I can talk to the people at the end of the road now

A few days ago when I turned the calendar to a new page, I noticed something that I haven’t seen in all my years of keeping a calendar. The page for May was blank. There was nothing written anywhere, with the one exception that there was a reminder to give my dog, Dixie, her heartworm and tick pills on the first of May. I promptly did this because the ticks are out in full force. 

There were no appointments, no reminders of meetings, dates to have my weekly and monthly breakfasts with friends, no community dinners at the church, not even a dental appointment. No Meals on Wheels transport, no Bone Builders classes, nothing. This is what my world is all about lately. I don’t have one of those phones, that everyone else has, where people text other people every five minutes. I’ve tried Zoom meetings without luck. Fortunately, most of my friends are older and we are still fine with e-mailing which has been happening a lot lately. Some include pictures which is great. 

Now that the weather has finally decided to show signs of spring, neighbors have been out walking and I can visit at a distance with them, find out what’s going on at their house, if anything. Someone rescued two miniature ponies, another spotted their first wildflower, someone else had her first encounter with a tick. The road crew working on the road and got the grader stuck, that was exciting!

When the snow is gone, I can use a back way (Class 4 road) to my house so now I can visit with neighbors on Lower English Settlement Road that I haven’t seen since last fall. This is always a sure sign of spring. I now can find out all the gossip on that end of the road. A few friends make a point of calling someone every day to check in and visit for a few minutes. My elderly friends have found someone to pick up a few groceries for them, take care of the trash and recycle bin for them, and just check on them once in a while. 

Once in a while someone sends me something in an e-mail that is timely…one such thing has several timely sentences. Here are a few that I found I could relate to and chuckled. Commercials in 2030 will be like… ”Were you or someone you know overly exposed to hand sanitizers, Lysol or bleach, during the 2020 Corvid 19 pandemic? If so, you may be entitled to compensation”. 

Not even a dental appointment

There were others like…. 

  • “If you thought toilet paper was crazy, wait until 300 million people all want a hair cut.”
  • “I’ve spent weeks hanging out with myself and I’m so sorry to every person I spend time with”
  • “After listening to Linda, his human, for 4 weeks while in quarantine as she complained for hours on end, Sparky realized he was not cut out to be an emotional support dog”
  • “Anyone else getting three weeks to a gallon?”
  • “My husband and I decided we don’t want to have children. We will be telling them tonight at dinner”.

I have more but I might save them for the next time it’s my turn to write the Softer Side, if things continue like this for three more months. Meanwhile, be lucky you live in such a great state, enjoy the spring, be thankful for good friends and neighbors and keep wearing your masks. They are colorful, aren’t they? 

The Upside…

There probably isn’t one of us who hasn’t said, “I wish I could do this or that but just don’t have the time”. Well, now, chances are you do – have the time. 

I have heard people say that they would like to make their own bread, make a quilt, or just finish those projects that you started ages ago. You know, back when you had more time, whenever that was! 

Some will have more time than others. Those of you who are still going into work everyday or working from home to keep things, out there, running – Bless You. 

For those of us who are just sheltering in place with no children to home school and no job, we have an opportunity to get those extra projects done. 

What have you wanted to do that you felt you never had the time for i.e… clean closets, wash windows (a friend of mine was washing her walls) that particular activity isn’t on my bucket list but may be yours. I am sure everyone has a different list but if you are having trouble coming up with one, let me help you. 

Make pasta, make a quilt, hook a rug, frame your pictures and posters, organize your ‘stuff’, make bread, read books and magazines that have accumulated, write letters, notes and cards, learn a language, write a family history for your children and grandchildren, paint a room, clean your oven, make calls to others that you haven’t talked to in a while or to those alone and just ‘check’ on them, make a book of favorite family recipes, plan the first big get together for when we are safe and released from home confinement We will see an end to this (hopefully sooner than later). These are only a few suggestions, I’m sure you all could add many more to the list. 

