From rhubarb to dog biscuits, there’s a day for it

I know your schedule is full and I don’t mean to add to the pressure, but I’m guessing you missed National Compliment Day. You did, didn’t you? Me, too. Even though I received several press releases reminding me, I forgot to give five compliments in order “to make the world a better place.”

My money has always been on a strong national defense to make the world a better place, but a timely compliment can’t hurt either. “That’s a sharp shirt you’re wearing, President Putin!”

We have had such a proliferation of awareness campaigns and designated days that we now have some months that should be lasting for three years. We have far more special days, weeks and months than we have calendar.

The good news is, if you miss one special day or month you can always catch the next one. You may have missed National Compliment Day, but you can still jump on board for National Banana Bread Day, February 23. Of course, Banana Bread Day is also National Dog Biscuit Day. Don’t wait. Pick one and make your party plans now.

You also might want to make room in your calendar for: National Deviled Egg Day, National Paint Day, National CarKeeping Day, Rhubarb Pie Day and Irish Coffee Day.

Please, tell me you didn’t miss Correct Posture month. Of course you did. Look at you slouching.

Some of the days, by virtue of their calendar placement, are problematic. March 30 is Turkey Neck Soup Day. It seems like that one should be in November, but I’m no expert on turkey necks. Well, except for the one I began growing at age 50.

August is Don’t Be a Bully Month, which is all well and good, but when you designate one month as the month not to do something, aren’t you sending a message that the other 11 months in the year may be acceptable? Don’t bully in August, but March or April might be fine.

This is similar to Poverty in America Awareness Month. Think about poverty for 30 days, then go back to whatever it was you were doing. Obviously, this is called Unintended Consequences. There’s probably a month for that, too.

Other special months are simply obscure and, for obvious reasons, do not get a lot of publicity—like National Constipation Month. Did you know about it? Better yet, did you want to know about it?

There seem to be so many things I’d rather not know about today, yet so many others are intent on informing me. If I were to add a special day to the calendar, it would be Thanks, But No Thanks Day. This would be a day when telemarketers, purveyors of junk mail, PR firms and email spammers took the day off and refrained from contact. I’m smiling just thinking about it. I think it would be my second favorite day on the calendar next to Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

Ma and Pa visit “Little House on the Property”

We had dinner out the other night. That’s out as in outside—in the playhouse. The husband built the playhouse when our children were preschool age. It has served as a fort, a bank, a drive-through, a bakery, a jail, an orphanage and sometimes even as a playhouse.

All of the preschool grands have been immersed in the “Little House on the Prairie” books. A couple of them were here and thought it would be fun to eat in the playhouse, which to them looks a lot like the Ingalls’ cabin.

Pa strapped on his boots, I secured my apron and the little ones began darting between the big house and the little house carrying supplies, swinging lanterns, toting dishes. One of them dropped the tableware, but since we don’t have livestock in the backyard we said, “Just pick it up, it’ll be fine.” I carried out a Dutch oven of spaghetti and wondered if Ma ever made spaghetti.

We squeezed around the little table and thanked God for hot food on a cold night. Then the milk spilled.

Ma dashed back to the main house for an old flour sack for cleanup. Actually, Ma grabbed a roll of paper towels. Paper towels would have revolutionized homesteading. If I am ever a homesteader, I will need paper towels.

Ma returned with an old Brawny flour sack, sopped up the milk and sat down just as the flame in one of the lanterns went out.

“Maybe we can make do with one lantern,” Pa said.

“But it was better with two,” the girls said. You wanted to Little House rough it, Ma thought. Ma kept it to herself. However, Ma did suggest that Pa show the kids how to rub two sticks together to make a flame to relight the lantern. Pa shot Ma a look. Ma wondered if Charles Ingalls got testy in the Big Woods.

Ma shoved back from the little table, crawled out through the little door and headed back to the main house for stick matches. Ma returned with an extra large aim-n-flame. This happens when you send a 21st century woman to do a frontier woman’s job.

Laura, or maybe it was Mary, spilled spaghetti all over her jacket and thought she was messy. “Messy happened a lot on the prairie. Pick it off and throw it back in your bowl. The Ingalls family did that all the time.”

They seemed satisfied.

Everyone was hunkering near the lantern, seeking a bit of warmth, when wildlife announced itself.

“Hoo! Hoo!” rang in the dark.

Laura and Mary’s eyes nearly popped out of their heads. We opened the shutters and looked around. Nothing but a crescent moon tucked behind a thin strand of clouds.

“Hoo! Hoo!”

