Old Things

glass liquor bottle 1890sI love old things. One of them you see here, a bottle from the 1890s or before, meant as I am guessing, for spirits of some kind. You can’t really tell with the label mostly effaced.

I came upon this and the item below while going through a nasty drawer full of junk under our kitchen’s utility sink. It was in the 1980s that these two items first came to our notice from their sleeping-place deep down in the earth . It happened when we excavated a portion of the yard to expand our antiquated kitchen.

I don’t know what the builder was thinking when he laid out the original room when the house was new in the 1890s. Even by that era’s standards, it seems a truly terrible space to for the preparation of food. I say this because in all the 90 years before we came, this kitchen had remained the same. Sure, the stove had been swapped out and the old stove still reposes, a slumbering whale in our basement. The refrigerators got swapped out too, from the original icebox to electrified coolers, like the 1920s-era version that also slumbers below stairs.

But the basic layout?  Unchanged in all that time by which I mean to say that when we got here, there were no cupboards above sink or stove or fridge. If you wanted a cupboard you had to walk in to the next room, a room grandly called, in those days, ‘the butler’s pantry’. I called it that myself  – I had grown up in a house with room we called the l pantry – until I realized my small children thought I was talking about a pantry without a butt. (It must have been my Boston accent.)

Additionally, there were no surfaces on which to set things in this kitchen we inherited in the 1980s. Not a countertop in the place. If you wanted a surface, you had to walk into another room called the larder, where there were wooden shelves, wooden drawers and a lone square of marble for rolling your pie dough on. If as the cook, you needed to pare the potatoes you stood at the sink. When you needed to whip the potatoes, you sat at the wooden table in the room’s center and worked with the bowl in your lap.

And when our family of four sat at that table, still situated in the room’s center, we were all squeezed in so tight that someone had to vacate his seat and push in his chair in order to open the fridge for a forgotten item, and another person had to do the same so someone could check the oven to see if the brownies were done.

We couldn’t wait for that renovation. It brought us not only a larger more airy space in which to prepare and serve meals to friends and family, but it also delivered to us this last old item: a railroad spike from… who knows when, as Its irregular shape argues for a vintage older still than the 1890s. Today I am thinking hmmmm: the old Massachusetts town of Concord lies only a few hills and laps distant from here.  Maybe this is the kind of spike driven in to the earth when they first laid that Boston-to-Fitchburg run in the 1840s, and the iron monster  so shattered young Henry Thoreaus’s peace of mind over there in his cabin on the banks of Walden Pond. Anyway, here is ‘our’ spike, seen against one of my cookbooks for scale.


The past is all around us, no doubt about that! Now if I could just talk to Thoreau, or Emerson, or Walt Whitman, or my girl Emily D. over the road there in Amherst. Where do they go, the dead, the silent dead?


Posted by on August 2, 2015 in always the past, death, Time


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On Houseguests and the Laundry

Carrie packing it up to go homeFor most of the last decade I moonlighted as a massage therapist, and this story begins in those years.

It begins on the day a tall big-boned woman of 75 appeared in my office for her first appointment. After completing the intake form together, she and I entered the massage room itself where she took one look at my thickly linened table and without preamble turned to me. 
“So you’re Irish,” she said.  “How did you know?”I said back, startled.

“Hey just look in the mirror” she shrugged, and then nodded toward the table. “And I see you do a WHOLE lot of laundry!”
“I sure do!” I sigh, thinking of the Santa-sack of sheets and face-cradle covers I toted from office to home and back every day.

“Well,” she went on matter of factly, “it’s lucky we Irish are good at washing because we sure ain’t much in the kitchen!”

I laughed out loud then. And I’ll admit that for all its ethnic stereotyping, her remark about laundry has made me smile many a time since that day.

In fact I am thinking of it now. Why? Because for the last two weeks we have had five extra people in this house, three young children and their two parents.

They are family so I love them already, but the truth is I love it anytime guests come to this house and sleep over. I just find the arrangement so …cozy.

