Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Primavera Falso

I wrote this poem in the spring of 2019.  I remember it today as I wake up to the lightest dusting and cloudy skies.

 Primavera Falso


This is not spring

We have false spring

First spring

Almost spring

Snow may melt

Flowers bloom

But be not fooled


This is not spring

We have near spring

Taste of spring

Preview spring

Trees may bud

Skis are stored

But don’t be fooled


This is not spring

Spring is heavy snow

Breaking branches

Spring is a moment

Between Mother’s day

And Juneteenth


This is not spring

We have maybe spring

Yay!  It’s spring

Springtime in the Rockies

Days may lengthen

Coats are stowed

But don’t be foolish


This is not spring

Spring is elusive

Spring is fleeting

Spring is heat in the morning

A/C by midafternoon

Spring can be soon or never

Bienvenido a la primavera en Colorado

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Which came first?  The chicken, the egg or customer service?  The answer, according to my long-gone dad, would have been door number three.  He was an entrepreneur, multi-business owner and self-made man in the best sense of the word.  He drilled it in me from a young age that the customer is always right – even when they aren’t!  I loved being in his ‘shop’, as he called his places of work.  I worked the counter from a young age in his watch and jewelry repair business that was in located in Manhattan.  In that small balcony space, overlooking the bustling first floor of Gimbels Department store, I earned a master’s degree in business, before I even finished middle school.

This training served me well in my own endeavors, both as an employee and a business owner.  I never get upset or blame a newly employed teenager for their lack of product knowledge or customer service skills.  I look to the manager who, as a mentor, is supposed to be teaching the next generation not only about those traits, but also about the importance of being polite, on time, and how to smile!  Greet the customer upon entering the store.  Thank them on the way out the door, with or without a bag of merchandise in hand.  Most importantly, never let a customer leave your place unhappy.  Those are the values instilled in me by my dad.

On a recent trip to Natural Grocers two customers left the store unhappy. One right after the other.  I am going to start at the very beginning.  When I came to Denver in the late seventies, I happened upon a little store called Vitamin Cottage.  I had never shopped at a health food store before.  My little burg in New York did not have one.  We had Waldbaum’s, where the produce manager smoked over the lettuce and flicked his ashes on the apples.  I am not kidding.  This health food store in Denver was  replete with vitamins and lotions, and potions: I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I loved perusing the aisles and buying whatever my meager paychecks would allow me to.  When I lived in what is now called Cherry Creek North, I could walk to a location on Second Avenue.  (I tried to fact check this – it could have been First Ave.)  I would walk down the alley, past Veldkamp’s Flowers and pick up some new to me items. 

For as long as I have lived in Colorado (off and on since 1979), I have been loyal to the humble store started by Margaret Isley in 1955.  Originally called Builders Foundation, Isley, along with her husband Philip, were ahead of the health food trend.  The first brick and mortar store was on Colfax in Lakewood and Cherry Creek was the second location.  Now they have too many outposts to list and are called Natural Grocers.  I still shop there, most in Cherry Knolls or Highlands Ranch.  I buy organic produce without having to think twice (all the produce is USDA Certified organic), love the demos, and of course they carry Lily Farm Fresh Skin Care, my go to for more than three decades.

Another plus for shopping there is their consistently low price on three staples in my diet.  Steel cut oats, tri-color quinoa, and eggs.  Sometimes I pop in just to pick up one or two of these, and sometimes I do my big shop there.  Sometimes  I go just to get eggs at the low price of $1.99 per dozen.  If you shop at the ‘regular’ grocery store you know that eggs of lesser quality are higher priced.  At Cherry Knolls the egg reach-in is located in an odd spot, so much so, that there is a sign on another refrigerator that reads “Eggs this way” with an arrow to show you the way.  Recently I tried to buy two dozen eggs early on a Tuesday morning.  No eggs, at least the kind I wanted.  Also, no bananas.  So, two strikes for two items.  I am not sure how I felt when the clerk told me I was shopping too early to get what I wanted.  To me?  No biggie, I will come back another morning, and later in the day.

I returned two days later.  I had already purchased bananas elsewhere, so this was an egg hunt, and not the Easter Bonnet kind.  I stood at the reach-in and the shelves were bare, but I thought I found two dozen of the kind I wanted.  When I was rung up my total was not $3.98 as it should have been.  It was a dollar more, which financially speaking is not a big deal.  Still, I asked the clerk why and her shoulders shrugged way up beyond her ears as a plausible answer.  I looked at the receipt and saw two different prices for two different kinds of eggs.  So, I checked the SKU’s, and they were off by one digit, then I looked more closely at the packaging and saw one was soy free and the other was not.  That is where the difference came in.  I proceeded to educate the clerk on the products that the store where she works sells, but I refrained from explaining how Universal Product Codes work.  If you want to know, just ask me the next time we are together.  I am a plethora of useless information. 

In the days before computerized sales systems that also take inventory, my dad would have reached in his pocket and given the customer a one-dollar bill.  He was that committed to keeping customers happy.  I was met with a “Whaddya want to do” laissez-faire attitude.  I intuited that the cashier wanted me to say that it was no big deal and let the line move along.  But there was no line of health-food aficionados behind me, so I told her that I would go to the secret corner where eggs are stashed and get the ones I wanted, and we could do an exchange.  She didn’t offer to take the trip herself, which again, my dad would have insisted his employees would do, but she did reassure me she would be ‘right here’ when I returned. 

