Saturday, December 29, 2007


One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a
written history for the grandkids. As my blog header implies, nothing fancy - just life in general and me in particular.

It's been an interesting ride so far, almost two years' worth of musings, sometimes intersecting my daughter's blog and sometimes not. I've been introduced to many excellent bloggers and am surprised that I've developed my own group of "regulars". I love to peek at my site meter which gives me a glimpse of the demographics. Seeing towns and locations that span the globe is unbelievable and humbling. What a gig! I'll never meet or know most of you but THANKS for stopping by and reading my words.

I'm rambling. Not good writing, folks. Bear with me and I'll try to pull this all together.

It's the holiday season and my thoughts turn to family and friends. I prop family photos up on the colorful hutch which resides in my dining room. This piece of furniture and a very unusual rocking chair belonged to my late sister-in-law, a nun who lived in North Carolina, lobbied tirelessly for the migrant poor and traveled to Iraq long before the current administration staked its claim. Linda (Sr. Evelyn) deserves a blog entry all her own and I plan to do that soon. She died four years ago, much too young, still so much to do. In the meantime, I'm keeping the hutch and the rocking chair for Jenn since there's no room in her house to store all of her aunt's stuff. Because my sister-in-law was so spiritual and reflective, I consider her hutch an altar, a sacred space to honor past and present. For the holidays, it's a fitting place to put my photos.

As I look at and reminisce about the pictures, an idea takes shape. I grab my camera and take some snapshots.

New photos of old photos - photos which are worn and grainy, depositories of secrets and family history. Why am I so attached to these things?

This is a picture of my mom, dad, and his mother, Aniela. She died three years before I was born. My dad, it seems, was often protective of her after she was widowed years earlier. This photo could allude to a mother-in-law coming between a son and his wife. However, from my mom's and my aunts' stories, I think not. There was a special bond between Aniela and her daughter-in-law. During the Depression and WWII, mom and dad would take my babci to the movies. How she loved the picture shows! Even though she had raised eight feisty kids, lost at least two more in childbirth, and had a stern, controlling husband, Aniela seemed to have a sweet, good-hearted nature and was a closet romantic. Mom said that she would reach over and squeeze her hand excitedly whenever the actors on the screen were hugging or kissing. I wish I could have known Aniela. I have the feeling that she is still very much around, a kindred spirit, checking in on the grandchildren she never got to hold - grandchildren who are now grandparents of their own.

And this is where the future starts to nudge its way into my past and present ...

Here I am on my mother's lap, nine-months old, first Christmas. Dad, tired and somber, sits behind us. His face tells the story of a difficult year, a bittersweet Christmas. He's forty-years old, a first-time father. He and mom had tried to have children, unsuccessfully, for fifteen years. Her beaming face shows the joy at my late arrival; his serious face reflects sadness at the death of his nephew, Johnny, who was killed by a Nazi sniper in France shortly after I was born. Yes, the war years were turbulent but I love this picture of our little family unit. I could imagine dad's worry at providing for a child during these lean years too. He was that kind of guy. To his credit, he grew into the role of father and never let me or mom down. His joy returned later and I remember his booming laugh and funny jokes.

Here's a photo of my youngest grandchild, Iris. My son's daughter - a bouncy dark-haired, dark-eyed child who may, or may not, grow up to look like our side of the family. I try hard to catch a resemblance to the WWII baby sitting on her mom's lap. Am I trying too hard? The mind sees what the heart is seeking.

Now, here's another favorite photo. My mom and I were shopping in downtown Philadelphia. A photographer approached mom and asked to take our picture. I see some of me in Hannah when I look at this. What do you think?

Maybe this is part of the gift of being a grandparent - to live long enough to earn the right to try and connect the dots. To watch babies having babies of their own and to trace childhood looks and personalities back a couple generations - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The good news is that these grandbabies will grow far beyond us and family legacies.

There is something organic and rich about knowing how and to whom we're connected.

So I play and look and wonder at the mystery of it all.

When I touch my grandchild, I am touching not only the present and the future ... I am touching the past.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Tapestry

It was a laid-back Christmas. The girls were sick with colds and ear infections so spent the day in their jammies.

Sophie, teetering on the brink of Santa as myth or reality, seemed to appreciate his reply to her note but wished he had not written in cursive because "it's harder to read". She carefully examined the bites his reindeer took out of the carrots and even found a special present under the tree from Mrs. Claus.