I mean sure it was a little more work having five  ‘boarders’ for a fortnight. And yes the children brought with them everything but their very beds; from favorite books to their stuffed animals to the small electronic devices all school-age kids seem to have these days.

But in general they were among the most low-impact guess we have ever had. They prepared the food. They cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher. They emptied the dishwasher.

And when they climbed the stairs for bed each night, they did so taking every last sneaker, bookbag and babydoll with them, leaving our first floor as tidy as the rooms in a funeral home.

They left this morning, – that’s a picture of my girl Carrie above starting to make their move – which is why I find myself now once again doing laundry.

I have gathered the linens from four beds and a crib; I have dragged downstairs the tall damp mountain of towels left in their wake, and all these I have submitted to the slow churn and gurgle of the washing machine; to the busy spin of the drier.

And now, in remaking the beds, I am finding traces of this family’s stay. Here, for example: here is a tiny sock. And over here: here is a small stuffed bunny.

I’m also learning things as this task progresses. I’m learning that one child appears to have slept all these nights with a giant box of tissues right in under the covers with him. I’m learning that his mother has curled up all these nights attended by a travel pillow in a hand-stitched pillowcase case from the 1890s.

Chiefly I am relearning things I already knew. I’m learning again that I rather enjoy sending a fresh clean sheet aloft with a billow and a snap, whether it is to settle finally on a message table or a bed;

And I am learning again that I do so love the feeling of having lots of people here in the dark midnights, all breathing safe and quiet under the same roof. It’s what I imagine God must feel too, gazing down, from that Heavenly realm, on all our little heads.

callie in her bed-within-acribour littlest houseguest, 


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Bag it, Baby

bagsHere’s a funny email that just zipped quicker than the Road Runner into my inbox

“Dear friend” it reads.

(I have a friend, that’s so great! I love having friends!)

“Glad to hear you’re in the market for column bags.”  

Wait I’m in the market for column bags? I am?

Well it’s true always in the market for something. Yesterday I went online to buy two nice fat wooden knobs for the ends of a pair of curtain rods I don’t even own.

And I guess maybe I can see why I’d get this email, since columns have been part of my daily life for some damn long time now – meaning I do actually write columns, every single week and have been doing that since the year Jimmy Carter found himself freshly ushered off the stage. These columns appear in papers all over the country . But gosh I didn’t know you could store them in BAGS.

Yet here’s this company saying specifically “we specialize in column bags with good quality and competitive price” – AND they’re “willing to establish business relationship with” me! Not ‘a’ ie, a single business relationship, mind, you, but ‘business relationship’. It sounds so sort of …eternal. Anyone with abandonment issues like I have has gotta love that! 

Plus I’m excited because all this time I’ve been trying to store all 10,000 of these columns in dreary old file cabinets and I get all these paper cuts and there’s all this bending over to get at them.

Bags though? You can hang a bag. Bags are always better, especially when they’re nice and new like mine would be. James Brown knew all about this didn’t he though? I do love me some James Brown. Saw him perform once in a little club in Revere Beach. ;-)

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Posted by on July 22, 2015 in humor


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Lets’ Have Another YARD SALE

yard sale

I should really hold another yard sale. It’s been a good 20 years since the last one and the old place is brimming again with so many items that SEEMED like wise purchases at the time but, really, were they ever? 

And I have to ask myself: how many scalp-singeing curling irons can one person own? Especially when that person already has curly hair and it turns out what she really needed was a scalp-singeing FLAT iron?

And maybe while I’m at it I could get some tips about how to properly use these cattle-proddish tools, the true big guns of the styling realm. The last time I asked at the salon why my hair sometimes smells burned, all three stylists hooted with laughter.“If it smells burned it’s because you’re burning it! Adjust the setting!“ one cried amid all the merriment.

“Wait, there are settings on these things?” was all I could think. It’s like when the repairman comes to fix your washing machine and lifts out some little doodad you never noticed was even in there. “Of course you’re taking this out and cleaning it every time, right?” he says and you nod gravely, wondering all the while how you could have failed to understand more about an appliance you have owned since Back to the Future was the movie of the year.

