Finders, but not keepers

I have a knack for finding money and things. It’s not like it would be worth following me around because I find great treasures, but it is often more than chump change.

I found $8 on a shelf at a craft store once. The bills looked like they’d been rolled up in the hand of someone who didn’t want to bother with a wallet. I asked the manager to announce over the speaker that some money had been found. She said, “If I do that, everybody in here will charge up front.”

She suggested that she take it and ask the employees if any of them lost it. I declined. She suggested that the money belonged to the store since it was found in the store. I suggested the money belonged to me because I had it in my hand. I left my phone number in case anyone reported losing money. Nobody ever called, so a few weeks later I gave it to some boys at the grocery store manning a fundraiser table.

I found $5 in a gravel parking lot at the fair once. It probably fell out of someone’s pocket when they were fishing for car keys. The husband and I bought an elephant ear figuring the money came to the fair and that way it stayed at the fair.

One time I found a Hello Kitty coin purse at a sparsely populated New Jersey outlet mall. Ten minutes later I saw a forlorn little girl about 7 and asked if she lost a coin purse. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree. It was a great moment, until her mother started unloading on her for being irresponsible. An older sister mouthed thanks while the mom was still railing.

One of my more valuable finds was a new iPhone in the middle of a busy intersection one Saturday morning. The phone was locked, so I had to wait for an incoming call to identify the owner. A woman called with picture ID, and the name on the screen was a derogatory term for the phone owner’s mother. The mom was glad to pick up the phone. Her son had a few more calls before she got here (I didn’t answer) from girls with picture IDs that looked like bad news. If the girls called again while the mom had possession of the phone, I’m guessing the young man wasn’t going to be that happy to see his phone. Or his mom.

Last spring I nearly ran over a weed eater in the middle of a side street during a pounding rain. It turned out to be a commercial Weed Eater worth nearly $400. The ink on the tag had run in the rain, but the city and first letter of the business were legible. The business owner was ecstatic someone tracked him down and picked it up that night. In thanks, he offered to later trim a tree, but he never did.

It’s satisfying when you can reunite someone with something they have lost. I’d do it full-time if I could, but there’s no money in it and the finds are few and far between.

Going toe-to-tail with a mouse

I went nose-to-nose with a mouse last week and I’d rather not say who won.

I was taking a meal to a friend recovering from knee surgery when my cell rang.

“There’s a dilemma,” she said, “and it involves you. My cat found a mouse and I don’t know how you feel about cats with mice, although I have the impression you are afraid of bugs.”

“Your impression is wrong,” I said. “Bugs are afraid of me.” I used to be afraid of bugs, but I flipped that equation after I was bitten by a brown recluse. My new philosophy is simple: get them before they get you.

“I’m not afraid of bugs and I will get the mouse, but there may be screaming.”

The mouse was under the ‘fridge when I arrived. The cat was standing guard, slowly swishing its tail. I tried to shove a broom handle beneath the ‘fridge to force surrender, but there were too many coils. My friend pulled up a chair at the table and I pulled a chair beside the ‘fridge, armed with a plastic box as my trap.

It was a good plan, but like most plans, it didn’t go according to plan.

As we were chatting, the mouse poked his head out. I knelt down on the floor in front of the ‘fridge and angled the box to create a no-escape trap. The mouse ventured out farther and I slammed the box down, closed my eyes and internalized a scream. (An internalized scream sounds like a car that won’t turn over in 20 below weather.) Unfortunately, the only thing inside the box was the mouse’s tail, still attached to the mouse, which was now spinning its little legs in an attempt to escape. (More internal screaming.) The cat just sat.

Meanwhile, I had the impression my friend was going soft on the mouse. “Don’t you dare name it,” I said. “Once you name it, this is over.”

The mouse crawled up on the broom handle I’d used earlier and we were now eyeball to eyeball. If I’d wanted to – and I didn’t—I could have grabbed it with my teeth.

I yelled that I needed something else to get the mouse. My friend hustled over, as fast as her post-surgery self could, and a spatula descended over my shoulder.

“A spatula? This is a MOUSE not a MOUSSE! We’re dealing with one S here, not two!” She handed me another container. I lowered box two over the mouse’s body, still on the broom handle, with his tail still in box one. Despite my two-box move, the mouse escaped and shot back under the ‘fridge.

I told my friend to leave the kitchen light on and maybe the mouse would stay under the ‘fridge and not wander into her bedroom at night.