Yes, Sophia, there is a Santa Claus.

At least for another year.

Hannah, on the other hand, just smiled through the day and seemed totally enthralled.

Angels on high ...

Carrots consumed by Santa's reindeer ...

Presents under the tree ...


And delight ...

Opening the gifts ...

And to all a good night!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Silent Night

It's Christmas eve. The wind whips my scarf as I walk up the hill to the kids' house to watch Sophie and Hannah decorate their tree.

I try to picture another town, another age, a couple millennia ago. Did candles burn brightly on that night, that silent night? Did someone walking up a hill see tiny lights flickering below as I do now? Was it cold? Was it lonely?

I look for that one elusive star which is the focus of this night. Sadly, the cloud cover doesn't reveal any stellar wonders. So I turn, instead, to the Hubble telescope and post this favorite shot which reveals the beauty and mystery of it all ...

We travel in the dark but if we look closely enough we can find multiple points of light to give us hope. Sometimes they are as near as the eyes of a child hanging an ornament on a Christmas tree. Other times, they are more elusive and require patience and perseverance. And belief. How good are we at kindling a flame in others? In ourselves?

Thomas Merton envisioned all humanity as tiny points of light - little pilot lights, human sparks.

Have a peaceful and gentle holiday. Keep shining.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Cornucopia

There is something sweet about coming home and finding gifts laid at your doorstep - the realization that someone, somewhere, has taken the time to think about you and act on it.

I certainly wasn't expecting the windfall I got. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, excitedly cutting through the outside packing tape of each box and package, wondering just what could be inside.

My largesse consisted of: a beautiful white snowflake sweater which matched the snowflakes falling outside my window, perfect timing from one of my oldest and dearest. Then there were a Monet calendar and Chico's gift card from a grade-school friend. We have known each other since we were Sophie's age. In fact, we are planning a 50th reunion of our eighth-grade class for next June! How's that for staying in touch? Polish bosom buddies.

For a moment, I am still and see both these dear, golden friends in my mind's eye. I see my snowflake-sweater friend falling asleep in the back seat of a '57 Chevy on the night of our senior prom; I see the Chico-classy lady of my childhood years dancing on the sidewalk in front of my house for my 13th birthday party. The wistful images vanish as quickly as they come, as ephemeral as snowflakes.

There are more surprises from new friends made online; we have yet to meet in person but have shared much about ourselves via email and fan forums. I get a lovely thank-you note for past kindnesses along with Christmas music and chocolate kisses in a little Penguin box from a gal in Tennessee. The penguin motif is an inside joke and relates to our common belief that a certain TV couple should be "shipped", matched romantically. I open two boxes of chocolate-covered shortbread from another cyber-friend in Hawaii who proof reads my science-fiction writing. Will I ever meet these women? Will our silver friendships last long enough to become gold?

I don't have answers for the meaning of why some people come into my life and stay, while others drift in and out like the blowing snow. As the poet Rilke advises, I am content to live the questions.

Today, I came home and found gifts at my door.

I am blessed indeed.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Laugh and dig, laugh and dig

This is a funny lady ... after a week of wild and wooly weather, I needed a good laugh.

I went into cooking mode on the weekend considering all the dire weather forecasts. Ham and cabbage in a crockpot, salisbury steak with buttered noodles - I haven't cooked like this in quite a while. It felt good. The girls came for dinner - walked down with their daddy and then climbed the mountain of snow the plow left behind in my parking lot. I could hear their giggles of delight from my upstairs window. By the time they got to my doorstep, they were soaked. I used my hair dryer to get boots, socks and snowpants as dry as I could before they headed back out. When I peeked out the window, though, both were back on top of Snow Mountain. I imagine that, by time David walked them home, everything was wet again.

First snow, big snow and adults see all the work involved in digging out. Kids only see the wonder of it all. I have a new camera and will try to capture some of our second snowy week for the blog. The piles of plowed snow in the town shopping lots are already about ten feet high and this is just December. Brrr ... Jenn and family couldn't have settled in Florida, eh?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

He's not Clifford but ...

Sophie's raffle puppy showed up after all, actually, his karmic brother.

Church lady called me at the beginning of the week and told me that they "found the missing doggie" and I could pick him up at a local rectory. Luckily, the errand was on my way to work and, indeed, a little red puppy with a matching hand-stitched blanket was waiting for me. I knew Sophie would be thrilled. I remember seeing this little red puppy on the table at the Christmas Fair. However, I had a hunch that he wasn't the original doggie we had won. I checked the raffle ticket which was still clipped to his ear and, sure enough, the number wasn't ours.