Look at this time as an opportunity to do something you have wanted to do or just to ‘catch up’ and maybe for some of us just to slow down. 

One thing I know, if you have a dog, they are thrilled you are home and in hopes of an extra walk or two. Cats, they are probably just annoyed that the routine has changed. 

Until we can all get together again, stay safe and in good health. 

I was in the car the other day…

I was in the car, the other day, running errands and having a conversation with myself (Dixie, my dog, was not with me that day). 

I was muttering about the depressing state of affairs in the nation and world, when I found myself singing a song that just popped into my little brain, “Keep On The Sunny Side”. I felt much better after a few minutes. 

Then I started to think about all the songs that were written about sun, and sunshine and in just a few minutes thought of quite a few. How about these: 

The Sunny Side of the Street, Here Comes the Sun ( Beatles), Good Day Sunshine (Beatles), Keep on the Sunny Side (Carter family), Sunshine on My Shoulder (John Denver), You Are My Sunshine. 

Years ago, when Joe Kaelin would call Gael, they would often start singing OLD songs on the telephone and that would last for hours, it seemed. Fred Cook was another one that knew all the OLD songs. Fred and Gael would, again, sing at length. I have fond memories of Fred starting to sing without any notice…..a good memory. 

One of my favorits is… Keep On The Sunny Side which played a part in the recent Ken Burns series about country music. Years ago, when we would sit around a camp fire with neighbors, we always started singing and one song that was sung was “You Are My Sunshine”. I wonder if kids these days know that song. Do people sit around camp fires and sing any more? Maybe, maybe not, but I will continue to sing these songs, especially in the months to come. Singing, and humming, is good for the soul and it makes me feel a little bit better, if only for a short time. 

Can you think of any more songs that you could add to my list? 

PS… There is a good video on You Tube about dogs at the beach with the song ”Walking in Sunshine”. I think that’s the name of it, another sunshine song. 

Flowers

I love flowers! I am addicted to gardening! There. I’ve admitted it for all the world to know. It’s my #1 passion (well, besides Donald and Millie, hubby and cat respectively, though some days I’m not sure who outranks whom). So this time of year my mind starts wandering…….. 

I’ll let you all in on a little secret. I purchase most of my annuals and perennials at Claussen’s in Colchester. I love that garden center. Because my passion/obsession can get to be a little expensive, I’ve found a great way to save 20% +. I’ll explain how — though please don’t tell anyone else! 

Claussen’s a number of times a year has a 20% off gift card sale, so I go in and, let’s say, buy a $50 gift card, and it only costs me $40. Bingo! Then when spring and summer roll around, just about every week, they have a different perennial Special of the Week: Buy one perennial and get the second free! Well, you don’t have to twist my arm. So I’ll go in and buy maybe two perennial Montauk Daisy* plants (my new favorite) but only have to pay for one — with my gift card, of course. Boy, I’m way ahead now. Then of course Claussen’s has “annual” specials, i.e., buy four geraniums, get two free; buy one pack of marigolds, get a second ½ price. 

Now I digress: Late last fall I finished putting my flower beds to winter sleep, pruned and trimmed bushes, cleaned out bird houses, and generally put the outside to rights for the long winter. I’ve made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, a trip out west with my hubby for a month, and now I am planning my first foray, into the gardens, once the shovel can make its way into the thawed ground. 

I have big plans this year. I’ve already removed five very ugly bushes that were along the front porch. I still have seven left to go. First I will dig two circles around each bush with my favorite Christmas present from last year, my sawtooth shovel, and then I’ll hop on my trusty outdoor toy, John Deere, hook up a big, heavy, long chain with giant hooks, snake them around each of those dang bushes, gun the JD, and not-so-gently riiip!! those suckers out of the ground one by one. To feel those roots give up the ghost is very satisfying — “he-he.” 

