Difference between collector and scavenger is negotiable

There is a world of difference between a collector and a scavenger. Or so I’ve been told. The husband says he is the former, not the latter, which is a matter we will likely continue to debate for another 30 years.

This collector penchant explains why we have one of the coolest toys ever that we constantly trip over in the garage. It is a pliable 3-inch square casing about 6-feet long.

When I asked where it came from, as he dragged it from his car one day, he was vague. When I asked exactly what it was, as he washed it off with the hose, he was vague. Collectors often are.

The point is, he immediately knew, and I never would have guessed, that this casing would make a great straightaway for Matchbox cars. Kids can drag the long floppy thing into the house (“Watch out for the clock! Don’t knock dishes off the table! Her head! Watch your sister’s head!”), prop it up on the arm of a sofa and send small cars through it. The higher you prop one end of the tubing, the faster the cars go, the more dramatic their exit, and the wilder the laughter and screaming.

To a collector, every single thing has a thousand potential uses. My collector refuses to acknowledge that even small scraps of wood are trash. To him they are the makings of a teeny, tiny fence or a teeny, tiny house or a teeny, tiny chair. I don’t know who the teeny, tiny people are, but apparently they will be coming to live with us.

Collectors and non-collectors see things through different lenses, including television programs. My collector enjoys “Antiques Roadshow,” a program where people bring treasures they inherited or had tucked away somewhere to an appraiser who puts a price on them.

“You say this shot glass was hidden in the pie safe of your great-great-great-grandmother? Well, it is obviously hand-blown glass. The markings tell us it is from the mid-1700s, similar to shot glasses used by Ben Franklin, which means it is worth $3 million.” The owner of the shot glass staggers in disbelief. My collector cheers and I, the non-collector, say, “Goodwill couldn’t sell that thing for fifty cents. It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay.”

On the other hand, I enjoy, and my collector does not, “American Pickers” where two guys in a van drop in on hoarders—I mean collectors—rummage through their stuff and buy it from them.

“Look at them ripping that guy off!” my collector fumes. “He could get so much more for it. Don’t sell!”

Meanwhile, I’m cheering, “Sell! Sell it all! Clean out that entire barn and you could have a really great party room.”

Despite fundamental differences, it is possible for a collector and a non-collector to make peace and live in harmony, albeit amid substantial clutter.

A collector will continue to acquire oddities, while the non-collector will quietly set said oddities beside the trash on garbage day and hope they will disappear. They do. Another collector has picked them up and the great collecting cycle continues.

Whatever it is I may have managed to set out, keep it. Please. I insist. From a non-collector to a collector, it is my gift to you. Except for that long hollow tube thing; we’re keeping that.

Add housekeeping to the resume

My friend who is a nurse now cleans her own office. In a cost cutting move, the powers that be reduced housekeeping services throughout the hospital. Now, in addition to scrambling to see to patients and process vast amounts of paperwork, my friend or one of her co-workers now lug a vacuum to work once a week.

It may be the nurses today, but you can be sure it will be the patients tomorrow. Soon you’ll schedule surgery and be sent pre-op instructions that say, “Please leave all jewelry and valuables at home, but do bring a broom, dust pan and toilet brush.”

Another friend, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has had his trash can taken away. Poof! One day the wastebaskets disappeared. Workers in his department were told to bring plastic bags and cardboard boxes from home and take out their own trash. Corporate America embraces no-trace camping.

Hotels also have implemented cost-cutting moves by reducing housekeeping services and staff. But aren’t hotels largely about housekeeping? If you stay more than one night, many chains now offer the option of having your room fully cleaned, partially cleaned or left untouched.

Those with housekeeping jobs are seeing hours cut and positions eliminated. They’re considered dispensable, if not downright disposable. Housekeeping has never received the respect it deserves. I say this as someone who has kept a home running, doing dishes and laundry, dusting, vacuuming, stocking the fridge, organizing closets and cabinets and tending all manners of ill health.

My nurse friend doesn’t think she’s too good to clean. She’s raised three sons; she knows a thing or two about dirt. My other friend doesn’t think he’s too high and mighty to take out the trash. He does it all the time at home. But it is one more thing that takes time away from the thing they were originally hired to do.

