Why dance when you can floss?

The irony is not lost on me that the child teaching me how to do the dance craze known as the floss is missing four teeth.

Two on top. Two on bottom. Gone. Nothing but a black hole when she grins. The kid has nothing to floss, but here she is doing the floss, arms flying, hips swinging, smiling from ear to ear, shouting, “C’mon try it!”

“What’s the name of that dance again?”

“The floth!”

That’s right, the floth—distant cousin to a dance called the sloth—a dance where you sit motionless and watch others go through awkward gyrations.

The floss has been all the rage for more than a year and I am late to the party, or the bathroom sink. But here I am.

I am learning the floss to disprove claims that only young people can do the floss because adults lack necessary eye-hand coordination.

How absurd. Just yesterday I spotted a kid jumping on the bed and another trying to hide beneath it and nabbed one in each hand. My eye-hand coordination is excellent.

That said, the floss is harder than it looks. With feet apart, arms extended and fists clenched, you pretend to be holding dental floss. Now, swing both arms with clenched fists from side to side in front of you, back and forth. Now, this time when you swing your arms, swing one arm in front of you and the other arm behind your back.

Repeat in the other direction. Or go sit down and work on the sloth.

After you get the arms swinging, the hips join in, swinging in the opposite direction of the arms. Now try chewing gum at the same time. Or reciting the alphabet backward.

If I were holding real floss, I would have floss burns on my waist, floss circling my ears and a few strands woven through my hair. My arms tend to overcompensate for what my hips seem unable to accomplish, although my dance instructor is yelling, “Way to floth!”

Inspired, I yell, “Do the toothpaste squeeze!” Arms raised, we move our thumbs and index fingers like we are rolling the end of a toothpaste tube, squeezing out the last bead.

“Do the brush!” someone else yells.

We mimic brushing our teeth with invisible toothbrushes.

“Now the ambidextrous brush!” I yell, upping the ante.

Since they have taught me the floss, I offer to teach them the twist.

“Feet together, pretend you are holding one end of a bath towel in each hand and are drying your back after stepping out of the shower, back and forth, while moving up and down. Now move one foot forward and pretend to extinguish a cigarette with your toe.”

“But, Grandma, we don’t smoke!”

“Of course you don’t! You don’t floss every day, either! Just dance!”

We are flossing and twisting and twisting and flossing, cleaning our teeth and finishing our imaginary showers with such vigor, that tomorrow we may all skip our morning routine—which sounds a lot like doing the sloth.

New type machine strikes right keys with kids

We are the proud owners of the coolest toy ever—an old IBM Selectric typewriter.

We rock, baby.

We landed the typewriter from a sweet neighbor who was downsizing. The machine had been kept in perfect condition for some five decades.

We lugged the heavy chromium green monster into the house, heaved it up on the kitchen table, removed the dusty cover, plugged it in and listened to that kitty purr.

Music to our ears.

We inserted a piece of paper and I typed a few lines. My fingers flew and the little round ball spun wildly, flinging letters onto the paper. It worked like a charm. Except for the typos. I’d need some of that correction tape. Do they sell it anymore?

The next day, some of the grands arrived, immediately noticed the odd-looking machine and cautiously circled it.

“What is it?” one timidly asked.

“What do you think it is?”

“Well, it sort of looks like a computer. It has the same letters on it.”

“It’s an electric typewriter,” I said.

“A typerider?”

“No, a typewriter. Watch this,” I said. I sat down in front of it.

I turned it on. It started to hum and they all jumped six feet in the air.

It was like the first-time man saw fire. Frightening, but intriguing.

I typed a few lines and they all oohed and aahed.

“What?” one of them exclaimed. “You don’t need a printer?”

“No! It prints as you go! Isn’t that incredible?”

They were spellbound.

“What will they think of next, right?” I asked.

“See this silver ball in here? There are four others just like it, each one with a different type font.”

“Whoa!” they shouted.

A few feet away sat my laptop, a high-speed computer with hundreds of fonts, auto-correct, spell-checker, grammar-checker, a built-in dictionary and thesaurus, linked to a laser printer that can crank out 20 pages a minute.

