Finding Timeless

Do you ever find yourself getting burnt out by the craziness of “now”? Feeling detached from your own thoughts because of the constant viral conversations and noise? Have you ever longed to transport yourself back to another time (any) just to appreciate the simplicity of life again?
My husband and I are quite modern in most of our ideals but, by nature, drawn to “older” interests. We have both been told that we were born in the wrong time period. We gravitate to old movies – I literally can’t remember the last time we saw a movie in a theater. Our car rides entail older music (Dave’s into the ’80s, but can also get down with classical and Big Band, which I find an awesome spousal trait). When we take a vacation, we always make at least one historically significant stop along the way. We generally prefer older houses (although goodness knows what we’ll end up with during our current house hunt). The list continues on and on.   

So, today I’m sharing some ideas for anyone who may have had enough of the current fast-paced, do-it-all world in which we all seem to be swirling. Here’s how to add some timelessness to slow things down…


Simplify. Okay. Look at a person one hundred or more years ago (or even less, actually). How much “stuff” did they own? Or, simply think about their wardrobe. One nice Sunday outfit, then maybe two outfits for every other day. A woman used an apron and petticoats so that they didn’t have to wash their dress every day. One pair of shoes kept cean.
Now, I’m not advising that we go to these extremes. But, consider this individual and ask yourself, “Am I any happier?” Life is easier thanks to modern day conveniences and we certainly don’t have to “do the washing” nearly as much. But I didn’t say ‘is life easier?’; I said ‘are you any happier?’ Big difference.
So, address your closets. Check out your over-flowing storage situations. Analyze whether or not you need enough plates, cups, etc to feed four dozen people. Is this all stuff that you NEED in your life? Does it make you happier by having it? If so, you may need to do some more soul searching to discover where your fulfillment lies. (We are slowly but surely making our way through our own stuff and, boy, does it feel freeing!)

Be mindful and let go. Common sense truly used to be a common trait. It was partly inborn, partly taught. I find that by being in touch with one’s surroundings and trying your best to be “present” in the current moment, we can find a lot of clarity – which, in turn, helps us make wiser choices. (There’s that common sense thing.) Try your best to be mindful and you may also find yourself enjoying life quite a bit more, as well.
At the same time, the current issues that people have are plentiful. Yes, there were issues many years ago (disease and mortality have always been problems, right?), but when they were problems, they were HUGE – think: the crops didn’t come in and we don’t know how we’ll keep the farm this year. Many of our current problems are self-made. Say you didn’t have enough taken out for your taxes and rather than getting that juicy tax refund (the one you’ve already mentally spent), instead you have to pay. This isn’t something to hold on to. It was a mistake — a mistake you made. Own it, figure out a way to amend it (in other words, pay the darn thing), then move on. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s yours. But, we all make mistakes, so it’s perfectly find to move on.
Learning to let go can be downright liberating. Mindfulness can help you connect to your life. Both awesome things.

Go green. It’s surprising (or not) how many of the “green” initiatives and suggestions these days are actually deeply rooted in practices that our great grandparents would have found to be the norm. Cloth diapering? Breastfeeding? Eating natural, home-grown foods? Finding natural treatments for minor ailments? Finding uses (and reuses) for things? Backyard chickens and gardening? None of this is new. It’s just starting to make more sense to people.
There are a million small ways to go green. So, save rain water. Start a small potted garden on your patio. Keep an eye on your water use. Eat vegetarian once a week. Or check out the many websites that have a plethora of other suggestions (of course, I’m biased and love Green Child Magazine and The Eco-Friendly Family). Every time I water a plant, I think about the backyard garden my great-grandmother fed her five children on.  

Step outside your comfort zone. Maybe your annual vacation consists of a nice long trip to a beachy resort with lots and lots of splashing fun for the little ones. This is an awesome way to recharge and get some fun family time in, but consider just trying one thing that might be outside of your family’s comfort zone, like a quick trip to a historic lighthouse for a guided tour or a stop by the visitors center to learn more about the significance of the area you’re visiting. If you’re camping, you may be surprised to find a gem of a museum right in the middle of the woods (my favorite is the Adirondack Museum). There’s often far more than meets the eye when you’re traveling, and you may find yourself with a deeper appreciation for your favorite vacation spot.
The funny thing here is that it’s often a battle with older kids (or your spouse) to take precious time away from one’s vacation for one of these stops. However, if you start your kids young with this type of activity, it will often spark a further interest in history of all different kinds; and older children ride along with a pout but before long are found with smiles and laughs while helping historical interpreters pour candles or test out an old trade. Now, it’s your job to get your significant other on board. 😉
Read. The best way to get in touch with the past is to get hands-on like with the aforementioned activities. However, arguably the second best way (I have friends who would claim it to be THE best way) is to immerse yourself in books that were either written during a past time period, are set in the past, or are about the past.
The cool thing about this tip is that if you’re a reader, you don’t have to change much. If you like a certain style of fiction, I guarantee that you’ll be able to find it in a historical setting (adventure, romance, science fiction, realistic…it’s all available in historical fiction form, too). If you prefer non-fiction, well, just head for ANY time period that sparks your interest.
The great thing about history is that you can tailor it to your interests: if you enjoy a good political debate, read up on American politics (things were just as raucous and rude 150 or 200 years ago, believe it or not) or even Greek and Roman politics; if you’re a world traveler, pick up a great piece on the turmoil your favorite country underwent in centuries gone-by; if you’re a crafty individual, grab a “book of receipts” (oftentimes a how-to book on how to run a house in the 1700s and 1800s, it’s quite fascinating and creative to see what activities were undertaken and how without electricity and modern conveniences), found for a steal on Amazon; if you’re into current Hollywood celebrities, try a biography on a classic starlet; fashion, try ANY historical clothing book. There are practically endless options.
If you’re not a reader, a lot can be said for “books on tape” (although they’re now downloadable in a variety of formats and available as CDs), especially read by a famous actor you’ll actually enjoy listening to.
Watch a movie. Wait, what? First you tell me to read a book, then you say to watch a movie? Isn’t that kind of contradictory? Nope, not really. There’s a ton of history in movies, whether they’re new films based on historic events or an old movie about, heck, anything, either way they can open your mind.
When Dave and I were just “friends in a show together” he got me an old ’40s film noir called “Scarlet Street” for my birthday. While it wasn’t necessarily my usual “style” of film, it was superbly acted and meant more than anything in the world to me because he realized I had a taste for the old school (ie he “got” me). Later, when we started dating, we enjoyed nights in watching, yes, the occasional “Family Guy”, but also movies that had a meaning to them, like “His Girl Friday” (Dave worked in news). Now, as our family has grown, we’ve raised our son with Andy Hardy movies and even a Fred Astaire clip here and there. It definitely pulls us not only back into another time, but back down to earth.
Learn about your past. You may think you know everything there is to know about yourself, and to an extent that’s accurate. But, you don’t fully “know thyself” until you are aware of how you got to where you are and how many people are really rooted in who you are today.
I’ve accomplished much of this by reading our family’s papers on particular past members, but also through my research on Ancestry.com. Discovering how many ancestors had hands in real, significant historical events is both humbling and heart-touching at the same time. It definitely forces me to consider what my effect on the world might be.
You don’t need to buy a subscription to Ancestry, though, to learn about your family’s past. Just start by asking questions: your parents (my mom somehow knows more about my father’s side than many of Dad’s siblings!), any living grandparents or aunts and uncles. They all have a wealth of information to share, and it’s often like chatting about old times (and people that were very dear), so can be a very pleasant conversation to have.
Try something an old way. My husband has forsaken his electric or disposable razors for an old-fashioned safety razor and brush. Aside from this method giving a good, clean shave and looking super cool on our bathroom shelf, it lowers our waste (yes, the razor part needs to be disposed, but if you rinse and dry it well, they last 5-10 times as long as they would otherwise).
We also wash our dishes by hand. I’m not sure if it conserves water, but we do our best to do so. We also don’t really hate to do it (most of the time) and it gives your mind a chance to wander. You may be surprised at how just-as-convenient some “non-convenient” methods can be.
Limit your online time. This is one that Dave and I still find to be a challenge, but we’re trying to be mindful (ha! See above!) about it. Unless I’m hunting for a recipe for dinner, my phone is away when the guys get home at night and doesn’t reemerge until after the little guy goes to sleep. It’s important to give your mind a rest and to remember that you CAN survive without checking Facebook or your email every hour (or minute).
Every once in awhile, I’ll do a tech-free day (sometimes without TV, most of the time just a little). It definitely helps to break the addiction and cycle of constantly leaving the “real world” for the “non-reality” of the internet. It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s not a real place to give every second of your life to. Your tangible reality – your family, friends, pets – are in the now and won’t always be there. Cherish the real world.
Go outside. While avoiding that internet time, try heading outside. You can be extreme and take a hike to a tall mountain or simply head to your back deck with a coffee, but there’s something refreshing and soul-recharging about listening to the birds, feeling a breeze, smelling grass and flowers. You may also strike up conversations with some unexpected neighbors, much as people once did very commonly. Just think about how much time people spent outside in years gone by and how, at the end of the day, the feeling of a day well-spent in fresh air must have filled their souls with such contentment.
So, here we have just a handful of ways to find and insert some “timeless” into your daily life. What are some ways that you hold history dear in your day-to-day life? Any suggestions to add?

