Retreating from Coronavirus

Circle the wagons!  We’re in retreat!  This wagon (me) has been circling and circling my living room the past couple weeks, building tension as I try to wait out this coronavirus. The social isolation has gotten so bad, I’m envious of the cow herd in the pasture. At least they get to hang out together.  As for this human—honey, I’m STILL home.  It’s like I laughingly complained to a friend: I just don’t get out enough.  But retreating doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I can view it as running from crowds and disease—or see it as moving toward myself and my own inner landscape.

For centuries religious aesthetics retreated into monasteries to meditate and refresh their spirit.  As Easter approaches, I’m remembering the story of Christ, how he retreated into the garden of Gethsemane for just such a purpose.

One time, my husband and I took a trip north, and just for fun, I reserved a room in the guest house at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.

We’re not Catholic, but I thought it might be interesting to spend the night in such a unique setting.  The cathedral was impressive, but it’s the atmosphere at St. Gertrude’s that I remember. The nuns seemed busy, yet I saw several contentedly going their own way, either praying alone in the church sanctuary or wandering the pine-covered hillside above the Cathedral.  No one spoke at breakfast the next morning.  It was a time for contemplation.  When we finally drove away from St. Gertrude’s, I resisted the urge to turn on the car radio. I just didn’t want to interrupt the quiet.

If I look at this retreat from the coronavirus in a positive way, I can see lots of opportunities for learning and growth.

For example, there are many, many, projects I’ve put off doing because they take time and focus. For the past few years though, my inner metabolism seemed permanently set in a buzz mode. I’ve rushed through one experience after another.  I guess I could blame my pace of life on the freedom of retirement.  Retirement’s the time to go and see and do.  But as a former teacher and professor, I know the value of slowing down and paying attention. The big battles I fought in the classroom had to do with keeping my students attention long enough so they could get their assignments done.

This was my nephew’s learning problem.  He was labeled attention deficit and took medication so he could calm down and focus on his school work.  Still, he struggled throughout his schooling, eventually dropping out altogether.  When I got the bad news he was in trouble and going to jail, I was understandably upset.  What could I do?  How could I help him, I wondered?

I considered that maybe, since my nephew would be forcibly confined and without the noise of the outside world to compete for his attention, he might be motivated enough to read a book.  So I sent him some great young adult novels, full of adventure and interesting story lines.

“Aunt Di,” he eventually wrote me, “I love all the books you sent me.  I really like reading now.  It’s awesome!  I started reading Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) last night, and can’t put it down.  Thank you so much!”

Though my nephew can’t physically go anywhere, with reading he’s now traveling far and wide. It’s a lesson for all of us in this time of retreat.  A full life can be had even sheltering-in-place.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

Image credit:  St. Gertrude     Image credit:   Ready Player One

Corona virus, Shopping Sprees, and Misadventures with a Bat

This is a terrible time to have your immune system suppressed.  My husband just had a kidney transplant and is taking medication so he doesn’t reject his new organ.  Then the “corona” virus broke on the scene and scarily, had nothing to do with Dale’s favorite beer, and everything to do with our worst fear.  Coronavirus has not only stole our peace of mind—but emptied the grocery store shelves of toilet paper.

“What’s with people hoarding toilet paper?” my daughter asked me over the phone. She’d called to check up on her dad.

“I’m not sure.  Herd instinct?  No one’s stocking up on toothpaste.”

Recently, I saw a YouTube of an employee at a Costco store awarded a three-minute shopping spree—but toilet paper was not on her list. In three minutes time, the employee and her designated helper managed to grab over $25,000 worth of merchandise, including flat screen TV’s and computers.  She evidently missed the message that T.P. stands for Too Precious and is currently being scalped online for outrageous sums.

