark). And if I spend a week keeping scores, I bet I would find many more. Actually, when I think about it, they could be doing some of those scenes in a dark set and just read their dialogue. Maddening. I think I will start making a list of all the scenes done in the dark. My most recent pet peeve are the words “I mean”–a lot of celebrities can’t complete a sentence without saying “I mean” –I was keeping count of the “I means” on the red carpet to the Grammys last week. Did “I mean” replace “you know”?

Another big pet peeve? People talking on their cell phones while they are driving. This activity is now illegal in most states—if you absolutely MUST talk to someone, get yourself a hands free cell phone.

Isn’t it amazing how dependent we have become of cell phones? One day (prior to our being able to wait for friends and relatives at their airport gates) I was waiting for my brother Jim to dis-embark and began counting all the people who were ON THEIR CELLPHONES as they came off the airplane.

This begs the question, why didn’t all those masses of people go rushing for pay phones when they came off the airplanes? You almost never see anyone WAITING for a pay phone to be available. (ARE there any pay phones any more?)

So, our cellphones, i-phones, tablets, etc. have become indispensable. I have finally joined the ranks—the kids got me an iphone for my birthday last year. Now, I have been a person NEVER TO GO BACK if we forgot something—even if I was only a block from home (I guess that was a pet peeve too)—and now with the i-phone? I turn around and go back home to get it. (it might be an important call. You never know). But cellphones and i-phones and tablets et al are still a pet peeve.

This morning I was reflecting on how much bowling has become a pet peeve. I came across some entries to a journal written in 1986 and noted how frequently I made mention of my good games of bowling when I was bowling two or three nights a week. Now, going on thirty years later, I am doing well to break a hundred. Very frustrating. And this is the same ball I was doing well with in 2010 when my brother Jim bought it for me, brand new, at one of the USBC bowling tournaments that he was bowling in. I mention this because it has turned into a major peeve.

Another pet peeve? People who end a sentence on a question mark even though the sentence ISN’T a question. I’ve heard grown men do this. Bad enough when kids and women end their sentences like this. I recently discovered this now has a NAME. I believe I saw it on Jeopardy! it’s called “UPSPEAK”.

I find it annoying—perhaps a minor pet peeve—that some people talk over you, interrupting your sentence, wanting to be heard—without listening to what you have to say. I have even seen this happening on daytime TV shows where women talk about current issues—shows such as The View and The Talk are examples. It’s frustrating to be listening to what one person has to say—and doesn’t get to finish his or her sentences because someone talks OVER him or her—and sometimes you never find out what the first person was going to say. Now, no one can talk over me when I am writing a blog post—but you can certainly write TO me and tell me YOUR pet peeves!

Listen, I am a senior and retired. I usually drive to Palmdale to go to the Smart & final store because their prices are the lowest. I also shop at a Stater’s supermarket but I got into an argument with the store manager one time—because I didn’t get the lowest price. I didn’t GET the lowest price because the product required me to buy 4 of the product. Well, bite me if I am going to buy FOUR 5-liter boxes of wine that would last me over a year. The manager refunded the money because I didn’t understand the requirement – and I AM willing to buy 4 2-liter bottles of Vernor’s Gingerale….so I have taken to mixing some ice and gingerale with a spurt of whatever box of wine I am working on. A box lasts me months this way.

It seems to me that supermarkets would increase their sales if they catered more to seniors and retirees—just issue a little card giving seniors the discounted prices on everything. It’s bad enough that the cost of water and electricity and gas have all gone up—I do everything in my power to not use water unnecessarily and go around turning off lights – but FOOD? And don’t tell me to use coupons; I am the coupon queen of Quartz Hill—but even the manufacturers of hair coloring and toilet paper and a host of other things – require the shopper to buy 3 or 4 of the product on sale. Even Halloween candy! I have to buy THREE of a product to get the lowest price. If you ask me, this is supermarket gouging prices. Just saying…!

