The Boston Tea Party you never read about

I witnessed the Boston Tea Party, the Battle at Concord and Paul Revere’s Ride.

You didn’t think I was that old, did you?

I was a kid at the time, living in a Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood that went all out for the Fourth of July.

Old, fuzzy black and white snapshots of the Battle at Concord sharpen the memories. Red Coats are lined up in costumes that aren’t half bad if you can overlook the tie dress-shoes and long white socks pulled up over pant legs. They are wielding guns (not loaded) and a British flag.

Kids, more kids, tricycles, bicycles, baby strollers and women wearing Bermuda shorts line both sides of the street.

Lest you become confused, there is signage. Magic marker on a posterboard reads “Battle at Concord, April 19, 1775.”

A small bridge sits in the middle of the street. The Red Coats approach from one direction and the Minutemen from the other. The Minutemen fire and the British run like scared rabbits. Neither side suffers a single casualty—a slightly different outcome from the original Battle at Concord, but revisionist history had to start somewhere.

All that really mattered was that we whupped ‘em again.

A neighbor man, who had a horse pastured in the country, was the main act the year Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride was the featured attraction. Down the street he flew on his horse, tacatac, tacatac, past the letter drop mailbox, tacatac, tacatac, past a Plymouth Fury Suburban station wagon and a Corvair convertible, past kids waving flags, all the while shouting, “The British are Coming! The British are Coming!”

No one was overly concerned that the British were coming because we’d seen how they scattered like chickens the year before.

The most memorable of these gatherings was the year of the Boston Tea Party. Grown-ups worked hours in a neighbor’s garage building a ship on a platform on wheels. There was even a party table onboard the ship with a punch bowl and cups, courtesy of my mother. The crowd roared as crates of tea were heaved onto the blacktop. Our dad was onboard, heaving tea and celebrating with punch.

He took a nap in the front yard beneath the shade of an elm tree that afternoon. My mother mentioned that she had spiked the punch onboard the ship. Yes, she had taken liberties.

I have often wondered if the Fourth of July in our old neighborhood was over the top because so many in our neighborhood had served in World War II. Military service had been borne by the many in those days, not just a few.

They had seen the horrors of fascism with their own eyes, just as they had witnessed the bloody cost of freedom. Many bore some of those costs for a lifetime. Shared sacrifice yielded a strong pulsebeat of patriotism.

There were democrats, republicans, non-voters, white-collar and blue-collar workers among those staging the Fourth of July celebrations—but the differences among them were superseded by a love of country and deep respect and appreciation for freedom.

There is no perfect nation. There never has been and never will be. That said, we have always been a city shining on hill, a nation of possibilities, hopes and dreams. Maybe it’s possible that a respect for freedom and love of liberty will unite us again.

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Small back seat rider is a breeze

I am about to make my umpteenth trip to the grocery and am not happy about it. Having gathered my shopping essentials—wallet, car keys, cell phone, a list in illegible handwriting, reading glasses and a small chip on my shoulder, I hear a soft voice ask, “Grandma, can I go with you?”

Of course, she can’t go with me. She will slow me down. She will impede efficiency. Besides, if she goes, her brothers and sisters may want to go. This is not a field trip; it is a quick grocery run.

“Well, can I?” she asks.

“Sure,” I hear myself say. “Get your shoes.”

I help buckle her into the back seat, slip into the driver’s seat, start the car and hear a soft hum.

“I put my window down,” she cheerfully announces. “Grandma, don’t you want to put your window down?”

Hadn’t thought about it. The sun is shining and the humidity is low. It may be a near perfect day.  I put my window down. “I don’t usually drive with the windows down,” I say.

“Oh!” she gushes with excitement. “We drive with the windows down! But not on the highway. We have to put all the windows up on the highway. Are we going on the highway?”

“No, not on the highway, but we will be on a very busy street, so I’d like you to put your window up in a few blocks.”

“Grandma, do you know why I like the window down?”


“To feel the breeze, Grandma.”

We slow to a stop behind a long line of cars waiting for red to turn green.

“Oh, look, Grandma! Look at that lady’s steering wheel! It’s very pretty!”

The car next to us has a steering wheel cover made of solid bling that sparkles in the sun.

“Do you think she made it herself?” she gasps. The child is beholding one of the seven wonders of the world. “Maybe she bought all those sparkles at a garage sale and glued them on, one at a time.”


“Do you know why I like the window down, Grandma?”

“To feel the breeze?”

“Yes, but I also like to look for excavators. I saw 11.”

“When did you see 11 excavators?”