Big whoop.

They all clamored for a turn in front of the new-fangled, incredibly fascinating machine called a typerider.

“Form a line,” I shouted. “Single file! Single file.”

The first one tapped a key, paused, then tapped another and another, picking up speed. She hit return, watched the little silver ball fly back to the left side of the page, squealed with delight, and started again.

Why hadn’t we shown them this marvel before? Could their mom and dad get one, too? Does Amazon sell them?

One after another, they ripped paper out of the typewriter and came running to show us what they had written.

Beautiful!” I said, looking at askdjdklfeiruodsdkmdkdfjlf djskfjdljlskdjddkkdd. “Read it to me!”

“One day there was a mermaid. She was a pretty mermaid.”

“I think you have a writing career ahead of you.”

They all howled when it was time to turn off the machine. The best-sellers hidden inside them would have to wait for another day.

We assured them the typewriter would be waiting when they returned.

In the meantime, we’re looking into whether we can hook up an old tabletop rotary dial phone salvaged from the 1950s. They’ll be ecstatic.

Two secrets to keeping a tidy house

The house needs some attention, which is why it is probably time to have a party.

The truth is, our place never looks better than when we have people over, especially strangers.

We discovered this after having our first child. For six Monday nights we sat with five other couples on the floor of a children’s clothing store after hours, hugging pillows, practicing breathing, “Hee, hee, haw, hee, hee, haw,” listening to a birthing coach tell us that labor and delivery were nothing more than discomfort.

We agreed to get together after we all had experienced “discomfort” and delivered our babies. Since nobody wanted to take infants and meet at a restaurant, we offered to host.

Although these were people we barely knew and they would all be bleary eyed from exhaustion and sleep-deprivation, I cleaned the oven, polished glassware and washed an enormous picture window holding 24 framed panes of glass with an infant strapped to my chest. The husband trimmed shrubbery, cleaned the basement and hosed down the driveway.

As guests began arriving, the husband was still repairing a lock on the back door that had been broken for months. I neatly folded every towel, hand towel and washcloth in the linen closet.

People complimented us on how nice our place looked.

We said thanks and asked if anyone cared to see the linen closet.

The place did look good. As a matter of fact, it looked so good, we had another kid two years later.

Today, the trim on our house needs painting. Spring is threatening to arrive, which means the firewood on the front porch needs to be moved out back and that sorry excuse for a grill on the patio needs carting to the trash.

Over the years, we’ve hosted a lot of baby showers and bridal showers, which has kept the house in good shape. But most of that generation is married and on their way to second and third babies. The showers have dissipated and so has our motivation for thorough home maintenance.

Clutter needs eliminating, the hall closet needs organizing and a general purging of kid drawings, junk mail and expired coupons is overdue.

I have a theory that frequent travel is the secret to keeping an immaculate home.  If you’re not home, you can’t mess it up. That’s why there are never people in the pictures of homes in decorating magazines. They have all been sent on long trips so the rooms could be cleaned and kept clean for the photo shoot.

So, buy a house, get in good shape and then leave. Voila!

My second theory is that if you don’t travel a lot, the next best way to keep your house looking good is to have people over. Hence the party.

The husband just commented that there seem to be a growing number of small projects around the house needing attention. “Maybe it’s time to have a party,” he said.

“Probably,” I said. “And then we should take a really long trip.”

Clearing baby-gear hurdles in a single bound

Since our daughter, her husband and their three little ones moved in with us, waiting for their house to be finished, people often ask how it is going.

The truth is, we have settled into a lovely and comfortable routine, brought about, in part, by our willingness to live amid an obstacle course.

The various baby contraptions, small furniture pieces and assorted paraphernalia scattered throughout the house have become more or less permanent fixtures. As such, they have rerouted traffic patterns and altered many of our basic movements. Our reflexes are now sharper than ever, we burn more calories each day and are closing in on long-standing fitness goals.

