LED me tell you watt I know about lightbulbs

Because the husband is nearing retirement age, we get a number of invitations to free steak dinners where financial advisers explain the complexities of investing and persuade you to secure their services.

We’ve never gone to a free steak dinner hosted by a financial adviser, but I’d go to a free steak dinner in a heartbeat if an expert was explaining lightbulbs. The complexities of navigating retirement and lightbulbs are now on the same plane.

It doesn’t even have to be a steak dinner. Make it a free hot dog in the parking lot of a big box store and I’ll be there.

The last time I went to buy lightbulbs, I read up on them beforehand. That’s something in itself when we now have to “read up” on lightbulbs.  I even read “How to Read a Lightbulb Package.” Talk about feeling like a dim bulb.

Lightbulbs now come with extensive narratives.

Meet the CFL: curly, medium base, affordable and cost-efficient, with just a touch of mercury for a hint of danger. Has a delicate side and may not hold up to power surges. Not advised for workshops. Your 20-watt CFL is comparable to a 75-watt incandescent (or is it a 60-watt?), a 53-watt halogen and a 14-watt LED, give or take a handful of lumens. Or is it lemons?

Once you calculate the cost of the bulb in relation to the estimated yearly energy costs, divide by the lifespan of the bulb in relation to the lifespan of you, and multiply by all the negative reviews you read about the bulb online, your head explodes.

Then there is the matter of light color. Why must being energy-efficient cause me to look dead? A lightbulb should not make a room and the people in it look as though they are in a funeral home. Manufacturers are working on the problem, and they’ve made considerable progress in that many energy-efficient bulbs now simply make people look critically ill as opposed to deceased.

Offerings as to the color of light range from soft to softer soft, and softer softer soft, to cool, cool and crisp, and bacon crisp. In many cases you simply don’t know how it’s going to look until you get it home and try it on. Like a sweater.

My second request is that a lightbulb not cause eye strain.  I dropped hefty change on an LED bulb, stuck it in a lamp and turned it on to read. I had to take the shade off the lamp to see the words on the page.

Hotels are the worst. Flick on the lights and you spend the evening waiting for them to power up. If you planned on reading, you’d be better off in the hotel bar.

I’ll hang in there to reduce our energy consumption until we get it right. In the meantime, the kitchen is the best lit room in our house. We have recessed lights (halogen, not too pricey, more energy efficient than incandescent and fairly long lasting as long as you don’t touch them with greasy fingers). We camp in the kitchen a lot.

The lighting is good, but the weight gain has been terrible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation dream home best left to your dreams

I can remember every essay I’ve ever read about someone closing up a summer home in the woods, by the shore or on a lake. There’s a beautiful melancholy about closing windows, draining pipes, putting slip covers on furniture and saying goodbye to the memories until next year.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a retreat in the woods, a sanctuary in the wild. We don’t have one; but we rented one for a long weekend. Eleven of us packed everything but our kitchen sinks and traveled hours of interstate, state roads, busy local roads, not-so-busy local roads, switchbacks with steep drops and vertical climbs passing old barns collapsed under the weight of time.

There it was on the crest of the ridge—a cabin more beautiful than the pictures on the website. The views were majestic, postcard panoramas of the Great Smoky Mountains.

blue-ridge

Who couldn’t make memories here? Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?

“Maybe a few of us could go in on one” someone said, half joking.

“People make money owning vacation homes.”

“An investment like this would probably pay for itself in a few years. Someone is sitting on a gold mine.”

Kids raced through the cabin exploring bedrooms and bathrooms, reporting on a soaking tub with jets, a steam shower and – joy of joys – a hot tub.

We gathered on one of the decks and watched the sun slowly disappear, painting the rippled mountain ridges a soft steel blue. Leaving the city and jobs and routine behind, there was a collective exhale.

chair

Night fell and bats fluttered near the deck, darting in and out of the tree tops. The next morning, bat droppings covered the railing to the deck and the front porch. I swept them away, but there were more bat dropping throughout the day on the front porch.