It is time to admit that multi-tasking is overrated. Often a job calls for focus and concentration, the ability to follow a thread and to insure that the next step happens, that a project moves from A to B to C quickly and uninterrupted.

When everyone does their appointed and specialized jobs, it creates harmony and efficiency in the workplace, just as multiple people doing multiple jobs creates harmony and efficiency in the home. I cook; he sets the table. I marinate the meat; he lights the grill.

Housekeeping cleans the office; the nurse sees another patient. Janitorial takes out the trash; the scientist concentrates on cells in the Petri dish. Hotel rooms are cleaned in a timely manner; guests check in without delay and consider a return visit.

Housekeeping, although often underappreciated, has always been a cog in the wheel than enables the wheel to turn—efficiently, quietly and most often without germs and contamination. It is the behind-the-scenes ordering, cleaning and setting things right that allows the fresh start of a new day.

I hope those cutting housekeeping are taking out their own trash, cleaning their own restrooms and vacuuming their own conference rooms.

Streaking reappears on the home front

If you were driving by the house last week and saw a small naked boy watering the ivy with what God gave him, I’d like to explain.

If only I could.

Who would have thought that after more than 30 years of marriage, public nudity would now be a problem? Of course, it’s not the husband or myself (we’re pretty good at following standard dress codes), it’s all these little grandbabies that have us surrounded.

A bare bum here, a bare bum there, here a bum, there a bum, everywhere a bum, bum.

It’s like Revenge of the ‘70s; little streakers are everywhere.

There is partial streaking, full streaking and streaking at a rapid rate of speed with a diaper hanging by one tab and an adult in rapid pursuit.

Moments ago a small streaker darted from the dining room through the kitchen and around the corner. This sort of thing used to happen on college campuses as a form of political protest.

The streaking at our house is not political protest. Potty training is often the reason behind the streaking. A little person yells he has to go potty and bolts toward the potty chair. The little person is in a state of full dress, then partial dress, then no dress, shedding clothing as he runs. It looks like the mission will be a success. We are preparing to clap, cheer and throw confetti like we are welcoming the troops home from overseas, but, oh well. Maybe next time.

Not all of the nudity is a result of potty training. There is also that peculiar yet determined toddler who is periodically compelled to strip off all clothing because—apparently—toddler skin simply needs to breathe.

The problem when you are surrounded by such goings on is that you gradually begin to accept this as standard fare. You forget that the rest of the world isn’t doing diapers, is able to leave home without a pack of diaper wipes and is most likely already toilet trained.

All of which would account for our son and daughter-in-law, who did an emergency tag-team diaper change on the sidewalk with one of them holding the tot upright and the other swapping out the dirty diaper for a fresh one. Clearly, this is their third child. You don’t acquire that kind of skill until you have at least two.

As for the little boy outside watering the ivy, who has ever been able to explain what little boys do outside? I can only imagine that it was a combination of no inhibition and convenience. It would have been a long trip inside the house. Probably a good 8 feet to the front porch, another 3 feet to the front door and once inside it could well have been another eight or nine steps to the bathroom.

That said, it might not have been the first time he has done this. There appears to be a brown patch in the ivy.

Our apologies to the neighbors for the evil thoughts we entertained about their dog.

Hot days lead to heated conersations

These dwindling days of summer have been sizzlers. As one of our daughters said, “It’s been a good week—for putting your head in the freezer.”

The sun rises, the green flag snaps and the heat and humidity both race to 90 in perfect stride. Those two—they stick together. And to everybody else, too.

Like most people melting beneath the final scorch of summer, we enjoy dwelling on exactly how miserable we are.

We have a fancy digital indoor/outdoor thermometer that tells us the heat and humidity, but its accuracy and precision lack drama. For maximum misery, we rely on the old mercury thermometer mounted outside a kitchen window in direct sun.

“Look at that. It’s 120 again this morning,” I marvel.

“Those weather people never can get it right,” the husband says.

Of course, once it hits 120 with matching humidity to boot (and no, I don’t know how you can have humidity above 100 percent, but I know we’ve weathered it) the tomatoes get all funky and billions of teeny, tiny white bugs invade the herbs. Ordinarily, I’d fight back on the bug infestation, but it’s too blasted hot, which is why I just planted a white flag between the oregano and the thyme and yelled, “You win! Eat your little organic hearts out.”