Before their arrival, we simply walked from one room to the other with no cardio or stretch benefit whatsoever. Now the doorway from the kitchen to the dining room is occupied by a Jolly Jumper, a bulky contraption on a spring, suspended from the overhead door molding. The baby sits in the jumper seat and bounces up and down screaming with glee. To get from the kitchen to the dining room, we give the contraption a gentle hip bump, elongate our entire bodies, inhale deeply to minimize our girth, stretch until we can stretch no more, then slither through the small opening between the contraption and the door frame.

Our flexibility has improved dramatically, and we are both five inches taller.

The baby walker is often parked in the family room in front of the access area to the bookshelves. If you want books, a brief run and short hurdle over the walker will get you there. Reading, once a passive activity, now leaves us breathless.

The portable Rock N Play, in which the baby sometimes naps, is less negotiable as it has big feet and is easy to trip over. When it appears in your path, it is best to tread softly, turn sharply, cut a wide swath around it, then resume speed.

Further benefiting our cardio, we often take the stairs two at a time. A baby crying, preschoolers wailing, or the sound of water rushing from unknown origins and we are on our way!

It feels good to be running track again.

The Bumbo, a molded plastic seat the baby can sit in, has been a challenge as it is frequently mobile. It may be in the kitchen one minute, behind my desk chair another, or under the piano keyboard. You never know if it will be occupied by baby or by a life-size baby doll that scares the wits out of you. The Bumbo has been hard on our blood pressure, but we are adapting.

Even the downstairs bathroom has become a challenge. An adult must lean in at a precarious angle over the step stool used by the girls to reach the sink and simultaneously maintain balance while washing your hands. The hand towel will be somewhere on the floor or half-way in the sink, but never in the towel ring. We disdain predictability.

We’ve never been more fit. Who knows what we’ll do when they leave. Probably just sit around, grow sedentary and out of shape.

And cry our eyes out.

We said, “I do,”– they said we didn’t

I have to provide an official copy of our marriage certificate to the Indiana BMV to get the security clearance driver’s license. After waiting seven months on the state of Missouri, where we were married, the envelope finally came—with a letter saying they have no record of us ever being married.

Forty years.

Three kids.

Eleven grandkids.

The husband read the letter and was as stunned as I was.

Moments later, he was running through the house yelling, “FREE MAN!”

Free Man announced that if anything should suddenly happen to him, he’d like his obituary to refer to me as his “long-time companion.”

I laughed along with the rest of them. Then I told Free Man that he could do his own laundry.

News spread quickly among our friends. One, a pastor, sent a message saying he and some fellow clergy would like to have a discussion with the husband along the lines of making an honest woman out of me.

I told him I was ahead of him and had already informed Free Man that he’d be sleeping on the sofa.

Then the rumbling started about getting married again.

The youngest said, “So when people ask how long my parents have been married, I guess I’ll just say, ‘They were married in 2019, but they were together 40 years before that.’”

Offers of flower girls came in waves. Our daughter-in-law in Chicago sent a picture of their 10-month-old toddling behind a push toy and said, “She’s practicing!”

Nine of our 11 grands are little girls. The oldest is 9, followed by 8-year-old twins. Knowing the flower girl field would be crowded, they asked if they could be junior bridesmaids.

“Well, I’d need a proposal first,” I said.

“And a bigger ring!” one of the girls yelled.

I liked the direction this was headed. “I’ll want a bridal shower,” I said.  “We need new silverware. And towels. Maybe I’ll start a bridal registry online. I’m definitely checking the box that says we’ll accept cash.”

Away from the din of excitement and endless jokes, I wondered how you prove you were married when the state says you weren’t.

Our wedding book was buried in the closet, covered with dust. Tucked inside were five newspaper clippings from three different states about our wedding.

Our real ace in the hole was that we were both photojournalists when we married and nearly every wedding guest under 30 was a newspaper photographer as well. My mother said there were so many cameras clicking and flashes firing that it felt more like a breaking news event than a wedding.

I called the church where we were married, knowing a huge fire had destroyed most of the building a few years after we were married. The lady who answered the phone became distraught on our behalf and quickly transferred me to someone else who keeps records.

Within minutes, that woman had her hands on a church document with a number on it. She said it wasn’t like the wedding license numbers today, but maybe it was a start.