Shivering, we gathered our dirty dishes. Ma grabbed the lanterns, Pa latched the shutters and we all headed for the main house. No owls, but we were welcomed by light, heat, plumbing and more paper towels.

It was good to homestead. If only for dinner.

Promotional gimmicks bare the bizarre

The husband was having morning coffee at his laptop when I asked if he heard Madonna was in the news again.

“She’s in the nude again?” he asked, without looking up.

“No, she’s in the news. But she could be in the nude, too. I don’t know. They’re kind of one and the same for her, aren’t they?”

“Oh, that’s right,” he said. “I heard she did something to her face.”

“She tied it all up in leather. And then she posted pictures of famous people with their faces tied up in leather—Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.”

“Why did she do that?”

“She’s promoting an album—and when you’ve already promoted yourself by showing everything you have to show, shaking everything you have to shake, and your cone bra is so old it’s headed for the Smithsonian, the only thing left to do is tie up your face. And if you don’t get a big enough reaction tying up your own face, then you start tying up faces of religious icons and civil rights leaders.”

“She’s not claiming they sing with her, right?” he said.

“No, it’s just Madonna being Madonna. I think if we all give her a nod, we can move on.”

“Move on to what?” he said.

“Justin Bieber. He’s in the news again, too.”

The husband was silent.

“I knew you’d be excited,” I said. We both yawned. Then we high-fived each other and the husband made toast.

“Bieber is under contract as an underwear model for Calvin Klein,” I said. “I wonder how that looks on a resume?” the husband asked.

“Maybe it’s the kind of thing you work in during the pre-interview chitchat,” I said. “You know, ‘I have dynamic business experience in the music industry. I can take your company to the next level with my background in special events and I can model underwear.’”

“If someone walked up to you at a park and said that, you’d call the police.”

“Naw, I’d probably pepper spray ‘em. Bieber’s already met the police,” I said.

“ I wonder what human resources does with credentials like that?” the husband asked.

“Probably flags them as potential lawsuit material. Bieber said he’s officially part of a legacy.’”

“Wearing boxer shorts now constitutes a legacy?”

“Apparently. Seems philanthropy, personal sacrifice, public service, devotion to family and friends just aren’t what they used to be. That’s sure something, isn’t it? A guy thinks walking around in his underwear will be a lifetime achievement.”

Nothing to see here, folks. Nothing at all. Move along, move along.

Genuine friendships can be genuinely mysterious

The seeds of friendships often grow in mysterious ways.

The friendship with one of my dear friends began years ago when a mutual friend, a young man with a lovely wife and two small children, was diagnosed with cancer. She often cared for their children and saw that the family had meals; I sometimes watched the children as well and lent a hand. Our mutual friend died, but a new friendship lived.

One of my oldest friendships began near an information table at the back of a small church. A woman recognized us as new (that bewildered look on my face wasn’t hard to read), introduced herself and invited us to her home. Over the years we have been welcomed into their home as well as their family.

I met one of my best friends in the neighborhood at the corner one day while taking the kids for a walk. She was walking with her children and said, “You bought that house down the block, didn’t you?” I was puzzled a stranger knew where I lived. “We were interested in that house,” she said, “but you were faster making an offer.” If you like the same house, you’re going to like a lot of the same other things as well.

You never know. A random meeting. A casual hello. An introduction.

I never would have known that an older man from North Carolina who emailed me a decade ago would become a genuine friend. He sent a note of consolation responding to a column about my mother dying. Later, from time to time, he would forward interesting reading material, consumer tips, links to engaging talks or presentations he had attended.

He is a remarkable man—retired military chaplain, constant learner, voracious reader. He grew up hard, with a suffering that yields compassion—genuine compassion—the authentic kind, not the made-for-TV kind.

One day the phone rang and a gravelly voice with a rich southern accent greeted me. He’d read a column I wrote about my nephew who lost his sight and had gotten a guide dog. He wanted to send a small check to that young man, a total stranger. “Enough to cover a big bag of dog food,” he said. I refused. He persisted. “I want him to know someone in North Carolina is thinking of him and praying for him.”

My friend is a dog lover, too, sharing space with Bucky, who weighs in at 73 pounds. So once in awhile, out of the blue, a check for dog food travels cross country. Daniel knows my nephew can easily provide for his dog, but money is not the point. The point is Daniel enjoys giving. And encouraging.

Whenever we speak by phone, I can count on Daniel asking me to do him a favor and look up Luke 6:38. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

Of the great things we often dream of and aspire to, extending the hand of friendship and small kindnesses may be among the truly greatest.

