Cars of future put backseat drivers out of work

The first thing engraved on my brain as a new driver was to keep my hands at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. I just saw a picture of a driverless car of the future. It doesn’t even have a steering wheel.

What do you do with your hands? I imagine mine will be waving wildly in the air as I scream.

The other thing we were taught as new drivers was to keep our eyes on the road in front of us.

The driver’s seat in one prototype driverless car can swivel to the back. To see the road in front of you, you’ll need eyes in the back of your head. (More flailing of arms, more screaming.)

Driverless cars are part of the future. I know that. I accept that. I don’t want to be the person filling boxes with 8-track tapes and cassettes when the new norm is storing music in the cloud. Although, in my defense, I hear that vinyl is making a comeback.

In any case, the truth is some of us go more reluctantly into the future than others. Some of us may need a push. Or a mild sedative. Or both.

I reassure myself with the fact that some of the technology utilized in driverless cars is already in place in many of today’s vehicles—things like anti-lock brake systems that detect vibrations when a vehicle begins to skid or slide and will pump the brakes for you.

Recently, after a nearly invisible layer of ice covered the roads overnight, the little yellow skid marks appeared on the dashboard as my vehicle began to slide. I managed to get to a full stop. Whew. Close one. And then the vehicle slid completely sideways.

I may need more reassurance.

Driverless cars have amazing robotic systems and software that can detect the presence and distance of other vehicles and pedestrians. A car being tested in the U.S. can detect the presence of pedestrians with 95 percent accuracy, which is excellent, unless you’re in the other 5 percent.

Another challenge facing driverless cars is creating sensors able to see through dust, fog, heavy rain and snow. Manufacturers are trying to develop sensors that mimic the eyes of certain animals able to make out shapes even in bad weather. No matter what we humans invent, at some level, we are always duplicating what nature has already mastered.

We were recently passengers in our friends’ new luxury sedan that has all sorts of computerized safety features. Our friend was driving as his wife explained that the car can tell him when and where to turn or to slow down if he is too close to an object or a pedestrian – and begin braking for him if he doesn’t brake. It also alerts him when he crosses into another lane and even keeps him from following the car in front of him too closely.

“Amazing,” I said.

“It’s nice all right,” she said with a grimace. “But now what am I supposed to do?”

Losing sleep over a new mattress

Half a dozen or so of us were standing around the bed like you’d stand around a shiny new car someone just drove home from a dealership.

We recently broke down and bought a new mattress and box springs. Our new mattress and box springs sit substantially higher than the old ones. Unfortunately, I have not had a corresponding growth spurt, so to get into bed I now must run, jump and lunge.

I suspected some of the family thought I was exaggerating about the situation, so I had them look at the bed themselves. One of the sons-in-law said, “Wow, that is high.” This coming from a fella who loves playing basketball because he can make rim shots.

“Tell me again how you get in,” one of the girls said.

“I start a slow jog at the door, build momentum, jump by the side of the bed, twist and land. I throw both arms in the air as I land for a sort of gymnast effect.”

Progress is often marked by making things larger – bigger big-screen televisions, higher high-rise buildings, larger large homes and ever-more luxurious luxury hotels. I wonder if someone thought adding height to beds was a mark of progress, too. If that’s the case, I bet that someone was 7 feet tall. Or more.

Someone suggested getting a step stool. I’d thought about that, too. But what about getting out of bed? What if you forget there’s a little step stool below your feet, trip over it, pitch forward and dislocate your shoulder? How is that part of a good night’s sleep?

I don’t mind doing a run, jump and lunge now, but what about 20 years from now? Will I still be running, jumping and lunging?

I called the salesperson about the dilemma. She chuckled, said it is a frequent concern and that all we need to do is lower our bed frame.

We have a four-poster bed nearly 100 years old. To lower it, we’d have to saw off the hand-turned wooden legs.

I also mentioned that the mattress is a lot harder than the mattress was at the store. Like cement block hard.

“Do you have children?” she asked.

“We have children and grandchildren,” I said.

“Have them walk on it.”“Excuse me?”

“The new hybrid beds with memory foam can be loosened up if you walk on them. Have the kids take off their shoes and socks and walk all over your bed.”

She was a nice lady and switched out the box springs for one not nearly as deep. I no longer do the run-lunge-jump to get into bed. She also said if we didn’t like the mattress, we had 60 days to exchange it.

The exchange will be easy.

The hard part will be telling the grandkids they are no longer welcome to walk on the bed. In the meantime, I’m enjoying my new moniker of “Most Fun Grandma.”