After that I’ll be placing two layers of edging stones along the 24-foot length of the porch, backfilling with good soil and compost, and then, my most favorite part of all, heading to Claussen’s where I’ll purchase a dozen perennials that will be spread over the length of my newest garden. I won’t be using any filler plants or ground cover plants; just mulch. Oh, how I can’t wait to get my hands in good old Mother Earth! 

Gardening is my obsession, my passion, my joy, my happiness. What’s yours? What brings you much happiness in the spring time? 

Montauk Daisies

*Montauk Daisies, pictured right, are a herbaceous perennial flower that forms a mounded clump. In this area, they bloom late summer to frost. While other flowers have died off, these gorgeous plants are in full bloom, and on sunny days you can find the last of the bees collecting nectar and pollen. 

Christmas Past

Most of us have just ‘signed off’ on another Christmas and are packing away the decorations and ornaments and dragging the tree to the curb. 

We were late with the tree and decorations this year, so we will leave them in a bit longer. Can’t wait too long, as a lady at church today said that Walmart has all it’s Easter candy and related stuff already to put out this week. I refuse to buy Easter eggs in January! 

What I wanted to talk about is the change I have seen in the Christmas season since I was really ‘into it’. I remember the real highlight was the stockings that Santa left on Christmas Eve. I have a picture of my brothers, sister and I up at 3AM holding our stockings. I believe my mother took our picture and sent us back to bed! The stockings were, for sure, the most important part of the ‘gift getting’. I have often thought about why, but can just say, they were always fun. 

Gifts under the tree were great too but we could almost always predict what would be there. If you needed PJs, they were under the tree. The same with other clothing, shoes, school supplies, etc. The key word is ‘needed’. I am sure most of you reading this can relate to that. Santa saw to it, that things in the stocking, were fun and not necessarily needed. Probably some candy, socks, books, always a box of lifesavers (one item this Santa still gives everyone) and in the toe – a beautiful, large orange. 

When I tell my grandchildren about the orange and how it was so eagerly welcomed, they look at me like I have two heads! I must realize that in their lifetime, oranges have been available and affordable all year round. The orange has now been replaced with a gift card to Xbox. What’s an Xbox? A box with a X on it?? I dare say most things given at Christmas now are not on the ‘needed’ list and maybe that is good if it means families can afford the wanted list. 

So what I am saying, is that waiting for Christmas for some needed things is just fine, especially if Santa supplies the fun things right along with the needed. Wishing you a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Father Spears’ St. Christopher

In 1991 I bought a new car, a brand new car, all by myself. I was driving a 1986 VW Golf, but Gael needed a car to drive, so I decided to give him mine and buy a new one. For some reason I wanted a car with a diesel engine and it had to be a VW, so I found a Jetta in Augusta, Maine and we went to get it. I loved it. 

We had a neighbor who was a retired priest and he and his elderly housekeeper and their cats were great neighbors. They also had a barn that Gael used occasionally. Father Spears was a farm boy from Enosburg and he loved to garden. He had about 100 acres which he kept up well. Gael used to like to visit with Fr. Spears and Alice and spent many happy hours “visiting”. 

One day Gael was there and asked Fr. Spears if he blessed cars. Yes, he did. So, a date was picked for me (us) to take my new car there, to be blessed. It was one of those warm, sunny spring days, a Saturday. I got up early, gave the Jetta a good wash, and at the appropriate time, we drove a mile down the road to Fr. Spears’ house. He was quite elderly and had trouble going up and down his porch steps, so we drove the car over the lawn and got as close to the porch as we could. 

Alice had picked a bouquet of wild flowers and placed it on the hood of my sparkling car. Fr. Spears came out onto the porch with his prayer book and some holy water, and proceeded to bless the Jetta. He handed Gael the small bottle of holy water and Gael sprinkled it on my new car. Alice, then, invited us into their kitchen and got out a small bottle of brandy which they kept for medicinal purposes. We then toasted the Jetta. But what was most meaningful to me, was the small statue of St. Christopher that Fr. Spears gave to me. It was in the car that he drove for many years, a huge white four door sedan, that navigated our road well, winter and summer. I proudly put it in the glove box of the Jetta and we went home. 