Of course, she had abandoned her register in the three minutes it took for me to walk down the aisle, open, the fridge, and make sure I had the right series of bar-coded numbers that would get me back my single dollar.  But I waited, because now it was getting interesting.  I realized that it was no longer about the money, it was about the experience and the fodder I could use in ---  you guessed it --- my blog!  She finally meandered back over and told me I was so quick.  Mmm.  OK.  She fiddled with buttons on the computerized register and voila!  It showed a 98-cent refund was due me, and I wasn’t about to put my two cents in and piddle over pennies.  Then she pressed a few more buttons and I watched my refund go from 98, to 68 to 48 to 28, then 8 and finally zero while she said she did not know why the register wouldn’t open.  By now there was a gentleman behind me with a small box of sundries (no bags at Vitamin Cottage), and also another employee there to watch the cascading numbers.  I have to mention, neither of these women said any reassuring words to me, the bemused customer.  No I’m sorry, or just a minute, or anything.  I was kind of like I was not even there.

But the man behind me in line noticed and was huffing and puffing while he opened his wallet and shoved a dollar bill in my direction.  Just take it!  He was pissed!  I told him that I didn’t want his money, that it wasn’t a good ending, that I wanted to see what happens.  Some of this I said aloud, and some was only in my head, by the way.  He threw his box on the floor, and it made quite a noise with all the glass vitamin bottles clanging together.  Still, no reaction from the clerks who just watched him storm out of the store, grumbling and cursing.  Wow, I thought!  This is good, but I don’t want to be here when he returns with a weapon, like a heavy box of granola or something.  So, I too said, forget it!  And while I didn’t play along with the Little Pig scenario of heavy breathing and showmanship, I did leave my beloved little store unhappy. And I learned that at Vitamin Cottage the customer did not come first that day.


Friday, August 12, 2022

The Long and Short of It

This is going to be a long story about how I came to have short hair.  I am guessing that most women consider hair care a process, a project and oftentimes a problem. We change color for fun when we are young, and we use color to cover the greys that come with getting older.  We try the newest styles and buy the appurtenances and appliances to affect all the hoopla of our hair.  Having lovely, perhaps luxurious locks, can be a labor of love.  To paraphrase Jack Webb - the story you are about to read is true.  No names have been changed, because I like to embarrass myself!


My youthful locks at Lake George, NY with my dad.  Probably 1964.

I have written before about how as a kid my mother tried many ways to tame my tresses from tot to teen.  Here is an excerpt from my blog titled Sanity Over Vanity.

When I was young, in the sixties, straight hair was all the rage.  My mom would either have my hair cut short, or when it was longer, she'd put roll large curlers into my locks and secure them with big bobby pins.  I would go out to the street - we actually played in the road - and join a neighborhood round of baseball with curlers in place.  My hair was not of the Twiggy variety.  If it was cut short, it was not a cute bob, it was more of a modified 'fro.  If it was long, it didn't limply hang down.  It curled up and the humidity made it look like a frizzy mess. And of course, I wasn't blond.  That gave me two reasons to gripe about my hair - not straight and not blond.

My mom began to  straighten my hair when I hit that magical 13th year.  Then, instead of sending me outside with curlers and oftentimes a scarf to cover them up, I would endure sitting in the kitchen while she applied chemicals close to my brain, used her trusty rollers to 'set' the straightening, and sat me in a chair facing away from the table while a tabletop hair dryer completed the arduous process.  In between this homemade beauty parlor operation, I would take those giant curlers and put two or three at the crown of my head and wrap the rest of my hair around my head, using my cranium as a giant curler.  To even out the wave, I would wake up in the middle of the night to rewrap in the other direction.  All this for a cute class photo!  And the whole ordeal was moot if it began to drizzle.  Or frizzle as was affectionately called rain.

My hair after a night of wrapping!

OK - that sped up getting us from 0-60.  Let’s resume.  In my twenties I stopped manipulating Mother Nature, and in a small way, began to embrace my curls.  My hair behaved better in the dry heat of Colorado than the steamy humidity of the Hudson Valley (NY) where I grew up.  The longer it grew, the straighter the top became.  My hair was thick and would form curls right above my ears all the way down to the hooks of my bra.  And we ladies know that is an official unit of measure when talking about hair length.  We have chin, shoulder, bra top, bra bottom, waist, butt and Holy Cow - it's Crystal Gayle! 

I have played around with bangs and the painful process of growing them out; pushing my hair to one side, pinning them back, even emulating the Farrah Fawcett feather look, which does not work well on non-northern European hair types.  I've had highlights where my hair was pulled with a crochet-hook through the pinholes of a shower cap to randomly lighten strands.  I've had more foils in my hair than a hand-held burrito joint buys in a month.  My hair has also been chemically straightened (professionally - not like mom in the above excerpt) once or twice, but the odor of the solution is enough for me to refrain from doing that again.


Full and natural at the Grand Canyon.  Winter of 1987.