“Bats must be nesting in the eaves. The owners should probably call a professional,” someone said.

By afternoon, large bees were buzzing by. Carpenter bees were drilling perfectly round holes into the wood beams of this lovely retreat.

“The owners should probably call a professional.”

“Wonder what the taxes are on a place like this?”

“And what about cleaning and property management fees?”

We took a long, meandering scenic drive, the sort you take when backroads are not well marked, hiked a winding trail and hit a tourist spot in town. We also just lingered at the cabin sharing meals, playing board games, chase, hide and seek. We enjoyed every inch of that lovely home, the very one with the steam shower that didn’t work, two broken chairs and a loose footboard on a bed.

We left that house in the hills with the same sweet melancholy others have described, taking one last look and closing the door to a wonderful time. We took our memories with us but left the bedding, wet towels and maintenance expenses behind. It may be the best way of all to enjoy a cabin in the woods.

Keeping secrets is a gift

It’s no secret that there are people who can keep secrets and people who can’t. There are people who can keep things in the vault until the day they die and people whose vault door constantly swings open.

When our oldest daughter and her husband were expecting their third, he wanted to know the gender and she didn’t. Despite all our attempts to get him to crack, he never did. You could trust the man with your social, your PINs, computer password and true weight.

We have one in the family whose vault door might as well be double-hinged. Try as she might, she can’t keep a secret.

countdown

“I know it’s going to be your birthday, Grandma,” she says with an impish grin. “How old are you going to be?”

“How old do you think I’m going to be?”

“Twenty-two. That’s pretty old.”

“You’re close. I’m actually going to be 23.”

“Whoa,” she says, drawing the word out for maximum impact.

The funny thing is, I look in the mirror a lot of mornings and say the same thing myself.

“Mom said she would take me shopping because I wanted to buy you a present myself and I did.”

And with that, the countdown begins. It is just a matter of time before she spills the beans. Ten, nine, eight . . .  every fiber of her being is about to explode.

“Mom took me to Stein Mart. We had a coupon!” Seven, six, five . . . she squeals and jumps out of her chair with excitement. The kid may not be able to keep a secret, but at least she is learning you never pay full retail.

“I don’t want to know what you bought,” I say.

“Oh, yes you do!” The kid is a mind reader, but I can’t tell her that.

“You like turquoise. I know you do.” She is hopping from foot to foot, twirling in circles, her squeaky little voice rising higher. Four, three, two . . .

“You don’t want to know if I got you a necklace?”

“No!”

“OK, I won’t tell you.”necklace2

She sits down and begins to draw. She draws a semicircle with turquoise shapes bordering it on one side and then, beaming from ear to ear, holds the drawing up to her chest.

“I think I’m going to like it,” I say.

When her mom picked her up, she immediately admitted to telling the secret. She said she had spilled the beans—that her stomach had hurt because the beans needed to come out. Isn’t that how it always happens? It’s not your fault, it’s the beans’ fault.

On my birthday I unwrapped tissue paper in a gift bag and pulled out a lovely turquoise necklace strikingly similar to a drawing I’d seen the day before.

The kid may never have a career in espionage, but she definitely has a future in art.

 

 

 

How do you raise kids in a world like this?

Used to be we often muted the news when the kids were in the room, but these days we don’t even turn it on. And our kids are in their 30s.

Oh, the kids can take it alright, it’s the grands and the little ones we worry about.

The world has become a 24/7 news cycle of screaming sirens, flashing lights, shootings, robberies and racial strife with police in the crosshairs, all of which is punctuated by the occasional Wal-Mart brawl.

In my hometown, we’ve had three amber alerts in two weeks, an 82-year-old man shot in his driveway and a mother who confessed to smothering her two children with her own hands.

We’ve grown numb.

We barely turn our heads when another teacher or coach is charged with molestation.

Fifteen years out from 9/11 and terrorism is not behind us; it is all around us.