Meanwhile, the man who has found a million ways to drive me nuts over 40 years with his penchant for record keeping, his fascination with numbers and refusal to throw anything away, located the receipt he signed for our marriage license at the county clerk’s office. There was a number on it that matched the number the church had.

I called Missouri, gave them the number and a clerk found the license. She said she’ll send us a copy by mail.

We hope it arrives before our 50th.

A few wrinkles in the anti-aging creams

I want my money back. Even more than wanting my money back, I want to quit getting sucked in.

I was leafing through a magazine and saw a full-page ad for a moisturizer claiming it yielded better results than similar expensive creams costing $200, $300 and $400.

Amazing, I thought. Maybe I should get this.

Then I realized I already have it. I purchased it a month ago. I don’t know what a $400 cream will do, but this little baby didn’t do anything.

It’s in a drawer along with a new lotion I saw advertised on television that will erase lines and wrinkles from your neck. I’ve had lines on my neck since I was 7 years old. I just learned they’re called necklace lines. I would have preferred the jewelry.

I bought the neck cream for a few bucks at the grocery. Threw it right in the cart along with the lettuce, onions and chicken like it was a staple. It probably should be.

My neck and décolletage or decoupage or whatever you call it have not noticeably improved.

The commercial says 90 percent of women saw noticeable improvement in two weeks. How is it that I am always in the 10 percent that never sees improvement?

If we all saw the age-defying results that all the creams, moisturizers and wrinkle-erasers promise, nearly every woman would be walking around looking like a 20-year-old.

So, your 20-year-old son says to his 20-year-old girlfriend, “Meet my mother. Yes, she does look your age, doesn’t she?” How confusing.

As much as we’d like to turn back the hands of time, it’s not possible. You might be able to nudge the second hand a notch or two, but beyond that it’s virtually impossible. Not even with a sledge hammer. A scalpel and a plastic surgeon, maybe, but not a sledge hammer.

Not long ago, one of the grands was sitting next to me and I felt her staring at my face. Finally, she said, “Grandma, did you know you have lines on your lips?”

She said it with the same sort of alarm I would use asking if anyone else heard the smoke detector going off.

I ignored her.

“Well, did you, Grandma?”

I continued ignoring her.

She got right up in my face, pointing with her soft little 6-year-old finger, and in her sweet little voice said, “And you have lines here and here and here.”

Who needs a magnifying mirror?

And yet I still slather on the creams, hoping against hope, working to preserve what is left.

We took four grands to a small museum recently. An elderly woman working the front desk asked if they were my kids or my grandkids. I knew better than to let it go to my head, which was a good thing because in the next breath she told me to park my bicycle outside.

I didn’t have a bicycle. I had a stroller. And a baby was in it.

I rest my case. And my face.


Competition for babysitters heats up

One of the grands barrels toward me and squeals, “It’s hard not to let the beans out, Grandma.”

“What beans?” I ask.

“Mom said not to spill the beans.”

“You’re keeping a secret from me?”

“It’s not a secret. It’s beans. We’re keeping beans.”

“What are these beans about?”

“Mom is hiring a babysitter to watch us when she and Dad go out on a date. Mom said you’re too busy to watch us, but not to tell you about the sitter because you might not like that and that’s why we’re not supposed to spill the beans.”

“Wonderful,” I say, lying through my teeth. “What’s the sitter’s name?”

“Olivia,” she says with a breathy air of rhapsody. Her big brown eyes flutter and she nearly swoons.  “Pretty name,” I say. “Did your mother do a background check?”

“What’s a background check, Grandma?”

“Well, you can go online and—oh, never mind.”

“And guess what else, Grandma? She’s a teeeeeeen-ager!”

“Well, it just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it, dear?”

She said teenager in a fashion that lets me know she is officially throwing down the gauntlet. I am in competition with a teenager. Make that teeeeeeen-ager.

Clearly, this round will go to Olivia, as Grandma is on her way to becoming a seeeeeeenior and nobody swoons when they say senior.

“We had her babysit once before. Remember?”

“I do remember. I was restless all night.”

“Hey, Grandma, can you make a blade of grass whistle?”