Red puppy was never claimed. He was left alone after all the prize winners had traipsed in and picked up their bounty. Poor guy, nobody came for him. The church lady must have decided that, since someone else had picked up our prize, she'd assign him to Sophie.

He once was lost, but now was found. Heck, it was a church raffle. Maybe an unclaimed puppy needs redemption as much as a lost sheep.

Sophie was home with a cold this week; I stopped in and told her the good news.

"Sophie, you won a prize at the church fair - a little puppy!" Her eyes widened and she waited by the window as I brought Little Red up from the car.

Two small arms reached out to hug the puppy that nobody wanted.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown

Well, not really. Thirty-five years ago I was busy giving birth to a 9 lb. 1 oz. baby boy.

Today, he was busy chopping down a Christmas tree for his little family in the Pacific Northwest.

You rock, Joe!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Where oh where has my little dog gone?

I took Sophie to a Christmas Fair at a local church over the weekend. She had slept over and helped me get out my Christmas decorations and then we decided it would be fun to see what surprises were at the fair.

The church was in the next town; Sophie was deep in thought and quite excited as we drove there. However, she was a bit intimidated when we walked into a crowded hall filled with tables of the all-too-common baked goods, crocheted hats and mittens, handmade wreaths, et cetera. I was disappointed too as we made our way around the aisles, nothing new under the sun.

Finally, her little face lit up as we came upon a very large display of stuffed animals, toys, Disney princesses and children's games. This was the Children's Raffle table. I quickly plunked down $3 for a book of tickets which we then placed into little tin containers at whatever item seemed to catch her fancy. The whole selection process took around 15 minutes; Sophie is a discerning shopper. I loved watching her read some of the descriptions of the prizes and then making her choices. It was fun for both of us and we left with high hopes that just maybe Sophie would be lucky and win one of the kiddie prizes. She reminded me that she had never "won" anything and did I think it could happen? I assured her that we had a fairly good chance with the many tickets we had dropped into the cans.

As I was tucking her in that night, Sophie asked again if I thought she might win a prize. I told her we would know the next morning. However, when I got home later that night, I found a voice mail on my cell phone. Sure enough! Church lady telling me that Sophie had won "a doggie".

It was past midnight and too late to tell Sophie the good news. Instead, I drove back to the church the next morning to collect the prize and then surprise her. I wanted to see her face when I walked in with her stuffed doggie.

I'm so glad that I didn't tell her ahead of time.

I arrived at the church, stood in line with other prize winners, handed the winning ticket in, and lady went to find the toy. She looked and looked but couldn't find the doggie I was told to claim. I then rounded that table of prizes, searching in vain for the winning number. Finally, we saw that this doggie had a twin and there were two winners. The other winner had probably picked up both mutts by mistake. Or not. Maybe she just decided to be greedy.

A 12-mile round trip and I came up with nothing. Nada. Woman said she'd call the other winner later that day to track the missing pooch. Don't think it happened; I never got a phone call one way or another.

Sophie almost knew the joy of winning. Almost. I didn't have the heart to tell her. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Her little doggie is out there somewhere. Hope he found a good home.

I just wish he had been waiting for me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Filling the spaces

Yes, it's Thanksgiving and those of us lucky enough to be near family members are filling our plates and sharing the table with those we love, or at least those who tolerate us. I read a poem once that said "Home is where, when you go, they have to let you in." Something like that. It stuck with me because I think tolerance is a big part of the fabric of family love.

I made space in my apartment to have the kids over for turkey dinner. David, bless him, cooked the side dishes and I prepared the bird. It's been years since I roasted a turkey but it felt good on this day to be doing just that.

Sophie asked us to "hold hands" and, even though Hannah was the holdout, we managed to say grace and enjoy each other's company for a few, uninterrupted hours.

Hannah ran from the living room to the dining room and the neighbors downstairs knocked loudly on the ceiling. We couldn't believe it. A four-year-old running in her grandmother's house at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day is disturbing the peace? I was annoyed at first but then thought how sad that these two grumps were not eating Thanksgiving Dinner with their extended family (who live nearby). They had nothing better to do than bang on the ceiling and disturb another family's togetherness.

