The Map Guy doesn’t fold

The husband believes a paper map is a necessity for a road trip. You know, the kind with 64 creases that never folds back the way it was.

I believe that a fully charged cell phone and GPS are necessities for a road trip.

We are a vehicle divided. A Y in the road.

The husband says only a map gives you the big picture.

I say only GPS gives you the nearest coffee shop.

I will acknowledge that my map guy has a keen sense of direction and a sharp memory for roads and landmarks.

I have a keen sense of direction, too. When the sun rises, I am certain which way is east and when the sun sets, I am confident which way is west.

We are driving through the lush Smoky Mountains painted in a magnificent palette of greens, when we decide to take a small back road for the fun of it. We don’t have a local map, but we have a good idea of where we are headed and high-tech GPS.

Rounding curve after curve with secondary roads shooting off to the sides, we near the mountain top and pass a fellow leaning on his motorbike by a pond. He looks peaceful. We wave. He nods.

It is early morning, and we have the road to ourselves. In the distance, we see low fog rolling our way.

“Beautiful,” I say. “Like driving in the clouds.”

Soon, we are swallowed whole by the clouds and so is the GPS. We drive and drive losing all sense of direction.

We make out a figure a short distance off the road. We have circled the man leaning on his motorbike by the lake again. If he still looks peaceful, we can’t tell.

The once gentle curves have become nerve-wracking hairpin turns.

There fog momentarily lifts and the mountainside no longer looks lovely but like an enormous head of broccoli. We are trapped in a giant vegetable drawer in a refrigerator.

The husband announces that he studied the map back at the visitors’ center and is certain where we need to go. Basically, we need to take every turn that will help us go down the mountain.

Oh, we’re going down all right.

I wonder if we will pass the man leaning on the motorcycle a third time.

I wonder if he has food and if he will be the last human I ever see.

Then a funny thing happens. Again, sealed in by fog and an no GPS, the trip becomes more engaging. Passenger seat co-pilot drowsiness disappears. We both search for markers, craning our necks to see the road in front of us, ears popping as we descend, all the while speculating on when—and if—we will intersect with the highway.

Eventually the fog burns off, the GPS returns to life, and at the next bend we meet the highway.

At our hotel that night we found an online map of where we were.  The roads charted a Smoky Mountain maze. The map guy got us where we needed to go.

Three secrets to summer survival

I have discovered three secrets to summer survival.

The first one is a purchase I made a year ago. It’s one of those purchases I wasn’t entirely sure about at the time but has proven a worthy investment.

What did I buy?

An outdoor trash can.

I know. Other women buy Botox injections. I buy a trash can. I should wear one of those T-shirts that says, “Easily Amused.”

It’s a large trash can with a flip top, so all the grands can open it.

Now parked by the back door to the house, they have to trip over it before coming inside. That would be “they” as in all the kids in possession of half-eaten ice cream cones, remnants of peanut butter sandwiches and cups of lemonade.

They have now been trained to dump sticky stuff in the trashcan outside the house, which means that I no longer have sticky floors inside the house. Four days out of five, I can walk through the kitchen without losing my shoes because they stuck to the floor behind me. I am a woman at peace.

The second secret to success is the table setting. I enjoy a pretty table with fresh flowers, real dishes, cloth napkins, sparkling glassware and my mother-in-law’s silver. Do you know how long cleanup takes with all those niceties? It was a struggle, but I have willed myself to become a devotee of paper plates for large family gatherings.

And disposable tablecloths. You bring all four corners of the tablecloth to the center, tie the ends together, stuff it in the outdoor trash can with the flip-top lid and-voila!-cleanup is done.

Out of the way, kids. Grandma has free time and is headed for the hammock!

The third secret to a successful summer is to invest in inflatables.

We are the proud owners of a giant inflatable water slide. The arch over the top has partially collapsed, and the base of the slide doesn’t inflate as much as it did two years ago, but it is still a hit. Many people think we run a business renting out giant inflatables when they see it, but we don’t – we’ll leave that to the professionals. Though, if we did decide to turn our love of inflatables into a money-making venture, we may sit down and seriously study this ‘starting a bounce house business guide‘ which could help us do this.

We’re the fun house and we want to keep it that way. We will shamelessly compete to retain the distinction in order to draw the grands, which is why we also have an inflatable pool, two inflatable surf boards and three dozen water blasters that shoot water 20 feet. It’s true. Just ask the neighbors-the ones sitting on their patios wearing rain slickers.

The backyard often looks and sounds like a water park because it is.

In moments of sanity, which are few and far between, we have concerns about our water bill. On the upside, we have a very green lawn.

To maintain our good standing, we are in the market for some new inflatable water toys as we phase out the older, slowly collapsing ones. The husband is pondering an inflatable 6-foot unicorn that spouts water in two different configurations and I have my eye on a large pink flamingo floatie.

