Y’all gotta read this

I can probably tell where you’re from by whether you say “you guys” or “y’all.” Do you call it pick-AHN pie or pee-pop imageKAHN pie? The pecan pie pronunciation is sticky business no matter how you slice it.

I didn’t turn clairvoyant; I’ve been looking at a series of maps, published by Joshua Katz, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, illustrating how people pronounce words in different parts of the country.

The maps indicate we are split nearly 50/50 between soda and pop when it comes to what to call carbonated beverage drinks.

Responses were more complex regarding what to call it when several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point. The answers were traffic circle, roundabout or rotary—except in South and North Dakota, where they have no word for this. I lived in North Dakota for a year. There is no word for where several roads meet in a circle, because in both of the Dakotas you can drive for days without any roads, cars, livestock or people meeting.

Despite an interesting composite of our lexicons, I am curious as to why researchers did not address the pronunciation divide of all time. Forget syrup, sir-up or sear-up, how do you pronounce my home state of Missouri?

Elections were won and lost on this matter. Adults were shunned at cocktail parties and kids were creamed during dodge ball based on how they said Missouri.

You either pronounced it Mih-zur-ie, (sounds dangerously close to Misery), or — and this was the group the rest of us never fully trusted— you called it Mih-zur-ah, not unlike the University of Missouri chant, “Rah, Rah, Rah, Mih-zur-Rah! Go Tigers!”

Being sincere and ordinary people, my family, friends, my slang imagefriends’ families and my teachers all called it Mih-zur-ie. But every once in awhile, I would pronounce it Mih-zur-ah just to try it on for size the same way I would take my mother’s small lipstick samples from the Avon lady to try them on for size. More than once when I tried what we considered the “puttin’ on airs” pronunciation, someone would look at me and snap, “Take off that lipstick, girl. Where do you think you’re from?”

There was only one answer and it was Mih-zur-ie

There were few regrets when I moved ‘cross country and left the pronunciation woes of Mih-zur-ie behind. But I wound up in Oregon, a state with a name that outsiders often mispronounced and insiders were determined to correct. Cars bore bumper stickers saying, “IT’S ORY-GUN.” If you visit the Emerald State and call it Ory-GONE, you will be regarded as the same sort of hotty totty that says Mih-zur-ah.

Our differences in speech are both fascinating and entertaining. The important thing is that we not become rigid about our way of doing things.

That said, I grew up drinking pop and still do, find that a PEE-can pie sounds suspect, although pick-AHN pie will do just fine, and never circle a roundabout twice, as it makes me nauseous. Or sick. Or ill. Or vomitose. Take your pick.

Cold statistics cry salty tears

More than 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is one in three children in America.

I don’t know what it feels like to live without a father, but I know what it looks like.

I was helping in a first grade classroom when a seven-year-old boy dropped to the floor and started wailing. This wasn’t a soft whimper; it was a chilling, piercing all-out wail.

I coaxed him off the floor, helped him to a chair at the back of the class, and pulled up a chair beside him. He was inconsolable, his shoulders and chest heaving as he gasped for air.

Rubbing his back calmed him down a little and gradually the wailing began to subside. “My dad left,” he said between small sobs. “And my mom said he’s not ever coming back.” Then he sobbed some more, tears gushing. His eyes were red and swollen, his face wet and snot was running out of his nose. “My mom says I’m not ever going to see him again.” Then he broke down again.

We sat for a long while. I broke the silence and told him no one knows the future and that he might see his dad one day. He didn’t buy it. He glared at me, shook his head like I was the dumbest turnip to ever fall off the truck and sobbed some more.

When he quieted down, I tried shooting straight and said everybody goes through hard times, really, really hard times, and that I was sorry his hard time was now. “Sometimes we have to give our mind a break from the hard times so we can function,” I said. “Even in hard times you can find something to be thankful for. Why don’t I say something I’m thankful for and then you can say something you’re thankful for.”

“I’m thankful for a house that protects me from the weather,” I said.

