Two tips for improving your smize

One of the grands sent a self-portrait she created for art class. The top half of the portrait shows her hair parted in the middle with one of her signature hairbows perched on the side of her head. Her big brown eyes peer through her glasses.

The bottom half of the self-portrait is a bright blue face mask with colorful flowers, cheerful like she is. It is a clever art project; the face mask is an overlay. The mask is removable, but we received her picture with the mask on. Such a sensible child, protecting her grandparents.

Her eyes look a touch bewildered. Who hasn’t looked a touch bewildered in recent months? Fortunately, I think I know what the problem is. The child needs to work on her smize.

Fashion model Tyra Banks coined the term “smize” several years ago. A smize is a combination of smile and eyes; meaning to smile with your eyes. Models can make their eyes smile without moving their mouths. Of course, models can also pound concrete in stilettos.

Smizing is big right now. It’s hard to convey friendliness when the smiling half of your face is covered. Restaurants are coaching wait staffs to perfect the smize behind face masks and retailers are coaching sales staffs.

Two exercises can help improve your smize. First, practice crinkling your eyes.

Go ahead, try it. Hold your mouth still and squint so your eyes crinkle.

No. That looks like you need you find your reading glasses.

Try it again.

No, not that either. That looks like you just took off your sunglasses and are waiting for your eyes to adjust.


Better, but it looks like you don’t understand what is being said.

I had on a face mask and tried my smize on the husband. He asked why I was glaring at him.

The problem is intersectionality – of wrinkles and crinkles. It is hard to crinkle when you already have wrinkles.

There are fundamental differences between crinkles and wrinkles. A crinkle is self-made; a wrinkle is time-made. A crinkle is temporary; a wrinkle is permanent. Well, unless you intervene with needles and chemicals.

The second part of a smize is to use cheek fat to help push your eyes up from the bottom to create a smiling effect.

I have cheek fat, but for several years now it has been bent on a slow downward movement, not upward. My cheek fat attempts to respond to my facial commands and only serves to intensifying the glare.

Like most people, I can mask and smile at the same time, but my eyes can’t smile without my mouth. They have an unbreakable bond.

Too bad we often can’t see one another smiling these days because smiling is like yawning—highly contagious. Contagions of smiling, kindly acknowledging one another as fellow human beings, wouldn’t be the worst thing to sweep the nation. Go ahead, smize or smile, whatever you can muster. Spread it around.

Happy to help — and get free fries

A financial planner on the radio said we should all patronize our favorite restaurants now, because in two months they’ll probably be out of business. I asked the husband what his favorite restaurant was.

“Mama Carolla’s,” he said.

I pointed out we had not been to that wonderful little Italian place in years. If the restaurant industry depended on us to keep them afloat, they all would have gone under long before Covid-19.

Still, having seen business after business in our area paper over the windows and now sit empty, we noted three restaurants to visit in hopes of helping them stay put. Two are small breakfast spots we can walk to and the third is a few miles down the road, part of a burger and shake chain the grandkids love.

Priorities mandate our first visit be to the burger place. We pull into the drive-thru line and see a big sign on the window: “Free Fries with Every Burger (Per Person).”

This is exciting to the husband who loves a special. He orders two burgers, two fries and drinks. The voice in the box announces the total, then instructs us to pull forward.

The husband hands over the credit card at the window. He says the total sounded high and asks if we got the free fries.

The young lady says, “Did you ask for free fries? You have to ask for them.”

He said he didn’t know you had to ask for them. A second lady joins the first lady at the window and says, “You have to ask for the free fries.”

Again, he says he didn’t know that.

The ladies close the window, eyeball the receipt and start pushing buttons on the cash register.

I tell the husband the point in coming was to support the business, not get free fries. He says the point is the sign says free fries. I restate my point; he restates his point. And so another happily married couple is jabbing one another with sharp points.

I then suggest he tap on the window and tell them we are happy to pay for the free fries.

He says his arm won’t reach.

Meanwhile, the ladies inside are hammering the cash register with new intensity.

Finally, the younger lady opens the window and says they adjusted the bill. I lean into view and say we only came to buy lunch in hopes they don’t go out of business and lose their jobs.

She flashes a big smile, tosses back her head and says, “I’m not going anywhere!”

We pull around front and a few minutes later someone brings out our food. We open the bag and discover the burgers are doubles. I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten an entire double burger, but I ate every bite of this one and it was good.

The double burgers might have been an accident, or they might have been deliberate because they were glad others are rooting for them.

Considering the free fries, it was probably a wash for the burger place financially, but we’ll make it right. We’ll load up two vehicles and go back with grandkids.

