These canasta players are real cards

I was in a group of women recently when one mentioned that some of them played canasta. I hadn’t heard of canasta since I was a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska and used to play it with my three great aunts in their basement to escape the heat on hot summer afternoons.

They invited me to join their group for a game sometime. I haven’t played in years, don’t remember the rules, and justifiably invite the mocking of loved ones whenever I attempt to shuffle a deck. Naturally, I said, “Sure!”

My new card-shark friends go by the names of Snake, Wild Bill, Doc and Deadwood. Not really. They actually go by Susan, Marleen, Bette and Louella. But don’t let the names fool you – they’re all aces.

We met up and they graciously went over the rules and played a few practice hands. Louella, who has a lovely southern drawl and charm to match, sweetly asked if any of it was coming back to me.

“The part about my aunts warning me to stay away from the sump pump in the basement is coming back to me,” I said, “but other than that, not a thing.”

Susan, who re-taught others the game and is my partner across the table, looked pale. And that was before we were 3700 points behind.

When our score dropped into the negative double digits, Louella took the heat off by saying the good thing about canasta is that it is more luck than skill, which means you can talk while you play.

If there’s anything women do better than trump one another at cards, it is trump one another with stories.

I started the round by asking Louella where she learned to play canasta.

She said Chattanooga, Tennessee. Then she added, “With the grandmother of my friend, Gatewood Anthony Folger.” Everybody looked at her. With a perfect deadpan expression, she continued, “Why yes, and Gatewood Anthony Folger met and married a Greek man named Stavros Papazoglou, which made her Gatewood Anthony Papazoglou.”

Louella played a good hand with that story, which reminded Bette, who learned to play canasta as a girl in Chicago with a neighbor and her grandma, that she had a college friend named Paula Penny Pecker. She later married a man with the last name of Chicken which then made her Penny Chicken.

Marleen, who had cards everywhere on the table making melds or mold (I wasn’t sure which), upped the ante by saying that her best friend Ruth knew a gal named Olive Pickle.

It was back to Bette, wasn’t about to fold. She met Marleen’s story about Olive Pickle and raised the stakes by mentioning that her last name is Fortino (pronounced four-teen-o). She said when she and her husband make dinner reservations “for Fortino,” they often arrive to find a table set for 14.

The story play passed to me. It was too rich for my blood, but I played the best I had: “My best friend from childhood went to a doctor named Dr. Savage and a dentist named Dr. Butcher.”

We were back to Louella. Without so much as cracking a smile, she said that she and her husband knew a man in Mississippi named Hap. It was short for Happy.

Long pause. Waiting, waiting.

His last name was Easter.

Louella wins.

Lost teddy nearly unbearable situation

There was a small birthday party at the house the other day. Amid the whirlwind of people leaving—with kids scrambling for shoes and jackets beneath remnants of tissue paper and toys scattered everywhere—a bear was left behind.

I didn’t know a bear was hibernating here until I was tossing plastic cookware into the little wooden cupboard and uncovered the creature sleeping under a green apron.

Not knowing whom the animal had come to the party with, I put out a BBB (Brown Bear Bulletin): “Found: small brown bear, sex and age unknown, matted coat, black beady eyes, small ears, upturned mouth and corduroy paws. Any takers?”

The owner identified her 3-year-old self and relayed a message through her mother asking if Teddy was OK.

I said the bear was fine and snapped a picture of Teddy laid out on the kitchen table.

In retrospect, I can see that the picture may have been somewhat unsettling, a bit stark perhaps if not downright cold. It may even had the hint of Teddy being prepped for surgery.

Then came a question, “What was Teddy doing?”

I could hardly say getting ready for a hernia repair, so I quickly staged a picture of Teddy to put her little mind at ease. One of the kids had stormed the house with helium balloons announcing, “You can’t hab a potty wifout bawoons!” I tethered the balloons to the bear and sent a picture saying Teddy was having fun on my desk, hoping that was the end of it for the time being.

