Close-captioned open to interpretation

I enjoy other people’s typos, not in a gloating sense, but in the sense that it lets me know I am not alone. I keyboard fast and make a lot of typoes. (Yes, that was deliberate. Just checking to see if you’re tracking.) I probably spend 20 percent of my keyboard time backing up to make corrections.

Despite my diligence, occasionally a typo or another error slips through in a column, which is why I live in constant fear of retired English teachers. They are the first to email. They can never completely let go of the red pen.

The best errors are in the closed captions on the televisions at the gym. I’m the one on a treadmill simultaneously sweating and laughing at the news.

A recent favorite was in a story about a man giving an organ concert. He demonstrated how the massive pipe organ could sound like an entire orchestra. The closed captioning had the man saying, “This sound imitates a fluke.” That was a whale of a claim.

The New York Times was mentioned for hiring a new conservative writer and the closed caption read: “The NYT reserves credit for broadening their left-wing op-ed page.” They probably “deserve” credit, but why don’t we hold that in reserve until we see how long the writer lasts?

Some of the best glitches are in the weather reports.

“Stay tuned, we’ll have weather in a bed.” They probably meant “weather in a bit,” but who knows. Even the weather gets sultry sometimes.

In another weather segment, a meteorologist promised, “milder weather with swiss temperatures.” I have no idea what that was supposed to be. I checked my weather app and it turned out the Swiss were having the same temperatures we were having but with less humidity. Guess we weren’t missing (or swissing) out on as much as I thought.

Reporting on an accident on the interstate, the caption said, “Traffic has resumed posted speech patterns.” When drivers I see engage in speech it’s usually a pattern involving hand signals. I’d like to see “No Speeching” signs posted.

A woman charged with a crime was shown being led to an arraignment with a caption below that said, “Purple walk.” It was a perp walk—and she was wearing orange, not purple.

The caption in a story about a high school athlete who collapsed on a field said, “Nurses and people in the stands rushed to give the boy first aid so he could keep breeding.” I’m 99.9 percent sure they meant breathing. The young man is fine.

A reporter was talking about getting ready for a marathon by eating a lot of spaghetti and pasta. The caption beneath him said, “There’s no need to stuff your face to the point of car bloating.” Who hasn’t eaten so many carbs that you felt like an SUV?

An ESPN closed caption read: “Authorities gave Tiger Woods some field and bright tests after finding him asleep behind the wheel.” It probably meant to say field sobriety tests, but if you suspect someone is under the influence and driving it never hurts to check how bright they are as well.

I don’t know if it means anything or not, but most of the closed captioning errors are made on Mundays.

An eye for an eye and a fork for a fork never ends well

I asked our four-year-old granddaughter about her family’s recent visit with friends.

“It was good,” she said.

“Did you enjoy the little girl who was your age?”

“Yes,” she said. “But she forked me.”

“She what?”

“We were eating bweakfast and she forked me. Wight here in my shoulda. She stabbed me with her fork.”

“That’s too bad. Did you fork her back?” I asked.

She grinned at the thought and said, “No, Gwamma. I don’t pay evil for evil.”

Stunning, isn’t it? A four-year-old understands the value of restraint more than a lot of adults.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a fork for a fork—it never ends well.

While chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in months, our conversation turned to a matter on which we hold different views. We had a good exchange, and were ready to go our separate ways when my friend paused and said, “So, are we mad at each other now?”

She said it partly in jest, but not entirely. No, we were not mad at each other, but many in our nation are mad. Actually, they are beyond mad—they are enraged, furious and seething. And these days many of us seem utterly incapable of holding anything back. It’s as though we are compelled by some irresistible force to say, post, tweet and scream every rotten thing we think.

Is this really who we are?  Is this really who we want to be?

Dozens of columns will probably be published this week documenting the slippery slope we’re on, with calls to scale back the rhetoric.

But how?

Well, we can start by turning down the heat one person at a time and one insult at a time.