He wiped his nose on his arm. “I’m thankful for my dad – because he taught me everything I know.” Then he threw his head on the desk and started crying again. Now I was fighting back the tears, too. The little guy cried and sniffed, sobbed and heaved, and wore himself out.

What was sitting next to me, leaning up against me, was a statistic with a face on it. When the numbers have faces, when you can see their broken hearts, salty tears and snot-smeared cheeks, they take on a different dimension. One in three on paper is cold. One in three sitting next to you radiates the heat of a white hot hurt.

We’re numb to the statistics. We’re numb to the dismal outcomes that research predicts many of these kids will face. The bottom line is this: If you’re a father, be a father.

Being a father is not just a responsibility, it’s a privilege. You are the only dad your child has.

Thinking outside the window

Between the old air conditioner dying and a new one being installed, we’ve been living with the windows open. The window imageoutside world has tumbled in and our inside world has tumbled out.

The net effect feels something like your mother saying, “Get outside and stay there!” With outdoor sounds now part of every hour, daylight or dark, even our morning routine has changed. We both stumble from bed and beeline to the bedroom window. I don’t know what either of us thinks may have changed during a few hours of sleep, but with hearing the wind, the cars, the sirens and assorted dogs, it seems our duty to check. No bodies, no animal carcasses, no limbs down. Yep, looks the same as it did yesterday.

The low hum of traffic from the interstate, which isn’t necessarily close, wafts over the trees in the morning quiet. Walkers and runners at daybreak seem to pad softer and breathe easier than those later in the day.

By mid-morning the sounds begin to perk up as mothers with baby joggers and strollers pass by and older Russian ladies who have clustered in a nearby apartment complex take their daily constitutionals.

I even know that our neighbor had company the other day. I stepped outside to see if the outside was as stifling as it was inside, when I heard voices and laughter. All was well with the entire world for a moment, as he is a man who enjoys a full house.

The four pale turquoise eggs with brown spots in the nest that the purple house finch built in a fern on the front porch have finally hatched. There’s no missing the yappy little things on the other side of the screen — cheep, cheep, cheep, chirp, chirp, chirp. “I’m on the phone, can you keep it down?” Cheep, cheep, cheep, chirp, chirp, chirp. Every time their mother flies away for food, I wonder if she’ll be back or take the day off so her nerves can recharge.

The guys on the corner are playing basketball. A gaggle of girls on bicycles sail down the middle of the street.

With the door to the patio open, a chipmunk skirting the perimeter of the house is in plain view. He’s the one that has been nibbling on the impatiens and chewing the new clematis. There is no “innocent until proven guilty” here. Disney may have thought you were cute, Chipper, but you won’t linger if you know what’s good for you.

They’re making progress on the fire station remodel at the edge of the neighborhood. We can’t see it, but we can hear it. Echoes of debris sliding into dumpsters bounce off the house and the low vibrations of heavy machinery travel through the floor.

A train whistle blows every night not far from here, sometime before 11. A train at night is a pleasant melancholy. Sorry to have missed it all this time.

We’re getting two more estimates on a new air conditioner. Once it is installed we’ll close the windows, shut the doors, seal ourselves off and rid the house of this heavy humidity. It almost seems a shame.

Peonies help remember and honor

The peonies are slightly behind schedule for Memorial Day. I worry about such things, not because I want to, but because I have to. It’s part of my heritage. For years, women in my family have monitored peonies like Patton monitored the troops, but without the swearing.

My peony bushes came from my mother’s peony bushes, and her bushes came from her mother’s bushes. I remember when my mother dug up some of her peonies, wrapped them in newspaper, and helped cram them in our mini-van so we could drive them 500 miles to our home. It wasn’t, “Would you like some peony bushes?” It was, “Here are your peony bushes.”

In my mother’s eyes, a woman who lived in a house with a yard and didn’t have peony bushes was a mere girl pretending to be a woman. So we brought home the peony bushes and planted them. Now, every May, I engage in the time-honored tradition of monitoring them to see if they will be ready for Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was once called, just like my mother and grandmother used to do.