She hands me a rough blade of grass. I place it between my fingers and try blowing on it, but nothing. I try again and again. I’ve got a cut on my lip from the blade of grass and drool on my hands. It is not going well.

“Olivia can make a blade of grass whistle.”

“That’s nice,” I say. “Can she do a barred owl call?”

“I don’t know Grandma, but she does cartwheels. Can you do a cartwheel?”

“Does Olivia have a baton?” I ask.

The kids discovered my old twirling baton under a bed not long ago. If I clear a six-mile radius, I can still throw it in the air and catch it and nobody gets a head injury.

“I don’t think she has a baton, Grandma, but Olivia can do roundoffs. Can you do roundoffs?”

Not since the 1990s, kid. Clearly, if I want to stay in the running, I’ll have to set the ends of the baton on fire.

“Guess what else, Grandma? Olivia is going to prom!”

Prom? There’s no way I can compete with prom.

“I’m going home now, Sweetie. Have a lovely evening with the sitter. Call me if you need anything, but I’m going to be very busy tonight.”

“What are you doing tonight, Grandma?”

“Baking my famous sugar cookies.”

From the look on her face, I may still be in the running after all.

This ‘fridge ain’t big enough for the two of us

Since merging two households – our daughter, her husband and their three little ones are temporarily living with us as they wait for their new house to be finished—we have made a surprising discovery.

We knew closets would be full. We knew there would be toys and baby gear covering the floors. We even knew the garage would bulge.

What we didn’t know was that the most densely packed space in the entire house would be the refrigerator.

Our local newspaper once ran a feature titled, “What’s in your ‘fridge?” where they published a short paragraph listing what people had in their refrigerators.

Make a list of what is now in our fridge and you’re looking at a 300-page book. And that’s just Volume No. 1.

Want balsamic vinegar? We have it in duplicate. Ditto for soy sauce, mustard and ketchup.

Pickles? You could open a deli.

Cheese? Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, Asiago or mozzarella? Would you like that in blocks, slices or shredded?

The problem isn’t that the contents of two refrigerators merged into one, but that two women can’t stop shopping. Two women, neither of whom can, or ever will, yield control of the kitchen. The kitchen is where dynasties are built. Nobody yields a dynasty.

There was an initial agreement to meal plan together and shop once a week.

It lasted until I was able to find my keys, slip out of the house, swing by the store and pick up a few things.

Then she slipped out of the house, stopped by the store and picked up a few things. There is so much slipping in and out and swinging by the store that some days we nearly crash into one another in the driveway.

Turns out our agreement was an agreement made in mutual bad faith.

Do you know what happens when two women try to rule the same kitchen and keep stopping by the store to pick up a few things?

There is an explosion—an explosion of leftovers.

We now have 29,765 small containers stacked in the ‘fridge with a few bites of this and a few bites of that. We live in fear of the day they all go bad at the same time, emit fumes, blow their sealed lids and explode the refrigerator.

The explosion will probably take the entire kitchen with it.

When the dust clears and the last of the leftover pasta finishes sliding down the walls, we will both still be standing, still battling for control.

Our daughter keeps explaining that we can avert disaster if I will simply abide by the meal planning chart that shows the menu for each night and the ingredients needed for each meal.

“When you write the ingredients down with the meal you are making, you always have what you need,” she calmly explains.

I nod as though this is new to me. Then I note that the meal schedule says we are having cilantro honey-lime chicken tonight.

“Did you get cilantro?” I ask.

She gasps.

“I’ll get my car keys.”

Torn between investing and digesting

We are of a certain age where we frequently receive invitations to dinners at nice restaurants hosted by people in suits who would like to advise us on how to financially prepare for retirement.

If that’s not exciting enough, we also frequently receive invitations to preplan our funerals, buy burial plots or consider cremation plans.

What do you do for fun?

Let me just say that even though we have a retirement plan in place, we have been to several of those free financial advisement dinners and what we have learned is this: Italian. Go for Italian. By far, the best meal was at the Italian restaurant. Family style, nice sampling of entrees, interesting people at our table.

We’ve also learned there is a distinct pattern to every interaction with any sort of adviser, and it is this: No matter what question you ask, the answer is, “Excellent question.”