For starters, we could all give ourselves permission not to say everything we think. It’s OK to bite your tongue sometimes. And to keep your fists at your side. It’s called self-control.

Second, we can turn down the volume. Screaming has never been an effective means of persuasion.

Third, we can get real. As long as this country has existed there have been disagreements. We will always have disagreements. Aside from the Civil War, national disagreements have largely been resolved without resorting to violence or lethal hatred. Our disagreements may be intense and passionate, but they can still be civil.

If you have a disagreement, go after the idea, the policy or the legislation, not the person. Learn how to structure valid arguments and stop the name calling.

If we do not detox ourselves soon, we will cease to be a nation ruled by laws and become a nation ripe for anarchy.

The day after the nation was horrified by an unhinged man attempting to assassinate Republican congressmen on a ballfield in Alexandria, Virginia, there were three organized prayer meetings on the Hill and numerous spontaneous ones. Each one of us can pray, too. We can pray for God’s mercy on our nation, for temperance, wisdom, prudence, and the ability to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Finally, we can pray our nation does not succumb to being a people who relish  repaying evil with evil.

 

Trying to paint like Georgia O’Keith

I was one of those mothers who believed that every moment was a potentially teachable moment. Not having learned my lesson the first time around, I continue exercising my somewhat misguided beliefs with our grands.

Since a number of them enjoy painting, I thought we might do some intentional painting instead of just slinging paint on paper, the table and chairs and the walls like we usually do.

So we had art camp. It was more like art afternoon and camp was in the kitchen, but I was full-bore intentional. I dug up a wonderful children’s book on the American painter Georgia O’Keefe known for bright, bold close-ups of flowers.

I found jars to mix water and food coloring in and even scored some canvases on sale.

The small painters put on their paint shirts, or emergency clothes as they call them. There is a wild assortment of emergency clothes in a drawer upstairs, which says a lot about what happens at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

“I’m going to tell you about an artist named Georgia O’Keefe,” I said.

“Did she live long ago?” one asked.

“Yes.”

“Is she dead?”

“Yes.”

The inspiration meter was flat-line. I tried to rebound by showing them O’Keefe’s paintings of eye-popping poppies, rich purple petunias and regal morning glories.

“What do you like about O’Keefe’s paintings?”

“I like how O’Keith stayed in the lines.”

“O’Keefe.”

“Yeah, O’Keith.”

“I like that she made the flowers BIG!” said another.

“I like that she didn’t have a fit.”

“Who said she had a fit?”

“I think you’ve got that one upside down, Grandma,” said the 4-year-old.

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

It wasn’t going the way I envisioned. Life rarely does.

They picked flowers from the yard and placed them on the table next to the prints of O’Keefe’s. We talked about layering colors, painting something larger than it is in real life and filling all the space on the canvas.

I explained that Georgia worked slowly, perfecting composition and layering colors for weeks and months at a time.

They whipped out their paintings in 15 minutes.

One who had picked a black-eyed Susan to paint looked at her work, looked at an O’Keefe painting, looked back at her work and seemed satisfied. Then she rolled a big old paintbrush in the blob of yellow on her plastic palette and drew a great big sun in the corner of her painting. Then she put a happy face on it.

Another one painted a zinnia. She looked at her work, looked at O’Keefe’s and seemed pleased. Then she sat up straight and finished off her piece by painting her name so large it filled the bottom third of the canvas.

They may have been implying that O’Keefe had room for improvement.

Don’t we all?

Early risers seize the day and the donuts

Few things knock me off my game like being ambushed before morning coffee. My attackers are 8 and 6 and ready to seize the day. They are hiding behind a door and nab me on the heels. Literally.

I scream. They scream. We all scream. Yet the rest of the house continues sleeping. Or at least pretending.

 “Aren’t you two up early?” I ask.

“We’re early risers, Grandma. You’re an early riser, too, aren’t you?”

“Sure am,” I say, propping my eyes open with stir sticks.