If the peonies didn’t look like they would be ready by Memorial Day, a fervor came over my mother. It was not unlike the fervor with which the troops took Normandy. If the peonies weren’t in bloom, she would cut them by the bushels, haul them into the basement, and place them in old coffee cans, buckets and tubs full of warm water, and order them to bloom.

While we often made the cemetery rounds to decorate the graves of loved ones, we never lost site of the fact that Memorial Day was really to honor fallen soldiers. The true observance of the day was never far from my father’s mind, as he lost one of his brothers during World War II.

I always flinched whenever my dad’s brother’s name was spoken. I flinched because I knew the loss caused my father and everyone in his family unspeakable pain.

I still flinch, not just at the memory of one fallen soldier, but at the many. I flinch because each and every day I enjoy a bounty of freedoms made possible by thousands upon thousands I will never know, and can never thank. They gave up the comforts I blithely presume upon: home and family, shelter and safety, and the expectation of more years to come. They lost their claim to such wonderful things when they laid it all down.

They may be gone, but they are not forgotten. They are the knot in the throat when the flag passes by. They are the invisible sentry protecting the media and the flow of information on the web. They stand behind every voting booth and political gathering.They are the gust of wind that helps open the door to every house of worship. They are on the horizon at every rendition of Taps and at every graveside presentation of a folded flag.

We can thank those who sacrificed by remembering. We can honor them by being vigilant to insure that the battles they waged to protect freedom and liberty are never lost.

Stumbling over the Great (taste) Divide

I dread being the bearer of bad news, especially in an uncertain economy, questionable employment gains and high allergen levels, but here it goes: Jell-O salad is dead.

I know, I know. I was as shaken as you are. I only recently realized this myself, which is why I wanted to be the first to tell you.

It all started when I made a Jell-O salad for Easter simply because my mother used to make it and her mother used to make it. It’s a lemon Jell-O with pineapple and bananas. The leftover pineapple juice is used to make a pudding layer for the top, which is then finished with a flourish of grated cheddar.

Our new son-in-law looked at the salad, asked what was in it, then polished off a piece. He said, “You know, that was strange, but good.” It was a smart summary on his part, especially since he is new to the family and has not yet passed his probation period.

I mentioned the strange but good Jell-O salad incident to a walking buddy and she concurred that gelatin salad has fallen from favor. It also reminded her of her favorite Jell-O salad, which she had not made in some time, a strawberry pretzel Jell-O salad. She basically said it is to die for. I cannot imagine dying for Jell-O salad, but she promptly whipped one up, brought it over, and I am reconsidering my previous stance.

There was a time when a Sunday dinner, pitch-in, picnic in the park or holiday gathering wasn’t complete without a Jell-O salad. My mother had an entire cookbook of gelatin salads. Perhaps Jell-O began falling from favor when women began putting stranger and stranger ingredients in it — carrots, cabbage, beets, green olives, Coke, ham, mayonnaise and corn. The yum factor took a nose dive.

I recently read a post by a food blogger who described herself as someone who “hates canned soup and Jell-O.” Yes dear, but you don’t have to get testy about it. Perhaps someone needs a little chocolate? She probably hates that, too.

In any case, meek and wobbly Jell-O may be joining the divisive food group. This is the food group that parts people like the Mason-Dixon line once did and like Barry Manilow still does. These are foods you love or detest with no in between. Mint: love it or hate it. Grapefruit: love it or hate it. Coconut is another that divides. You either love it or it tastes like hair. Sweet potatoes used to be an all-in or all-out, but they’ve been so touted lately that everybody is eating them, even people who used to gag at the sight of them.

Jell-O resurged for a time as jigglers and is still popular in some institutions of higher learning as a drinking game, but it would seem that the Jell-O salad in particular has faded from favor.

Then again, maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Jell-O salad isn’t dead. If it is dead though, this is what they should engrave on the headstone. “Strange, but good.”