Sophie is sleeping over. She helped me clean up the kitchen and then got in her pajamas and we picked a fairytale from the Grandmom's Book which is next to my bed. She chose "Stone Soup". I think it was perfect for tonight. Sophie's a wise little girl. It's all about sharing and opening ourselves up to others.

I can't help but think of my mom. If a four-year-old child ran gleefully across the floor above her, she would have smiled, not knocked on the ceiling. Another reason to be thankful this day, I come from a family where hospitality was valued. There would not have been a need for stone soup in my mom's kitchen. All would have been shared, gladly. Cooking was a form of love.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates the day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Going with the flow

I didn't get to bid on the little red house after all. It went under contract this afternoon. As much as I was starting to dream about just where the piano and computer desk would go and how I would manage the early-morning run downstairs to the bathroom, I was not totally deflated from the news. There's something out there with my name on it; I just haven't found it yet.

May I suggest that any woman who lives alone should make sure she learns three important life lessons:

- how to use a variable torque power drill
- how to properly manage finances and create a working budget
- how to bid on a house

I've mastered the first. Still working on the other two. It's all good.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Carpe diem ... or not

Did you miss me? Thanks for such great comments on the house. I've been looking at other houses and talking to annuity-fund advisors, trying to decide if the little red house is calling my name.

I saw two other properties and they just didn't have the charm. One was an older Colonial occupied by a woman going through a divorce. Been there, done that; I could feel the sadness coming through the wallpaper. Her house was still filled to the brim with everything that helped make it home for her and teen-aged children. I felt like I was trespassing when I dared to look at a family portrait hanging in the hallway. There was a grill and little cabana out back with a fridge and table where many family get-togethers must have taken place. Now hubby was gone and woman was on her own. She wanted to leave and get on with her life. I was not about to intrude in that story or space.

The other property was also a red house, with two bedrooms and an acre of ground. It was hard to find and it was pouring rain. There was standing water in the basement and a propane tank near a shed. I don't think I want propane heat. I also don't want an acre of grass to mow or shovel. The bathtub was custom made to fit a rather small space and I laughingly thought to myself that I'd have to sit with my knees up to even take a bath. The house was very private on a dead-end street; however, it's set so far back from main roads that, once a snowstorm comes, isolation.

Realtor than suggested we check out one more property near Jenn's. We drove in through a narrow driveway and realtor then discovered that the house is occupied by a renter. I started to back out of driveway and somehow got my front tire caught in the mud. Wheel started spinning and I stopped the car. Opened my door and thought "oh crap". What a predicament. Car was literally hanging on the edge of a steep incline into neighbor's property. The wheel had sunk deep enough that the frame of the engine was resting on the ground. Thank God for triple A! Guy had to hoist a chain around a large oak tree and then pull car sideways away from the incline. I'm not going back to see that house; the karmic encounter in the driveway was a warning.

So here I am, Sunday morning, deciding whether to take the plunge and make a bid on quirky little red house which I've now seen four times with assorted friends, co-workers, and family. Yes, I would have to let go of more earthly belongings but there is something so sweet about looking out that front bay window at the hills and mountains in the distance.

To be continued ....

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yin and Yang

Today, I took a vacation day to see the girls in action. It was Grandparent's Day at their school. This is the first year that they are together, Sophie in first grade and Hannah in Beginners. I proudly wore two picture badges on my jacket and then had to be clever enough to spend time with each sister, making sure that neither felt slighted.

First grade was much more organized - Sophie and I worked on a fall-leaf collage and had our photo taken by the teacher. Afterwards, we played Battleship which was an eye opener for me as I never expected to be sinking a battleship with sweet, gentle Sophie. Did I mention that her teacher is a guy? Later, we went to art class and the grandparents and kids got to draw together.

Next came Hannah. I got to hear her sing in French and watched her beat a drum in class. Finally, I joined her on the playground for sports and recess. Believe me, Hattie Belle excels at "sports and recess".

I laugh at the different ways these two kids express themselves.

First, there's Sophie - the sometimes silent, shy, and serious student ...

And then there's Hannah. Blink, and you may miss her ...

It was a beautiful day, topped off with ice-cream sundaes at Friendly's.

Once home, Sophie quietly told me, "Babci, I'm so glad you came today. I really wanted you there."

The pleasure was all mine.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Unpacking the past

Amidst lice alerts, Libby Lu, missing grooves, house hunting, there was a celebratory "first" for the Mater this past week.

I became a published author. My first paid gig!

