Sometimes 1 + 1 equals a full brain

One of the much touted benefits of aging with a spouse is that, together, the two of you often make a whole brain. You can complete one another’s sentences, tell parallel stories with wildly differing details at the same time and help one another with dates of birthdays and anniversaries, as in, “No, that one was born the year we had the roof replaced.”

On occasion, you can even help provide missing punchlines for one another’s jokes.

The husband starts a familiar one saying, “Do you know why men with a pierced ear are well-suited for marriage? Because—now what was it? Men with a pierced ear are well-suited for marriage because . . . because—”

“Because they’ve already experienced pain and purchased jewelry!” I say. Ba-da-bing. Teamwork. It’s a good system in general, and I’m all for helping one another fill in the blanks, but the husband has gone too far, which is why I will no longer be fielding questions from him, or anyone else for that matter, with more than one compound word beginning with “some.” Something, somewhere, someone, somehow, somebody, sometime are officially off limits, and I mean all of them.

Increasingly, as others play Name that Tune, we play Name that Person.

Last night it was, “Do you remember someone whose name was like royalty, and he used to play something brass and they moved somewhere with South or North in the name?”

At least I had decent parameters to work with on that one. Answer: “Jim King played the trumpet and moved to North Carolina.”

Other times, the questions are so vague I don’t have a clue, such as, “What was that funny story someone told about something that happened in some national park?”

With a structure that loose, I’m grappling with whether we’re talking animal, vegetable or mineral.

It’s not that the man is forgetful, it’s that—like every single one of us these days—he has SHS (Selective Hearing Syndrome). I made that up, but doctors should really use it (only after they pay me for naming rights, of course). He tunes in to the constant barrage of information and noise when he wants to tune in and then uses me as his personal Google search engine for the details he missed when he tuned out.

He’s not the only one who does it. One of the grandkids asked if I would make a dessert I made not long ago. “It was something yummy, something chocolate and you made it when everyone was here and you said you’d make it again sometime.”

Well, that narrows it down to big family gatherings, major holidays and the dessert section of 30 plus cookbooks. I’m going to need WikiLeaks to find that one.

I was going to tell her to get back to me when she had a few more clues, but instead I told her to run it by Grandpa and see if he could remember something. Somehow. Sometime.


It’s showtime, take your (correct) seats

I can probably count on one hand the number of times my parents went to see a movie.

In the mid-60s, Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood,” a non-fiction novel based on the murders of four family members in Holcomb, Kansas. A year later, the book was adapted into a movie. My mother, a voracious reader, had read the book.

My parents were familiar with the small town of Humboldt, as they were with most every small town in Kansas and Nebraska.

What’s more, a man from Mom and Dad’s church had been cast in a small part in the movie as the mail carrier. So there you had it – a movie based on a book my mother had read, based on a crime that had sent shock waves throughout the Plains, and had happened in a town they were familiar with, featuring a man they knew in a major motion picture production.

My mother, who didn’t care for television shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” because of the occasional shooting, and my father—who was always in motion (if he sat more than 10 minutes he often lapsed into deep sleep and snoring), were going to see a film-adaption of “In Cold Blood.” A more ill-suited audience for a movie had never existed.

They settled into their seats and were not surprised that a cartoon preceded the movie. There were often shorts before movies. They weren’t familiar with the cartoon characters—a boy with animal companions—but then they watched cartoons about as frequently as they watched movies.

The cartoon seemed long. Very long. About 20 minutes into the cartoon, my mother dispatched my father to ask how long the cartoon was going to last. My father returned and informed my mother that they had bought tickets to the wrong theater and were watching “The Jungle Book.”

in cold jungle bookThoroughly disgusted with themselves, they left the theater and came directly home. It took a few days, but eventually they laughed about the situation.

The other night I browsed Netflix looking for something to take the edge off of a crazy week. I found some obscure movie about horses with an impressive 4.5 out of a 5-star rating. The review said it was inspiring, heart-warming and family friendly. Just my speed. The husband joined me. The opening scene was poorly lit. The title and screen credits may have been done by hand with a wide-tip marker. The plot and dialog were predictable. Instead of lulling me to sleep, it piqued our curiosity as we both wondered how it had garnered a 4.5 rating.

We watched a little longer, still waiting for the plot to develop or at least for the camera angles to suddenly improve. About 20 minutes in, I looked at the review again and saw it was for 11- to 12-year olds.

The movie apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.



Each decade of life brings surprises

I just read an article titled “Five Healthy Habits that Fight the Signs of Aging.”  It was written by a woman who recently turned 40. As my southern friends would say, “Bless her heart.”