“Grandma, did you know early risers have more fun?”

“I believe it!” I said.

“What are you going to make us for breakfast?”

After a lengthy itemization of food they’d like me to make for breakfast, it is apparent our best option is Cracker Barrel. Or our second option, which is even better – walking to the grocery for donuts.

 “Early riser love to walk!” one of them shouts.

We are six steps out the front door. “Can you run, Grandma?”

Of course, I can run. I run every day chasing after their Grandpa with a Honey-Do list.

“Early risers love to run,” the younger early riser declares.

“Maybe, but I don’t know if we should be running when it is still so early and most people are sleeping.”

They decide to run one at a time. He takes off like a shot and she stays behind with me. We come upon a mallard waddling through the heavy dew in a neighbor’s yard. “Catch it and you can keep it,” I tell her, just like I used to tell her dad.

She sprints after the duck, gains considerable ground, and the duck takes to the sky.

She runs back to the sidewalk, panting. “Grandma, did you know early risers do more interesting things?”

“Clearly,” I say.

We leave the neighborhood and wind behind a strip mall, past back entrances to a dry cleaner and a pizza place, cardboard boxes that missed the dumpster, a lawn chair used for smoke breaks and a couple of pigeons.

They stampede toward the pigeons, which quickly flutter away.

“Your pigeons scare a lot easier than ours in Chicago,” surmises the older early riser.           

“Our pigeons are more flight than fight,” I say.

We plan strategy for crossing four lanes of traffic, which is dicey business, but there is virtually no traffic at this hour of the day.

We enter the grocery and spend two minutes shy of forever choosing donuts for the non-early-risers back at the house. The agreed-upon favorite is the monster claw, a glazed long-john with chocolate iced fingers at one end.

We leave the store and discover the morning sun blasting right into our faces. We shield our eyes, cross the deserted four-lane, walk in front of the strip mall this time and wind back through the neighborhood beneath a canopy of shade trees. They laugh, tell a few funny stories about their mom and dad (the price parents pay for sleeping in) and frequently stop to look at leaves.

“Grandma, did you know early-risers see more beautiful things?”

Their faces radiate curiosity, joy and the fleeting wonder of childhood.

“So I’ve heard,” I say. “So I’ve heard.”

           

         

Try to be clear next time

Years ago, a friend called and asked the husband and me to come to dinner “next” Saturday. Since Saturday was only a couple of days away, I assumed she meant a week from the coming Saturday. On Saturday, the friend called and asked where we were.

I told her we were at home having dinner with friends.

She said we were supposed to be at their home having dinner with them.

Clearly, the vegetables weren’t the only thing steamed.

I apologized profusely, offered a wobbly defense about the confusion of the words “this” and “next,” and then apologized some more.

I’d like to say all was forgiven and forgotten, but there was never another next time.

To this day, when I hear the words “this” and “next” used in reference to a date, I still cringe. I also immediately ask for clarification. The last thing we would ever want is another mix-up. Or to miss a meal.

The Science of Us recently did a piece on the ambiguity of words in relation to time. They offered the example of receiving an email from a co-worker that says: “Next Wednesday’s meeting has been moved forward two days.”

So does that mean the meeting will be Monday or Friday?

The article said our answer to what day the meeting will be reveals our perspective on time–whether we perceive ourselves as moving through time (the meeting will be Friday) or we perceive time as moving toward us (the meeting will be Monday). People are evenly divided on interpreting such things, which is why the person who composed the email should be reprimanded for not including the day and date and possibly even forced to conduct the meeting on both Monday and Friday.

Some of the hottest arguments are between people trying to straighten one another out on time—time zones in particular. One says a time zone is ahead and the other says, no, that time zone is behind. And, of course, nobody ever backs down.

You could put both parties on a plane, fly them to the time zone, have them deplane, see the same clock in the airport, and they’d still be arguing about whether they were behind or ahead.

