The Summer Stay-Cation: A Labor Day Story

For Labor Day Weekend: A short-short story just for fun…

A lone leaf drifted lazily into the small kidney-shaped swimming pool in the backyard of my dear friend Muffy. An orange leaf. The three of use, Muffy, Buffy, and myself peered up with trepidation at the large elm tree that shades the deep end of the pool.

“Is that what I think it is?” asked Muffy, with a pained sigh.

Buffy lowered her huge, protective sunglasses and tilted up her enormous hemp sun hat to further assess the situation. She sighed as well. “Yes, I’m afraid summer is almost over. Before you know it the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog will be here.”

“Are you still getting that?” asked Muffy. She sounded a bit smug and sanctimonious, and I knew what was coming next. “I e-mailed all my stores and asked them to not send me any more catalogs. Do you know how many trees it takes to make one Neiman Marcus holiday catalog? More like a forest!”

I couldn’t see behind Buffy’s sunglasses but I knew she was rolling her eyes. Continue reading

The Annual Tree Lighting

(This appears in my essay collection “Lake Forest Moments,”  It is about Lake Forest, but I think it evokes many of the holiday tree-lightings that I have attended over the years.)

Lake Forest has many special annual traditions to commemorate holidays, but the tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Market Square the day after Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite traditions. The tree lighting and the Lake Forest Day parade in August, draw the biggest crowds of residents. You see people you haven’t seen in a long while – old neighbors, a woman you used to be a Girl Scout leader with eight years ago, the butcher who retired from Don’s. In fact, it seems like you could know everyone there; it has that feel to it that you only get from true hometown events.

The weather for the tree lighting can range anywhere from the sunny mid-sixties to a foot-numbing wind-chill of forty below. The best weather condition to my mind, though, is thirty degrees and lightly snowing. The Thanksgiving leftovers are waiting for you at home, the firewood is stacked by the back door, and you’ve just started to get in the Christmas spirit. Thick, wet snowflakes dancing through the late November air, still slightly warmed by the lake, make everything seem new and clean and hopeful.

Continue reading

(Originally published in Main Line Life on 12/10/08)

In the past couple of years I’ve noticed a growing trend of consumers in developed countries buying arts and crafts objects made by needy third-world artisans. Middlemen (some non-profit, some not) link poor village artists to a global, socially conscious buying community with a desire for original, one-of-a-kind art objects. Especially at this time of year, these bright, hopeful catalogs with their slightly odd handmade objects find their way by the dozen to my mailbox.

In the spirit of this global symbiosis, I have formed a new website: YouDeserveIt.Com. Here you can rest assured that your discriminating desire to acquire a singular gift will also help those who are most in need. I offer here a sampling of what our International Team of Acquirers of Rare and Unique Items has posted just for you.

South African land tortoise shell bowl – Naturally we don’t use the real thing (we are, after all environment-friendly!) But these lovely reproductions make wonderful bowls for serving chips and dip, or as that added décor on a dull corner shelf. The rich yellow and dark brown hues bring to mind the very same land tortoises described by explorer David Livingstone in his African travels (he did use the real thing.) $175.

Kafir snuff boxes – Authentic snuffboxes from the ancient Kafir tribe of South Africa, made of cowries and tiger-cat’s teeth. Great for organizing and storing cufflinks. $95. Tahitian palm leaf mats – Futons are so yesterday. These plaited mats made by Tahitian native women can be used for napping, or just sitting around the family room. Small ($325) or large ($550) sizes.

Fish-catching basket – Why fish the same old way everyone else does? Modeled after fishing cages used by ancient tribes of Lake Tanganyika, these deluxe cages of open basketwork are designed to entangle and trap the wiliest of fish. A floating marker of woven reeds attached to your line lets you know where your trap is at all times. (Note: this exact model was used by the famed 19th century British explorer Richard Burton.) Perfect for the father who has almost everything. $450.

Mother-of-pearl fishhooks – Don’t want to do the Hemingway fish-trapping thing? These three-inch hooks, made by real South Seas artisans, follow the natural curve of the shells they are carved from. Every one is different! To add to the native authenticity, a piece of bone is attached with pig’s hair to be used as a weight. No need for bait when the mother-of-pearl glitters and beckons. $75 per hook, or one dozen for $750.

Bamboo bells – In ancient Siam, bamboo bells were tied to an elephant to keep track of its whereabouts (although we don’t know how you’d lose an elephant!). These charming replicas are a lovely, handcrafted addition to any art collection. $350.

Bamboo leaf cloak – Anyone can wear a raincoat. But wait until your friends see you in your water-repellent rush cloak made by Chinese crafters from real bamboo leaves. Originally called a “so-e,” a garment of leaves. Also available: bamboo umbrellas and hats. $625.

Indian boomerang – Originally made popular by boar hunters in India in the 1800s, these heavy dark wood objets d’art are 2” wide, ¾” think and 2 ½ feet long. Due to their sharp edges, we recommend keeping these out of the reach of small children. We think they’re perfect for thumping those annoying neighborhood dogs that relieve themselves on your lawn. Or maybe even their owners. $925.
Basket bottles – These tightly woven basket bottles were originally used by nomads to store camel’s milk as they crossed the Sahara desert. These special reproductions are perfect for bringing to tailgate parties, storing up to a quart of your favorite libation. $295.

Egyptian papyrus scrolls – Own a little piece of the ancient necropolis of Thebes. Or at least own these classy replicas of the actual papyri found by the Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817. Can easily be framed for better viewing. (Hieroglyphics transcribed by specially trained Egyptian art students.) $550.
Henry M. Stanley’s canoe – The centerpiece of our collection – for the adventurer in all of us. Of course we can’t give you the real thing, but this replica of the actual canoe used by world explorer Henry M. Stanley is as close as you can get. Handmade by native crafters with a painstaking attention to detail, these canoes are ready to take you to new adventures – we presume… $122,000.