Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Holiday Mother Lode

With an extra day to celebrate

By Deborah Salomon

Every so often I, as the saying goes, “wax philosophical.” The most likely result is a criticism of some innovation that captures the minds of techies. You know, the ones who stand in line all night to purchase the latest iPhone that promises everything south of open-heart surgery. This time, the trigger was February, which owns far and away more holidays than any other month.

Americans start by hounding a groundhog, continue to boozy Mardi Gras, somber Ash Wednesday, Chinese New Year, Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day (formerly Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays). February has been designated American Heart Month as well as Black History Month, although Martin Luther King Day is Jan. 15, his birthday. Each observance has a story which, in days gone by, grade-schoolers would research in an encyclopedia, perhaps for a “project.”

Now they push a few buttons, skim the results, copy, paste and move on to something else.

I doubt cherry pie or the Gettysburg Address would be part of a combined Presidents Day experience. More likely a long ski weekend which, I’ve heard, suggested its creation. I’m thinking Washington and Lincoln deserve their own days, as might FDR, JFK. Otherwise, the new holiday on the third Monday of the month includes all presidents, some less than celebratory.

Obviously, holidays are promoted for commercial gain. In cities with significant Chinese populations, an eight-course New Year’s Chinese restaurant extravaganza makes our Thanksgiving repast look like Pop-Tarts. The candy/greeting card/floral industries thrive on Valentine’s Day, despite the untimely death by decapitation of its patron saint.

I understand how Heart Month plays off Valentine’s Day symbols. However, a typical Valentine’s dinner will include a well-marbled steak, potatoes dripping butter and, for dessert, a hardly healthy heart-shaped cheesecake.

At best, holidays give texture to a society while preserving its heritage. To my knowledge, neither AI nor a 3-D printer has replicated any of the above.

Commercial or not, holidays serve a greater purpose. At best, they bring people together, even blot out horrors. Somewhere in Ukraine, world-famous hand-painted Easter eggs will surface in March.

For 21 years I lived in Vermont, where Blacks make up about 1 percent of the population. Every February the university hosted a soul food dinner, its menu prepared by volunteers. Tickets sold out in a day. Participants, Black and white, came from all over the state to eat chitlins, fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, “shiny” beans and peach cobbler. I attended to write a story but had a fantastic time remembering Southern preparations with 20 inches of snow on the ground and temps in the single digits.

February even has a quirky conclusion. Because 2024 is a leap year, this shortest month at 28 days will boast 29, enabling people born that day to have a once-in-four-years celebration.

Because the way things are going, who knows where the world will be next time leap year rolls around? PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Makin’ a List

And what it says about you

By Deborah Salomon

We are a nation of lists. January is the logical time to make them: new year, fresh resolve, second chances. Remember, this is the month when Medicare supplement ads give way to weight-loss schemes.

Lists, sometimes in the form of resolutions, reveal much about their authors. Long ago and far away I wrote a column after finding a list scribbled on an envelope crumpled in a shopping cart. The list was long, barely legible, full of abbreviations. Yet from it I reconstructed the life of the writer: She had young children (silly cereals, milk by the gallon, Popsicles), attempted health-consciousness (both mushy white bread and 100 percent whole wheat), braved unpopular veggies (frozen Brussels sprouts), and had at least one cat — a finicky eater, to boot. Her husband, I surmised, worked in an office (pick up shirts at dry cleaner). She paid a premium for real Coke and Peter Pan Peanut Butter — not store brands. Wine wasn’t her forte. I was disappointed to learn she succumbed to frozen pizza.

Certain items were coded “c.” A coupon, I guessed.

Remember coupons?

And on and on. By the time my analysis was done I could have picked her out of a lineup.

Something else besides coupons has changed. Today, the wrinkled envelope has been replaced by a cell phone. Not me, not a chance. I can’t afford to donate one hand to holding the slippery thing. Then, suppose I accidentally leave it at home and forget the peanut butter?

Serious lists deserve more than the back of an envelope, maybe a printout to dignify the effort.