In my late thirties, when a few errant greys starting poking through my follicles, I tried the at home box of coloring by numbers for hair.  Mostly it went well, but I had to call the Clairol Rescue Rangers more than once for a correction.  Let's just say that I am not an attractive redhead, and that hue is best left for Carrot Top.  In my forties the greys started coming in fast and furious and I returned to the salon in an effort to revert to my youthful splendor.  Being cheap rebounded me back to the box, and the results were tres un-chic.


My middle daughter (she is a chef) and me in Boulder.  A not-so-good-looking redhead in 2011!

In 2014, my youngest daughter graduated Paul Mitchell the School with a degree in cosmetology, which is a diploma in hair, not the study of Carl Sagan.  During her schooling and for many years thereafter this kid was my beautician.  She brought me through different lengths and styles, and we played around with color.  I was actually a blonde at the end of my dying career.  For about six years my hair care feng shui was simple.  I grew it longer and kept the split ends at bay. 

Colored and blown dry to be straight at cosmetology school with my daughter.

Blond and thinning when I stopped dying my hair.

Back in 2010 I began taking the 'happy juice' of Rheumatoid Arthritis medicines.  I love my cocktail of drugs that reduce pain and inflammation and allow me to do things like walk and exercise.  But the side effects are deleterious.  My hair became thinner and thinner (nails too), until my shoulder length locks were see-through.  Why keep coloring and damaging my already brittle and vulnerable hair? In the summer of 2015, I decided not to color my hair anymore.  This was another decision made at the intersection of vanity and sanity.  Growing out chemically colored hair to one's natural color is a long journey.  Especially for me as my hair grows slowly.  Attacking, cutting to be precise, from the bottom up helped to hasten the process.  Another reason I gave up on covering the greys was that I knew in a few short months a little person would be born into the world and I would be a J'ma*.  That in itself seemed enough license to go au naturel.


My reason to stop coloring my locks.  Somewhere in Colorado, 2016

Fast-forward five years to the summer of 2020.  My hair color is at long last all my own.  Instead of a mousy, dull grey I have been blessed with salt and pepper hair that has a beautiful array of color and variations.  Many times, I have thought why did I ever bother with all of that coloring and covering up?  That falls under the if only I had known regrets that clutter my mental rolodex.  Anyway, after not seeing my daughter much during lockdown (is there a pun there?) I decided to go short.  I was tired of having a wisp-thin ponytail.  Intellectually I knew that if I didn’t like it, hair grows back.  Eventually.  

My daughter, acting like 2/3 hairdresser and 1/3 therapist, wanted to know if I am sure.  Really sure.  I tell her yes, as long as my hair doesn’t end up as a round ball of curls framing my face.   I don't want my brother's protest hair of his 1970's college days.   After a thorough grilling, I finally convince the child who wields scissors that I am indeed ready.  She snips and sprays and shapes and scrunches and sends me to look in the bathroom mirror.  I love it! I am in love with my short, silvery curls.  She's cut the top longer and the sides and back are closer to my scalp.  I cry tears of joy at my anticipated newfound freedom from the drudgery of hair.

The beginning of the days of shorter hair.  June 2020.

Remember - I told you this would be a long story and here is chapter two!

Keeping hair short and shaped requires less daily work; I just run my wet hands through my morning bed head, dab a little product and take less than a minute to finger coif my curls.  The problem is I would like it cut every month and that doesn't work out for my daughter and me.  We live 40 miles apart and when we see each other hair isn't the top priority.  For one of us that is.  We're either at a family gathering or meeting in a public place.  What!  No trim in the Denver Zoo car park on a 95-degree day?  Sometimes she is dropping my granddaughter off for me to babysit and in those instances, somehow packing a scissor and cape doesn’t happen.  I've had a few too many outdoor haircuts on my balcony or my daughter's porch where I was I cold and she was clipping away while donning a down coat.  I am not kidding.  As time has passed these past two years both my daughter and I have come to realize that my hair is not her utmost concern.  The reality is she does not work at a salon, and barely has since her graduation.  She is a part-time student and a full-time, single mom.  For me it was a constant disappointment to not get the wished-for haircut because time ran short, or my daughter was running late, or it was too cold, or my granddaughter was tired, or a smorgasbord of other excuses.


Waiting for the right moment in time and space to get a haircut.  Bedhead of the pandemic!

The last time my kid took scissors to my head was sometime between Tax Day and Mother’s Day of 2022.  If summer makes hair grow faster, I was living proof.  Barely a week into June my hair was unruly.  I was at the Jersey Shore and the expected humidity did not materialize and my hair was ready to be shorter.  For the first time in about a decade I was going to have a salon haircut.  The kind where my hair is washed in a beauty parlor sink and I sit in a chair that goes up and down and twirls around.  I looked up Curly Girl salons, picked one and committed to take Ruby** a few miles south to indulge myself.  The stylist seemed confident and competent.  After a short (no pun intended) consultation, I am reclining in the wash house and her fingers are gently massaging my scalp.  And I must admit that this felt much better than flipping my head into a kitchen sink, while bending at my waist and having a DYI moment in the same basin that holds a garbage disposal.  Tiffany was a quick cutter and in no time she marched me back to the wash house to swish away little hairs and also to apply a cast*** to very wet hair.  No blow-dry needed, par usual, and almost a hundred buckaroos later, including tip, I am out the door.  Ouch!  That hurt.  If I give up having my offspring cut my springy hair does that mean a twenty-five dollar per week maintenance fee?  My hair looks good, and I am not unhappy, but I am having some serious post-styling monetary blues!


