A Birthday Anniversary

Sandi and me, July 2017

Today my dear friend Sandi would’ve been eighty years old. She isn’t here to celebrate because she died almost five years ago. But if she were here, she would tell everyone she didn’t like having birthdays, she didn’t want to celebrate her birthday, and if anyone mentioned her birthday, she would be angry. One year her family took her at her word, and she was deeply hurt. (I hadn’t been so foolish.) I knew her birthday needed quiet acknowledgement: a card in the mail, a text, an invitation to lunch for “a chance to chat,” and a small inexpensive, but just-what-she-wanted gift.

The first time I met Sandi was in a law office. She was a paralegal, and I was a newly hired paralegal. When our mutual boss introduced us, he added, “Vickie has an English degree.” (I rarely tell people I’m an English major because I’ve learned they think I’m secretly judging their grammar. I also don’t want them secretly judging my grammar.) Sandi remarked, “Oh, good. That’ll be useful because I can never keep the possessive-apostrophe-s rules straight.” I told her I struggled with affect/effect and to lie vs. to lay. I thought about Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains in Casablanca. I suspected the sharing of our grammatical weaknesses was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Later we would laugh about this. She had been intimidated by my being an English major. But it turned out, having attended a private, rigorous Baptist school, she had some good grammar chops herself.

I was forty-five when I met Sandi, who was sixteen years older than me. And the first time I met her oldest son, he said, “I’m surprised that given the age difference you and my mom are such good friends.” I answered, “Your mom’s a little young for me, but I try to be tolerant.” He burst out laughing with the same raucous from-the-bottom-of-his-belly laugh that often erupted from Sandi. “Point taken,” he said. He knew exactly what I meant about his mother.

One year, just after Sandi had become sick, I cleaned her garage for her as a birthday present. Her son owned the house where she lived and he was coming to visit. Through no fault of her own, the garage was a mess and she knew he would be upset. She couldn’t get the responsible party to clean it, and she didn’t have the strength to clean it herself. However, she was embarrassed about me cleaning up the mess, until I pointed out to her that it was a free birthday present, and weren’t we always about free or very inexpensive presents? It took me hours over the course of a couple of days to sort, stack, and sweep the mess into submission. But Sandi and I had some good times going to the Goodwill and to the hazardous waste disposal site together. If you can have fun going to the dump with someone, that’s friendship. A week later when her son arrived, the garage was shipshape, and he complimented his mother on how good it looked. She told him it looked good because she had been given the best birthday present ever.

I think of Sandi every day, and on some days, I cry because she isn’t here. But I did my heavy sobbing when she was still alive. I’d come home from visiting her and sit on my wooden deck stairs and sob.

A picture of two white ducks paddling on water that her niece painted hangs on my family room wall. Because she knew I loved the painting, she gave it to me before she died. A quilt graced with cheerful red cardinals perched in pine trees that she made for me rests on my bed. And when I turn out the lights before going to bed, two LED nightlights glow from outlets in my house, ready to light my way should I need to move about in the dark. When she gave the motion sensor nightlights to me, I looked at her rather dubiously. I’m not a gadget person, but she was. She had a light-up-in-the-dark toilet seat that could be set to glow in different colors. She assured me I would grow to appreciate their usefulness. But what I’ve really come to appreciate is that I think of those nightlights as her watching out for me.

Sandi and I agreed on important stuff. Like Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich were the funniest, but the casting for the movie One for the Money was awful. That Antiques Road Show was binge-worthy, but we should always begin watching it with Dairy Queen treats in hand. That potato salad should always be made from scratch and only with real mayo. That sometimes husbands and children had to be humored.

We loved British sitcoms, The Full Monty, and inside jokes. We shared an irreverent, nonlinear, cheeky sense of humor. We could poke fun of each other, ourselves, and situations, making one another laugh out loud, sometimes hysterically, which always made her snort.

But we always knew when to batten down the hatches and look out for one another. That is, after all, why she gave me the motion sensor nightlights.

Being Five and Making Friends

I did some artwork.

I’ve been taking my five- and three-year-old grandsons to the library because it’s spring, which means it’s too cold, wet, and windy to play at the park.