Enjoying one of the last concerts of summer

The gravel path leads up a small rise and cuts through tall grass. At the path’s end a wooden deck protrudes into the pond, which provides a sort of entertainment in the early evening hours.

The deck is bordered by rushes and cattails – corndogs as a grandson calls them. Tall flowering plants with long legs and big feet submerged in muck beneath the water gently wave from side to side in a soft breeze.

The water’s surface is covered with a thick layer of green algae that makes one leery of leaning hard against the deck railing. The algae, disgusting in appearance, host a myriad of wonderful properties and marvelous uses.

The beauty of nature out here has been accented by the beauty of romance; carvings dug deep into the wooden railing around the deck.

My eyes flit across the many declarations of love but pause on “Meg loves Zack.” Nice lettering. But the question lingers—does Zack love Meg?

They’ve probably had their first disagreement by now. One can only hope they discovered decent communication skills when the euphoria began to wane.

The sky slowly turns hues of pink and peach and the music of romance rises from the water. It is a deep baritone, the male bullfrog announcing he is in search of a mate. The bullfrog is the Italian opera singer in the world of frogs.

One sounds as though he is right by our feet, another to the side, still others directly ahead. They take turns and begin overlapping rapid-fire. It is speed dating for frogs.

The bullfrog has a unique voice. Some say it sounds like a cow with a head cold. Others claim the baritones are calling “jug-o-rum.”

Some bullfrogs sound like wooden chairs dragging across the floor. Or light sabers. Really, really powerful light sabers.

Bullfrogs can also sound like the tuba section in a middle school band. Or a beginning cello player.

If you have a mate that snores, the bullfrog may sound familiar—like that low growl from the throat that often precedes the full-fledged window-rattling snore.

Not that you wanted to know, but the difference between a green frog and a bullfrog is this: the green frog has a ridge that runs from the back of both eyes all along the rim of the back. The bullfrog has ridges, too, but they curve downward behind the eyes.

After listening to the bullfrogs in concert, the husband begins imitating them. Soon it is difficult to separate the legit from the impostor standing next to me. The frogs are calling back to him. He makes a good frog man. He’s had years of practice snoring.

The sun has dipped below the horizon and the light is quickly fading, but music of the last days of summer still dances through the night.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a commercial!

“Stop the show,” a grandkid says. “I have to use the bathroom.”

They are watching Jeopardy. I don’t know that they’ve ever seen Jeopardy but they are seeing it now and liking it, especially the 2-year old who seems taken with 17th Century Monarchs.

“We can’t stop the show because this is television,” a grown-up explains.

We are at a house with a television without streaming capabilities.

“Can you rewind it when I get back?”

“We can’t rewind it when you get back. It’s plain old television.

The concept of plain old television where programs play whether the timing is convenient for you or not is foreign to these kids. They are the children of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“Can we finish watching Jeopardy after dinner?” another asks.

“Jeopardy won’t be on after dinner,” I explain. “Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak and Vanna White will be on after dinner.”

“Wheel of what?”

Such poor, deprived children. “Fortune!” I snap. “Seven letters, three vowels!”

This is no help either.

The tekkies among us begin explaining the mechanics of old school television when something unbelievable happens. A commercial begins. There are no commercials on Netflix. This may be the first commercial some of them have ever seen – it is the equivalent of man seeing fire for the first time.

Instantly, the kids glue to the screen.

It is a commercial for Snackeez —“The all-in-one go anywhere snacking solution,” as though the ability to snack and go places at the same time is a problem in need of a solution. Somehow, I think we’ve got this one covered.

One of the kids excitedly asks if this is another television program.

“No, it’s a commercial.”

“A what?”

An explanation commences about how commercials are time segments companies buy to advertise their products in hopes that viewers will . . . it doesn’t matter. No one is listening.

The man in the commercial is filling brightly colored Snackeez containers with beverages, then topping them with little bowls filled with chips, chicken nuggets and fries, all your basic food groups. He then rolls them on the floor, tips them over and nothing spills.

“In the car! On the go! Perfect for parties!”

A cheer goes up from the crowd.

“But wait! It’s buy one, get one free.”

Another cheer goes up from the crowd!

“I want a Snackeez for my birthday!” a 5-year-old yells.

Their eyes grow bigger and bigger.

“But wait! There’s more! Buy two and get two free! But wait! Buy six and get six free.”

Dinner is ready, someone clicks off the television and kids head for the table shuffling their feet because the Snackeez guy was still talking. And still hawking.

These commercial-deprived children have learned something many of us have known for a long time.

Commercials are often the best entertainment on television.


Beware of falling unicorns

We are still recovering from the birthday party of all birthday parties.

