Questions keep rolling mile after mile

car with questionsIf you overlook the 6-year-old demonstrating her best soccer kick, whereupon her shoe flew off her foot and grazed the side of my head, we had a good visit with two of the grands.

When our son and his wife, who live in a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago, had their fourth child (family motto: “Stack ‘em high and stack ‘em deep”), we drove up, admired the new baby, and then brought the 6- and the 4-year-old home with us for 10 days. Make that 10 days and six hours, but who’s counting?

Occasionally on long drives, I sometimes grow drowsy, but this was not even a remote possibility with our inquisitive passengers in the car.

“Where does gasoline come from, Grandma?”

“What’s the difference between a golfer and a gopher, Grandpa?”

I would have said the difference between a golfer and a gopher is an “l” and a “p,” but their grandpa is more patient than their grandma.

 

“What exactly is quicksand?”

They had a steady barrage of questions that could have kept the Google search engine busy for hours.

“What if hail comes down on your house?”

It was like a game show with only seconds to answer before another question was fired.

“How do the police catch bad guys?”

“You’re good conversationalists,” I told the kids. “Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, it means we’re good talkers.”

The good talkers came with, shall we say, an intensity.

“It’s going well,” I told a friend on day four. “Although it is a bit of a jolt to our systems.”

Two days later I considered instituting naptime. For the adults.

They were only small differences really. We gravitate toward conversational tones; the children were propelled by sudden bursts of shrieking and laughing. I’ve always like the piano on the west wall where it has stood for 20 years; they moved it perpendicular to the wall to create a fort.

“How is it going?” our son asked by phone.

“They’re angelic,” I said. (When they are sleeping.)

“Are they behaving?” he asked.

“Oh my, yes.” (Do not get out of that chair until I say you can!)

“Are they eating well?”

“Very well.” (If you count cheese as a food group.)

I was making calzones one afternoon when my garlic disappeared. I entertained the idea that I had finally lost my mind. Still, I looked high and low searching the kitchen and finally asked out loud how a woman loses six garlic bulbs in a mesh tube.

“Were they in that thing that looks like a sock?” one of them asked.

“Yes.”

“I took it upstairs to play with it.”

It was wonderful to have them here for a lengthy stay. We feel like we completed a rigorous physical fitness training. Our reflexes have never been sharper, nor our response times quicker.

We called the day after we delivered them back home and asked how they had adjusted to one another again.

“It was sure quiet when they were gone,” our son said. “It’s great to have them back. It’s just a bit of a jolt.”

We understand.

Anniversary gifts leave them flushed with embarrassment

You might have heard that the husband and I are hopeless romantics, in which case you heard wrong. We recently celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary by buying two toilets.

Our house is younger than we are, but is falling apart at a far faster rate. Two of our toilets, original to the house, needed to be replaced.

That giant flushing sound you heard was us being sucked into the world of plumbing. A buyer is dizzy with choices these days – round bowl or elongated, a 12-inch or 14-inch set, one-piece or two-piece and so many GPFs (gallons per flush).

And then there are the names – toilets are now like fingernail polish in that they have names. There’s Glacier Bay, the Cimarron, the Cadet, and the Santa Rosa. Perhaps you’d prefer the Niagara, the Elliston or the Devonshire.

We bought two Wellworths – affordable and efficient and with installation on Tuesday. The installers came, removed the old ones, set the
new ones and sped away. All was well with the Wellworths until someone attempted to use the one in the half-bath off the family room. so closeThe bathroom door would not close. The new toilet stuck out farther than the old one—not much, but enough that the door couldn’t clear the toilet.

It was such a close fit, it almost looked like if you got behind the door and kicked, you would be able to send that door flying past the toilet. “Why yes, the bathroom is around the corner on your left. If you want privacy, get behind the door and try kicking it until it clears the toilet.”

We were now the proud owners of a toilet, bolted to the floor in the most visible high-traffic area of our home, that could only be used with the door fully open.