Here goes . . .

Clean up my desk. I am neither overly organized nor a neat freak. My desk, flanked with baskets, wooden boxes et al. is, uh, unruly. However, every January I undertake a purge.

On second thought, ditch this list, since I might be held accountable. Safer to compose lists for others.

Taylor Swift needs a new boyfriend. She’s not helping the ballclub. Find yourself a shy accountant, honey.

Joe Biden needs a different barber, to eradicate that rear-view mullet.

The Donald needs a legal secretary.

Mick Jagger needs a rocking chair for his 16-gig tour, sponsored by AARP. Really.

Elon Musk needs to buy a vowel, not an X.

Harry and Meghan need a new publicist. Where have all the tabloids gone?

Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin all need a smile — a rare event in portraiture before orthodontics, implants and crowns.

Yes, we are a nation of lists. An entire book series is devoted to the genre. Just don’t leave yours in a shopping cart.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Identity Crisis

Losing at the name game

By Deborah Salomon

What’s in a name?

The answer, Shakespeare opines, is not much, since “that which we call a rose would by any other name smell as sweet.”

Sorry, Will, but I beg to differ.

My mother decided to name her only child Deborah, after her motherʼs Aunt Deborah, a farmer’s wife famous for her pound cake. She insisted on pronouncing all three syllables. No multi-spelling diminutives allowed, at least in her presence, not Deb or Debi or Debbie or Debby. Especially not Debra or Debora. Despite being instructed on its Biblical provenance — Deborah was a judge and prophetess in Israel — from an early age I was unwilling to assume the mantle.

In the ’40s and early ’50s, my classmates answered to Sally, Susan, Martha, Carolyn, Dorothy, Mary and Jane. I remember one Sharon. In high school there was a fittingly exotic Rachel.

How I longed to be an Ann. Three letters, no possibilities except Annie, which I would have embraced.

That’s not the worst. I also inherited Great-Aunt Deborah’s last name: Boyles, which until I got married made me Deborah Boyles Berney. Before bullying was outlawed, once this trio appeared on a school document the boys (all named Bobby, Bill, Jim, John, Charlie and Mike) taunted me with “Deborah boils before she burns!” That wasn’t half bad compared to a classmate named Emma, who they called Enema.

Somehow I survived. Once at college, out of my mother’s earshot, I became Deb or Debbie. Whew!

But I will say one thing for the original version, which means “bee” in some ancient tongue. All Deborahs were preordained “busy bees.” Right on.

Naturally, I was determined to choose simple, non-negotiable names for my children: Jill (Dianne) and Wendy (Sue) for the girls; Daniel for the boy — an especially good choice, since little Danny morphed into grown-up Dan.

The stonecutter suggested Daniel for his headstone, Danny for the footstone. And so he shall be remembered by his sons, Foster and Cooper.

Funny how names reflect the times. Emma came back strong. The female characters in HBO’s The Gilded Age are Bertha, Gladys, Agnes and Ada, still trailing cobwebs but not for long, I predict. The same producers chose Edith and Sybil for Downton Abbey. We’ll see.

Generations of Southern gentlemen bore mother’s maiden name as their given name: Wylie, Harrison, Tyler, Reynolds, Hunter, Gibson, Sloan. I suspect an inheritance issue. Also interesting, how show biz has come to value real names, no matter how unglamorous. Roy Harold Sherer became Rock Hudson; and Norma Jean Mortensen, Marilyn Monroe. Reportedly, Donald Trump’s ancestors changed theirs from the unpronounceable Drumpf. Yet Meryl Streep’s actor/daughters remain Mamie Gummer and Louisa Jacobson.

Sometimes, a name is played just for laughs: from the Tonys, Silvios, Vitos and Salvatores populating The Sopranos emerges daughter Meadow, a nod to the Earth-child monikers (River, Sky, Forrest, Willow) of the 1990s.