I probably wasn’t as sympathetic to the trauma of leaving Teddy behind as I should have been. I never had a blankie or toy I held onto as a kid at bedtime, nor did any of our children. But our grandchildren do. Their cuddle artifacts of choice range from plush toys to dolls, blankets with fringed edges, worn burp cloths, locust shells in a small box and a red metal tractor. Sometimes there are so many toys, blankets and oddities in the bed there is barely room for the child.

I considered whether the child would have difficulty sleeping without Teddy, and if I should drive Teddy across town. “I don’t think so,” I said aloud looking directly at Teddy. Moments later, Teddy’s eyes began to move. If I leaned to
Ted and balloons the right, Teddy’s eyes moved right. If I leaned to the left, his eyes moved to the left. Teddy was the Mona Lisa of bears.

Teddy followed my moves as I passed in and out of the room throughout the evening, glaring sometimes, casting a “just you wait and see” look at others.

When I closed down for the night, I gave Teddy one last glance. His smile had turned to a smirk.

The next morning all the balloons that Teddy had been holding were on the ground. There weren’t any puncture marks, but I had my suspicions. I received an early call asking if Teddy was still having fun with the balloons. I explain the balloons had mysteriously deflated in the night. There was an audible gasp, followed by the silence of disappointment.

Teddy looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact.

Fine. You win, bear. I’ll take you home today.

Mass confusion only a text away

I’m not saying the lightning speed of communication is dangerous, but I was recently caught in a text thread moving so quickly that I nearly found myself committing to taking a hot dish to the home of a woman who lives 500 miles away and converting to Catholicism.

My sister-in-law sent a group text with a picture of the sun setting in a fury of orange and red in the pasture behind their house. Most in the text thread were identified to me only by phone number, but based on the area codes I had a hunch her seven siblings were among them. Someone immediately shot back:  “This is my idea of a beautiful sunset” with a picture of a pink flamingo in front of a pink sun on a beverage glass from a bar somewhere in Florida.flamingo

Being that all of us have been conditioned to immediately respond to every ding and chime, my cell began lighting up with unfamiliar phone numbers weighing in on who preferred a sunset on a bar glass to a sunset in the great outdoors. I cast my vote for a sunset outdoors. At last tally, the two were running neck and neck with a 90 percent margin for error due to the bar glass in Florida voting multiple times.

The thread abruptly changed to “Why don’t we get together at Mom’s?” Clearly, they meant my sister-in-law’s mom, but if I attempted to pull myself out of the thread with a “Don’t count on me,” it could trigger a flurry of texts demanding to know what I had against Mom. I sent a “Sounds good.”

“How about Sunday?”

I liked the way this was taking shape. And so quickly.

“How about ham?”

The only thing better than a get together on a Sunday is a get together that involves ham.

“What are the rest of you bringing?”

I started to text, “Cheesy potato casserole” when I realized it would mean an 8-hour, 500-mile drive. The casserole would be cold and congealed and I wouldn’t have time to drive home by Monday morning. I didn’t commit. I waited nervously for a text flashing, “Everybody needs to bring something!”

Instead there came a “See you all after mass.”

I couldn’t pull out now by texting that I wasn’t coming to mass, as others would ask what I had against mass. I have nothing against mass. I speak to a lot of Catholic groups and nobody gives a warmer welcome and makes you feel more at home, but I am not Catholic.

So there I was, the dangling thread who had voted against the pink flamingo on the bar glass, was miffed at Mom, refused to bring a hot dish on Sunday and had issues with the Pope. All in a matter of minutes.

I talked to one of my nephews a few days later and asked how the Sunday get together after mass was at his grandma’s. He was puzzled and asked how I knew about it.

I said a pink flamingo told me.

 

 

 

 

Uncovering the beauty of time

Sitting on the patio of an aging stucco home, shadows on the lawn begin moving as the wind threads through the trees. A leaf floats to the ground, alluding to the coming of fall. This wide patio, or porch as they often call it, was built as the centerpiece of the home. The rest of the house wraps around it on both sides, like huge stucco arms extending a hug.