Shortly after I left, she found the mouse. It was in her bedroom basking in a patch of sunlight. The cat was sitting next to the mouse soaking up the rays as well. She said they were a cute couple. Learning from my mistakes, she got a box—and a lid—and said the mouse all but jumped in the box and helped her seal the lid. She tossed him into a field.

His name is Mortifer.

Mud prints on Hoosier Hospitality welcome mat

Many of you who read this column assume that I live in your area. I take that as a compliment. Let’s do coffee.

I actually live in Indianapolis where, until a few days ago, we were known for Hoosier Hospitality. Hoosier Hospitality is a Midwestern kindness exemplified by getting to know the greeter at Wal-Mart by name, offering jumper cables to anyone with a car hood raised, and opening doors for others wrestling packages and small children.

In recent days a firestorm over a Religious Freedom Restoration Act engulfed our state legislature and we have been anguished to see our great state smeared as a hate state. Any potentially polarizing legislation is worthy of debate—civil debate—but this debate turned into runaway disparagement. Falsehoods, fabrications and outright lies about who we are popped out faster than buds on the maples.

We’re not paradise, but we’re probably pretty similar to the people you know and the place where you live—with the slight exception that we may be more likely to bring a loaf of banana bread when someone new moves into the neighborhood.

We haven’t recognized ourselves in recent days. We’ve been portrayed as low-IQ buffoons who can barely string a compound sentence together, let alone tie our own shoes. For the record, we do have electricity, running water and indoor toilets.

Some of the chatter has made it sound like we offer welcome packets at the state line with tips on hating puppies and kittens and guidelines for taunting the disabled and infirmed.

We’ve been slandered, maligned and unfairly portrayed as bigots, unfit for business. As companies, organizations and activists jockeyed to cover their backsides and denounce us, it quickly escalated into a contest to pile on and smear. We’ve even been mocked by a graham cracker.

It hasn’t mattered one bit whether the trash talk was true or not; all that mattered was that the fire burned brighter and the flames leaped higher.

It has been a surreal and stunning experience. A lot of us have been wondering whatever happened to truth.

Truth was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail on this one. She was trampled by lies, hypocrisy and hysteria fueled by “deep thought” social media. Yeah, complex issues resolved in 140 characters or less. Perception trumped reality. Facts didn’t matter. It was all about cramming every person in this state into a bigoted narrative marinated in hate.

Image and reputation that took decades of vision and hard work to build were vandalized in mere days. Millions will be spent repairing the damage and it won’t be a quick fix.

For now, there’s a lingering disbelief. It all happened so suddenly. It was like being sucked into the path of a tornado as we went from everyday people to pariahs within minutes. Those winds had the distinct feel of tyranny. That’s a specter you don’t forget.

Why does any of this matter to you? Because it was us and our good name this time, but it could be you and yours next.

Easter reflects new life, second chances

She’s tiny and light on her feet, darting about like a butterfly that never lands for long.

Bubbly and outgoing, she doesn’t know a stranger—sometimes to her own peril. Boundaries are an issue. There have been calls from the teacher that she talks too much and sometimes struggles to stay on task. It was only natural that someone so effervescent would tell her classmates about the adoption and her new last name.

Her story paints a broad-brush parallel to the story of Easter, of darkness giving way to light, of pain and fear giving way to restoration and hope.

Long-time friends could have sailed the seasons of life with the sun in their faces and the wind at their backs. Their children were mostly grown; they were what we’d call “comfortable” in this life. They could have eased into the expected things that come with middle age and beyond. Instead, they trained to become foster parents and willingly entered turbulent waters.

She came to them when she was in kindergarten. It took no time at all for a judge to sever all ties with the place (it would never deserve to be called a home) from which she came. Her file revealed gut-wrenching details. The compilation of notes was sickening.

This little girl endured evil that makes sane people grieve for the world as it is. Others might have turned away from her, but they determined to never let her go.

Exercising the most radical and genuine form of love known to man, they took in a hurting stranger and made her one of their own. They promised before a judge and God to care for her, love her and provide for her. They adopted her.

Easter is a story of adoption as well. Christians believe that on Good Friday, a judge from a different realm allowed His son to endure death on the cross, becoming the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and in so doing bridging the gap between man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness.

The debt was paid and a door opened, the pathway to adoption by a Heavenly Father. He, too, is a judge, one who offers mercy, grace and the promise of new life to all who will come.

It was cloudy the day that little butterfly was adopted, but the sun broke through as they walked up the steps to the courthouse. It was a resurrection morning of sorts as she left the old behind and embraced the new. The judge was kind and gracious, posing for pictures with the newly expanded family.