Beach hair in Avon by the Sea, NJ.  Summer of 2022.

My mind races over the next few days about everything from what an indulgence to can I somehow cut my hair myself?  Finally, I let it go (or did I?), and just enjoy the beach, my bro and my new do.  Then I am back in Colorado, and I am at the seven-week mark and my hair is back to the shaggy stage.  I am doing too much work and using too much product to get the tight to my head curls I prefer.  My hair is long enough that swimming laps without a cap results in hair almost covering my goggles.  I need some upkeep and honestly?  I do not feel like asking my daughter.  I could recite a litany here, but the main reason (or is that mane reason) is that when I saw my daughter upon my return from my six-week trip, she commented that my hair looked like it had hardly grown in my time away.  I had to confess.  I told her I was unfaithful and went to a salon.  Instead of being aghast or hurt, or checking the cut more closely, my daughter was non-plussed at my infidelity.  She simply said that maybe I should always do that.  And that was that.  I didn’t beg for forgiveness or promise to never stray again.  I quietly, inwardly promised myself that I would never ask her for a haircut again.

Once more I found myself looking up salons that specialized in curly hair.  There were a few in my neighborhood and thank goodness for Google, because I was able to look at the prices and let’s just say it was a good thing I was seated.  These south suburban fees were a bit surprising.  I know everyone needs to make a living and deserves to be paid, but I was not about to plunk down another C-note for a clip-clip.  It occurred to me that when my own daughter was in beauty school, many women trusted her or her cohorts to cut their hair.  I decided it was time for me to do the same and trust a student, guided by an instructor, to follow ‘the line’ of my previous haircut.  I found a few places and read the reviews and chose a school about fifteen minutes away.  I knew this experience wouldn’t be a short visit.  Students take time, hopefully placing accuracy over turning over clients.  The price was right – twelve bucks for a cut and blow-dry, as listed on the website.  I called, committed and took the chance.

My student stylist, Adriana, was only a few weeks away from graduation and I took this as a good sign.  She did the requisite consultation, checked with her overseer, then took me to the sinks.  Ah, my favorite part.  Comfortably reclined, no carrot peels or coffee grounds in the basin, and a nice long head massage.  Back in the chair, she cuts, and checks with me and cuts some more.  Deidra comes over a few times to make suggestions and the whole rigamarole begins again on the other side of mead.  I left my wristwatch in the car, on purpose.  I knew this short cut would take a long time and I did not want to stress over just how long it might be.  A wise friend once told me that life is a constant choosing between time and money and this time I chose to save money in exchange for my time. 

When Adriana was finished, I asked her if she thought she did a good job.  She said yes, and her instructor, Deidra, agreed.  I was twirled around in the magical chair to see for myself, and I too was happy.  I paid in cash and gave my nascent stylist the change as a gratuity.  You can do the math.  I was generous and giddy to have my hair the way I wanted it.  It did not involve scheduling negotiations, I simply called and made an appointment.  The school had all the capes, and combs and clippers needed to affect orchestrate my  cut.  The room was a comfortable temperature.  You know where I am going.  Enough said.

Will I miss my little sessions with my daughter?  Yes.  I think of all the locales where she has cut my hair.  Her little apartment in the Springs.  Longmont.  Boulder.  Centennial.  Backyards and balconies.  Cold weather and sweltering summer days.  When she was barely in her twenties, then pregnant, then waiting for the baby to nap.  Me, watching a toddler, watching her mom cut my hair.  All the talks about life and places we’ve been and where each of us may end up.  Talking about her siblings, her friends, her aspirations.  Her listening to my stories about my long-gone parents and my long ago adventures.

Yes, this was a long story about short hair.  I hope you can read between the strands and think about what else this quasi-allegorical tale may be saying.  Let me tell it to you, slant.  I love my daughter, but do not want to be beholden to her.  I want to see her for happy occasions, not selfish ones.  I am ready, willing and quite able to figure out how to manage my hair. And that dear friends, is the long and short of it!


* J'ma is my name for Grandma

** Ruby is my brother and sister in law's spare car 

*** A hair product that 'hardens' the curls until they are finger fluffed

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

It's Trivial!

Sometime in March, as my trip to the Jersey Shore was on the horizon, my brother asked me if I would like to attend the inaugural Avon by the Sea trivia contest.  Harry bought five tickets at the local library.  This was not an out of the way errand for my brother.  The Carnegie style library, built with a $5,000 donation from Andrew himself, is a whopping four blocks from my brother's home.  Pay attention - that might be a question!  And Harry visits the book house every day to print puzzles and schmooze with Sheila, one of two librarians in a small quaint building.  The tickets were for Harry and his wife, Dori, me, and their neighbors Tom and Gloria.  But teams of five were disallowed, leaving the three Hillson's on their own, and the neighbors to fend for themselves.  

