Thursday, July 12, 2018


“We have the stupidest conversations.”
I’ve said this to my husband at least once a week for the last ten years, but knowing we have this communication problem changes nothing. In other words, knowledge is not power. We still participate in ridiculous dialogues.
Sometimes I try to describe it by saying we have parallel conversations, where we’re both saying the same thing, but we each insist that the other person come over to our side of the discussion and phrase things our way. You know what I mean? The crazy thing is we actually agree with each other, but that’s not the point. The point is we each have our own dictionary and we want everyone to buy a copy and use that one exclusively. Refusing to admit we understood each other all along is the way we roll. Winning is the goal.
That’s not really the way communication works. I sometimes think I have no idea how communication . . . works.
Case in point.
There’s a lot of down time when you travel by car across country. I know most people prefer to fly because it’s quicker, but we like to take the long way and drive so we can see the country and perfect the art of confusing one another while we do it. We’re just sick that way.
Last month we put another six thousand miles on the new engine in our old Tahoe and spent some time with friends in Idaho followed by three days imagining what Glacier National Park would have looked like if we’d visited there while it wasn’t pouring rain. All in all, that provided approximately seventy-hours belted into a moving vehicle while we practiced both the art of communication and finding fast food that wouldn’t kill us. Each is an exercise in futility.
Out of the blue somewhere along a back-country road north of the Idaho line, Rob suddenly glanced into the rearview mirror, rubbed his belly, and said,
“I still got a little bit o’ gas.” 
Well, I didn’t know he felt bad after dinner the night before, so I asked,
“When did you get gas?”
“Don’t you remember?” he said, throwing me an agitated glance that looked for all the world like he was certain I had contracted a severe case of Altzheimer’s overnight. “Last night. At the Circle K.”
I started blinking. I sighed in confusion, squinted at him while I rubbed the back of my neck, and desperately zipped through the mental videos of every place we’d eaten anything the day before. What could he possibly have consumed at Circle K that would upset his stomach?
Right. Everything.
I didn’t answer fast enough, so he repeated the question. “Don’t you remember? You asked me last night when we were by the Circle K.”
“I did? You didn’t tell me you had gas.” 
Now he was convinced I had Altzheimer’s. I was beginning to wonder, too.
“Yes, remember? At the Circle K,” he emphasized, “when we saw all those Chinese people go by.”
“What Chinese people?”
“It was like a tour bus let out or something, and then I got gas," he snapped.
“You got gas from seeing a bunch of Chinese people???”
“No!! At the gas station . . .” Long pause. “I filled up the truck last night at the Circle K gas station.”
I blinked. “Well, why didn’t you say that. We have the stupidest conversations. I thought you said you had a little gas left after eating last night . . .”
“Yeah, I did,” he said, and that was the end. He couldn’t get anything else out once he started laughing. He just scrunched up his eyes and held his gassy belly while his face turned red and he struggled to breathe. Anybody else watching him would have thought we should call 911.
“I couldn’t figure out why seeing a bunch of Chinese people would give you gas,” I gasped, barely able to talk either. Now my stomach hurt as I doubled over against my seatbelt and howled.
“Why would seeing Chinese people give me gas?” he sputtered, beginning to lose control.
“How should I know?!”
This is a game my son loves to play every year when we make the four-thousand-mile journey to the wildlands of distant Kentucky where he lives. The first one to make Rob lose his breath while he laughs at himself wins. And if he passes out while he does it, you get bonus points. I never win that game usually. But today, in one stupid conversation, all that changed.
Soon Rob was driving and laughing and crying and driving and laughing but not breathing . . . Finally, he pulled over on the side of the road before we got into an accident, took off his glasses, and dried his eyes. It was ten minutes before he could get back into traffic, and a half hour before we could think about the whole thing without pulling off the road again.

Well, it’s not my fault. 
He should have been using my dictionary if he wanted to talk about things that give you gas.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


I turned sixty this month. What a rush.

I was so excited for my birthday celebration, I could hardly sleep the night before. Then I could hardly sleep the night of. Finally, the night after, I crashed like a baby and still woke exhausted.