Another pet peeve that irks me every single time I see it on TV are the many crime-related shows with segments filmed in near-total darkness. I see this in almost every one of my favorite crime related weekly shows. Am I supposed to
second guess exactly what is happening? I saw this again one night on Criminal Minds and it reminded me to add it to my list of pet peeves. **

The greatest of my great pet peeves has to do with the English language. I went to preface this by saying that I attended 8 years of Catholic grade School and four years of Catholic high school. I don’t think any of us would have gotten OUT of grade school if we didn’t know the difference in synonyms and appropriately using there or their, to two or too, write or right, or a dozen other words. I was astonished to find the wrong there or their (it should have been “their) in a print-out of instructions for a test I am having at my cardiologist’s in a few weeks. I’m guessing that THEIR office staff did not know the difference between their and there—and everyone who has this test goes home with this incorrect print out of instructions. ARGH!!

–Sandra Lee Smith

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT TIL IT’S GONE

(They paved paradise and put in a parking lot)

The following is an update to my post in October of 2011:

To all of my blog followers who may have been wondering ‘what’s new’ I apologize for not writing much throughout September. My significant other of 25 years passed away on September 22. He was not involved with my writing—and hardly knew a thing about computers—but I miss his presence. And if you’ve read the posts in my archive files, you would have found occasional references to Bob. Many of our projects over the decades were joint endeavors – when I canned jellies and jams, pickles and relishes, – it was Bob who hauled all of our entries to the Los Angeles County Fair. When we created a gingerbread house, he drew the blueprint for it–and together we put it together.

When we made sauerkraut, Bob was the person doing most of the shredding (I tend to cut my fingernails off).

And, I do have something new to write about; I went to Ohio for 6 days in 2011, to regroup amongst family and friends and a cousin gave me a cookbook that had belonged to our maternal grandmother, Barbara Beckman.

September 22 will mark the four year anniversary of Bob’s passing from this world to another where I often have one-way conversations with him—finding it remarkable that so often when I ask, aloud “Are you listening?” – something very apropos plays on the radio…there is a song about “Sandy” on the Fifties radio station and following it will be something else to remind me that he is listening. If you want to know if a loved one who has passed is really listening to whatever you have to say….then you have to really listen or pay attention to whatever is blooming in your yard or what birds are chirping –you have to be aware of your surroundings.

I always remember how a red cardinal bird appeared in our feeder exactly six months after my sister, Becky, passed away in 2004. I managed to take two photographs through our louvre windows before the red bird flew away; and I had the realization that it had been six months to the day that my sister passed away.

And I said aloud “now you really can fly!” – to the sister who always dreamed of flying and even took flying lessons at a small nearby airport in Cincinnati.

My sister passed away on October 10, 2004, late on a Sunday night. I had flown to Nashville and rented a car to get me to Castalian Springs; she suffered a great deal of pain and looked nothing like the older sister I loved so much. I believe Becky’s spirit hung around for a while after she died. For one thing, their house phone quit working. Becky’s husband angrily asked me if I was on their computer. I said no, I was nowhere near their computer. I called the telephone company on my cell phone the next day to report their telephone not working; they called back on Monday to say that they couldn’t find anything wrong with the telephone line. When one of my nephews arrived with his wife, I told my nephew and his wife about my experiences with their father, who became extremely hostile towards me after my sister passed away.

It would have cost me another $600 to fly back to California if I wanted to get another one-way ticket, so I waited it out. I think it was on Thursday that I accompanied my brother in law back to the funeral home to receive my sister’s ashes. One night I stood in the rain in their front yard, calling out to my sister. “Why did you wait for me to get here? I cried out, “You KNOW how your husband can be!”

I had begun sorting my sister’s clothing and other belongings when my brother in law insisted it would all end up in the dump. I called another nephew who lives in Cincinnati and he in turn called his youngest brother to tell him to get over there and help me with their mother’s clothing.

When I was finished, this youngest nephew and I took two carloads of Becky’s belongings to the Goodwill Store. I had sorted out nice pullover sweat shirts for her sons.

I think Becky held on as long as she did to life because she knew what her husband would do with her things.

When Becky chose to go home from the hospital to die, the doctors told her husband she would never last the week it took me to get a booked flight and make it to Nashville.

She did wait for me to get there. I think we are everlastingly bound in unity with our sisters or brothers, the people who have known us best in this life—the siblings we grew up with. Perhaps those ties also apply as well to parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents—as well as nieces and nephews. These are the ties that bind.

Thank you for your continued interest in Sandy’s Chatter.

–Sandra Lee Smith, August 9, 2015