As much as we enjoy being miserable, the bad thing about complaining about the heat is that it inevitably ignites a longstanding family competition. And really, when it comes to suffering blistering heat, you’re nobody unless you’re the somebody who’s been more miserable than everybody.

“It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity that makes this so bad,” someone says. “It’s not like a dry heat. Now a dry heat—”

The minute someone mentions dry heat in a “that’s not so bad” way you might as well strike a match next to a gasoline can. The wing of our family that has lived in southwest dry heat is not about to be undone with a flip dismissal of their sweat and suffering.

“You don’t know what heat is until you’ve survived Texahoma heat,” they fire back in unison.

“I’ll give you it’s like a blow dryer on high heat in your face,” I say.

“Blow dryer nothing; it’s like the dryer at the automatic car wash. Or the heat blast from a jet engine.”

Someone swiftly counters: “Yes, but with the heat and humidity combined you’ve got your ‘real temperature’ and your ‘feels like’ temperature—”

Back and forth we go, carrying on about which is worse, the dry heat of the Southwest, the stifling humidity of the Deep South or the suffocating heat and humidity of the Midwest.

Finally, someone says, “Why don’t we move outside?”

“Why don’t we?” the husband says. “Looks like it may be rather pleasant after that storm blew through. The thermometer has dipped to 115.”

“You all go ahead,” I say. “I’ll be right there.”

I just need a few seconds to stick my head in the freezer.

Grand old house is a playful mess

The story of choice for one wing of the grandkids right now is “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter. Part of the attraction is the sheer scandal of it all. Every time an adult reads the story, the kids exude wide-eyed disbelief that a bunny disobeyed his mother (gasp!), ventured into Mr. McGregor’s garden (gasp!) and safely made it home again (the sweet exhale).

Not long ago their mother was driving along and said, “Look, a rabbit is crossing the road. I wonder if it is Peter Rabbit.”

A 3-year-old in the backseat said, “Does he have on a blue jacket?”

They live in the magic of childhood where the walls are papered with wonder and innocence and all things are possible.

When the grands come to our house, they often play dress-up. They dip into a big basket of old clothes – fur stoles I made for the girls ages ago, what was once my best pair of red high heels, reindeer antlers, a pirate eye patch, a plastic crocodile head, a sailor hat, a construction hat, red bandanas, beads, more beads, a plastic stethoscope, aprons, a pioneer bonnet and a play sheriff’s vest and old leather holster.

One of our daughters commented that not many little kids play dress-up anymore.


The grands often move the little play table and chairs around and know that the sofa cushions are fair game. Several of them (the ones that should form a Three Kids and a Truck business) have even been known to shove furniture into configurations of their liking. Sometimes I’ll move all the kitchen chairs into the family room and cover them with a big sheet. It’s a fort, a hut, a school, a baby crib, a tent and a jail.

I met a woman who said she doesn’t allow kids to turn the house upside-down.

What’s a house for?

One day this summer, when six of the little bugs were here, they dragged every ball, broom, bucket, hose attachment and water toy they could find in the garage to the backyard. There was running and yelling and screaming and falling down and crying and getting sprayed in the face.

By the end of the day the Slip ‘N Slide was barely spitting water and had decimated a wide swath of grass. Sidewalk chalk was floating in big galvanized tubs filled with water. A pair of swim trunks was half-buried in the sandbox. Random tennis shoes, beach towels, empty juice boxes, remains of PBJ sandwiches crawling with ants, bubble wands, toy trucks and plastic shovels were strewn from one end of the yard to the other. Even a screen had popped out of a door. The place looked like hillbilly heaven.

It may well have been the best day of summer.

Sometimes it is freedom that fuels the imagination. Unbridled play, the mess of paint, the squish of clay, and unconventional uses for conventional things all burn energy, fire brain cells and broaden the horizon.

A measured wildness, free play and blue jackets on rabbits are sheer delights that fill the fleeting span of childhood. Do they entail messes that cry to be cleaned? Almost always.

