Top 10 Summer Time Killers

I can remember the countdown to the last day of school like it was yesterday! We waited in anticipation for the coveted summer break to arrive. There were end of school parties, desk clean out days and extra recesses since there was, in all reality, nothing to do but be physically present so the school could collect state funding for the day. Ah, summer.
In summer, you could have sleepovers with your best friend ANY day of the week, not just on Friday.
You could sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
You could play outside for hours only to be greeted by your mom delivering ice-cold RC cola and grilled cheese sandwiches served with crunchy Cheetos around noon.  You might be treated to a trip to the pool.  You could count on Dairy Queen numerous times, but especially on the way home from Grandma’s house on those hot sticky nights.  There were strawberries and blueberries to pick and be made into jam.  A trip to your grandparents’ home in Tennessee was always on the agenda.  There was the annual outing to a Cubs game which involved going into downtown on the train- a treat indeed.  Bible school marked the end of summer.  It was usually held in late August.  I always suspected this was to get us ready for “school mode” again.  But the best part of summer, was the laid back, less harried lifestyle we leisurely enjoyed.   I hope my kids get some of that.  I was blessed with a mom who got to be at home until I was in high school.  I have to juggle work and summer vacation- no easy feat.  We will see what happens this year.


RC and Canasta

When the heat came sneaking in and smothered, Grandma would suggest “pop and some cards on the porch”. I always loved to sit on the front porch, probably because we didn’t have one. The fact that it was located on the second floor was also a bonus.  It gave one the affordance of being eye to eye with the occasional squirrel, a unique experience for me.  Our front “porch” could, more aptly, be referred to as a “stoop”. So, any opportunity to be out there on it was welcomed.
I would sweep it off and grandma would get our “stuff” ready. She would call me back through the apartment to the kitchen through to the utility room where I would collect two avocado green lawn chairs (think 1970s).  Then, she would remove two Libbey glasses in a deep, transparent royal blue with light blue, opaque flowers adorning their sides, from her open, above-the-sink cabinet.  She would pop the cap off of a cold RC and divide it between two heavily iced glasses. 

The porch was a narrow one and by the time you put two chairs and a TV tray out there, not much else would fit.  It didn’t matter.  We would sit and play canasta for hours, or so it seemed.  In retrospect, she had to be bored out of her mind because, Canasta- for two?  Seriously?  I, however, improved my skills and learned new ones.  She frequently stopped and advised a different play than the one I had just made.  She was good enough to let me pick up my wayward card and rethink my next move.  I won, a lot.  Or, at least I thought I won.  It felt good to beat Grandma.  She was pretty much an expert at Rummy, 21, 31, Eucre, Canasta, etc.  If it was a card game, she could play it.  And, she would win.

When the RC was gone and the condensation had puddled at the base of the glass, we would make our way back in to the ever so slightly cooler apartment.  The big box fan was positioned right at the end of the couch and so we shared that space in the slight coolness of the city night.

10 Oldies

They just don’t make TV shows like they used to make.  I mean, seriously, Survivor? Biggest Loser? The Nanny?  The Bachelor?  Would those have made it in 1970?  I think not!  People were too busy Surviving to pay any attention to some group of slackers taking a reality vacation in the Bahamas.  Trying to lose weight was done in the privacy of one’s own home and if you couldn’t find the self-discipline necessary to lose the weight, well, you might just remain a bachelor or bachelorette (old Maid) for the remainder of your life.  And a Nanny?  really?  How about just disciplining your own children?  You know- say what you mean and mean what you say?

We have become a nation addicted to other people’s problems, fights, relationship issues and short-comings to make us feel better about our own plight.  I mean, really, my extra 10 pounds pales in comparison to the extra 100 the Biggest Loser “star” ???  is carrying around. 

Whatever happened to values and morals and integrity and hard work

Take the Walton’s for instance.  Hard-working family struggling to make it in the Depression era.  Lots of love and sacrifice and dedication to each other and their faith.  They laughed and cried together.  They saw each other through the seasons of life and overcame death, stroke, fire, loss of health, first loves, divorce, drinking, and a host of other woes that are still applicable today. 

Little House on the Prairie-  One of my all time favorites!  A very moving story about devotion to family and ,again, core values: love, integrity, respect, love, faith, commitment, etc.  They didn’t have much, but they had each other, and that was enough.