Massachusetts Vacation 2014 – Concord, Pt. 2 & Montague

On Monday, I described our trip to Massachusetts and our first day in Concord. Today’s post will cover “day two” at Concord (which I will forever say in my head as “Concerd” since apparently that’s how locals, and quite possibly the historical folks who lived there, say it…there’s a whole thing with how to say “Syracuse” properly, too) and our trip back to Western Mass. Y’know, for the test you’ll have on this whole thing next week.

No. There’s no test. Unless you really want one, but that’s just sick.

So, we got up after a great night’s sleep — as great as it could be with a pushy toddler wedged between two adults — and packed up every last bit of paraphernalia we’d brought into the hotel room. After loading up the car, we headed to the “Harvest Room” for our continental breakfast. We’re nothing if not cheap. Plus, I was shocked that they had organic oatmeal (which Dave ate, good boy). Hadley provided both entertainment and, to some, irritation with his feistiness and lack of willingness to eat, but we all made it through unscathed.

We drove back through town to the Concord Museum, showing up just as it opened. It was surreal and absolutely bemusing to see a man dressed in impeccably detailed Revolutionary War garb getting out of his Hyundai parked next to us. Dave almost grabbed a picture, but I’m a buzzkill. Dude, he was, like, two feet away.

We were SO lucky to show up on one of their Free Fridays (it would’ve cost us $20 otherwise), especially considering that we breezed through the whole thing in just over an hour.

We only went through the main building, but it was perfect for us. We tried to sit through the short-ish video about Concord (lots to cover, and we walked in late, so of course I missed anything regarding the transcendentalist movement or being the hub of the revolution…hmph), but Hadley immediately disliked the idea, so poor Dave dragged him out of the auditorium. I sat watching but worrying that he was tearing down precious artifacts or being his moody self (he has many sides; moodiness is just one of them). But, nope! Apparently, they had coloring stations set up for little ones, so the boys had colored a picture of a rather frazzled looking “colonial woman” and a powder horn. Whew.

We then turned our attention to the rest of the museum. I LOVE the fact that museums try to identify with the needs of all their attendees, be they families with various ages in tow, history buffs, people with little to no interest in history, etc. There was a time that the fanciest, most interactive part of a museum was a diorama, but today there are buttons to push (which play high-quality recordings), little doors with information behind them, uniforms to try on, and tons more.

Hadman was very much in an “okay, that’s great, what’s next?” mood, so I only skimmed through what I was interested in seeing. Besides, sometimes the artifacts themselves are enough. We looked at the rooms dressed in original furnishings and asked him simple questions — “What do you see in this room that we have?” “What color are the plates?” and explained things where I could — “Instead of a pen like we have, people used to dip a feather, or quill, in ink to write. Isn’t that neat?” He takes things in constantly, so anything that seeped into his mind makes me glad enough.

The museum workers were incredible with him, too. They were highly accommodating for a child of his age (I was worried we’d get the raised eyebrow, which only happened in, of all places, the museum shop) and talked with him lots.

The most impressive parts, to me, were that the original “Boston Massacre” print by Paul Revere (actually a copy of another man’s work, ahem) was on display. We happen to have a much larger scale of the print in our dining room, so that was AWESOME. I was also in awe over one of the two original candle lanterns — the “one if by land, two if by sea” ones. My mind was blown.

I’m also a bit of a Thoreau fan, so seeing some of the original furnishings he used at Walden (you can see here where I enjoyed visiting the replica of the building over by Walden Pond), as well as his snowshoes and the last pen he wrote with before he died (again, quill…in the mid 1800’s? I couldn’t believe he’d be writing with something so simple at that stage in history; goes to show you I’m not a know-it-all after all).

And, dude. Emerson’s pad. Not a replica. His actual study/sitting room. Right down to the original wallpaper. 

 
I just loved the crap out of that museum.

We perused the gift shop and I ended up with a couple of Thoreau works (my “Civil Disobedience” had gone missing) and an awesome editing of his works that proves what an activist he’d probably be today in the world of environmentalism (which also discusses his beliefs on technology and more). I can’t wait to delve in when I finish my current read.

As is our custom, we also grabbed a cool Concord magnet.

I was bummed there was nothing Hadley-aged there, but he didn’t seem to care either way.

So, we bid adieu to our lovely Concord and hit the road westward to Montague to meet up with a friend of ours and his lovely lady friend. We had some major difficulties finding our way, but when we did finally reach our destination, it was wonderful. We met up at the Montague Bookmill (yup, more books) and grabbed a bite at their Lady Killigrew Cafe. The food was great, and we ate outside as a gentle rain started to cool things down. What a great time catching up and sharing a new experience.

We walked through the bookstore (I believe it was all used, so the prices were great) and I couldn’t help but think of the huge difference between the independent book stores we had visited. Both were great, but it showed the grandiose next to a more “mom-and-pop” almost counter-culture vibe. We grabbed a book with a built-in clock that monkey had gravitated to (numbers, people, the kid loves numbers), said our good-byes, and plopped him into his car seat. Moments later, he was napping.