In the age of the coronavirus, our big shopping spree likely would be through the pharmaceuticals.  In fact, our survival stockpile should include a three-month supply of Tacrolimus, Carvedilol and other exotic-sounding medications my husband takes daily to keep his immune system from staging a revolt.  With our current pandemic, we’ve been a little concerned about a breakdown in the drug supply chain. On the evening news though, I heard the government had protocols in place for any supply chain disruption.

Maybe my anxiety about the coronavirus partly stems from watching too many apocalyptic movies and reading horror novels.  In the 1980’s I read a horror novel by the King of the genre (first name Stephen) entitled The Stand.  The terrifying beginning of this book had to do with a cold-like virus that ran amok, nearly wiping out civilization.  I’ve thought about The Stand several times watching the rapid spread of this bug.  I have to remind myself this virus is, relatively-speaking, mild, and only fatal to less than 2% of those who contract it.

Actually, I may have been thinking of the wrong horror novel with the coronavirus—but I hesitate to tell my husband this.  Dracula might be a more fitting literary link. According to the Center for Disease Control, bats have been considered a possible source of COVID-19.

“Bats?  I hate those creepy creatures!”  Dale shivered.

Bats may be creepy but they’re actually related to lemurs and other small monkeys. They’re mammals (like us), but I didn’t mention this to my husband. Dale has every right to feel freaked-out over bats. When I first fell in love with him years ago, I was a young woman in college in Virginia, and he was a farmer from Idaho. One night I got a long-distance call from an Idaho hospital and Dale was on the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” he said.  “Just thought I’d call.”  He sounded muffled like he had an entire pack of chewing gum in his mouth.  He told me he was having trouble talking because his face was swollen twice its size.

“What happened?”

“I had a reaction to rabies treatment.  I had this problem with a bat…”

Then, the whole sordid tale came out.  Dale had been living in a little, rustic cabin near his farm, and sleeping in a sleeping bag on the cabin floor.  One morning he woke up, felt something moving in the bag, and leaped out, scratching his leg in the process.  A bat flew out of the bag behind him, and then Dale whacked it with his boot.  The bat, unfortunately, turned out to be rabid.  Even though Dale wasn’t bitten, it was close enough to his scratched leg, he needed a course of rabies vaccines.

Since that time, bats have been the least favored of all of God’s creatures for my husband.  With the coronavirus our current plague, I’m beginning to not like bats much either.

Image credit:  Diana Hooley      Image credit:  The Stand

The Past is Not Dead

 

I had a time travel experience.

No, it wasn’t a dream, but I felt dazed, like I’d taken too long a nap. Maybe I time traveled because I’d spent part of this winter in a motel room in Salt Lake City—relocated here since my husband’s surgery. I needed to get outside, smell fresh air, and feel the sunshine on my face. Yes, I wanted to shake the cold off, and move around—but not necessarily travel in time.

My experience began with a simple walk. Some of my best flights (of imagination) happen walking. I’d seen a city park driving through downtown Salt Lake that had a nice footpath circling a pond full of ducks.  Finding the entrance to the park though, proved difficult. I drove past tennis courts, an aviary, and an outdoor stage, all located within the park confines, but couldn’t find the entryway. This park seemed a world of its own–and at 80 acres (I read later)—it was its own sphere. On a side street, I finally spotted the park entrance and central pathway, lined on either side by poplars and mulberry trees.

It was amazing such a large park was located in the middle of this big city. As soon as I got out of the car, I took a deep breath of fragrant wood-scented air, and closed my eyes. In the background I heard traffic honking, an ambulance siren, and faint, car-radio music.

I can’t explain the rush of feeling at that moment, but suddenly I was in Central Park, New York City, several years ago.

It was the time I’d taken my teenage children to New York for a “cultural experience.” But they, being teenagers, weren’t interested in culture. Aubrey kept dodging around corners in Little Italy, trying to avoid my camera. And Sammy had his nose so deep in a fantasy novel, he hardly noticed the Statue of Liberty.  Liberty Park, that was the name of this urban escape in Salt Lake.  I saw it clearly labeled on a nature-friendly, green sign. As I read it I felt such a deep longing, a missing of my younger children.