As we got closer a surprise prize was revealed - Best Team Name.  I tossed a few out to Harry and he didn't reply, or didn't see them, or just didn't care to comment.  A few days before the event, Harry revealed his choices to Dori and me:

 The CO-NJ ecturers / The CO- NJ oiners / Greta Garbo - Avon to be alone

While witty in a Harry kind of way, they were obscure and confusing.  Here is what I tossed back to my brother:

Babes, Bros and Bards of Avon / Brain Waves / Brains of Sand

Jeopardy Rejects / Alibis of Avon / The Sandtastics

Harry and Dori whittled it down to two choices, and in a non-unanimous vote we decided on Brains of Sand.  Cute and geographically correct, if you will.  Brains of Sand didn't win the best name prize, which was OK by me, because it was a round of drinks for the teammates, and I do not drink.

In preparation for the casual competition, I read about Avon on the internet.  Wiki is so helpful and much less cumbersome than the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Accuracy, after all is overrated.  When I arrived in Avon on June first, I felt like Harriet the Spy, looking for clues in street names and business signs.  I read the faded bronze plaque on the drawbridge.  I studied a pictorial little edition about the history of Avon by the Sea.  I tried memorizing important dates like when Avon was founded (by white men, don't get me started), and the Avon Inn fire.  I kind of remembered that Batchelor was the founder, and there may have been a Baptist camp here as well.  But I didn't catch the part about this guy growing tobacco or it just wasn't mentioned in the lighthearted little tome.  That last wacky fact about tobacky was not known to the BOS (Brains of Sand), and when the question appeared we got it wrong.  I learned that The Columns, where trivia night was held, had 74 columns in the building, but alas, that was not asked.  All told BOS came in seventh out of maybe 18 or 19 teams.  It was hard to keep interested after a long night and knowing we didn't stand a chance.  But I will say our ranking isn't bad for three non-native Avonians, one of whom (me) lives 1800 miles from the shore.

I did manage to win a door prize.  If you know me, you know I have that kind of magic.  I was giddy to win something that night, and when the prize announced was a $50.00 gift certificate to Casa Grande,  I thought woo-hoo!  Huevo Rancheros for the Hillson's  but, I quickly learned that Casa Grande is a liquor store and sheepishly handed over the loot over to Dori.  I knew she'd put it to good use.  Kind of comical that the visiting teetotaling Bard of Avon won the prize to imbibe.  Oh well.  There was also a 50/50.  This is when participants buy raffle tickets, and half the take goes to the organization and the other half to one lucky winner. The amount raised that night was $700.00, so one trivia buff would be lucky to receive 350 bucks if their ticket was picked.  As if politicians don't have their hands in everyone's pocket as it is, the winner was the mayor of Avon.  Does that sound fishy to you?

My brother also won a seemingly random pop-up trivia question, but a bit of backstory is needed here before I reveal the punchline.  Avon has an annual 5K the first Saturday in June to benefit the local rescue squad.  Obviously this was cancelled in 2020 and methinks (how's that for a Bard of Avon word?) 2021 as well.  Harry mentioned this local event in April, and I signed myself up early so I would be sure to get the T-shirt.  If you haven't bought a souvenir T lately, allow me to tell you they are pricey.  Here in Avon, on the boardwalk, T's are $36.00 with a few at 20% off that outrageous amount.  I was on the right track when I put 2 and 2 together  - here is my math.  Twenty-five dollars to sign up for the race, plus getting my souvenir T, plus acting like a local to prevent me from shopping, and the entry fee going to a good cause.  All good stuff in my book.

On the day of the race, I walked down the steps of the condo, (I mention this because steps have been my nemesis lately) and I strolled all of 3/4's of a block to the starting point.  Ocean Avenue was closed to car traffic, and I was able to stand aimlessly in the middle of the street waiting for Harry and Dori.  There was a man with a mic, and it doesn't take an ex-event planner to figure out he might be in charge.  I said good morning and he said good morning, and then he asked all the runners and walkers that were on the sidewalks and boardwalks to assemble in the street.  And then he thanked me for being among the first to be compliant, which was definitely a first for me.  I said something to him about having had some experience herding cats, and then Harry and Dori came, and the bagpiper started walking and wailing and we were off.  I, of course, was a walker.  Maybe an ambler at best.  Harry and Dori went ahead of me and were at the finish line waiting for me.  I did not win the award for slowest walker, (there wasn't one) and I finished in 1:05 which for me at 63, with rheumatoid arthritis and waterfall knees* is a win!

    At least I finished!

Now back to my first days here.  On one of my boardwalk strolls with my brother he pointed at the Lifeguard Headquarters, a two-story hut on the west side of the boardwalk, at the very end of Sylvania Ave.  Which means that every time Harry walks to the beach or drives down to Ocean Avenue he sees this white cedar structure.  Harry told me that this little building is the only place on the boardwalk he has not been to, by which I took to me in to.  But now that I think of it, I doubt he's been in the few beach badge selling stations, inside the ladies bathrooms, or under the boardwalk like The Drifters liked to sing about.