“Not all at one time, but I keep track of them and I’ve seen 11. You know what’s funny, Grandma?”


“I thought you were turning into the store back there, but you were only getting on the other side of the road!”

It was not an abrupt lane change; the girl simply notices everything. I have a rare treasure in the back seat, one of the only human beings left on earth who absorbs the present and lives in the now. We arrive at the store, quickly gather what we came for and head home. Windows up.

“Grandma! Look at that car—that’s a cool car! That man has ALL his windows down!”

He is fortunate, the man in the sleek convertible with all the windows and the top down. But at this moment, on this day and in this traffic, I may be the most fortunate of all.

We turn into the neighborhood, put all the windows down and take the long way home.

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Is it borrowing, stealing or simply caretaking?

I have found that one of the best ways to refurbish aging kitchen goods is to attend a pitch-in dinner. I have just returned from a large family gathering to which I took a spinach salad and came home with baked beans, watermelon and a slab of chocolate cake, all in durable glass containers with plastic lids that fit and are not cracked.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” does indeed apply to dishware.

And, yes, I have a good idea the dishes belong to the daughter who hosted the gathering, but I also have a good idea she probably has some of my dishes, so I’m willing to call it a wash.

Well, the containers aren’t washed yet, but they will be soon.

Of course, pilfering from a family pitch-in is one thing and pilfering from a church pitch-in is another. People you share a faith with have expectations that you are honest about whom the dishes belong to. There is a silent understanding that you will abide by the 11th commandment, “Thou shall not take home another’s empty 9 x 13, pretty platter or serving utensil.”

A friend once took home a pretty plate I had taken to a funeral dinner, a plate that had my name written on the bottom of it. She returned it several months later saying I had left without it, so she took it home and had enjoyed using it in the meantime. I was flattered she liked my taste in dishware. Besides, I have done similar things. (Far be it from me to cast the first salad fork.)

I once accidently brought home a pair of stainless-steel tongs after helping serve a church dinner. It was an inner-city church, a poor church that welcomes the downtrodden and the homeless, a church where one would want to come home thinking you had done some small measure of good, not looted the kitchen.

I put the tongs on a shelf intending to return them. Soon I found myself checking out the lock feature on the tongs. Fabulous. Mine hadn’t worked in years. Then I found myself using the tongs. Turning chicken breasts. Lifting spaghetti to see if it looked done. Pulling corn on the cob from boiling water. I switched from thinking I had “taken them” to I was “taking care of them.”

Isn’t that how it always starts? Tongs one day, grand theft auto the next.

Good thing for those church friends in the city that their commercial restaurant-grade warmer is bolted to the floor as I have always thought one of those would be nice to have, too.

I returned the tongs and am sleeping better, thank you very much.

These days, I’m toying with updating our KitchenAid mixer. Ours was a wedding gift some 40 years ago and overheats on high. Both of our girls and our daughter-in-law all have newer models. I wonder if any of them have written their names on the bottom.

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The Venmo solution to the high cost of living

The message painted on a car window in the parking lot said, “Honk!! Just Married—Venmo @. . . “ followed by a woman’s name.

Venmo is a popular app you can put on your phone to securely send and receive money from friends and family. It is widely used among younger people and handy for splitting a dinner tab, sharing the cost of a gift, and apparently for asking strangers to help foot the bill for your wedding.

Miss Manners and Emily Post never covered Venmo etiquette. If they had, I imagine their response would have been to put “please” at the end of the request plastered on your car window. Good manners are timeless.

My first response is that it was crass to ask random people to help pay for a wedding.

But I thought about it a little more, and a little bit more, and I wound up thinking, well, “Honk!! Just Bought Groceries! Venmo Me!”

“Honk!! Car Needs Fill-up! Venmo Me!”

“Honk!! Three grandkids with birthdays this month! Venmo Me!”

Suddenly, I had more messages to put on the car than the car had windows. Clearly, we’d need to get a bigger vehicle.

“Honk!! Just Bought New SUV! Venmo Me!”

High cost of living got you down? Can’t pay your bills? Demand others pay them for you!

Recently, financial gurus have advised people to calculate their personal rate of inflation as opposed to the 8 percent rate of inflation touted by the government.

Determine your monthly expenses for food, housing, clothing, transportation, medical care, recreation, education, etc., then, subtract your monthly spending a year ago from your current monthly spending and voila! you have your personal rate of inflation.

Everybody is feeling the squeeze. The husband announced he was going to take me somewhere expensive the other night. He took me to the gas station.

