The Twelve Days of Flu Seas’n

The entire family has endured a one-two punch this flu season. First it was the “Lose 4 Pounds in 24 Hours” bug that flattened us like dominoes. Just when the last one recovered, along came the “Knock You On Your Back High Fever” bug. So many bugs, so few exterminators. In the event the flu has not hit your family yet, I have set our cautionary tale to song. Take heed. And a face mask.

On the first day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the second day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the third day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the fourth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me trashcan by the bed, flat 7UP, two Tylenol, and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the fifth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a temp of one-oh-three. Hand sanitizer, three cans of Lysol, two dozen face masks and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the sixth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me sprints to the bathroom and a temp of one-oh-three. Head in the toilet, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the seventh day of flu seas’n my true love sighed to me “Digital thermometer, salt water gargle, when will this end?” Hand sanitizer, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the eighth day of flu seas’n my true love gave to me a trip to MedCheck, report on the family, muscle aches and chills, a temp of one-oh-three. Hand sanitizer, flat 7UP, two Tylenol, and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the ninth day of flu seas’n, my true love gave to me respiratory gunk, antibiotics, news the kids all have it, muscle aches and chills, a temp of one-oh-three. Wadded up tissues, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the tenth day of flu seas’n my true love said to me: “They’re sniffling in Chicago, puking in Missouri, sick as dogs in Tennessee.” Rumbling in the tummy, flat 7UP, two Tylenol and a big, sloppy, wet sneeze.

On the eleventh day of flu seas’n my true love snarled at me: “Where’s that vaporizer, blast those antibiotics, what good was that MedCheck, you’re still lethargic, here’s an extra blanket and why are you still one-oh-three? That cough is horrific, 7UP is sick’ning and cover your face when you sneeze!”

On the twelfth day of flu seas’n my true love said to me: “You’re no longer chilling, your temperature is normal, you look healthy to me. But I’m feeling dizzy, my head is hurting, my stomach is churning, how can this beeeeeee?”

Most wonderful time of the year — the end

Before we turn to a new calendar page, 2014 merits a look back at some of the least important stories, which means they won’t be nearly as depressing as the really important stories. At best, a look at the lighter side may provide some comic relief; at worst, you may conclude things really are as bad as you thought.

It was a good year for bacon lovers who celebrated the debut of Naked Bacon Cooking Armor. It’s a red contraption that looks like Superman’s skivvies. Diehard bacon lovers who enjoy cooking in the nude and can now cook fully protected. Well, not fully, but you know. What a relief.

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, giving a new nuance to “Rocky Mountain High.” Residents say the average speed on the interstate is now 30 mph—and that’s in the high-speed lane.

Flappy Bird became one of the most downloaded free games generating $50,000 a day in ad sales according to the game’s Vietnam-based developer Dong Nguyen. The game was not only highly popular but, for many, highly addictive. Feeling guilty over the addictive nature and overuse of the game, Nguyen removed it from the market.

Eighty-nine-year-old Delores Dennison of Ohio attended her first prom this past spring. Her 19-year-old great-grandson knew she’d never been to a prom, so this knockout Eagle Scout invited her to his. Delores wore a blue dress and carried a small clutch with her nitro and puffer. Austin led his great-grandma to the dance floor, where he surprised her with a song he had chosen for the occasion. “I Love the Kisses of Delores,” is a song Delores’ husband used to sing to her.

George Prior, 50 (old enough to know better), began drinking 10 cans of Coke every day for a month to see how it would affect him. He gained weight. Shocker. Hey, George, if someone suggests you repeat that with a fifth of whiskey, don’t do it.

The day before Thanksgiving, a female passenger boarded an early morning US Airways flight with her emotional support pig. Yes, you read that right. Turns out the pig was more emotional than supportive. The pig began squealing and then relieved itself on the floor. Passengers objected. The flight crew directed the passenger to deplane and that little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home.

In November, 17-year-old Abby Snodgrass made news in a Missouri Wal-Mart when she heard associates talking over a radio about someone needing CPR in electronics. She raced over, saw an 11-month-old not breathing and began doing CPR for children, which she had just learned in health class. The baby revived. Rarely does a Wal-Mart shopper see such stellar customer service.

A television anchor in Sydney, Australia revealed that he wore the same blue suit every day for a year on air and nobody noticed. Upon hearing this news, seven out of 10 married men turned to their wives and said, “I told you I could wear these pants another day.”

As we say goodbye to 2014, it seems appropriate to quote one of the characters from “Frozen,” Disney’s highly successful licensing darling, “Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!”

Shepherds often cast in baa-d role

One of my favorite hidden-camera gags is of high school students called to the counselor’s office to learn the results of their career aptitude tests.

The first student entered the office and took a seat. The counselor said the results were clear-cut as to what career path the student should pursue.