A regional paper, The Women's Times, asked to use one of my former blog essays as part of their October edition. They even had an illustration drawn to fit the piece. I, of course, scooped up any copies I could find.

Nothing like basking in one's 15 minutes of fame, eh?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Home Sweet Home

While Jenn searches for her groove, I’m hunting houses. Well, just one house. I looked at it while Jenn was away a few weeks back and then it went under contract to some other buyer.

I love my apartment but, truth is, I am also tempted to do something crazy like buy a house in this soft market. Yep, take the small annuity I have and use some of it as a down deposit and become a mortgage holder once again. I did this once in my life, as a newlywed, and home ownership lasted thirty years. Then, I got my very first apartment. Most people do it the other way around: leave home, get an apartment, and then buy a house.

Now in my second apartment, life is good. No lawns to mow or snow to shovel. I can afford my monthly rent and utilities and sit on my back porch. The neighbors are sometimes noisy but, overall, it’s n-i-c-e. I’m in a duplex, and have the entire second floor to myself.

So, why am I going back to look at this quirky little house now that it’s back on the market? Do 60-plus single women really buy houses? Most seniors have paid off their mortgages and are downsizing. I'd be going in the other direction.

Not that this would be taking on a huge property. The house sits on the corner of a quiet, hilly street. It has lots of light and a narrow staircase that leads to one bedroom and a half.

The seller has put in a new kitchen and bath. And that's the strangest part of the place. The bathroom sits next to the kitchen and it’s about the size of a walk-in closet. The toilet is under a window and an outside red door leads directly into the bathroom. There is no bathroom on the second floor. Quite a leap on those cold Berkshire mornings to make it down the steps and into the john … and, at my age, I’d rather have a stall shower than a deep jet tub.

The rest of the house is kinda cute and has possibilities. As you can see, I took pictures during my first visit. Whatcha think?

Do banks really offer mortgages to women over 60? Jenn tells me that my dad would be saying “go for it” but I didn’t tell her that I remember when friends of my parents bought a house and took on a 30-year mortgage in their early 50s and my dad thought they were loony. Dad, of the “house is a good investment” philosophy, seemed to have a change of heart as he, and his friends, got older. He bought a duplex and then spent the rest of his life on what was originally his parents’ old land. Mom wanted out, and seemed to enjoy her small apartment near us once he passed away and she sold the house. What would they think of their daughter, a couple years shy of retirement, becoming a homeowner?

And then there’s Sophie. I drove the girls past this little red house while mom was out of town. Sophie lamented that it was “too far away” from their house. I tried again this past week.

“Sophie, do you remember the house babci took you past? What if she bought it?”

Sophie seemed upset and sad.

“Babci, I like your apartment. I can walk to you. You can meet me at the corner.”

I am two and a half blocks from Jenn’s. The house is two and a half miles from Jenn. Sophie is finding a new sense of independence – walking to grandmom’s seems like something to look forward to. Would she feel that I was abandoning her? Tough call.

Here I am, thinking of the immediate future and setting down roots, but also hearing family voices (present and past), wondering if this would really be a wise decision.

Oh, there’s a garage.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

In my defense

If you have been reading my daughter's blog, you'll see that Sophie and I had an excursion to a Color-Me-Pink franchise called Libby Lu. It really wasn't as silly as it seemed. Let me tell my side of the story ...

We were at a large shopping mall and Sophie wanted to go to Libby Lu. She had one other experience with a little friend months ago when the girl's mother treated them both. She was eager for more.

Dressing like a fairy princess and getting her hair and nails done was important this Sunday afternoon. Alone with me, she knew that babci would not refuse her. The previous week had been a hard ride for all of us; a tiara and some fairy dust seemed like the perfect treat.

Children are resilient. Sophie was tired, coming down with a cold, but knew what she needed. She needed to be pampered a bit. Don't we all have those days?

I have to admit that walking into Libby Lu was a shock - pink, fluffy, girly-girl things everywhere. Growing up as a bit of a tomboy, this was an eye-opener.

No, we did not have "an appointment". Even though the teen-aged staff were waiting for a large birthday-party group to arrive, they could "fit us in". Ya think? A grandmother willing to spend frivolous money on her grandchild? Of course they'd fit us in! They feed on grandparents.