A year ago, our grandkids set up a lemonade stand to capitalize on the neighborhood garage sale. (We start our entrepreneurs young.) I carefully explained that their total intake, minus supply costs, would equal the profit. When I reminded them that the Walmart frozen lemonade was $1 a can, they did some quick figuring, followed by murmurs of watering down the lemonade and going heavy on the ice.

Wait until they find out that this year the same lemonade that was $1 last year is $1.25 this year. It will be multiplication, subtraction, decimal points and percentages rolled into one. Real-life math and real-life rate of inflation.

“Honk! Lemonade Up 25%! Venmo the Kids!”


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It makes sense that the nose knows

Other parents brag about their kids who are doctors and lawyers. We brag about our kid who can tell what you had for breakfast.

Little did we know when we welcomed a baby girl into this world years ago that she would grow up to have a fantastic sense of smell.

She often fine-tunes this ability on her sister. She slowly approaches, circles once, sniffs twice and says, “You had bacon for breakfast, didn’t you?”

Told she is wrong, she leans in close then says, “Sausage!”

She’s good. Very good. It’s entertaining. Until it becomes scary.

It’s one thing when she can pinpoint a natural gas leak by the curb, but quite another when she asks when you changed your shampoo and conditioner. Not “if,” but “when.”

The last time we bought donuts she announced that whoever made them was a smoker. She insisted she could smell cigarette smoke mingling with the glaze. She was still sniffing while the rest of us were eating.

We all have our talents and quirks. Sometimes it is a fine line between the two.

She can smell horses after someone has been horseback riding, can walk in a house, deduce that the house was recently cleaned and guess what products were used with 90 percent accuracy.

Recently, she walked into our house and asked if I’d made bruschetta because she smelled basil.

If only there were a smell category on Jeopardy. “I’ll take herbs and kitchen smells for 1,000 please.”

As parents, we may have missed the boat. We could have guided her onto a career track for a perfumer or sommelier.

Her girls try to emulate her olfactory abilities. The other day one of them announced she smelled Spanish rice on me.

I said I was offended.

She said, “Don’t be offended, Grandma. Spanish rice is a very popular dish.”

It’s always reassuring to know I’m keeping up with the trends.

Her mother walked over and said it was not Spanish rice, it was garlic.

Bingo. I was wearing an apron I last wore making a stir fry.

Her girls may indeed have inherited her sense of taste and smell. From the time they were little, I would often set one of them on the counter to be a taste tester when making guacamole.

“More lemon juice? More cilantro?”

It was like having personal sous chefs—short sous chefs that were not allowed to use the stove or sharp knives, but still.

The other day our daughter with the nose that knows walked in and told her dad she could smell that he had been rummaging through old photo albums and books.

He had.

And she wonders why we sometimes keep our distance.

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Now entering the “no fly” zone

The official start to summer is still weeks away but the insects have already declared, “Game on!”

The husband was cutting the grass, felt something stinging his neck, smacked the back of his neck with his hand and discovered fire ants.

They were flat and one-dimensional, but you could still tell they were fire ants.

We have an entire plastic tub full of assorted insect repellents, citronella candles and battery-powered cannisters that emit some kind of waves that apparently play obnoxious music and send insects into your neighbors’ yards.

None of it works.

I’ve even tried powers of persuasion with the insects, posting little signs in the grass and shrubs that say, “Red Meat is Bad for You” and “Go Vegan!”

The response has been, well, crickets.

I can’t stand them either.

The signs weren’t great, but I made them up on the fly. Like they care. Or the mosquitoes or the gnats, or any of them.

So it is that I have once again reverted to my old standby, “Get them before they get you.”

It is a philosophy I came by some years ago after considerable itching, scratching, prescription ointments and a spider bite that festered and sporadically erupted in the crook of my arm for five long months.

Because I am aggressive with insects, I am the one the grandkids come to for expertise. They make for a good cheering section, but few of them are willing to embrace my methods.

“If it is tiny, you just make a fist and smack it,” I explain.

This is met with screaming, whimpering and gagging.

“If it is in the house, up high and out of reach, you get the vacuum and use the hose extension. It works 99.9 percent of the time, and the insect simply believes it has entered a wind tunnel ride at a theme park.”

So I open up the Sunday paper and not only is there an entire section on “beasts that feast,” but there is an actual bug on the page! If I wasn’t paranoid already . . .

We always have a few centipedes that make their way into the house after a wet spring, shooting out of a dark corner at night or early in the morning. You do not squash a centipede with a balled fist. You stomp it with your shoe and then you hop to the kitchen on one foot for six paper towels. One paper towel is to clean the remains of the centipede on the hardwood, the other five are for cleaning the bottom of your shoe.

