Christmas memories


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Hello and Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve Scrabble

It’s New Year’s Day, and after a wild night of Scrabble with LDB, I awoke today with mixed emotions to “put away Christmas.”  Perhaps this year was the first ever that I felt peaceful throughout the season, never approaching the crazy-Mamma frenzy of years’ past. What was the difference? Three easy words: less is more.   Continue reading

Keep Moving! Part 1


While toasting my mother on her 77th birthday, I asked what sage advice she had for the rest of us. She said, “Keep moving!” Mom is a life-long swimmer and an avid walker, attributing her good health to her commitment to exercise. Living in a retirement community she sees the spectrum of active and inactive residents, and their associated levels of health and well-being. Through her lense I see the effects of exercise on aging, and it has renewed my commitment to feel healthy as the years progress. Continue reading

Writing a Sympathy Note


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Yesterday a young man in our community of the West End of Richmond died tragically. As we grapple with our heart ache, we wonder how to console his family. The situation prompted me to tackle the issue of writing sympathy notes.

Although I have written numerous sympathy notes, I decided to research the subject to refine my thoughts. I started with re-reading the notes I received after my father’s death in November to get the proper mindset. Then I consulted my favorite source, Etiquette by Emily Post, the 1955 edition (my mother’s copy). Following that, I moved to the 16th edition published in 1997. Lastly, I cross-checked Ms. Post’s advice with two other books: Writing Notes with a Personal Touch by Daria Price Bowman and Marueen LaMarca, and The Art of the Handwritten Note, by Margaret Shepherd. I hope you find these resources and this post helpful the next time you need to send a note of sympathy.

1. The purpose of the sympathy note is to show your care and concern for the bereaved.  NO SUBSTITUTE exists for a hand-written note. Despite our ever-changing communication technology, a note written on formal paper using blue or black ink is the etiquette standard. Shown below is the formal stationery I use with my monogram.

Keeping your own personalized stationery for formal correspondence makes the task a little more pleasant. (Look for an upcoming post regarding your stationery wardrobe.) Back to technology: email, text messages and Facebook, etc. are excellent tools for spreading updates on funeral arrangements and grieving collectively, but do not use those mediums as substitutes for writing the sympathy note.

2. Now that you know to put pen to paper, what to write? Emily Post says it best:

Intimate letters of condolence are like love letters in that they are too sacred and too personal to follow a set form. One rule, and one only, should guide you in writing such letters. Say what you truly feel.

Before you write, think about the departed and the family left behind. Often I draft my formal correspondence on my laptop, rewriting until I get the words just right. Then I save the work in my correspondence folder, because I often use the sentiments as inspiration for future notes.

3. Keep it simple.  Again, quoting from Emily Post:

Don’t dwell on the details of illness or the manner of death; don’t quote endlessly from the poets and Scripture. Remember that eyes filmed with tears and aching heart cannot follow rhetorical lengths of writing. The more nearly a note can express a handclasp, a thought of sympathy, above all a genuine love or appreciation of the one who has gone, the greater comfort it brings.

This advice was particularly helpful as I thought about the young man that died yesterday. It is difficult to put adequate words to paper when contemplating a sudden and tragic death. Don’t worry about being profound; the family just needs to know you are sorry for their loss.

4. If you knew the deceased, mention a fond memory, such as, “Your father had a beautiful voice. I always loved his solos in the church choir.” Again, keep it simple and sincere.

5. What if you don’t know the deceased?

This is perhaps the trickiest of all situations for me. The next few samples from my friends who didn’t know my father handle the matter well. My friend BFwrote so eloquently,

We were so sorry to learn of your great loss. I know your hearts are heavy. Hopefully it eases your pain a bit to know so many folks care about and love you.

A similar sentiment was expressed by CMS :

I know you will miss him very much, but hope you’ll find some comfort in remembering him with friends and family and telling his story.

Lastly, this note from EJL expresses her condolences succintly:

I was so sorry to learn of the recent passing of your dad. Matt joins me in sending you our most heartfelt sympathy. We will keep you in our prayers as you grieve your loss.

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Although many of our methods of correspondence have evolved with rapidly changing technology (you ARE reading this electronically, afterall), writing a sympathy note properly has not changed with the times. It is still the best way to express your condolences.

Favorite New(ish) Products


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After a few “deep thoughts” posts, I thought I’d swing to the other end of the spectrum and highlight a few of my new favorite consumer products. Although I can be heard espousing the “less is more” mantra, I still get a spring in my step when I spy a product that is useful, well-designed (if not down right cute) and perhaps even virtuous.

Continue Reading…

Every Gal Needs a Posse




What is a posse? Webster’s dictionary has two definitions:

1.  A group of person deputized by a sheriff to aid in law inforcement, and

2.  A search party.

For a more colorful definition, I consulted and found the following: “Your homies, your peeps, the gang of friends you hang out with that make you powerful.”