The chairs have been here for some time. So have the potted geraniums in wrought iron stands. Only the people are recent arrivals. They are snacking on cheese, fruit and fresh veggies, enjoying conversations and sharing stories.fading geranium

Countless stories have been shared on this porch. Perhaps a few of them even true. Others were no doubt embellished to the delight of listeners. This is a family that puts a premium on reading, books, poetry, the classics and the Scriptures.

Screen doors on either side of the porch lead into the house. The doors are wider than today’s standard doors. They are made of drying wood, heavy screen and scrolled metal work. They were crafted long ago with an eye to durability, detail and beauty. The family that has grown here was crafted the same way, with an eye to durability, detail and beauty.

They enjoyed everyday pleasures—singing in the car, laughter at mealtime and football games on Sundays. Even the girls. The youngest, now on the verge of being an empty nester, is inside taunting some of the fellows about past games. Bursts of laughter fill the air.

When the father hit 55, his wife insisted he quit playing Sunday afternoon football with the kids. The mother never played. She was stricken with polio after the birth of their second child and before their next three. Never able to walk again, she often managed by dragging herself across the floor. She never complained. He never complained either, not about the challenges of polio, not about growing up poor, not about being a Marine on Guadalcanal, not even about being shot and bringing home a recurring strain of malaria. They were cut from a cloth that faces life head-on, all the while acknowledging the goodness of God in both joy and sorrow.

There is something familiar upon entering the house. It is the scent of time passing—stacks of old books, piles of magazines, sheet music on the piano, figurines on a shelf in a window.

The homeowner is gone today. He went to be with his Maker.

And yet, both he and his wife linger like ripples in a pond. Their lives are still evident, woven into the laughter and hearts of family and friends. They weren’t rock stars or celebrities and they won’t be remembered in history books. Yet they made a history of their own, creating simple beauty in the everyday and living faith amid the challenges of life.

That is the best remembrance of all.

 

 

 

 

It all adds up for numbers people

As I have noted before, we are all about numbers, dates and anniversaries at this house. Well, technically not “we,” more like “he.” My beloved numbers guy recently mentioned that this is the 75th anniversary of Irving Berlin writing “White Christmas” and proceeded to clip an article to that effect from a USA Today.

If you are married to a numbers person, or are a numbers person yourself, you know that any number, date or anniversary is never the end of something but merely the beginning, because all numbers, dates and anniversaries lead to more numbers, dates and anniversaries and subsequent rabbit trails that are beyond number.

Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in 1940. But because Bing Crosby recorded the song (in 18 minutes!) on May 29, 1942, the husband proceeded to tuck the clipping into the May 29th page of his 1992 journal, thereby commemorating the 50th anniversary of the recording. As he did so, he read one of the notations in his journal from May 29, 1992 that our daughters had dinner at a friend’s house. When they came home, the youngest, then 6, claimed the mother had tried to poison her by serving something called wilted lettuce.

I am assuming USA Today will update their historical archives to note the Wilted Lettuce event in addition to the writing and recording of “White Christmas.”It all adds up for numbers people

Because numbers people tend to aggregate with other numbers people (why yes, that was a numbers pun), my brother-in-law (a total numbers/dates/anniversaries guy) emailed to remind me that it was 10 years ago that Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.

I emailed back to let him know Pluto’s reclassification was nothing compared to this also being the 75th anniversary of Berlin writing “White Christmas” and the 23rd anniversary of the Wilted Lettuce event.

And now you, the reader, are probably wondering why in the world I am writing about things that happened 75, 50, 23 and 10 years ago. Because this is a warning – a warning about what eventually happens to every people person who marries into a numbers-person family. We, too, become consumed by numbers, dates and anniversaries.

