Category Archives: How It Was

Domestic near-disaster

Not the best way to make tea...

Be careful where you drop the tea bags…

In the south, nothing says welcome home like a tall glass of sweet tea. So I cranked the stove to high, set a pot of water on to boil, and got ready to welcome.

Do you have any idea how quickly a Lipton teabag will combust when dropped onto an electric burner?


Do you know how big the flames are if ten teabags are tied together when they hit said burner?


How do I know this?

Because I nearly burned down the house in that attempt to make some sweet tea. Not just any house. The brand new, paint-is-still-pristine, boxes-are-still-packed, townhouse of my then-boyfriend (now hubby, miracle of miracles). Nothing ruins the ambiance of a new home like soot stains on the ceiling and the aroma of scorched black tea layered over the fumes of just-laid wall-to-wall carpeting.

Luckily, there was no irreparable damage, and after a quick call to the insurance company to be sure his policy was up to date, the then-boyfriend (now hubby, miracle of miracles) was ready to forgive and forget.

Well, maybe not forget. The incident has come up each time I’ve unpacked the tea pitcher in a new house in the past ten years.


Everyone has some kind of domestic disaster story, whether it’s a kitchen fire or a DIY project gone horribly wrong. If you’d like to laugh at commiserate with other people’s misfortunes, please, please check out the hilarious Domestic Disaster Diary. A slew of talented bloggers share their own near misses, creating a community of sympathy and solidarity for those of us who have good intentions but not always the best results.

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in How It Was, Memoirs, Monday Mix, On Me, True Life




Question 128
You are at a lake with some friends; the sun is warm and the water is cold. Going into the water would temporarily chill you but you know that later the warm sun would be even more enjoyable and you would be glad you had gone in. Would you take the plunge?

Uh. No. Been there, done that, not doing it again.

I lived in New Hampshire during my high school days, and went with a friend to Lake Winnipesauke over Memorial Day weekend. Her family went there often in the summer months, so she had local friends who were able to meet us at the lake for the afternoon. The weather was decently warm for New Hampshire in May, but the water was cold. Way cold, in my opinion. Our original plan had been to go water-skiing, but the guys were not able to procure a boat as planned. So the three decided a swim in the lake would be the next best option. I am not a fan of cold water, so I mentioned that I would just sit on the dock and maybe dip a toe in while they had a splash. Well, that plan was quickly vetoed–if one was swimming, we all were swimming. I tried to persuade them to go ahead without me, but the three of them were insistent that I was getting wet. Jump in, just jump, they cajoled. I stood firm in my refusal, but the next thing I knew, one of the guys had hooked me under the arms, the second had my left leg, and quickly coerced my friend into grabbing the other. As they were preparing to start swinging me over the edge of the dock, I managed to scream and wiggle enough to convince them I’d rather go in under my own power than be tossed in, so they set me back on my feet and formed a line behind me to block any chance of retreat. I was even a good sport while they counted, and jumped on command at three. My lungs stopped working as soon as I hit the water.

The three of them jumped in right behind me, laughing and whooping, and by the time we had all surfaced and shaken the water out of our eyes, they did have the good grace to notice that my lips were sapphire blue and I seemed to be gasping unsuccessfully for air. Once again they lined up behind me, this time urging me to swim faster, get out, climb up the ladder. The lack of oxygen to my brain had not stopped me from realizing that the impact with the water had driven my swimsuit as far as it would go up the crack of my backside, and though I feared the very real possibility of an imminent blackout and subsequent drowning, I was NOT climbing up that ladder with a wedgie. While I was wrestling the spandex out of my posterior, they must have thought I was too weak to pull myself up the ladder because suddenly half a dozen hands were fighting for real estate on my butt to push me up onto the dock. I eventually flopped onto the sun-bathed wooden planks with at least half a cheek still exposed, and finally felt the band around my chest loosen enough to drag in a breath of warm May air. My friend wrapped me in a towel, and they all stood dripping and watching me warily as I pinked up again (not sure whether the return of oxygen or embarrassment contributed more). I think I must have scared them witless, for they were pretty subdued the rest of the afternoon, but I never again had to worry about taking a forced swim in a cold lake with that crew!