I don’t think I’ve got enough energy to be sixty. I might have to repeat fifty-nine and take another run at sixty again next year.
I’m one of the last of my friends to reach this milestone, and believe me, they’re some stiff competition. They’re all still beautiful, some of them are athletic (I kind of hate them for that), still kicking butt and taking names, showing the world that sixty is the new forty. They’re such good role models I wasn't afraid to join the Sixty Club at all.
So, I embraced sixty by getting my first (and last) tattoo and living to tell about it. Pretty sure I’m the first in our Club to do that. I might have taken things a little too far. Once again, I think I’ve proven I’m not mature enough to be sixty and might need to be held back another year.
I’m always reading on Facebook how getting old isn’t for sissies. That your body really starts coming unglued in this decade and if you don’t stop eating sugar and swallowing carbs, your inflamed brain will self-combust and leak out your ear right in front of God and everybody. But I haven’t seen any brain goop so far and I’m already two weeks into this.
I think it’s just an ugly rumor that growing older is horrible. “Beats the heck out of the other alternative,” one of my birthday cards read. True. If you woke up alive today, you’re doing better than all those people in the cemetery. Just stop and think about that for a minute. You’re welcome.
I was still in my thirties the first time somebody warned me about aging. “The day you turn forty,” they said, “your body is going to start falling apart.” I’m not sure why I wasn’t terrified by that birthday, but I think I had the same stubborn reaction as when I overheard a nurse tell my husband during the long labor of my first child, “She’s too tired to go through with this, and is definitely going to need a caesarian.” 
“The heck I will,” I thought to myself, and pushed that kid out like he was a tube of toothpaste.
I’ve faced naysayers before. Watch them raise a white flag above my fortieth birthday cake? “The heck they will,” I thought in defense of my middle-aged body, and kept on breathing and walking and living and loving just like I’d done the day before, when I was thirty-nine.
I’ll admit I don’t have the body I had when I was twenty. Well, I do—with the exception of a few missing parts—but my chassis has changed from being a new model to a classic. There are plenty of dents and scratches after all the miles I’ve put on it, but it’s served me well and I’m not ready to trade it in yet. I just keep taking it back to the mechanics for repairs and tune-ups, and head down the road for another hundred thousand miles.
I’m not sure how this crossed over into an automobile blog, but since we just put a new engine and a new transmission and new brakes and new tires on my favorite SUV because I still love to drive that thing, it seemed to fit. After all, she’s taken us on two hundred thirty-four thousand wonderful miles and still has a lot of life left in her. At this rate, I think someday Rob’s going to wind up burying me and my Tahoe together.
So, here’s to sixty! “How do you feel?” a close friend asked me after I blew out all those candles. “Liberated!” I told her. And then I went home to take a nap.
Hey, if I’m gonna make it another ten years, I’ve got to pace myself.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Cincinnati Chili