Unisex (aka gender-neutral or non-binary) names continue to puzzle. They are more popular for females, and include Riley, Casey, Avery, Logan, Cameron and Hunter. The very thought would make my grandmotherʼs Aunt Deborah turn over in her Guilford County grave.

But the ultimate philosophical commentary comes from Johnny Cash, in “A Boy Named Sue,” which relates the violent consequences of a name bestowed to toughen up a fatherless kid.

I never thought about changing my name. It sounds OK, even a bit retro-fashionable on a roll call where every third female is Catelyn/Kaitlin/Catelynne. But I did adjust my signature which, except on documents is, in the mode of e e cummings, simply . . . deb.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

The American Holiday

Giving thanks, both great and small

By Deborah Salomon

Just about the whole month of November will be influenced by Thanksgiving, a truly American holiday not co-opted by other countries. Yes, Canada has Thanksgiving, but it’s in October and minor, with no school closings or family gatherings. Or Black Fridays.

Columnists regularly compile “thankful” lists centering on family and friends — also football, turkey and pumpkin spice lattes — ignoring the agonies of delayed flights, resurging COVID and the price of that Butterball bearing no resemblance to the flat-chested, gamey-flavored bird the Pilgrims supposedly spit-roasted over an open fire and consumed al fresco. If they were even able to shoot one.

I’ve attended a re-enactment and, believe me, it’s no picnic.

This November initiates another ominous happening: the 12-month election countdown, promising an extra helping of vitriol, animosity, rants and ravings.

Fear not. I won’t go there. You can be thankful for that.

Instead, I am grateful for the Sandhills winter, a reward for surviving hot, humid summers, which can last six months. I recall only one uncomfortably cold day last winter: Christmas, which required my Vermont goose down parka at the Santa Project bike giveaway. Otherwise, classify local winters as “brisk,” nothing more.

I am thankful for animal lovers, who care for homeless, hungry dogs and kitties. Moore County is fortunate to have several rescue organizations, but there are never enough. I am a lifelong caregiver but won’t divulge the details. I feed the birds, too. Watching them and their humanesque behaviors (including a pair of crows raising their young ’uns every spring) is more relaxing than anything Big Pharma prescribes.

I am extremely thankful for our medical community. When I tell people who live elsewhere about the gorgeous hospital, the separate cancer and cardiac facilities, the free parking/shuttle bus, the walk-in locations, concierge service to free clinics, the Clara McLean Hospitality House for patient families, the nurse navigator service, Hospice House on a pond beside a chapel, they dismiss it as exaggeration. But I know, from writing about them, as well as needing them.

I am thankful for farmers markets and farmstands. We need one in West Southern Pines. How about an old-fashioned curb market, where farmers sell directly from their trucks?

I am thankful for my grandsons who, in a world consumed with problems impacting young adults, turned out so well. They grew up without a father, my son, who died when they were 6 and 7. Yet at 25 and 26 both are happy, healthy, outgoing, and self-supporting in careers they chose when they were still little boys: one a successful attorney, the other a certified mechanic at a fancy car dealership. Best of all, they love their Nanny and are generous with hugs.

After 15 years, I am super-thankful for my job. The Pilot and PineStraw have become beacons in an industry whose lights are fading. I’m in touch with colleagues working for faltering news organizations, while ours keeps expanding — new products, fresh young staffers, an updated workspace suitable for a thriving journalistic mini-empire.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the millions of turkeys who sacrificed their lives so we could gather around a table laden with goodies. I don’t eat meat except on holidays and in the line of duty as a food writer. But on Thanksgiving I enjoy a well-done turkey thigh beside a mound of homemade cornbread stuffing, which means roasted inside, not outside, the bird, all doused with cranberry chutney.

So, bad as things may seem — war, famine, pandemics, earthquakes, fires, hurricanes — I hope everybody succeeds in putting some practical, meaningful thanks into their own Thanksgiving.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Fall Faves

The crown of the calendar

By Deborah Salomon

The primordial connection between humans and the seasons has survived for millennia. Spring invigorates. Winter draws us to the fireside. Autumn, ah autumn, is a mixed blessing: relief from summer’s searing heat, harbinger of winter’s cruel chill.