Evan, the five-year-old, is into making friends. Last week he made a friend at the library and they played and played. They also ran around. I told them not to run, the other boy’s mother told them not to run, and the librarian told them not to run. So, yes, they had a good time. After we left the library, he told me all about his new friend. Numerous times during the afternoon he mentioned his new friend. When his dad came to pick him up, he told him about his new friend.

Today we went back to the library because it was cold, wet, and windy because it’s still spring. On our way into the children’s library, we picked up the craft project then sat at a table to color the paper Easter eggs. Evan hashed a couple streaks of color on one of his eggs and said, “I’ll do these at home. I’m going to make some new friends.”

And that’s what he did. He made friends with a boy, and they played for almost an hour until the boy had to leave with his mom. Then Evan made friends with a girl, and they played until we had to leave. Evan looked like Droopy, the cartoon basset hound. I told him we’d come back to the library tomorrow, and he could make more friends. He grinned.

That’s how it is when you’re five. You go to the park or the library and meet other kids. You play, then you’re friends. No one cares about your resume, your politics, your religion, your economic class, your ethnic background, your orientation, or any other element that grownups use to drive wedges between people.

The kids have it nailed: show up, smile, introduce yourself, play nice, have fun.

Today’s My Ideal Day

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 13, 2022.]

Senior Dog

Today was my ideal day. I took what it gave me because thinking about what my “most ideal day looks like” would’ve taken more creative energy than I wanted to spend. Besides, no day is ideal. I cherish the days my sons were born, but labor was tough. I have fond memories of my wedding. But I spent seven hours with over a hundred people, and I had to talk to all of them. Lovely people, but I’m an introvert—I was exhausted.

So today had its blessings—

My senior dog didn’t wake me at 4:00 a.m. to go outside. Once or twice a week she knocks on my door. She wants to go outside and pee. She doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so I get out of bed and turn the doorknobs for her. But this morning she let me sleep.

I wrote a shitty first draft of an essay this morning. When I started to slow down and think too much about finding the perfect word or writing a better sentence, I went all Anne Lamott on myself: Write don’t revise, get the thoughts on paper—all the thoughts, on the paper, now! Regardless of spelling, grammar, punctuation. Without care for lyricism or flow or insight. When I finished, I had almost 1,300 words. I can’t have more than 500 for the piece I want to submit. But I’ve got a chunk of wood to carve into a sculptured essay. (I hope.) I saved the file, feeling a little smug about all the crap I had on my shitty draft. I gave myself permission to not think about the essay until tomorrow.

I talked to a friend, my mother, my sister, and my nephew. Four conversations with people I love, but who don’t live in my house. I talked to a clerk at Honest Dog Books and ordered a book. The bookstore is an hour and a half away, but sometimes I order books from there because the clerk remembers me. The staff writes a note to me and tosses in a couple of paper bookmarks when they ship my order. The book I ordered is being shipped to my nephew. He’s getting an autographed copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She visited Bayfield, Wisconsin, this summer, wandered into Honest Dog, and signed some of her books that were on the shelves. My copy of Writing Down the Bones is unsigned. But no day is perfect, not even an ideal day.

I put on a white turtleneck, a red winter-themed sweater, and a pair of garnet earrings someone gifted me. A couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to stop wearing the same three turtlenecks my mother bought me in 2003. So, each day I find something in my closet that I haven’t worn for a while and I wear it. I do this even if I don’t leave the house, which is most days. Turns out I like dressing up a little to stay home. Reminds me of my nana wearing a house dress to do her laundry and scrub her floors. I did neither of those chores today. Those aren’t ideal-day activities.

I went to two coffee shops. Not to meet anyone. I don’t go inside places without a mask. I won’t eat or drink coffee in public spaces—I’m not removing the mask. I dropped off bookmarks and hung posters to advertise a writing contest. I bought two cupcakes to go in the first coffee shop, one for me and one for my husband. I ate mine as soon as I got home. I bought a mocha coffee to go in the second coffee shop. It paired nicely with my cupcake.


Wally, the brilliant squirrel who hacks my birdfeeders, stopped by to eat. He stood on the baffle, meant to keep him out of the feeder, and feasted on seeds. I washed dishes because it gave me an excuse to watch him steal bird food. Washing dishes isn’t ideal, but neither is looking at dirty dishes.