A surprise around every corner

Since our daughter, her husband and their three little ones moved in with us while waiting for their new house to be finished, I’ve had a most peculiar feeling.

It’s an odd feeling—as though I am not entirely alone.

Oh, I catch glimpses of shadows now and then, long hair flying around a corner, muffled laughter, but I do not see the ones to whom the shadows, the hair and the laughter belong.

They’re quick, so very, very quick.

I dash up the stairs and faint echoes of footsteps trail behind me.

I stop, the echoes stop. I resume the stairs, the echoes resume.

Sometimes I feel as though there is a presence behind me and other times it feels as though a presence has gone before me.

I turn into the bathroom to put on my makeup and see my cosmetic drawer is ajar. I would never leave it like that.

Or did I?

Or did someone else?

But who? It’s unlikely the husband has developed an interest in blush and mascara. The hairbrush and comb are out of place. Two tubes of lip gloss have lip gloss sliding down the sides and are missing caps.

I straighten the drawer, fix my face and step into the bedroom.

Indentations pockmark the bed—like divots on a golf course. Odd. The bed was made more than an hour ago. Muffled giggling comes from the other side of the bed and the bed shakes ever so slightly.

Strange, simply strange.

I return downstairs and pause at my desk. The tape dispenser is empty. Again. For the third time in three days. I don’t remember using vast amounts of tape. Maybe I need more sleep. Maybe I tape things in my sleep.

The stapler is open and empty as well. Surely, I would remember flying through 300 staples. But then I don’t remember creating this pile of drawings with colored markers—pictures of people with beady eyes, crooked smiles, wild hair and stick bodies with disjointed arms and legs.

The scissors are out as well. They’re the good scissors—the pair that is sharp and not for children. Strange, I don’t remember cutting.

Something among the pieces of paper lying on the floor catches my eye. It is a long golden curl of hair. I don’t remember cutting my hair.

I certainly don’t remember being blonde.

“When did I use up the tape?” I mutter aloud. “When did I empty the stapler? When did I create these marvelous, wonderful, beautiful drawings?”

The door to the closet beneath the stairs softly closes. Laughter emanates from behind the door.

Creeping to the closet with the stealth of a sneaky cat, I fling open the door and yell, “GOTCHA!”

The phantoms tumble out, arms and legs flying in every direction, screaming and shrieking with laughter.

“You scared us! How did you know we were in there?”

“Oh, just a lucky guess.”


When Heaven came down to Earth

First published Dec. 16, 2013

The best Christmas is the unexpected Christmas. After all, that’s what the first Christmas was, an unexpected, cosmic intersection of the natural and the supernatural – in the shepherd’s field, the manger stall and the arms of a bewildered new mother and father.

We nearly obscure the power and the beauty of the first Christmas with all our busyness and trappings today. And yet, small glimpses of the marvels of that first Christmas happen even now.

I once caught such a glimpse at a city mission. It was Moms Club, a weekly morning meeting where women come to hear a message, work on completing a GED or learn about parenting. On the last meeting before the holidays, each woman was given a large grocery bag filled with necessities. Sometimes they even received something extra, something special like laundry detergent.

The bitter cold outside was offset by a furnace that wouldn’t quit on the inside. The room was packed with women shoulder to shoulder, women in old coats and old clothes. The furnace circulated the smell of hard work, poverty and wet boots. There were women who had children, women who had health problems, women who had prison records and women who had nothing but the clothes on their backs. The room was sweltering, the crowd restless.

As a woman welcomed everyone from up front, the crackling sound system, as weary as the women, muffled what must have been an introduction. A woman in a black cape swept up the center aisle. She planted herself firmly on the riser and instantly owned the room.

She drew a breath and began to sing. “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.”

Her voice was magnificent. Strong and pure, it was a voice that belonged to the heavens.

“It is the night, of our dear Savior’s birth.”

Her voice soared, filling the room with a rare, exquisite beauty. The stunning elegance and artistry made listeners dare not draw a breath for fear of missing a fraction of a second.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Her voice ascended through the clouds, looped toward earth and soared again and again. She was on the final verse now. Could she possibly reach higher or stronger? “O night, O holy night, O night divine.” Had there been crystal in the building, it would have shattered into a million shards—and then reassembled itself with joy.

She whisked down the aisle and vanished out the door.

Who was she?

Someone mumbled a name. “She’s passing through town and came from the airport just to sing at the mission. She’s returning from an engagement at the Metropolitan Opera.”

I have never been to the Met. I doubted those around me would be going anytime soon, either. But the Met had come to us, the tired, the worn and the weary. For a few minutes it seemed as though the supernatural had infused the natural. Like that very first Christmas, Heaven had once again reached down to Earth.