Suggestions for solving our dilemma were many. One wit suggested we remove the door and hang a shower curtain in the doorway. Another card suggested we hang hippie beads. Another proposed we cut a curve in the door to match the profile of the toilet. Someone else suggested we rip apart the door frame, then rehang the door so it would swing out instead of in.

I was pretty sure all we needed was a toilet one inch shorter from the front to the back. The husband questioned my math and went all engineer-y on me, drawing chalk lines on the bathroom floor tile to calculate the arc of the door closing in conjunction with the projection of the toilet.

Someone passed through the house, saw the chalk outline and asked if there had been a crime. “Yes,” I said. “Wellworth was murdered. We think the butler did it.”

We found a toilet that is 1 and 1/8 inch shorter from a plumbing supply house online. This one goes by the name Toto.

Wait ‘til you hear what we have planned for our 40th.

 

Care for veterans extends beyond Memorial Day at national cemeteries

There is a good chance you’ve not been to Marion, Ind. It is north of Indianapolis, past Elwood, but not all the way to Etna. Like the rest of our state, it is what people on the coasts call flyover country—towns and cities bordered by corn and wheat fields that look like checkerboards from an altitude of 36,000 feet.

There is a gem nestled in Marion. It is the Marion National Cemetery. Spanning 52 acres of rolling hills and towering shade trees, it was designated as a Soldiers Home in 1888 to care for vets in the region. Two years later the first funeral took place. Before that, this cemetery

was a farm. In an old photograph of a funeral long ago, a horse-drawn hearse is parked in front of a stable and a barn. The enormous red-brick stable with white-paned windows still stands.
stable

It is quiet here this morning, all but for the hum of riding mowers and weed eaters preparing for Memorial Day. The dew is thick and grass clippings cover your shoes.

Yesterday they laid a female World War II veteran to rest. Patricia Brinkman is now beside her husband, Franklin D. Brinkman, Sr. A floral spray of pink carnations and lilies lies atop her fresh grave.

Three  Medal of Honor recipients are buried here, as is Thomas Jefferson. No, not that Thomas Jefferson, but a Thomas Jefferson. He is in section 1, grave 1, buried in the late 1800s.

MARION NATIONAL

 

Grave markers date back to the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and Korea. There are a few from the Gulf and they’re getting more Vietnam vets in all the time.

Sue Nan Jehlen is the director here. She is a hairdresser turned school psychologist turned Veteran’s administrator who loves her job. She is preparing for an Unaccompanied Vet Ceremony later today. They’ll be honoring 23 veterans who were buried unaccompanied by family or loved ones, and without military honors. The vet community in the area finds that unacceptable, so vets from Tipton, Kokomo and Indianapolis are meeting up at a nearby Meijer store and will come together to honor those who served. There will be a ceremony with the Posting of Colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, speakers, a high school choir, placing of wreaths, a 44-rifle salute, taps and a benediction.

Those who rest here are tended well.

Before Veteran’s Day last year, community members placed solar lights by nearly 4,000 grave markers to illuminate headstones at night. This year they are aiming for 10,000 lights.

While this cemetery is no Gettysburg or Arlington in scale, it honors the same measure of service and sacrifice. This, too, is hallowed ground.

As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, may we “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s the skinny on Thin Privilege

Just when you think you are reasonably up-to-date on all the words, behaviors, attitudes, moral and religious convictions that are now deemed offensive by the politically correct, along comes another one to add to the ever expanding repertoire—Thin Privilege.

Thin Privilege is decried by self-described fat activist Virgie Tovar who, in my more unenlightened days, I may have described as curvy. Or maybe even fluffy. Fortunately, I now know that I should call her fat, embrace fatness, never mention the word diet or heart health and invite her over for three-layer chocolate cake to prove that I don’t care what size she is.

I don’t care. And I won’t care. Unless, of course, she cares that I am short. Then it could get ugly. Short sensitivities would demand that I play the Tall Privilege card.