I was handed a brochure which explained the different "package deals". Sophie chose "the Cinderella" makeover with a bonus stuffed puppy. We then followed the salesgirl back to front of store to pick out Sophie's new pet. She wavered between a chihuahua and a shaggy white Yorkshire terrier. The terrier won out. Next decision was picking the pup's carrying bag and outfit. She chose more pink with a "peace, love and pooches" logo in bright green. And then she named the dog, "Crystal".

We were marched to the back of the store where there was a dressing room. Sophie slipped inside, alone, and soon appeared in a rainbow-colored gown of chiffon, with fairy wings attached. I knew then that she was really getting into this.

The salesgirl sat her down on a pink stool and began applying kiddie-versions of eye shadow, rouge and powder, and, yes, nail polish. Since her mom had already done her nails the night before, the girl just added the new coat on top.

It was then that it got a bit crazy as the birthday-party contingent had arrived and about six or seven girls sauntered past us into that back dressing room. Mothers and cameras were soon giving me claustrophobia but Sophie sat, as regal as a queen, letting the salesgirl part and gather her hair atop her head for the definitive Cinderella look. She was coughing at times and really looked worn out but waited patiently as hair-spray and glitter and plenty of bobby-pins were applied. The crowning touch, of course, was a tiara! I looked at her and felt a lump in my throat. Even the salesgirl could tell what a special little girl this was. Sophie, the Rainbow Fairy Princess, with her pet, Crystal.

Yes, yes, I know what you're gonna say. All the little girls in that store were special too. Probably. Yet, I beg to add: there are kids, and then there is Sophie. Sophie of the dark, deep eyes. Sophie, the old soul, the sensitive soul. Sometimes the keeper of secrets, mysterious and elusive. Sophie, strong and vulnerable. Sophie, who is so hopeful and generous of spirit. Sophie, who can be a typical drive-you-crazy six-year-old one minute and a love-me-let-me-snuggle sweetheart the next. Her intensity is uncanny at times.

She reminds me of my mom. Of course, I did not see my mom as a child, but Sophie shows me what my mom may have been. There is something there, in a look or a mannerism, which triggers such thoughts. I can't explain why. I just know my mom is present - watching over this child, being the hidden angel who comforts and protects. Or perhaps she is hovering as a fairy godmother, part of that little-girl world where everything is colored pink and people live happily ever after.

Sooner or later, the real world makes its claims on everyone, including our precious children.

For one Sunday afternoon, I watch a little girl become a fairy princess. She balances her tiara on her head, looks at me and smiles shyly.

We both know it's a very good place to be.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a doll

Sophie and I hang out together this weekend. She is packed and ready by the time I arrive on Saturday afternoon, assuring me that everything in her little zippered purple bag is in order for a sleepover. When you’re six, it’s time to assert yourself and I don’t want to push the issue on what is in her bag. She nods ‘yes’ to sleepwear and tooth brush so that’s good enough for me. I grab a fleece top for her on the way out the door and we are good to go.

The weekend is a beauty - clear, bright skies and mild temps - mild enough to stop at the local hot-dog stand for dinner on a picnic bench, sharing our leftovers with the squirrels and pigeons. While we munch and watch the wildlife, we talk about a local woman who claims to be an animal communicator. She seems to understand all kinds of animals and has helped vets diagnose ailments. A pet psychic? Sophie finds that fascinating and wonders if the woman can tell what Eli is thinking or how he feels. We decide that if she can really communicate with animals, it is a very special gift indeed.

We change into our jammies as soon as we get to my house. It is then that Sophie realizes that she has packed two pajama tops and no bottoms. Luckily, we had stopped to buy scrapbook material at a department store on the way home and, unplanned, I also bought pajamas for both girls. Serendipity. Sophie is warm for the night.

We pull out all the scrapbook material and lay it on my bed while Sophie chooses the patterns she wants to use and I then remove them from the book. She is at an age where she needs to be in control and, frankly, I don’t mind taking orders. “Cut this, babci. Put this here, babci. We work good together.” I think she likes the role reversal and the freedom to organize this project by herself. And, frankly, she has a pretty good eye for color and design. I’m not surprised considering her family tree.

After our scrapbook materials are sorted and organized, we have our bedtime snack: mint chocolate-chip ice cream. Happiness is ice cream at bedtime.

Tired, we crawl into my bed and snuggle and read a couple stories from her Chickadee magazine. Then, lights out and no fuss. She brings my old Toni doll to bed with us. She renames her Katrina and seems delighted to play with a doll which was one of my favorites in the 1950s.