If you really want to stir people up, don’t just ask them to come for dinner this Saturday or next Saturday, ask if they’d rather come for dinner or supper.

For a lot of people, the word “supper” means, well, absolutely nothing. But for people who grew up in more agricultural country, supper likely means the last meal of the day; dinner was the big meal at noon that gave people energy to get through afternoon work and chores.

As a child we lived in the city, but coming from parents who had grown up on farms, we ate supper in the evenings, while many of our neighbors were having dinner.

We can probably agree that today it is most common to invite someone to dinner. As for a date, why don’t we say the Saturday after next.

Oh wait, that won’t do. Can we push it back a week?

See you then.

James Bond pulled it off, but good luck guys

Sometimes between 2 and 3 a.m., when I can’t sleep and my mind fires one bizarre question after another, I occasionally wonder whatever happened to my old high school gym suit.

It was a hideous thing— a one-piece contraption gathered at the waist with short sleeves with a shirt collar, and ill-fitting short legs. The whole shebang snapped up the front. Every girl who wore one looked like a jumbo marshmallow waiting to be shoved into a giant s’more.

Imagine my shock to open my computer browser and find my old gym suit reincarnated as a romper for men. It’s called RompHim—a man-size romper which is a one-piece contraption, gathered at the waist with short sleeves with a shirt collar, and ill-fitting short legs in pastels and prints.

I was so upset. We never had a choice in color. All we wore was white. Before my eyes were a dozen striking young men in pastel pink, baby blue, soft apricot, dainty print and Wonder bread polka dot girls’ gym suits. I mean onesies. I mean rompers.

I can’t help but wonder what the unveiling of the prototype went like. Were there men standing around in rompers asking women, “Does this make my backside look big?”

Or, “Do you think I have the legs for this? I’ve never been all that happy with my knees. They’re sort of dimpled, don’t you think?”

Some question whether a romper for men calls masculinity into question. Sean Connery wore a very short terry cloth romper as James Bond in “Goldfinger.” Personally, I think it comes down to leg hair. If you’ve got it—flaunt it. That said, not just anybody can look manly in what is nearly a pair of Daisy Dukes gathered at the waist.


But listen, whose business is it if you want to wear a pastel pink or baby blue romper? It’s a free country. Well, at least outside of college campuses.

And it’s not like guys in rompers hasn’t been done before. We have a picture of our 35-year-old son in a romper. Of course, he was six months old at the time. Someone gave us a onesie with a clown face on it and big orange clown hands attached to the sides. We actually had him wear it and took pictures. He’s still mad.

In one sense, rompers for men aren’t that different from Carhartt overalls turned into cutoffs—country boy meets urban chic.

It’s too early to say if rompers for men will have staying power. Before you write them off, you should know there was a time people said leisure suits for men wouldn’t hang around for long. Were they ever wrong. It was a long and painful decade.

Then again, remember last year? The new trend that was sure to take off was men wearing shorts with a shirt and tie and a blazer. The trend took off all right – like the Titanic.

If you do decide to wear a RompHim, just a mother’s word of caution: Stay with your group.

Search for armadillos takes a wild turn

Concerned the grands don’t get enough exposure to wildlife, I announce we would be looking for armadillos on a recent road trip.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” I say. “Armadillos have come up from the southwest and are frequent visitors here.”

“What’s a marmadillo?”

“An armadillo.”

“Yeah. What is it?”

“Well, an armadillo is the size of a small dog with short legs, has a pointy nose and a shell over its body like a turtle.”

They look at me like I am out of my mind.

“Seriously—and the shell has ridges on it and little itty bitty bumps.”

I might as well have said that I was going to grow a third ear.

“Start looking and I think you’ll see—“

“I see one!”

“Yes! I saw it, too!”
“It wasn’t moving, Grandma.”

“No, not today it wasn’t.” (And not tomorrow or the next day either.)

“There’s another! And another!”

“Why are they all on their backs, Grandma?”