Summer came and went. When she returned to school, one of her classmates asked, “Are you still adopted?”

“No,” she said, “I’m just their regular kid now.”

Grafting into a family comes with growing pains, realignments and the putting down of new roots grounded in love. As the grafting takes hold and the roots strengthen, you no longer think of yourself as adopted, but simply a member of the family.

The branch tips bud, gently unfold and once again, new life blooms.

Is playtime ever enough time?

I’ve often wondered how long a kid would play if no adult ever said it was time to (choose one): eat lunch, clean up, come inside, go potty or go to bed.

Whenever we were at a state park when the kids were young, our son never wanted to leave. Given the choice, he would always choose to go deeper into the woods, perhaps even opting to be raised by wolves should he be given the opportunity.

And yet, I always thought kids eventually would come inside on their own—say when the sun went down, coyotes started to howl or the temperature dipped. Anymore I’m not so sure.

And now history repeats itself. Give our son’s 4-year-old boy the choice between living in a temperature-controlled home with electricity, running water and a clean bed, or living in the red plastic sandbox shaped like a giant crab, and he will look at you like you are deranged for even asking.

I couldn’t find him in the backyard one day because he was in the sandbox, flat on his belly with the side of his face plastered to the sand, driving trucks over hills and mounds, creating roadways with spoons and shovels.

When it was time for lunch, he asked if he could eat in the sandbox. There is no point warning a kid who has sand covering one side of his face that sand might get in his food.

The need to play is universal at every stage of childhood.

I had an 8-month-old here the other day as I pulled sheets from the dryer and told her I would show her how to make a bed. “Ba, ba, ba, ba!” she jabbered. “That’s exactly how I feel about it, too,” I said.

I sat her on the bedroom floor and tossed a pillowcase her way. She grabbed it and held it so close to her eyes it would make an adult go cross-eyed. She batted it with her hands and then began chewing on it. I took the sheets to put on the bed and tossed a blanket beside her. She grabbed it, inspected the weave like she was a buyer for Pottery Barn, and then began gumming the tag.

“Watch it,” I said. “That could be one of those Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law tags. I’d hate to tell your mom and dad that you were arrested.”

“Ba, ba, ba!” she shrieked.

“Try telling that to the cops,” I said.

She spun on her belly, backed herself into a corner and twisted around with all of her legs and arms pointed in opposing directions. It was like watching a contortionist without having to pay full-ticket price. Five minutes turned into 10 and 15 stretched to 20.

She did more belly spins, twisted and rolled, babbled away and studied her hand at close range. She probably would have stayed there all afternoon dust mopping the hardwoods on her tummy, but you-know-who said the party was over and that we were going back downstairs.

How long would a kid play, discover and explore?

Hopefully all the way into adulthood and far beyond.

Fine line between trash and treaure

You pride yourself on being a person who is not terribly attached to earthly possessions, and then you have to part with something and feel your grip tighten.

Our oldest daughter is having trouble letting go of a red couch. If you saw the couch you’d say, “That way to the dump!”

It’s not the couch she’s having trouble letting go of as much as the memories. It was their first sofa. It has been loaded and unloaded onto moving trucks seven times. Three kids have drooled on it, dripped on it and jumped on it. It’s so worn the only way you could sell it would be in the dark, which is probably why it’s in the basement.

Yet she’s having a hard time letting go and asked if I thought that was weird.

“Completely,” I said. “You get it from me.”

When we were ready to get rid of our baby things, I sold our crib at the neighborhood garage sale. I had pieces of it in the garage and the other pieces to it still in the house. A young woman said she wanted to buy it. My throat tightened and the tears began to well. She pulled out cash and I perked up.

But by the time I returned with the other pieces to the crib, I was all out bawling. Tears, blubbering, sobbing. “Have you considered that maybe you’re not ready to sell it?” the woman asked.

“No-o-o-o,” I wailed. More sobbing. My vision was so blurred by tears that I nearly hit her with one of the side rails.

“It’s fine, really,” I cried. “Take it.”

Our attachment to stuff grows in direct relationship to the amount of time it has sat in one place. The longer it sits, the harder it is to get rid of it. You think, “Hey, we’ve hung onto it this long—it must be valuable!” As though yellowing, a layer of dust and the scent of mildew increase value.

Our accumulations of treasures expand in relation to the ever-increasing size of our houses. And when we outgrow the storage space in our homes, we pay someone else to store it. Storage unit facilities multiply faster than feral cats. There’s money to be made from people who can’t let go.

