Just when I thought I had it all—the Apple trifecta (iPod, iPad, iPhone), plus a handful of tiny MP3 players, a Bluetooth speaker and a talking car, along comes somebody to give me yet another gadget to keep charged.
            We’re now deep into February, when parking spaces are beginning to open up again at the rec center. Those New Year’s resolutions only last so long. And so one’s body, fit and flexible for about a January nanosecond, is already beginning to deteriorate. At least mine tends to go that way. Except now I have permanent motivation in the form of a sports band.
Unless you’re in training for the Olympics or something more energetic, you may not even know that there is such a thing as a sports band. I didn’t, either, until I opened one up on Christmas morning. Ever the gadget geek, I was immediately fascinated. Put this rubberized plastic thingie on your wrist and it keeps track of a whole bunch of activities, like moving. And that’s good because I often have a prolonged disagreement between my physical and spiritual selves over which one is willing and which is weak on any given day. Most of the time, of course, there’s no real contest, so my body, which prefers being at rest, tends to remain at rest.
Now, however, I have a motivator. How can I resist when a flashing light at the end of my arm keeps saying GOMARYGOMARYGOMARYGOMARY! I can’t just ignore something that personal and that urgent, can I? Plus, the accompanying app on my iPhone sends me a message to “get up and move for 5 minutes for the win.” I like winning. I like it even over and above being at rest, so if I happen to be where it’s convenient, I get up and walk, delighted when my band tells me that I’ve won an hour. Don’t ask because I don’t know an hour of what. No matter. Winning isn’t everything, as they say, it’s the only thing. But I wish I could win new carpeting for the house because I’m wearing a path through the kitchen, dining room, living room, hallway and bedroom.
Okay, so it’s a glorified pedometer. It just happens to be the only pedometer that I’ve had that’s actually worked. But while it’s water resistant, it’s not waterproof, so I can’t use it to count swimming strokes. And it also doesn’t count much movement when I do the Nautilus circuit. Brushing my teeth? Yes. I do get credit for that, and, in fact, just waving my arm. Oh, and something else! It actually tells the time, too! Now I have two watches. Plus that Apple trifecta. I definitely have no excuse for being late anymore.
It’s almost unimaginable how the world got along before we had all these gizmos. I mean, Noah probably didn’t have a tide table app when he was piloting the arc. Marco Polo didn’t buy oregano from Amazon.com. People had to go to the library to borrow a book and nobody even knew what a Duck Dynasty was. On the other hand, nobody had Facebook, either. Ah, progress.
I was going to expound further on the benefits (or not) of my sports band, but I’ve been sitting here at the computer for a while now and it’s calling me. It really is.



            Anybody interested in a phone book?
            How about a genuine, full color Rand McNally map of Northeastern United States, guaranteed never to return to its original folded state?
            Still no takers?
            I’m not surprised. Of all the items that the digital age has rendered practically useless, these two are probably near the top of the list. Think about the last time you needed a phone number. Even if you don’t have a smart phone, you at last have a cell phone, with a list of three gazillion contacts. My phone even has the Illuminating Company’s number for reporting power outages. But on that rare occasion when you do have to look one up, there are easier ways than lugging out a five pound tome and then trying to read names and numbers basically the size of fly spots. Google does it better. And if you do have a smart phone, Google will not only find it, but also, with the tap of a finger, dial it for you. Through the magic of Bluetooth, it’s even possible to do the whole thing hands-free.
            Ditto the road map. Anyone over, say, forty, might remember driving along the highway while whoever was in the passenger seat wrestled with a piece of paper the approximate size of Lake Erie and about as hard to calm. Why was it that whatever town or city you were trying to find was inevitably on the flip side? Use the map long enough and coffee stains would obliterate whole counties and rips would become sinkholes into which would tumble Boston or Chicago. Some people, of course, weren’t too concerned about that. But I say, God bless whoever invented the GPS.
            I got thinking about all this the other day when I opened the glove compartment of our family car, releasing a veritable Niagara Falls of road maps. Why on earth were we keeping them? They hadn’t been used for a good decade. The original Declaration of Independence was in better shape.  Heck, even James, our GPS persona, hadn’t been out of the console for months. If we needed directions, we just plugged the address into a map app (nice poetic ring there, eh?) on my iPhone and within seconds, it spit out a visual and also turn by turn driving directions. The paper maps were clearly headed for the recycle bin.
            Which reminded me of one of our kitchen drawers, the contents of which consisted solely of these two items: phone books and maps.  It needed cleaning out and there was no time like the present. Within minutes, the whole thing was empty. (Well, okay, I did keep a few maps of a sentimental nature, and just in case the entire Internet was taken over by aliens. And one phone book.) Leaving, in the drawer, a huge vacuum, which my nature abhorred. What to put in it?
            It took about a nanosecond. Guaranteed to fit in the space and to most likely become obsolete even faster than the phone books and maps? Simple. All the cables, chargers, batteries, etc. for the digital devices.
            Happy New Year, everyone! And stay connected, will you? Somehow.


       It was inevitable. You have a big enough family and at some point the logistics of Christmas gift giving become problematical. It happened to us in the years just prior to 1993. With families being so wide-spread, it would clearly take not only Santa, but all his minions to deliver everything. The USPS would have been happy to oblige, but that just added to an already burdensome expense for families who were just starting out. For one year, at least, we opted for a lottery. Draw a name and buy something for that one person. But with families running to four or five people, that got a bit pricey, too.
          It was then that our daughter Mary had a brilliant idea. “We can make something. Handmade gifts are always fun and welcome.”
          2013 marks the 20th year of our handmade gift exchange. There have been some wonderful and also some very wacky and unusual presents.

