Raise your key fob if you lost a black car

To my deep regret, we own a black car. Technically it’s a metallic brown, but it only looks brown two days a year when it has been to the car wash and the sun tilts at a certain odd angle for 1.6 seconds. Every other day our brown car looks like black.

I should be able to distinguish our mid-size, boxy black car from other mid-size boxy black cars by the outline of the roof, the silhouette of the hood, the curve of the bumper or the shape of taillights, but I can’t.

Not only do I have trouble identifying our car, I have trouble identifying cars that good friends and long-time neighbors drive. Consequently, I wave at every car I pass in our neighborhood. If I don’t wave at a car and it carries someone I know, they’ll wonder why I’m unfriendly. Of course, if I wave at a car carrying someone I don’t know, they’ll think, “That woman must be batty!” It’s not much of a choice, but in the interest of maintaining friendships I tilt toward batty.

The worst part is running errands. I exit the grocery with a full cart, head to my car and wonder why it won’t unlock. I try a second and third time. I pull on the door handle that won’t budge, peer inside the vehicle and see unfamiliar books in the passenger seat, a soft drink wedged in the beverage cup holder and realize it’s not my black car.

I look around to see if anyone has seen me because it looks like I am attempting to break into a vehicle, although few car thieves are women pushing fully loaded grocery carts. Fortunately, no one has ever called the police on me. Yet.

If only someone would invent a key fob you could click to launch a giant, neon orange foam arrow that hovers over your vehicle with the words “You are Here!”

They could even be personalized as to color and message: “Seriously? Lost Again?” or “I’m Right Here Where You Left Me!”

Recently, the husband dropped me off at the entry to a store, so I didn’t have to walk through the pounding rain. I texted I was ready to be picked up, then dashed outside as a boxy black car pulled up and nearly got into the wrong vehicle.

The husband pointed out it could be worse, because there are even more silver cars than black cars and even more white cars than silver.

Maybe our next car will be blue—with big yellow stripes and red polka dots—something to subtly set it apart.

The other day I saw a woman walking up and down the aisle in a parking lot waving her key fob overhead, punching it frantically.

“Can’t find your car?” I asked.

“Right” she said with a look of exasperation.

“Maybe I can help. What color is it?” I asked.

I knew the answer the minute the words were out of my mouth.


I’ll be sharing “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s,” on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the at the Johnson County Library in Franklin, Ind. Grab a dozen of your closest friends and stop by. (You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll  laugh some more.) If you’re busy on that Tuesday, you catch me on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 6:30-7:30 at the Bartholomew County Library in Columbus, Ind. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Framed for not hanging all the artwork

We now have more art than we have wall space. We could make the Louvre look like an annex.

A painting on canvas of a big red barn with a blue sky leans against my desk.

A bright orange pumpkin caps my towering “to do” pile, and a family portrait, in which one of the grands drew herself, her mom and dad, and omitted her siblings, is tucked behind the buffet in the dining room.

The pieces are fine art in that they are fine considering the ages of the children who created them.

We have masterpieces in crayon, pencil, tempera and ballpoint pen. We have pictures of babies, unicorns, tulips, turtles, heavy machinery, tall buildings, vases of flowers, spaceships, aliens, trees, parks, wild animals, night skies and all four seasons.

We also have a lot of, ahem, modern art, if you get my drift.

“Can you tell me about this drawing? What is happening here? I like the way these lines look like a giant ball of tangled string.”

When conversations with the artists do little to bring clarity, we classify these as “postmodern, untitled.”

This is every parent and grandparent’s dilemma—what to do with your art surplus when you’re related to the artists.

It would be easier to throw away a Rembrandt. I’m not related to Rembrandt. I didn’t monitor his mother’s labor and delivery by text. I wasn’t there moments after he was delivered. I never changed his diaper, rocked him to sleep, burped him or made him chocolate chip cookies.

Swoosh! There goes a Rembrandt into the trash.

The thing about budding artists is that they like their work displayed, which is why we have refrigerator doors. Alas, the refrigerator only holds so much.