It was a child’s birthday party. There were no pony rides, hired clowns or professional party planners. It was the birthday girl who put it over the top, the one turning four at a full throttle.

We thought it was going to be the usual—a few presents, some candles on a sloping cake accompanied by an off-key round of “Happy Birthday,” followed by a sugar surge.

We were wrong.

The second we entered the house, her older sister whispered in my ear, “She’s been in trouble ever since she woke up. It’s been a rough morning.” When a five-year-old says it’s been a rough morning, you know it’s been a rough morning.

A flash of purple shot through the room. It was the birthday girl blasting up the stairs, down the stairs, rocketing out the front door and back in again. She hurdled her baby sister in a single bound and somersaulted across the floor, yelling, “It’s my happy birthday!”

I regretted not having a lid for my coffee. And a padded suit.

In post-party analysis, the husband says it was to be expected. She’d witnessed a string of birthdays for others all summer long. At each and every celebration she was front and center when it was time to blow out candles, her little face wedged beneath another kid’s armpit waiting and longing for when it would be her turn to be center stage.

Time after time, she watched as someone else opened the gifts and someone else blew out the candles. She’d bottled it, suppressed it, contained it, then she woke up, knew she was four and simply exploded like spring coils bursting open from a closed can.

They corralled her to open gifts, which is when the falling unicorns began. She loves unicorns. She opened a unicorn beach towel, shrieked with delight and threw it toward the ceiling.

She ripped open a large box containing a stuffed unicorn, squealed, and hurled it skyward. A unicorn nightgown was launched, followed by a unicorn headband.

“Heads up!” people yelled.

“Incoming unicorns!” others screamed.

Baby unicorns ricocheted off the ceiling.

“Somebody cut the ceiling fan!”

She bolted toward a straight back chair, climbed on top of it and began jumping up and down.

“Do you want to go to the ER on your birthday?” someone snapped.

Depends. Does the ER have unicorns?

She made a beeline to the table and stared at the candles on her unicorn cake. If intensity alone could have ignited them, they would have been shooting giant flames. She momentarily stood still while the candles were lit. Poof! The candles were out and she was off again with a jet stream trailing behind her.

We heard that Flash began sputtering around 7 that evening and was out soon after. It was such a memorable celebration we may start a family tradition of throwing gifts in the air.


There is a buy one, get one free sale on “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s” for a few days. Why? Well, when my wonderful literary agent quit the business, I began self-publishing because it was easier than finding a new agent. The Grandma book did so well in my own limited launch that it has been picked up by a publishing house. (Yay!!! Wild cheering!!!) It will be released nationally (with a new cover) March 2021. Terms of the agreement require that I stop selling my self-published copies September 1. If you’re interested, click on the shop tab at the top. All copies personally signed. Free shipping. Orders must be placed by midnight Aug. 31.


Modern take on saying I love you

A well-known love sonnet begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” The poet then goes on to express the height, and depth and breadth, molecular density and kilograms of her love. I may have made those last few up, but you get the idea.

Her love is eternal and exists everywhere.

In times of global pandemic and quarantine, love is expressed in material goods that are in high demand and short supply.

We were down to six coffee filters when the shutdown began. I looked in store after store and online to no avail. I mentioned we were down to three coffee filters, and not looking forward to a new routine of chronic headaches, when a neighbor offered us some of hers.How do I love thee? Let me count our new supply of coffee filters.

A friend could not find whole wheat flour anywhere. On the rare occasions when she bakes cookies, she uses whole wheat flour. She didn’t want cookies at that moment, but if we were locked down for ages and ages, she’d want cookies eventually.

She pulled into our driveway late one night after checking on her mother-in-law. Wearing a mask, gloves and having double sealed the whole wheat flour that had been in my freezer, I set the package on the driveway and quickly backed away. She sprang from her vehicle, swooped up the package and shot back into her car.

It was like a clandestine money drop in an action thriller movie.

How do I love thee? Handing off whole wheat flour at 9:30 at night.

Our daughter-in-law, and most of the nation, was not able to find yeast. It is still difficult to find. The world goes into quarantine and immediately starts baking bread. Yeast was at the top of her “Most Wanted” list. I had purchased a large jar of yeast shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak. I kept a few tablespoons for myself and gave her the bottle for Mother’s Day.

It took a global quarantine and interrupted supply chains, but I’m finally finding just the right gifts for special occasions.

Our daughter put out an all-points bulletin for a specific spray bathroom disinfectant cleaner that she has always used and cannot be found anywhere. She texted a picture of the bottle to family members so we can all look for it whenever we are out.