But surely there is no better use of time.

Plaid returns dragging a checkered past

A press release I received said that what a girl wears on her first day of school is as important as what she wears to prom.

It sounds like a lot of pressure. Maybe it’s true. But if the first day of school is akin to prom, can you still arrive for classes on a bus, or is a limo in order?

If that’s not bad enough, there is even worse news in the world of fashion: Plaid is back.

Plaid was the fabric of my childhood—a fabric I will gladly return to the ’60s. Schools required girls to wear skirts and dresses back then. Everything I wore was plaid. Red plaid, purple plaid, green plaid, brown plaid.

I had a plaid wardrobe that would have gotten me into any Catholic school in the city, but I wasn’t Catholic. The only solid colors I saw were in my Crayon box.

All of my childhood memories are in plaid. There was the kindergarten red plaid dress with the white Peter Pan collar. There was the brown plaid dress that was a staple of early elementary. Before fourth grade a big box from our Sears catalog order arrived with our back-to-school clothes. We tore into it with the excitement of Christmas morning and there it was, a short-sleeve, drop-waist dress in maroon plaid. I had now worn every color on the color wheel—in plaid.

In all my school pictures, I am wearing plaid. Wild curly hair and plaid. Maybe the plaid was an attempt to distract from the hair. It didn’t work.

By seventh grade I’d finally grown tall enough to shop where other girls my age shopped. It would be “so long, kindergarten plaid.” My mother took me shopping and bought me a beautiful wool skirt. It was plaid, a faux wrap-around sort of thing with a big gold safety pin. I developed a fondness for bagpipes.

I even had plaid pants. In home economics, every girl had to sew a pair of pants with a side zipper. I sewed plaid. Self-inflicted plaid. Who does such a thing to themselves?

To this day, plaid gives me bad fashion dreams, a deathly fear of wool car blankets, and I am unable to sit on a plaid sofa.

Well, now they’re back—plaid dresses, plaid coats, plaid skirts, plaid shoes, plaid accessories and plaid pants. Just when you think there is nowhere plaid has not gone before, a clothing chain carrying fashionable plaid debuts the ultimate in plaid accessories—plaid leggings. A moment of silence, please.

Let me word this carefully. Leggings are, shall we say, delicate territory even when they are in a solid. But leggings in plaid, on an adult, perchance a well-endowed adult, will be a visual challenge to the person following. Plaid in motion. I don’t know that it’s been done before. But isn’t that the point of fashion?

I suggest proceeding with caution. And preferably solids. Stripes if you must, or even animal prints, but, please—easy on the plaids. I speak from experience when I say recovery takes years.

Chance of hearing commercials is remote

By my calculations it’s been four years since I last heard a television commercial. I see the people and their lips are moving, but no words come out. You-know-who has gotten, shall we say, a little aggressive with the remote control. A little aggressive nothing—he is two shakes shy of maniacal.

Particular commercials tend to annoy him. Or at least they used to; they can’t annoy him much anymore, now that we rarely hear them. Sometimes it is annoying background music, or a classic rock tune being twisted for commercialization, that sends him diving for the remote. Other times it is an annoying voice.

Case in point, he wants to know why the GEICO gecko, and that’s GEICO as in Government Employees Insurance Company, has a British accent. Because of that incongruity, the gecko pays. Mute.

Sometimes it is a combination of annoying music and annoying voice combined. In those cases he has been known to sprint in from a different room in the house to mute them. And the doctor asks if he’s getting enough exercise.

Now that our commercials are on mute, I often try to guess what product a commercial is shilling. I go for speed. It’s like ringing in on Jeopardy, only with no competitors.

The problem is, my first guess is always the same. Having been scarred by the many, many, many commercials for men seeking help with intimacy issues (prior to our current mute policy), I am now likely to guess that nearly every commercial is for one of those pharmaceuticals.

Being that most of the commercials truly are for prescription drugs of one sort or another, I like to release the mute toward the end to hear all the dreadful warnings of things that may happen if you actually take the drug, hoping it may scare me into a healthier lifestyle.