Who knows? We might even let the kids play with them.

What to give Dad for Father’s Day

When Aretha Franklin recorded “Respect” in 1967, the song became forever linked with the Queen of Soul.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me.”

“Respect” was a huge hit against the smoldering backdrop of Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and the women’s movement. The song quickly became the anthem of the battle for equal rights for women.

Ironically, it wasn’t Aretha who wrote the lyrics for “Respect.” The original lyrics were written by a man—Otis Redding.

Aretha heard Redding’s song in 1965, liked it, tweaked it, flipped it, sang it from a woman’s point of view and was catapulted into the stars.

Meanwhile, Otis Redding was still sitting on the dock of the bay dreaming about getting a little respect. The story goes that Redding got the inspiration for the song when he was on tour complaining about the grueling schedule. His drummer said, “What are you griping about? You’re on the road all the time. All you can look for is a little respect when you come home.”

“Do me wrong, honey, if you wanna
You can do me wrong, honey, while I’m gone
But all I’m asking
Is for a little respect when I come home.”

Women and men sometimes speak different dialects of the same language. Men often lean toward the vernacular of respect. Like Otis Redding, they’d just like a little respect. Not that women don’t appreciate respect and that men don’t have a need for love, but still.

Love and respect intertwine, yet love tends to be more emotional while respect is more concrete, based on actions and accomplishments as opposed to feelings of the heart.

Respect means to hold in high or special regard, to esteem someone, often for worthy and notable things they have done.

Browsing Father’s Day cards, one after another mentions celebrating Dad, thanking him for being the best dad, the greatest dad and the nicest dad. Not a single mention of respect. But then 80 percent of card buyers are female, and cards are created with female targets in mind.

Men have taken a beating in the past few years. Certainly, there are male reprobates and additional tiers of reprobates who cover for them.

But we now tend to paint all men with the indiscriminate brush of toxic masculinity. In a growing number of corners and on many college campuses, if you stand male, you stand guilty. Sign here to register for detox.

Faithfulness, hard work, helping put a roof overhead and food on the table, doing the routine when you’d rather do something else, showing up for the job of being a dad day after day after day are deeds and accomplishments worthy of notice. And respect.

If you have been blessed in such a fashion, buy the tie or the golf club for your dad this year, but what he might like most is hearing he has done a thing or two that has earned your respect.


Recipes need some sifting

My girls complain about my recipes—not about how they taste, but about how they read. They say my writing leaves something to be desired.

You know how well that goes over with a writer?

Like yeast bread that doesn’t rise. Like a cake that falls and cookies that crumble. You get the idea.

My recipes are not poorly written. They are descriptive. They leave room for imagination. And interpretation.

The girls object to a glub of this, a pinch of that, a dash of something else. They are also opposed to a little of this and a little of that.

I learned to cook watching my mother. She had a wooden recipe box for baked goods where the amounts and ratios are critical, but for the most part she just cooked, or “whipped things up” – another vague but delightful cooking term.

My mom graduated from the Culinary School of Ad Lib—she was of a generation that learned to cook watching their mothers cook during hard times known as the Depression.

Likewise, many of the things I cook I learned by watching her cook. Like potato salad. You don’t even need to write the recipe down, I can just tell it to you (another habit I have that is frowned upon).

Boil a pot full of potatoes and cut them up. Add a couple squirts of mustard, a glub of vinegar, chopped onions, chopped celery, salt and pepper, a good sprinkle of sugar and some big mounds of mayonnaise. Finish it off with a few shakes of paprika and garnish with whatever you have in the fridge – green olives, black olives, hard boiled eggs, parsley, green onions.

The girls claim the recipe is impossible because it is not specific.

My counter claim is that the lack of specifics means your potato salad never turns out the same way twice so people you serve it to never get bored.

The girls say my lack of specifics also can yield too much potato salad.

I say if you have too much potato salad, invite more people over.

I do admit the way I write recipes is sometimes streamlined. I list the ingredients, followed by cooking instructions, which often read, “You know what to do now, right?”

Such brevity is not acceptable in the days of food blogs and Pinterest. Every recipe comes with a myriad of photos detailing every step, detailed specifics including what brand of baking soda to use, videos demonstrating how to use a whisk, lengthy narratives (novellas really) about restlessness, cloudy days, a love of brown eggs and the thrill of smelling good vanilla.

I am of the Nike Culinary School. Just cook it.

I recently made an applesauce cake recipe that has been in our family for generations. The recipe is written in a great-aunt’s distinctive script on an aging brittle piece of cardboard. All of the ingredients are listed. As for directions, it simply says “Bake in a moderate oven.”

I rest my case. And my cake.