The thing is, I think Virgie and I would be friends even though she thinks that I am probably bigoted and hateful because of her size. I have long maintained that the whole thing with food is incredibly backward. When you are a young child and have no appreciation for food, you can eat all you want and not gain weight. When you are mature enough to have discriminating taste buds, you just look at food and gain weight.

In the interest of full disclosure, know that I have probably lost a total of 200 pounds—never all at the same time, but more like gain two, lose two. As a matter of fact, if you are someone who can eat all you want and never gain weight, I’m not sure that we can be friends—you and your Fast-Metabolism Privilege.

According to Tovar, whose mantra is “Lose Hate, Not Weight,” fatphobia is rampant in white society where people seek to oppress people with larger body types. Dear Virgie, both of my grandmas were full-figure and every single one of their combined 49 grandkids loved every ounce of them. Few things were more comforting than to lean in and get lost in big loving arms.

Please don’t accuse people you don’t know of hating heavy people. If you persist, I’ll still invite you for cake, but you may be wearing it, not eating it (Cake Throwing Privilege).

What are we to do with all these privileges that we hold against one another? We have the Two-Parent Family Privilege, Not Living in My Parents’ Basement Privilege, the I Do Not Struggle with which Restroom to Use Privilege, Flat Abs Privilege and the despicable Good Hair Privilege.

It reminds me of that childhood song—which is now surely banned – “Everybody hates me, nobody likes me, guess I’ll go eat worms.”

Used to be we made gentle fun of self-pity. We acknowledged that life was unfair and leaned into the wind anyway.

Today we revel in self-pity and elevate carping, clawing and tearing one another down to art forms. Before long the only way we will be able to function as a society is to level the playing field by declaring that everybody hates everybody else.

Maybe when we’ve collapsed under the crushing weight of bickering and narcissism we can begin to regroup and rise from the ashes.

Or at least call out for pizza. Extra cheese.

 

 

How Taft may have gotten out of the tub

We are having lunch with several of the grands, eating on plastic placemats that feature the United States presidents on one side and the three branches of government on the other. They are old placemats, as the last president shown is Clinton—and it is Bill, not Hillary.

“Who is that one by Roosevelt?” one of the girls asks.

taft-2
The story that Taft got stuck in the tub is a slippery one.

“That is Taft. He was the heaviest President in history.” History with Grandma is fun because, one, Grandma is old enough she might actually have been there and, secondly, even if Grandma wasn’t there, she tells the story like she was. “The man weighed more than 300 pounds,” I say, as though I was there for the weigh-in.

Clearly they are disturbed by the news. Attempting to ease their anxiety, I say “He probably should have eaten more vegetables.”

“I’d like to know more about Taft,” one says wryly, insinuating that my claim about Taft’s bulk warrants verification.

“There is a story that he was so big he got stuck in the bathtub.”

“Grandma!” they shout in unison, as though I am telling such a whopper that lightning may strike.

“It’s true,” I say.

“I’d like to see the tub,” states the skeptic who will one day be a prosecuting attorney.

We look it up on the Internet and see that it was a tub specially built to hold four men and, in fact, four fully-clothed men are pictured sitting in the tub.

taft-tub

They are quiet, mulling over the dilemma. How could one man get stuck in a tub, when they have seen as many as four of their little cousins fit in the tub at a time?

“Did they have phones?” says the one, who at age 5 is the unofficial event planner in the group.

“Honey, not even a smart phone could have helped the man get out.”

“Why didn’t he just hold onto the bathtub and jump?”

“He was wedged,” I said. “The story is that they tried using butter — ”

“That wouldn’t work,” interrupts the event planner. “Curious George got his leg stuck in a trash can and at first the Man in Yellow used butter but it didn’t work, so they had to call the fire people. They had to use a saw to cut George out. Maybe they sawed the bathtub, spread it and then he got out.”

“Maybe,” I say.

“Or, or, or!” Her brain is at full-throttle and in problem-solving mode. “He must have filled the bathtub more because when you fill it with water—fill it up super high—he could go higher and take a breath and then pull up.”

The prosecuting attorney remains skeptical and unconvinced. She jumps off her chair and exits the kitchen saying, “I just wanted to know how he got out.”