Where do we store all these treasures? What do we do when we are finally overtaken by pictures of unicorns?

“Where’s my painting, Grandma?” is followed by Grandma suffering sharp pangs of guilt.

A friend has a large basement filled with huge plastic tubs holding every scrap of artwork her children created in school. Late at night, she goes downstairs, sits on the cold, concrete floor and spends hours going through the tubs, pulling out drawings and paintings, reminiscing, clutching the artwork to her chest, shedding tears over days gone by.

No she doesn’t. She never opens any of the tubs. They sit there untouched collecting dust.

On the upside, if her kids ask where a drawing is of a caterpillar one of them made at age 6, she can honestly say, “It’s in here somewhere.”

I’d rather say the caterpillar became a butterfly and took flight.

Our present Microwave to Oblivion system works fairly well. We pile art on top of art on top of the microwave. They see corners of their work when they visit. We slowly eliminate from the bottom of the pile and, by that time, the artists have added new masterpieces to the top of the pile.

I don’t know how we live with ourselves.

I wonder what Rembrandt’s grandma did.

The baby doesn’t need any bossiness

When our youngest daughter and her family moved into their new house, she told her older sister and myself that we weren’t to boss her around, try to tell her how to decorate, where to put the furniture or how to organize the kitchen.

Naturally, I was deeply wounded. Then I did what any mother would do. I hid the dozen paint chips I had selected from the hardware store deep in my purse. I demurely agreed that I would not try to boss her around, although I may have had my fingers crossed behind my back.

She said, “You both try to tell me what to do because I’m the baby in the family.”

To which we simultaneously responded, “But you are the baby!”

I assured her nobody was pushing her around because she was the youngest, then made the mistake of saying, “Sweetie, did you know vinegar in the wash cycle will get the mildew smell out of towels?”

I may also have said, “Honey, are you sure you don’t want a table protector cover of some sort on that nice new table?”

And, “I see the baby is fascinated with that electrical outlet. You have safety plugs, right?”

Followed by, “You want me to use some window cleaner on those patio doors?”

Her sister refused to give in to the demand to refrain from directing the big move-in. She believed that she was qualified to direct, noting she has moved seven times and knows a thing or two about expediting the process.

Confronted with the undeniable truth that her older sister did have considerable experience with moving, the younger sister weakened and said her older sister could offer one suggestion a week, which was tantamount to opening a dam and trusting the water to stay put.

Well, then we both started bossing with shouts of, “No, don’t put that piece on that wall! Put it over there on that wall!”

“You put the cereal where?”

“No, no, no, the cleaning supplies should be—”

“Did you really want the trash can where the baby could —where’s the broom?”

I suppose you can see why we were virtually banned from the house until she had unpacked everything on her own, although to this day neither of us can comprehend why our overbearing advice, opinions and directions were deemed unnecessary.

The funny thing is, even without either of us present, her kitchen is set up like our kitchens, which were set up like my mother’s kitchen. Kitchen organization, consciously or not, is often passed from one generation to the next.

All of which reminds me of a story about a young bride cutting off the end of the ham before she baked it in the oven. Her husband asked why she did that and she said, “Because that’s the way my mother always did it.”

One day the young bride asked her mother why she cut off the end of the ham before cooking it. Her mother said, “Because that was the only way it would fit in the pan.”


It’s all about DNA, Dishware Necessity Attitude

I just saw one of our wedding gifts sold as cheap yard décor. It wasn’t exactly mine, but it was identical to my silver-plated coffee service.

The husband and I spent the weekend in a small quaint town where old buildings, filled with restaurants, boutiques and gift shops, line the streets.

It is a restful place. A peaceful place. A place where a pleasant calm slowly takes you in—until you see the same silver-plated coffee service you have at home welded to  a silver tray, anchored to a metal rod, jammed in the ground and billed as a garden ornament.

“I can’t believe it!” I exclaim.

“I can’t either,” said the husband. “I didn’t know it was going to rain.”

The husband doesn’t have the same fire in him that I do about dishes. I come from a long line of women who appreciate fine dishware. We love pretty dishes and handing down pretty dishes to the next generation.

