Check out candidates’ hotel assignments

People are buzzing because Hillary Clinton, who likes to portray herself as an average American, is shelling out $400,000 for two weeks in a vacation home in the Hamptons with private grounds, a hedged-in swimming pool and sweeping views of the ocean.

Exactly where do people think a high-profile politician like Hillary should stay? Holiday Inn Express? They do have free breakfast bars attractive to families on a budget, but can you really picture Hillary at the waffle maker? (Find some syrup, Huma!)

Holiday Inn Express does offer free high-speed Internet access in every room, but no private servers. So, no, it’s not going to happen.

We Americans are a funny lot. We want candidates who are smarter than us, but we don’t want them to go around talking about how they’re so much smarter than us. We want candidates who are richer than us, but we don’t want them rubbing our noses in their money. And, apparently, we now want them to vacation like they’re middle class. Fine. I’m handing out hotel assignments right now:

Send Mike Huckabee to a Motel Six. Leave the light on. And a Bible in the drawer. He’s as close to a regular guy as any of them.

Last time I stayed at a Motel Six, which was years ago, “breakfast” was in the lobby—a basket filled with a half dozen stale sweet rolls wrapped in cellophane. Huckabee strikes me as a man who would graciously take one and even say thank you.

Carly Fiorina might be more comfortable at a Hilton Garden Inn. They’re classy, upscale and, if I remember correctly, have bathrobes hanging on the back of the bathroom door. She seems like a white fluffy robe sort of woman. Hilton Garden Inns have all the amenities, but they don’t do the communal breakfast thing. Breakfast is on your own in the restaurant, separate tables, separate tabs, no free mints.

Bernie Sanders might enjoy an elder hostel somewhere, maybe in the dorm room of a small liberal arts college. He’d also be fine with cafeteria food.

Trump doesn’t need a hotel; he already owns a bunch.

Ted Cruz could throw down at the Crockett Hotel, billed as only steps from the Alamo. It’s historic, plain and fairly reasonable. He’d be comfortable there, although I could see him bucking at the $24 self-parking fee. We sure would.

Jeb Bush doesn’t need a hotel; the Bush dynasty has a lockdown on Kennebunkport.

I’m not sure what to do with Ben Carson, Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie and the rest, but the important thing is, if we can guilt all the candidates into booking franchise hotels, it could drive down rental fees for luxury vacation homes. Maybe a few hundred of the rest of us could chip in and rent one.

Dibs on the room with the ocean view.

No dental, no medical . . . no problem

After I made a dental appointment last week, the receptionist called back to say we no longer had dental coverage.

“That’s interesting,” I said.

“Yep, and you don’t have any medical insurance either,” she said.

The dentist’s receptionist is a perky sort, so if you’re going to get bad news, she’s a good one to get it from.

“No dental or medical, huh?” I asked.

“Nope, nothing. As a matter of fact, they said your husband was terminated May 31st.”

I said thanks and that I’d call the husband at work and tell him to come on back to the house as he had been fired three months ago. Why he’d been getting paychecks was beyond me.

When I called, he couldn’t talk long because he was busy photographing a spot news story about a gas line break. He suggested I call the insurance company. I suggested he keep his distance from the gas leak, as we didn’t have insurance.

I called the insurance company and they confirmed he had been terminated May 31st. The rep then said she couldn’t talk to me without first talking to him.

For a brief moment, I wondered how all these people could be wrong. Maybe he had been terminated. Maybe he hadn’t been going to work. Maybe that wasn’t really his credit line I’d been seeing in the paper. Maybe he had another wife and another family somewhere. Maybe I had watched too many Lifetime movies on TV.

It took three hours, numerous phone calls, a lot of hair pulling and two emails with a few words in all capital letters, but the situation was resolved. He had not been terminated; someone had read the wrong line on a spreadsheet and set the ball in motion.

The fallout from being told you don’t have insurance coverage or a job is nothing compared to the people who are told they don’t have a life. Each month, Social Security mistakenly lists 750 living Americans as dead. That’s 9,000 people a year wrongly identified by the government as deceased. Once you get on the death list, it’s not easy to get off.

“Sixty Minutes” recently profiled four people who had wrongly been listed as dead. All of them had been locked out of their bank accounts and assets. One woman had been arrested and taken to jail for suspected identity theft.

Several years ago, a man in Utah mistakenly listed as dead visited a Social Security office to protest his “death” in person. The clerks wanted more evidence.

The husband and I are thankful that we are once again in good standing with insurance coverage, and that his employer once again has him listed as employed.

Oh, and for the record: we are very much alive.