A good heart-pounding walk, not just a stroll, would probably clear my head and shake me out of my fugue.  I saw plenty of power walkers and joggers around me, so I joined the flow. Fifty minutes later and just past the Chase House, a folk art museum in the park, I was gratifyingly flushed and sweaty.

I leaned an arm up against a tree for a brief rest-stop, and soon found myself staring at a little girl skipping along the park sidewalk near me. It was late afternoon and the shadows on the sidewalk caught my attention. Maybe it was the angle of the light, soft and buttery, but an ancient memory arose, and then, I was a little girl again, in Chicago in the 1950’s. I was playing in front of our big, white apartment building. As I hop-scotched I saw my shadow on the cinder block wall.

What stood out was how rich my emotions were, the joy and wonder I felt then, not yet muted by time and age. 

Next to my tree in Salt Lake, I was momentarily elated.

I slowly made my way back to the parking lot.  As I opened my car door, I glanced above the park trees and saw the high, snow-clad peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. I smiled to myself.  The great American author, William Faulkner, once wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” This late afternoon, at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

 

Image credit: Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Sleeping with Strangers

I never dreamed of living in a motel.  Then my husband had surgery, and the doctor told us we’d need to move 278 miles away for a period of five weeks to be near the hospital.  Suddenly visions of room service danced in my head.  I’ve only known one man, Stu (not his real name), who lived in a hotel.  Stu moved into a big hotel downtown with a ballroom and a red-carpeted staircase.  He dreamed of becoming a movie star and didn’t want to deny himself the finer things of life.  When Stu’s money ran out, he borrowed more.

Reportedly, Stu spent many hours in the hotel hot tub waiting for the call from Hollywood.

But motels are mainly built for transient customers.  The word “motel” is a combination of “motor” and “hotel” and came into common parlance in the 1920’s when people began traveling around in their new horseless carriages.  Motels were never meant to be homes.  When my husband first got the word that a temporary relocation was in our future, I searched for vacation rentals, Airbnb’s, and apartments.  It was only when I lowered my standards from “looking-for-a home” to “looking-for-a bed” that I found a reasonably priced motel room we could live in.

You may be wondering, what’s it like to live in a motel?  Tight, it’s tight.

Motels are not for the obese.  Or clumsy.  If you have great coordination, maybe not elite athlete level, but still you’re flexible enough to move between beds, desks, and sundry other furniture squeezed into a 14 by 12 space—you’re gold.  I am not an elite athlete, but I’m coordinated enough to do the salsa.  This talent, I’m convinced, has helped me avoid serious injury in our motel room.

Motel living presents other challenges too.  With only a microwave and a mini-fridge for kitchen appliances, your menu suddenly becomes very limited.  I’m here to tell you there’s a reason frozen entrees are called that.  If you don’t microwave them a minute more than the package directions, these meals are so icy your teeth can’t “entrée” them.  That’s why we’ve been eating a lot of take-out–and having a lot of take-out, fall out, of the mini-fridge.

I try not to think about all the people that have stayed in our motel room before us.

Still, my eyes glide dubiously over the bed coverlet.  I glare suspiciously in the bathtub.  Yesterday when I swam in the motel pool, a large hairy man with pimples on his back was in the pool with me.  The thought crossed my mind that this man is probably not unlike many who’ve slept in my motel bed.  Slept and farted on my mattress.  That’s the thing about living in a motel room.  Of course people have dragged their crusty skin and weeping sores (of indeterminate origin) across your bed.

Still, I’ve tried to comfort myself with how fresh and clean our motel room smells.  It doesn’t smell like foot fungus.  Then I passed the housekeeper’s cart loaded with linens, towels, and cleaning products.  I noticed instead of multiple bottles of bleach or disinfectant in the cart, several bottles of room deodorant.  Room deodorants, for the uninitiated, are chemical sprays meant to mask offensive odor more than kill the bacteria that caused it.  So our room may smell like a rose, but no doubt there’s bugs on the stem.

