To answer or not to answer, that is the question

We still have a landline. Most of our friends and family routinely call our cell phones, but we keep the old landline because it makes our WiFi cheaper.

AT&T calls it bundling.

We call it hustling.

In any case, because we have been conditioned to run whenever an electronic of any sort rings, beeps, dings, chimes or grunts, we race for the landline three, four, sometimes eight times a day.


It’s not a bad workout even though the doctor insists it does not qualify as aerobics.

It’s like two of Pavlov’s dogs escaped from the behavior conditioning lab, made their way to the U.S. and have been discovered years later living in suburbia. The phone rings, we run. Over and over. Ring, run. Ring, run. Repeat.

Let me be clear—we don’t actually answer the phone, but we do run to it.

We both usually skid to a stop in front of the phone at the same time. Then, we stand there, craning our necks, squinting our eyes—because neither of us ever remembers our glasses—trying to make out what it says on caller ID.

It often appears to be some distant relative calling.

“Looks like UNK NOWN again,” I say. “Has to be on your side. I’ve never had any uncles who go by Unk.”

“I don’t either,” the husband says. “At least not that I’ve known.”

“Say what you want, that Unk is a persistent fellow. I wonder what he wants,” I say.

“The same thing they all want. Money.”

The phone finally quits ringing and we return to our respective corners until the next time it rings.

The calls are a bit of a nuisance, but it does mean a substantial savings on the internet. Besides, we don’t truly mind hanging on to the landline. Not only does it keep us from getting sedentary, we’re thinking it could be our ticket to what financial planners call an income stream in retirement.

I have suggested we charge neighbor kids $5 a pop to see what an old-fashioned landline looks like and $10 if they want to make a call. They can make a call while I swipe their credit card with the Square on my cell phone. I love when old technology converges with the new.

We figure if nothing else, keeping a landline around will give our grands something to talk about when they’re teens.

“Remember that old phone Grandma and Grandpa used to have?”

“Yeah, it was totally opposite of a smart phone – couldn’t take pictures, listen to music, watch videos or leave the house, but when you pushed the buttons they each made a noise.

“And it had some sort of tone when you picked it up? Remember. A mile tone? A file tone?”

“A dial tone!”

“That was it.”

“It was cool, wasn’t it?”

Of course it is. That’s why we keep a landline. Because we’re cool. Well, that and because we’re cheap.

Putting snap, crackle, pop in your family dinner

Our youngest recently had us over for a family meal. Because she worked as an early elementary teacher—and once a teacher always a teacher—she had planned every detail from the menu and the serving dishes to how long we would have for recess.

It was lovely.

But none of us will remember that it was lovely. What we will remember is the exploding ham.

The ham did not explode while we were eating, it exploded later that evening long after the meal was finished. We like to space out our fun and not do all the really neat stuff at one time.

We were home when she called, all out of breath and talking so fast I could hardly understand her. I thought she was yelling, “Don’t eat the ham! Don’t eat the ham!”

When she could talk without hyperventilating, she explained that they warmed up the ham in the microwave and it began sparking and exploding.

She wanted to know if the ham she’d sent home with us sparked, too.

Naturally, I got it out and threw it in the microwave. Five seconds . . . 10 seconds . . . 11 seconds . . . At the 12-second mark it began arcing, shooting sparks and popping like firecrackers. Then I started hyperventilating and shrieking just like she was.

“What’s going on out there?” the husband called from the other room.

He tends to get excited when I torch things in the kitchen, put small burn marks in the microwave and set off the smoke detector, so I calmly said, “Nothing. I’m just warming up your dinner.”

Back on the phone, our daughter wailed, “There’s foil in the ham!”

“There’s no foil in the ham!” I snapped. “Be logical!”

“Then there’s foil in the microwave!” she cried.

“There’s no foil in the microwave!”

“My children ate exploding ham!”

I was silent. That one was true. Her children did eat exploding ham.