Finding the perfect gift

Lori Borgman

Some people are born with a knack for gift giving. They intuitively know what others would enjoy, what would bring a smile to their faces.

My grandmother had a knack for giving gifts and so do our daughters.

Our son has a knack for giving good gifts, though he’s never been one to plan ahead. For a number of years he would give us something he had painted. The catch was remembering to ask if the paint was dry.

It seems the knack for giving good gifts can skip a generation. I’m never entirely sure the gift I’ve chosen is something the recipient will be excited about. Will he like it? Will she enjoy it? Maybe I’ll just enclose the gift receipt in the box and save them the embarrassment of asking.

A gift that sent one of the toddler grands over the moon a few years ago was a box of Cap’n Crunch. The tot tore into it and began eating cereal by the handful on the spot. Her aunt was positive it would be the perfect gift and it was.

Oh, that all gift-giving dilemmas could be resolved on the cereal aisle.

My parents had an incredible knack for giving good gifts.

Apparently, they still have the knack even though they’ve been gone 10 years plus.

Our oldest daughter has been using a rickety, hand-me-down sewing machine with uneven stitches and erratic tension. She’s been dropping hints for several years that she’d like a new one.

Rummaging through important papers this fall, she found a U.S. savings bond my dad had given her years ago.

She found the bond on Dad’s birthday.

It was at full maturity. The amount was exactly enough to pay for a sewing machine she’s had her eye on.
He would have liked that. He would have folded his arms across his chest, leaned back, grinned and claimed he’d planned it from day one.

What a wonderful gift, given years ago, just waiting to be found, waiting to be opened, waiting to be used and enjoyed.

We rack our brains for gift ideas this time of year, often overlooking the most wonderful gift right in front of us. It’s the gift lying in the manger, the infant Jesus, God in the flesh. The gift was given more than 2,000 years ago. Yet it is still here, silently waiting—to be found, received and enjoyed.

The perfect gift.

The last best after-Christmas sale

The after-Christmas sales are nothing like they used to be.

I was at an after-Christmas sale a few years ago and there were a dozen checkout lines open with no wait at any of them. A TV crew stood by the front door sipping Starbucks waiting for more than one shopper to walk through the door at the same time, so they claim it was a crowd. 

The last best after-Christmas sale was 25 years ago. It was before the sales started as soon as you pushed back from the Thanksgiving table. It was old school— the day after Christmas, when men and children stayed home and women went out to do what they were born to do—fight for 50 percent off. The last best after-Christmas sale was the one at which my mother nearly lost her teeth.

It was bitter cold as Mom and I stood with a growing throng outside the locked doors of a shopping mall in Kansas City, Missouri.  We were all there for the same reason—to make a run on the half-off Hallmark cards and gift wrap. It was when women cared to send the very best, before the advent of photo cards and scrapbookers who make their own cards. It was a time when women judged one another by the brand of cards they sent and the quality of gift wrap they used. It wasn’t just a sale, it was your reputation on the line.

The doors opened. The crowd surged through the doors, stampeding through housewares, knocking over Santa mugs on display and sending cookware crashing to the floor. I quickly lost sight of Mom in the crowd, assuming she was threading her way to the front. She’d been on the track team in high school and had long legs.

As for me, I cut a path to the religious cards, aware that aggression should be kept in check when wrestling for cards picturing the Madonna and child.

Across the way, Mom was scoring big-time in wrapping paper. She reached for a roll of foil wrap (something neither of us would ever never pay full retail for) at the same time another woman grabbed the other end of the roll. The other woman began tugging on her end of the roll, at which point my mother, being a courteous person, let go of her end, sending the other woman flying. My mother began laughing so hard that she started to cry. Tears clouding her vision, Mom tripped over another shopper, the force of which partially dislodged her false teeth. 

My mother never took her false teeth out for entertainment purposes like her twin sisters did, which, of course, made those aunts immensely popular with myself and all 24 of my cousins. The fact that my mother, had risked the humiliation of losing her false teeth in public and was still laughing about it shows that shoppers were a dedicated breed back then.

It was a good after-Christmas sale. Maybe the best ever. I wish you could have been there—but only if you were slow and stayed at the back of the pack.


The class of 41

We store mental snapshots of those who have gone before us. They are a shorthand remembrance for legacies of a broader and deeper scope.

When my father died, a friend wrote a tender note and included an acorn. She said my father was like a strong oak, and the acorn was my legacy.