After Montague, we headed to South Hadley to meet up with some awesome practically-family friends who let us sleep over and hang out. So, that’s where I’ll leave off for now. One more post, then we’re back home with the kitties! 😉 

Massachusetts Vacation 2014 – Concord, Pt. 1

Surprise! We snuck away for our family vacation last week! I didn’t post about it in advance because we’re those super-private, protective people who don’t like to announce when our home is free for the pickin’. Call us crazy (it’s okay, we’re used to it), but we’re mostly concerned about the kitties. 


Anyhoo, I figured I’d write a few posts on the trip itself (was going to do a quick rundown today, but I’m chatty), then share a post or two about how we kept a toddler happy along the way, how we alleviated some of the “rush here, rush there”ness of a road trip, a few of the sights we enjoyed most, and anything else that pops into my head along the way. Sound good?

Let’s just say from the start, this trip wasn’t a relaxing retreat. It was meant to be a fun family adventure, which usually recharges the adults’ minds, gives the little guy some new, fun experiences, and, though enjoyable, makes us all feel happy and lucky to return home safe and exhausted at the end of it. Check, check, and check! 

We left on Thursday to drive the 4+ hours to Concord, Mass. I picked Concord because I love its history and because the monkey is still way too unpredictable and non-listeny (totally a word… “disobedient” sounds so evil, and it’s not really accuratre) for a big joint like Boston or Philly. We also hoped to fit in some friend-visiting in western Mass, which we did; I, however, still feel guilty over the people that we missed. I’ve gotta get over it, and I know that a toddler is a natural time usurper, but I still feel badly.

So, anyhoo, we left just shy of 8am (later than I’d hoped) on Thursday morning, packed to the gills with clothes, toys, food, a pack ‘n play…pretty much everything in our house sans the cats. I’ve gotta say we lucked out with our monkey on the trip; for the most part, he was an absolute trooper while traveling. Sure, he got cranky once in awhile, but I was generally pleasantly surprised and proud of what a great boy he was for the drive.

 
The trip out was long, but not bad. Hadman hadn’t slept well the night before and ended up in bed with us (see above picture; hugely rare these days), so we were all pretty tired; he fell asleep and did a morning nap vs. his usual afternoon nap. It was PERFECT for the drive to-and-from Mass. We took a couple of stops along the way, and we snacked on healthy stuff I’d packed for the road.

When we reached Concord, it was too early to check in, so we took a quick potty break at the visitors’ center (loudest. hand dryers. ever.) then parked on a Walden Street. We scoped out the storefronts for a game plan and decided to grab a meal at the Main Streets Market and Cafe. Again, after a week of terrible two behavior, I was shocked at how well-behaved Hadley was for lunch (for the most part). Oh, and the joint had awesome food. Top-notch, really.

We then hit up the Toy Shop of Concord, which was beyond awesome. It’s an independently-run joint and was super kid-friendly (one would hope), so it gave Hadley a chance to get out of his stroller and engage with other kids and (mostly) toys, toys, and more toys. The funny thing was, I love buying things we’ll use every day while on vacation to remind us of the fun trip we had, so I was fully planning on buying him whatever the heck he wanted…and he picked nothing. He enjoyed certain toys, but then moved on to the next thing, so it was impossible to get him to select something on his own. Eh. We ended up with a Green Toys submarine for some fun in the hotel bathtub that night.

After Dave threw more money in the meter, we hit up my favorite antique shop ever, Thoreauly Antiques. I mean, perfect, right?! The place isn’t very big, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in substance. Their selection is perfectly in-tune to a modern antique-collector. Here are just a few of the things I was eying:


I seriously almost got one of the lavender sachets (either 3 or 6 for the “3 humans, 3 adults” or “6 altogether”). And the NY Central drove through my hometown, so, yeah.

 
Sorry for the fuzzy picture; I had a man with a stroller hot on my heels. 😉 But the vignettes around every corner were just incredible. (That’s a plate of old keys, BTW.)

Pages of French from the 1800’s. So much could be done with those. Oohh, la la. 


Old hotel numbers on brass key chains. I started to look for our home number, but *someone* was getting fidgety. Not saying whom…who?…but it wasn’t Dave and it wasn’t me.

More keys!

Knowing full well how almost-to-capacity our car was already, I didn’t grab a darn thing. We did head a few doors down and purchase a bit of candy (as a “thanks so much” gift for our neighbor and my mom, who watched the house and checked on the cats while we were gone…and as a gift to ourselves for eating such healthy snacks in the car) at Priscilla Candy Shop. In all honesty, the customer service left something to be desired, but the candy was worth it.

Then, we took one final stop at the GORGEOUS Concord Bookshop. My word. I’ve never seen a library or book store in my LIFE that was more impeccable than this one. I assume the shelves were mahogany, and everything built custom for the space. The book selection was insane (the first thing that hits you as you enter is the biography section…they must’ve seen me coming a mile away), and it was quieter than any library you could ever imagine (although it had a good stream of people swimming throughout). We purchased a few books then hit the road.

By the time we checked in and unloaded anything we’d need into our room at the hotel, it was after 5pm. Hadley was still bouncing with energy and I had no idea what to do for dinner. We found a couple of menus for a nearby Italian restaurant, so decided to order in for the night. (Very important tip I’ll dive into further in a future post: Know thyself. If your little one is probably not willing to sit still, going out to dinner — even if you had your hopes set on it — is not a “must” while on vacation.)

Besides, we could sit back in our comfy clothes, allow him to run around, and watch precious C-A-B-L-E (HGTV FTW!). Plus, when I picked the food up I saw how dressy most of the people eating and working at the restaurant were, so it wouldn’t have suited us much, anyway. One large pizza, a pile of pasta, and two flan-ish desserts later, we were satiated (half the pizza went to waste; Hadley’s appetite was unusually chill). Two bathtimes later (Had’s and mine), Hadley was in the hotel-appointed crib…playing a highly amusing game (to him) called “Hi, Mama! Hi, Dada!” Ahem. Into the bed he came. Within moments, he and Dave were completely zonked. I finished my episode of House Hunters, read some more of my latest favorite book (Marmee & Louisa, highly appropriate to the trip), and went to sleep.

Have I mentioned how much I love the squishiness of sleeping in a hotel bed? Because I do. And, apparently, so does Hadley.

That’s it for today! I’ll stop by this week with the last activity at Concord, then meeting up with our friends back to the west. Yay!

I Blame Louisa, Laura, and Lucy

Lately, I’ve been noticing that a lot of bloggers I casually enjoy seem to have a small running theme. A similarity. A coincidence, perhaps, but a common thread, regardless.

Sure, some blogs share a pioneering spirit, raising chickens and baking their own bread and growing what they eat. Others like getting their hands dirty and DIYing their hearts out. Lots share a life-simplifying philosophy. Many chat about living an earth-friendly life. Most ultimately focus on giving their all to their families.

Just drop the name “Anne” (with an “e”) on Facebook and the chatter starts. The same can be said for Laura and, to a lesser extent, Jo.

I blame the ladies. Those independent lady authors who came before us and created such true-to-life characters (characters who often reflected their own independent streaks) that still resonate with readers and fans a hundred plus years later.