“Calm down,” I said. “I’m sure they’re fine. But all the same, keep them away from the microwave.”

I raced to Google to inquire why ham might explode in the microwave.

The first nugget I found said the problem was that we had not removed all the buckshot.

Not helpful.

Another post on exploding ham was from a man who was making himself a ham sandwich with mayo and Doritos. He warmed up the ham in the microwave and said it went off like mini-bombs, roughed up the edges and blew holes in the middle.

What caused it?

His post didn’t say, but he did say the sandwich was very good.

I also found articles advising people not to microwave non-food items, clothing, things with shells, eggs and blue cheese.

Thanks, people.

The most credible post cited a Purdue University food engineer who said dense food that is mineral rich can generate sparks in the electric field of a microwave. Ham is mineral rich with salt.

I called our daughter back and explained the most plausible theory.

“Are you calmed down?” I asked.

“Sort of.”

“What are you doing?”

“Watching my husband eat the ham. What’s Dad doing?”

“Eating the ham.”

Some of us are more likely to spark than others.

This baby is berry, berry special

Our youngest is having another baby and I’m weirded out.

Not about the baby. We’re thrilled and excited about the baby. Couldn’t be happier. It will be grandbaby number 11.

It’s our daughter having the baby who is the concern.

She’s not one of those people who lives on her phone, but she does seem to have an app for everything. She even has a pregnancy app that tracks the baby’s growth.

Lovely, right? Of course.

What could be more beautiful than knowing the size of the new life growing within?

Except it doesn’t track the baby in inches, or centimeters, or ounces, or pounds.

It tracks the baby in fruit. Yes. Fruit.


She keeps sending these disconcerting emails, “This week our baby is the size of a Maine blueberry.”

I love Maine and I love Maine blueberries. They are the absolutely best blueberries to bake with. And now, I’ll probably never eat another one.

The next week I got a notification saying, “Baby is now the size of a wee raspberry.” Raspberries are my second favorite fruit after blueberries. At least they used to be.

The week after that, the baby was the size of a southern pecan.

It’s one thing to mess with fruits, but pecans? That is flat out nuts.

I called her up and asked her to stop.

“Stop what?”

“Stop ruining food for me with the baby tracker emails. You’re not growing a fruit salad, you’re growing a baby and, in the meantime, the food trackers are making me nauseous.”

“Not a problem,” she said. “I can also chart the baby’s growth with vegetables—Brussels sprout, bok choy, corn on the cob, cabbage and eggplant.”

“You just ruined any remote possibility I ever had of going vegan.”

“The app can also be set to track the baby in relation to desserts. I tried that but one week it said Charlotte royale and I had no idea what that was.”

“You are on dangerous mounds of meringue messing with desserts.” I said.

“They also have animals. This week the baby is the size of a guinea pig, then next week a chinchilla, then a prairie dog.”

“Stop, just stop.”

“Wait. There’s one more option. I can track baby growth in objects” she says. “This week the baby is the size of a paper airplane. Next week it will be the size of a baseball cap, then a water bottle, then a Barbie doll.”

“You realize that makes no sense, right? How can a baby go from the size of a paper airplane to a baseball cap?”

“I think the cap is rolled up.”

“Oh, I guess that does makes sense. Listen, you’re ruining fruits, vegetables, small furry animals and ball caps, but before I block your emails, what fruit is week 40?”

“Watermelon.”

I should have seen that one coming.

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Several years ago, a friend asked if I’d pray that she would learn how to become poor.

I’ve prayed a lot of things for people—that cancer would be arrested, a surgery would be successful, someone would know the comfort of God while mired in grief, for troubled marriages and wayward children—but never that someone would learn how to be poor.

My friend is in her 70s. She worked as an addiction counselor after she kicked long-standing addictions herself. She managed her modest earnings well, but the day was coming when her savings would be depleted.