Stay tuned. Next week I plan on noting the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and will hopefully be able to link it to a specific date and fascinating family event, such as when one of us purchased our 500th pair of socks.

Oh, one more thing. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” remains the best-selling single worldwide, having sold an estimated 50 million copies. There. My numbers guy was concerned I’d left a number out.

 

 

Does a minivan make you look like a wimp?

Our son and his wife just bought their first FUV. No, that’s not a typo. According to our son, an FUV is a Family Utility Vehicle.  It looks like a mini-van, drives like a mini-van and parks like a mini-van. It even says Toyota Sienna on the back—but he’s calling it an FUV.

Clearly, he is in denial. He is experiencing the first step of the four steps of grief.

Many young men today consider driving a mini-van to be an assault on their masculinity. Sure, a lot of them are particular about the scent of their deodorant and aftershave and may own as many hair products as their mothers, but owning a mini-van is an assault on their masculinity.
When we ask to take a picture of our son in front of the FUV, he exhibits signs of the second step of grief, depression. He slouches, hangs his head, looks up with a sad puppy face and says, “Go ahead and take a picture. This is me being happy.”

Click.

Our son and his wife bought an FUV because they are expecting their fourth child. Until recently, they managed by cramming three car seats in the backseat of a Toyota Camry, a remarkable feat in itself. But now they will need room for four car seats. Today, children are legally required to remain in car seats until they reach the age of 21 or 210 pounds, whichever comes first.

We help our son advance to the third stage of grief— anger—by saying, “Hey, buddy, remember when you had a Ford F150 pickup? Remember that rickety stick shift and loud muffler?” And then we have a good laugh. Hey, what are parents for?

 Still, we should probably keep that idea about getting them little stick figure family decals for the back window to ourselves. Ditto for the Baby on Board sign.

 John minivanParenthood is a continual series of adjustments. You find yourself doing all kinds of things you never dreamed you’d do before you had kids—wiping  snot with your bare hands, sniffing diapers, letting someone gum the side of your face and calling it a kiss, catching vomit, fishing toys out of the toilet and scooping doo-doo out of the tub. And maybe, one day, even driving a mini-van. Oh, the things you do for love.

 They stopped at a farm sale on the way to her parents and scored a huge tractor tire that the kids can use as a sandbox . They hauled it on their roof rack.

The fourth stage – acceptance.

 

 

Tight pants reveal more than others want to know

For being an advanced nation of theoretically intelligent people, we seem to have an inordinate number of problems with our underwear and backsides.

In recent years we have endured thongs exposed above the waistbands, sagging pants and exposed boxers and, most recently, yoga pants, which appear to have an extremely tight and long-lasting shelf life.

Yoga pants are no longer loose fitting workout pants. Today, yoga pants are like second skin – second skin that clings to your first skin revealing every contour, curve, crease, bump and ripple. In many cases, yoga pants are like a bad accident, a visual spectacle from which there is no turning away.

Yoga pants are the ultimate “Made ya look!”

Less than 3 percent of the population can pull tight yoga pants with the full behind on full display and 2.9 percent of those people are toddlers under the age of 3. If you single gals are unaware, the last person who thought your bum was adorable – and had honorable intentions – was your mother. And she was changing your diaper.

Recently, students at Cape Cod Regional Tech High School in Harwich, Mass., staged a protest over rumors the school was going to ban skin-tight yoga pants. Rationale for the protest was revealing.

Girls protesting the ban said yoga pants are comfortable.

So is belching.

Students said the ban is like women in the Middle East not being allowed to drive.

Still laughing.

Students said the ban promotes body shaming.

No, it might actually help prevent body shaming.

The classroom is a place for showing brains, talent, skills and fortitude, not every curve of your pelvic region, front and back.

I am not a fashion maven, nor do I play one on TV, but let me offer the following for females of all ages:

Just because you can fit in it doesn’t mean it fits.

A well-endowed female walking away in pants too tight looks like two pigs fighting in a sack. (Farm humor intersects fashion advice.)