Like many who grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s, I watched quite a bit of “Little House on the Prairie” and then, after watching my sister read the crap out of the series, swiped them from her book shelf when I was old enough to read a chapter book. During a time that could be construed as a bit terrifying (high child mortality rate, taking huge risks traveling to a new, dangerous territory to raise one’s family, relying on one’s own hands to provide food and shelter), Laura and her family faced challenges but grew together with warmth and even some fun. “Half-Pint” was allowed to be her own individualistic, at-times outspoken self.

I still think of her when I smell lemon verbena or see it at Bath & Body Works.

Laura was my gateway girl. Sweet and readable, I longed to eat biscuits with jam, grow my own garden, pull taffy, wear calico dresses with braids, and pretty much build a time machine to go join Laura in any one of her family’s cabins. It was definitely one of the things that sparked my history obsession.

Next, thanks to the impeccably-produced “Avonlea” TV series, which my mother and I watched religiously each week, I became interested in the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I took one or two of her original Chronicles of Avonlea books from the library, but got absolutely hooked when I met Anne.

I loved Lucy’s Sarah Stanley, but Anne was timeless. Between Megan Follows’ performance in the miniseries and finally reading a handful of the Anne books (namely, Anne of Green Gables) when I was old enough to comprehend the flowery language (very Victorian), I lurved her. Anne (with an “e”) Shirley was handed a pretty unlucky hand. Orphaned. Passed from one unfriendly family to the next. She finally landed in Prince Edward Island with strict, sensible Marilla Cuthbert and her silent, sweet brother, Matthew.

Her spunk, spirit, independence, and intelligence always inspired me. Aside from her disdain for her red hair, she never seemed to feel sorry for her lot in life. It helped me to recognize that, throughout history, lives have been hard. Damn hard. Far harder than mine, even growing up without my father. It taught me to suck it up and find the joys in life.

And, then, there was my all-time favorite author and character.

I watched the movie first — the good one, the 1994 one. (I love Katharine Hepburn, but hers is only second place of the five — yes, FIVE — versions.) It became a family classic. My sister and I will still throw in the DVD on those “off” days we need the comfort of the story and the friends within. Then, in about 8th grade, I got my very own copy of Little Women for Christmas (which, considering the first chapter’s theme, was perfect). Since then, I’ve read it piecemeal every year, or a different LMA work or biography. I have a new copy, but kept the old one. Of course. My dream is to own a first edition (two volumes).

Jo, the second oldest of four March girls, is the epitome of a feisty chick. She feels incredible highs when she’s able to read, write, and act with her sisters and friend-next-door Laurie (um, a guy), and incredible lows when she feels a great urge to be able to do greater things during the Civil War and in her own life, a tad bitter that she wasn’t born a boy with the rights they were afforded. She’d rather run, use slang, and speak her mind than be quiet or prim and proper. She’s a modern woman if ever there was one. I like to think she (in the form of Louisa May Alcott, her alter-ego) would have very much enjoyed and embraced the independence that women have gained, and it makes me appreciate the education and choices I’ve been afforded. Even if I have chosen to get married and have kids. *wink, wink*

Little Women and LMA is one of the reasons that we like to travel to Concord from time to time. I’ve been through her house once (and, honestly, felt like I was meeting a celebrity the whole time) and have learned about transcendentalism, her famous family friends and acquaintances, and every year seem to find out more deeply interesting facts about her family and past. The fact that it’s the site of the shot heard ’round the world…well, for a history freak like me, that’s the icing on the cake. Nom nom.

I think it’s only natural that so many of the independent female writers of today who may see any of these writers or their timeless girls as idols have taken to the interwebs to write their own hearts. The women of yore were romantic but realistic. True to themselves and independent. Hard workers to support their families. Strong as hell in the face of adversity. They helped show us a world outside our tiny little girl lives, inspired us to dream, and taught us to try what we want and work hard at it.

Write away, girls. Write away.

Shave Time, Shave Money

We are nothing if not simple folk. I know some who know us might disagree — we’re not Amish, by any means (and if I’m offending any Amish…what the heck are you doing on the Internet??). But, ultimately we feel that it’s better to live a simple life than a life full of too much stuff, too many complications and too much drama.

So, simple we are.


That said, when the Dollar Shave Club (yes, that Dollar Shave Club, founded by Mike, himself) asked if I’d be up for a “Shave Time, Shave Money” challenge, I was like, “You know who I AM?!” Er. Stay cool, Meg. Stay cool. I was like, “You betcha!” in my best mock Sarah Palin voice. Seriously, I’m a sucker for a challenge, even if it’s failing miserably while attempting it. See also: junior high basketball attempt…and volleyball.

I thought I’d share a handful of ways that we have stumbled upon that have shaved time and/or benjamin-spending from our family’s daily routine. See if you’re doing any of these simple life hacks already or if they’d help you out…

Tea and coffee, coffee and tea. Hot water + plant life that’s been toasted beyond recognition = an item that many can’t make it through the day without.

And know what takes more time than you may realize on a daily basis? Waiting in line for your morning fix. Even if it’s a drive-thru, it takes at least 7 minutes in our neck of the woods (and if you have to go inside? Fuhgettaboutit.). Not to mention the cost. Even a basic $2 coffee (and we all know it’s not $2, especially a soy mochafrappamachiacino) adds up to $10 a week, or $40 by the end of the month. So, yeah. We don’t play that game.


Instead, while we’re running around putting lunches together, we put on the teapot or get the coffee going. By the time lunches are done, our hot beverage is ready for sugar or honey or milk. A big pro here is that we have complete control over the ingredients. Let’s just say that even organic coffee or tea is mere cents a cup made at home vs. $2 at Dunkin’ or Starbucks.

You can be like my awesome stepdad and measure out the coffee and fill the machine with water to make it easy in the morning to just flip the switch when you’re ready.


Speaking of lunches, prep is key. If you make a conscious decision to make, say, one huge salad on Sunday night, it’ll make weekday mornings markedly easier. I kid you not; stay in bed 10 more minutes. Just store items like sliced tomatoes, sliced strawberries (seriously, don’t laugh, they’re soooo good with feta in a salad), or diced cheese separately to avoid slimy grossness, then just assemble quickly in the morning (or, better yet, the night before).

We’re cool with salads (plus some grilled chicken or varied toppings) everyday; just grab a cup of yogurt, an apple, and a bag of pretzels or popcorn. We throw in a wrap (also made in advance, filled with some of the salad ingredients) or leftovers once in awhile so that the salads don’t get boring. Packing a different flavor of dressing or vinaigrette, or using a variety of ingredients helps, too. We find that a handful of almonds can really add another level of flavor.

Not only does this provide a healthy option, but it also makes it easier to “just say ‘no’!” to a takeout or fast food lunch. It’s definitely way cheaper to do the Ford assembly line method, too.

Is “Just Say ‘No’!” too 80s to reference anymore? Too Nancy Reagan? You can be honest, I can take it.


– This one’s for you die-hard money saving fools out there. We’ve talked before about our decision to switch off the cable, but it’s the perfect time to bring it up again.