And that’s another risk of motel rooms:  bed bugs.

Surely you say, this problem is found only in third world countries where donkeys rule the road.  No, according to www.travelpulse.com at least 45% of hotels IN AMERICA have faced legal action over bed bugs.  That’s enough information to keep me squirming on our motel bed for hours. My farmer husband says sleeping with me is like sleeping with a cow dog who keeps circling the gunny sack in an effort to get comfortable.

I’m not a cow or a dog, but I can say after two weeks in a motel, home on the range sounds much better than home in a motel room.

 

Image credit:  El Rancho Motel      Image credit:  Diana Hooley      Image credit:  Diana Hooley

Finding winter on the Idaho-Montana border…

An old family friend, Jack, told us he’d never move to a place that didn’t have four distinct seasons.  With that statement Jack knocked out a third of the lower 48 states as potential relocation spots.  Much of the northern U.S. though, including Idaho, can reliably lay claim to having a winter, summer, spring, and fall.  At least that’s what I used to think until the last few years, when the hot summer seemed to overtake autumn, and the cold winter shortened to a few weeks around Christmas.

I really didn’t miss winter this year.  It wasn’t until I drove to Leadore, Idaho, a town I’d never visited, that I was reminded of the wonder of winter.

I got an email from a magazine editor asking me if I’d be interested in writing a feature article on Leadore, a little community near the Idaho-Montana border. 

Throwing a bag in my car I wondered whether I should take a jacket or a coat.  As I drove out the driveway, my car thermometer read 42 degrees.

But we live in a mountainous state.  Drive anywhere and you soon experience some kind of altitude and thus, weather change.  I whizzed along the freeway until I turned north and started climbing.  I was thinking about Leadore and how you pronounced the town’s name—it sounds like a woman’s name, a derivative of Leadora perhaps, or Lenore, that lost love of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem.  Pondering all this, I drove over a hill—and into a thick bank of fog.

The fog didn’t lift for miles.  I couldn’t see much beyond 500 feet.  I was surprised when I saw the sign for the Craters of the Moon National Park emerge from the milky sludge.  Feeling chilly, I glanced down at the temperature reading on the dash: 23 degrees.  Somewhere in the fog I’d lost twenty degrees of heat.  The lovely Leadore must be high in the mountains, a mythic goddess in some frozen Idaho Olympus (my thinking was a bit foggy too).

Around a curve and just above the furls of fog smoke, I glimpsed a white mountain peak against a blue sky.  As sudden as it came, the fog fell away, revealing an incredible winter-scape.  I grabbed my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the brightness of the snow fields glistening under the sun. This was a country you could ski in, or skate in, or snowmobile across.  It was breathtaking.

At the little town of Arco, I stopped for gas and stepped out of the car to stretch my legs.  Digging my phone out of my coat pocket, I googled motels in Leadore (maybe Leadora was a madame who ran a boarding house in the 1800’s) and found a phone number for the Leadore Inn.

“Y-ello.  Sam here.”

“Hi!  I’d like to spend the night in Leadore and wonder if you have a room available at your motel?”

“Sorry, we’re closed for the season. We only open in the summer when the hikers come through.”

“Hikers?”

“Uh-huh.  Hiking the Continental Divide Trail.  Leadore’s a resupply stop.  You know, where backpackers get their groceries and mail. Check out The Homestead motel.  They’ve got newer rooms.”—click.Image result for image continental divide trail sign

I called The Homestead and was happy to find a room there.  As lovely as this winter country was, it was also freezing cold.  I didn’t relish the thought of spending the night curled up next to my car heater.