Speaking of “enough”, Eight is Enough was the first show I can recall where the ever-changing shape of the American family was displayed for all to see.  It showed the struggles and strengths of blended families.  They weren’t perfect.  they had all of the “typical” step-child, step-parent issues to deal with; no Brady Bliss living there.  Both parents were smart and hard workers.  They were good models of where to “step in” and where to back off.  

And a mullet too! What


Then, there was my hero- MacGuyver. I loved MacGuyver more than Magnum PI, Remmington Steele or Johnathan Hart.  He was, well, he was MacGuyver!  Who else did you know who could make a bomb from nail polish, a string and, say, a tie tack?  I mean, really? 

Chicago Hope came along at a time in my life where I was the lone woman in a sea full of male counterparts and a glass ceiling.  Kate Austin was my hero.  She held her ground in a male dominated field and did well for herself.  She had quite the reputation and while I was waaaaaay more mild-mannered in my own dealings with my male co-workers, I admired her drive and “take no prisoners” attitude.  Plus, it was filmed in Chicago- so- bonus!

In direct contrast, and perhaps for balance,  Andy Griffith Show  remains a favorite.  I just love Andy and Aunt Bea, Opie, well, the whole gang.  Again, way ahead of its time, the show put single dads in the spot-light and while there was Aunt Bea to add a feminine touch, there was no mom.  Andy dated, but never married Helen.  Of course,  no episode was complete without Barney and his antics.  And, Otis, who could forget Otis or Ernest T.?  Andy showed respect to all, even those who had earned none.  He set an example of kindness and, again, integrity. 

Anyone catching a theme here?  Hmmm, maybe THAT’S what’s missing today.

Matlock is sort of Mayberry part three, only set in Atlanta, so, it doesn’t count as a separate show in my top ten.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one!  I watched and re-watched Matlock. I loved that he always (true to his inner Andy) took pro bono cases and fought for the underdog.   He was a wealthy man, but chose to live simply (light blue, pin stripe, seer-sucker suit).   He wanted what was right and fair and always finished the day happy and fulfilled with a hot dog from the court house vendor. 

Hill Street Blues  This makes the list because it was the first show to play more than one story line at a time and film in a manner that was more documentary style (close range camera).  It is second only to the West Wing in Emmy awards and audience for the first season. Each episode began with roll call and ended with Sergeant Phil Esterhaus yelling, as officers were filing out, “And, remember! Let’s be careful out there.” It show cased the fact that the police aren’t perfect, but overall, our justice system is the best in the world. 

The Cosby Show was simply brilliant! I didn’t appreciate the anomaly it was because I knew African-American families who were headed by two professional parents. However, in college, I realized the ground-breaking territory the show covered in a Social Problems class. The professor was discussing all of the stereotypes and “social norms” the show broke, especially in the South.  A show where, again, good, solid family values were in abundance: respect, hard work, integrity, love, acceptance and personal responsibility just to name a few!

Finally, The Golden Girls shows the strength of women and the depth of women’s friendships.  The “girls” were so very different and yet, extremely loyal and committed to each other.  The theme song is great! It speaks to the depth of the relationships. You can’t really say any more than this little bit:

Nope, they don’t make shows like this any more. 

Loyalty, trust, honesty, integrity, hard work, dedication, you just can’t find those in today’s sitcoms and reality TV.

Special thanks to Mama Kat’s Pretty much Famous Writer’s Workshop for the inspiration/kick in the seat to get writing! Visit her site to read more posts with a similar theme and a whole bunch of other really cool stuff.

Apple Trees and Sauce and Jelly and Butter Oh,My!

Growing up, I got to spend extended time in the summers with my grandparents in Tennessee. Life in Tennessee was very different from life in Chicago. Even as a child, I was very aware of the cultural distinctions.

One of many differences was the fact that my grandparents had a garden and numerous fruit trees.   I didn’t know anyone with a fruit tree beyond the ornamental crab apple.  Northern winters are a little too cold for fragile trees.  There were pears, peaches, plums and apples, golden delicious, to be exact. Oh, and grapes too!   Each summer, at just the right time, my cousins, who were older, and better acquainted with tree climbing, were summoned to climb and shake the tree, thereby extracting the fruit so that I could gather it in large five gallon buckets. The fruit was sweet and ripe and wonderful. The rotten ones? Well, we just threw those down the hill to the compost pile where, apparently,they magically became “compost”. 