The event planner, satisfied that either a fire department arrived and used Jaws of Life or that Taft dislodged himself relying on the mechanics of displacement, gazes at the placemat then ruefully says, “My favorite president was Washington, but now it’s this one – Tadd.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mom’s lesson: give generously

My mother was a giver. The woman loved to give. The occasion never mattered – weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, Ground Hog Day, Arbor Day or no occasion at all.

She was always thinking about who might enjoy what. She once bought a deluxe toy firetruck that had flashing lights, sirens and a ladder, and kept it on a closet shelf for months until a nephew retired from the fire department.

weekly-wrap32She always wrapped her gifts with loveliness and care. Sometimes she’d take wedding gifts to the gift wrap counter at the department store thinking they could do a better job. She didn’t really believe they could do a better job, she was just checking to make sure her own skills still rivaled theirs.

Thoughtfulness and creativity went into the gifts she gave and she appreciated a thank you note. Once she sent out a note to family members, her own deadbeat children and grandchildren who had not acknowledged gifts, stating that they were now on her “Fecal Roster” and would not be removed until she had received a proper thank you.

Even if you were a cad and didn’t send a thank you, she’d give you another gift the next chance she had. She figured bad manners were your problem, not hers.

The funny thing is, she didn’t come from a gift-giving background. She grew up in a large farm family during the Depression. She said she used to dread going back to school after Christmas because the teacher would always have them write about what they got for Christmas. Not being the sort to wallow in self-pity, my mother made up some fine stories brimming with an opulence unknown to the county.

She taught us to give, too. She told us not to be cheap or cut corners—and those weren’t suggestions; they were orders.

Every time Mom and Dad drove over to visit, there would be a ritual with all of us gathering in the driveway as they unloaded luggage and “a few things” she threw in for the family. There was always something for the kids, often a big container of homemade chocolate chip cookies or a couple of bags of candy that I said would rot their teeth and, quite frankly, was too cheap to buy.  They weren’t gifts for any particular occasion, they were simply “Isn’t life great?” gifts.

My mother wasn’t a schmaltzy person, but one spring when they came to visit, she handed me a gift bag billowing with tissue paper. Inside was an etching on glass that read: “A Special Daughter. So many of the good times we remember from the past happened because of you. You’ve brought laughter and joy to our lives and so much love to our hearts. The most precious things we can wish for you are the things you have given us . . . Happiness and Love.”

She mentioned that she’d given one to my sister-in-law as well.

Not long after that visit, Mom suffered a brain aneurysm and died.

Mom was a great gift giver, but the gifts we will always remember her for were her love for life and her love for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living life in a large way

Much of our flatware has seen the inside of the garbage disposal, which is why a number of our spoons can now double as grapefruit spoons. Some of the forks, also roughed up by the disposal, have become too dangerous to use and some of the knives have simply disappeared. I suspect they went on camping trips and did not return.

Being that our numbers have grown, and that there are frequently large groups here for meals, I was considering buying additional flatware. Flatware is not an exciting purchase. It ranks up there with dentistry—not something you enjoy paying for, but necessity requires it.

Surprised to see the exact same pattern of flatware I already own on sale, I bought a service for four, hoping to pad out the existing rag-tag collection at home.

When I opened up the new set, the pattern was the same, but all the pieces were bigger. It was Tour de France flatware, forks and spoons on performance-enhancing drugs. The new teaspoons looked like soup spoons and the soup spoons looked like serving spoons. The new salad forks were nearly the size of the old dinner forks and the new dinner forks were large enough to roast small game over an open fire.

I heard myself saying, “They didn’t look that big in the store.”  It was like cutting your own Christmas tree, getting it home and finding it doesn’t fit in the family room. “It didn’t look that big in the forest.”

Everything is supersized these days. Not just flatware, but dishes as well.

Someone mentioned juice glasses the other day and every woman over 50 laughed. Once upon a time juice was served in small glasses (glasses that had previously held pimento cheese, been washed out and repurposed); today we drink juice in the 64-oz big gulp.