We were sick of the high cost of cable and the fact that we only watched, say, 20 of the 70 channels. So, we bravely switched to the 11-station plan. Um, I say “bravely” because we were addicted, and we didn’t know anyone taking that step. (Compared to, say, soldiers…we ain’t brave.) Since then, we’ve adjusted fine and even have a few friends and family cutting back, too.

If there are certain shows you need to, like, exist, don’t sweat. Hit up Google to find out what streaming device will hook you up with your faves and put a chunk down to buy it. Seriously, still way cheaper in the long run.

Luckily, Dave and I love PBS (hellooooo, Downton, History Detectives and Sherlock!), Hadman’s also a PBS lover (Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger!), and we’ve had Netflix streaming on the Wii forever. It suits us just fine.

Share and share alike. What’s simpler than purchasing only ONE of everything? This is a tad different with a toddler around, but the Dorky Daddy and I share a lot of the basics, and it cuts back on extra purchases and makes shopping super easy. We use the same toothpaste, soap, shampoo (I’ve even been known to use Hadley’s), deodorant…yeah. A lot. It’s also helpful to keep an eye out for coupons and know that you’re saving even more. 
But don’t share razors. Ew. If you’re looking to streamline your shaving experience and pay less doing it, try the Dollar Shave Club. For one low monthly price, they send you “f$%&ing great” razors and keep you smoother for cheaper. Seriously, for as low as a buck; what’s cheaper than that? $12 a year?! That’s nothing. Have you BEEN through the razor section of a store lately? Insane.
 
Dude, shop at a grocery store. This may sound weird, but my advice is to shop at a grocery store for your groceries.

*crickets*

Yyyyyyeeeeaaaaahhh. By this…what I mean is…okay. If you’re used to shopping for groceries at a store like, say, Schmalmart, think about how many times you’ve come home with something that wasn’t food or food-related. I’ll wait.

*clicks on Canadian TV station*

*clicks off*

*looks around*

*takes a drink*

Figure it out? Back when I used to shop at Schmalmart, in my glamorous bachelorette days, I spent about the same amount of cabbage that I do today at my local grocery store. While buying just food. For THREE people.

What busted my bill so badly back then? Extra crap. “Oh! $5 t-shirts! Seasonal candles! Clearance flats!” See what I mean? I ALWAYS bought something else — something I didn’t need — when I went grocery shopping.”

Side note: I also bought stuff like bottled water, soda, and a million more processed items back then. We’ve since gone “real food” and while organic is more expensive, the fact that I’m not adding on stuff like that helps balance the cost. Just sayin’.

While I know there are pitfalls of shopping at a grocery store (I do get my dish soap, washing detergent, toilet paper, etc. at the grocery store), it’s mostly food, so it’s harder to fall prey to the “buuuuuuyyyy mooooorrrre” monster. Also, I don’t kill an entire afternoon or a couple of precious hours shopping anymore. 

Make more sense now? Sweet.

Think old. It’s no secret: Dave and I are old souls. We probably over-romanticize the past and long for simpler, wholesome times (without all that bigotry and hatred). To be blunt, I wish we could live in a Capra movie. And it looks like Hadley is on the same track, preferring ’40s big band for dinnertime listening to anything else and he still kicks up his heels to Fred Astaire songs. (It’s like he knoooowwwws.)

But, I’m not suggesting that you take it to our extremes or start dressing all vintage or join a swing dance club. What I am suggesting is that you just take a step back and think about life back then and how you’d like to slow down your modern life a bit.

People grew gardens. People knew their neighbors and said ‘hi’ and sat on their stoops and dropped off cookies for no real reason (except maybe to say ‘thanks’ for watching their kids last-minute the week before). People only owned a handful of outfits, enough to fit into a single armoire. People owned the basics, but knew how to be happy. People were thrifty by nature and it wasn’t looked upon negatively.

How can you fit some of these into your daily life? We try to purge every season (and sometimes more than that) and keep only what we love. We question our purchases. We stop to talk to neighbors when we have a minute. We shovel their walkways when we have extra time. We wave when we drive to or from home.

And the occasional day offline helps you feel more connected with the life around you, a well. Our grandparents were the original YOLO generation; it’s good to look to them as models of a good life.

So, there we have a handful of methods that we like to utilize to “cut” (get it? Cut…) back our money a-spending and time a-wasting. Do you already use any of them? What tips would you add to the list? Did I rise to the “challenge”? Am I the only 30-something who joneses to watch “This Old House” and “Antiques Roadshow”? Answers! I need answers, people!

***Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated or provided with free products for my feelings. Dollar Shave Club and I partnered for the topic of this post. As always, all thoughts are completely, 100% my own.***

REPOST – Memorial Day

I hope you don’t mind, but today I’ll be re-sharing a post I wrote just before Memorial Day last year which holds special meaning in hopes of honoring a very special (there’s that word again) man. Luckily, I’ve been able to update the older post while I’m working on writing a piece on my thoughts regarding my grandfather, who left us last Friday, but am still a bit scattered mentally. It is a solemn week for my family, but we are happy for his suffering to be over and his spirit to be free of the pain of age, finally earning the dignity he so deserved.

As always, thanks for reading. I greatly appreciate and am humbled by all the words of kindness my family and I have received.

For some, it’s the unofficial start of summer. For others, it’s a weekend to work outside and get pretty and/or tasty things planted, patio furniture scrubbed, and headstones scraped of their winter bombardment of bird crap. For still others, it’s a day to enjoy marching bands (as a former band geek, I thank you), out-of-step firefighters and floats featuring veterans.

However we choose to celebrate the day (and its accompanying weekend; gotta love a spillover holiday!), at its core it’s a day to take a moment or two…or more…to remember those brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving and protecting in the military. It’s a somber day, really.

I’m not saying that it needs to be a downer day, and that parades aren’t appropriate. After all, what’s more appropriate than all that marching and having the opportunity to salute our brave vets who were lucky enough to make it through their service? Even the crazy Memorial Day (WEEKEND!) sales. America’s a free market, after all, and if someone can remember service folks who passed every time they open their new fridge, then great!

But, is it just me or has Memorial Day become synonymous with Veterans Day? Both holidays hold roots in two specific memories; Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, a day on which to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the Civil War (the first recorded occurrence of women decorating graves was in Savannah, Georgia in 1862), while Veterans Day was originally observed as Armistice Day, which marked the end of the fighting of the “war to end all wars” (if only), WWI, hence celebrating the veterans of this war.

Both holidays were amended, as many in America have been (and, strangely enough, neither mentioned in Holiday Inn, even if it was still Armistice Day), and became what they are today.

Regardless of their interchangeability, they’re two different (albeit wonderful) things. The thought that so many thousands (or, I assume, millions) of men in particular have lost their lives in order to protect the freedoms that we tend to take for granted or reinterpret and fight over regularly is downright humbling. It’s sad that the fights have been necessary (sadder still that some of the fights weren’t necessity in the slightest), sad to consider the mothers and fathers and spouses and children and siblings who endured a lifelong broken heart to have lost their sons so violently.