It’s in our DNA (Dishware Necessity Attitude).

Looking at the replica of my silver-plated coffee service now disgraced and masquerading as a garden ornament, I see that it needs polishing.

I could fix that relic by dashing back to the hotel and grabbing my cosmetic bag. Anybody who knows dishware knows you can use toothpaste to clean silver.

The husband suggests that if I start smearing toothpaste on someone’s “work of art,” it could upset the small artisan colony and I would be to blame.

I defer to his judgment, although reluctantly. And with thoughts of returning after dark with my whitening tartar-control toothpaste.

Seeing our wedding gifts as yard décor isn’t truly a surprise.

It’s been years since we’ve been invited to a wedding where the bride registered for fine dishware. Couples today register for huge popcorn tubs, board games and camping gear, but not fancy dishes.

I asked a recent bride-to-be if she and her fiancé had any interest in china. She said, “Yes, but we’d like to visit India first.”

Nobody cares about nice dishes because everyone is eating out. “Takeout” is now considered a primary food group.

I get it. Paper plates are often on my shopping list. They’re convenient and make for easy cleanup.

But still. Still.

There are times when a meal is not about saving time. There are times when a meal is about enjoying heirlooms, loveliness, candles with wax rolling down the sides and lingering over conversation and dessert.

I had three great aunts who lived nearly all their adult lives together. When we visited, they often used beautiful green crystal they had saved money for as young girls and purchased for their mother years ago. My mother routinely broke out in a sweat terrified my brother or I would bite a piece right out of an heirloom crystal goblet.

We never did and the aunts were right to risk using the “good dishes.”

Special things don’t belong shut in a drawer, sitting on a shelf or hidden in a closet. They are meant to be used and enjoyed – preferably in the house, not outside, stuck on a metal rod.

Hotel has unusual amenities

We stayed at the Mark Twain Hotel in San Francisco on our honeymoon. It was very romantic. The room had a lovely view of the night sky. Not because it had a skylight, but because there was a hole in the ceiling.

The first time we took the kids to the ocean, we stayed in a hotel with Paradise in its name. Paradise was a terrible misnomer. An enormous roach lumbered through the room, making its way to the sliding glass doors leading to the beach. The thing was so large it opened the sliding glass door all by itself.

I once surprised the husband with a short ski trip when we lived in the Pacific Northwest. I booked us a night in what was described as a “rustic cabin.” They weren’t kidding. It had no heat.

We’ve had more than a few surprises when it comes to lodging. The biggest surprise happened recently when some of the grands invited us for an overnight at their house.

They told us it would be like staying at a hotel. Knowing that they have a good roof and no household pests, we said yes.

Upon arrival we were given a key card made from construction paper to Room 208.

“Top of the stairs and to the left,” one of them said.

A hand-written sign taped to the banister said “HOTLE” and had an arrow pointing up.

We trudged up the stairs and opened the door to 208 with three kids stepping on our heels.

“Here’s a basket with stuff you might have forgotten.”

In it were two bottles of water, two toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste and peanut M&Ms.

“I did forget my M&Ms,” I said.

They also pointed out that they had stashed a piece of candy under both of our pillows and said we could eat them now if we wanted.

The best part was a large handmade sign written in crayon. It read:

“Welcome to The Best hotle IN Town. Why?”

“Frindle Faces.”

“Free Food.”

They explained we could have free popcorn anytime we wanted it. It’s always good to know popcorn is available and that your family won’t charge you for it.

“Grate Hostptale.”

We weren’t sure if they thought we might need a great hospital or if they were offering great hospitality.

Those amenities would have been more than enough to rate a top-notch review, but they listed one more reason why it was the best “hotle” in town.

“Free wife.”

The husband saw it first and wanted to know where she was.

Funny guy. He can hardly manage the one he has now. Two wives would be the end of him.

The girls giggled and stammered and explained it was for the computer. Well, then he expressed surprise that he would be getting a free wife AND a computer!

He may have scared them completely out of the hotel business. If they ever host us again, the amenities will likely include nothing more than a tiny shampoo and tiny conditioner.