Basically, the author advises eating healthy and wearing sunscreen. sunscreen-clipart-sunscreen-bottleGo ahead, sweetie, keep believing.

If you only knew. It’s better that you don’t. Actually, it’s better that none of us do. Some days, the mystery of the unknown is what keeps us going.

As someone who has seen 40, may I tell you about 40? Forty is nothing. Forty is the sandbox of life. Forty is merely the back end of 30. At 40, your skin still fits. The thought of “comfortable shoes” at 40 is anathema. On a good day, you may even still have that dewy glow of youth. You can still eat ice cream, pizza and doughnuts in your 40s.

I will grant you that the back end of 40 comes with a cloud of apprehension—as it should as 50 is a bucket of cold water in the face. Medical appointments appear with increasing frequency on your calendar. Colonoscopies, bone scans, cholesterol checks. Merely holding a cookbook causes weight gain.

You envision a brow lift during your 50s. Of course, you can’t afford it, so you consider the alternatives. Perhaps a few pieces of strategically placed duct tape. You may even be sucked into exercises promising to eliminate that furrowed brow and put yourself through regimens of weird facial gyrations. You lament all the years you frowned. Why did you frown? Because you were raising children, that’s why!

Sixty? I recently crossed 60, so I speak with authority when I tell you that 50 is a cakewalk compared to 60. Sixty is like being tasered. Once you get feeling back in your legs, pull yourself upright and look around, you wonder how you got here. You feel 17 inside, but the candles on the birthday cake are setting off the fire alarm.

You have new sympathies and understanding for those older than yourself.  Instead of muting the prescription drug commercials on television, you listen intently to all the adverse side effects, wondering if you may one day need the medication—or more importantly, if the medication will one day will kill you.

If you’re blessed with good health, you quickly learn to keep it to yourself. Friends your own age don’t want to hear about how great you feel or that you signed up for a mini-marathon.

A group I am speaking for recently requested a publicity picture. I realized the picture I use is four years old. A lot of changes can happen in four years. I sent the picture and told my contact to pencil in a few more wrinkles. I need to get an updated photograph of myself. And I will. Just as soon as the healthy eating, sunscreen and results from the furrowed brow exercises kick in.


On call for potty training

I fielded four calls before I finally found out that my name and number had been posted on a bathroom wall. It’s not as bad as it sounds. My contact info, along with my picture, are on a poster on the bathroom wall where one of the grands is potty training.

When she has a success, she chooses someone to call and then that person emotes through the phone, shouts, yells, claps and cheers her on to greatness. Or dryness.

The husband just got a text saying that if he doesn’t turn his phone on and take a few calls he’s going to be deleted from the call list. Just like that, Grandpa could be history. The world of potty training is brutal. Always has been.

Potty training is right up there with your kid getting a driver’s license—a milestone that you, the parent, simultaneously look forward to and dread.

When my daughter said she was using the “Potty Training in a Day” method, I didn’t say anything. pottytrainmeme

When she said you give the child a doll that goes potty, I didn’t say anything.

When she said you give the child salty snacks and drinks and have them practice running to the potty, I didn’t say anything.

When she said you reward the kid with M&Ms, I finally said something.

“Somebody gave me a book just like that when your brother was born,” I said. “I started the ‘Potty Training in a Day’ method on a Monday and threw the book out on Thursday.

“Besides, I gained five pounds from rewarding myself with M&Ms every time I rewarded your brother. More than 30 years later and I’m still trying to lose the weight.”

Of course, these days there are endless options when it comes to potty training today. There’s “Potty Training Your Child in a Week,” “Potty Training Your Child in Three Days” and “Potty Training Your Child in Less Than One Day.” I would think the Less Than One Day method would be far more appealing (and expensive) than Potty Training in a Week. Who wants to drag it out if you don’t have to?

To our daughter’s credit, she was more diligent than I was and her little girl was ready and caught on quickly. Also, to our daughter’s credit, she didn’t post any pictures of it on Facebook.

Despite the recent family success with “Potty Training in One Day,” my favorite approach floating around right now is “The Naked & $75 Method,” which comes from John Rosemond. You let the kid run around naked for three days, the theory being that the kid won’t like the mess and will get to the potty on his or her own.

The $75 is for cleaning the carpet.






Pulling the plug on ambience

Since the people we most often dine with on the patio are grandchildren who go to bed at 7 p.m., we are rarely outside after dark and able to enjoy the ambience of flickering candles or string lights. Ambience with grandchildren consists of greenish night lights that automatically come on when the room gets dark.