And then there’s the political corruption—seemingly without end.

The cherry on top of this sundae is a growing narcissism screaming for attention, constantly beating the drum on the many ways we are all offended. College students, increasingly delicate, now require speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings.

The mob rule of Twitter or Facebook is the new court of justice. The standards of right and wrong that held us together for centuries seem to be crumbling.

So how do you raise kids in a world like this? In a world that some days feels like it is in a free fall?

You do it the same way generations before have done it. The same way others have leaned in to the winds of the unknown and the uncertain, upheaval, unrest, strife, tragedy and even war.

You start with the premise that (trigger warning) life isn’t easy.

Then you create a home that is a shelter in the storm, a place where family and friends can be comfortable, where conversation, creativity, thoughts and ideas are free to flourish.

You use that home as your children’s first school and understand that you are their first teacher. You teach the things you want them to know by modeling them yourself. If you don’t want your kids cowering in fear and lacking confidence, then you can’t cower in fear and lack confidence.

Introduce your children to heroes, both past and present, real-people heroes who have stood strong in the face of challenge and adversity. Then show your children how to stand—for things that are good and true and honorable.

And if you claim to hold the Christian faith, don’t just hold it, live it. Live those words about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. A scholar friend says the word neighbor means nearest. Demonstrate how to love those nearest, in your families, schools, neighborhoods, work places, houses of worship and the businesses where you shop.

If you do even a few of these things, the clouds won’t seem so ominous. Nothing dispels the darkness like a few shafts of light.

Going to the wall for cake

The incident would not have happened were it not for our deep love of wedding cake.

Four of us served at a wedding reception: our oldest daughter who made her own wedding cake and tends to be a perfectionist; our youngest daughter who also made her own wedding cake and resents being bossed by her older sister; an artistic family friend who hovers over every food ­­­detail like a mother hen, and me, whose strength is being able to panic in a crisis.

The reception was in a beautiful old building with high ceilings, very tall windows, very tall doors and in the process of being restored to its former glory.

The food and the cake were in a room at the back of the building accessible by an exterior entrance. Being that the building hadn’t quite made it all the way back to glory, the exterior door did not yet have a handle. But it was functional as long as you remembered not to close the door all the way.

Someone (who is not important, at least not when I tell the story) let the door close all the way. The four of us stood there dazed. You can’t have a wedding reception without food, let alone a wedding cake—a beautiful cake made by the bride herself. The marriage probably wouldn’t even be legal without cake.

The perfectionist noted that the very old and very tall door did not fit flush at t­­he top. Her younger sister offered to boost her up so she might reach the top of the door. We’ll never know if it was a sincere offer or an opportunity to settle old scores. In any case, that’s when the screaming began.

“Aiiiieeeee!” howled the one whose backside, now six feet above ground, wobbled in her sister’s hands.

“You’re not the lightest thing!” her sister yelled.

The mother hen and I darted back and forth positioning ourselves to catch the one teetering in the air.

“Higher!” the airborne one cried. “I can’t reach it.”

“This is as high as I can go!” moaned the base.

A car drove by slowly. The driver rolled down his window, raised a cell phone and drove away.

“My arms are giving way!” screamed the base.

“Careful!” clucked the mother hen.climbing-the-door

“Stretch!” I yelled. (It’s always easy to encourage those in the air when you’re the one on the ground.)

“I’m going for it,” cried the one in the air who had gained fame as a toddler for scaling door casings.

“NOOOOO! Don’t risk your life for food,” I screamed, my priorities clearly out of whack.

She kicked off her shoes, curled her toes and began inching her way up the brick.

“I can’t look” cried the mother hen, burying her head beneath her wing.

“Got it!” she shouted, pulling the door open, then doing an unsightly dismount nearly crushing her sister, the family friend and myself.

We got the food and the cake and it was the best lemon cake in the history of wedding cake.

Every wedding is special, but this was one we’ll never forget. I still have nightmares.