These days, climate change is messing with both extremes, confusing plants and wildlife.

I’m an autumn gal, not a fan of summer vacations. My favorite autumn sub-season is called Back to School. Its talismans (talismen? taliswomen?) still evoke a pang rooted in a variety of experiences, good and not-so, beginning with . . .

Plaid cotton dresses: Through fifth grade I attended a progressive all-girls private school that required uniforms — navy jumpers, white blouses, knee socks and lace-up shoes. Then we moved to a different planet where I was plunged into public school, where girls wore plaid cotton dresses. My mother didn’t approve. Sensible skirts and blouses for me. Penny loafers? Not a chance.

The resulting quest for autumn plaid survives in long-sleeved shirts that look old-fashioned but complement jeans weathered by wearing, not a chemical bath.

Absolutely necessary for b-to-s: ring binders covered in a medium-blue fabric, with metal rings that snapped hard, sometimes on fingers. The fabric surfaces welcomed ball-point graffiti, including names of boyfriends, or school teams, cartoons or pop singers. Designs were psychedelic before psychedelia had been invented. My binder suffered from lack of artistry.

Then, as autumn progressed, brown and navy corduroy replaced those lightweight plaids. Whatever happened to real corduroy, just cozy enough for late October? All I could find was a jacket at Walmart, with the texture of mashed potatoes.

Long before the overuse of “pumpkin spice” in every conceivable food, the first fall McIntosh apples released their cider — with its incredible aroma — at New England cider mills, also the source for cider doughnuts, which added a new dimension to coffee breaks. Starbucks and Dunkin’ . . . don’t bother trying. Even three dollars and a fancy name can’t buy that smell.

As the leaves fell and days shortened generations “laid in” for winter, a necessary evil, beginning with gray, damp November — on nobody’s Best Month list. February turns the corner, with spring only a whiff away, signaled by early March fiddleheads, the tightly coiled fern leaves growing by streams and rivers, exquisite sautéed in garlic butter. Forage them quickly, before they unfurl to a bitter leaf.

During times of shock and uncertainty, with hurricanes flooding the West Coast and pandemics decimating populations, mortgage rates escalating and wildfires destroying forests, affirming our connections to weather, crops, seasons offers some comfort. Bears still hibernate, birds fly south and return to nest in the same tree. Thanksgiving happens no matter how expensive the turkey. Snowmen justify the blizzard. Spring flowers predict hay fever until the cows come home to be relieved of milk that reappears as lick-quick July ice cream cones.

But as long as leaves flame red and orange, October crowns the calendar. Breathe it in, before November shows up in a wooly turtleneck.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

A Royal Pain

All the fashion and feuds fit to print

By Deborah Salomon

Enough already!

In the late 18th century, Colonists waged an eight-year war to gain independence from an English king and his government. Now we seem to be creeping back into the fold. The Sussexes get more internet ink than the Trumps and the Bidens combined. Most reports are no more than yesterday’s news rehashed, sporting a sexy headline suggesting scandal, bankruptcy, feuds and divorce, dressed up in designer outfits with ridiculous hats.

No report is too old or too petty. In late July, this headline surfaced: “Biden Snubs the Sussexes.” Seems Meghan and Harry asked Joe for a ride back home on Air Force One after the queen’s funeral, which took place last September. Joe declined, fearing the wrath of King Charles III.

What nerve! Obviously, Markle’s mark is all over a move that would have cemented her status stateside. Instead, the same week, reports of a teary duchess accompanied the headline “Meghan Struggling in Hollywood.”

In desperation for something more au courant, the scandalmongers have dug up dirt on Prince Edward-the-Meek, the one who as a young man shunned princehood for the entertainment industry. Eventually, Mummy lured him back, married him off to a respectable woman and dispatched him to open hospitals.