My senior dog needed to go to the vet for a shot. She’s had to go for a series of them. She wants to leave before we get in the door. But she’s always gracious to the vet and the assistants, who are kind and gentle with her and always say how much they love her.

I decided not to cook supper tonight. Leftovers are wonderful. But I made mashed potatoes for tomorrow’s homemade ham-and-bean soup that I’ll make in the morning.

Something I wrote yesterday made someone feel better. My husband loved the cupcake I brought home for him. My dogs enjoyed their evening walk.

It’s late and the house is quiet. I’m the only one up. The wind is howling outside, but I’m snug in my winter-themed sweater.

It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was my ideal day.

Day 30—A Gift of Kindness in Silver and Garnet

Today’s earrings arrived in the mail on November 4, 2021, otherwise known as “Day 11” in my series of blogs about earrings.

I began blogging about my earrings because I was having a blue day on October 25. I decided I needed to do something like I did before the pandemic. That something became earrings. I often wore earrings before the pandemic, so I decided for thirty days in a row, I’d wear a different pair each day and blog about them.

Wearing the earrings did make me feel better. Blogging about them gave something to write about. Having a friend proofread my blogs provided camaraderie.

Some stories came together easier than others. Some days I babysat my grandkids and other days I didn’t. I’d like to say that on the days my grandkids weren’t here, I wrote my blog faster and finished it earlier, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the words to tell a story and have it say what I want it to mean. And the stories were about more than earrings.

On Day 11, I received a surprise in the mail. A small padded envelope with a bulging middle rested in the letterbox, lounging with junk mail.

I recognized the name on the return address; the envelope was from a writing buddy. Inside, wrapped in tissue, were a pair of silver and garnet earrings. Beautiful. Old fashion. A style from a time when women wore long dresses that flounced along their feet. A movie still of Jane Seymour from Somewhere in Time flashed through my mind. I’ve never seen the movie but that image of Seymour with her hair swept up at the back of her head and a pair of Victorian earrings dangling from her ears, is filed in my memory bank.

What made these earrings special was the note that came with them. My writing buddy wrote that these earrings had belonged to her, one of the many pairs of garnet earrings she had been given over the years for her birthday. And these were a pair that she had especially loved. She wanted me to have them. She had been reading my earring blogs, and they had moved her.

It’s a gift from the heart when someone gives you something they’ve cherished. I started to cry. She gave me beautiful earrings, and she gave me a piece of herself, her history.

I saved her gift to wear for today’s final blog about my earrings because I can wear them tomorrow and every day through Thanksgiving. I don’t have to pick a new pair of earrings tomorrow.

I’ll wear them through the holiday and often because I’m thankful for her act of kindness and generosity.

A good thing came in small package—on a day when I thought nothing interesting would arrive in the mail—to bring me joy and adorn my ears.

Day 28—Happy Earrings

Today’s second choice

Today’s earrings are happy earrings. They’re also the second pair I put on this morning.

The first pair were sad. Their hooks are too small, so the earring in my right ear couldn’t dangle because the hook was squashed against my earlobe. I removed the earrings, which are nice enough, but I won’t wear them again. I bought them, so I won’t feel guilty deserting them.

The hole in my right ear is almost two millimeters higher than the hole in my left ear. And, it’s not because my right ear is higher than my left ear. The clerk in the store where I had my ears pierced miscalculated.

I thought about having my right ear pierced again to lower the hole, so earrings that are meant to dangle, can dangle. I was told to let the old hole close up first to avoid a potential tear between the old and new holes. That would’ve taken months, so I’ve kept my uneven hole. Instead, I’ve learned not to buy earrings with small hooks.

My friend Sandi bought these happy silver and green earrings for me on one of her cruises. Before today I’d only worn them a couple of times because I had lukewarm feelings about them. But this morning when I put them on as a second choice and looked in the mirror, a heatwave of happiness blew over me. How did I not love these earrings from the start? They bounce and swirl. They catch light and throw it back through the air. They’re sassy and amusing. They’re an incarnation of my friend Sandi.

The first time I met Sandi’s son, he said, “I’m surprised you and my mom are such good friends because of your age difference.”

“Yeah, your mom’s a little young for me, but I overlook that,” I said.

When he stopped laughing, he said, “Touché.”

Sandi was seventeen years older than me, but in numbers only. Her son knew exactly what I meant.

