How to ruin an apology with an excuse

Being a person who routinely plans ahead for things, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize.

Granted, I have not done or said anything patently offensive to any demographic, large or small—and please forgive the size references, no offense intended—but in light of today’s super-sensitive climate it’s just a matter of time, so I’d like to apologize now and be done with it. That is, unless you are offended by me being proactive and in that case I am sorry that you are offended.

If at any time, in any way, I have made or do make comments that offend, or might possibly offend you, your friends, your family, your co-workers, your pets, the guy who sold you your car, the person who styles your hair or the sales clerk who said you look good in graphic print leggings, then for that I apologize.

That said, if I make comments and you are not offended, why don’t we get together for a drink? I’m sorry, that could be offensive. What I meant to say was, why don’t we share a bag of kale chips?

Please know that my behavior can be erratic due to hunger, sleep deprivation or a barrage of the latest headlines. While I would never try to excuse my behavior, let me just say that mistakes can be made, timelines can be off, communication can fail, files can be lost and emails can be deleted. If somehow through my actions you are offended, your job placed in jeopardy or your reputation besmirched and you think I was responsible, then for that I am sorry. If not, then we’re good, right?

The important thing is that we learn from the past as we look forward to the future. Why not put any and all potential misunderstanding behind us right now by holding hands and sharing a moment that hopefully will lead to a group hug. That’s right, lean in.

No, don’t. I apologize to those of you who found that suggestive.

Don’t lean in; stay where you are. Step back. A little farther, please. Thank you.

I apologize to those of you who have been hurt by what you now sense to be a certain distance I have put between us.

Please allow me to acknowledge fault where acknowledging fault would be appropriate. Know that as I acknowledge fault where acknowledging fault is appropriate, I will take full and complete responsibility for my actions by throwing my chief of whatever under the bus and immediately firing my PR team. As you can tell by my sincerity—and the tear in my left eye—there is absolutely no need for litigation.

While I can neither confirm nor deny anything, I speak from the heart when I say if you were hurt due to having a bad day, being keenly self-absorbed or suffering from a social media-induced narcissism and believing the world revolves around you and your quirks and predilections, then for that I am sorry.

Truly, truly sorry.

Welcome to the jail, cell

With the family gathering for the holidays, I thought it only polite to alert them that they could be doing jail time. OK, so maybe the family won’t be doing jail time, but their cell phones might.

I got a jail in the mail. Seriously. It’s a little jail cell, a 10-inch cube. It’s plastic with two lock buttons, jail bars and everything. It even has bunk beds and four upright chairs. My jail came in a box from Foresters, an international financial services provider.

It’s an adorable jail and you should get one, too, but Foresters doesn’t sell them. They send them out to media types to promote the idea of enhancing family well-being by committing to putting down your cell phone for at least an hour at every family gathering. It’s a good idea. A sound investment. They’ll see a big return on this one. Bull market all the way. Sorry, sometimes I can’t stop.

Foresters also commissioned a Harris poll, which found that people were most annoyed by family members using devices at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I didn’t think those findings were all that disturbing considering how many people find family members themselves annoying at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So now that I’ve got a little jail, if someone is rude with a cell phone during the holidays, I will confiscate the device (wish me luck), deposit it in the jail and hit the lockdown button which says, “We find you guilty of disruptions, interruptions and distractions. Lock it up!”

I like it. And yet, I look at my little jail and all I can think of is Johnny Cash and “Folsom Prison Blues.” I suddenly have an urge to wear black.

I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen a landline since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in cell phone prison, and tones keep beepin’ on

Yes, this will be the holiday season of “You do the crime, you do the time.”

You have the right to put your device on mute. Any text you send can and will be held against you. You have a right to a recharging station; if you cannot find a recharging station, one will be provided for you.

Of course, with jail comes the inevitable jail break. You don’t need a file in a cake to bust out of this one, more like a stir stick in a Starbucks. Actually, you just snap the lid off the jail and the contraption starts yelling, “Alert! Alert! Breakout in progress!”

The peculiar thing is, in our family the younger generation is pretty good about detaching from devices. It is my media-driven husband and myself who are sometimes reminded by preschool-age grandchildren (coached, of course) that cell phones are inappropriate during family time.

I think I know who’s going to be doing time. At least we won’t be alone.

I hear that ring tone wailing, I hang my head and cry.

Could be a case of thanks but no thanks

I wish my gratitude wasn’t dependent on your misery, but sometimes it is. I’m sorry about that, especially with this being the season of giving thanks and all.