The Smithsonian Museum’s Legacies exhibit contains artifacts that are reminders of well-known historical and pop culture figures, such as the compass used on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, Evil Knievel’s jumpsuit and motorcycle, GI dog tags from World War II, Minnie Pearl’s hat and Mr. Rogers’ sweater.

I have long carried a snapshot in my head of President George Herbert Walker Bush. It is the image of a consummate diplomat, one who possesses tact, is at ease forging relationships and adept at negotiations.

My copy of “All the Best, George Bush” is fringed with Post-it tabs marking numerous passages worthy of a second read. They aren’t career or political accomplishments, but examples of how to handle difficult situations, encourage others and hold fast to hope and a vision for the future.

Those abilities seemed innate to Bush, apparent in a letter written to his mother after he joined the Navy the day he graduated high school as a rather innocent 18-year-old, in somewhat jovial correspondence with government officials and even in notes on a meeting with an angry, red-in-the face Henry Kissinger. Much of his writing ended with an upbeat note, a dash of wit or a shot of encouragement.

Like most of us, Bush possessed strong opinions, but they were tempered by finesse and grace. Maybe that’s what humility looks like.

Good will and kindness seemed to be part of his DNA. When he left his post as chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office in China, the staff who served him by cooking, cleaning and maintaining the residence was genuinely sad to see him leave. How many employees feel like that about a boss heading toward the exit?

When he was President, cameras often zoomed in on him at a ballgame and he’d be mouthing the words to a country song playing in the stadium. Comfortable with himself and comfortable with others, essential qualities for navigating the barbed world of politics.

He was deliberate and candid about noting things that had gone well and things that hadn’t gone well. His writings reveal an ability to place things in context and see another’s point of view. How old school. We could use more of that today.

His ability to lead and unite was astounding as he quickly assembled one of the largest coalitions in history when Iraq invaded Kuwait. How does someone do that?

History will be the judge of 41 as a president.

As a human being, he’d be the first to say he wasn’t perfect.

On our best days, we live life trying to reflect the goodness of our Maker. If, by the grace of God, we have a number of good days, we build a strong legacy. We leave memories, attitudes, habits and ways of treating others that will be remembered long after we are gone.

Bush 41 may have died, but his legacy of goodness is very much alive.

So many choices, so little time

There are people who look back on their lives and wish they’d spent less time at work and more time with family. I’m going to be in the group that looks back on life and wishes I’d spent less time at the grocery.

The ever-increasing multitude of choices at the store may reflect progress, but all this progress has become terribly time consuming.

Did you know there are now 180 kinds of pasta? Someone could do an entire quiz show based on nothing but pasta shapes.

The make-up of pasta is mushrooming as well. We now have whole grain, oven ready, no boil, vegan, quick cook, organic, gluten-free, quinoa penne and pasta made from chickpeas— all multiplied by at least 180 shapes.

I could pick a stock fund for retirement or find the perfect little black dress in less time than it takes me to find one specific pasta.

All I want is plain old pasta—the kind Italians eat, the kind that leaves you loving opera and imagining that you own a sprawling Tuscan villa with windows without screens.

The pasta I often look for is orzo. I have a wonderful orzo salad recipe with fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts and lemon. Just thinking of it makes me think I can sing opera.

You know where I usually find traditional orzo? On the top shelf. It doesn’t matter what store I’m in, it is nearly always on the top shelf.

I have next-to-top shelf arms.

In addition to the time I spend looking for the pasta, I am also out the time it takes to wait for someone who plays basketball to saunter down the aisle and reach it for me.

This ever-growing multitude of choices takes a toll on a relationship. The husband and I have come to an understanding, which is more like a truce. I will no longer ask him to stop by the store for a bag of chocolate chips and he will not text me when I’m at the store to say he needs deodorant.

The request for chocolate chips inevitably leads to a flurry of texts.

“Milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate or dark chocolate? Regular chips, mini-chips or chunks? Small bag, medium bag or a bag big enough to feed the city?”

I’m not any better when it comes to finding his deodorant. The last time I was looking, I asked him to send a picture of the one he had. If I had colors to match, the process might go faster.

It didn’t.

I still had to sort through 20 different brands with a dozen scents per brand—Sport, Super Sport, Ocean Surf, Aqua Sport, Regular, Fresh, Ultimate Sport, Musk, Irish Spring, New Car and Dirty Socks. OK, I made those last two up, but I bet they’re in the pipeline.

The one he wanted that I couldn’t find?


Some of us just weren’t made to enjoy a thousand choices.

I’ve got mail

I owe a young lady a letter.