Nice that I was able to twist today’s random pick from The Book of Questions to fit letter P of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge!






I spy with my little eye…something chocolate! Can you see the foil-wrapped Easter candy tucked in the corner of the road sign? I spotted this little treasure while we were wandering around Delft in the Netherlands on Sunday morning. Made me wonder if the town had had an Easter egg hunt and this one got overlooked (it was more than six feet off the ground, so if it was a hunt geared towards young ‘uns, no wonder they missed it!), or if someone had just randomly stuffed a chocolate egg in the sign (maybe they stashed eggs all over town, like a squirrel hides acorns). I’m not normally one to pass by a piece of chocolate, but not knowing the provenance of the egg made me uneasy about testing its edibility, so I reluctantly walked away.

Seeing this forgotten egg reminded me of a family Easter many years ago. I must have been about eight, and my brother six, and we had dyed and decorated a dozen hard-boiled eggs with Mom’s help. On Easter Sunday, Dad took the eggs out and hid them all around the back yard, concealing them well in the shrubs, trees, and patio furniture. When he had finished, my brother and I were turned loose to hunt high and low, each wanting to best the other by finding the most eggs. I don’t remember now whose basket held more when we finally gave up the hunt, but I know for sure it wasn’t a tie. The twelfth egg remained hidden, despite hours of searching. We sent Dad back out to retrace his steps and find the rogue egg, but he, too, came up empty-handed. We would have accused Dad of eating it instead of hiding it, but he didn’t particularly care for hard-boiled eggs so we were pretty sure he was innocent. For days afterward, my brother and I went back out into the yard, poking in bushes, digging in mulch, climbing up trees, and turning over rocks, but each time returned to the house eggless. We thought for sure the sulfur smell of rotten egg would eventually lead us to the pastel-colored fugitive, but weeks passed without a malodorous whiff. Dad finally concluded that soon after the hunt a raccoon must have come through the yard and had it for a snack.

Wonder what kind of critter might tote off the chocolate egg hidden in the street sign?


Posted by on April 17, 2013 in How It Was, Memoirs, Observations, True Life






The 22° halo is not a rare phenomenon. It is simply an atmospheric optic caused by the sun’s rays glinting through the millions of ice crystals in wispy cirrostratus clouds three to five miles above the earth. These rainbow-colored halos can be seen circling the sun any time of the year in any region of the world. Or so the internet tells me.

I saw my first one seven years ago, the day after my dad died without warning at age 58.

Above all else, my dad wanted me to be happy. If he ever saw that I was down or troubled or upset, he’d tell me–beg me, really–to smile. I, in turn, never wanted my dad to be upset or disappointed or unhappy with me, so I always tried to put on a cheerful face when he asked. At the worst of times–when he held me as I cried over my grandmother’s death, in a comforting email he sent me during the horrific days after 9/11–Dad would tell me to smile and somehow I would find the strength to rein in my emotions and do as he asked. His request could not take away the pain from tragic events, but it did help to balance the overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, and confusion by giving me a different focus. For above all else, I wanted my dad to be happy.

On April 16, 2006, driving back to my parents’ Maryland home after a quick trip to Virginia to pack some clothes, numb and nauseous as I tried once more to absorb the reality of the previous day’s news that my dad was gone, GONE, I saw a 22° halo as I neared the Potomac River. I had to pull the car over while I gave in to deep, keening, hiccup-inducing sobs, because I just knew that halo was my dad’s way of telling me that he was okay, that I would be okay–and that he was asking me once more to smile for him. I’ve never had to work harder to regain control or put on a brave face, but as the halo slowly faded, some of the knife-sharp despair started to drain away too. Dad’s final message was the only thing that helped me get through those first terrible days after his death, as well as the series of further trials and tragedies that seemed destined to bury me in the subsequent months.