Currently, dominating daily briefings are Princess Kate’s fashion choices and the neo-normalcy enjoyed by her children, as though every 10-year-old wearing a tailored-to-measure blazer sits in the royal box at Wimbledon.

But I guess that makes better reading than Charles evicting his naughty brother Andrew from a royal residence because bro’s BFF was the late Jeffrey Epstein. Do I remember reading that pre-scandal, Andrew was known to be Mummy’s favorite?

Well, Charles settled that score.

What really sticks in my craw is King Charles’ oft-reported desire to scale down the monarchy, maybe save a few hundred thousand pounds by deflating the pomp. He might start with the royal wardrobes, where designers are named for every thread worn by Camilla/Meghan/Kate. Then he could fire the scribe who keeps tabs on what was worn where, by each, since when appearing together royal wives must be color-and-style coordinated. Should they clash, heads roll. When in Scotland, tartans and cashmere required. Cleavage must be kept under wraps. Nobody leaves the castle bare-legged. I can’t imagine the adorable children in mismatched shorts and Popsicle-stained Ts, let alone scuffed sneakers (which Brits call plimsolls).

Ah, yes . . . the Brits have a zippy word for everything. This ancient Duke University English major is certain Will Shakespeare would have dubbed Meghan a vixen. Her motives were visible out of the gate: Not on the Hollywood A-list, she parlayed a confused, saddened, rebellious prince into a ticket to ride . . . on the royal train, private jets and a gold-encrusted carriage. She parlayed well. Remember, she’s an actress, unafraid to flout the queen’s rule governing public displays of affection by constantly gripping Harry’s hand. She squirreled away every actual and perceived slight to be regurgitated for Oprah. Then, tearfully, she convinced Harry to leave the only life he’s known for her turf, along with their two adorable red-haired babies.

Harry, in her thrall, wrote a book that inflamed the family he purports to “love.” And now this antithesis of a Montecito surfin’ dude claims to be “happy.” I watched Harry: The Interview with British journalist Tom Bradby. Harry did not look happy. He looked angry, defensive, cornered. Their moneymaking schemes are crumbling. She wants a bigger, “safer” house. Bigger, that is, than their current nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom, $14 million pad. He just wants a boys’ night out with Daddy and Will.

The tabloid press whispers splitsville.

I miss the queen. She was a class act.

I can’t believe I’ve fallen into the trap. I devour daily bulletins on royal rumblings, gloat over the ones that prove my conclusions. At least the Sussexes deflect attention from all that ails the world.

Yada yada yada, as Seinfeld would say. This soap opera is far from curtains.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Fashion Goes Far and Wide

What goes around comes around — again

By Deborah Salomon

I gasped, in shock. That woman is wearing bell-bottoms! But wait. Not only are the bottoms flared. The whole leg has been widened!

Are those pants . . . or pontoons?

About once every decade I need to unload on fashion. You might think that with the world in such rough shape people wouldn’t care what they wear. Then, again, maybe during hard times fashion provides a diversion — anything to get the mind off The Indictment, Meghan & Harry, Ukraine and graham crackers at $2 a box.

But we mustn’t knock a multi-billion-dollar industry (employing hundreds of thousands) too hard, even though obsolescence keeps it alive.

Nothing works like what’s happening now: Return of the bell-bottoms, even more revolutionary since pants have become the default for women.

This happened gradually, as I recall. What used to be called “slacks” and “dungarees” became pants and jeans. But a businesswoman in pants? Impossible! So the designers added a matching jacket, creating a pantsuit, worn with a girly blouse . . . er, top.

Women liked this, especially the tall, long-legged ones.

This popular trend for women survived the gender divide. Men adopted flares in casual pants and “leisure suits.” I can practically date a movie by its pants, especially the high-waisted, wide-leg ones that became Katharine Hepburn’s trademark.

The ladies soon learned that pants/pantsuits were practical, comfortable, versatile. Pantyhose wasn’t required, nor were shoes as important. The same pants could bottom a multitude of tops. Denim came out of the closet and into the spotlight — dress jeans, they were called, the quintessential oxymoron.