Invasion of the bunny tales

We have several neighbors who take a casual approach to lawn maintenance. They are essentially growing native habitats.

Word spread about the unofficial wildlife sanctuaries in the neighborhood and rabbits began pouring in from surrounding counties. Small animals have amazingly good communication networks, despite not being adept at Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Rabbits in particular are extremely social, a statement I base on the rate at which they multiply. They have been multiplying like, well, rabbits.

Word was it started with a litter of 10. The bunnies began venturing from across the street and appearing in our backyard and on our patio in the evenings. And then they began appearing in the mornings. And then all the hours between. We were thinking of putting up a street sign that says “Slow, Bunnies at Play.”

After reconciling ourselves to the fact that we will have no parsley or dill this year, we grew to enjoy their visits. They were adorable. We watched Mopsy, Topsy and Flopsy grow from baby bunnies to toddler bunnies to pre-K bunnies.

They were so delightful that their appearances began cutting into my work day. I was continually jumping up from the computer and taking pictures through the window, sneaking out through the back door to creep up for a better angle, chasing them into the side yard and the front yard in pursuit of good shots. Some days I was spending an average of five minutes per hour working and 55 minutes stalking rabbits.

Between the husband and me, we have an entire portfolio of rabbit pictures: bunny by the lily of the valley, bunny by the red geraniums, rabbit eyeing a chipmunk, rabbit on hind legs feeding himself and even a picture of the proverbial turtle and the hare.

About a month after the first bunnies began coming by, it seemed there were more bunnies. Turns out that a mama rabbit has an unusually short postpartum recovery time. She bounces back so fast that she can become pregnant the day after delivering. (And I thought a couple of our kids were close together.)

If one momma bunny had 10 baby bunnies every 30 days and there was more than one momma bunny in the wildlife sanctuary, and then the baby bunnies began having bunnies . . .

We now have an assortment of rabbits, representing the entire rabbit lifespan, lining up in chronological order on the patio any given day. There are baby bunnies (adorable!), pre-adolescent bunnies (prominent front teeth), teenage bunnies (they wear their cottontails low), middle-aged bunnies (widening girth) and mature AARP card-eligible rabbits (you can sneak up very close to them because their hearing is going).

The granddaddy of all rabbits is lounging out back today. He looks like he has just returned from Mr. McGregor’s garden. And that he has eaten Mr. McGregor. Possibly even Mrs. McGregor.

Now that the rabbits have diminished considerably in cuteness and grown exponentially in size and number, we are thinking of a new street sign: “Your Sunday Dinner Could Be In Our Backyard, Come and Get It.”

No instructions needed—the heart knows what to do

Our youngest daughter dropped off a suitcase with clothes, jammies and diapers for her one-year-old who will stay with us when her mommy and daddy go to the hospital to deliver their second baby. Along with the suitcase came a favorite blanket, a stuffed animal—and two pages of typed instructions.

This will be our eighth grandchild. It’s not like we haven’t worked this gig before. As they say, “This ain’t our first rodeo.”

The instructions begin: “Warning!!!!!” (Five exclamation points.)

“She’s FAST!!!!!!!!!!”(Ten exclamation points.)

“She loves cords, outlets, confined corners, climbing on top of things, eating anything she can pick up with her fingers, running and pulling up on things. She’s strong!” That one only had one exclamation mark. Clearly, the baby momma was losing steam. At nine months, who doesn’t?

When we visited our son and daughter-in-law after they had their second baby, we saw that our daughter-in-law had four pages of handwritten instructions stuck to the refrigerator for her mother who had come to care for their first. I may have laughed too hard then. Now I am getting my just desserts.

My instructions included details on filling the sippy cup with Vitamin D milk and bringing the milk to room temperature. Little does she know the tot drank it cold from our ‘fridge just a week ago. But fine, I’ll bring it to room temperature.

There is a list of foods she can have: strawberries, blueberries, pieces of string cheese, bits of bread and peaches. And foods that are off limits: grapes, raw veggies, popcorn, soda and juice. I added bourbon and Chex Mix to her list to see if she catches it later.

I read my instructions thoroughly, especially the ones about “Send LOTS of pictures!!!!!” and the one that said, “Please go in after 10-15 min. if she’s crying and try rocking her or holding her upright (like a hug position) to help her fall asleep.” I realized she didn’t write these because she thinks we’re inept. She wrote them because she’s apprehensive.

She’s worried about leaving a 13-month-old who might not understand why. She’s worried her little one might think Mommy and Daddy are not coming back. (Believe me, Grandma will make sure that they do.)