I like to remember the history of these two holidays for one self-serving little family history reason: my grandfather. See, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about our genealogy on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I know far less about my father’s whole side (there’s a list of names and that’s pretty much all, empty names). But, we’ve always heard the few stories, be they from “Grandpa Heidi” (actually, his name’s Eugene, but we referred to our grandparents by their dogs’ names…we’re weird like that) or from our mom or just through osmosis.

We also grew up quietly observing. We spent more than a good amount of time at the Cunningham household. I’d waste hours expending my boundless childhood energy on my grandmother’s stationary bike in their basement. Surrounded by an almost life-sized portrait of a grizzly man practically out of a John Wayne western (complete with dog at foot and gun at side, seemingly in a saloon), a tattered Japanese flag, several not-to-be-touched weapons, and a dough-boy helmet, it was hard not to take notice and to let the history seep in through your nose and eyes and skin. It touched us to the core.

So, as the stories go, Grandpa’s grandfather served in the Civil War. It seems he lied about his age and started (around 12 or 13) as a drummer. Apparently he moved into the world of infantry along the way, and it looks as if the gore of war didn’t turn him off (or his life back in New York State was so uninteresting or unpleasant that he thought it a better opportunity), because he continued in the Army during the American Indian Wars. Not something for which to be proud, particularly with the number of times his records display his wandering spirit. But, that was John Cunningham Sr., and he’s a character, if not a gentleman. There’s still a family legend that, while out west, he taught Bat Masterson how to play the banjo, among other “are you serious?” tales.

Great-great grandpa John wasn’t the most respectable of fellows. If I’ve patched things together correctly (which I may not have), it seems he was something of a bigamist. My grandfather’s father and brother (and any other siblings; I’m not sure how many there were) came from nothing and were apparently picked up for stealing bread on the same day and sent to orphanages. Things get hazy, but we do know that he served overseas during World War I. If not for that, my grandfather might not have lived, and my mother — to say nothing of my siblings and I — would not be here today.

See, Grandpa John Jr., though a kind-hearted man, wasn’t the most motivated. Lacking an education (or a will to get one) and with an inclination to drink (I recently found out, however, that he was a “kind drunk”…which means something considering the violent drunk my grandmother had for a father), he, his wife, and his abundance of children were dealt a particularly difficult blow when the Great Depression struck. For all the things he’s unwilling to share, Grandpa Heidi will discuss every and any detail he can recall about life during the Depression. It both scarred and strengthened him for life beyond what I thought human endurance could handle.

His mother, Clara, whom he adored and who died far too young, would make one pound of meat last for an entire week with seven plus mouths to feed. I was given what seems to be her hand-written recipe book “to watch over” (ie probably not for keeps, but I cherish it for the time being) which opens up a world of homemade “table sauce” (similar to ketchup, though she had a recipe for that, as well) and other large batch items that she would put up from their small garden patch in the village. I know from Grandpa that these weren’t just for the family’s foodstuffs; they would go out and sell and barter for butter, eggs, and the like. Meager. The stories are almost endless, one sadder than the next.

So, how does being a WWI vet factor into it? Every couple of weeks, the family, lined up like ducks, would pull their wagon across town to receive their allotment, very often a bag of rice. My grandfather likened it to a walk of shame; all the neighbors knew where they were going, and the embarrassment and shame trickled from his father down through the children. But, the fact that Grandpa John wasn’t too proud to just GET the stuff he had coming to him (today’s equivalent of a form of welfare) meant that his children and wife would have full bellies for another week or more.

When Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) roll around, I consider the hearts living half broken around us today, but on a personal level my mind and heart go selfishly to those who served before who were lucky enough not to die in the heat of battle. Oh, and before my thoughts meander back to the Grandpas John, they of course land on Grandpa Heidi — and Grandma, for that matter — for they both served as U.S. Marines during World War II. I know little of their involvement beyond the fact that Grandpa was a radio man of some sort who were among the first to tread many of the islands in the Pacific (Iwo Jima being the most impacting), almost died of dysentery or some sort of horrid illness, and who hardly speaks of any of it; Grandma trained at Parris Island, so she was a tough, tough lady (but we already knew that), was higher-ranking than Grandpa (but that’s okay because they didn’t meet until after the war ended), and drove higher-ups around in jeeps…probably why she wouldn’t drive post-war.

What little I know of Grandpa came from technical talk when he’d read a book and point out where he had been, or when he pulled out a file containing a newspaper clipping that he hadn’t shared with anyone else that showed a neat array of local boys who had all enlisted — and after he pointed out well over half, possibly three-quarters of them to me, said “they didn’t come back” — and also from one integral moment in my childhood.

After asking me what my social studies curriculum involved throughout my 6th grade year and hearing, as the year was heading to a close, that we had spanned world history without touching upon WWII, he apparently called my school. The following week, a visit was scheduled with numerous vets from the area (my grandfather NOT being one of them) with the 6th grade social studies classes. When one of the local gentleman stood to start a lengthy dialogue on his time during the war, he interrupted himself and abruptly asked me if I was Gene Cunningham’s granddaughter. I quietly (and embarrassingly) answered that I was, and he said, “Can I just tell you — he was the bravest sonofabitch that I encountered during all my years at war. Do you know what he had to do over there??” I gulped and shook my head (still embarrassed in front of all of my classrooms, and in shock that he swore), at which point he started to describe the job of a radio man.

I had always respected my grandfather, even if the stories he told us as kids were false and silly to hide the gruesome nature of war (he said that a bump in his hand was a bullet put there by the Japanese when he put his hand up to surrender…there was no bump, but we believed it at the time). I’m not sure I’ve respected anyone as much as I did, and do, both him and my grandmother (who is now gone and sorely missed). It’s probably one reason that history was ultimately my favorite subject (at times tied with my music or English); I lived in the wrong era and yearned to live vicariously through those who had endured very different, very challenging, yet seemingly wholesome, simpler times. Watching those incredible WWII docs in their brutal honesty brings me to a weeping pile every damn time, to think that my kind, gentle, highly intelligent grandfather was in the thick of it and wondering what mental damage it was inflicting.

With a legacy like those set before us, how can we not strive to endure whatever hardships are placed before us? We may not be faced with war, or a fierce enemy, or even a grave social injustice (lucky us!), but the difficulties that we face deserve to be met head-on, with bravery, courage and a bit of feisty grit, if for no one but our loved ones passed.

Wordless Wednesday – Merry Christmas!

As we joyfully tear open the goodies that Santa has so kindly left for us (and hoping beyond hope that I haven’t passed along the stomach bug to my boys), I thought I’d share a few more pictures from our recent trip to the Cooperstown Farmers’ Museum for their Candlelight Evening.

Thanks so much for reading. It warms my heart to know that even one person (beyond myself) gets any enjoyment out of this quirky little place. Oh, and if you’re bored as things die down this Christmas, have a listen to the Ilion Little Theater’s podcast version of “A Christmas Carol”.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Almost every year, we haul our heinies out to Cooperstown to the Candlelight Evening the Farmers’ Museum puts on (we skipped last year since the bambino was, like, crazy little…I use “little” loosely). The Farmers’ Museum is seriously one of my favorite places ON EARTH. It’s a living history site where houses and buildings from the mid-19th century have been transplanted to create a small village-like atmosphere. 