Today, we have pancakes for breakfast and play magnet fairies, a little board of characters, which becomes a theatrical production every time we take on the roles of all the little magnets. There are a daddy and mommy, little brothers, a unicorn, an owl, and two main characters named Rose (Sophie) and Edaline (me). They get into all kinds of predicaments and this fantasy play usually lasts a good hour or more. It’s the highlight of Sophie’s sleepover; she shyly admits that this game is one of the prime reasons for wanting to stay with me. She also tells me that I’m a “softie” and I laugh. Ain’t it the truth. I tell her that my mommy was a “softie” too.

We do some Junior Mad Libs and giggle at the silly stories we make up. I remember playing Mad Libs as a kid. I choose multi-syllable words to give Sophie more practice at writing her letters. This is another favorite game.

After lunch, we walk to town and hear the sound of drums and horns. It is the town’s annual fall foliage parade and Main Street is lined with families and tourists. Sophie runs ahead when she hears the marching band, excited to see her very first parade. I grew up in Philly; this is not the Mummer’s Parade but it is friendly and innocent. Older gents in lodge uniforms and feathered plumes stride by; a bagpipe band comes next; high-school bands show their stuff; an Irish pub band gets a big round of applause as they keep the crowd clapping. I look down at Sophie and she is clapping along in delight. There are cloggers and gymnasts, the National Guard (which gets another big round of applause), and plenty of flags waving in the sunlight. Hometown America.

Sophie spies the balloon man and I agree to a star-studded blue balloon for her, and a red one to take home to her sister. What’s a parade without a balloon? People are bustling around me; the sidewalks are more narrow than usual because folks have come early and placed beach chairs at the curbs in order to sit and watch the entire parade. I am fumbling jacket and balloons, warning Sophie to hold hers tight just as Hannah’s gets away from me and floats skyward. I look up, disappointed, and keep walking with Sophie but then realize that I can’t find my wallet in my jacket pocket. I freeze. Sophie looks on patiently and a bit confused as I turn my jacket inside out and know, just know, that my wallet is gone. I retrace our steps and ask the balloon man if he noticed anyone suspicious around me. Coming from the big city, I am now sure that someone stole my wallet as I was watching the balloon float up to the sky. The guy seems genuinely concerned and helps me look around his stand and then I walk up and down the busy sidewalk again, even looking in the trash cans, hoping that the thief just grabbed my money and ditched my wallet with credit cards intact. No luck. The parade is still in full swing but someone points me to a policeman and soon I’m telling him my dilemma. He gets on a walkie-talkie and then asks me my name. Across the parade route, there is another younger policeman making his way through the crowd and waving to us. This guy is nowhere near us and, yet, he’s got my wallet! Everything is inside, including the cash. Little towns are sure not the same as big cities. I was thinking the worst; yet someone found my wallet and turned it over to the police. Maybe I just dropped it after all or, maybe, the would-be thief suddenly had a change of heart.

Sophie and I stop at a toy shop where we know the local owner, a sweet woman who gives Sophie a big hug and tells her she’s missed her. We are on a mission. We find a new pink dress and little sweater for my old Toni doll. We sit on a bench outside the toy store and change Katrina’s clothes. The last time I did this I was twelve years old. Sophie hugs the doll and we agree that she looks happy and quite pretty in her new clothes.

As large crowds start making their way back to the parking lots from the parade, we simply join hands and start walking back with our balloons and Katrina, a vision in pink. I think of another walk many, many years ago when my mom took me to our local five-and-dime to buy the dress (the old dress) which has been on this doll. Now Sophie and I have made the same kind of shopping trip for the very same doll. I hope the doll lasts another 50 years so Sophie can give it to her daughter one day.

We stop to take more photos of Katrina for Sophie’s scrapbook and, unfortunately, the little doll suffers a mishap. Her glass eye falls back in her head. I try to reposition the eye(s) but to no avail. Sophie is quite worried. I tell her that there are kind people who actually fix old dolls. We just have to find one.

We have posed this doll for many pictures today and now she’s not the clear-eyed ingĂ©nue she was at the start of our adventure. Resplendent in her new outfit, but a bit cock-eyed in her demeanor, Katrina is given back to me with the plea: “Please get her fixed, babci.”

Tomorrow, I search for a doctor of toys who will help Katrina regain her vision.

If not, she will have to sit next to the Velveteen Rabbit and wink at Sophie and me from time to time.