I drove on and entered the remote Lemhi River valley.  It was remarkably empty, except here and there a ranch in the distance.  I was just outside Leadore when I passed an historical marker along the highway.  I backed the car up and stopped to read it:  “Gilmore Mines. Lack of a good transportation system delayed serious lead and silver mining…”

Lead mining?  Lead Ore?  Leadore.  Oh.  Though the town’s name was a disappointment, the town itself was not.  Nestled at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains, Leadore was a village of ice and snow.  My tires crunched past a library, a school, a post office—a small gem in the gem state.  I think Leadore will always be Leadora to me, Leadora the snow princess.

 

Image credit:  Diana Hooley     Image credit:  Continental Divide Trail

 

How Curiosity Killed the Cow-girl

There’s nothing like a good steak.  You know, medium rare with just a little pink showing, tender and juicy.  I like my steak best with a nice Idaho potato and a fresh, crisp side salad.  I’m thinking about this as I sit here on the farm, gazing out the front window at the cows in the pasture.  They’re chewing on clumps of grass peeking through the snow.  We sold our big cow herd several years ago, but we reinvested in a few cows with the goal to butcher them, and give the meat away to our children and their families.  It was a generous gift.

I have friends and relatives though, that want nothing to do with eating meat—for a variety of reasons.

Some have become vegetarian or vegan because of health issues.  They’re either concerned about their weight, or their cholesterol, or both.  I’ve argued with them that people lose weight a lot of different ways.  Why make such a draconian sacrifice as giving up meat?  The Paleo, the Keto, and the Atkin’s diets all encourage the consumption of meat and protein over carbs.  But one of my friends announced that he’d become a vegan because of the environment.

“What?” I asked him. “Does this mean you’re no longer going to make that wonderful meatloaf recipe with green peppers and onions?  All because of cow burbs?  Please, tell me it’s not so.”  My friend may not be a fancy cook, but he’s a good one.  He makes great comfort food.

Occasionally, I’ve ran across news articles on the potential for herding animals like cattle to harm the environment.  Apparently cows, through their digestive processes, emit harmful methane gas into the atmosphere.  Reading news like this affects MY digestive processes.  Herding cattle is a way of life for us, so I’ve generally ignored these kinds of articles.  They’re too extreme, I tell myself.  Besides, the wide desert expanses in the west, which support only sparse grasses, are perfect for foraging creatures like cows.  It’s an efficient use of the land.  Also, cows eat highly flammable grasses like cheat, protecting against range fires.

My final word about herding cattle is cultural.  The west, after all, is the home of the cowboy.  Cattle are a tradition.

But still I was curious.  And we all know how curiosity killed the cat (or cow).  Being farmers we’ve watched the weather year in and year out, and it’s become increasingly apparent, even without all the scientific alarms: the climate is changing.  Exactly, how much does herding livestock have to do with this?

Opening my computer I waded through several articles on climate change and either the Australian fires, or the melting Arctic.  Finally, I found information on the environment and livestock.  A chart showed that herding animals like cows and sheep did the most damage to the environment.  The journal Science reported that avoiding meat and dairy is the “single biggest way” to reduce our environmental impact.

One article said consuming 4 pounds of hamburger is as hard on the environment as flying from New York to London—and most of us eat more than 4 pounds of beef a month.

This was such sobering news I just stared at my computer a minute.  I’m still processing it, wondering about our life style and the fast-changing world we live in.  Is there some “middle ground” on this issue?  I don’t know, but I did come across a bit of good news for meat lovers.  Apparently poultry and fish have considerable less impact on the environment.  The impossible burger is looking more and more possible–as is the chicken steak.

 

 

All image credits:  Diana Hooley, Dale and Diana Hooley Farms

What I saw at the border with Mexico …

I stood on a large rock and watched a Mexican man cross the Rio Grande River in southwest Texas.  This was not an official crossing, and no one was around except for people like myself and my husband, hikers hiking along a desolate trail near the U.S.-Mexico border.