The most extreme inability to part with things has been parlayed into entertainment in the form of a television show called “Hoarders.” If an episode of that isn’t depressing enough for you, producers now offer “Extreme Hoarders.” Both of which are not to be outdone by “Storage Wars,” a show about aggressive people who bid on other people’s abandoned storage units. (Now taking opening bids on treasures stored in the attic space over our garage!)

Let the sofa go, I told my daughter. It served its purpose. You can get a new one. Give the kids some crackers and juice boxes and it will be like the old one in six weeks.

You talkin’ to me?

The odds of having an uninterrupted phone conversation with your grown children (who are now parenting your beloved grandchildren), are roughly the same as the cast of Duck Dynasty agreeing to shave their beards and wax their legs.

I was talking to one of the girls on the phone the other day when she abruptly asked, “Do you have to go potty?”

I was momentarily stunned. Perhaps she’d been watching some of those pharmaceutical commercials about problems that strike women of a certain age. I calmly said, “No, but thanks for asking.”

When talking on the phone, it is difficult to tell when a question is being directed to me or to someone else—say in the two- to five-year-old range.

“What are you doing out of bed? You’re supposed to be asleep.”

“If you thought I would be asleep, why did you call?”

Asking why I am out of bed is a close second to my all-time favorite: “Why are you crying?”

“I’m not crying. Why did you think I was crying? Should I be crying?”

Naturally, I understand our kids are often talking to their own kids, but I like to respond all the same, as it seems like more of a real conversation that way.

“We’re out of dried fruit snacks.”

“Thank goodness,” I say. “Those awful things taste like an old shoe.”

Other times we can be in the midst of discussing a matter when I receive unsolicited instructions on how to dress.

“You’ll need your coat—and zip it up!”

“But I’m not going anywhere!”

It’s not all bad. There are times I receive lovely compliments. “You look beautiful, sweetie.”

“Thank you. It’s probably that new under-eye concealer I’m using.”

Sometimes the admonitions are invigorating. “Stop somersaulting off the back of the sofa and put those cushions back on right now!” It’s wonderful to think they still think I am capable.

I also love when we are attempting to make family plans, and suddenly, with a great sense of urgency, one of them shrieks into my ear, “You didn’t put that in your mouth, did you?”

“I did,” I say. “It was an orange. There’s nothing wrong with oranges, is there? Tell me they’re not the new gluten.”

Other times I don’t take the interruptions so well and find myself getting defensive.

“Go get a tissue. You need a tissue.”

“You go get a tissue,” I snap back.

Other times our fragmented conversations are quite agreeable.

“You eat that right now! Don’t get up until you finish your plate.”

“OK, if you insist.”


Helicopter parents want to ground kids

For the past year, our social life has embodied the excitement of toothpaste.

Different work schedules, rotating work schedules, his evening work hours, my morning work hours, and out-of-town hours have meant that we are frequently ships passing in the night. Or in the kitchen. Or, worst of all, in the garage. Door up. Door down. See you soon. Did you pay the credit card?

And then it happened. My schedule lightened and the husband’s days off moved to Thursday and Friday. Our Thursdays and Fridays are now other people’s Saturdays and Sundays. It was confusing at first; we considered hanging a big flip sign by the front door saying, “Today is Monday.” All I knew for certain was that if we wanted to go to worship services together, being that our Sunday was now on Friday, we’d be evangelical Christians attending evening temple.

After a two-week adjustment, it began working for us. His Fridays off meant that the two of us could actually get somewhere at the same time, possibly even in the same vehicle. We booked five consecutive Friday nights like the rejuvenated socialites emerging from a forced hibernation.

The first week we had dinner with three other couples. It was wonderful, but somewhat jarring. We all sat at a table instead of standing at a counter. I may have said, “Pass the Cheerios,” before I realized we were having real food. Hot food. There was conversation. You said something and it wasn’t Pat Sajak answering.

Last Friday we met friends for dinner and then went to see a high school play their daughter had worked on. The play was fabulous. We drove home recounting the high points.

We walked in the house and the light on the landline was flashing, signaling that we had messages. The husband’s cell phone started ringing. I pulled my phone out of my coat pocket, took it off mute and saw a lengthy string of text messages. They all said the same thing: Where are you? Are you OK? Nobody knows where either of you are.

When our son in Chicago called earlier that evening and we didn’t answer, he called his oldest sister. She didn’t know where we were so she called their younger sister. Then the three of them had a wild Friday night leaving messages, sending texts, and speculating what might have happened to us.