I drove the car for years until Gael needed a replacement for the 1986 Golf that he had been driving. I passed the Jetta on to Gael and got a replacement car for me…another VW Golf. For anyone who has been at our house in recent years, you probably passed the black Jetta that was parked next to the military truck in the barn yard. Gael couldn’t let it go. Well, this fall, after looking around the yard at all the stuff??, I decided that it was time to call a salvage yard and have them take the Jetta away. The day the truck was due to come, I went down to the Jetta to say goodbye. I removed the floor mats (you can always use them in some car) and I removed the St. Christopher statue that Fr. Spears gave me so many years ago. 

It now sits in my everyday car, another VW Golf, where I see it every time I go anywhere. Thank you Father Spears. God Bless You. 

Father Spears’ St. Christopher from Judy 

Saint Christopher’s most famous legend tells that he carried a child, who was unknown to him, across a river before the child revealed himself as Christ. Therefore, he is the patron saint of travelers, and small images of him are often worn around the neck, on a bracelet, carried in a pocket, or placed in vehicles by Christians. 

Christmas Memories to Last One’s Lifetime

As I’m writing this, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with that comes the Christmas holiday season, which has me feeling a bit nostalgic for past Christmases.

My earliest memories, when I was a child, were spent Christmas Eve “tracking” Santa Claus (through the voice of weatherman Stuart Hall on WCAX-TV) as he made his way around the world heading, I just knew, directly to our house. Then before being herded off to bed, my two brothers and I would make sure there were milk and cookies waiting for Santa and Rudolph.

Come Christmas morning, the three of us would head to the tree to find, yes, Santa had arrived and marveling at the gifts and that the cookies and milk were gone!

After opening presents and having breakfast, we’d get dressed in holiday clothes and head off to my Dad’s parents’ home in Burlington, where there would be relatives and food (especially tourtieres) and more presents!! And then by late afternoon, we’d be on the road to Milton to my Mom’s parents’ house where, you guessed it, there’d be more relatives, food and… presents!!

Even today my brother Tom reminisces, not about what presents we may have gotten, but the fact that we were on the road again to see what lay in store for us. Can you tell that we were the only grandchildren on one side of the family and we had just two cousins on the other for so many years?
Now I could tell you about one of my Mom’s earliest memories when we kids were little – oh, like the time she and her best friend, Deedee, who lived next door to us, got shnockered on the Brandy Alexanders that my Dad had made. It was Christmas Eve, and they barely got toys wrapped and under the trees for us all – but that’s a story for another time!

As I grew older, one Christmas stands out in my mind. In my high school years, after my third brother, David, arrived, my oldest brother, John, and I went to Midnight Mass with my Mom while my younger brothers would go to church at 8 a.m. on Christmas morning with Dad. Well, one year John, Mom and I got home around 2 a.m. after Midnight Mass, and my Mom asked if we would help her get the presents out and under the tree. John and I looked at each other like, Okay, but where the heck are they? We hadn’t found her hiding spot, ever, in 15 years. Well, Mom beckoned us downstairs to the basement where there was an old (and I mean old!) sofa, and she proceeded to lift up the seat portion, and there, to our wondering eyes, was this very large storage area with gaily wrapped Christmas presents! She laughed and told us how we would bounce, jump and play on the sofa all year round, yet we never discovered her hiding place.
As time has moved on, I’ve lost my dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, yet I’ve seen the addition of in-laws, nieces/nephews and, most importantly, my husband, to my family. Each Christmas season brings with it transitions – as one person steps out of my life, a new tradition is created, however small, to try to fill that void, and with that, I’ve said to myself many times: Everything is new again.