There’s a building with an exhibit, but the rest is like a step back in time. The print shop creates mailers and flyers for events; the blacksmith makes shoes for the horses (it is the Farmers’ Museum, after all), old flat, square-headed nails, and products for the store; the “house” has a front AND back garden (GAH! LOVE IT!) and, depending on the time of year, shows how folks were putting things up or weaving and dying their own clothes or baking up a storm; the broom-maker (I’m sure that’s not the real name) shows how they were made; the “hotel” (which has an awesome balcony) is opened serving food and showing just how different it was to stay in an inn back then…and so on. I wish I could live there.

So, this year, we literally braved a brutal storm to have a family visit. There was only one goal for the day — to see Santa. The REAL Santa. We actually know the fellow who portrays him, so the fact that he says “hello!” to us by name is beyond cool. He dresses more like St. Nick, with short pants (freeeezing!), a real beard, a long hat, and a big sack flung over his shoulder.

But, thanks to the storm (we’re freaking crazy — we always plan for the coldest possible weather — I wore 2 pairs of pants, wool socks, 3+ shirts, a hat, two pairs of gloves…still cold), there were hardly any lines. So, that being said, we got to have our first ride on a horse-pulled wagon (where Hadley viewed Santa, or “Ho Ho”, from a mile away), chat up the printer on our own (I have a secret: This is the warmest spot in the place, thanks to their TWO stoves. I learned it on my 4th grade field trip, when I was assigned to the print shop and got to create my own “business cards” and “greeting cards”. You’re welcome.), and down some wassail.

We caught up with Santa before he started his story time at the school building, and Hadley was enamored with him. Oh, he also handed over an old-fashioned (albeit red dye-laden) chunky peppermint stick which he sucked on for a half hour. (I grabbed chunks out of his mouth and ate them so he didn’t choke. He still doesn’t have enough top teeth to help in this respect.)

Then, we finally headed indoors to hear some more caroling and buy two HUGE turkey dinners (which came with cocoa and HUGE pieces of gingerbread, which Hadley enjoyed) before trekking back home at half the speed in low visibility. But, we don’t care. It. Was. So. Worth. It.

So, if you’d like to experience some of the old fashioned Christmas, try some mulled cider. Wassail. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely way to cozy up on a chilly winter’s night. And what makes it even better? It’s super simple to make. You don’t even need cauldrons over huge bonfires (which is how they do it at the museum).


Here’s another one of my “wing it” recipes, but it’s only because you really can’t mess it up. Want to sweeten it? Use maple syrup or sugar or whatever you like to use to sweeten stuff. Or don’t; it’s still delicious!) Don’t have cloves? That’s okay, leave it out this time (although use it when you have it on hand again…I respectfully advise. ;-)).

WASSAIL

2 1/2 cups apple cider
1/4 – 1/2 c. orange juice
1 -2 tbsp. maple syrup or sugar (or not)
1 tsp. (or less) cinnamon; or 2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. (or less) nutmeg
1/4 tsp. (or less) clove

Bring all the ingredients to a boil on the stove and stir; reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for as long as you can wait. (Five minutes…ten…or thirty. Whatever floats your boat.) If you don’t like “things” in your beverages, strain into mug and enjoy. Serve with a cinnamon stick if you’re a fancypants.

* Grown-ups who REALLY need a warm-up, throw a shot or two of rum in and say “good night.” Or, at least, that’s what would happen to me. I really can’t hold my booze anymore.

Memorial Day

For some, it’s the unofficial start of summer. For others, it’s a weekend to work outside and get pretty and/or tasty things planted, patio furniture scrubbed, and headstones scraped of their winter bombardment of bird crap. For still others, it’s a day to enjoy marching bands (as a former band geek, I thank you), out-of-step firefighters and floats featuring veterans.

However we choose to celebrate the day (and its accompanying weekend; gotta love a spillover holiday!), at its core it’s a day to take a moment or two…or more…to remember those brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving and protecting in the military. It’s a somber day, really.

I’m not saying that it needs to be a downer day, and that parades aren’t appropriate. After all, what’s more appropriate than all that marching and having the opportunity to salute our brave vets who were lucky enough to make it through their service? Even the crazy Memorial Day (WEEKEND!) sales. America’s a free market, after all, and if someone can remember service folks who passed every time they open their new fridge, then great!

But, is it just me or has Memorial Day become synonymous with Veterans Day? Both holidays hold roots in two specific memories; Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, a day on which to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the Civil War (the first recorded occurrence of women decorating graves was in Savannah, Georgia in 1862), while Veterans Day was originally observed as Armistice Day, which marked the end of the fighting of the “war to end all wars” (if only), WWI, hence celebrating the veterans of this war.

Both holidays were amended, as many in America have been (and, strangely enough, neither mentioned in Holiday Inn, even if it was still Armistice Day), and became what they are today.

Regardless of their interchangeability, they’re two different (albeit wonderful) things. The thought that so many thousands (or, I assume, millions) of men in particular have lost their lives in order to protect the freedoms that we tend to take for granted or reinterpret and fight over regularly is downright humbling. It’s sad that the fights have been necessary (sadder still that some of the fights weren’t necessity in the slightest), sad to consider the mothers and fathers and spouses and children and siblings who endured a lifelong broken heart to have lost their sons so violently.

I like to remember the history of these two holidays for one self-serving little family history reason: my grandfather. See, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about our genealogy on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I know far less about my father’s whole side (there’s a list of names and that’s pretty much all, empty names). But, we’ve always heard the few stories, be they from “Grandpa Heidi” (actually, his name’s Eugene, but we referred to our grandparents by their dogs’ names…we’re weird like that) or from our mom or just through osmosis.

We also grew up quietly observing. We spent more than a good amount of time at the Cunningham household. I’d waste hours expending my boundless childhood energy on my grandmother’s stationary bike in their basement. Surrounded by an almost life-sized portrait of a grizzly man practically out of a John Wayne western (complete with dog at foot and gun at side, seemingly in a saloon), a tattered Japanese flag, several not-to-be-touched weapons, and a dough-boy helmet, it was hard not to take notice and to let the history seep in through your nose and eyes and skin. It touched us to the core.

So, as the stories go, Grandpa’s grandfather served in the Civil War. It seems he lied about his age and started (around 12 or 13) as a drummer. Apparently he moved into the world of infantry along the way, and it looks as if the gore of war didn’t turn him off (or his life back in New York State was so uninteresting or unpleasant that he thought it a better opportunity), because he continued in the Army during the American Indian Wars. Not something for which to be proud, particularly with the number of times his records display his wandering spirit. But, that was John Cunningham Sr., and he’s a character, if not a gentleman. There’s still a family legend that, while out west, he taught Bat Masterson how to play the banjo, among other “are you serious?” tales.

Great-great grandpa John wasn’t the most respectable of fellows. If I’ve patched things together correctly (which I may not have), it seems he was something of a bigamist. My grandfather’s father and brother (and any other siblings; I’m not sure how many there were) came from nothing and were apparently picked up for stealing bread on the same day and sent to orphanages. Things get hazy, but we do know that he served overseas during World War I. If not for that, my grandfather might not have lived, and my mother — to say nothing of my siblings and I — would not be here today.