But to get back to the topic of useless items, why do I have a so-called “air popper” that never did anything but burp forth a listless 20 or 30 scorched corn kernels from its snout before emitting a sharp metallic smell and quitting altogether? Out with the air popper!

Where did I even get these crazy items, or were they gifts? It’s true that some who have come here as extended guests have left behind things, like the thousand-pound set of free weights up in the attic. Sigh.

I remember clearly that yard sale we had back in the 90s. It’s when I finally got rid of all those silky jogging suits done up in swishy pastel fabrics. I remember how it took me weeks to get ready, labeling things as I sorted.

I had a pile marked ‘Scary Bathing Suits’, featuring some of the steel-girded ”full figured” numbers I wore in my Just-Had-Another-Baby stage. I had a richly comic pile consisting of half a dozen hilarious bras and a pair of fanny-padded underpants.

Then I had a pile with dolls of the kind that you buy for your kids in desperate moments, when you’re just leaving for vacation, say. As I cleared a spot for them I gave them nice new names, like ‘Jury Duty Barbie’ and ‘Vasectomy Ken’. And then, God help me, there were all those Nerf toys and Super Soakers with enough power to stun a mastodon.

These last I seem to have somehow re-acquired and I guess that’s okay; younger visitors are thrilled to come upon them.

That thousand-pound weight set though? Even as I write, that thousand-pound weight set is still here, slowly working its way through the splintery attic floorboards, ready to crash through the bedroom ceiling onto our unsuspecting heads. 

I live with the danger. In my mind it makes a nice metaphor for life.


Posted by on July 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Is This the SAME PLACE?


The view from my study window

The view from my study window

Right now the air is so damp and sodden!

I feel like I need gills instead of lungs to keep on living.

And the vegetation outside is just drenched with chlorophyll..


Even the inchworms are green, to say nothing of the mold growing on that one clementine that got stuck at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

It looks like a fuzzy green bowling ball for Dopey and Sneezy and pals now.

But seriously..

Can this really BE the same block?

The same state?

Nay, the same hemisphere, that used to look like THIS?


Can this be the same hemisphere where, when  the sun began to set and the icicle below halted whatever dripping it had been doing OUTSIDE the house and instead got busy dripping secretly INSIDE, painting so many of our walls and windows a rich caramel brown?

sunset Feb 10, 2014

I mean can this above picture really be  taken from the same exact spot in my house as THIS?

the ivy from the bathroom window

It can be and it is…. and all I can say right now is Mama Nature she does like to keep us hoppin’!


Posted by on July 8, 2015 in humor, the seasons


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“The Nuns” (and Report Cards in General)

Ages 9 and7 in the years we had the nuns

Ages 9 and7 in the years we had the nuns

After making up all those snow days, we finally came to the school year’s end around here  last week and the final quarter ended fully and for good.

Back when I was a child, the end of any marking period was a tough time, both for my big sister Nan and for me, and why? Because we had “The Nuns” and The Nuns could be very exacting. 

Ours were anyway, and they sure didn’t sugarcoat things on the report cards. 

For example, in the ‘character development’ categories at the bottom of the card, there was a box labeled “Accepts Correction,” in which I received a steady stream of NI’s, for “Needs Improvement.” 

There was another labeled “Use of God-Given Abilities” where Nan racked up her own share of NI’s. Nan was always as smart as a whip and it must have galled her teacher-nuns to see her doodling dreamily in the margins of her worksheets, up in that top right-hand corner where we were supposed to write ‘JMJ,” for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I am so happy to see that nowadays young schoolchildren’s report cards seem so humane. Take this one, sent home with my little grandson David in the very first year of his own formal schooling. It has these wonderful categories, like “can describe the effect of wind on people and the environment” – love it! – and “can define balance and demonstrate how it is achieved.” 

And the behavioral evaluations seem so encouraging. For example his teacher writes “David takes pride in his work and follows our routines with ease.” Excellent! Also , “We see a thoughtful and compassionate side of David when he helps his classmates and teachers. He shows genuine concern for the well-being of others.” Great!