At first I saw the man sitting with a friend in a couple of lawn chairs on the other side of the river. They were chatting under some gnarled Texas cottonwood.

The Rio Grande is so narrow at this juncture, maybe sixty feet wide, I could hear their voices, their laughter.

Next to their campsite, a corral fenced three horses nickering and munching on hay.  Soon, one of the men raised himself up out of his lawn chair, pulled a cap down over his head, and climbed on the back of a sorrel-colored horse.

Where was he going?  Watching from the opposite bank of the river, in another country, felt like I was peering out a window at a cultural drama.

The Mexican trotted his horse for a while along a sandy embankment that was sloughing away.  Then he leisurely crossed where a large gravel bar spanned much of the river.  As soon as he was on the American side, he disappeared in the trees and brush.  Probably hiding, I thought.  But no.  The man soon emerged, his horse still sauntering.

“I’d like to meet him and say hello,” my husband said, as if we were emissaries sent from earth to greet the aliens.

“What if he’s a drug runner?  The drug cartels operate near here.  Remember those women and children that were killed along the border?  And what about that family that was attacked last week?”

Watching our Mexican man peacefully riding his horse, my comment seemed ludicrous.  Around a bend in the trail we saw some trinkets and a plastic jug lined up on a pile of rocks.  A little note said:  “Thank you for your purchase.  Your donation will help school children.”  Whose school children?  Likely this Mexican man’s. The trinkets—scorpions, tarantulas, and road runners made of meticulously twisted wire and beads—were labeled with prices.  Most of them cost five dollars, but some were tagged seven.

I looked up and saw that the man on the horse had stopped at a similar cache of trinkets down the path.  He slid off his horse, and picked up the plastic money jug, dumping what money was there, into his hands.  He was a businessman checking his sales.  Capitalism at its finest.  Free enterprise, or unfree perhaps.

We walked on down the trail toward the Mexican.  He looked up, and we waved and said, “Buenas dias!”

In broken English he told us his name was Benicio and asked us if we were interested in buying one of his trinkets.  He picked up the scorpion with its beaded tail.  As we looked over his merchandise, I asked him if he was worried about the border guards finding him.

“Los guardias fronterizos no son problema (the border police are not a problem),” he told us.

One of the items he had for sale was a walking stick covered with pictures of bright green cactus.  Along one side of the stick was written a distinctive message from our neighbors to the south:  “NO WALL.”

Driving on the way to our Texas hiking spot, we saw the border wall in El Paso.  Through the metal mesh of the wall I saw a city bus pick up people in Juarez on the Mexican side.  Buildings seemed smaller and older in Juarez, but more colorful. Adobe exteriors were painted aqua, yellow, and pink.  A thought came to me then:  if the wall was built to fence out Mexicans, why did I feel so fenced in?  I wanted to cut through the wall mesh and walk past the dry arroyo, to an old mission church I saw in the distance.

 

All image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Night skies at Christmas: all is calm, all is bright

I live on the Snake River where there’s little light pollution at night to dim the stars of a December sky.  Night skies are so black here, our area is under consideration for designation as an IDSP (International Dark Sky Place).  Sometimes, after supper when the sun’s set, I like to take a walk down the gravel road near my home.  I slip a miner’s light around the top of my head to help me see in the dark.  Usually at least once on my walk, I’ll reach up and click the headlight off to stare at the spray of stars in the sky overhead. As the song says, all is calm, all is bright.

One night many years ago I was watching the sky and saw a remarkable thing. All the stars were twinkling except one. It looked like a small white smudge on a dark canvas.  I went back inside the house to get a jacket and my binoculars. Through the binoculars I could easily see the tail of this “star.” The year was 1986, and I was viewing something people see only once every 75 or so years:  Halley’s Comet.

We miss so much in the night sky asleep in our beds. 