It is embarrassing to admit you are poor, or that you are even in the process of becoming poor. It is far easier not to admit it and keep it a secret.

A few months after her request, some women were around my kitchen table and one of the ladies said that she and her husband would like our friend to come live with them. It was a sincere offer, not one of those “I’m gonna ask you this, but I’m counting on you not to take me up on it” sort of offers.

Eyes filled with tears over the depth of kindness, but our friend said no, thank you, she needed to face reality.

There is much to be said for having the humility and courage to reckon with difficult circumstances.

Our friend had reckoned with another sort of poverty years before. It was the poverty of spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Those words appear counter-intuitive. Why would anyone be blessed to be poor in spirit? Because being honest about what we lack is often the beginning of finding out what it is that we need.

Spiritual poverty comes on a sliding scale, from a self-centeredness that quietly pushes our own agendas, annoying and irritating others, to an infiltrating poison that festers, mushrooms, exploits and abuses others, and can even grow cruel and diabolical.

Naturally, not wanting any of our deficiencies to be known, we hide this poverty of heart behind facades of having it all together.

Who, me? Poor? We’ve got two cars and a 401K.

Maybe, but “Insufficient Funds” could be stamped across every human heart.

Lent is when Christians reflect on our personal poverty. Holy Week is when we commemorate the path from spiritual poverty and brokenness to a new fullness of life by way of the cross, where Christ sacrificed for our every lack and reconciled us to God and one another.

Blessed are those with the humility and courage to acknowledge poverty of spirit.

My friend is now in subsidized housing for seniors. She has made a few friends, cooked meals for some who have been ill and drives her klunker car to visit a friend who was formerly homeless and now lives in a nearby nursing home.

My friend is not rich in material things, but she is among those celebrating what it means to be made rich in spirit. She’ll be wearing one of the biggest smiles come Easter morning.

 

When walking to school was uphill both ways

“Tell us a story about when you were our age,” three of the grands clamor as we help put them to bed.

“Well, OK. When I was 6 years old I walked twelve blocks to school every day.”

“That’s a long walk.”

“It didn’t seem long, although as I remember it was uphill both ways.”

“Did any adults go with you?”

“No. Just other kids.”

They gasp in horror.

“No, that was all right back then. Lots of kids walked to school.”

“Uphill both ways!” one adds.


“Exactly. And at the start of school a voice would come over the public address system and announce what would be served in the school cafeteria for lunch. Then the teacher would ask who would be buying lunch at school and who would be going home for lunch.”

“Kids got to go home for lunch? No way!”

“Yes, way. You could go home for lunch if you didn’t live far and could walk fast.”

“But you lived far and it was uphill both ways.”

“Yes, but I had three elderly great aunts who lived only six blocks from school. If I didn’t like the school lunch, I would raise my hand that I was going home for lunch.”

“Who walked with you?”

“Nobody.”
More looks of disapproval.

“Tell them kids did that back then,” I say to the husband.

He shakes his head as though he’s never heard of such a thing.

“So I would walk to my great aunts’ house, knock on their door and announce I was there for lunch.”

“Were they surprised?”

“I think so. They often let out little screams, which were probably squeals of delight. One would race to heat soup, another would ask if I wanted crackers and a third would start cooking chocolate pudding. They’d sit me in a tall chair at the long dining room table and watch me eat. As soon as I finished, one of them would walk me to the end of the block and watch until I turned the corner to go back to school.”

“That’s a scary bedtime story, Grandma.”

“It is not a scary story; it’s a wonderful slice-of-life story. But one day my great aunts told my parents what I had been doing and that I shouldn’t do it anymore in case one day I came and they weren’t home.”

They shake their heads in agreement, siding with the voices of caution and disapproving of Grandma’s actions as a 6 year old.

I am quick to tell them they should never, ever do anything like that today, even though it was OK for me to do it a long time ago. And they should also eat whatever the school is serving. Bedtime stories with grands should not end with strong caveats, but mine did.