And then I look at my coffee cup. Who am I kidding? My over-sized coffee cup holds two cups of coffee. If I have two cups some mornings, I’ve really had four. And the husband wonders why I’m sometimes irritable?

A salad at one of my favorite delis recently came in a big bowl the shape and size of those cones that dogs wear after surgery. Each time I leaned in for a bite, I couldn’t help but wonder how my sutures were doing.

Food itself has grown larger these days as well. A typical bagel is three servings of bread. “I’ll have a half a pound of cream cheese to go with that, please.” If muffins grow any larger they’ll need to be rolled out on dollies.

All of this is not without consequence. There is speculation that in addition to having height charts, we may soon need to keep width charts.

Even the tables we eat at and the chairs we sit in are larger—the Jack and the Beanstalk line of furniture. Our houses have grown larger, too. Note the high vaulted ceilings. Lovely. But who breathes up there? Nobody. Which is why you have to buy a large fan to force down large masses of heated air to warm the people sitting in the large chairs at the large table eating large portions off large plates with large flatware.

Is this what they meant by living large?

 

 

 

 

 

No Caesar salad on this list, but it rules!

The humble shopping list has finally been venerated to its rightful place in history. Archaeologists have discovered mundane lists written on shards of pottery dating back to 600 B.C. The lists may give new insight as to when books of the Old Testament were written, ancient literacy levels and, most importantly, what people were picking up on the way home from work.ancient grocery list

Is there anything as revealing as a shopping list? One of the ancient lists includes “wine, flour and oil.” This tells us that people centuries ago were drinking heavily, consuming carbs and fueling high cholesterol, which answers the question, “What would you do without the internet?”

It is a wonderful affirmation of humanity to learn that people have been making shopping lists for centuries. I, for one, always make a list before going to the store. Sometimes I even remember to take the list with me.

No doubt it would be harder to forget the list if it were written on pottery shards able to pierce my clothing or handbag and leave deep puncture wounds in my flesh. Perhaps those B.C. shoppers were onto something.

Often I leave the list on the counter, lose it in my purse or forget it in the car. I will find a crumpled list a month later and read it out of curiosity, only to discover that we are dreadful creatures of habit needing the same old wine, flour and oil again and again.

It appears the ancients had the same things on their lists over and over as well. One list called for “three baths of wine” and another for a “full homer of wine.” The lists appeared to be for items meant for delivery to a Greek mercenary outpost—their strategy being if they could keep them supplied with libations, they could keep them fighting. But hopefully not among themselves.

The most fun I ever had unearthing an ancient shopping list was when I put on a coat I hadn’t worn in several years and found a list in the pocket along with a twenty dollar bill. It was such an exhilarating discovery that sometimes I put on every coat in the hall closet hoping for a repeat discovery. Sometimes I even put on other people’s coats.

The ancient shopping lists recently unearthed appear to be written by men for men. I would venture to say that today it is women who most often write shopping lists for men. Few things are more dangerous than writing a short list for a hungry man. Write a shopping list for two dozen eggs and a hungry man will come home with two full grocery bags, both of which will be filled with nothing but tortilla chips, all things ranch and Sriracha. Lists were made to be broken.

This recent discovery is heartening on yet another front to those of us making the same old lists and often losing them. We are creating work for archaeologists of the future.

“Milk, lettuce and chicken breasts.” Wonder what they’ll make of it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E-books or print, same old story

There is no better way to stir a crowd than by asking whether they prefer reading books in print or books on a screen.

Lovers of paper will hold their noses high and claim there is nothing quite like holding a book in hand. You can highlight, underline, make notes in the margins and remember whether something you want to find later was on the left or the right.

Lovers of screens will hold their noses even higher and counter that they can make notations on downloads as well, and perform search and find functions.

Lovers of paper will then pull out the heavy guns and say, “Ah, but you can’t enjoy the smell of a book on a screen.”