I had also come to learn that the guy with the microphone on 5K day was affectionately known as Mr. Avon.  Tim Gallagher is a former borough administrator and has some sort of beachy job these days where he can show up to work shirtless, wearing red shorts.  I saw him quite a few times but wanted to time my approach to be closer to Trivia Night.  My opportunity came on the Monday before the big night at the Columns.  The Hillsons snuck in an extra beach day before needing to take our sister to Trenton that afternoon for her afternoon flight home.  We were down by the shoreline and who walks by in his very casual uniform clutching a radio?  That's right - Tim G.  I reintroduced myself, and introduced my sister to be polite, and grilled him a bit about the upcoming evening of festivities.  Oh?  Tim himself is the emcee?  Oh?  Tim will be holding the mic again?  Oh?  Tim knows my brother, all right.  And that is when I went in for the ask and Tim graciously obliged.

Remember the pop-up prize Harry won at Trivia Night?  Well, technically Dori won, but nonetheless how would it come to be that the emcee would ask the following 'trivia'  question between rounds  "What is Harry Hillson's middle name?".  Only three people besides the MC knew this answer, and I wasn't vying for the reward that Mr. Tim Gallagher announced in the moments before posing the query.  And Tim only knew because...  well, that would be me and my magic. The day before, on the beach, I had asked Tim to insert this oddball question into trivia night, and he graciously complied.  Only Mr. Avon and I would know that Harry would have a little wish come true.

The prize for my brother knowing his own middle name was a tour of the lifeguard hut.  It is a good thing I had a mask on, because I am pretty sure I was smirking underneath it.  Dori was waving her hands and Harry looked like he was in shock, and I was trying to keep a straight half a face.  Dori went up and got the prize and Harry turned to me and said that it had to have been four or five years ago that he had told Tim he wanted to see the lifeguard hut and wow!!  - he couldn't believe Tim remembered that and engineered this surprise.  That word - engineered - is my word - I was so busy trying not to give myself, my mischief and my magic making abilities away, I cannot remember exactly what was said.

I didn't burst my brother's bubble.  And as far as I know he hasn't claimed his prize yet.  We all like to feel special and I may have helped that along a wee bit for my bro, but does it matter?  And Harry - if you are reading this blog, now you know how much I love you!


                                            Mr. Avon - Tim Gallagher.  My sidekick in antics!

                                                   Jane Hillson Aiello and Harry Hillson
                                                                         June, 2022

* Waterfall knees - the aftermath of hiking waterfall in upstate NY. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Ageism and Aging

Let's talk about aging and ageism.  About getting older and not keeping up with the times.  Gaining more wrinkles and grey hair and maybe wisdom, but not being hip to all that the Millennial and GenX generations know as second nature.  I joke that I was on the edge of being a hippie, was too old to be a hipster, and now just need a hip replacement.  Not really, but you get the gist.  

Many times, when I gather with friends and family, (and I use gather metaphorically because it is usually a phone call in these pandemic times) the subject of health happens along.  People love to casually chat about their medications and ailments.  I am regaled with how many trips to how many doctors.  I get to hear all about diagnosis, prognosis, and everything in between.  If per chance we are in person, there can sometimes be a competitive spirit to the modern-day version of our childhood game Operation.  Whoever takes the most drugs or has the most disorders wins.  We talk about health care plans and deductibles.  Premiums and prescription drug plans.  I kind of miss bragging about my toddlers...

Have you gone to the grocery store lately?  There are QR codes on the sale items that one can scan, that takes you to the store's app, then you can virtually clip the coupon and get the best deal.  Personally, I don't care to shop with my phone in one hand while pushing the cart with the other.  Don't they know that people my age need to hold on to the buggy with both hands to prevent a slip and fall in aisle six?  Recently I was staying in a nice condo down the shore* and there was a laundry room in the basement.  I asked my brother to get me a couple of rolls of quarters at the bank because I erroneously thought I would need them to lather my lingerie.  Nope!  All I had to do was download an app, put money in my account, bring my cell phone to the laundry room, make sure I was on Wi-Fi, load my granny panties in the machine, put in the soap, close the door and scan the QR code on the top of the washer.  Whew.  I was sweating after all that.  And my brother?  He returned the two rolls of Washingtons to the bank and then ended up needing them himself during an unexpected trip to upstate New York.  The hotel laundry where he was staying, while his son convalesced in a nearby hospital wasn't high tech.  That is probably a good thing.

Making a connection between doctors and apps, when I go to my health care facility, I can check in from my car, because as soon as I hit the parking lot I am sent a text with instructions to do so.  I always wonder if I check in first, then exit my car, walk to the entrance, hit the loo, (because it was a five-minute drive from home!) will they call my name and think I changed my mind?  I need a good ten minutes to collect my purse, take the walk and take care of my personal needs.  So far, this hasn't presented any problems.  I can also order my meds, talk to my doctor, check an EOB**, make appointments and so much more, right in the palm of my hand.

In some ways, I know I am ahead of the game in both of these realms.  Before I exited my fourth decade of life, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease.  I had to go through the three A's at an age where I had more mental capacity than I do now.  I became aware of the situation.  Then after some tears of denial and disbelief, I came to accept that this would be a life-changing disease for me.  Then I was able to think out what kind of action I would need to take to live with this diagnosis.  Now when I hear some negative medical news, I remember these steps, as well as knowing that excessive worry or avoidance is not going to improve anything.  Then I get to work.  Internal work, if you will.  I often consult Dr. Google, but I don't take everything I read as fact. I ask too many questions of my doctor.  (I was a former EMT and EFDA***, so a little knowledge goes a long way to being a nudge.)  I look into what is good and what is bad to eat.  I maintain my movement and meditation practices.  And if all else fails, I have a good cry and move on.