“Could you explain mandatory withdrawals?”

“Excellent question.”

“Do you think we might be better off just burying what money we’ve saved in the backyard?”

“Excellent question.”

We were recently invited to a webcast offered by the company that holds some of our retirement savings to hear what they had to say about the market outlook in lieu of recent volatility. It was a lot of the usual talk about diversifying and balanced portfolios interspersed with a few football phrases like “going long, short runs and long runs.” This was followed by talk about high-yield bonds, government bonds, Barry Bonds and James Bond.

Then they opened it up for questions and anyone could send any question they liked. Of course, every question was an excellent question with a few variations like, “Wow. Great question!” and “Isn’t that an excellent question?”

I typed in questions as fast as I could:

“Where did the woman reading submitted questions get her necklace?”

“Do we get coffee cups with the corporate logo like the ones on your desk? They might help ease the sting of our losses.”

For some reason, my questions weren’t read. Instead, they continued with talk about ranges of outcomes, distribution of returns and chatter about medians, divided medians, roundabouts and four-way stops or something like that.

I’m not saying they were filling time, but they began talking a lot about “break out to the upside” which I am pretty sure was a hit song by some boy band in the ‘80s.

In any case, they all agreed that though the market is uncertain and will probably continue to be uncertain, yet not even that is certain, they feel good.

Me typing: “Of course you feel good, you have our money. We’d feel good if we had your money. Wanna swap?”

That question wasn’t read either.

My favorite part was where one of the advisers told viewers not to make decisions they would regret without calling them first.

Me typing: “How do you know you’re about to make a decision you’ll regret until after you’ve made it and lived to regret it?”

Excellent question, right?

The bottom line is, nothing is ever certain, but we feel good, too. Why, you ask? Because we’re having Italian for dinner and I’m making it at home.

Cars of future put backseat drivers out of work

The first thing engraved on my brain as a new driver was to keep my hands at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. I just saw a picture of a driverless car of the future. It doesn’t even have a steering wheel.

What do you do with your hands? I imagine mine will be waving wildly in the air as I scream.

The other thing we were taught as new drivers was to keep our eyes on the road in front of us.

The driver’s seat in one prototype driverless car can swivel to the back. To see the road in front of you, you’ll need eyes in the back of your head. (More flailing of arms, more screaming.)

Driverless cars are part of the future. I know that. I accept that. I don’t want to be the person filling boxes with 8-track tapes and cassettes when the new norm is storing music in the cloud. Although, in my defense, I hear that vinyl is making a comeback.

In any case, the truth is some of us go more reluctantly into the future than others. Some of us may need a push. Or a mild sedative. Or both.

I reassure myself with the fact that some of the technology utilized in driverless cars is already in place in many of today’s vehicles—things like anti-lock brake systems that detect vibrations when a vehicle begins to skid or slide and will pump the brakes for you.

Recently, after a nearly invisible layer of ice covered the roads overnight, the little yellow skid marks appeared on the dashboard as my vehicle began to slide. I managed to get to a full stop. Whew. Close one. And then the vehicle slid completely sideways.

I may need more reassurance.

Driverless cars have amazing robotic systems and software that can detect the presence and distance of other vehicles and pedestrians. A car being tested in the U.S. can detect the presence of pedestrians with 95 percent accuracy, which is excellent, unless you’re in the other 5 percent.

Another challenge facing driverless cars is creating sensors able to see through dust, fog, heavy rain and snow. Manufacturers are trying to develop sensors that mimic the eyes of certain animals able to make out shapes even in bad weather. No matter what we humans invent, at some level, we are always duplicating what nature has already mastered.

We were recently passengers in our friends’ new luxury sedan that has all sorts of computerized safety features. Our friend was driving as his wife explained that the car can tell him when and where to turn or to slow down if he is too close to an object or a pedestrian – and begin braking for him if he doesn’t brake. It also alerts him when he crosses into another lane and even keeps him from following the car in front of him too closely.

“Amazing,” I said.

“It’s nice all right,” she said with a grimace. “But now what am I supposed to do?”