Each and every armadillo has been incapacitated. I search armadillos on my phone and see that they are also called “hillbilly speedbumps.” Great. I’ve been encouraging the grands to scout roadkill. Maybe seeing a few pictures of armadillos upright will provide a distraction. “Look, I have a picture of an armadillo on my phone,” I say.

“Let me see,” one says. She enlarges the photo and screams, “What’s that hair under its chin? Ooooh gross! Take it away!”

I used to believe a baby bat was the ugliest creature in the world—a face only a mother could love. Armadillos with bad chin hair outrank them.

“Look, girls, it says there is a pink fairy armadillo. Let’s have a look.”

Picture a baby bunny with long curled toenails in dire need of a pedicure. Add a slab of raw pork ribs to its back and you have a pink fairy armadillo.

A southern three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus) at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.

“Gross, Grandma! Now we’re gonna have bad dreams.”

Aren’t we all? I’m about to divert attention to a word game when the husband exclaims, “I just saw a bald eagle.”

Silence. The skepticism that was once malleable has now hardened.

“Really—it’s gone now, but I did.”

The next morning, we’re cutting through a large city, cruising along four lanes of interstate with heavy traffic, when I spot a wild turkey emerge from underbrush and begin strutting on the shoulder of the road.

My claim is met with palpable doubt.

One of the grands takes pity and whispers, “It’s OK, Grandma, I believe you. I believe Grandpa, too. Did you know I saw an animal?”

“What was it?” I ask.

“A penguin. It was back under those trees.”

Money earned not as important as lessons learned on first jobs

Question: What was your first job and how old were you?

The husband’s “first job” was selling fortune eggs. He hollowed out raw eggs and inserted a tiny folded paper with “fortunes” he copied out of the horoscope section of the newspaper, took them to school and sold them to classmates. Well, at least until his fourth-grade teacher told him he couldn’t sell fortune eggs anymore.

From there he sold Burpee seed packets door to door. He also sold tomato plants and night crawlers by the dozen. At 15, he began shooting sports for a local newspaper. That was the job that never ended. He worked his entire career in newspapers.

My first job, after babysitting and accidentally flushing numerous cloth diapers down toilets, was at Smaks. It was a fast food joint in Kansas City that offered burgers, shakes and fries. Smakie girls worked the front line, wore orange sailor dresses with white ties, white sailor hats, white tennis shoes—and made change without a computer.

During college, I worked at an insurance company doing data entry for motorcycle policies (the most boring job in the universe), in several law firms (where I learned the basics of accounting), and the 6 a.m. shift in the dorm cafeteria sorting dirty dishes on a conveyor belt.

When I got a speeding ticket driving home from college and didn’t have money to pay it, I worked at a Dairy Queen until I earned the money. Yep, I know how to make a dip cone.

Our son’s first job was at a small outdoor outfitter that specialized in fly fishing. He was “let go” for not chit chatting with the customers. Never been a big talker. After that he started mowing yards and had 31 customers by the time he went to college. Both of our girls babysat and one worked at a big box store; she can tell you all about sheets and linens.

I got to thinking about all those first jobs after hearing a wise and thoughtful man speak recently. He talked about growing up in Newton, Iowa, which was the headquarters for Maytag. He said no Maytag executive lived in a 15,000 square-foot house or drove a Cadillac. It would have been proof they were too big for their britches.

Kids he grew up with, like the kids we grew up with, worked in restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores and gas stations.

Then he asked a question every parent who has achieved any measure of success in life should ask of themselves: “Are you systematically depriving your children of the things that made you who you are?”

We stand to lose a lot when we turn our backs on the experiences and values that got us where we are. As they would have cautioned in Dubuque, “Don’t get too big for your britches.”

 

Welcome to the Garden of Weedin’

There has been so much confusion in the garden this spring that I have fallen into a state of wisteria.

Here in the Garden of Weedin’ we learn by trowel and error, mostly error – and an endless flow of bad gardening puns. Yes, as you may have suspected, we are a few plants shy of a full flat.