The other day I woke up in a foul mood. I fluffed my pillow with an enthusiasm that bordered on violence. Facing the same old, same old, sitting in the same chair, staring at the same computer seemed like, oh, I don’t know, work.

And then I remembered a friend who has been without a job for nearly a year and I found myself thankful.

Not long after that I saw your car in a parking lot. It had a big dent in the front and the grill was messed up. My car is getting old and dinged these days, but it’s not as bad as yours, so I was thankful.

Sometimes I wish our son lived closer so we could see his family more often. And then I ran into a friend whose daughter lives in London. Ours kids at least live on the same continent that we do, so I was thankful.

There you have it: Thanksgiving relativity—thanksgiving predicated on the notion that it can always be worse.

It’s like that saying, “I wept because I had no shoes and then I met a man with no feet.”

That’s all fine and good for the man with no shoes (he’s feeling pretty good about himself now), but where does that leave the man with no feet? What’s he supposed to do?

A verse in the Old Testament (Psalms 22:3) says God inhabits the praises of his people. If that is true, I wonder where he is living these days. Our praises often seem a bit tenuous.

When our thankfulness is based on having something better, easier or slightly more comfortable than someone else, it’s not gratitude as much as it is an unspoken competition.

While it is always a source of comfort that things haven’t gotten as bad as they could, and probably will, that is not the essence of thankfulness.

What if the Pilgrims had that attitude at the first Thanksgiving?

They would have been quietly giving thanks that they had better clothing than their guests. “This smock may be worn slick and threadbare, but at least my thighs are covered.”

The Indians could have been giving thanks that they didn’t have to eat those bland dishes the Pilgrims kept trotting out. “No wonder they put them on a boat and sent them out to sea.”

The celebrants at the first Thanksgiving didn’t need a measuring stick of comparison to give thanks. They trusted the faithfulness of God all the while living the rhythm of plenty and want, life and death, joy and sorrow. Shortly after that first Thanksgiving marked by abundance, the Pilgrims fell on hard times and suffered again. Yet they continually marked their calendars with days of thanksgiving. They accepted their reality, both the suffering and the ease, and continued to be thankful.

Not a bad model to follow.

Thanksgiving requires a lot of dough

One of my favorite high-end cookware catalogs suggests that in order to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving, I should drop a bundle on a Bluetooth thermometer. It can monitor two temperatures at once, courtesy of a smart phone app. (Don’t test turkey temps and drive!)

If I want to be a truly state-of-the-art cook, I will also need a new blender. Not just any blender, but a 2-horsepower blender. To pulverize what? The driveway? It says particles are 50 percent smaller than particles pulverized in other blenders. Good to know. Nothing ruins a meal faster than a particle in the 65th percentile.

I might also want to take out a small loan to buy a new set of steak knives before Thanksgiving. They are sharp-looking knives, but listen, if you need steak knives for your Thanksgiving turkey, you’ve got bigger problems than dull knives.

I might also want to drop a couple of Ben Franklins on a technically advanced skillet with ultra-even heating. I might. Or I might just keep seasoning my cast iron skillet. It has such ultra-even heating that even the handle gets red hot.

Home Retail, parent to a chain of do-it-yourself stores in Great Britain, recently announced they will close a quarter of their stores, in part due to the rise of a generation “less skilled in DIY projects.”

We’re all a little less skilled in the basics with each passing generation.

Contemplating the wizardry that would put my Thanksgiving feast on the fast track to smart phone apps, more electrical cords and multiple credit card swipes, I realized some of the best holiday meals I’ve ever had were created by cooks often working without so much as a cookbook.

They learned by doing and I learned by watching.

Sauté chopped onions and diced celery in a pan of butter. A pinch of this, a pinch of that, a dash of salt and sprinkle of pepper. Dry your bread crumbs the night before. A little broth, not too much.

Gravy? Stand back. Once that woman gets to whisking, there’s gonna be a whole lot of shaking going on.

There is something marvelous about tapping the vein of DIY resourcefulness. It makes you feel more human, less mechanized, less controlled, less at the mercy of a digital readout and 2-year warranty.

Knowing how to do a few things with your own hands, independent of expensive gadgetry, is satisfying. Maybe it’s learning to test a bird for doneness by wiggling the drumsticks, cutting butter into flour for a piecrust, sticking a tomato plant in the ground or growing rosemary on a windowsill.

Creating something, making something, enjoying the fruit of our labor and learning the art of improvise when things go wrong, are among our last remaining links to that original band of Pilgrims. They were the ultimate in resourcefulness.

That said, as highly as I esteem resourcefulness, I have been known to buy a box of Bob Evans’ potatoes, microwave them, sprinkle them with parsley and pass them off as my own. I like to think of it as resourcefulness of a modern sort.