Getting a grip on axe throwing

I don’t pay much attention to trends because they tend to be like buses—there’s a new one every ten minutes. However, this one has not only snagged my attention but sent chills down my spine and triggered goose bumps on my arms.

Axe throwing.

That’s right, throwing an axe at a target has become a big thing. Don’t tell me you’re still doing yoga.

Axe throwing is so popular it’s gone global. No matter where you live, you can probably find axe throwing lessons near you or even join a competitive axe-throwing league.

When I first heard the next big thing was axe, I thought they meant Axe, the line of hair products, deodorant and fragrance popular with young men. Half of our son’s graduating class marched across the stage to receive high school diplomas enshrouded in a giant cloud of Axe.

That’s not the axe. This is the axe like frontiersmen used to fell trees. Those would be the ones who smelled like sweat, not aftershave. Only nobody is clearing land with axes. They’re throwing axes at targets. It’s like a supersized version of darts.

One man claims throwing an axe is very therapeutic and very calming. I’d like to know more about his day job.

Axe throwing is a three-step process. The first step is to grip the handle of the axe with two hands, raise it over your head and lower it behind your back. The first step would also be the last step for me. The weight of an axe overhead and behind my back would tip me backward. Even if I didn’t fall backward, or dislocate both shoulders, I couldn’t swing it overhead, let alone accurately hurl it at a target.

Maybe that’s why you do this with metal fencing on both sides of you. Plus, someone sizes you up to determine if you have the strength for axe throwing. That would be me getting the no-go.

Oh, and you’re also not to wear open-toed shoes.

Great. There’s the recurring nightmare I’ll have for the next two weeks.

You’re wondering how popular something like this could be, right?

Very popular. Axe-throwing businesses advise booking two months in advance.

I’ve been reading about this and keep thinking, who are these people? Do I know them? Am I related to them?

Turns out I am. A son-in-law did this in a corporate team-building exercise. He said it was fun. I’m keeping an eye on that one.

An axe-throwing venue near us is advertising a birthday special — book your group and the birthday boy or girl gets in free!

“Mom, Mom! Can I? Can I? Can I please have an axe-throwing birthday party?”

Mom faints.

I’d pay someone not to invite a loved one to an axe-throwing birthday party. I’m not antisocial. You can come to my house for cake when the axe-throwing birthday party is over, but we’ll cut the cake the traditional way – with a small dull knife that hasn’t been sharpened in years.

Stories in the woods grow to fill the space

Our collective family is meeting my brother’s collective family in a small river town on the banks of the Missouri. It has been two years since we have all been together. It is a crisp fall day. The sky is bright blue and “the air tastes good here” according to one of the kids.

After everyone has arrived, hugged one another, ogled the new babies, put a serious dent in all the food, taken pictures and ogled the new babies some more, it is time for a walk in the woods.

The kids tear down the trail, laughing and yelling, scaring nearby wildlife into early hibernation.

We are identifying leaves that have fallen—maple, oak, elm, sycamore, when I find a leaf no one can identify.

It looks like a mitten with two large thumbs, one on each side.

There are numerous guesses, all of which are dismissed, when someone finally says, “Sassafrass. I think it’s a sassafrass.”

Of course, it is.

My brother, who speaks with authority whenever he spins a yarn, corrects the pronunciation. “It’s sassyfrass. Sassy. Frass.”

He asks if any of the kids know what the sassyfrass leaf is for.

They are mum and their eyes grow big.

“Long ago, people made tea with the sassyfrass leaf and gave it to their children. It would frass the sass right out of them. Yes, sir, sassyfrass tea—frasses the sass out of kids.”

Quiet descends on the group. Then a meek voice asks, “What’s sass?”

“Sass is when your mom or dad tell you to do something and you talk back or argue with them.”

The bulk of the group looks relieved, but a few squirm uncomfortably.

We continue our walk, some gathering sassyfrass leaves, others vigorously kicking them aside, when a black cat crosses our path in the distance. By the time news of the black cat reaches the tail end of the group, it may have been a large black cat but it was more likely a small black bear.