Ten or so years after viewing Halley’s Comet, I was jogging in the early morning dark, and suddenly the sky lit up like it was broad daylight.  It was so bright I could see our neighbor’s house a quarter of a mile away.  I stopped jogging a moment and just stood there in the middle of the road, awestruck.  The natural world took notice of the sudden light too. The perennial rustling of ducks, birds, and other wild life along the river hushed, and the only sound I heard was the gentle lapping of water.

At first I thought this strange phenomenon was an aurora borealis, but the Snake River flood plain is not really in the auroral zone.  Later I realized it was most likely another meteor streaking through space and blazing out above me in earth’s outer atmosphere.

If I was from an ancient civilization, a nomadic culture for example, living somewhere in the Middle East, I might have thought this flaming star—a sign.  

Others have noticed the spectacular night sky here on the Snake River.  In the next valley over, the Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park has a public observatory and hosts star shows March through October.  I’ve seen the rings of Saturn and fantastical nebulae formations through their big “Obsession” telescope.  But much can be seen with just the naked eye.  Every morning now, around 5 o’clock, Mars rises in the east.  It’s a distinctive-looking planet with its ochre color.  Could we ever live on Mars, I wonder?

I think about this sometimes, star gazing Idaho skies, whether mankind could exist on other planets.  I’ve never wanted to leave earth, but I worry about the devastating effects of climate change. There is no “Planet B” though.  Scientific and international reports on the environment have made this very clear. We need to take better care of the planet we live on: this beautiful blue globe, this special Christmas ornament hanging in space we call earth.

Image Credit:  Night skies         Image Credit:  Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park telescope      Image Credit:  Earth in space

Costumes of Christmas past: bathrobes and a worn-out farm jacket

(Some Christmas humor: ho! ho! ho!)

When someone talks about holidays and costumes, it’s natural to assume they’re talking about Halloween.  Few consider that Christmas is really the costume “time of year.”  But I’ve had several personal experiences with Christmas costumes.  I’ve worn a white sheet and been an angel (a totally different look for me).  I’ve also dressed up as Santa’s reindeer (until my antlers slid forward and turned me into Santa’s bull).  And then there was the time I attempted holiday glamour.  The toy soldier earrings and glittery blouse that shed like a North Pole husky, sort of dampened the effect.

I’ve seen others wear interesting Christmas costumes too.  One Christmas, the little country church near our farm staged a children’s nativity.  The lead characters were my 3-year-old twin, niece and nephew.  They wore bathrobes and scarves tied around their little heads.  Tucker played Joseph and Macy was Mary.  Baby Jesus was a doll placed in a wooden box with some straw peeking out the edges to simulate a manger.

For a while all went as planned.  Up on the stage, Macy and Tucker made a miniature still-life of the holy family.  Off to the side, the pastor wearing a cowboy hat (a Christmas costume known only to males living out West) held a mike as he narrated the Christmas story.  Everyone in the audience was enchanted until Macy and Tucker got into a fight (twins do that from time to time).  After a little shoving, Macy’s budding acting career came to a crying halt.

Somewhere in the narration, maybe the part about the Prince of Peace coming as a babe, Macy, tear-streaked and angry, reached in the box and grabbed baby Jesus by the arm.

Then she walloped Tucker with the holy child, and stomped off the stage, tripping on her too-big bathrobe.  Moments later she was in her mother’s arms, a nativity pose of another sort.

Each year though, probably the most ubiquitous Christmas costume is the Santa Claus costume.  This is the only outfit I know of guaranteed to look great on plus-size figures.  Some would say Santa comes in all sizes and shapes.  I’ve seen garden gnomes dressed up as Santa, and dogs dressed up as Santa, and Santas on surfboards in Hawaii.  Naturally drawn to costumes and cover-ups, bank robbers make the most ironic Santas.  Most are too skinny though.  Still, my husband, though not a bank robber but definitely skinny, played Santa Clause for our children one Christmas—and they were completely fooled.