Her birthday is next week. I don’t want to give away any shopping secrets, but it pays to bend down and check bottom shelves that look empty. Let’s just say she’s going to love her birthday gift.

Years from now she can tell the story about how her mother loved her so much that she gave her disinfecting bathroom cleaner for her birthday.

How do I love thee? Let me count the sprays.


Where a blue moon shines day and night

When our son, daughter-in-law and their five children moved in with us for a temporary stay, they brought five guitars, four banjos, two mandolins and a dulcimer along with them.

And five violins, although that’s not what they call them.

In their world – the world of folk music and bluegrass where fingers and bows dance like fireflies in the night air—a violin is called a fiddle.

Look at the 11-year-old who plays fiddle, call it a violin, and she will look like she has no idea what you mean. Then she may pick it up, play a few lively bars that sound like a steam train barreling down railroad tracks and sweetly say, “Did you mean the fiddle?”

There are few greater gifts than music in the home. I should qualify that as we once had a beginning violinist and two budding percussionists under our roof. What I meant to say is music that doesn’t hurt your ears or stand your hair on end is a gift in the home. Of course, every gift is a work in progress.

Round a corner at our place today and you may happen upon a kid having an online music lesson. Step out the backdoor late afternoon and their momma may be on a small bench plucking a tune on a banjo.

Our grandson is sitting on the front porch early one morning when I step outside and sit down in a chair. He strums a little of this and a little of that, looks at me and says, “What would you like to hear, Grandma?”

He says it with the confidence of a seasoned professional packing a vast repertoire in his fingertips, though he’s only been playing for two years. Confidence may exceed talent at present, but there’s no saying talent won’t win the race.

I mention a beautiful but sad song I’d heard him play a few days ago about a blue moon and a broken heart.

“Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and proved untrue”

He plays and sings with feeling even though he is only 9 and is far more interested in the dried snakeskin he found at the creek than a sweetheart who has proved untrue.

“Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue”

There’s a high note at the end of that line. He goes for it and comes real close. An unbridled lunge for a grand finish, at any age, is a thing of beauty.

The boy singing about heartbreak has dirt under his fingernails, 37 bug bites on his legs and sand between his toes. Somehow it all mixes together and sweetens the sound.

They are leaving soon. We will miss the chaos and laughter, squabbling and curiosity that makes us feel our age, as well as the music that crosses the barriers of time and distance, age and youth, plucking the strings of the human heart.

Can you spare a dime?

We don’t have two nickels to rub together.


We don’t even have one nickel.

We are among the growing number of people finding themselves change-challenged. Blame the pandemic. Businesses shut down, people stopped going to coin laundries, restaurants closed and piles of change often left with tips disappeared. For a brief time, even the mint than makes 17 percent of all coins shut down.

To make matters worse we are spending less and, when we do spend, we tend to use credit cards or mobile devices.

Many of us have stopped using bills and coins because they can spread germs. Just try getting Lincoln to wear a little face mask on the penny. Won’t work. The loops won’t go around his big ears.

The Federal Reserve calls this coin change shortage the “slowing of circulation.” Slowing of circulation used to be something that happened exclusively to the elderly. Now it is happening to everyone. We may finally have found our common denominator as Americans.

I love change—the kind that rattles at the bottom of my purse.

I just checked the bottom of my purse and there’s no change there either. Three pieces of gum, two cough drops and the inner workings of a ballpoint pen, but no change.

The low tire pressure warning came on in the car the other day. We stopped at an air pressure machine but didn’t have six quarters between us to start it. Everybody knows money doesn’t grow on trees, which is why we shook down four grandkids in the back of the vehicle. They didn’t have any either, although two of them said they had full piggy banks at home and would gladly share.

The other two were strangely silent. They’ll do well one day as venture capitalists.

Naturally, the next step was to look under the floor mats, dig deep in the back pockets behind the driver’s seat and the passenger seat and search through the glove box. Nothing. Not one red cent. Not one thin dime.

The clerk inside the gas station was reluctant to give the husband quarters for his dollar bills, but mercifully relented.

We were not only out of change; we were close to being out of air.

A bank system in Wisconsin was so desperate for change that it offered customers a $5 bonus for every $100 in coins they brought in to exchange at a branch. That’s a 5 percent return on your money. Try finding a CD that pays that much. The program was so successful, the bank suspended it after only a week.

My parents used to keep money in the freezer for emergencies. You could always count on them for hard, cold cash.

The other day we were driving along and the husband said, “Penny for your thoughts.”

“Make that sentiment a cash offer and I’ll share them with you,” I said.

I was thinking there is a reason money is called dough.

We all knead it.