Recently a friend phoned me to talk about how I came to just obediently take my meds and not obsess about the side-effects.  I confessed that it was an arduous journey.  When I first started taking methotrexate (MTX) orally, eight tabs every week, I thought I might be poisoning myself.  This is a low-dose chemotherapy drug used to quell an overactive immune system.  I had spent years in the realm of eastern medicinal/herbal philosophies.  I went to mid-wives.  I was addicted to Celestial Seasonings Tea.  (I am a loyal ABC'er****)  I stocked up on vitamin C and echinacea.  I used the rock under my arms.  Now I was being asked to eschew all those core beliefs and take a drug that causes hair loss, soft nails, and other less vain but more serious perils and pitfalls.  Like liver disease and lymphoma.  But I had to put that all aside to make this med effective, not only in my body, but in my mind.  Recalling my own experience not only gave my friend some hope, but it also reminded me that I have come a long way in the process.  These days I inject MTX weekly, and a biologic monthly.  Do I like being on these heavy-duty therapies?  No.  But I do like being able to walk and dance and swim.  And I enjoy diminished pain.  

Cell phones became popular when my three millennial children came of age, so to speak.  I realized early on that if I didn't learn to text, I would always be in the dark.  I don't love all this technology, but I embrace it as best I can.  If I don't know how to do something, like how to post on Insta, or unfriend on Facebook, I ask a kid.  In retrospect, I didn't give birth to three kids, I guaranteed myself a few social media advisors.  I've downloaded some games, like backgammon and Words with Friends, but mostly I use my phone judiciously for things that matter.  Like Wordle.  I take advantage of GPS because I can use it on the go, in my car.  Just like how I figured out how to cast my exercise videos and livestreams to the bigger screen of my television, I know how to make the little voice that tells me to go right, or left come through my car speakers.  I also am having an affair with my Google Mini, who has proven itself to be a better listener than my ex-spouse.  

I feel for my 96-year-old uncle who will never access his bank statement online or ask an inanimate object for today's Dow close.  I don't think he has ever touched a keyboard, be it a typewriter (he had a secretary for that), or a computer.  Remarkably when I visited him five years ago and 'facetimed' with my kids, he wanted to know why the camera was in the back of the phone and the speaker was in the front.  He was a tech guy in his time, working for electronic companies that are long defunct.  And while I don't expect that I could teach this old uncle new tricks, his mind had muscle memory in the technology department.  However he cannot get the best price at Publix or publicly park where payment is made by an app or at a  kiosk.  That is ageism. 

What is aging, beside more birthdays and a graying hair?  It is hearing a relative or friend tell the same story twice.  Or three times.  It is joining AARP, not only for the discounts, but for the trunk organizer.  It is getting giddy to score a pill sorter and nightlight at a Rhubarb Festival.  I am not kidding! For me it was letting go of pants with zippers and bras with underwires.  It is losing my glasses or keys on an almost daily basis.  On the positive side it means more time in my retired day to write and read.  It is the joy of grandchildren.  It is also keeping current and up to date with whatever the ever-rotating world throws my way.  Getting older doesn't mean I have to miss out.  It just means I cannot be remiss.  I can still learn and grow.  My pant size proves the latter to be true!  All I need now is a tank top that says, "Aging Gracefully to Avoid Ageism".  If only I had the wherewithal to order one myself.  On Etsy, or Cafe Press, or Zazzle.  When is my kid coming over?  Did I eat lunch?  I think today might be Thursday...

And a poem, because?  Why not!

This is It

by Jane Hillson Aiello

Revised October 2019 

This is it

My body

It is not getting thinner

Less wrinkled

Or firmer

This is it

Rimpled thighs

Rolls of belly

Reminder of babies

Bad habits

This is it


Adequate.  Able

To hold my spirit

My soul

Time to Write, 


 * Down the Shore - colloquialism for the Jersey Shore

** EOB - Explanation of Benefits

*** EFDA - Expanded Function Dental Auxiliary

**** ABC- Always Buy Colorado

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Sanity Over Vanity!

When I was young, in the sixties, straight hair was all the rage.  My mom would either have my hair cut short, or when it was longer, she'd put roll large curlers into my locks and secure them with big bobby pins.  I would go out to the street - we actually played in the road - and join a neighborhood round of baseball with curlers in place.  My hair was not of the Twiggy variety.  If it was cut short, it was not a cute bob, it was more of a modified 'fro.  If it was long, it didn't limply hang down.  It curled up and the humidity made it look like a frizzy mess. And of course, I wasn't blond.  That gave me two reasons to gripe about my hair - not straight and not blond.

My mom began to  straighten my hair when I hit that magical 13th year.  Then, instead of sending me outside with curlers and oftentimes a scarf to cover them up, I would endure sitting in the kitchen while she applied chemicals close to my brain, used her trusty rollers to 'set' the straightening, and sat me in a chair facing away from the table while a tabletop hair dryer completed the arduous process.  In between this homemade beauty parlor operation, I would take those giant curlers and put two or three at the crown of my head and wrap the rest of my hair around my head, using my cranium as a giant curler.  To even out the wave, I would wake up in the middle of the night to rewrap in the other direction.  All this for a cute class photo!  And the whole ordeal was moot if it began to drizzle.  Or frizzle as was affectionately called rain.