Most of the seeds have been planted and are starting to sprout, but I can’t exactly remember what I put where.

“It looks like Daisy and wild William are the same bed,” I sigh.

“Do all gardeners talk dirty?” the husband asks.

I give him the look.

“Well, if they are, at least they’re near the taters—they’ll keep their eyes on them.”

Another look and I shake my head.

“Still having problems with your impatiens, I see.”

“Only because you keep giving me flax,” I say. “I’m trying to concentrate. Peas stop.”

He then asks, “What kind of socks does a gardener wear?”

“I haven’t given it mulch thought,” I say.

“Garden hose.”

I ignore him, as I am studying three rows of lettuce, trying to remember which is green leaf, which is red leaf and which is butter. I guess thyme will tell.

The important thing is to romaine calm.

“Well, this will depress you,” the husband says, digging around the trellis for the pole beans.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Global worming.”

“Funny,” I say. “Could you toss that hose over here?”

“Sure,” he says. “But I think it leeks.”

“It’s time to quit joking around,” I say. “If you carrot all, you’ll help me.”

“Heard about the iceberg lettuce?” he asks.

“Yes. He was tossed in prison.”

I ignore him again. “What in carnation is this?” I ask, uncovering a toy truck buried under the soil as I prepare to plant another pack of seeds. “It’s windy,” I say.

“No, it’s Thursday,” he counters.

“Are you working weed me or against me?” I ask.

“I’m rootin’ for you!”

“Thanks,” I say. “I always knew we were mint to be. Hey, where are you going?”

“Inside for a snack. Hosta la vista.”

“Is that your fennel word?”

“It’dill do for now.”

Something fishy about attention spans

Our attention spans are now believed to be the same as that of goldfish, which is to say, roughly eight seconds.

I was surprised to read that and was going to read the article all the way to the end, but then I saw a link on the side of the screen to pictures of “Celebrities Who Have Not Aged Well.” Click, right?

I do remember it said – the article, not the aging celebrities – that we can’t sustain – hold on, my cell is ringing.

Well, I can hear it, but I can’t find it. Where’s that coming from? Is it upstairs? Why are these shoes still sitting here? I’ll just run them up to the closet.

The phone stopped ringing. But now the dryer is buzzing. Oh there’s my purse, sitting on the washing machine.

Got it. Whoa. I can’t believe this. That load of white clothes still isn’t dry.

Two missed calls. Three texts.

Anyway, the article says that by flitting from one thing to another, we develop a chronic sense of boredom – do we have anything for dinner? Maybe we have leftovers. Nope, not much in here. Looks like we need milk. Hmm—I started a list somewhere.

I’ll just add milk to notes on my phone. More texts. Not sure about this one. I could be free on Tuesday, I need to check the desk calendar.

Where is that calendar? Maybe it’s with that old address book. I really ought to check to make sure I’ve transferred all those addresses to my computer.

What a cute “Thinking of You” card. Wonder who I was thinking of?

We need a card for our daughter-in-law who is having a birthday soon. Is it the 14th or the 9th? If hers is the 14th, our son-in-law’s is the 9th. Or is it the other way around? The husband sent a picture of a chart he made of all the family birthdays to my cell. Where is that picture? Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Hold on. News alert. Interstate closing due to a semi-truck rollover.

I should hit Twitter for a second, see if I’m missing anything. Maybe I could find something that looks good for dinner on Pinterest.

What’s this? I’ve been invited to pin on a Baby Shower board. Oh, I forgot I said I’d help with that one. Fun game ideas. Look at that adorable table setting!

Table setting. Dinner. I wonder about fish. Not fish for dinner, although we really should eat more fish. I wonder about the attention span of fish. How did they determine fish have an attention span of 8 seconds?  That’s not even long enough to update their status on Fishbook. (Social media humor.)

I have a hard time believing we have 8-second attention spans. Personally, I think there are days when I can focus on something as long as 10 or 12.