“What’s the matter with you people?” I texted. “I told at least one of you we were going out.”

“I must have forgotten,” came the answer.

“That’s not my fault,” I responded.

“It is too your fault. It’s your fault because YOU NEVER GO ANYWHERE!”

They have seven small children between the three of them, but they found time to stalk their parents. Talk about people that need to get out a little more.

Pressed for a good reason to iron

A friend’s 2-year-old granddaughter was staying with her when my friend got out her iron to do some ironing.

“What’s that?” the little girl asked.

“It’s an iron,” my friend said.

The little girl studied it and then she asked her grandma to put the iron away because it was “scary.”

Irons are scary. Every time I see an iron, I want to run in the opposite direction. Ironing is my least favorite task—it vies for last place at the domestic fun park along with dusting.

How many people iron anymore? Clearly my friend’s daughter doesn’t. I know one of our daughters irons because her ironing board is always up. Come to think of it, she may just use the ironing board to hold clothes that need to be folded.

Whenever I knew my mother was coming to visit, I’d let the ironing pile for, well, let’s just say a long time. I was shameless. She’d be having a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and say, “So, do you have any ironing that needs to be done?”

“Let me check,” I’d say. Then I’d open the door to the laundry and two full baskets of ironing would topple out. I’d feign surprise and then I’d have the ironing board set up with the iron ready to go in under 10 seconds. It was a good shtick and she knew it was a shtick, but she played along. I don’t think she liked to iron either; she just liked seeing a job completed.

I learned to iron from my three great aunts who always washed on Mondays and ironed on Tuesdays. They ironed in the basement where it was cool. They let me iron their fancy handkerchiefs with delicate flowers and pillowcases with crocheted trim.

My friend says she’s never ironed a pillowcase.

If that’s the case, I tell my friend, you’ve never felt luxury.

Most people take permanent press fabrics and wrinkle-free everything as reason to stash the iron at the back of a closet and leave it there.

It’s a temptation, but I still iron pillowcases on occasion. And I still press handkerchiefs, too. I grew up when a well-pressed handkerchief was something every well-groomed man carried in his back pocket. My daughters tell me men don’t carry handkerchiefs anymore. They need to watch some old Cary Grant movies. Who knows, they might even see Doris Day ironing.

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Speech police leave some speechless

I confess I was once part of the speech police. That’s right; I had a list of banned words I imposed on others. Of course, the others I imposed my list on were our own children, all of whom were in training to become civilized human beings.

Check and done.

How fascinating that the speech police have found such a warm welcome on the University of Michigan campus with their $16,000 Inclusive Language Campaign. Bright pink posters proclaim “Your Words Matter.” One wonders if budget cuts prevented happy face posters screaming “You’re Special!”

A university campus is not populated by small children, but by high school graduates and beyond, most of whom wish to be regarded as adults. Their days of being scolded for potty mouth are in the past. Or maybe not. Maybe the speech police receive a warm welcome because it’s like having your mom go to college with you. BFF, and all that, right?

What is beyond comprehension is that college students are willingly signing pledges not to speak certain words. I don’t disagree that the words are crass. What I disagree with is kowtowing to another human being dictating what you can and can’t say.

Have these students never heard a single World War II veteran say, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”? Freedom of speech is one of the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, something those pesky Founding Fathers thought would be a good idea. And now the University of Michigan is asking students to blow their noses on the First Amendment.

Equally interesting are the words that aren’t on the banned word list. The f-word (now adaptable to all eight parts of speech), the word for a female dog (dogs have feelings, too) and either part of Ho Hos, a snack cake by Hostess. Those words are hurtful, crude and everywhere on a college campus, but they’re acceptable because they’re standard fare in the entertainment culture. Hands off the money train.

The first bad-word dictionary was issued by my alma mater, the University of Missouri, in 1990. Mike Royko, legendary Chicago columnist, penned a defiant column directed at the speech police. Using as many words as he could from the list of banned words, he made it clear that he would not go quietly into the dark night.

Few have that courage today. We go along to get along. We succumb to fear and the pressure of groupthink. We surrender basic rights and freedoms and are proud of it. We worry about threats to our freedom from beyond while threats to freedom on our own soil slowly wrap their long fingers around our necks.

There’s a word for any campaign that asks you to yield freedom. It’s a word that starts with a “b” and has an “sh” in it.


Is that word allowed? Too bad. I just used it.