Never leave home without checking your rear view.

The beauty of clothing is that it can provide an illusion of what might be, not reveal the harsh reality of what is.

Skin-tight yoga pants are a classic representation of wanting to have our cake and eat it, too. Some females wear second-skin yoga pants and leggings with their backsides, and more, fully revealed. They slink in them, strut in them and work them for attention, then spin around and scream at any male who ogles them, “You sexist pig! How dare you create a hostile environment?”

Ladies, ladies. It is only natural that shoppers assume what is on display in the meat case is for sale. Don’t market it if you’re not selling it.

Being a well-dressed man or woman is about context, knowing the appropriate time and place for particular modes of dress. How we dress is also a way of demonstrating respect and consideration for others. Of course, having a mindset that thinks of others before thinking of ourselves requires getting beyond oneself—a fine lesson for any school to teach.

Garden goodies provide a feast for little eyes

Both of our daughters put in small gardens this past spring. The planting, tending and harvesting has gone fairly well considering that they are novices. That said, if any of us were to attempt to live off of the collective produce of our small gardens, we could all expect a dramatic weight loss.

The basil has done well, but man does not live on pesto alone.

The parsley is nothing but nubs, but the rabbits are happy.

There was the promise of some beautiful beefsteak tomatoes, but the vine, heavy with fruit, crimped at the base and withered.

The youngest put in pole beans. She had a few missteps early on with planting and thinning, but she just shared a picture of the harvest via text message, “You want beans?! We got beans!!!” The beans look great — all seven of them spread on a paper towel.

green-beans-deckle

“Put us down for one,” I replied. “Your father and I can share.”

She also tried her hand with a few seed packets of zinnias, casually tossing them in the soil as she walked away. She now has a bright and cheery stand of zinnias including exquisite doubles that are a hot pink and white marble pattern worthy of a Rembrandt.

zinnia-deckled-edge

The adventure of growing anything lies in being both sadly disappointed and pleasantly surprised.

Because every kid should have the joy of harvesting potatoes at least once in childhood, I helped a few of the preschool grands plant seed potatoes earlier this spring in a cold drizzle. They (the grands, not the seed potatoes) have been ecstatic from the git-go.

A few weeks after planting, one of them flung open our front door, raced inside, and with saucer-size big eyes, yelled, “Guess what? Guess! The potatoes are growing!”

As it turned out, a thistle had sprouted, but the potato shoots weren’t far behind.

We harvested some of those potatoes the other day. I turned the plants over, they grabbed loose ones tumbling in the dirt, dubbed the tiny ones clinging to the roots the “babies,” all the while yelling, “Keep diggin’, Grandma! Keep diggin’!”

We could have wrapped those spuds in colored lights and told them it was Christmas.

There are great lessons to be learned in the garden – chief among them, how to be faithful to the process of nurture even when the outcome may be uncertain.

As for us, for years we grew raspberries and they did well. We even gave starts to several neighbors. Then our trees grew and shade overtook the raspberries. Our neighbors’ berries flourished while ours disappeared. I asked for a start from a neighbor this spring. We planted it in a sunny spot and it is doing well. If the raccoons and squirrels stay away, at last count, we will have 18 berries.

With a couple of those potatoes and that one green bean, it should be a wonderful feast.

Check out candidates’ hotel assignments

People are buzzing because Hillary Clinton, who likes to portray herself as an average American, is shelling out $400,000 for two weeks in a vacation home in the Hamptons with private grounds, a hedged-in swimming pool and sweeping views of the ocean.

Exactly where do people think a high-profile politician like Hillary should stay? Holiday Inn Express? They do have free breakfast bars attractive to families on a budget, but can you really picture Hillary at the waffle maker? (Find some syrup, Huma!)

Holiday Inn Express does offer free high-speed Internet access in every room, but no private servers. So, no, it’s not going to happen.