          To wit (in no particular order and claiming the limitations of memory):
-      A sweatshirt decorated with a small cousin’s handprints
-      Bongo drums
-      A whiskey cake
-      A wooden revolving rubber band shooter, given to a young nephew who promptly shot out a light and was grounded.
-      Hand-painted wine glasses
-      Decorated Christmas ornaments
-      A small pink football for a new granddaughter because girls need to play, too—given by her grandfather who had to learn the ins and outs of a sewing machine to do it.
-      A bat house
-      A handmade Advent calendar
-      To various people one year, flannel sleep pants, sewn by a family who practically turned their house into a sweatshop to do it.
-      A xylophone made out of steel tubing on an oak base and filed to near perfect pitch with an electronic tuner.
-      A book of personalized haikus
-      A rosary ring fashioned from a nonmagnetic bolt by our son who was on a submarine at the time. The box it came in was carved from a Pine Wood Derby kit.
-      Framed photographs
-      A family recipe book
-      A painted birdhouse
-      Soup in a jar.
-      A wooden tray made from pottery shards found on the island of Ischia.
-      Things knitted and carved and sewn and glued and painted and constructed out of an incredible array of materials by hands old and young, creative and not so, stained and sticky and sometimes bandaged.

Has our two decade old gift-giving project been perfect? Of course not. We are human. We err. We forget, we procrastinate, we feel less than adequate at times. We give in to buying instead of making when time is crunched. We sometimes grumble if we’ve made an effort and someone else hasn’t. Our good intentions are often left on the cutting room floor. We’ve been on the verge of giving up. But in the bond of family can be found the grace of forgiveness and redemption and second chances.
The gift of Christmas came to us in a hand-hewn manger. May our small tokens to one another, no matter what form they take, spread our love and Christ’s peace to a world in desperate need of both.



          One of the things that came to me from my mom’s “estate” – the few possessions that were left when she died some fifteen years ago – was her recipe box. I’m not sure why I got it because I’m not the best cook in the world. Mom would have been amused.  On the other hand, she had already given me her precious bread board, along with her ancient cast iron frying pan and Dutch oven, so at least she knew I had a love for the historical. Anyway, I recently had occasion to pull the box out of my cupboard a few weeks ago when I was searching for her recipe for corn bread.

          Corn bread (or as we called it, Johnny cake) was an integral part of one of my favorite meals growing up in South Buffalo. It would start with Mom cooking an old stewing hen in our stove’s deep well burner, which was a regular back burner sunken into the inside of the stove. An aluminum pot with a cover fit down into it and it was great for cooking soups and stews. The hen would cook for hours and hours. And hours. The resultant tender chicken was made into chicken fricassee one night and all of the broth became chicken soup for another meal. We loved both, but the soup was my favorite. Served with the Johnny cake, it was hearty fare for a cold winter’s night.

          When my husband and I were first married, it quickly became evident that I was to be the chief cook and bottle washer. Still am the chief cook, too. (For the record, though, the deal is, if one guy cooks, the other cleans up. “But I don’t cook,” he protests. “Exactly,” I say. And so he does the bottle washing. Also the pots and pans, etc.) So I cooked the chicken and put the meat away for another meal, then made chicken soup with vegetables and noodles, just like my mom. For some reason, we never had actual chicken meat in our soup. I also made some johnny cake, warm and slathered with butter. And I served it to my husband. And he ate it. Enjoyed it. Smacked his lips and asked, “What’s for dinner?” 

          “What’s for dinner?” I repeated. “That is dinner.”

          In all fairness, this was a guy who ate four sandwiches for lunch. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my “dinner” came off as an appetizer. 

          All this came back to me in a rush as I sorted through my mom’s metal recipe box. Times having changed a bit and us getting older, the classic soup and corn bread meal is now perfectly okay. Even preferred. I found the slip of paper tucked in with clippings from the Buffalo Evening News and handwritten recipes for Baked Cheese and Shrimp (Ruth Holmwood), Chicken Divan (Nell Fitzgerald) and Quick Oatmeal Cookies (Susie Butler Hoak). I do know Susie, but the not the others. Nevertheless, I imagine they’d like to know that their legacy lives on.

I stared at the johnny cake recipe for a moment. It was written in Mom’s own hand, so like my own, and had a big ink blot at the corner. I grinned as I suddenly wondered if anyone even knew what an ink blot was anymore. And then I thought of my own recipe collections—at least the current ones, which are computer printouts stuck in an office file keeper on the counter along with some directories and other odds and ends of paper. How sad, I thought, that we may be seeing the last of handwritten recipe cards. If I want someone’s recipe, it will most often show up in an email or a link to Allrecipes.com. Sure, it works, but it’s not quite the same, is it?

Another thought is that recipes have changed over the years. They’ve been sliced, riced, diced into mere shadows of their former selves in an effort to remove all trace of fat, sugar and salt. And often, taste. Good for most things, I guess, but sometimes if it ain’t broke, it’s probably a sin to try and fix it.

          A few years ago, I was at our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving, ready to make my famous pumpkin muffins, courtesy of my tattered and stained Betty Crocker cookbook. Suddenly, I realized I’d forgotten to bring either the book or a copy of the recipe. No problem, I thought. I’ll just go online and get it at the Betty Crocker web site. Well, they did have a recipe, all right, but it was a poor substitute. It, too, had been “perfected.” Now I don’t take any chances. I have it on my iPod, my iPad and my computer. And I still have the cookbook, too. 

          Maybe we ought to have a national Send a Recipe Day, and what better time to do it would be just before Thanksgiving? I am going right now to the kitchen and write out my pumpkin muffin recipe and send it to someone. Not sure who, at the moment. But there are plenty of people who will be glad to get it. On second thought, maybe I’ll send a few. Are you with me?

          Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!