See, Grandpa John Jr., though a kind-hearted man, wasn’t the most motivated. Lacking an education (or a will to get one) and with an inclination to drink (I recently found out, however, that he was a “kind drunk”…which means something considering the violent drunk my grandmother had for a father), he, his wife, and his abundance of children were dealt a particularly difficult blow when the Great Depression struck. For all the things he’s unwilling to share, Grandpa Heidi will discuss every and any detail he can recall about life during the Depression. It both scarred and strengthened him for life beyond what I thought human endurance could handle.

His mother, Clara, whom he adored and who died far too young, would make one pound of meat last for an entire week with seven plus mouths to feed. I was given what seems to be her hand-written recipe book “to watch over” (ie probably not for keeps, but I cherish it for the time being) which opens up a world of homemade “table sauce” (similar to ketchup, though she had a recipe for that, as well) and other large batch items that she would put up from their small garden patch in the village. I know from Grandpa that these weren’t just for the family’s foodstuff; they would go out and sell and barter for butter, eggs, and the like. Meager. The stories are almost endless, one sadder than the next.

So, how does being a WWI vet factor into it? Every couple of weeks, the family, lined up like ducks, would pull their wagon across town to receive their allotment, very often a bag of rice. My grandfather likened it to a walk of shame; all the neighbors knew where they were going, and the embarrassment and shame trickled from his father down through the children. But, the fact that Grandpa John wasn’t too proud to just GET the stuff he had coming to him (today’s equivalent of a form of welfare) meant that his children and wife would have full bellies for another week or more.

When Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) roll around, I consider the hearts living half broken around us today, but on a personal level my mind and heart go selfishly to those who served before who were lucky enough not to die in the heat of battle. Oh, and before my thoughts meander back to the Grandpas John, they of course land on Grandpa Heidi — and Grandma, for that matter — for they both served as U.S. Marines during World War II. I know little of their involvement beyond the fact that Grandpa was a radio man of some sort who were among the first to tread many of the islands in the Pacific (Iwo Jima being the most impacting), almost died of dysentery or some sort of horrid illness, and who hardly speaks of any of it; Grandma trained at Parris Island, so she was a tough, tough lady (but we already knew that), was higher-ranking than Grandpa (but that’s okay because they didn’t meet until after the war ended), and drove higher-ups around in jeeps…probably why she wouldn’t drive post-war.

What little I know of Grandpa came from technical talk when he’d read a book and point out where he had been, or when he pulled out a file containing a newspaper clipping that he hadn’t shared with anyone else that showed a neat array of local boys who had all enlisted — and after he pointed out well over half, possibly three-quarters of them to me, said “they didn’t come back” — and also from one integral moment in my childhood.

After asking me what my social studies curriculum involved throughout my 6th grade year and hearing, as the year was heading to a close, that we had spanned world history without touching upon WWII, he apparently called my school. The following week, a visit was scheduled with numerous vets from the area (my grandfather NOT being one of them) with the 6th grade social studies classes. When one of the local gentleman stood to start a lengthy dialogue on his time during the war, he interrupted himself and abruptly asked me if I was Gene Cunningham’s granddaughter. I quietly (and embarrassingly) answered that I was, and he said, “Can I just tell you — he was the bravest sonofabitch that I encountered during all my years at war. Do you know what he had to do over there??” I gulped and shook my head (still embarrassed in front of all of my classrooms, and in shock that he swore), at which point he started to describe the job of a radio man.

I had always respected my grandfather, even if the stories he told us as kids were false and silly to hide the gruesome nature of war (he said that a bump in his hand was a bullet put there by the Japanese when he put his hand up to surrender…there was no bump, but we believed it at the time). I’m not sure I’ve respected anyone as much as I did, and do, both him and my grandmother (who is now gone and sorely missed). It’s probably one reason that history was ultimately my favorite subject (at times tied with my music or English); I lived in the wrong era and yearned to live vicariously through those who had endured very different, very challenging, yet seemingly wholesome, simpler times. Watching those incredible WWII docs in their brutal honesty brings me to a weeping pile every damn time, to think that my kind, gentle, highly intelligent grandfather was in the thick of it and wondering what mental damage it was inflicting.

With a legacy like those set before us, how can we not strive to endure whatever hardships are placed before us? We may not be faced with war, or a fierce enemy, or even a grave social injustice (lucky us!), but the difficulties that we face deserve to be met head-on, with bravery, courage and a bit of feisty grit, if for no one but our loved ones passed.

Give150

So, it’s no secret that I’m a bit of a history buff, particularly interested in American history – the Revolution and the Civil War…and anything I can relate to through ancestry, such as the Great Depression and our involvement in WWI and WWII. While watching “The States” on History International this evening [it’s strange how much American history can be seen on this station whereas the majority of the original “History” (no longer “History Channel”…weird) has lots of non-historical series], I saw this ad…public service announcement…well, I suppose it is an ad, it’s asking for money. (Sorry, there’s no way to embed it here.)

I’ll wait while you watch…

Okay, so in case you’re not watching it, the most impacting statement in the short video is that Civil War battle sites are being lost at an acre an hour. This is IIIINNNSAAAANE.

I recall a recent re-viewing of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”. At the end of every episode, I found myself overwhelmed by uncontrollable tears and melancholy. So much loss of life. So much fierce belief in their causes (unless they had been fighting for years and were losing sight of their cause for the more common sense “I’ve seen too much death and destruction, I don’t want to die” perspectives). So much unthinkable horror that the slaves were put through.

Why do I care so much? My connection to the war goes back to my grandfather’s grandfather. John Cunningham joined up on the Union side as, I believe, a drummer in his early teens. He survived the entire war after being bumped up the ranks to soldier (not sure how far up the ranks). After the war, he stayed on in the army to travel out west for the Indian wars. I’m not sure if he had moral reasons for signing up for either, but my guess is not – he didn’t seem to be the most moral and upstanding of men, unfortunately. Fortunately for us, my grandfather and his siblings turned out to be some of the best ilk of human you could happen upon. (Grandpa was a Marine who served in the Pacific during WWII; his dad served overseas during WWI, and it was his small veteran allowance of rice or what was available for the week that helped the family survive the Great Depression. Side note, sorry.)


For some reason, regardless of whether or not John Cunningham had a good reason for signing up, I have a huge emotional connection to the Civil War. My favorite childhood vacation was our trip to Gettysburg (where I bought a Union cap that I wore the hell out of); second favorite was our trip to Vermont where we visited the Lincoln family summer home, Hildene, where I got to see a hat that Lincoln actually wore. As a child, I had a romanticized ideal in my head about longing to live during that time and couldn’t learn enough about Abe Lincoln. In my early-20s, I even considered becoming a Civil War reenactor (not sure if that’s what women are called, though). Yeah. I love my ’30s, ’40s and ’60s, but my heart belongs to the 1860s.

If you feel the same at all and would consider it, please go to http://www.history.com/give150 and donate what you can – $1.50, $15, $150 or “other”. Your donation will be matched. How can you go wrong? Even if we all donated $1.50, it could make a significant difference. Otherwise, please just consider the lives who were handed over, duty-bound to the ages, upon the 150th anniversary of oh so many horrible atrocities and history-making events. 


History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.  ~Dexter Perkins”