But there’s something else between the lines. She’s fielding a question every mother asks with her second. If you love your first one so very much, where does more love come from for yet another?

Oh, sweet Baby Momma, the human heart was made pliable. It was made to bend and stretch and grow with the seasons, like a tree that sprouts a million new buds every spring. You have a deep reservoir of love. It’s bubbling in your heart even now.

A mother’s promise: Your babies will be fine and so will you!!!!!!!!!!

Ten exclamation points.

Vacation—half the fun is surviving

Our son and his family sent a classic snippet while they are on vacation. It is a short video that opens with the sun beaming streaks of apricot behind a bank of dark scalloped clouds hugging the horizon. Majestic. The camera pans a barn, a windmill, beautiful wide-open prairies and wheat fields with perfect right-angle corners. Breathtaking. And then in the background you hear one of the kids yelling, “Stop it, John!”

It’s family vacation time. Who hasn’t had the pleasure? You plan, you map, you pack, you estimate travel time, you pack some more, you count down the days, the kids are excited, you’re excited, but there are always those moments that no family vacation is without.

No vacation is complete without some fighting in the backseat.

No vacation is complete without at least one brief moment wishing you’d never left home.

No vacation is complete without, “I have to go and I have to go now!” Just as no vacation is complete without at least one, “I don’t feel so good,” or “What’s this rash on my arms?”

Somewhere along the line you can plan on someone copping an attitude. Someone will touch someone else’s leg and that will trigger an all out battle. One of your points-of-interest won’t quite match the description on the Internet. There were no tour buses in the photo online, no long wait for a dirty restroom, no bees circling the overflowing trashcan.

Our son sent another email from where they are camping for the night. They are at the Ingalls homestead (as in “Little House on the Prairie”) in De Smet, South Dakota. The picture is the view from their tent and around their tent. It is flat prairie nothingness. There’s no pump, spigot, small creek bed or water drop in sight. No outhouse or port-a-potty can be seen. There is one lonely picnic table, but no grill or fire pit.

There is not another human being in sight. Coyotes and wolves are probably lurking in that tree line in the distance, waiting for nightfall. The skies are clear. You can feel the scorching heat.

It is a still picture with no sound. Probably just as well. Some memories are better left on mute.

Still, they are making the best kind of memories. They are learning to be family, to get along, to iron out differences, to endure one another and love another. Even a vacation is a mixed bag of ease and challenge. Life always is.

To those of you traveling great distances or vacationing with small children this year, two things: God speed, and remember—a family vacation is two parts relaxation and one part “Survivor.”

Furniture logs frequent family miles

We have a family history of moving furniture from one family member to another. We have a bedroom suite in an upstairs bedroom that traveled from a great-aunt to my brother and his wife, who then gave it to one of our daughters.

When the bed, dresser and vanity moved in here, I thought the set finally had a permanent home. A year later it moved out to an apartment. A year after that it came back. We figure it must be one of the Boomerang generation.

We have a piano that has logged nearly 5,000 miles in moves. If it had a dashboard, it would tell us it’s due for an oil change. Yep, just roll your little cart right there under Middle C, Mr. Mechanic.

There is a crib in the family that has been in three different states, six different homes and slept five different babies. It might sound like we are cheap; we prefer to call it practical.

When I visit my brother’s place, I always have a furniture déjà vu. I recognize the sofa in his basement as once having been in Mom and Dad’s basement, but it should be against a wall not in the middle of the room. He probably feels the same about a church pew I have that sits at the top of the stairs. It really should be under a window.

The furniture and goods not only keep recycling, sometimes they even multiply. We bought a small portable blue cot several years ago for when grandkids spend the night and now we have two little blue cots. I don’t know who the second one belongs to or how it got here, but I do know possession is nine-tenths of the law.

When our oldest daughter’s family moved back to the area, they made the mistake of buying a house with a large basement. I immediately offered a carpet shampooer and plastic tubs full of wedding centerpieces someone may want someday, so that their basement didn’t look so empty. Always doing what I can to help.

Her sister donated a table and six chairs that don’t fit in the place where she lives now. And an old saddle. Who doesn’t need a saddle in the basement?

In our most recent round of moves and rotations of household goods, we seem to have lost the dinner plates to my mother’s china. I searched my house and don’t have them. The youngest daughter searched her house and doesn’t have them, and the oldest daughter searched her house and doesn’t have them. Our son says China isn’t lost. It’s where it has always been in East Asia.

How do you lose a box with 16 dinner plates? I don’t think you do. You just keep them moving so fast nobody can catch them.

Humidity got you steamed?