Gift sweeps mom off her feet

I received a great Mother’s Day gift last year. We were just about to cut into a beautiful cake topped with mounds of fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, when our son rounded the corner into the kitchen. He looked at me with a straight face, said, “Happy Mother’s Day,” and handed me an old brown dustpan that has to be at least 45 years old.

A gift nothing, it was more like a reunion. I was ecstatic. For years, I wondered whatever happened to that dustpan. I should have known.

When I left home for my first job after college, I took the brown dust pan that had stood alongside a broom in my parents’ basement for years. I think I had permission to take it, but I don’t remember for sure. It could have been a gift, or it could have been a theft.

It was the best dustpan ever. It wasn’t flimsy, thin, breakable plastic. It wasn’t metal, the sort that gets bent in the middle, snarly on the edges and scratches the floor. This dust pan was indestructible, a sturdy thick plastic like professional maintenance workers use.

That dustpan crossed the country with me, from job to job, apartment to apartment, into a marriage followed by three kids, from the Northern Plains to the Pacific Northwest and back to the Midwest.

When our son left home after college, he took the dust pan with him. No one seems to remember if it was a gift or a theft.

From time to time I would look for that old dustpan, cleaning out the garage, sweeping up potting soil or broken glass, and wonder where it went. We bought one of those nifty rechargeable dust busters, and cheap plastic dustpans, but that old dustpan was always my initial go-to. It was an odd piece of personal history, somehow representing the home I came from; sturdy, reliable, organized and clean.

That the dustpan came back to me on Mother’s Day was symbolic of the day itself.

A mother’s heart needs to be like that dustpan — mostly sturdy, pliable but not breakable, willing to serve, sweep up the broken pieces and play a part in starting fresh. A mother offers her heart as a gift, but sometimes it feels more like a theft.

Every mother’s heart longs to see a part of what she gave, or what was taken, take root and bloom. Every mother hopes that at least a few of the things she said or did, the habits she cultivated, and the truths she lived, somehow stuck.

It can be as simple as hearing, “I learned that from you,” or “I always remember you saying.” Sometimes the wait is short; sometimes the wait is long.

Sometimes it flies beneath the radar in a quiet understanding, something as simple as your son knowing you well enough to know that an old dustpan will delight you on Mother’ Day.

That said, a mother does not give her heart waiting for thanks. A mother gives of herself because investing in another human being is a noble act of service, the right thing to do, and a messy but marvelous work of art.

Beware of being a mystery reader

I agreed to be a mystery reader in the class our daughter teaches. Talk about pressure. What did I expect? It was kindergarten.

She gives the kids a clue every day so they can try to figure out whose parent or grandparent is going to be the reader the last day of the week. One of the clues was that the mystery reader “has a grown child that looks a lot like the teacher.”

It was anticlimactic when I walked through the door. They gave up a weak round of applause and an anemic cheer. I had a hunch it could be a tough room; I had no idea how tough.

I read three books, making sweeping moves with the book making sure all the kids could see, all the while looking at the print upside down. By book two, I had motion sickness.

I did voices and animal noises. I contorted my face for expression and threw myself into the characters.

When I finished the best reading of my life, I closed the book. They just sat there staring. They were waiting for more. You’d think when you’re the teacher’s mother, they’d cut you some slack.

“So I’m your teacher’s mother. How about that?”

Somebody said, “Jack’s dad is a policeman.”

There was no way to trump that. I was fresh out of handcuffs. Too bad, too.

“I’ll teach you to play your nose!” I said.

I showed them how to press one nostril shut with an index finger and hum. We did a few rounds of Old MacDonald and they warmed up a bit. For about 60 seconds.

“When Mira’s mother came, she walked on her hands,” someone said.

The room exploded with excitement.

“Yeah! She wasn’t going to walk on her hands. She was just going to stand on her head, but we made a big circle and she walked on her hands. Can you walk on your hands? How about a flip? Can you do a flip?”

It would be nice if you knew in advance that your audience would be expecting circus tricks following the reading, but you play the hand you’re dealt.

“We heard you do another trick,” someone said.