They turn to Grandpa and say, “Tell us a story about when you were our age.”

“Well, he says, thinking. “I always did what I was told and never disobeyed.”

At least my story was true.

He’s driving, but she hits the brakes

On rare occasion, I may make use of an imaginary brake pedal on my passenger side of the car.

If the husband is driving and I think he is too close to the vehicle in front of us, I instinctively hit my imaginary brake. If I sense he is going too fast, I slam on my imaginary brake.

My imaginary brake takes back seat driving and moves it to the front seat. The imaginary brake has never slowed our real-time speed, but somehow it makes me feel better.

Clearly this is not us because we are older than this couple, we do not have a cool convertible and my hands would never be in the air, they would be on my imaginary steering wheel.

I think it is fair to say lot of couples have driving issues. This is never covered in premarital counseling, but it should be. It might even be addressed in the wedding vows.

“Do you take this man for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and behind the wheel of the car?”

We are not alone here. Not to name names, but my sister-in-law Debbie is a, well, let’s just say if you and Debbie were to leave Point A at the same time, she would get to Point B first.

She also drives expediently and efficiently (as the crow flies) in parking lots. She’ll be the one cutting across the lot, coming at you from out of nowhere, in the corner of your blind spot. She is a wonderful person and she and my brother are happily married, although he has nicknamed her Diagonal Debbie.

We all do what we must to accommodate one another’s quirks and idiosyncrasies in the car and not constantly harp and criticize. For some of us, it is using an imaginary brake.

Now, after all these years, I am thinking of switching out my imaginary brake for an imaginary accelerator.

All of a sudden, the husband is driving differently.

S.L.O.W.L.Y.

Maybe it’s because he worked as a newspaper photographer for years and was constantly rushing to get somewhere—a fire, an accident, a bank robbery, an assignment, or fast food drive through. Because he no longer lives on deadline, he is now slowing down to look at everything that was previously a blur.

“Look at that tree,” he says, slowing from 40 to 30 to 3 mph.

“You mean that 100 year-old-oak that has been there as long as we have lived here?”

Every day is Sunday.

We recently were following one of our daughters and I said we needed to speed up or we would lose her.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“She’s that tiny dot way up ahead.”

“The speed limit is only 30.”

“And you’re going 25.”

“Look at those new homes starting at $380,000,” he said. “You think they’d have bigger yards, wouldn’t you?”

I hit my imaginary accelerator. We are still going 25.

I proffer that going too slow is as great a hazard as going too fast.

He mentioned that a woman tailgated him last week in a hurry to switch lanes, but when both lanes stopped for a red light, he was four cars ahead of her.

He is convinced that his driving is perfect, which is why I now have imaginary dual controls on my side of the car.

Perfect camera pose is a snap – of the neck, hips and hands

We were at a wedding reception recently and whenever someone raised a camera to take a picture, nearly every person in the room stopped what they were doing and struck a pose. I’ve never seen so many carefully posed candids.

People were tossing their heads back, snapping their necks, angling their shoulders, smiling broadly and displaying dazzling dental work, which reminded me I hadn’t had any wedding cake yet.

It’s no longer enough to simply look at the camera, smile and say cheese. Halfway through my cake, I saw similar moves happening throughout the room.

No woman today lets her arms hang at her sides when someone is about to snap a picture. Sure, that’s where the arms were designed to hang, but arms against the body add weight, which is why women now pose with their hands on their hips. Of course, when every female in a picture puts her hands on her hips, you may have to elbow a longtime friend or family member.  The illusion of being slender comes with a cost.

Some of your exceptionally good posers dramatically raise an arm behind the head so that the elbow is bent and the back of the head is resting in the palm of the hand. I tried that move and the husband whispered that it looked like I was checking my deodorant.