The Twelve Days of Flu Seas’n

The entire family has endured a one-two punch this flu season. First it was the “Lose 4 Pounds in 24 Hours” bug that flattened us like dominoes. Just when the last one recovered, along came the “Knock You On Your Back High Fever” bug. So many bugs, so few exterminators. In the event the flu has not hit your family yet, I have set our cautionary tale to song. Take heed. And a face mask.

On the first day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the second day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the third day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the fourth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me trashcan by the bed, flat 7UP, two Tylenol, and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the fifth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a temp of one-oh-three. Hand sanitizer, three cans of Lysol, two dozen face masks and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the sixth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me sprints to the bathroom and a temp of one-oh-three. Head in the toilet, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the seventh day of flu seas’n my true love sighed to me “Digital thermometer, salt water gargle, when will this end?” Hand sanitizer, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the eighth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a trip to MedCheck, report on the family, muscle aches and chills, a temp of one-oh-three. Hand sanitizer, flat 7UP, two Tylenol, and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the ninth day of flu seas’n, my true love gave to me respiratory gunk, antibiotics, news the kids all have it, muscle aches and chills, a temp of one-oh-three. Wadded up tissues, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the tenth day of flu seas’n my true love said to me: “They’re sniffling in Chicago, puking in Missouri, sick as dogs in Tennessee.” Rumbling in the tummy, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the eleventh day of flu seas’n my true love snarled at me: “Where’s that vaporizer, blast those antibiotics, what good was that MedCheck, you’re still lethargic, here’s an extra blanket and why are you still one-oh-three? That cough is horrific, 7UP is sick’ning and cover your face when you sneeze!”

On the twelfth day of flu seas’n my true love said to me: “You’re no longer chilling, your temperature is normal, you look healthy to me. But I’m feeling dizzy, my head is hurting, my stomach is churning, how can this beeeeeee?”

Most wonderful time of the year — the end

Before we turn to a new calendar page, 2014 merits a look back at some of the least important stories, which means they won’t be nearly as depressing as the really important stories. At best, a look at the lighter side may provide some comic relief; at worst, you may conclude things really are as bad as you thought.

It was a good year for bacon lovers who celebrated the debut of Naked Bacon Cooking Armor. It’s a red contraption that looks like Superman’s skivvies. Diehard bacon lovers who enjoy cooking in the nude and can now cook fully protected. Well, not fully, but you know. What a relief.

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, giving a new nuance to “Rocky Mountain High.” Residents say the average speed on the interstate is now 30 mph—and that’s in the high-speed lane.

Flappy Bird became one of the most downloaded free games generating $50,000 a day in ad sales according to the game’s Vietnam-based developer Dong Nguyen. The game was not only highly popular but, for many, highly addictive. Feeling guilty over the addictive nature and overuse of the game, Nguyen removed it from the market.

Eighty-nine-year-old Delores Dennison of Ohio attended her first prom this past spring. Her 19-year-old great-grandson knew she’d never been to a prom, so this knockout Eagle Scout invited her to his. Delores wore a blue dress and carried a small clutch with her nitro and puffer. Austin led his great-grandma to the dance floor, where he surprised her with a song he had chosen for the occasion. “I Love the Kisses of Delores,” is a song Delores’ husband used to sing to her.

George Prior, 50 (old enough to know better), began drinking 10 cans of Coke every day for a month to see how it would affect him. He gained weight. Shocker. Hey, George, if someone suggests you repeat that with a fifth of whiskey, don’t do it.

The day before Thanksgiving, a female passenger boarded an early morning US Airways flight with her emotional support pig. Yes, you read that right. Turns out the pig was more emotional than supportive. The pig began squealing and then relieved itself on the floor. Passengers objected. The flight crew directed the passenger to deplane and that little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home.

In November, 17-year-old Abby Snodgrass made news in a Missouri Wal-Mart when she heard associates talking over a radio about someone needing CPR in electronics. She raced over, saw an 11-month-old not breathing and began doing CPR for children, which she had just learned in health class. The baby revived. Rarely does a Wal-Mart shopper see such stellar customer service.

A television anchor in Sydney, Australia revealed that he wore the same blue suit every day for a year on air and nobody noticed. Upon hearing this news, seven out of 10 married men turned to their wives and said, “I told you I could wear these pants another day.”

As we say goodbye to 2014, it seems appropriate to quote one of the characters from “Frozen,” Disney’s highly successful licensing darling, “Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!”

Shepherds often cast in baa-d role

One of my favorite hidden-camera gags is of high school students called to the counselor’s office to learn the results of their career aptitude tests.