What are some of your earliest memories of celebrating the holidays? Do you remember the special people, long gone, you celebrated with? Is there one particular sight or sound today that brings back a pleasant memory for you?

Don and I together wish all of our VAE friends a Merry and Joyous Christmas and holiday season, however you may celebrate it!

Don’t put off………

The phrase “Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today” keeps going through my head lately. 

Gael and I talked about becoming plus members of the 251 Club for years. We joined in the early 60’s, so it’s been over fifty years. Well, this sum-mer we were going to do it. Fred Gonet got the Locomobile in good running order last summer, Brian Aros (a new VAE member) gave Gael two new knees and we were going to tour this summer. Well, it was not to be. I could do it by myself, but I don’t want to do it alone, and I couldn’t use the Locomobile because I haven’t a clue about how to drive the thing and it’s way too big for me….out of the question. Who would I go with if I went “modern”. 

Chainsaws! I’ve been thinking about getting a small battery operated chainsaw to trim some branches that I run into when mowing the lawn. Gael would always tell me he would do it the next time he had his chainsaw out (which is ancient and weighs a ton). It never was done. Well, a few weeks ago, I bought a small battery operated chainsaw and finally cut down those branches, that I kept hitting my head and ripping my shirt on when mowing the lawn. 

As always, we had a little water in the cellar a few weeks ago and I sucked it up with our ancient shop vac. I finally got all the water gone, then went and bought a new, small, shop vac. Wow, is it nice. 

One thing I’m not going to do today is to drive the VW Thing. It’s needed some attention for a few years and taking a closer look at it the other day, I think I’ll find somebody to do some work on it, work that should have been done a few years ago but we put it off. The kids and I drove the Thing off and on for a number of years, and we all have good stories to tell (the day I hit a bear) that I’m just hearing about now, so it’s a keeper. It’s just beat up enough that I don’t have to worry about dents and scratches. My kind of car. 

There are definitely some things that shouldn’t be put off…that trip to the dentist office, the annual visit to the doctor for a physical, changing the oil in the car and getting a new inspection sticker for the cars. That one, the inspections, could cover a whole Softer Side article. Mowing the lawn before the grass gets so high it clogs the mower. Sharpening the blade on the brush cutter before you start cutting. I’m sure you can think of a few things to add to the list. 

So, the next time you wake up during the night and think of things that need to be done, get up the next morning and do them, please…..don’t put off….well, you know what I am talking about. 

Been there, done it in a Probe

I admit it. I’m not that into cars. If it has 4 tires and a steering wheel and can get me to where I want to go safely, I’m happy. My husband, on the other hand, is what you’d all call “a car guy.” Over the years he’s purchased antique (I say old) cars and trucks. He does a little bit of general maintenance on them himself, but the big stuff he leaves to the professionals. That I’m happy about. I liken it to, if I want a new electric outlet installed, or want that damned breaker fixed that keeps tripping, when I run my laptop, printer and label maker all at the same time……well, let’s just say I’m still waiting for him, and not the car mechanic, to get around to fixing it. 

All that said, it was somewhat surprising to me what happened one day of a month-long camping trip, we took beginning mid June with the end result of arriving in Salt Lake City, for the International Barbershop Singing Convention and then returning home by July 15. We were driving our F-350/camper and towing a 1997 Ford Probe acquired last fall. We traveled down through the eastern U.S. and then over to Branson, MO, and then continued going west by way of Pueblo, Durango, Moab, and finally 

ending up on the correct date at the KOA in Salt Lake City. 

The biggest highlight of our trip (not necessarily the best) for me: We drove up Pikes Peak in Colorado, which is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It comes in at 14,115 feet above sea level. (To put it in perspective, Mount Mansfield is 4,393 feet above sea level.) The drive is approximately 19 miles from visitor center to the summit. 

Don was driving. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies and puffy white clouds. We were informed that we’d have to leave the car, at the lot, at mile marker 16, and we’d be shuttled to the summit. 