Why we all need an aerial view

I recently came across an aerial photograph of my grandparents’ Nebraska farm taken in the 1960s. True to memory, the centerpiece was the big white house with the wraparound porch. Just as I remembered, a narrow ribbon of sidewalk led from the house past the chicken coop, the garage with the door that slid from side to side, the tool shed, the small milk house with the big sink and giant refrigerated tank, directly to the barn.

The black and white picture confirmed my piecemeal Farmmemories and put them together in a larger frame. The farm wasn’t as big as I remembered. It was bigger.

There were giant silos beyond the ground I normally wandered, a hog barn, a shelter for the tractor and the combine, and other structures as well. There was more to the farm than I saw as a kid kicking rocks down the lane.

That simple but sometimes startling reminder-that it is easy to fixate on the parts and lose sight of the whole-may be the most wonderful thing about flying. Actually, these days, it is probably the only wonderful thing about flying.

The plane takes off, the city below grows smaller and grayer, the vehicles and roads lose definition and a giant quilt, shades of green, brown and gold with pools of blue, unfolds below.

So peaceful. And beautiful. Why did I get so worked up about what he did? So vast. Can I even remember what it was that he did? Sheer magnificence. Why does life always seem so hurried?

When you gain perspective, the big things take their rightful places and simple pleasures seem more worthy of pursuit.

It’s good to be reminded.

One morning on that farm, my youngest uncle who still lived at home and was probably in high school at the time, let me ride with him on horseback to round up the cows for milking. We rode beyond the familiar and came to the ridge of the canyon. It was amazing terrain with deep plunging crevices. If the horse stumbled, we’d plummet to the bottom and never make it back out.

That canyon was so unlike the more familiar stretches of rolling hills and surrounding prairie that years later I sometimes wondered if I had imagined it.

I hadn’t. It’s in the aerial. But the small canyon with its ravines didn’t stand alone. Nothing ever does. It eased at both ends giving way to gentle slopes. There would have been several ways out. There often are.

It’s good to be reminded.

Looking at the old photo, I see the work boots that plodded down that sidewalk a thousand times to the dairy barn before daybreak and again in late afternoon, small legs that whipped through the grass, climbed fences and chased barn cats. So many cousins, wild and rambunctious, having fun. As for all the aunts and uncles, many of them are gone now. Only shadows remain.

Perspective compels us to take it all in-the breadth, the depth, the joy and the sorrow. The landforms, the water, the fields and the canyon with the steep ravines, are fixed points. We are the ones forever changing and moving, swiftly passing through.

Kidding aside, parenting outcomes can be amusing

There is no justice when it comes to having children. Frankly, there are days when it seems like you might have gotten someone else’s kids.

Our oldest is laid back and easygoing. As his mother, I know he wasn’t always this way and I have the crow’s feet to prove it. His wife genuinely is laid back, soft-spoken and reserved.

They were blessed with children who, if unsupervised, would and could walk on the ceiling. Naturally, they’d paint the bottoms of their feet first.

The couple you might expect to have cooing doves somehow wound up with braying donkeys. Completely adorable and lovable donkeys, mind you, but children with an energy level and focused determination usually exhibited only by superheroes.

No two kids are ever alike.

At age 3, our youngest arrived for a family visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s one weekend, flung open the door to the mini-van upon arrival and yelled, “Don’t anybody try and kiss me!”

When she was about 9 and had stirred things up before school, I asked her if she woke up every morning wondering what she could do to cause trouble.

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.”

Guess who got the most easygoing, pleasant, smiley, good-natured, happy baby in the world?

Our three kids look at one another’s kids and marvel at the inequities of the gene pool. It’s almost like their children’s personalities were switched at birth.

Jerry Springer, line one.

I’ve seen it in other families, too. The wild thing grows up, marries and gets the demure children, while the demure sibling weds and has children that have to be dragged out of public places by the backs of their necks.

A young woman raised in a family of all girls has all boys, and a young father raised with brothers, football, baseball and basketball has ballerinas.

If only parenting required nothing more than navigating familiar waters. But it rarely does. Planning and anticipating are essential to good parenting, but the truth is, you can never fully imagine the future. Sometimes you simply live it when you get there.

You may wind up with a child who is nothing like the child you were for a reason—so that your mind can stretch, your brain will grow and your feet will learn to sprint.

Parenting is not about recreating a smaller version of you; it’s about discovering someone entirely new. It’s exploring how the pieces fit, who that boy was meant to be, what her talents and gifts are, what comes naturally and what needs a push.