She wrote to me last week asking how I was, saying she was fine and that she was enjoying a necklace we sent for her birthday. She even drew a picture of herself wearing the necklace. Then she wrote, “Pleeeese respond.”

I can’t remember the last time someone asked me to write back.

We don’t write letters anymore, which is also why we don’t race to the mailbox anymore. The thrill is gone; there’s never anything good in the mail. We know what’s in the mail—advertisements, circulars and more advertisements.

People often ask how I got started writing and my answer is writing letters.

When I was the same age as the little girl writing to me, my father took a new job. We only moved 200 miles, but it felt like we had been separated from friends, extended family and all things familiar by two continents, an ocean and four black holes. Long distance phone calls were rare and expensive then, most often reserved for emergencies or bad news.

But people wrote. Both of my grandmothers, and two of my great-aunts who were retired school teachers, all wrote letters.

And they wrote to me.

It was special that someone took an interest in a homesick kid with shaky penmanship and yellow stationery that came in a pretty tin box. That someone would take the time to put pen to paper and share their lives and inquire about mine meant a lot.

It would mean a lot to anybody, really.

I spent many a Sunday evening straining to compose thoughtful and well-written letters. “Dear Aunt Mary, How are you? I am fine. I hope you are the same.”

I didn’t say I was good at letter writing; I just said it was how I got started.

My mother was an avid letter writer. I looked forward to her letters when I left home, went to college and then hopscotched across the country working newspaper jobs. When I married, had children and moved again, still far from home, she wrote faithfully. Letters were a way of closing the distance.

She was a natural storyteller. She could make a story about a dull gathering where everyone sat on metal folding chairs and had nothing but tepid water to drink and stale crackers to eat and make it sound like the party of the century.

But then, letter writers are storytellers because letter writers are observers—of the world around them, changing seasons, of people around them and changing lives.

As phone calls became affordable, then cheap, then super cheap, then nonstop, the flow of letters slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.

But that was not the case today. Today there was more than junk, circulars, coupons and advertisements in the mailbox. Today there was something truly special, which takes me to my most delightful task at hand, “Dear Audrey . . .”

The nearly true story of the First Thanksgiving

There’s a lot of grumbling that young people don’t know history like they should. If we’re honest, we must acknowledge an inherent problem to being young and learning history. The younger you are, the more there is to learn.

Curious, I asked five members of the youngest generation in our family (preschool through early elementary) for the story of the first Thanksgiving.

What follows is “The Nearly True Story of the First Thanksgiving.”

“The king said they weren’t allowed to worship God so the Pilgrims wanted to come to America where they could do what they wanted. They picked a ship called the Mayberry.”

“No, I think they came on the Mayflower.”

“It was a long trip. It took a year, maybe two. The kids played games on the ship, mostly soccer, but also some tic-tac-toe.”

“There was a captain on the ship and he had guiders who helped guide the ship.”

“The Pilgrim ladies wore blue dresses. They looked like Mary and Laura from Little House. The men wore blue shirts and jeans. Pilgrims were like pioneers.”

“Some of the people on the ship got sick and died. A baby was born on the ship. His name was Oceanus.”

“They sailed and sailed until someone said they saw land.”

“They landed at the Mayflower. There was a rock that said Mayflower right where they were landing.”

“They didn’t have much food and were very hungry.”

“They ate fish and probably berries out of the woods. The men went out to hunt deer and bears. I don’t think I would eat bear meat, unless I was super hungry. I bet I would if I was super hungry.”

“More Pilgrims died that winter. Maybe more than half. We think they had little pox. In one family, both the mom and dad died and one girl had to live alone. She only had herself.”

“Only two families survived without losing any family members. One of them was Oceanus’ family. None of the people in his family died.”

“In the spring, a couple of guys were hunting for food and they saw an Indian. He helped them learn how to plant and harvest and where the lakes were and how to weed and other good stuff and how to make fire.”

“And he helped them bury the fish in the ground.”

“When fall came, they wanted to celebrate and called it the First Thanksgiving. They were going to celebrate that they were alive, so they had a big feast.

“They had turkey and deer, potatoes and carrots, ham and chicken.”

“The Indians brought popcorn. Salted popcorn. The Pilgrims had never seen that before.”

“They played a lot of games. The moms might have knitted mats for checkers and cut wood from trees like checkers. Oh, and they might have carved chess sets, too.”

“Did you get the part about popcorn? Salted popcorn.”

“They played and ate and thanked God for letting the Indians be nice to them and they thanked that one special Indian for helping them learn their way.”

And there you have it – a composite account of the first Thanksgiving as told by the historians of tomorrow.