Sometime in the 70's a marketing genius came up with the "Curlers in your hair?  Shame on you!" ad campaign.  Nothing like a good drubbing to get women to buy your product!  Newly introduced electric curlers became popular.  Ladies with straight hair used the heated, spiky curlers to give them a wave, and curly girls endured them to calm their strands down a bit.  Either way, I wasn't a fan.  Especially when I got one of these barbaric cylinders caught in my hair (curly hair and barbed rollers can act like Velcro) and spent more time than I care to recall uncoiling my faux pas with mom's help.  She wanted to grab the scissors and cut it out, and I wanted to save myself from a homestyle 'do' by an angry mother wielding clippers.  Hey mom - it wasn't my fault that these hot rollers weren't really made for kinky hair.

I also started to shave my legs and underarms around the teenage milestone.  This came with a bit more instruction than how to deal with unruly locks.  There was shave cream, and sharp objects and a warning to not leave any evidence in the tub when I was done conforming to a ridiculous societal standard.  I was told to never share my razor or use dad's because it would cause cuts on his face if I had used it on my legs.  If I didn't want to risk cutting myself I could use Nair and then, if I was daring, don short shorts.  If I wanted a more safe shave a nifty five blade doohickey was introduced, and this razor was popular among the new to shaving crowd.

I started to not worry so much about my hair when I moved out west.  The drier climate actually helped my tresses improve.  If I took the time and trouble to blow-dry my hair, I didn't sweat as I went, and that shortened the process substantially.  I grew my hair long at the same time I decided that shaving was ridiculous.  There were a few years in my early twenties when I just want au natural.  This included many aspects of my life.  I visited a Nurse Practitioner for my girly needs instead of an OB/GYN.  I started shopping at Vitamin Cottage in Cherry Creek North. (It wasn't called that then)  I put Celestial Seasoning tea bags in a gallon sized pitcher and made copious amounts of sun-tea.

A few years of that hippie phase and I settled down a bit and caved in to conformity. I kept my hair presentable.  I shaved parts seen and unseen.  I bought the requisite products associated with beauty and gave it a try.  Makeup?  Not a fan.  A morning hair routine?  No thanks, a ponytail can tame it all in.  Shaving?  Well, as a young woman I had more hair than I do now, so I at least shaved seasonally or for special occasions.

After a few years of dying my hair, at first for fun and fashion, and then for keeping up appearances, I decided to stop.  My daughter-in-law was pregnant with my first grandchild, and I figured this gave me a free pass to not color my tresses anymore.  The growing out time is arduous.  A clear line in the sand of my hair so to speak.  So, as my natural color gradually color grew in, I also attacked from the bottom up, by having my daughter cut the unnatural parts away.  Honestly, had I known my grey would be of the salt and pepper variety, I wouldn't have tried to hide it in the first place.

A little personal information here.  I am on some serious medications to stave off the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis.  I inject myself five times per month with two different drugs to help maintain an ambulatory status.  My weekly jab is a low dose chemotherapy drug that has side effects.  Thinning hair and outright hair loss are at the top of the list.  Dry skin and brittle nails follow that.  I have had all of these happen to me.  My hair was literally see-through at my shoulders.  I had to vigorously wipe the tub out after every shower, from shampooing, not shaving!  I've spent money on biotin, pre-natal vitamins (At my age!) and expensive shampoo and conditioner.  It is hard to assess if it worked or not.  

An unintended bonus of aging and medications has been the lack of hair growth on my legs, my pits and nether regions.  I began shaving and grooming less and less.  I stopped shaving altogether between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  Why bother?  There was hardly a whisker to be had and I thought it was more irritating to my skin than the outcome was worth.  I bought a unitard bathing suit for my indoor wintry laps, so no one was the wiser.  The last time I took a razor to skin was December of 2019.  I had a trip planned to see my sister in Florida and thought if there was anyone that would comment on my (not-so) hairy status, it would be my sibling.  I remember being in the shower and doing the deed and thinking maybe this will be it.  There was no reason to even wipe the tub, the result was so scant.  I didn't bother to pack a razor.  That didn't do much to lighten my load, but it did brighten my outlook.

When the pandemic hit in spring of 2020, I started to reassess having shoulder length locks.  On a hot day in July, when it seemed safe to socialize with other human beings, I headed to my daughter's house and asked her to give me a short, new 'do'.  She did due diligence by interrogating me; Are you sure?  If you don't like it, it'll take a while to grow back.  I stood my ground and she clipped away.  I didn't cry at the result.  In fact, I was elated.

I've given up many things as I have entered my sixth decade of living.  Pants with zippers, bras with underwires, toxic friendships.  I don't regret any of it.  In fact, I love my short hair and only have to occasionally pluck a rogue underarm strand.  

And this my friends, is my true confession of how I traded vanity for sanity!


                                                          All that hair back in the seventies!

                                                           Short and Sassy in my Sixties!

Primavera Falso

I wrote this poem in the spring of 2019.  I remember it today as I wake up to the lightest dusting and cloudy skies.   Primavera Falso Green...