I’ve felt a change looming for several seasons, like elephants sense a tsunami and run for the hills. It began with gauzy wide-leg “palazzo” pants — OK if you’ve got a palazzo in Tuscany, not OK for the height-challenged, who seemed to sink into their volume. Then, this spring, fashion-forward TV anchorettes debuted pants that began flaring at the knee, got wider as they approached the ankle, then swallowed the foot like a whale swallows a school of fish. To further exacerbate the situation, CNN made them stand instead of hiding their pant legs under a desk.

Despite fostering flares the ladies retained the hairstyle best achieved when a power outage happens during a blow-dry. Or locks get caught in a woodchipper.

Remember that scene from Fargo?

Now I’m seeing baggy pants previewed in fall merchandise. More fabric means higher prices. My prediction: DOA, unless John Travolta exhumes “Stayin’ Alive” for his fellow senior citizens.

As for the guys, my shock turned to giggles watching them strut skinny suit pants, usually dark colors, paired with brownish-orange shoes which elongate, not minimize, big feet. What do you call a male fashionista? Fashionisti? Sorry, guys, but nothing looks better than a classic well-tailored suit, a fine shirt, maybe oxford-cloth, in the proper neck size (no gaps), with a paisley tie.

My last arrow is aimed at women’s shoe designers who lag behind the pantspeople. Boo-hoo, Jimmy Choo. Skinny stilettos don’t marry well with wide-leg bell-bottoms. They require slightly chunky footwear, with stacked heels, don’t you agree?

Agree or not, I’m betting that by December stovepipe pants will look as dated as penny loafers and pleated skirts.

Fashion is a complex element of civilization. Think of the ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Elizabethans. Chinese women wore pants while colonists still sported bustles and hoop skirts. These days, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle call the shots. Because if clothes really do make a man, imagine their power over poor women like us.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Smoothing Out the Kinks

With 40 winks

By Deborah Salomon

Everybody understands what “Stop and smell the roses” means. That’s easy.

What about “Stop and take a nap”?

Naps aren’t a sure cure for fatigue, like peanut butter and jelly are for hunger. Neither is sleep a bodily function activated by command. Sometimes it comes as soon as head hits pillow. Other times, the brain dredges up worries . . . like having trouble falling asleep.

I love naps, perhaps because of a 25-year deprivation. A quick nap wasn’t worth removing contact lenses. After my eyes finally rejected the invasion I had surgery that restored vision except for reading, when I wore glasses. What a joy to hit the couch for 15 minutes of shut-eye. No more panic if I drifted off during a Blue Bloods rerun.

Naps are especially important given my sleep patterns in place since high school: rising (way) before dawn to bake, care for pets, fold laundry, exercise and write. I once had neighbors call the police because they heard noises coming from my apartment at 4:30 a.m.

Burglars, they discovered, don’t empty the dishwasher.

But sleep, even short-term, can be tricky, as Hamlet warned . . . “perchance to dream, aye, there’s the rub.”

No scientist, not even Freud, has successfully codified the origin of dreams. Maybe Scrooge was correct when he attributed Yuletide nightmares to “a crumb of cheese.” Lately, I have noticed a shift. My dreams have taken on minute details of weather, clothing, dialogue as in paintings displaying count-the-hairs realism. People I haven’t seen in ages appear and reappear — soap opera dreams, I call them, most with upsetting plot lines that may cover years during a quick nap. Others create a need, like to cook what I’ve dreamt about. That’s me, stirring up arepas at midnight. I’ve never been to South America, where these cornflour pancakes are staples, but I’ve read about them and, conveniently, had the ingredients on hand.

Then, after a long-ago surgery, I learned from medical staff that Demerol, a pain medication, invites jungle animals into the unconscious. Sure enough, here come the lions and tigers.

These deterrents don’t keep me from a 15-30 minute nap most early afternoons, a practice left over from having three kids under 4, who needed a snooze almost as badly as Mom.