At the time, we lived in a little farm house with a wood stove planted in the center of the kitchen.  I’d have preferred a grand home with a fireplace, but at that economic juncture of our young marriage, we were more hillbilly than nobility.

Leading up to Christmas, I’d read to my children Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas several times, so they knew the way Santa’s visit was supposed to go down—and that was literally through the chimney.

Without a fireplace, I told the kids to gather around the wood stove.  The narrow pipe leading from the stove through the roof was technically a chimney.  I opened the stove door and we all peered into the cold, blackened wood of a dead fire.  Then we heard a muffled, “Ho! Ho! Ho!  Merry Christmas!  Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Annie’s eyes grew wide and Aubrey jumped up and down begging, “I want to see Santa!  Can we go outside and look on the roof?”

With a lot of coaxing I managed to steer my children toward bed.  My best argument was Moore’s poem.  Santa couldn’t come until, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds.”  Also, I knew my kids would be disappointed to see Santa straddling the peak of the roof wearing Levi’s and a worn-out farm jacket.  If there ever was a time where clothes made (or unmade) the man—this was the time.

 

 

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s son Sammy as reindeer Santa

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s son John, center as sheep at nativity scene

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley’s daughter Annie and Son John with cat in front of wood stove

 

 

 

Never Call Aunt Ruth a Turkey Bag

Anyone else considering a short-cut Thanksgiving?  You know, having a turkey burrito or better yet, reserving a table at the Golden Corral buffet?  It’s the go-to for Thanksgiving has-beens.  If kids look at Thanksgiving as just a big nasty vegetable meal, some adults see it as a big nasty day of food prep—for the chronically unprepared.  As I age I feel myself slipping into that category.

But this doesn’t have to be another Thanksgiving you nod off chatting with Aunt Ruth because you were up at dawn stuffing the turkey.  Make your Thanksgiving dinner preparations easy.  For example, you can save time and energy using turkey bags.

I’m very thankful for turkey bags (also thankful no one has ever called me that). 

Turkey roasting bags help you cook your bird fast. They’re especially great if your frozen turkey isn’t quite thawed.  Let’s face it: better your turkey cooked—than your goose.

Several notable women have also helped to lighten my load and shorten prep time for Thanksgiving.  One of my most admired is Mrs. Rhodes.  Mrs. Rhodes has amazing rolls (not to be confused with anatomical features).  You can find Mrs. Rhodes Dinner Rolls in the freezer case.  Along with Mrs. Rhodes, I greatly esteem that French woman…a scientist…first name Marie—oh yes, Marie Callender.  In her lab, Marie discovered the correct chemical formulation for great pies.Actually, Marie put me out of the pie-making business and allowed me to do other businesses like, well, reading novels and having manicures.  A few in my family have complained though.  They miss mom’s tough pie crust (the mafia could have used my crust to break some teeth).

Rather than succumb to guilt, I figured out how to deftly lift a frozen Marie Callender pie out of its factory made tin plate, and sit it in my own glass pie plate—making it look as if I’d made the pie myself.

TIP:  Marie Callender’s frozen pies are not an exact fit in normal pie plates, but if you let the pie thaw a little, you can spread the dough and filling out with your palms. One important thing to remember:  when the compliments come about your delicious pie, just smile. There’s no reason to be dishonest.

I’m also thankful this Thanksgiving for packaged dry gravy mix, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Schillers seasoning salt.  Say what you will, you purists, those of you who never, ever venture into the inner aisles of the grocery store where all the bad processed carbs lay.  You may be willing to chop till you drop, or veg till you’re a drudge, but some of us want to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Ultimately though, it’s not what you eat, but what you do on Thanksgiving that makes the day special.  Do talk, and do laugh, and do love.  And, if that doesn’t work—do nothing.  That’s my goal now:  restful Thanksgiving followed by a peaceful Christmas.  Enough said.

 

Image Credit:    Diana Hooley           Image Credit:   Marie Callender Pie