How you hold your head is critical. Serious posers jut the entire face forward, then tilt their heads down ever so slightly. From the side, the move looks like a turtle emerging from its shell. The net effect is that it eliminates chin flap. Of course, one young lady said that pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth can also eliminate chin sag. Keep in mind she was probably all of 15.

The truly camera-conscious never face the camera directly; they always turn at a 45-degree angle. In every picture, they look like they’re walking away from a conversation.

Nor does anyone stand up straight anymore. It’s not about posture, it’s about keeping one knee bent. And don’t stand with your legs side by side. Extend one leg. Now, if you can wrap your extended leg around your bent knee you’re well on your way to becoming a human pretzel.

You will probably also want to work on your ballet hands. Let your hands go limp at the wrists, slightly spread your fingers apart and bring your hands together in front of your mid-section. You should now look like you have ballet hands—or like someone just took a large serving bowl away from you.

By the end of the evening, I was comfortable with the new posing techniques. I was effortlessly (and constantly) lifting my arms, bending my knees, bobbing my chin up and down, angling my shoulders, extending my legs and shaking out my hands.

If my new poses don’t result in better photographs, at least I have some new dance moves.

Mr. Fix-it throws a wrench into the home maintenance plan

Over the years, the husband and I have developed a three-step approach to home repair.

Step one is to note the problem.

Step two is to wait and see if the problem takes care of itself.

Step three is to talk about how professionals attacked the problem on one of those home and garden television shows.

Of course, they always have large work crews, no clean-up and accomplish in 10 minutes what may take the rest of us three months, so then we get discouraged and revert to step two, which is wait and see if the problem takes care of itself.

For the record, a home repair project has never taken care of itself yet, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up hope.

The system worked well for more than three decades and we were happy. And then our youngest daughter married a fellow who does not abide by the three-step plan.

He does not note a problem, talk about a problem, or consult with media gurus; he simply attacks the problem head-on and fixes it as fast as he can.

We should probably call him Flash.

His wife once mentioned that the tile in their kitchen was looking dated and 90 minutes later they were at a big box store and she was picking out tile. He had the old tile off and the surface prepped for new tile by sundown.

It’s like watching a time-lapse video.

When their youngest outgrew her crib and needed a toddler bed, he built one. In a weekend.

We appreciate that the man has talent, but he sure makes the rest of us look bad.

He was at our home for dinner one evening and noticed that the refrigerator door made a ka-lunk sound as you closed it. He asked if it bothered me. I said yes, but I was still on step two, waiting to see if the ka-lunk sound would take care of itself.

The meal was about over when I detected motion in my peripheral vision accompanied by a beeping sound – the alarm signaling the refrigerator door was open. I looked over my shoulder and there was Flash with the door completely off the refrigerator.

“I found the problem,” he said. “It’s this small plastic clip. I can fix it.”

“Great,” I said. “I can get dessert.”

We all have our strengths, right? Mine is chocolate.

He had the refrigerator door fixed by the time I cut the brownies.

We appreciate it all. We really do – the screen repair on the back door, the towel bar that no longer pulls out of the wall, the new door stop, the electrical help, the plumbing help, the yard help and the loan of the fancy nail gun with the air compressor.

But now that he’s raised the bar, life will never be the same. It’s time for us to up our game.

And so we are. We’re adding step four to our three-step approach to home repair—call the son-in-law.

This time needs to be the last time

Since our accountant joined a bigger firm, we can no longer just say hello to the ladies at the front desk and breeze into his office. We check in at a counter with sliding glass windows and are then buzzed in through a locked door.

The firm has security precautions because they house valuable personal and financial data.

We went to a concert at the beautiful, historic Chicago Theater not long ago.  We passed through two rounds of security before we were admitted. The theater is committed to protecting the performers, the audience and the venue.

We can’t go to a professional football, baseball or basketball game without going through security. Sports arenas have security to protect players, fans and the athletic complexes.