Stories in the woods grow to fill the space.

We return to our hotel before dinner and everyone props open their room doors so kids can come and go. I am making a cup of hot tea to take the chill off when one of the girls pops in.

“I see you’re having tea, Grandma. Is it, you know, some of that sassyfrass tea that takes the sass out?”

“Why yes, it is,” I say submerging my Earl Grey tea bag and doing my part to keep the story growing.

She darts off, probably to tell the group that Grandma soon will be a changed woman.

The next morning, she asks if I think the sassyfrass tea worked.

“I can’t tell as though I’m any less or any more sassy than I was before,” I say.

“I don’t think you were sassy, Grandma. Maybe it only works on real sassy people.” There is a twinkle in her eye. We both know who needs the sass frassed out of him.

I’ve read that families are like fudge, mostly sweet with a few nuts.

Ours is no exception.


No matter how you stack it, some still prefer paper

Every morning I engage in a ritual on the verge of extinction. I walk outside and bring in the morning newspaper.

There was a time when every house on both sides of the street had a newspaper in the driveway. Of course, there was also a time when every house had a landline, too. But not anymore. Not in a long time.

The husband takes the demise of print edition newspapers particularly hard as he worked his entire career in newspapers. He started when he was 16. Even before that, he was what you would call an independent publisher. He received a small typesetting kit with a hand-cranked press as a child and printed a family newsletter.

Circulation never passed two dozen or so extended family members, but it kept him entertained, and cousins and aunts and uncles were well informed about the boys his older sister was dating.

We were at a Chicago park recently, herding a few of our grands, as kids swarmed like bees. The husband had a newspaper he had been reading folded under his arm. He sat down and put the paper on the bench beside him. A girl about 9 walked over, looked at the newspaper, picked it up and asked, “What’s this?”

I nearly screamed, “Get back little girl! Run as fast as your legs can carry you!”

I thought the man was going to croak. The color drained out of his face. His eyes rolled back in his head and his legs were giving out.

I rolled up his paper and rapped him on the head with it.

He was still swooning, so I waved it under his nose.

The fumes from the ink brought him to.

Some people simply love paper—the feel, the portability, the pleasure of old newspapers stacked in piles, the pleasure of stacking them higher and higher until your wife cries, “Enough!”

He was recently making another case for print, citing Exhibit A—our youngest daughter and son-in-law. When they lived with us, they raced to pull the crossword puzzle from the paper every day. The man has a point. It’s hard to do a crossword online. Pencil doesn’t come off a computer screen as easily as you might think.

Now the husband will be thrilled that I have found further proof there may still be hope for the survival of print.  I was visiting with a young, married, mother of four little ones who subscribes to the daily newspaper in print.

Stunned, I asked why she did something so old school. She looked shocked.

“Because it’s print!” she said. “I love print! When the paper didn’t come one day, would you believe I called the main number to let them know and the lady said, ‘Why don’t you just subscribe to the online version?’”

She shook her head in disbelief.

The husband will be so thrilled he may write this young woman into our will. I say we make her beneficiary of all our stacks of old newspapers.

Take cover, zucchini are exploding

We have long kept a small backyard garden to teach our children, and now our grandchildren, a few basics about gardening.

The biggest lesson they have learned is this: If we had to live on the food we grow, we would all be very thin and very hungry.

Unless, of course, you could be well fed on cherry tomatoes. We do well with cherry tomatoes and any other plant that thrives on neglect.

We are currently yielding 11 bright red cherry tomatoes for every one minuscule raspberry.

We like the itty-bitty tomatoes and are grateful for them, but man does not live on itty bitty tomatoes alone. Man also needs olive oil, mozzarella and pasta to accompany tomatoes, all of which we have had no success growing.

Tomatoes are like cucumbers and zucchini—plants that start out as unassuming frail seedlings, emerging a leaf or two here and there. They keep you guessing whether they will endure the dip in night temperatures, the torrents of rain or the scorch of the sun. You check on them every day. Then one day, in a matter of seconds, they are mature and fully grown, virtually exploding, intent on taking over the entire garden. They become, shall we say, overbearing? They multiply like crazy.