There are beautiful summer days when you feel blessed to live in the Midwest. You wonder why you’d ever leave this part of the country to travel anywhere else. The sky is blue, the air is crisp, the fields are green and birds serenade outside very window. Yes, there are days like that. This is not one of them.

Today is the umpteenth consecutive morning the outdoor thermometer has said the humidity is 98 percent. The only time the humidity drops is when it is actually raining. The air is steamy and muggy. Nearly claustrophobic. When the legislature reconvenes, I’m going to propose a new state motto: “Indiana: Tropics of the Midwest”

The air is so “close” as my father-in-law used to call it, that you could walk outside and shower on your front lawn. Not that I’d advise it. Plus, the shampooing part probably wouldn’t turn out well.

Our 4-year-old grandson likes to sticks his head out a door every morning and report on the weather. “It’s a little bit breezy and a little bit chilly,” he tells me.

“Good to know,” I say.

Minutes later, the husband walks into the kitchen. “Tell Grandpa what the weather is like today.”

“It’s a little bit hot and a little bit cold.”

He’s living the cliché every city claims: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.”

If only.

Last year, when we had a long, miserable run of hot and humid, I was checking out at a store and the clerk said she was from the South and absolutely loved the humidity. I thought about shaking some sense into her, but I didn’t. One, because it would have been the wrong thing to do, and two, I was too weakened by the humidity.

For those of you unfamiliar with claustrophobic, oppressive humidity, there are actually three types of humidity. There is plain old humidity, which refers to the amount of water in the air as measured by women with naturally curly hair. A friend claims it has been so humid that her hair has been curled like a poodle’s since early June. She says when she needs a trim, she’ll probably have to book an appointment at Pet Smart.

Relative humidity refers to the percentage of people that make you feel claustrophobic and closed-in at a family gathering.

Specific humidity refers to the specific point in time you resolve to do something about the humidity by googling “U.S. cities with lowest humidity.”

The top four answers are Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver.

Each and every one is a long way to travel to enjoy a bout of fresh air and a morning cup of coffee on a stranger’s patio. I’m not ruling it out.

On this tour make like a tree and leave

One of my greatest temptations is stealing flowers from other people’s gardens. I’ve never done it; well at least if you don’t count the time I clipped a branch with red berries from a neighbor’s tree for a Thanksgiving centerpiece. The branch was overhanging the sidewalk and could whack people in the face, so I don’t consider that a theft as much as I consider it performing a community service. And yes, I am aware such actions are often the gateway to more serious crimes.

It is with this penchant for criminality that I went on my first garden tour. My friend bought the tickets and had the map. “The tour begins with the house with the wraparound porch. You know the house?” my friend asked. Of course I knew the house; anybody who had driven through the village knows the house.

Being the first ones on site, my friend opened the front gate surrounded by enormous hydrangeas. We oohed and aahed our way up the walk to the lush garden beds surrounding the wraparound porch—freshly mulched hostas, sprawling blue veronica and cheerful Shasta daisies. There are few things I enjoy more than the fruit of other people’s manual labor.

I snapped pictures of every foot of the porch, including the beautiful front door, the light fixtures, the house numbers, the ferns and the outdoor furniture with luxurious pillows.

It was lush, peaceful and, wonder of all, we had this magnificent place to ourselves.

We walked the stone path around the house and through the side yard. We came upon a white gate featuring a birdhouse made out of a hat nailed to it. The gate led to the pool. We peeked in. Charming.

My friend wondered why they hadn’t deadheaded the roses for the tour. Tsk, tsk. And why no refreshments on the porch, I asked. We cackled like crows. We were having fun now.

A few steps later, there it was. The arbor swing of my dreams. I took a seat and breathed deep. Then I took a few more snaps. Maybe later I’d Photoshop myself into the arbor swing relaxing with a glass of iced tea.

It was fabulous, simply fabulous. We lingered some more. I took pictures of my friend’s daughter crouched next to a hydrangea bloom. I needed proof the blooms were larger than a human head.


At the next garden on our map, a woman was in the driveway asking to see tickets. No one asked to see tickets at the other house. This place was crowded. We had the other place to ourselves. Of course, that’s because the first place we toured wasn’t on the tour. Turns out there are two houses in the village with wraparound porches.

I fired my friend as map reader.

I’d even taken a picture at the first house of a little ceramic sign that said Garden Tour. I hadn’t noticed it said 2012.

There are two ways to look at this; either we were trespassing, or we toured a garden three years late. In the interest of a clean criminal record, I’m going with the latter.

At least it wasn’t a house tour.

The meaning of the Fourth is losing its spark

The answer is Boston. The question is, “Your favorite Fourth of July?”