The first student entered the office and took a seat. The counselor said the results were clear-cut as to what career path the student should pursue.

The student was immediately attentive and sat up straight.

The counselor said, “Shepherd.”

Not a single student, when informed they were suited to be a shepherd, fist bumped the counselor, asked about starting pay or a benefits package. Silence. Each and every one was dumbfounded.

I’m not sure the role of shepherd is terribly popular anywhere. Even in Christmas pageant settings, parents of the kids who play Mary and Joseph will gladly point out their star. Parents of shepherds tend to go mute. Let’s be honest here—even sheep have more lines than shepherds. Baa.

Off stage and across pasture lands, sheep are greasy and smelly. Wet wool is matted, dirty and mangy.

Sheep not only bump into you, they constantly bump into each other. Lacking fangs, talons, a powerful roar or amazing speed, they flock to protect themselves. It is their only and best defense. Unless, of course, they flock together and walk off a 50-foot cliff like 1500 sheep did in Turkey several years ago.

Sheep also have a reputation as, well, not very bright. This is why you occasionally read groundbreaking studies claiming sheep may actually have intelligence. The journal Nature reports that sheep may be as good as humans at distinguishing faces in a crowd. Yes, three out of five sheep can pick out a Kardashian on Rodeo Drive.

Tending sheep is for a select few. The wages and resources for sheep herding are better today, but even now a sheep herder must be rough and gritty, able to endure harsh elements, loneliness and a good measure of frustration.

The role of the shepherds in the Christmas narrative has always been a marvel. The announcement of Christ’s birth could have been delivered to anybody—the rich, the powerful, the established class, those in the know with name recognition and good connections. But the news was delivered to shepherds—rough and rugged men with little money, no power and no status. They were working class, without wealth or social pedigrees.

The shepherds have been polished and refined over the years, now often appearing in crèche sets, on cards and in romanticized paintings with neat and clean robes, trimmed beards and a peaceful countenance. In reality, their clothes were worn and tattered and bore the smell of sweat and hard work. Their beards were probably matted and the looks on their faces were likely ones of bewilderment—dumbfounded, just like the kids in the counselor’s office.

The news of Christ’s birth not only came first to lowly shepherds, the one born in the manger grew to be like them, lowly and humble, known as the Good Shepherd.

I like that the news of Christ’s birth came to ordinary people first, to the everyday man with universal struggles and universal hopes and dreams. It still does.

Fantasy Christmas gifts within everyone’s budget

Two years ago Christmas Eve, I received a log cabin in Maine, a day at a spa and a vacation in Italy.

Snowy log cabinWe gave two of our kids brand new mini-vans, one of our sons-in-law an NFL franchise and our daughter-in-law a full-size washer and dryer.

The husband got a bookstore and his own newspaper chain.

It was a good Christmas, all right—and so economical. Nothing cost a dime. They were fantasy gifts. Few things are more fun than spending imaginary money. This must be what it feels like to be an elected representative in Washington.

We’re back to buying a few gifts this year, primarily for the pitter-patter of little feet. Try explaining fantasy gifts to the preschool crowd. Gift giving can be a source of angst, but what’s a holiday without some temporary insanity?

My mother used to keep a tally to make sure things were even at Christmas. I was puzzled by her compulsion and thought her scorecard was completely unnecessary, yet here I sit with an Excel spreadsheet open before me.

Nobody has ever played that “you like him best” card, nor can I imagine any of them doing so, but maybe it’s because I’ve kept things even by keeping a tally over the years. And if I hadn’t kept a tally, maybe things wouldn’t have been even and, well, it’s all a vicious cycle.

One of the grandkids has come in $4 behind the rest of the grandkids. I could pick something up online but shipping would put the kid $6 ahead of the others. I could even things out by getting the other six some trinket they won’t want, need or would look at a second time, but why add to the junk pile?

A couple of 2-liters would even the score, but who gives Mountain Dew to toddlers?

They’re all too young to chew gum.

Socks. Oh that’s exciting. Just call me Sock Grandma.

Maybe a new toothbrush and a little toothpaste. Toothbrush Grandma. She’s right up there with Sock Grandma.

It would be a whole lot easier to let a disparity stand, then if someone noticed just say, “That’s right, you’re my favorite this year. The rest of you need to try harder.”

Of course, I could be looking at this from the wrong angle. Why add to the trove to even the tally when you can subtract?

“Yes, some of you are missing the yellow and orange from your new box of crayons, but Grandma took them out to keep things even.”