When friends who have been known to stay up until the wild hours of 10 and 11 joined us for a late dinner, I immediately wove 40 feet of tiny fairy lights through a tree that overhangs the patio. Ambience at last.

fairy lightsWhen the sun went down and the lights went on, the husband commented that none of the lights were in the top, or even in the middle, of the tree.

“They’re all low like they were hung by someone 5 ’2,” he said.

“Scoff all you want,” I replied. “I’m enjoying the ambience.”

So did our friends, who stayed until 10:30. We said goodbye on the front porch and I went back outside to retrieve the fairy lights, gently pulling them from the branches, draping them around my neck and across my arms, so they wouldn’t tangle. If it had been December, I could have stood in the front yard and doubled as a Christmas tree.

I walked back to the house and discovered the screen door was locked. I knocked softly. No answer. I knocked louder. Still no answer. “Anybody home?” I called, but not too loud, as it was now after 11.

Pacing the patio with tiny glowing lights draped over me, I realized if one of the neighbors looked outside they could report a UFO, and a helicopter with a blinding searchlight would be sweeping the backyard at any moment.

I cut the lights. It was pitch black.

I peered in the house again and saw the bathroom door was closed.

Being a cloudless night, I walked to the middle of the backyard to get a good look at the stars. Talk about ambience.

I walked back to the house. The bathroom door was open, but the husband was nowhere in sight.

I thought I heard a raccoon rustling in the bushes. Or a ‘possum. Probably both.

All of a sudden there was a glow casting on the lawn. It was from the light in our upstairs bedroom.

Great. The man was probably going to bed. When would he notice I wasn’t there? Midnight? Two a.m.? A week from now when he stumbled across chunks of my hair raccoons had ripped out and scattered beneath the grill?

I pressed my nose to the screen door again. Futile. Then I remembered that some of the grands had put a rip in it not long ago. Yep, I could reach through, tear it a little more and unhook the door.

I was standing in the kitchen, winding up the fairy lights, when the husband walked through and said, “Where have you been?”

“I was enjoying the ambience.”



Don’t read this if you get bugged easily

There is a beetle in my freezer. And he’s not there by accident. I caught him, I boxed him and then I froze him.

If you’re an insect lover, you may want to stop reading now. But before you leave, know this—there’s no better way for a bug to go. Millions of them go like that every fall with the first hard freeze. Initially, I felt a bit remorseful about freezing a bug, but then I realized I was merely hastening nature’s cycle.

I only hope the beetle saw it the same way.

In any case, the beetle is in the freezer on top of a pack of ground beef and between two bags of frozen vegetables. Now, if I peel the lid off that box in two weeks and find the beetle is missing, I will probably throw out the ground beef, the vegetables and everything else in the freezer.

It is my son and 5-year-old grandson’s fault that there is a beetle in the freezer. Frankly, I often gag slightly when I hear about their latest exploits. Then, before I know it, I am taken in the by the excitement and doing things I never envisioned doing—like catching insects and casually popping them in the freezer.

They recently bought a casting resin kit (liquid plastic that solidifies in an hour). A lot of crafters use the kits for making jewelry or preserving leaves. Our son and his son are using the kit to preserve insects in test tubes. I suppose their bug casts could double as jewelry, but I don’t think they will become a fashion trend anytime soon.

So far they have cast a lightning bug, a carpenter ant and have a dragonfly chilling. (Because they have nature projects in their freezer far more frequently than we do, we often order out when we pay them a visit.)

Shortly after they told me about the project, I spotted a shiny black beetle crawling on some brick. Every fiber of my being wanted to crush the beetle, whack it with my shoe, flatten it with a rock (I’ve been very pent up lately), anything but catch it. But when I considered what a little boy can learn studying the wonders of creation up close, I was suddenly on board.

Apparently, I was so on board that when I called to let them know that I had a specimen in my freezer, I suddenly, unexpectedly, with no forethought whatsoever, heard myself commit to scoring an earwig.

Who am I? I cannot even say the word earwig without screaming. Earwigs: bugs that slither into your ears while you sleep and spin wigs, right? Maybe not, but if not, why do they call them earwigs? They’re disgusting. And now I’d committed to finding one.

Just like that, I’m an entomologist. Or an etymologist. Or both.

Unbelievable.  Of course, there’s always the chance I won’t come across an earwig under a mound of mulch or in the seed pods on the false indigo where they hang out every year. But if I do, I am honor bound to try and catch it.


The things you do for love.