As luck would have it, I can sleep through the bumpiest flight, especially if we steerage passengers are allowed blankets on cold, dark mornings. But please give me an elbow when I doze off in a waiting room.

Naps are part of certain cultures, notably Spanish, where a siesta — entirely different from a quick “power” nap — following the midday meal, usually heavy, has been credited for a 37 percent reduction in coronary mortality due to reduced cardiovascular stress. Closer to home, some woke businesses provide partitioned nap rooms with recliners and headphone/alarm clocks for their employees, resulting in a happier, more productive workforce.

But NASA offers the most convincing stats. Their study concludes that a 40-minute nap improved astronauts’ alertness by 100 percent, performance by 34 percent.

Unfortunately, sleep can be addictive, withdrawal unpleasant. Life interferes. Having a cat helps, since naps are a hard-wired behavior they gladly share.

I’m painfully aware that some mental health professionals view sleep as an escape. Maybe so, in excess. But what’s wrong with a little non-drug, non-alcohol induced escape?

While you ponder that, I’m going to turn the phone off, plump the couch pillow, pull up the fuzzy throw, summon my kitty and speak only in ZZZZZs.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Batting Cleanup

Spotless . . . in the eye of the beholder

By Deborah Salomon

By June, “spring cleaning” should be done and dusted . . . right? The windows gleam, the carpet wafts shampoo. Begone dust bunnies that overwintered under the bureau. Same to soap scum ringing the tub and spilled jam glued to the refrigerator. The sofa has been moved, revealing kitty’s favorite toy and some petrified Halloween candy. All the shelves Swiffered, even the highest, uprooting a mosquito graveyard.

These tasks were accomplished on a sunny Saturday by family members, conscripted, cajoled or bribed.

Pizza for lunch, maybe?

Ah, spring cleaning, that archaic rite which, it seems, survives in name only. Because “clean” is a touchy subject — everybody wants clean surroundings, but nobody wants to do it.

I wanted to do it. Having three children in three-and-a-half years — then adding a rambunctious Airedale puppy — interfered. Nevertheless, every morning I gave the bathrooms a once-over, and late every afternoon, with most of the toys put away, I managed to vacuum, which gave the illusion of clean when Daddy came home to a hot supper. Then baths, stories, bedtime and collapse.

That’s just the way we did things in the ’60s.

Finally, I hired a “cleaning lady” who came every second Friday, from 9 to 3. Anna had emigrated from Eastern Europe to Canada after World War II. I assumed she flew in from heaven on huge white wings, to ease my travail. Anna, well into her 50s, was big, strong, energetic. She tuned her transistor radio to a Polish language station and attacked my house with a vengeance, I think in gratitude for the lunches: a big bowl of hearty homemade soup, rye bread for dunking, a meat sandwich, and garlicky coleslaw from a European deli. She finished off with a bearclaw (Danish filled with almond paste) and strong tea.

Food talks, even inspires.

After lunch I went out grocery shopping. When I returned, Anna was gone and the house smelled like Ajax and Pledge — more glorious than Chanel.

Anna demonstrated that cleaning isn’t just a profession or a necessity. It can be an art.

After she retired I hired helpers, since I was working full time, then gave up. They weren’t any more energetic than I was. Their clean didn’t squeak. They weren’t Anna.

Now, cleaning services are the mode. A crew of young men and women spill out of a truck with a snazzy logo. They bring supplies and implements, breeze through a big house in an hour or so, collect the cash and fly away, like Mary Poppins on her aeronautical umbrella.

They definitely don’t want lunch.

Some folks take clean to an obsession. I envy them, sort of. They are a ready market for Roomba (self-propelling vacuum) as well as Swiffer diversifications for wet and dry floors, blinds, hard to reach tchotchkes, et al. They remove stains with Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and suck up spills with Bounty paper towels. The aromas wafting through their hallways come from plug-ins, not meatloaf.