The ace in the hole is my backup plan: “Listen kids, that doll might not have any clothes and Grandma may have taken the wheels off that truck, but she went a little crazy trying to keep things even. What do you say next year we bag this gift thing and all head to Grandma’s cabin in Maine?”

We’ll drive those new mini-vans we got your parents a few years ago.

How to ruin an apology with an excuse

Being a person who routinely plans ahead for things, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize.

Granted, I have not done or said anything patently offensive to any demographic, large or small—and please forgive the size references, no offense intended—but in light of today’s super-sensitive climate it’s just a matter of time, so I’d like to apologize now and be done with it. That is, unless you are offended by me being proactive and in that case I am sorry that you are offended.

If at any time, in any way, I have made or do make comments that offend, or might possibly offend you, your friends, your family, your co-workers, your pets, the guy who sold you your car, the person who styles your hair or the sales clerk who said you look good in graphic print leggings, then for that I apologize.

That said, if I make comments and you are not offended, why don’t we get together for a drink? I’m sorry, that could be offensive. What I meant to say was, why don’t we share a bag of kale chips?

Please know that my behavior can be erratic due to hunger, sleep deprivation or a barrage of the latest headlines. While I would never try to excuse my behavior, let me just say that mistakes can be made, timelines can be off, communication can fail, files can be lost and emails can be deleted. If somehow through my actions you are offended, your job placed in jeopardy or your reputation besmirched and you think I was responsible, then for that I am sorry. If not, then we’re good, right?

The important thing is that we learn from the past as we look forward to the future. Why not put any and all potential misunderstanding behind us right now by holding hands and sharing a moment that hopefully will lead to a group hug. That’s right, lean in.

No, don’t. I apologize to those of you who found that suggestive.

Don’t lean in; stay where you are. Step back. A little farther, please. Thank you.

I apologize to those of you who have been hurt by what you now sense to be a certain distance I have put between us.

Please allow me to acknowledge fault where acknowledging fault would be appropriate. Know that as I acknowledge fault where acknowledging fault is appropriate, I will take full and complete responsibility for my actions by throwing my chief of whatever under the bus and immediately firing my PR team. As you can tell by my sincerity—and the tear in my left eye—there is absolutely no need for litigation.

While I can neither confirm nor deny anything, I speak from the heart when I say if you were hurt due to having a bad day, being keenly self-absorbed or suffering from a social media-induced narcissism and believing the world revolves around you and your quirks and predilections, then for that I am sorry.

Truly, truly sorry.

Welcome to the jail, cell

With the family gathering for the holidays, I thought it only polite to alert them that they could be doing jail time. OK, so maybe the family won’t be doing jail time, but their cell phones might.

I got a jail in the mail. Seriously. It’s a little jail cell, a 10-inch cube. It’s plastic with two lock buttons, jail bars and everything. It even has bunk beds and four upright chairs. My jail came in a box from Foresters, an international financial services provider.

It’s an adorable jail and you should get one, too, but Foresters doesn’t sell them. They send them out to media types to promote the idea of enhancing family well-being by committing to putting down your cell phone for at least an hour at every family gathering. It’s a good idea. A sound investment. They’ll see a big return on this one. Bull market all the way. Sorry, sometimes I can’t stop.

Foresters also commissioned a Harris poll, which found that people were most annoyed by family members using devices at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I didn’t think those findings were all that disturbing considering how many people find family members themselves annoying at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So now that I’ve got a little jail, if someone is rude with a cell phone during the holidays, I will confiscate the device (wish me luck), deposit it in the jail and hit the lockdown button which says, “We find you guilty of disruptions, interruptions and distractions. Lock it up!”

I like it. And yet, I look at my little jail and all I can think of is Johnny Cash and “Folsom Prison Blues.” I suddenly have an urge to wear black.

I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen a landline since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in cell phone prison, and tones keep beepin’ on

Yes, this will be the holiday season of “You do the crime, you do the time.”

You have the right to put your device on mute. Any text you send can and will be held against you. You have a right to a recharging station; if you cannot find a recharging station, one will be provided for you.

Of course, with jail comes the inevitable jail break. You don’t need a file in a cake to bust out of this one, more like a stir stick in a Starbucks. Actually, you just snap the lid off the jail and the contraption starts yelling, “Alert! Alert! Breakout in progress!”

The peculiar thing is, in our family the younger generation is pretty good about detaching from devices. It is my media-driven husband and myself who are sometimes reminded by preschool-age grandchildren (coached, of course) that cell phones are inappropriate during family time.

I think I know who’s going to be doing time. At least we won’t be alone.

I hear that ring tone wailing, I hang my head and cry.