No. 1 Road Trip Rule: Prepare for delays

We always look at Google maps or MapQuest before taking a trip to see how long the trip is supposed to take—and then do our best to prove them wrong.

We’re no amateurs – we have gotten this down to such a science over the years that there are certain family members deathly afraid to travel with us. But since our family keeps growing (a son-in-law here, a daughter-in-law there, a new grandbaby or two every few years) we are still able to find the uninitiated willing to pile in the car.

Recently, we embarked on a 500-mile trip that was supposed to take 8 hours. Based on past experience, we were pretty sure that was wrong.

Our fellow travelers arrived at 6:40 a.m. We unloaded bags from their car, transferred two car seats from their vehicle to our vehicle, loaded a cargo carrier on top of our car, changed diapers, readjusted the carrier, inspected the car seat installations again (multiple times), crammed diaper bags, a cooler, snack bag (essential), assorted reading materials, one laptop and large bulky purses into our vehicle, then rearranged items in the carrier, put out an all-points bulletin for a missing pacifier, redistributed items in the vehicle six more times and then, using precision origami folds, crammed Grandma into the far back seat next to a car seat and departed at 7:30.

Whew. We were off.

We made our first stop at 7:32. We wheeled into a strip mall parking lot to deposit an envelope into a mailbox. Yes, the husband could have left it in our mailbox but, as he noted, we have had mail stolen from our mailbox. Once. In 1993. We are nothing if not paranoid.

We were back on the road and made our second stop at 7:36, pulling in line at a drive-through for coffee. There was no cream at home and the husband takes cream. Listen, you don’t want the pilot drowsy in the cockpit.

Back on the road, topping speeds of 32 mph, hitting every red light on the way to the interstate, someone asked if anyone was hungry. 7:40. Not to worry, we didn’t need to stop, as they brought food — a bag of chocolate-covered doughnuts. I argued that plastic-coated doughnuts were not a food and was met with strong opposition declaring them delicious and even claiming that they qualify as “eating clean” if you wipe your hands with a Wet One when you finish.

In the midst of the Plastic Doughnut Debate, a dark cylinder bounced on the road in front of our vehicle. Someone said it might have been a muffler—or a curling iron from a cosmetic bag in the overhead carrier.

Maybe we should pull over and check the carrier. Why not? It was 7:46.

It only took us an hour and ten minutes from the time our travel companions arrived and loaded until the time we finally hit the interstate. Given our current rate of travel, I calculated we should reach our destination by sundown. In two or three days. Once again, that 8-hour prediction had been way off.

Computers. They’re so unreliable.


I don’t need sorry, I need solutions

Can we stop saying we’re sorry?

I’ve been on the phone trying to straighten out some billing matters and every customer service rep I talk to is sorry. Sorry is epidemic.

“How may I help you today?”

“We’ve had a continuing problem with our bill.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I used to be sorry, too, but now that our bill has been $45 in your favor for three months, and an additional unauthorized $13 charge is appearing, I’m past sorry.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“You’re the fourth person I’ve talked to about this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I talked to a woman named Melanie yesterday. She was sorry, too.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? Do you know Melanie? Should I have refused to talk to her?”

“No, I don’t know Melanie, but I’m sorry you had to talk to her.”

“It sounds like you have something against Melanie.”

“No, I don’t. Sorry for the confusion.”

“Could you quit saying you’re sorry?”


“I bet you’re going to tell me something different from all the other people I talked to, aren’t you? I get a different answer every time I call.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Here’s the thing, I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to competent. I want you to be sharp, resourceful, imaginative, smart and discerning,” I say.

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry.”

“Look, Mark, is it? Why don’t we do this? For every time you say sorry, you credit my bill $10.”

“I can’t do that ma’am. I’m sorry.”

“Could you agree not to say sorry one more time?”

“Yes, I’ll try.”

“That’s great. Listen, I’m not holding you responsible for this mess, any more than I am holding you responsible for the mess in the Middle East.”

“Thank you very much.”

“I know you didn’t write this convoluted bill, you just happened to pick up the phone today, but I don’t need you to be sorry—I need you to fix it!”

After 15 minutes, including several stints on hold, he did fix it. I thanked him for being of genuine assistance.

“If that’s all ma’am, I know you asked me not to say I was sorry again, but I would like to say—“





Once on a hot sunny day . . .

A few of the grands wanted to know if they could help write a column. I said, “It’s a lot harder than it looks.” I’m not positive, but I think two of them exchanged smirks.

They pointed out that they know their letters and can write upper case and lower. “You are qualified!” I said.

“What should we write about?”

“Well, you need a story to tell.”