The second time I saw a 22° halo, about six months ago while sitting in a friend’s back yard, I immediately sensed it was my dad just checking in. I watched the colors brighten as the sun sank behind a neighboring roof, and I realized what a comfort the echo of his ritual request has been in the years of his absence, even though his deep voice and warm hug no longer accompany it.

“I got your message, Dad,” I whispered. And I smiled.



vacation85As has become my habit on Thursday, I’ve chosen a random question from Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions to ponder today.

Question 139
Would you rather spend a month on vacation with your parents or put in overtime at your current job for four weeks without extra compensation?

Although I wouldn’t actually mind four weeks of unpaid overtime at any of my four current part-time jobs, this one is a no-brainer. I’d pick the month-long vacation with my parents in a heartbeat. The last family vacation we shared was the summer before I started college–gulp–twenty-three years ago. I had no idea back then that I’d never again enjoy a getaway with Mom and Dad. Sure, I’ve spent time with them since then…I went to their house on weekends, they came to have dinner with me, we spent holidays together. But never again did we all drop everything to go off somewhere and explore a new place in each others’ company.

When I was growing up, we had some wonderful family vacations. Like almost every other American family, we made a pilgrimage to Orlando to meet Mickey and Donald. In a car  with a broken air conditioner, we drove across scorching highways of the midwest to reach the majestic (and blissfully cool) Yellowstone National Park, swinging through Colorado on the way to scale Pike’s Peak and catch a rodeo. We spent a week on the Gulf coast of Texas, where I found my first sand dollar and saw my first waterspout. Some years we’d simply make our way from wherever Dad’s job had us living back to Virginia where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were based. The week or two we’d spend with extended family was punctuated by outings to Colonial Williamsburg, D.C. museums, and area amusement parks.

Once I moved completely out of my parents’ house after college, I’m not sure they or I ever contemplated the idea of going somewhere together to escape the obligations of day-to-day life and become reacquainted with each other. Then one shocking day in April 2006, my dad died suddenly and any possibility of vacationing with both my parents as an adult died with him. Now that I am married to a man who has both a love of travel and an overseas job that lets us explore lots of new places in our free time, I find myself frequently longing for a chance to share some of these experiences with my parents. I’d love to hear what they think of the people and customs and sights I’ve been lucky enough to see. Even if we didn’t travel to a foreign or exotic location for vacation, I’d love to just have time, away from all the responsibilities that get in the way when you are together at home, to talk to them about their past, my past, our past. To see them relax, to hear them laugh. To thank them for all the vacations of my childhood, and to plot future family get-togethers. I wouldn’t view a month-long vacation with my parents as a choice between the lesser of two evils, as implied in this question. It would be a gift more precious than gold.




I, a summer oak, was planted on the grounds of Elverdinge Castle (which was actually a chateau built in the Louis XVI style) in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium, in 1760.  I lived the next 154 years in relative peace, watching various renovations of the chateau, shading the castle park beneath the ever-widening shadow of my leafy boughs, sheltering countless naked hatchlings until they were fledged and strong enough to soar from their twiggy nests, weathering innumerable storms thrown at me by Mother Nature. Then, a storm of a different kind swept into Ypres around 1914, bringing with it the thunder of exploding bombs and torrents of stinging metal rain. The storm raged on intermittently for nearly five years, the worst coming to Elverdinge in winter 1917-18.  The chateau, which was being used by the French and English armies came under attack from the Germans and was burned down. I suffered numerous wounds myself, my bark pierced by fragments of bullets and grenades on all sides. Unlike hundreds of thousands of young soldiers who absorbed the same during that winter’s fighting, I was strong enough to heal, new wood covering my battle wounds. I lived another 77 years, through the post-war restoration of the chateau in 1925, and its eventual occupation by the German army during World War II. When scientists examined cross sections of my trunk after my demise  in 1994, they were suprised by my hidden account of the Great War. The horrors I witnessed were borne silently deep within my oaken heart; I imagine the survivors of the horrible fighting in Ypres carried similar scars within their own hearts.


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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in How It Was, Observations, True Life