Others are neat freaks, where everything has its place and the kitchen harbors no junk drawer spilling over with twist ties, rubber bands, birthday candles and packets of soy sauce.

How do you live without a junk drawer? I have two.

Age has sapped my energy. The kitty and I don’t make much mess in our small apartment. I’m still fussy about the (one) bathroom and (tiny) kitchen. I push the carpet sweeper more often than the vacuum. The oven cleans itself, and I don’t keep jam in the refrigerator. Maybe books and magazines pile up, but so what? Makes me look literary. True, sometimes the late afternoon sun reveals a film of dust on the coffee table where I keep stylized animal figurines, collected over many years, many miles. So I close the blinds and the dust disappears.

Spring cleaning? Never got around to it. I’ll wait till fall.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Forever, My Lucky

Elegy to a black cat

By Deborah Salomon

About eight years ago I began dedicating January columns to my two cats — their habits, antics, stuff like that. In each, I reprised our history: Lucky, a sleek all-black male with talking eyes and a brain borrowed from Einstein had been left behind when his family moved. Neutered, front claws removed . . . somehow he fended for himself until the day he peeked into my front door. Black cats are my weakness. I established a feeding station on the porch. He dug himself a nest under the bushes.

After an adulthood of befriending needy animals, I had retired, not anticipating the loneliness.

That was December 2011. On July 4th I invited him in. He strolled to the kitchen, sat down, waited for his supper, hopped onto the couch and fell asleep.

I named him Lucky, for obvious reasons.  He was calm, quiet, stoic, intuitive and totally affectionate.

A year later, a wide-bodied gal with a nasty temper and a clipped ear signaling a spayed feral tried the same trick. I learned she was a neighborhood kitty, fed by many, housed by none. I let her in, too. She repaid me by hissing for a week so I named her Hissy, modified to Missy when she came around. But she lacked Lucky’s intelligence, his communication skills. He tolerated her, more so after she became his handmaid. They formed a bond.

A cat’s age is hard to ascertain. The vet and I estimated that, as of 2022, they were both 12-14.

I suspected Lucky might have early-stage diabetes last fall, when he began drinking and peeing a lot, so I made an appointment. Then in October, I broke my wrist. Managing my large carrier was almost impossible. I put off the exam until my pain subsided. Lucky seemed fine — ate well, enjoyed a nightly tussle with his gal-pal.

The kitties had a routine. Lucky pawed me awake at about 4 a.m. I got up soon after, fed them, then weather permitting, they went out, rarely beyond the yard. On the morning of January 12 Lucky refused breakfast, ran directly to the door with an insistent cry. I let him out.

He never returned.

I called him all day. I put up signs, talked to the neighbors, inquired about predators, contacted the Humane Society. Lucky didn’t like rain or cold.

A friend put a notice and photo in the paper. About once a year Lucky would take a “vacation day” but always came home at dark. He would never go into another house.

I slept in a chair by the door for three nights.

I felt lost, panicky, then desperate. I missed seeing him in the many “nests” he had made throughout the house. I missed him leaning on my shoulder in bed, hopping onto my lap while I watched TV, sitting on the windowsill guarding the house until I came home. Missy followed me, clung to me, went in and out, in and out, looking for her buddy. She hardly ate for a week.

I have never had an animal companion disappear. They all led long, healthy, happy lives and went to that final sleep in my arms.

Missy is adjusting. I am not. My eye spots something black in a pile of sweatshirts, or on a porch chair. I imagine him licking my ear, another surefire wake-up tactic. But I accept, through my tears, that he is gone.

Perhaps he left to die, as some animals do. If so, something good died with him.

I pity people who cannot form a relationship with an animal. They are missing the unconditional love not always available elsewhere.

Missy will be my last kitty. I could not inflict what happens to pets when their human dies. But of all the dogs and cats I have rescued, placed in homes or adopted myself, Lucky stands out. We understood each other. He made me laugh. He needed me. I loved him.

Good-bye, my sleek, handsome friend. The hurt may fade, but you will live forever in my heart.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.