When your inner domestic diva takes a dive

Two years ago, our daughter, son-in-law and their three small children moved in with us for seven months while they were between houses. We were feeding seven a day.

Now our son, daughter-in-law and their five children have moved in with us while they are between houses and we are feeding nine a day. I try to look at it as a promotion.

Some children pick at their food and others shove it around on their plates. These children are not that sort. They enjoy food and appreciate food.

Mid-morning they want to know what’s for lunch. When they’re eating lunch, they want to know what will be for dinner, and after dinner, when they are bathed and ready for bed, they ask what will be for breakfast.

When I scramble eggs for breakfast it’s a dozen and a half at a time.

We need chickens. Free range would be good. They’d complement the free-range children.

They are also heavy drinkers. If I bought enough milk to last all week, there’d be no room for anything else in the ‘fridge.

How did women a generation or two ago feed families this size and larger?  I should have paid more attention to my grandmothers. And they did it without the aid of freezers, microwave ovens, dishwashers and grocery stores minutes away.

As I grow accustomed to routinely cooking for a larger crowd, I find my inner domestic diva has died. She has gone to a better place, one where the kitchen gleams, the refrigerator door does not have crud on the handles and kitchen windows are not covered with greasy hand prints.

That said, sometimes a faint echo of Martha Stewart is still in my head saying snide things when I make sandwiches for lunch and serve them right off the cutting board.

Yesterday, feeling guilty about presentation, I put a piece of parchment on the cutting board before throwing on the sandwiches. Two of the kids asked if company was coming.

There was a time I served melon in wedges with uniformly cut pieces nesting in the rinds. Now I chunk up a melon, dump the pieces in a bowl, throw down some toothpicks and tell them to spear what they want. Victory goes to the swift. So does the melon.

Somedays I’m so weary that I use paper plates. I feel guilty using paper plates with the waste and all, but I rationalize that feeling guilty is better than feeling dead.

I am concerned that my standards are now so low that I am a poor role model. We celebrated a family birthday the other morning with 11 cousins and donuts on the patio. I took out a large bowl filled with water and a roll of paper towels, announcing it was a finger bowl. Two kids immediately dipped their fingers and you could no longer see the bottom of the bowl.

When they were finished eating, I heard one of our daughters tell her kids to just dip their faces in the finger bowl.

I’m so ashamed.

But I’m alive.

Why you probably need a tool belt

Once again, we were working on the house our son and daughter-in-law are building and must have ready in two weeks for inspections. We are not skilled construction workers. We are not even semi-skilled. We are below low-skill and just above no-skill but our rates are reasonable. Free.

I looked up from a doorknob I had finished installing perfectly—perfectly backward—and saw our daughter-in-law’s father pass by wearing a fully loaded tool belt. It had three tiers to it, countless pockets, assorted clips and buckles. The man was a walking hardware store with hammers, drills, a crowbar, screwdrivers, wrenches, ropes, squares, measuring tapes and a jigsaw tucked in pockets and swinging from hooks. He could go anywhere on the site and have whatever tool he needed within seconds.

In some ways a tool belt is like a purse, but a tool belt makes no pretense of fashion; it is completely utilitarian, existing for the sole purpose of getting the job done. The real perk of a tool belt is that you don’t set it down and walk away, leave it in the car, or at a friend’s house because it is attached to you.

A domestic tool belt could be an incredible step-saving, time-saving asset in the home.

The first tier of pockets on my domestic tool belt would hold the ever-essential cell phone, charging cord, reading glasses, backup pair of reading glasses for when I lose my primary pair, and ugly shoes with orthotic inserts for when my cute shoes hurt. You don’t want shoes near other things so I would probably bag them and let them swing from a clip-on hook.

Note to self: Don’t speed walk like you usually do or the swinging shoes on a hook will gain momentum and whack your backside.The next tier would be kitchen utensils: large whisk, small whisk, spatula, wooden spoons, measuring spoons, measuring cups, hot pads, dish towels, micro grater, vegetable peeler, paring knife and kitchen scissors.

Note to self: Be careful about bending over with sharp points nestled next to your stomach.

Because cleaning causes thousands of extra steps, I would also strap on a collapsible broom, dustpan, small wet mop, furniture polish, dust mitt, window cleaner and roll of paper towels. Naturally, implements that collect dirt and dust should be kept separately, so they’ll be clipped to hooks on the back of my tool belt.

Note to self: Be wary of overstretching to reach cleaning supplies behind you.

The more I think about this, the more I like it. As long as I don’t bruise my backside with swinging shoes, bend over and puncture vital organs or dislocate my shoulder reaching for window cleaner, it’s going to be a great system.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hopefully, not from an urgent care clinic.