Today’s earrings are happy and young at heart, just like Sandi was. If not for my “Thirty Days of Earrings” blogging, I might not have ever worn them again.

But, today these earrings danced beneath my ears, and I felt young at heart.

I will wear them again, and often.

[Click here to hear Frank Sinatra sing “Young at Heart.”]

Day 23—Earrings and Necklace Combo

“I like your earrings,” a kindergartener said while I tried to get his sixteen classmates to hang up their coats and line up along the wall.

Did he really like my earrings? They do dangle and shimmer. Or did he sense that I was frustrated and needed a compliment? I was frustrated. Is a kindergartener that insightful? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But he validated my choice of earrings for the day.

“Thanks,” I said, then returned to organizing seventeen children. I subbed in his classroom today—my first day of subbing since March 2020. After being vaccinated and getting my booster shot, I felt ready.

I chose today’s earrings based on a necklace I always wear with a pale gray top with three-quarter sleeves and a large cowl-like neck highlighted with three pewter-colored buttons. I bought the top and necklace at The Little Gift House in Solon Springs, Wisconsin.

Before the pandemic started, an old friend and I would meet there for lunch, conversation, and a little shopping. The gift shop’s variety of goods is eye candy for adults. They have delicious food, and their desserts, coffee, and smoothies are scrumptious. They’re still open for business.

I bought the earrings at Lotus on the Lake in the Fitger’s Building in Duluth, Minnesota. I bought them to wear with my necklace. Lotus on the Lake closed in January 2021. I don’t know why they closed. My mother and I liked the store and always shopped there when she came to visit.

Today’s earrings may seem bland compared to the festive necklace I pair them with, but that’s by design—the necklace is the star. People compliment the necklace, never the earrings. But today a kindergarten boy said, “I like your earrings.” The earrings shouldn’t get smug about this because, having just come inside from recess, my coat covered the necklace.

It was good to be at work today, even if it felt like trying to ice skate after a long absence from frozen waters. The outfit and jewelry I wore made me feel good—gave me fortitude to face a day with energetic kindergarteners.

But I still needed a nap when I got home.

Day 19—Altered Earrings

Circa 2018

After wandering around a gift store several times, looking for a gift for friend, I bought these earrings. For myself. And nothing for the friend.

It’s a gift store I like, and I’d had good luck finding gifts for family and friends before, but this time, after circling the store several times, I couldn’t find the right gift.

I bought these earrings because I knew I’d feel guilty if I left without buying anything. I liked these earrings to a point. And that point ended at the tiny silver circles at what are now the bottoms of the earrings.

The circles at the bottom of these earrings aren’t decorative. Jingly stuff hung from it. I decided to buy the earrings and remove the superfluous jingly stuff when I got home.

Simple is better. Sophia Loren’s character in the romantic comedy Houseboat proves this when she removes two strings of hideous purple flowers from an otherwise gorgeous gold gown.

I gleefully removed the jingly stuff from my new earrings. A pair of Peruvian green stones wrapped in delicate silver wire remained. They’re not as pretty as the gold gown, but then I’ve never been Sophia Loren.

And I did find a gift for my friend, but at a different store.

[For another story about earrings I bought out of guilt read: Day 10–Butterfly Earrings.]

Day 15—Hospital Earrings, Duluth, Minnesota

My triplets, circa summer 2017

The hospital visits began with an afternoon phone call from Sandi’s son, who lives on the West Coast. Sandi had gone to the hospital in the morning. Tests run by the emergency room doctor revealed kidney stones and she was having a rough time. He couldn’t reach his sister who was out in the countryside where cell reception was spotty. Could I go to the hospital?


Sandi had kidney stones, but the ER doctor also found a mass on her kidney. A kidney doctor said he needed to take care of the kidney stones in her good kidney before he could remove her cancerous kidney.

After her kidney stone problem was eradicated, her cancerous kidney was removed.

Not long after, a routine colonoscopy revealed a large tumor in her colon. A doctor removed the tumor, which she said looked benign, and sent it for testing. Cancer.

We hoped the cancer hadn’t spread, but a body scan revealed cancer in Sandi’s liver.

Over the next couple of years, I lost track of my visits to see Sandi when she would be in the hospital.