Lovers of screens will snicker and say, “Ah, but the smell of a book is nothing more than the smell of must and mildew—for which there are numerous remedies you could read online.” With the ball in their court, lovers of screens will boast that they can carry an entire library on their person.

Lovers of books will say, “I thought you looked heavier.”

Lovers of books will question whether the lovers of screens value quantity over quality. At this point, you, having successfully stirred a heated debate, should excuse yourself to the appetizer table.

Personally, I am firmly in the camp that straddles the fence. I do the majority of reading online, but have a fondness for words on paper in my hand.

On my bedside table is a stack of theologians, philosophers, humorists and essayists—Audubon, Toqueville, Thurber and Twain. On the husband’s side of the bed there is no table. His stack builds from the floor up, books about photographers, artists, painters, the history of wars and the history of historians. I’ve said when his pile passes the height of the chair rail, he must thin the stack.

The man would sooner raise the chair rail than thin the stack.

Our grown children came of age with the digital revolution and the dawn of social media, yet they all prefer books in print. A Pew study recently found that the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29.

Of course, another study disputed the Pew study and said readers ages 18 to 29 just think they like books in print, but actually prefer reading in digital form.

At this conflicting juncture, the only thing for any of us to do is print out the study we find most disagreeable and then tear it up. It won’t change anything, but it is wildly satisfying to hear the sound of paper ripping.

The best selling point for traditional books is that they are cordless—the one thing we never need plug in at night. A book doesn’t go off, beep, chime or make noises of any sort.

A book is a quiet comfort. A book in hand becomes an extension of you, speaks to you, lulls you and quiets you. It slowly leaves your hands, nestles in the bed or tumbles the floor.

I rest my case. And my book.

 

 

 

 

 

No debate over cutting the cable

We officially became cord cutters—people who cut their cable television service. There are two types of cord cutters: those who are young and cool and hip and would rather livestream everything and those who are looking to save a buck.

Go ahead, guess which category we fall into.

I’m not saying the cost of cable is high, but we figure that with the savings we can take a nice three-day weekend trip somewhere. Or fund our retirement.

The truth is, our most recent cable service never worked. The television constantly froze and dropped the signal. It took the cable provider only a year and a half, three different modems and five line techs to our house to determine that the company never should have sold us cable, as we are 600 feet beyond their service range.

Being fairly easy going, we grew used to the cable signal intermittently dropping. It gave us time to do other things, like tidy up the kitchen, put in a small vegetable garden and read “War and Peace.” But the final straw was when the cable went out during the finale of Downton Abbey. We were left hanging. We’ll never know if Lady Mary was ever finally able to dress herself.

The only other itsy bitsy drawback to being cord cutters is that we may be getting a visit from Homeland Security. I wanted to watch the presidential candidates debate the other night (a glutton for punishment) and I found someone livestreaming them on YouTube.

When I eventually started paying close attention, I noticed a small inset screen in the top left of the big screen. It was the guy livestreaming the debates. He was crouched behind an open laptop, chain smoking and glaring. On the wall behind him were framed certificates I couldn’t quite make out, a flag of unknown origin and a large gun.

Suddenly, the man made the debate go small screen and he became large screen and began cursing a blue streak at the debaters.

“What’s going on in there?” the husband asked me from the next room.

“It’s not me,” I yelled. “I swear. No, I don’t swear. It’s not me swearing, it’s the man who used to be in the little picture, but is now in the big picture.”

“He sounds like an anarchist,” the husband yelled.

“I think he is. You should see his wall!”

Quickly, I tried to close down the livestream. I closed out the screen, but I could still hear the man ranting. I went from screen to screen, reopened and reclosed screens, but he was still yelling. (The man on YouTube, not the husband.)

“Shut that down,” the husband said.

Frantically, I clicked on screens. Closed them, opened them, closed them again.

“Override him with those old movies you’ve been watching. Do something.”

More clicking, more ranting. Eventually I disconnected from the site, but probably not before cyber intelligence took note of our ISP and labeled us as followers of the anarchist.

We’re going to put off the three-day weekend. We may need the cable savings for legal fees instead.