We Americans are a funny lot. We want candidates who are smarter than us, but we don’t want them to go around talking about how they’re so much smarter than us. We want candidates who are richer than us, but we don’t want them rubbing our noses in their money. And, apparently, we now want them to vacation like they’re middle class. Fine. I’m handing out hotel assignments right now:

Send Mike Huckabee to a Motel Six. Leave the light on. And a Bible in the drawer. He’s as close to a regular guy as any of them.

Last time I stayed at a Motel Six, which was years ago, “breakfast” was in the lobby—a basket filled with a half dozen stale sweet rolls wrapped in cellophane. Huckabee strikes me as a man who would graciously take one and even say thank you.

Carly Fiorina might be more comfortable at a Hilton Garden Inn. They’re classy, upscale and, if I remember correctly, have bathrobes hanging on the back of the bathroom door. She seems like a white fluffy robe sort of woman. Hilton Garden Inns have all the amenities, but they don’t do the communal breakfast thing. Breakfast is on your own in the restaurant, separate tables, separate tabs, no free mints.

Bernie Sanders might enjoy an elder hostel somewhere, maybe in the dorm room of a small liberal arts college. He’d also be fine with cafeteria food.

Trump doesn’t need a hotel; he already owns a bunch.

Ted Cruz could throw down at the Crockett Hotel, billed as only steps from the Alamo. It’s historic, plain and fairly reasonable. He’d be comfortable there, although I could see him bucking at the $24 self-parking fee. We sure would.

Jeb Bush doesn’t need a hotel; the Bush dynasty has a lockdown on Kennebunkport.

I’m not sure what to do with Ben Carson, Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie and the rest, but the important thing is, if we can guilt all the candidates into booking franchise hotels, it could drive down rental fees for luxury vacation homes. Maybe a few hundred of the rest of us could chip in and rent one.

Dibs on the room with the ocean view.

No dental, no medical . . . no problem

After I made a dental appointment last week, the receptionist called back to say we no longer had dental coverage.

“That’s interesting,” I said.

“Yep, and you don’t have any medical insurance either,” she said.

The dentist’s receptionist is a perky sort, so if you’re going to get bad news, she’s a good one to get it from.

“No dental or medical, huh?” I asked.

“Nope, nothing. As a matter of fact, they said your husband was terminated May 31st.”

I said thanks and that I’d call the husband at work and tell him to come on back to the house as he had been fired three months ago. Why he’d been getting paychecks was beyond me.

When I called, he couldn’t talk long because he was busy photographing a spot news story about a gas line break. He suggested I call the insurance company. I suggested he keep his distance from the gas leak, as we didn’t have insurance.

I called the insurance company and they confirmed he had been terminated May 31st. The rep then said she couldn’t talk to me without first talking to him.

For a brief moment, I wondered how all these people could be wrong. Maybe he had been terminated. Maybe he hadn’t been going to work. Maybe that wasn’t really his credit line I’d been seeing in the paper. Maybe he had another wife and another family somewhere. Maybe I had watched too many Lifetime movies on TV.

It took three hours, numerous phone calls, a lot of hair pulling and two emails with a few words in all capital letters, but the situation was resolved. He had not been terminated; someone had read the wrong line on a spreadsheet and set the ball in motion.

The fallout from being told you don’t have insurance coverage or a job is nothing compared to the people who are told they don’t have a life. Each month, Social Security mistakenly lists 750 living Americans as dead. That’s 9,000 people a year wrongly identified by the government as deceased. Once you get on the death list, it’s not easy to get off.

“Sixty Minutes” recently profiled four people who had wrongly been listed as dead. All of them had been locked out of their bank accounts and assets. One woman had been arrested and taken to jail for suspected identity theft.

Several years ago, a man in Utah mistakenly listed as dead visited a Social Security office to protest his “death” in person. The clerks wanted more evidence.

The husband and I are thankful that we are once again in good standing with insurance coverage, and that his employer once again has him listed as employed.

Oh, and for the record: we are very much alive.