Last week I dropped off a friend at her home after having lunch. Her husband ran out of the house when he saw the car pull into the driveway and said he wouldn’t take his wife back until I agreed to take some cucumbers home with me.

She is a good friend, and because our cucumbers had not yet started exploding, I agreed to take a few.

He reappeared on a dead run, cradling a basket with 16 cucumbers.

By the time I got home (90 seconds later), our cucumbers were also exploding. I’ve made cucumber soup, tossed cucumbers in salads, on sandwiches, in vinegar and sour cream, and even tried wearing slices of them under my eyes to reduce puffiness.

Every backyard gardener is giving cucumbers and tomatoes to neighbors who already have more than enough, so they give them to other friends and neighbors who give them to other friends and neighbors. Some tomatoes and cucumbers have been known to travel three time zones in a single day.

We also do well growing herbs that thrive on neglect thereby complementing the produce we grow that thrives on neglect. There’s a pattern here, isn’t there?

Last week I tucked a bag filled with rosemary in my purse for a friend and forgot to give it to her, or force it on her, whichever you like.

My purse is now permanently fragranced like rosemary. On the upside, every time I open my purse, my sinuses clear.

We have foisted all the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers we can on friends and neighbors. The time has come for us to draw the curtains and bolt the doors in case they have plans to reciprocate. We’re taking no chances. Zucchini season is coming.


Sprinkle that doughnut dash with fun

We conducted a Doughnut Dash not long ago. Our goal was to hit as many doughnut shops as possible and find the best doughnuts in town.

It was a worthy Saturday morning endeavor, although the dash part of the Doughnut Dash was a misnomer. We had five little ones in tow.

You don’t dash anywhere when passengers require car seats with five-point harnesses, booster seats and stubborn seat belts.

Our mission was noble, but overly ambitious.  We made a total of two stops, which was probably one too many.

The kids are at an age where they talk a lot—all of them—all at the same time.

We are driving along when a 4-year-old yells, “Hey! I know where we are. This is where the policeman stopped my mom!”

“Is that so?” I ask.

“Yes. But we’re not going to tell Dad about it!”

We reach our destination and unload like clowns bursting out of a phone booth.

They scramble to the counter and begin placing their orders. Sprinkles—any and everything with sprinkles. If there are doughnuts that are nothing but sprinkles, we’ll take those, too.

Wolfing them down, one announces, “I made a card for Mommy with a heart that says, ‘I love you.’ Mommy says it is so special she is going to save it forever.”

“Wow!” exclaims her older sister with sprinkles plastered to her face. “She usually trashes everything I make.”

“I need to use the restroom,” announces another. “My hands are sticky.”

Five kids parade to the restroom to wash their sticky hands, each returning with clean hands only to re-engage sticky doughnuts.

“THESE ARE THE BEST!” one of them yells. She is loud because she is the youngest of three and must be loud to be heard.

The staff behind the counter hears her, smiles and nods approvingly.



“Keep your voice down,” I whisper.


“Look at my arms,” shouts one of the girls.

“What about them?”

“They’re HAIRY! I think I’m turning into Daddy.”

Laughter explodes, the table rocks and napkins fly as everyone compares arm hair.

“I have long legs like Daddy,” another says.

“Dancers have long legs,” says another.

“You know what I’m going to be when I grow up?”


“A Rockette.”

A couple stops by to comment on how well behaved the girls are. The table begins bouncing as the soon-to-be Rockette warms up her high-kicks from below.

“Thanks,” I say. “It’s still early.”

The husband begins reading coffee selections aloud from the menu.

“Dark Roast Caribou–”

They are wiggling and giggling, an uncontainable mass of life, motion and energy. Sprinkles ricochet off the table in every direction.

“Dream Bean Coffee–” he continues. There’s now a kid on his lap, another one draped around his neck and he has sprinkles in his hair.

“Look at that last coffee.” he says. “It’s called Jamaican Me Crazy”