“Sometimes your stories are about us. We could write a story about you. How about we tell how you killed the bee?”

“Wasp,” I said. “Accuracy is important.”

“Yeah, the bee.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but you can’t just say Grandma killed a bee. You have to set it up, like a real story.”

“I know,” one said. “Write this – once on a hot sunny day.”

“You’ve got the reader hooked,” I said. “Then what?”

“Once on a hot sunny day I told Grandma I saw a very big bug flying in the birdhouse that’s on the playhouse.”

birdhouse framed“Good, but you need to be descriptive. Paint a picture with words.”

“We get to paint? Yeah! Let’s paint!”

“No, you’re writing a column. It’s easy to get distracted writing, but a good columnist hammers out 25 words before getting distracted with something like painting or going to the ‘fridge.”

“OK. It was a very big bug and it had polka dots and it was flying and I said Grandma do you know much about bugs and then you said I know some and I said good because I don’t know much.”

“That’s a run-on sentence.”

“I wasn’t running.”

“Never mind. You can edit later. Or you can choose not to edit and give the editors something to do. Your story needs action.”

“Grandma looked in the birdhouse and it wasn’t a big bug, it was a bee. A bee with polka dots. Then grandma took the birdhouse off the playhouse and put it in the yard. Then I said Grandma I still hear buzzing in the playhouse so you came and looked and there were more big bees building a nest right on the playhouse. Did you type that the bees had polka dots?”

“That’s not so much true,” one says to the other.

“It is so. Didn’t it have polka dots, Grandma?”

“They weren’t exactly polka dots—but you could use your artistic license.”Rentokil Pest A-Z Artwork by

“Yeah, I want to use my lyin’-sense.”

“A lot of writers do,” I said. “Now end your story.”

“Grandpa came with a can to spray the bees and Grandma said no that will make them mad and Grandpa sprayed them anyway and Grandma and Grandpa were yelling and bees were flying and Grandma killed some of them with a broom.”

“We weren’t yelling.”

“You were yelling. That is true.”

“You can’t end a column with anger. That’s what the rest of the news does. Leave the reader with a smile,” I said.

“OK, write this: Knock, knock. Who’s there? Boo. Boo who? You don’t have to cry, it’s just a joke!”

“Good job, kids. Now let’s get a snack and go paint.”





Who moved my shade?

One of the five-year-old grands emerged from her bedroom the other night, stood in the hallway and announced, “I’m sweating bullets in here!”

It’s been that kind of kick-off to summer. There’s not much you can do about the heat (especially when you’re too short to reach the thermostat) except to go with the flow.

Naturally, the first rule of heat survival is to make no sudden moves, which would explain a recent get together.

There were 15 lawn chairs for adults and a half dozen or so chairs for little ones set in a circle under three large shade trees.

As is our custom, we talked and ate and talked some more and ate some more. The kids played, grew flush and downed juice boxes. Someone collected all the dirty paper plates. Someone else gave all the kids another spray of sunscreen.

Early afternoon melted into mid-afternoon and someone noted that they were now sitting in the sun.

“Looks like our shade moved,” someone offered.

“Sure does,” another confirmed.

It was quiet for a bit, then someone observed, “Suppose it will just keep moving.”

“Suppose so.”

Everybody looked up at the tree canopy, then over to where the circle of shade was slowly relocating.

“Maybe we should move the circle.”

That suggestion was met with stone -cold silence. The last thing anybody wanted to do was pick up and move. Except for those in the sun, and they looked too hot and dehydrated to pick up chairs and move. That’s the power of summer heat – people who are ordinarily hard working and industrious are gradually reduced to shapeless mounds of immovable goo.

“Seems like a lot of work to move all the chairs,” somebody said.

“Why don’t we just move the chairs on that side since they’re the ones in the sun?”

The group pondered in silence. And sweat.

“That would change the circle into more of an oval, but it’s better than everyone moving.”

Although there seemed to be general agreement, there was still no movement.

“A lot cooler when that breeze was blowing.”

Somebody came out of the house and asked if anybody needed anything. I asked for a glass of ice water. I would have waited on myself, but I was holding a sleeping baby, which is akin to holding a hot water bottle, which gives one a permanent pass from moving in the heat.

When it is hot enough, just sitting can constitute a heavy workload. No doubt this is where the expression “go work on my tan” comes from. How do you work at getting scorched? You just lie real still.

They say it’s going to be a hot one this year. The summer forecast shows most of the country in a big red swatch marked “higher than average temperatures.”

We’ll have a lot of time to work on our sitting in the shade skills.