I will say there are commercials that I not only mute but turn the station. Those would be commercials for products for women which seem to be getting more graphic (the commercials, not the women) each week. I liked it better when that genre of commercial featured a female running down the beach or whispering to her mother and the voiceover was vague and discreet. You didn’t know exactly what it was, but you knew it was for females and that was enough. Of course, that was in an age of privacy long before anyone foresaw an oversexed Georgetown coed demanding that taxpayers pay for birth control. (I’ve always wondered why she stopped short and didn’t demand coverage for deodorant, toothpaste, hair products, razors and shaving cream.)

Commercials aren’t the only things we have trouble hearing. Our youngest daughter was here when the news was on TV and remarked that she didn’t know how we could hear the news when we constantly talk over the news. I explained that we already knew the news, we just watch the news to comment on the commentators—their voices, hand gestures and whether they dress the part or look like they just stopped by the studio on their way to a bar to meet someone from match.com.

Actually, we don’t watch much television due to the proverbial saying, “There’s nothing on.” Still, I enjoy turning it on from time to time simply because it is fun to see the husband move fast.

Fit to be tied in new car seats

Our daughter-in-law just bought a new car seat for their oldest who is 5. The child will be safe and secure, which of course every parent and grandparent wants. But with a few more car seat purchases like this, the kid can kiss higher education goodbye.

The silver lining to this cloud is that she can stay in this car seat until she is 62 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. Given the family DNA, she could be in this car seat on her way to prom and even when they drop her off at college—providing there’s any money left considering the expense of car seats.

You don’t just buy a car seat today, you go for a fitting. Stores let prospective buyers take a car seat off the shelf and to the parking lot to try it out in their vehicle. The experience is similar to test driving a car, but you never leave the lot and don’t get to enjoy the new-car smell.

If you like the car seat, and it fits with the other car seats for your other children, you return to the store and sign up for the 5-year payment plan. Just kidding. You swipe your plastic and wait for the pain that will come at the end of the next month.

Today’s car seats are marvels with cushy upholstery, great back support, tilt options and beverage cup and juice box holders. My only suggestion would be that manufacturers start including built-in electronic charging ports for children whose parents force them to stay in car seats well into their teens. (Preferably rear-facing. Just hug your knees up to your chins, kids. Yes, the football team will make fun of you, but that’s life—and why schools have anti-bullying programs.)

Our children rode in molded infant car seats that were basically open buckets on an incline. There wasn’t the convenience of snapping a carrier in and out of a base. My generation lunged into the backseat, wretched our spines, twisted our necks and shoulders, and threw hips out of joint to secure a baby in a car seat. Such is the price of love. This is also why we stayed home a lot.

Our children, who are all married now and parents of infants and toddlers, have asked how we traveled in automobiles when we were infants. I tell them that our mothers and fathers just let us roll around on the floor of the backseat, because that’s what their parents did to them and they thought it would build character. Truthfully, I believe we were toted about in little baskets that were either placed on the front seat or the floor of the front passenger seat.

Of course, we also were allowed to ride in the back of pickup trucks. Naturally, I feel obligated to say that the experience of the wind blowing in your face, your hair whipping your eyes and watching clouds of dust spin on a gravel road was not fun. Absolutely not. Riding in the back of a pickup today is something I’m not sure even dogs are allowed to do. Nor should they. Put them in a dog seat. Rear-facing. At least until they are 5’ 2” or weigh 120 pounds.

Living life against a backdrop of chaos

The man on the radio, who happened to be Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, said we are in “a proliferation of crises” like he has never seen before.

A passenger plane shot from the sky, makeshift morgues, the Ukraine on fire, allegations of children used as rocket shields, terrorists carving an ever wider and bloodier path through Iraq and thousands of children kept like dogs in a kennel on our southern border—a senator may call it a proliferation of crises, but to my eyes it looks like hell on earth.

We had a houseguest this week. As I put fresh sheets back on the bed and hung fluffy white towels fresh from the dryer in the bathroom, I enjoyed a moment of satisfaction. Order. Cleanliness.

A news picture showed a family fleeing, two adult sons, their mother walking behind, and one of the sons struggling to carry their frail and elderly father. Only the clothes on their back.

Me and my fluffy white towels.