Parenting is often learn-as-you-go. It is a lifelong endeavor punctuated with intense joy, sleepless nights and profound humbling—the humbling part is what keeps us all from becoming experts.

Parenting is the most challenging and worthwhile job you’ll ever have. Now go scrape those kids off the ceiling.

How I learned to speed read in less than a moth

I’m a speed reader. Have been since I was a teen. My mother worked for the continuing education department of a university and they were offering a class on speed reading and needed one more person to fill out the class. I became that one person.

The class only met for an hour or two for a few weeks, but when the goal of a class is speed, you don’t need to meet for long. The instructor said to make your eyes go across the lines of words as fast as you could and not be concerned about what the words meant.

I read “Animal Farm” in 10 minutes. Cover to cover. The instructor asked what the book was about. I said I didn’t know, but if I had to guess I’d say it was about animals on a farm.

He looked displeased.

I’ve been speed reading ever since. I can’t stop and I can’t slow down. Today, for example, I plan on reading Churchill’s four-volume “History of the English Speaking Peoples.” Over lunch. I hope it’s more memorable than “Animal Farm.”

As a result of all this speed-reading, I often experience a delay between what I think I read and what something actually says.

The other day I passed by a mall with a large sign that said “Auto Theft Sale.” I thought how efficient of auto thieves to bypass the chop shops and simply sell all the stolen cars in a big tent at the mall. A half-mile later it dawned on me that the sign had said “Auto Tent Sale.”

Last week I read a recipe that called for Monster cheese. I’d never heard of Monster cheese before. I kept reading and, in the back of my mind, I was thinking Monster cheese must be a really, really large block of cheese. Probably with green flecks. A second reading revealed it was Muenster cheese. If Muenster cheese has green flecks, it probably is monster cheese.

That faux pas falls in line with a local restaurant we frequently pass with the big red sign that says “Human Cuisine.” No wonder there are never many cars in the lot. Actually, it says “Hunan Cuisine.”

Every time I drive through a construction zone I gasp. The sign says, “Hit a Worker $10,000.” It reads like they’re offering a reward. Of course, it’s not an enticement; it’s just that my eyes rarely take in the last line that says “Fine.” It’s a $10,000 fine. Someone really needs to rephrase that one.

A department store chain keeps running a promo that says “FIND YOUR YES.” Inevitably, it registers with me as “FIND YOUR EYES.” I always note that my eyes are still in my head. I don’t know where else they would be, but the lettering is so commanding I feel it necessary to double check.

Speed reading has bitten me on the backside more than once. Especially as a writer. Just aks any of my editosr.

Special needs we all share

I was late to church. So I sat in the back row.

My seat on the very end of the last row gave me the great and pleasant distraction of a wide view. It also put me adjacent to, and several rows behind, a family with a young adult daughter who is severely disabled.

Her wheelchair was in the aisle. Her father was next to her and they were doing the dance—the one that parents of special needs children often do. She’d bob her head and her father would lean forward and whisper in her ear. She’d turn her face toward him, he’d lift a small towel and dab at her mouth.

The bob, the lean, the turn and the touch. One, two, three. One, two, three.

They are movements unconsciously synchronized through unspoken needs, knowing and time.

The father and the girl danced a bit and then the girl’s mother cut in. She whispered to her husband and they changed places. The mother was next to her now. The young woman in the wheelchair lifted her arm overhead. It looked like an involuntary reflex, but her mother knew its true meaning. The mother reached over and smoothed hair that had strayed from her daughter’s ponytail. The young woman raised her arm again, the mother smoothed the hair again, a second time and a third.

One, two, three. One, two three.

Contemplating how much that young woman is dependent on others, it dawned on me that while most of us can walk, talk and smooth our own hair, we are probably more like her than we are different.

We all share the same need for someone to sit beside us, to whisper in our ear, to make sense of what is happening, to help unravel events as they unfold.

We all share the same need for kindness, tenderness and a gentle touch. Not only from those we are closest to, but even from those who are strangers, the ones who help clear a path and open a door.

We all share the need for someone to help clean up after us, big messes, small messes, the tangible and the abstract.

We all share the need for someone to engage with, someone to crack us open and pull us out, to discover what we have to offer.

Maybe it is the similarities, not the differences, which often prompt us to turn aside from those afflicted and dependent. Instead of locking eyes, smiling and saying hello, we look away — not because it’s hard to look at them, but because deep down we know what we are really looking at is a partial reflection of ourselves.

Could it be those whose needs are displayed on the outside, remind the rest of us of the needs we cloak on the inside?

We all share similar needs; some of us just wear them inside out.

Go (silent) team!