The student was immediately attentive and sat up straight.

The counselor said, “Shepherd.”

Not a single student, when informed they were suited to be a shepherd, fist bumped the counselor, asked about starting pay or a benefits package. Silence. Each and every one was dumbfounded.

I’m not sure the role of shepherd is terribly popular anywhere. Even in Christmas pageant settings, parents of the kids who play Mary and Joseph will gladly point out their star. Parents of shepherds tend to go mute. Let’s be honest here—even sheep have more lines than shepherds. Baa.

Off stage and across pasture lands, sheep are greasy and smelly. Wet wool is matted, dirty and mangy.

Sheep not only bump into you, they constantly bump into each other. Lacking fangs, talons, a powerful roar or amazing speed, they flock to protect themselves. It is their only and best defense. Unless, of course, they flock together and walk off a 50-foot cliff like 1500 sheep did in Turkey several years ago.

Sheep also have a reputation as, well, not very bright. This is why you occasionally read groundbreaking studies claiming sheep may actually have intelligence. The journal Nature reports that sheep may be as good as humans at distinguishing faces in a crowd. Yes, three out of five sheep can pick out a Kardashian on Rodeo Drive.

Tending sheep is for a select few. The wages and resources for sheep herding are better today, but even now a sheep herder must be rough and gritty, able to endure harsh elements, loneliness and a good measure of frustration.

The role of the shepherds in the Christmas narrative has always been a marvel. The announcement of Christ’s birth could have been delivered to anybody—the rich, the powerful, the established class, those in the know with name recognition and good connections. But the news was delivered to shepherds—rough and rugged men with little money, no power and no status. They were working class, without wealth or social pedigrees.

The shepherds have been polished and refined over the years, now often appearing in crèche sets, on cards and in romanticized paintings with neat and clean robes, trimmed beards and a peaceful countenance. In reality, their clothes were worn and tattered and bore the smell of sweat and hard work. Their beards were probably matted and the looks on their faces were likely ones of bewilderment—dumbfounded, just like the kids in the counselor’s office.

The news of Christ’s birth not only came first to lowly shepherds, the one born in the manger grew to be like them, lowly and humble, known as the Good Shepherd.

I like that the news of Christ’s birth came to ordinary people first, to the everyday man with universal struggles and universal hopes and dreams. It still does.

Fantasy Christmas gifts within everyone’s budget

Two years ago Christmas Eve, I received a log cabin in Maine, a day at a spa and a vacation in Italy.

Snowy log cabinWe gave two of our kids brand new mini-vans, one of our sons-in-law an NFL franchise and our daughter-in-law a full-size washer and dryer.

The husband got a bookstore and his own newspaper chain.

It was a good Christmas, all right—and so economical. Nothing cost a dime. They were fantasy gifts. Few things are more fun than spending imaginary money. This must be what it feels like to be an elected representative in Washington.

We’re back to buying a few gifts this year, primarily for the pitter-patter of little feet. Try explaining fantasy gifts to the preschool crowd. Gift giving can be a source of angst, but what’s a holiday without some temporary insanity?

My mother used to keep a tally to make sure things were even at Christmas. I was puzzled by her compulsion and thought her scorecard was completely unnecessary, yet here I sit with an Excel spreadsheet open before me.

Nobody has ever played that “you like him best” card, nor can I imagine any of them doing so, but maybe it’s because I’ve kept things even by keeping a tally over the years. And if I hadn’t kept a tally, maybe things wouldn’t have been even and, well, it’s all a vicious cycle.

One of the grandkids has come in $4 behind the rest of the grandkids. I could pick something up online but shipping would put the kid $6 ahead of the others. I could even things out by getting the other six some trinket they won’t want, need or would look at a second time, but why add to the junk pile?

A couple of 2-liters would even the score, but who gives Mountain Dew to toddlers?

They’re all too young to chew gum.

Socks. Oh that’s exciting. Just call me Sock Grandma.

Maybe a new toothbrush and a little toothpaste. Toothbrush Grandma. She’s right up there with Sock Grandma.

It would be a whole lot easier to let a disparity stand, then if someone noticed just say, “That’s right, you’re my favorite this year. The rest of you need to try harder.”

Of course, I could be looking at this from the wrong angle. Why add to the trove to even the tally when you can subtract?

“Yes, some of you are missing the yellow and orange from your new box of crayons, but Grandma took them out to keep things even.”

The ace in the hole is my backup plan: “Listen kids, that doll might not have any clothes and Grandma may have taken the wheels off that truck, but she went a little crazy trying to keep things even. What do you say next year we bag this gift thing and all head to Grandma’s cabin in Maine?”

We’ll drive those new mini-vans we got your parents a few years ago.

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.