Three of the little grands were in the backyard this week, playing in big old galvanized tubs filled with water. Dipping and pouring, yelling and laughing, waving the hose and soaked to the skin.

An image from the Mideast showed an anguished father cradling his wounded daughter in his arms, his white T-shirt soaked with grime, sweat and blood.

Where is the water to wash them?

The drone of a lawnmower in the distance is a reminder of simple routines. Hummingbirds dart in and out of the geraniums; we work, we eat, we sleep and look forward to an open house and a birthday party this weekend. Trying to reconcile the ease with the anguish is nearly debilitating.

C.S. Lewis addressed Oxford University students at the commencement of World War II as to whether learning was appropriate during time of war. The greater question, and why many beyond Oxford were listening, was how do we pursue ordinary lives while the lives and liberties of others hang in the balance?

Listeners may have expected a nuanced and comforting reply from the scholar and writer, but instead Lewis was jarring. He told the audience that we always live against a backdrop of death; we are always on the path to heaven or hell—terror simply awakens us to the fact. This veteran of the trenches of World War I said even the times we think are normal aren’t really. On closer inspection they, too, are pockmarked by disaster, emergencies and catastrophes.

We can’t put life, education, vocation, even daily routines on hold because disaster looms elsewhere and there are injustices that have not been set right. We forge ahead, building culture, pursuing knowledge and beauty, but ever mindful of the backdrop.

It’s not unlike an E.B. White quote that sits framed on my desk: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Lewis contended that theologians of the past would have considered the reminder of death a blessing, an opportunity to put your house in order—and not just the towels.

Fitness tax — feel the burn

When the strong-arming began to tax gym memberships and exercise classes in D.C. (as is already done in many states), opponents to the tax turned out to protest by striking yoga poses in public spaces—the warrior pose, the mountain pose, assorted poses with arms, hips and torsos thrust at interesting angles. The protest was so much more original than the usual placard-carrying protests that I immediately raised my free weights in support.

“Power to the posers!” It wasn’t much power, as the weights were only 2-pounders, but still. When all the posing and posturing ended, the council triumphed over their opponents who were, shall we say, stretched thin. Opponents to “wellness taxes” often claim such surcharges discourage people from joining gyms. If you ask anyone with two cases of soda and nine bags of chips in their grocery cart whether a tax on gym memberships keeps them from working out, the answer will likely be, “Cool ranch.”

My concern is that taxing workouts will one day include my personal morning workout, which consists of elbow bends as I lift coffee to my mouth in a series of strenuous reps. Lift, drink, repeat. Exhale. Lift, drink, repeat. Feel the burn.

I propose we liftall taxes (striking a warrior pose here) on gyms, classes and morning coffee reps, and instead raise revenue by taxing every silly and false claim touted by the workout industry.

I know. You’re saying, “That’s ridiculous, it can’t be done.” Of course it can’t, but I’m proposing it anyway.

Let’s start with “Sexy Summer Arms.” Every time a workout promises sexy summer arms, tax it. I’m sick of hearing about sexy summer arms. Most people have winter arms. They took all fall and winter to get that way and there’s no workout under the sun that will turn them into sexy summer arms before the next frost.

I also propose taxing that annoying online ad, “Five Foods You Should Never Eat,” which always pictures a banana. Tax them for disparaging the humble and potassium-rich banana. Dole will have my back on this one.

I also propose taxing the word “killer,” as in killer cardio, killer body and killer abs. When was the last time someone stopped a crime by using killer abs? “Put the gun down now, or I’ll flash my killer abs.” I thought so. Killer anything—tax it.

“A New Body in 2 Weeks!” You’re not going to have a new body in two weeks, you’re going to have an older body in two weeks. Tax it.

I also propose taxing all workout instructors with long arms. They make it look easy to lie on your back, extend your legs at a 45 degree angle, lift your head and chest, extend your arms and touch your toes. People with short arms cannot do this no matter how much the long-armed instructor purrs, “Stretch, stretch, stretch.”

Finally, tax each and every workout that promises to have you wearing Daisy Duke shorts. Nobody—I repeat, nobody—should be wearing Daisy Duke shorts. Not even Daisy Duke. Tax the shorts. Tax Daisy, too. The way the debt is soaring, we’ll need the revenue