And then there’s this part that COULD be interpreted as the bad news, but somehow doesn’t SEEM all that bad, the kindly way this teacher puts it:  

“We also see a side of David that is physical. He can be full of energy and antics. He loves to play tricks and he can be pretty sly. When reminded about our rules, he works hard to maintain self-control,” she goes on.

“This is not easy for him.”

“Growth is noted.”

I find that wording just so wonderfully… careful. Does “can be pretty sly” mean he is snacking on stolen fingerfuls of paste during Art Class? Does “works hard to maintain self-control” suggest that sometimes he loses it?

I love best that she writes that “growth is noted,” for don’t we all struggle to grow thus, ascending from our many lower selves to a higher self, whether we’re six or 96?

At close of this first day of sure-enough summer, on this brink of the fair season’s biggest long weekend I say God bless all teachers for believing that this growth is possible. And God bless too the young woman I knew as Sister Catherine Alice, who once told us wide-eyed Second Graders about how, of a snowy winter evening on the hilly convent campus, she and her fellow nuns would sometimes bind up their skirts and veils and go sledding.

Notre Dame Academy Roxbury MA

Notre Dame Academy Roxbury MA

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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Nice Try on the Fathers Day Gift

talking-stick-23631004 (1)I was browsing in a gift shop one June day when I came upon the simple-looking staff that I think of as a “Talking Stick.“

Labeled a “Rain Stick,” it is a varnished section of cactus inside of which are many spoke-like slender thorns and tiny pebbles. When you tip it at an angle, a delicious pattering sound ensues as the pebbles fall from one end of its four-foot length to the other, tumbling past spoke after tiny spoke.

The tag accompanying this Rain Stick told that in Aztecs culture the males would confer using such a staff, which helped preserve order, since a person was only allowed to speak while holding it.

In fact I had used something very much like a Rain Stick the day my middle school daughters and her pals fell into an argument. I went and fetched a small broom from the closet by the back door and explained the rules.

And it worked like a charm: There was no interrupting, the pace of talk slowed way, way down, and at the end of 20 minutes the four girls had not only had their say but had wept, hugged, blown their noses, and gone to the fridge for a little snack.

Remembering this, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this gift-shop doodad. This is it! I thought. Here it was almost Father’s Day so why not give my children’s father a Rain Stick, which, as the tag pointed out, would “help make life more enjoyable, meaningful and even complete”? Anyway, wasn’t the dad in this family ALL ABOUT male-bonding activities? Didn’t he have those pals he got together with every week to play cards, inhale Scotch and highly-salted snacks, and insult each other’s moves? Couldn’t a Rain Stick elevate THEIR level of communication?

I paid the 30 bucks and took it home.

On Father’s Day itself, the kids and I had planned to take our honoree to an open-air concert performed by a bunch of people dressed like 19th century serfs. But as it turned out, actual rain was pouring like water from a busted hydrant and the concert was canceled.

Then the dad received an invite from a buddy-dad to watch the Stanley Cup finals and somehow in there the Rain Stick got forgotten.

Days later, when we at last got around to presenting it, we let him play with it a while. “It says self-realization follows,” we told him, reading from the tag.

“So… are you realizing anything yet?” we added.

“Yeah, I’m realizing you guys really blew Father’s Day,” he said.

Nothing daunted, the next time the scotch-and-sodium pals came over for bridge, I brought the Talking Stick forth to show it to them.

They looked up from their brimming fists.

One grunted.

Another picked it up and swung it like a bat.

Then they all looked back down at their cards.

A month later, the youngest in our family whacked it on the floor and we saw 10,000 pebbles explode like confetti all around us.

The child yelped in glee. On hearing about this later, so did his dad.  We three remaining family member, females all, sighed deeply. Then, in the ceremony of resignation common to families everywhere, all five of us adjourned together to the fridge to have a little snack.

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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in humor, men!


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Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat

Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat


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