Compost was an oddity to me. We didn’t have a compost “heap” and I certainly didn’t know anyone else with one. However, I gathered that it was somehow intricately tied to a good garden, or fruit crop, or , well, . . . I wasn’t quite sure.  I just knew that we put all the scraps (well most of them anyway) on the compost “pile” each day. I’m not sure how some items were deemed unacceptable or inappropriate for the “heap”, but they were.  It all looked like a pile of trash to me.  At home, it all went in a bag and was taken to the curb.

Anyway, we would lug the buckets up the hill.  I would drag one and my grandparents each took two.  Once we were in the house, we had to “look them” for bugs, or worms, or whatever gets into apples.  I usually tried to avoid this part. Being from Northern Illinois, I wasn’t very schooled in “bugs”, nor for that matter, did I really WANT to be.  And, besides, at home, we never “looked” anything.  If you put the suffix “ed” on the end of look, that meant the event had already happened.  It was not an activity you were currently completing, nor was it something you would soon be doing.  It was done. You see my confusion.

Once the “looking” was done, it was time to peel.  I wasn’t very good at that either.  I was of absolutely no use with a knife and only somewhat useful with a vegetable peeler.  Once the peeling was done, I could chop.  Chopping made the coming cook time less.  So, I was Head Chopper.  I was so young that the complete process escapes me, I just know that by the end of a very long cook and process time, there was applesauce and apple butter or jelly, depending on the whim of the day.  At the end of the season, there was enough for a small army to make it through the winter.  I loved to hear the pop of the cans when they sealed.  It meant they were done and the best part was next!   It was then that  I got to write on the top of each one with a Sharpie.  This was SO worth waiting for!  Sharpies were contraband at my house- something about it bleeding through to a relatively new counter top in the days before the Magic Eraser Sponge.  I take the Fifth. 

In the years since, I have canned my own jams and jellies.  I have never made applesauce or apple butter.  I think that I could never “get it right”, in much the same way that some other recipes that belonged to my Mamaw are irreplicable.  She had a special touch.  I miss those times in her kitchen.  I was frequently “bored” and wanted to go play or create a grand outdoor adventure, but I learned so much.  It was really important to her that I be there and take it all in.  I wish she was still here to see all that I learned when she thought I wasn’t paying attention.

The Mulberry Bush

When I was little, my grandma lived in an apartment in town. Unlike many apartments, this one had, not only a front porch (which will no doubt be the subject of another post) but also a small yard! Actually, for an apartment, it was a rather large yard. In the center of the yard was a gigantic Mulberry Bush/Tree.
I’m sure it was once a bush, but it was so overgrown it had become a tree in its own right. Even as a child, I realized that no one had ever, intentionally, planted such a large tree in such a limited amount of real estate. Yet, there it was- a veritable feast for human and bird alike!

 The apartment had been a boarding house many years ago as evidenced by the abandoned hinges that adorned the frame of each doorway. At some point in its past, that building must have been “high-class living”. The mulberry bush/tree even had a concrete sidewalk running from the back door to the tree. It then circled the tree and made its way, leisurely, past the black- eyed- susans and daisies to the alley, where it ended amid lilac bushes and a long ago dilapidated fence and arbor, that, no doubt, used to welcome friends and tenants alike.


Even in its worn state, I thought it was magical! I imagined parasoled, gloved ladies sitting in the yard sipping iced tea and enjoying a small bowl of the sweet/tart berries while engaging in the gossip of the day. Perhaps the berries were even used in a pie or cobbler! Maybe they were for wine or tea.  Grandma said you could take them and use the juice as a dye for material.  We even painted pictures with it one time!  Whatever the reality had been, I was certain it was magnificent!

 However, for me,  the Mulberry Tree simply signaled spring and the upcoming summer and many lazy nights with my Grandma. We would sit outside or take a walk down to the water front to escape the heat of the one bedroom apartment. In those days, Grandma was still “old school”, which meant no air-conditioning. Upon our return trip, we could cut through that same alley and walk down the sidewalk towards the tree. I would ask to pick and eat some and Grandma would always “happen to have” a butter dish carefully hidden under the back steps for just such an occasion.
Exhausted from the exercise or the heat, or both, we would hike the two flights up to her apartment to carefully wash, and ever so slightly sweeten our find!  Then we would sit, both of us, cross-legged, on the porch, or better yet, the two large rocks out back and savor each berry.