It’s called Silent Soccer. Maybe you’ve heard about it—perhaps by way of hand gestures or a sporty little mime. Nothing loud or boisterous, of course.

Youth leagues have been implementing Silent Soccer weekends (fingertips to lips here) where parents and fans on the sidelines are told to put a sock in it. No yelling, no cheering, no screaming, no coaching from the sidelines.

Some leagues allow polite clapping, others do not. Some leagues allow parents to wave signs and rally towels, others encourage parents to bring lawn chairs, pillows, their favorite jammies and take a nap. Not really. But they could.

Believe me, at some of the soccer games our son played in as a little guy, a nap would have been entirely possible. In his first league, he even got the trophy to prove it. “Participant.”

But that was then and this is now, when a growing number of parents apparently confuse youth games for the World Cup. A few bad apples behave aggressively, yelling, screaming, berating their own children, making rude comments about other people’s children and bellowing to outcoach the coach. It’s not mature or attractive behavior, but on the upside, at least they’re looking up from their cell phones.

In Silent Soccer, the only thing parents and fans can say is, “Ssssshhhhhh!”

No whistling. No noisemakers. No breathing. I made that one up. You can breathe. But only with permission.

Don’t talk among yourselves. And keep your eyes on your own paper. I made that one up, too.

The next step will be requiring hall passes to leave the sidelines to visit the concession stand or the restroom.

It is just a matter of time before the NFL adopts “Silent Sundays.” I can hardly wait for the “White Noise Olympics.” Maybe next would be the “Would You Please Be Quiet World Series?”

I always thought learning to play the game involved learning to tune out the noise on the sidelines. Or maybe that was the goal of motherhood—learn to focus on driving and tune out the noise in the backseat.

Silent Soccer is an infantile idea imposed on the masses instead of addressing a few fans behaving badly. The bottom line is, if you act like a child, there is no shortage of people happy to treat you like a child. Even if you don’t act like a child, there is no shortage of people happy to treat you like a child. Unfortunately, we have sent a number of such people to Washington.

Maybe what the soccer leagues need to do is proclaim “Grown Up Saturdays,“ where adults are encouraged to root, cheer, and have a good time, but act like adults. Let the coaches coach, the kids play, and the adults model some self-control by leaving the attitude and the trash talk in the car.

Missing tooth takes a bite out of guilt

For nearly three years I’ve been waiting for this moment. Our oldest granddaughter, age 5, has lost a tooth. It’s not the first tooth she has lost, just the first tooth she has lost naturally.

She lost her first tooth when she was 2. At our house. On the patio. She was running and fell face down. Blood everywhere. Blood and crying. Blood and crying are like the chicken and the egg; you don’t know which comes first and it doesn’t matter. They come together—profusely and loudly.

Should such a thing happen on your patio, let me save you time. Don’t bother finding the tooth, submerging it in milk, or finding a dentist who will call you back on a Sunday. The tooth is history.

The toddler will live with a gap and you’ll live with grandma guilt. That’s right, just when you were shedding the last remnants of mother guilt, you now wear the weight of grandma guilt.

Every time she smiled I felt responsible. Sure, I didn’t have anything to do with it and her parents and other adults were present, but it happened at our house. Grandma’s house is supposed to be a fun and happy place, not a place where you to go get your teeth knocked out.

I was so sorry it happened and especially sorry that if something like this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at her other grandma’s house. But then her other grandma doesn’t have a concrete patio. She does have a lot of gravel and steep hills though. Oh well, it happened here.

Our son and daughter-in-law got over it quickly. They never let it become an issue. The smile with the missing tooth gradually became part of who she was. She’d smile and the missing front tooth would say, “I have charm, personality, and do not mess with me on the playground.” If others noticed the missing tooth, they didn’t inquire. (Thank you.)

And now she has lost her front bottom tooth, directly below the missing top tooth, which means one really great thing – she has a gap. A marvelous, wonderful gap.

Do you know what fun a gap is? You can do great things with a gap. A gap is the kind of fun you should have at Grandma’s house.

She’ll be the centerpiece of every Christmas celebration this year singing, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”

She can insert straws in the gap, do tricks with her tongue, shoot water and perform dazzling feats that will make her the envy of everyone at the kids’ table.

She can whistle through that gap—even when she doesn’t mean to.

She can leave unique teeth tracks in a banana, clearly marking it as her own.

A gap puts her in the same category as famous actors, actresses and supermodels. Granted their gaps align a different way and are substantially smaller, but still.

The best thing about being 5 and having a gap is that it means your permanent teeth are coming soon and Grandma will let herself off the hook.