The most dreaded insect is the nymph tick, a tiny tick the size of a poppyseed. Everyone in the family knows to check for them after being in the woods. It is a special challenge to check for tiny ticks on aging skin with all kinds of tiny freckles, moles and age spots. Even with a magnifying glass. Even for a dermatologist.

We have been to funerals where grandchildren have shared lovely memories of things their grandpa or grandma taught them – how to invest in the stock market, identify morel mushrooms, shoot baskets and drive a combine. I will be the grandma who taught kids how to kill bugs.

I’m just glad I’m still useful.

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Screens fly searching for boundaries and good mental health

Every day my inbox fills with emails from public relations firms, angling for a plug for an author’s book or a new study on children. I delete most of them as quickly as they appear, but I nearly always read the ones on youth and mental health.

Suffice it to say the findings are not good. I often ponder over them, as we have a whole string of grandchildren (none of whom yet have a cell phone) poised to enter the teen years.

There is a corollary between the rise in popularity of screens among teens and feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression and the unspeakable.

The Digital Age has been a phenomenal asset to business and industry. It has put libraries and the world at our fingertips. But we will always be humans who were made for other humans – from the first breath of life.

In mere days following birth, the pupils of newborns’ eyes often enlarge when they connect with a mother’s face. Pupil enlargement is a physiological response to happiness and pleasure. In the case of a newborn, that pleasure is recognizing a familiar face and sensing a feeding may soon follow. A baby can sense the goodness of human presence, touch and care. We all can.

The opposite of that human connection would be feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

If the teen charged with perpetrating horror and evil in Buffalo, New York, is like others who have committed similar atrocities, they will likely find he is a loner who spent excessive amounts of time online and on the fringe.

Only a minuscule fraction of those who spend excessive time online become unhinged, yet the digital revolution has had an impact on all of us, our families and our relationships. Phones and screens can connect us in marvelous ways and shorten the miles between us, but they also separate us and partition us. We can now be in the same room with one another but worlds apart. Sometimes literally.

Greater measures of privacy, and even dark vaults of secrecy, are available at younger ages, Phones have transitioned from accessories to central command centers. Our response time to every ding, chime and vibration makes Pavlov’s dogs look like slackers.

In doing research for his wonderful book, “The Tech-Wise Family,” author Andy Crouch asked teens what the one thing was that they would like to change about their relationship with their parents if they could.

The number one answer was that they wished their parents would spend less time on their phones and more time talking with them.

Young people aren’t the only ones grappling with boundaries on screen time.

A mother of three adolescent girls and I were talking about phones, screens and the dark side of social media. She wondered if some of the devastating effects have become obvious enough that the next generation will be more cautious, more discerning, a bit more judicious.

They could. But parents will have to lead the way.

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Caution, Grandpa on wheels

It’s not every day a kid walks into the kitchen and says, “Did you know Grandpa is outside rollerblading?”

I did not know he was outside rollerblading. I did not know he knew how to rollerblade.

To understand why a man three score and ten, a man who has never been on rollerblades in his life was outside rollerblading, you have to understand how he thinks.

He thinks thoroughly and explains thoroughly. And if he thinks you haven’t grasped his thorough explanations, he will draw a chart or a diagram, or give a demonstration. His modus operandi has always been “teach, tell, show.” It’s a good system.

Some of the grands discovered their mother’s old rollerblades, brought them over, found a pair in our garage as well, and were trying to rollerblade.

“How is he doing?” I asked the one who had come inside to file a report.

“Not very well. I think you should come outside and see for yourself. He’s very wobbly, so we’re trying to hold him up to keep him from falling.”

Her eyes grow big and she says, “And, Grandma, cars are slowing down and drivers are staring.”

I follow her outside and see she has described the situation accurately. Traffic hasn’t backed up all the way to the corner, but it is definitely slowing and drivers are gawking.

“I didn’t know you knew how to rollerblade,” I say to the man with his feet jammed into rollerblades too small, the man with a child on either side of him, each gripping an arm, holding him steady.

“I ice skated,” he says.

“I remember that now. College, right? You broke your ankle?”

Suddenly, he can no longer hear me.

“I played softball in high school gym class,” I say, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try out for the major leagues. Why are you doing this?”

“To show them how.”

Of course—teach, tell, show.

“I’m sorry, but they are helping hold you up. How is this instructive?”

“I know some basics and they’re not propelling themselves forward correctly. I tried to explain it and they didn’t get it, so now I am showing them. They need to push off with their back leg at an angle.”

He then pushes off with his right leg, throwing it out at an angle behind him, then abruptly careens left—

“The grass, the grass!” I yell. “Fall on the grass, not the concrete!”