We allow a good 30 minutes to pass through security when we fly somewhere. Security measures are in place to protect passengers, pilots, crew, staff and the aircrafts.

We can’t report for jury duty or fill out an absentee ballot without going through security. Government buildings have scanners and armed officers to protect judges, jurors, employees and the inner-workings of local, state and federal government.

The husband and I attended several campaign rallies during the last presidential election. We both started our careers as photojournalists. Between the two of us, we have photographed every president since Nixon and wanted to keep the collection current. Every rally had security. Some of the security measures rivaled those of airports.

After the bank where we do business was robbed several years ago, they installed two sets of locked doors and scanners you must pass through to enter the bank. They’re wisely insuring there’s not a repeat of what happened before.

We have tight security for celebrities, entertainers and audiences, professional athletes and their fans, judges, jurors, government workers, corporate office buildings, pilots, planes, passengers, presidential candidates, our money and our tax records.

We have security in schools, too. It varies from school to school and, in many cases, it’s not particularly daunting.

Some schools have an armed officer, some don’t. Every school requires you sign-in at the front desk. Some buzz you in, some require picture ID, some have a camera that prints out a fuzzy picture of your face on a nametag that you slap on your chest.

But school shooters don’t check in at the front desk.

Our children are priceless—every bit worthy of the security we provide pilots, planes, airline passengers, professional athletes, celebrities, entertainers, our courts, our banks and our tax records.

We need immediate implementation of strengthened and uniform security measures at every school, just like we have implemented tightened and uniform security measures at every airport and government building.

We can’t wait for a next time. This needs to be the last time.

Fear undoubtedly a certain part of parenting

Before Orville and Wilbur Wright spread their wings, they ran a small bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They were cutting edge, both the Wright brothers and bicycles. Bicycles were the next big thing of the day. But not everyone was on board. There were voices of concern from parents. Why? Because a child who could not go far from home by walking could now be a mile away—in only 15 minutes.


We chuckle at that now. The bicycle has been eclipsed by a myriad of vehicles and technological innovations. Today a child can be a virtual continent away in a mere click.

Every generation of parents has faced the fear of the unknown, but if you believed all the press releases filling my inbox, you’d think this generation is the first.

I receive a daily barrage of warnings, cautions, advisories, alarms and alerts regarding household dangers, tech dangers, environmental dangers, social media dangers, drug dependencies, behavior abnormalities, and diseases and disorders of all sorts, which lie in wait for our children.

The warnings are not without credibility and fear can serve a useful purpose; a red flag warning of imminent danger. But the constant drum of fear is debilitating, exhausting and weakens us all.

Before you know it, every small cut needs a tourniquet, every child who says no is psychotic and every kid who won’t eat peas is nurturing an eating disorder.

Parents begin living in the shadow of fear. Those blasted bicycles simply move too fast.

If parents live in fear, how will the children live? The need for safe spaces on college campuses didn’t materialize out of thin air.

Parents must be prudent, savvy and sensible, but parents must also live boldly. And parents must teach children how to live boldly.

How? The best way parents have always taught – by example.

If we cower, our children will cower.

I recently encountered a young mother from an affluent neighborhood who said she doesn’t allow her child to play in the backyard for fear neighbors will call the police and report her for child neglect.

She doesn’t fear for her child’s safety as much as she fears her neighbors’ fears.

Fear is highly contagious. But so is courage.

Karson Vega, a 13-year-old middle school student in Texas, recently took charge of a school bus when the driver suffered a medical emergency. Vega safely brought the bus to a stop on a bridge over the Colorado River. He learned to act decisively somewhere. Chances are he learned it at home.

Parenting has never been for the fearful. Embrace it all, the good, the rotten and the in-between, and teach your kids that life is a mix. It always has been.

You get one shot at this parenting thing. There are no do-overs.

Your first shot is your best shot and your only shot.

Leave fear in the dust and give it all you’ve got.