For my purposes, none of the above worked. So this is my stab:

Posse: The faithful band of friends called by you during times of merriment, crisis, boredom or adventure.

If you don’t have a posse, you need to get one in short order.

Notable posse activity I have witnessed:

Emergency summons to a friend’s kitchen to hear her tell of the break-up of her marriage. Tears of outrage and sadness, pledges of support abounding.

A “blow-up the grapefruit” party for a friend’s impending mastectomies. Yes, you read it right…..

Ringing in my 50th in a big way, without overlooking my daughter’s birthday with whom I share.

This past November my father passed away from Parkinson’s Disease.  My mother, my cousin (of course members of my posse) and I were with him when he breathed his last.  We were in a state of shock, and after saying our good-bye’s, departed his room at the nursing home. Standing against the wall outside the room, it struck me that we were similar to the three women at Jesus’ tomb, waiting dumbstruck with grief. Mary Magdalene was surrounded by her posse of Mary, mother of James, and Salome. Imagine the support Mary and Solame gave Mary Magdalene as she made her discovery of Jesus’s resurrection. Talk about a serious round of heavy lifting for that posse!

As we ponder Good Friday and Easter morning, remember your posse, celebrate and nurture them. You never know when you’ll need to round ’em up again!

What’s on your iPod? A Lenten Reflection


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Several years ago I was asked to write a “Lenten Reflection” for our Sunday church bulletin. Life is a journey, and music helps me navigate its peaks and valleys. I thought you would enjoy this reflection as we enter Holy Week.

What’s on your iPod? An iPod’s content reveals what motivates, interests and relaxes a listener.  When I step out to run, I dial up my high-energy playlist, which has everything from “Rumour Has It” by Adele, “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel, and yes, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. Perhaps my favorite piece to accompany me on a run is “And the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed” from the Messiah by G. F. Handel.  Aside from its musical magnificence, those nine words of Handel’s chorus have spoken to me many times over the years during good times and those not so.

Continue Reading…

3 Household Tips You May Not Know


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I love discovering solutions that save me time, money and stress, and I bet you do as well! So, here you go, my top 3 tips you may not know:

Problem: Shaving cream can leaves a rusty circle on your tub or shower tile


Buy the can with a flat-top lid and store it upside down. Voila!

Problem: Prescription medicine bottles topple over in the medicine cabinet


Take the lid off an old  bottle and glue it to a tray (I use a lazy susan in my cupboard) UPSIDE DOWN. Insert the “active” bottle; no more toppling!

Problem: Polishing silver is time-consuming


Line your sink with aluminum foil. With HOT water running, dissolve 1/2 cup

Calgon Spa Bath Powder

into the sink, filling about half the sink with hot water; stir to dissolve. Dip your silver, rinse and dry. This works wonders in a hurry on sterling silver, silver plate and silver jewelry.  Be careful with your sterling silver flatware and other fine silver; sitting too long in the solution will remove not only the tarnish but the nice patina as well.

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Discovering solutions to pesky problems gives me a spring in my step. Find joy in the little things every day and you’ll find strength to deal with life’s inevitable curve balls.

Baking Quick Bread in BPA-free Cans


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After finding yet another blog-worthy idea on Pinterest, baking quick breads in aluminum cans, I decided to make sure my assumptions about aluminum cans were correct before I published. I thought if I could SEE the aluminum on the inside of the can, it was free of BPA (Bisphenol A, a chemical used to line the cans), and therefore safe to purchase and reuse for baking. Likewise, I assumed if I couldn’t see the aluminum inside the can, then BPA was used to line the can, thus rendering it unsafe. I had no idea this would be nothing more than a fun, worry-free post!

According to what I found with the help of my buddy Google, most cans contain BPA, whether visible or not, and a firestorm of controversy swarms this issue. You probably know that makers of baby bottles and polycarbonate plastic water bottles voluntarily eliminated the use of BPA in the manufacturing of their bottles. BPA from such packaging leaches into the food it contains, and is toxic when consumed by humans, particularly infants and children, and is best avoided at all cost. Click here for a summary of BPA from Wikipedia, and here for list packagers using BPA-free cans (and those who still use BPA).

Now that I have my various BPA-free cans of Eden bean products, and my Pomi tetrapak’d tomatoes, I can add another notch in my safe shopper belt. Now, on with the fun!

To experiment with the process, I used my mother’s Banana Bread recipe, modifying it only to decrease the baking time. If you want to use this recipe in a traditional loaf pan, increase the baking time to 54 minutes.

Banana Bread in a (BPA-free) Can

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Spray the interior of 4 15-ounce cans with Bakers Joy or Pam with Flour.

Cream shortening and sugar, then add bananas and eggs, mixing well. Add baking soda, vanilla and flour.

Spoon the batter into the cans, dividing equally, filling the cans half-way with batter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted.

Cool bread in the cans. Take as an adorable hostess gift as is, or slice and enjoy right away.

Worry-free yum