As we got to mile marker 16, Don casually remarked, “Uh-oh, I think there’s something wrong with the clutch.” Ya think? What the heck does that mean? Get me out of this car. How are we going to get down? I’m going to die on Pikes Peak! All of those thoughts raced through my mind. 

Don casually maneuvered the car into a parking spot, turned it off and started getting out of the car, all the while I’m internally panicking, thinking about calling AAA for help or my mother to say goodbye and to take good care of our kitty, Millie. But, no, I too made my way to the shuttle and up and away we went. 

I must say the peak was awesome! spectacular! breathtaking! gorgeous! No words can capture the magnificence of that part of our American landscape. I am truly glad we made the trip up, but now we had to get down off this damned peak. 

We were shuttled back down to 16 and got in the Probe. Don started the car, and it “appeared” that things were OK. He then finally said something about somebody telling him about hydraulic clutches, and how they can overheat and not work and need cooling off, which did nothing to calm my nerves of possibly going off one of those S-curves at 95 mph. All I thought about was clutch/brake, clutch/brake, clutch/brake – they’re right next to each other. Maybe the brakes won’t work either. 

As we started the drive down, though outwardly calm, my stomach was in a knot, and every time he stepped on the gas I wanted to throw up. I think the door handle needs replacing as I was gripping it so hard; either that or the floor where my feet were. Suffice it to say it was the longest 16 miles of my life. 

We did make it down the mountain. When we stopped for the mandatory “brake check” by a Park Ranger, he let us know the tires were great, and all I wanted to say was, “Yeah, but what about the &*%$!@$ clutch? 

OK, so I can say I learned a little about hydraulic clutches that day, but I can also say with regard to Pikes Peak: Been there, done that, in a Probe! 

Been there, done it in a Probe from Anne 

What Things Have Changed?

Every time I go to Williston and pass by Friendly’s restaurant, I remember my days in X-Ray school when we would collect our paychecks (second year students were paid $80/month plus call pay, usually amounted to about $160) and we would head out for Friendly’s for a cheeseburger deluxe and milkshake. The burger used bread for the ‘bun’ and added lettuce and tomato and of course, cheese. 

I can’t figure out if it was really that good or that we ate hospital food for 3 meals a day and going out was a once a month treat. I haven’t tried to order one, in about 15 years, but at that time they had stopped making them the way I was use to. So, the question is – has my memory been playing tricks on me? 

Another food item that has changed – the tomato. I know that you can buy them year-round, but my advice is not to. It seems that the last great tomatoes were in my garden 18 years ago (haven’t had a garden since). I do most of my shopping at the Farmer’s Market from May to October and I buy pounds and pounds of tomatoes, but rarely get the fabulous taste, that once was (or at least what my memory says). The only exception is the Heirloom tomatoes which are scarce in the NEK. I will have to branch out to larger markets this summer in search of the heirlooms and pay premium for the experience. 

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about and that is the change in Vermont’s gold crop – Maple Syrup. I am not talking about the silly names they want us to use – Golden Delicate (think that was called Fancy in my day) and so on, but what I noticed was the taste. Unless you can find someone, who taps, uses buckets, gathers, boils (no osmosis) with wood fire – you aren’t getting the true taste that is real Vermont Maple. 

Some say I’m crazy (a lot might agree on many levels), but I believe I’m right and am sticking to it. We found a man in Enosburg who still gathers with horses (that makes a difference I’m sure) and I have found another hold out from Brownington. He agrees I am right about the taste but he says he is fairly limited in how much he can make, doing it the ‘old fashion’ way, because as he ages it is getting harder and he may have to give it up all together. In a lot of things, change is good, but in Maple Syrup – not so good. The only remedy that I can see for me is to have Wendell (Noble) dust off his buckets, fire up the evaporator, and did I mention find plenty of help to assist doing it the right way?!