He makes a last-second save and regains his balance.

After few more demos of questionable value, the girls put the rollerblades back on and are gliding with a near grace.

Their instructor proudly wears a look that says, “Mission Accomplished,” and will no doubt be looking for new challenges.

If you see a retired guy with salt and pepper hair who looks out of place at a skate park, I don’t even want to know.

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The best and hardest job you may ever have

It was C day in kindergarten recently. C being for career, kids came dressed as the career they wanted to have when they grew up.

A 6-year-old granddaughter who sports a mop of curly auburn hair, eats like food is a full-body contact sport, yet is built like a string bean, went wearing jeans, a long sleeve shirt, her hair pulled back with a pink polka dot headband, a green apron, a yellow baby carrier strapped to her chest on top of the apron, a Madeline doll tucked inside the baby carrier and a toy cell phone protruding from a back pocket.

Mom. That’s what she wants to be when she grows up. A mother. Just like her mother.

Did I mention that the kid is sweet, funny, playful—and can shoot a look that can melt steel?

The school never called, so I guess nobody challenged her on wanting to be a mom. Nobody told her to aim higher or to think outside the box.

The kid is already in training. The family has an aquarium full of fish. She keeps a close eye on them—monitoring them, watching them, naming them, predicting which ones will have the next babies and telling her dad when some of the fish are bullies and nibble on another fish’s fins.

Fish today, infants tomorrow. Everybody starts somewhere, right?

What does it take to be a mom? You know, besides cute headbands and a cell phone in your rear pocket?

It takes everything—everything you’re willing to give, everything you’re not willing to give, and then some. If you’ve ever seen one of those old iron rug beaters women used a century ago to beat carpets with, that’s what being a mom feels like somedays. There are days when motherhood simply beats everything you’ve got right out of you.

Of course, there are also wonderful, memorable, frozen-in-time days, receiving sweet hand-written notes and drawings of yourself where you look like an alien. Days when someone picked the towels off the bathroom floor without being told. An adolescent opens up without the slightest coercion. Someone says thank you. A grown child phones just to check in and say hello.

Like all of life, motherhood is a mix. At times, being a mom may be the hardest job you’ll ever have, the greatest heartache you may ever know and the deepest well of joy and satisfaction you could ever imagine.

There are days motherhood fills your heart with such love and wonder that you think you might just explode. But you don’t. Because after you exploded, you’d be the one cleaning it up.

One of the greatest things any mother can teach a child is how to keep  going through every sort of day, rain or shine.

Happy Mother’s Day, moms. Keep going.


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Living in the days of less is more

The vocabulary intended to soften the blows of blistering inflation is a testimony to creativity. Economists keep talking about consumers experiencing shrinkflation. They don’t mean consumers are shrinking (although you do look amazingly trim); they mean the products we buy are shrinking, but the prices are not.

One manufacturer that has been shrinking the size of cereal boxes goes a step further and refers to it as “price-packing-architecture.” That sounds so much better than “sticking it to the consumer.”

Cadbury Chocolate said they will be implementing multiple price hikes, calling them “pricing waves.” It almost sounds like you’re at the beach. How restful. But those waves aren’t water. Hershey is also on track to raise prices.

You can buy candy on the installment plan or kiss chocolate goodbye.

Shrinkflation has also hit ice cream. What passes for a half-gallon, probably isn’t.  Check the fine print.

You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool anybody when it comes to ice cream.

I like the Dollar Tree approach to compensating for shrinking profit margins—there’s no sleight of hand or double talk, just a straight up price hike. Many of the items now cost $1.25, but the signage still says Dollar Tree. The attitude smacks of “tough cookies.” There are fewer of those in a bag now, too.

The silver lining of inflation is that I no longer need help carrying groceries into the house. My usual run that used to fill the backseat now fits compactly in two bags. Perhaps we can think of shrinkflation as a new form of portion control.

The concept of paying more for less is an economic wildfire. A popular pizza chain revealed there will now be only eight chicken wings in an order instead of 10. Interesting, but my question is why do pizza chains sell chicken wings?

Clorox announced they will raise prices on 85 percent of their products, giving “clean-up on aisle 3” new meaning.

The cost of a flight I booked recently wasn’t as high as I thought it might be. But when I went to choose my seat there was an extra charge for a window seat as well as an extra charge for an aisle seat. There was no extra charge for the middle seat, which is good news if you are the size of Barbie.

I can only imagine what the charge is to use the restroom. And there’s probably an extra charge on top of that charge if you want the privilege of closing the door.

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