I glared at my daughter. I have mentioned before that my only real talent is barking like a sea lion. I haven’t done it in years because it rips my throat and is not particularly dignified.

The kids pleaded and I refused. They pleaded more. I refused more.

I saw my daughter slip out her video camera. There was no way I was barking like a sea lion with a camera present.

She dropped her camera.

My throat was sore and my voice was hoarse for four days, but I left that classroom a rock star.

If you ever agree to be a mystery reader, request to be at the front of the lineup, not after somebody’s mother who can walk on her hands.

Wanting what you can’t have

The oven had a conniption fit and quit working four weeks ago. Charred, smoking calzone is not a pretty sight.

You know what happens when you don’t have a working oven? All you can think of are things to cook in the oven: lasagna, chicken pot pie, a roast and vegetables. Or maybe green rice, baked salmon or a chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.

It’s like I have never cooked a single thing on the stovetop in my entire life. Why, no, I’ve never made pork chops in a skillet, sautéed chicken breasts or whipped up a stir fry.

The oven; all I can think of is the oven. I only want what I can’t have. But I have reason to want what I can’t have. I always do.

My reason for fixating on the oven is that I know sick people who could use a pick me up. A coffee cake, brownies, homemade bread. Sick people, nothing; I could use a pick me up.

Do you know what determination is? It is when a woman without an oven finds frozen balls of cookie dough in her freezer and wonders if she can bake them in a waffle maker. Who’s to say you can’t? I’ll say you can’t. You can’t get cookies from a waffle maker. You can get a few browned cookie crumbs, but not cookies.

Of course, this fixation on the non-working oven isn’t as much about the oven as it is human nature and forbidden fruit.

It is the server bringing your food to the table and saying the dish is hot. “It’s very hot. Don’t touch the plate.” He turns away and you touch the plate. Ouch. It’s hot.

It is the sign that says wet paint. Really? How wet? Maybe the sign is old. Maybe the paint is dry. Why can’t I touch it? You look around to see if anyone is looking and slyly touch the wall. The paint is wet.

It is about the man next to me on the plane who has been told to turn off his cell phone. He bends his large frame forward and hides the phone between his legs, still texting. The flight attendant said that he can’t; he’ll prove that he can.

This innate streak of defiance courses through us all. Sometimes the singular focus on getting what we want is the impetus for mastery, achievement, discovery and success. I spoke with a young woman who held a graduate degree in engineering. When she was little, her father told her she’d never be any good at math. He said that she couldn’t; she spent the next 14 years proving that she could.

Other times, our wanting what we want has starkly different results. By hook and by crook, we go for what we want with no thought of others or the consequences. It is a short path to self-destruction.

The antidote is self-discipline, the willingness to delay my desires and redirect my focus. This, too, is the impetus to mastery, achievement, discovery and success.

Voltaire wrote, “Our labour preserves us from three great evils — weariness, vice, and want.”

I wonder if Voltaire had a working oven.

Dreaming of a good night’s sleep

Been sleeping like a baby lately — a baby that wakes up at midnight and doesn’t go back to sleep until 3.

Do you watch the clock, or not watch the clock? Recite passages from memory or say the alphabet backward?

It’s dark. I can barely make out the shape of the old secretary (a piece of furniture, not a woman) sitting in our bedroom. A side view of the piece resembles the profile of Abraham Lincoln. Wonder what Lincoln’s doing?

The furnace just kicked in again. Round nine.

This is how people get started listening to talk radio at night.

I wonder if I can name all the Supreme Court justices. Yep, I can name all 10. (That was a joke.)

How can he sleep like that? My pillow has gone flat.

Is that moonlight hitting the blinds? Wonder what phase the moon is in? Maybe I should look. No, I heard when you can’t sleep, it’s better to lie still, because a body at rest recharges more than a body in motion.

If I did check on the moon, I could get some ice cream while I’m up. I heard a spoonful of ice cream can help you sleep. I’m willing to try. I’ll probably get all the way downstairs to the freezer and find all we have are frozen chicken breasts. Those could help you sleep—if you smacked yourself on the head with them. I’m almost willing to try.