On one visit, I stopped by the hospital’s gift shop before I left. Hospitals have the best gift shops. I walked through the shop, letting time stand still. I looked at the beautiful gifts for sale, gifts for women and men and children and newborns. Scarves, purses, jewelry, crystal figurines, frames, vases, toys, books, stationery, slippers, clothing—a smattering of everything.

Before leaving the shop, I bought a cup of coffee and a cookie. I scrutinized a circular rack of earrings on the countertop. A pair of earrings caught my eye. I bought them, knowing they would remind me of Sandi and my trips to the hospital to see her.

By the time I bought these earrings, the cancer had already shown up in Sandi’s colon and liver. Her family and friends all hoped for a cure, but I wondered if each new procedure or treatment designed to beat back the spreading and recurring cancer had scraped away their hope like it did mine.

I wore these earrings while Sandi was still alive. She liked them. Although, they were a bit subdued for her taste.

Sandi rarely wore earrings, except when she went on a cruise. Then she wore long dangling earrings with lots of glittering crystals and colorful beads. She called them her “slutties,” and she wore them with formal evening attire to dinners on cruises. She bought a new pair for every cruise. “Look at the new slutties I bought for my cruise,” she’d beam. “It’s not easy being eye candy, you know.”

I wore these earrings after Sandi died. I wondered if she’d chosen a pair of her slutties to be buried in. I don’t remember which earrings I wore to her funeral in September 2018.

One morning in November 2018, almost three months after Sandi died, I wore these earrings to work. After I returned home, I discovered I had one naked ear. I hadn’t worn the rubber backs. The wire hooks were so long, I thought they couldn’t fall out.

You’d think I’d learn. [Read: Thirty Days of Earrings.] I was devastated. I tried to find the earring when I went back to work. I asked coworkers. I checked the lost and found. It was gone. My earring was single.

I began a quest to find another pair. I bought these earrings in 2017, so in 2018, they were last year’s design made by the company Silver Forest. For years I’d seen their earrings displayed in many gift shops. So, whenever I entered a gift shop in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan, I checked to see if they carried Silver Forest earrings. I often found their displays, but I never found the same pair of earrings.

Then it occurred to me to look up the company on the internet. Turns out they will repair a broken earring or replace a lost earring if they still have the design elements. But I had to send the remaining earring back to them so they could match the new one to it. For sentimental reasons I was afraid of losing the remaining earring.

Already in the spirit of internet searching, I turned to Amazon. I searched through almost one hundred pairs of Silver Forest earrings, but I found them. Now I have three identical earrings. I don’t know which one is the original mate of the lost earring.

When I told this story to someone, they asked me if I still had the original earring. “Of course,” I said. “What if I’d thrown it out then found the other one?” I know a woman who lost an earring but refused to throw the other one away. Months later, in the spring after the snow and ice melted in her driveway, she found her lost earring. And it was unscathed.

I like to think Sandi has my lost earring in heaven with her, and when I see her someday, she will hold out her palm with my earring and say, “Did you lose something?” before she even says hello.

And I will respond, “How the heck did you get that?”

She will answer with one of her favorite retorts, “Let me splain it to you, Lucy. It doesn’t matter how long the hooks are on a pair of earrings—always wear the rubber backings.”

Day 4—Earrings from a Cruise

I didn’t take the Caribbean cruise; Sandi, my best friend, did. She bought these abalone shell earrings for me as a gift.

When the rectangles sway, iridescent, pale-green splotches catch light and pulsate across the surface of the earrings, giving the impression they light up from within.

I met Sandi, a paralegal, at a law office where I had taken a summer job. I had dreams of switching careers and becoming a paralegal. Eventually, I decided against the career change, but my friendship with Sandi lasted until she passed away fourteen years later.

The lawyer, who gave me a tour of the office on my first day, introduced me to Sandi, and told her I taught English. Her first words to me were, “I might as well tell you right now, I don’t understand that possessive apostrophe stuff.”

My first words to her were, “I struggle with affect and effect and avoid using either word. And I have to look up how to use lay or lie every time.”

Sandi and me, July 2017

We both laughed. My first thoughts were “I like this person, and we’re going to be good friends.”

There was so much coded in our first exchange of words: We wouldn’t lead with our egos; we’d help each other when needed; humor would prevail. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

These earrings symbolize Sandi’s character. She pulsated kindness and humor and strength, which lit up from inside her.