The kids were all at home that summer, but it would be one of the last. We’d planned a summer vacation sweeping the upper East Coast, stopping at every spot of historical interest, forcing them to tour sites and read countless plaques and markers about events and people long ago.

They claimed I thought even the roadside litter had historical significance. Carbon date it and we’ll see, kids.

A year later, our son was in college studying architecture and a professor asked for a show of hands as to who had been to this particular site or that particular monumentaround the country. Our son said he raised his hand so many times it was embarrassing. “Mom, did you realize how many of those places we’d been to?”

We’d been to Lexington and Concord the day before the Fourth. We lingered at the North Bridge a long time. It is quiet and serene there, with thick grass, quiet waters and mature trees that dapple the sunlight. It is the very ground where farmers and craftsmen, ordinary citizens, answered the peal of church bells to commence battle for every man’s God-given right to live free.

We walked the Freedom Trail through Boston on the Fourth, the red brick pathway that leads past King’s Chapel, Park Street Chapel, the Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church and Bunker Hill. There are nameplates in the church pews. Many were regular churchgoers, faith being woven into the fabric of life.

Ministers in the pulpit at the time of the Revolution were firebrands. They weren’t preaching about enhancing self-esteem and 15 ways to love yourself more. Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian and Congregationalist ministers, Jesuits and priests preached revolution. Some became military chaplains and others like John Witherspoon served in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

After following the red brick road, we sandwiched ourselves into the Boston Harbor that evening amid a mass of humanity. Fireworks soared into the sky and exploded into magnificent balls of red, white and blue glitter, brilliantly mirrored in the water below.

The crowd oohed and aahed. For a time, we were all fixed on something larger than ourselves, not unlike when the colonists were fixed on a vision for a government where no man would be above the law.

Dwarfed by fireworks arcing and filling the sky, it truly felt like “E pluribus unum,” from many one. It would be one of the last Fourths that felt that way.

Today we don’t often embrace “from many one.” We are becoming fragments, shards and splinters screaming, fighting and clawing to get what is ours. The once broad vision for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has grown myopic focused on self, greed, and what’s trending on Twitter.

That shining city sitting on a hill? The lights are growing dim.

The question today is, “Do we have the grit and vision to refuel the lamps and rekindle the vision?”

I pray we do.

PBJ a small taste of giving

I’m baking brownies today. One hundred and twenty-five. Each one will go into a small plastic bag and be put in the freezer.

Next week there will be an assembly line in my kitchen as friends slap peanut butter and jelly on bread, drop small containers of applesauce, along with juice boxes, the brownies, spoons and napkins, into the paper bags.

We’re making sack lunches for a Vacation Bible School that meets in a gritty neighborhood on the near-Eastside of Indianapolis. We don’t pack veggies—the kids won’t eat them. Ours is to supply, not reform.

The first time we did this, it was for 80, then 90, then 100 and now 125.

Sounds wonderful of me, doesn’t it? The fact is, this is an easy way to give. Funding 125 sack lunches comes with a cost, but it’s only money.

This sort of giving doesn’t cost me at a gut level. It’s not the kind of giving that sits beside someone, listens to them, loves them, cradles them, challenges them, calls them to a new way of living. Seriously, have you ever heard someone say, “A brownie changed my life?” The sack lunches meet a momentary need, but they don’t address the deep need.

Our friends who pastor the church hosting the VBS address people’s needs on a far larger scale. They’re engaged in costly giving—they give of themselves. They believe to minister to the poor, you have to become poor. So they did.

And so they are.

Those who give much, reap much. They see the dividends that come with sacrificial investments—new life, more families doing foster care, addicts no longer addicted and a few more kids who now have a future. But the needs never end. One need is met and two more arise.

And then there’s the drumbeat of poverty constantly in the background. Cars stolen, gunfire, awakening to find a SWAT team on the front porch at 3 a.m.

But by far, the biggest cost of sacrificial giving is having their hearts broken. Repeatedly. It’s watching the smallest ones slip through the cracks and knowing all too well what’s ahead for them.

Yet, along with the neighborhood VBS, the leadership circle is growing, too—there are more solid church members helping shepherd the flock, and a few more transplants have moved in from the outer ring of the city to be of service.

They graduated another class of high school kids this year and have established an amazing health clinic. It’s all volunteer. People do what programs never can.

Of course, every gift counts. The parts come together to make the whole. But I am acutely and humbly aware with each brownie I pack that there is a rich and costly giving that changes lives, and then there are the crumbs.

Hopefully, the crumbs will bless, too. One hundred twenty-three, 124, 125.