I should organize the linen closet tomorrow.

Was that a door? None of our neighbors are out this late. Could be the leaning tower of Tupperware on that closet shelf shifting again.

Maybe it was an intruder. If it is an intruder, he’s quiet now. Probably listening for footsteps. He’s not going to hear my footsteps, until I hear his footsteps. Two can play this game, buddy.

The last time I heard an intruder, it was the hot water heater. The time before that . . . well, there’s no point in dredging up the past. Who has time? Time, time, time.

If it really is an intruder, we should have an exit plan.

I’ll need the sheets. I can tie them together, tether one end to the legs of the wing back chair and we can lower ourselves out the window. I could be over reacting, but what if I’m not?

If I could just roll him over. I’ve seen nurses change sheets with patients still in the bed. Wish I’d paid closer attention. Ugh. There we go. I need to move his legs. How can legs . . . be . . . so . . . heavy?

Once I knot the sheets, they’ll lose length. I may need the window coverings as well.

Funny, I haven’t heard anything from the intruder. Hmmm.

Oh, great. Now the husband is stirring. If I hold still and freeze—which I already am without sheets and a blanket—maybe he won’t wake up.

“Why is it so cold?” he mutters, without opening his eyes.

“You probably heard me say I was going for ice cream. Go back to sleep.”

If there is an intruder, maybe he’d like some ice cream. The night is young. I hope he’ll stay and talk.

All a twitter over tweeting

The husband joined Twitter. I coached him. It was like standing behind someone who is deathly afraid of water and pushing them into the deep end of a swimming pool. He did not go willingly or cheerfully, but he went.

Twitter, for those of you new to that game, a game that is now seven years old, is one of those social media networks that cause you to spend even more time cultivating bad posture by crooking your neck and hunching your shoulders while glued to your smart phone.

Several weeks ago, I was waiting for my luggage in baggage claim at the airport, standing behind a group of about seven men. It looked like each and every man had his hands folded and head bowed in prayer. I shot a picture and sent it to the kids saying, “America returns to God!” I thought it was funny. Sometimes I laugh alone.

Anyway, once you are on Twitter, you “tweet,” via computer or cell phone. A tweet is a message of no more than 140 characters; vowels are optional. A tweet can be earth shattering or mind numbing.

Kim Kardashian recently tweeted: “I’m wearing flats.” Her tweet also linked to a site that featured her more developed thoughts on wearing flats: “Here I am heading to NYC and it’s my first time ever wearing flats! I told you I was giving them a try.” This was accompanied by 49 pictures of her outfit.

Kim Kardashian has 17 million followers on Twitter.

The husband joined Twitter because he is a member of the media and it is pretty much a requirement these days for media members to have a presence on Twitter. That said, he has no interest in tweeting about his shoes. (For the record, they’re brown and could use polish.)

When you join Twitter, you choose groups and people to follow to see what mind-numbing and brilliant things they are tweeting. I suggested groups the husband might enjoy following and he responded with keen disinterest. I suggested several more and he responded with a low growl. When I explained that following certain people or groups on Twitter can be informative and educational, he finally relinquished and agreed to follow the #CincinnatiReds.

He was now on Twitter and following one group, not exactly what you’d call a large social network. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You also follow people on Twitter. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to think of anybody he was interested in following, even though hundreds and thousands of names of people, some of whom he even knew, were scrolling by.

“Not him, not him, not her, not him,” he said over and over, followed by more growling.

I suggested a well-respected reporter. “You’re not going to be getting fluffy tweets from this one,” I said confidently. “Mark my words, her tweets will be substantive and informative. Trust me, you’ll be glad you followed her.”

I stood behind him as he clicked to follow the intelligent and well-respected reporter. We both looked at the screen as she sent a tweet: “I have the hiccups.”

I immediately fled the room to avoid his withering “I-told-you-so” look.

By the way, I am wearing running shoes. Pictures to follow.