U.S. 50 is a pretty good road that runs east to west, or west to east depending on your point of view, and about midway across the country pauses right dab in the middle of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Ohio River separates Ohio from its football nemesis, Kentucky, and I discovered long ago that the airport in Cincinnati sells just as much blue and white as it does scarlet and gray. I’m not a football fan and I had to google that information but I do think somebody in the Ohio airport is really a Kentucky Wildcats fan. Just saying.
My husband researched the route we took for months and in one of his magazines he discovered that Cincinnatians are pretty dang proud of their chili. There’s a big rivalry between some of the restaurants in the area and Rob told me it just wouldn’t be a decent road trip unless we sampled some Cincinnati Chili.
I was skeptical.
First of all, we live in Arizona, a.k.a. the desert Southwest. The only state who could possibly beat us in a chili flavor profile is New Mexico, but that’s because they invented Hatch Chilies, which have a scoville rating higher than Mt. Vesuvius. Only people with scarred tongues can eat that stuff.
So believe you me, we know something about chili. And it’s been years—about a hundred and fifty years—since anyone thought Ohio qualified as being “out west.” I can see Cincinnati having a reputation for serving good chicken pot pie or something like that, but if they think they’ve got something as earth shattering there as our Hispanic and cowboy cultures can serve up, they have some serious convincing to do with this Arizona native.
Here’s a kind of important thing for you to know about the way my husband and I travel—he’s generally (and by ‘generally’ I mean always) The Driver, and I am The Navigator. I don’t actually want to be The Navigator. I won the job by default when he climbed into the driver’s seat. 
I’m not terrible at this job, and even my husband will tell you I’ve gotten us through some pretty tricky places the old fashioned way . . . no, not by prayer. Well, yes, by prayer, but also with a map made of paper and bazillions of chicken scratch lines. For example, I got him through Chicago at night one time. Without an accident. On this trip, I got him through the streets of San Francisco and never collided with a single cable car. I’ve navigated my own way (as The Driver) through Orlando, Florida. And I got him safely in, around, and beyond Boston. In a van. With two children inside. 
Yeah. I’m that good. 
I do have one little handicap, though. I am directionally challenged. True north, in my head and deep in my soul where it really matters, is always whatever direction I am facing. Up. Pretty much just that—north is always Up. I know that’s not acceptable in civilized societies, though, and so I’ve learned a clever little trick when using a map. Whenever we turn left, I turn the map left, too. A right turn means I’ll turn the map right. This way, the grid in my head always matches the grid on the map. Genius, right? In military terms, this is called ‘orienting the map.’ There’s no real explanation for how I wind up disoriented on occasion, but I suspect driver error. Now and then he doesn’t trust me. Weird.
But this time things were different. We still went to AAA for a triptik and maps and tour books, but we only got them for a backup. For the great Ocean-To-Ocean Trip of 2014 we bought an iPad. Ta dah! We also bought a fancy ice chest and some new underwear, but the iPad purchase was a stroke of genius. Once we forked over the bucks to turn Rob’s phone into a hot spot, we were a traveling internet wifi, using our new gadget to book hotels and keep up with Words With Friends. 
And—it came with a navigation system. Cue the angelic choir.
I love this feature. An iPad, in case you’re technologically primitive, is at least four times bigger than the screen on a smart phone and when you stretch the screen a lot, you can almost read the letters on the side of buildings on the streets. Well, you can do that on Google Earth, too, but it’s a lot more impressive on an iPad out in the middle of nowhere.
I got really good at directing my husband in and around cities and towns and dinky desert off-roads. I never even took a look at the box of paper maps on the backseat. I just followed the flashing blue orb that represented us as it slowly made its way across America. It was so easy. It was almost like little munchkins serenaded us on our journey with their theme song, “Follow the flashing blue orb!”
Finally, I could take a nap. Finally, there was no road stress. Finally, we had a fool proof way of surviving new cities. Until, finally, we drove into Cincinnati. I no longer care about the rivalry they enjoy in their stupid town on the hill. They single handedly destroyed all my illusions about how I could navigate us to the moon as long as I had an iPad. All it took was a roadtrip in search of some infamous chili.
About twenty minutes west of Cincinnati, we passed a restaurant where happy diners sat in the window of a Skyline Chili diner, innocently enjoying the meal Rob had dreamt of for the last six months.
“Hey, honey,” I pointed out, “there’s a Skyline Chili place. Want to stop there?” All it would take was a quick left and another quick left and we’d be in the parking lot, all set for an early dinner. We didn’t even need the iPad to pull this off.
“No,” he responded, eyes never leaving the highway, “I want to eat Cincinnati chili in Cincinnati. I want . . . the Cincinnati Experience.”
Not since the engineer on the Titanic assured the captain they’d be home in time for supper has anyone ever regretted such a simplistic statement. Let me just say here in front of God and everybody, Rob and I got . . . the Cincinnati Experience.
The thing we’d read about the way Ohioans eat their chili kind of gave us both pause. Cincinnati chili is served atop spaghetti. That’s just not normal. They also top it with beans and onions and cheese, which is normal, but not on top of spaghetti. I repeat—That’s.Not.Normal. And we’re talking a lot of cheese. We had no idea how much cheese until we waded through it trying to reach our table when we finally arrived. Boy, do they ever love cheese in Cincinnati. But that spaghetti connection?  To this day, the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is that their freeway system also looks like a plate of spaghetti. 
And that’s the reason I could not figure out how to get us to the Skyline Chili place I’d located in downtown Cincinnati. Because of spaghetti highways.
I dropped a red pin on the navigational map iPad offers, pointed the iPad in the direction we were driving and watched the flashing blue orb head east towards supper. Of course, that involved a diversion onto another strand of highway which would take us north where we faced a creative path navigating one-way streets. But I was confident that our trusty blue orb would deliver us safely to the red dot sitting smack on top of an authentic Skyline Chili in downtown Cincinnati.
I forgot that even iPads are only as smart as the person operating them. I couldn’t figure out how to get off the U.S. 50 strand and merge onto the new northbound strand while traveling 65 miles an hour. I watched helplessly as our flashing orb floated away from the red pin representing Skyline Chili.
“Where do I turn?” The Driver asked. 
“I have no idea,” I answered frantically, “but the blue dot is nowhere near downtown now.”
I turned the iPad the direction we needed to go, but that’s where I realized paper maps have the edge on technology. Paper maps do what you tell them to do. iPads are self correcting. The screen righted itself and now I had no idea whatsoever where north had gone. East, with the orb, I suspected.
We got off the freeway and pulled over so Rob could look at the derelict blue dot.
“Well, we’re headed to the river,” he announced, “and we’re not going to find the city down there.” He was a firefighter for thirty-eight years and has mastered the obvious. He turned the truck around and began driving into downtown Cincinnati on surface streets. The obedient blue orb flashed along happily beside him. Traitor.
It was Saturday, late afternoon, when we finally were within reach of our target. Another thing we forgot about big cities is how little parking is available. As the roads shrunk, sidewalks grew and hordes of pedestrians spilled over into the streets, we realized that whenever our blue orb shook hands with our red pin, we might have to abandon them both for lack of parking. 
But to our surprise, as we closed in on our supper, a huge, empty parking lot materialized next to the restaurant. I guess if we were a little more worldly, we would have realized how suspicious that was. But at that particular moment, all we cared about was paying for a parking space and getting the Cincinnati Experience.
“Parking costs three bucks,” my husband said, holding up a single dollar bill for my inspection. I looked in my wallet and found its twin. “We only have two dollars?” Rob said in frustration. I was pretty much done with the whole adventure, too. Digging in my stash of cash, I pulled a different bill out and handed it to Rob.
“I’m pretty sure the city of Cincinnati won’t mind if we give them a two dollar tip,” I said sarcastically. 
Rob took the five, deposited it into the hungry parking meter, and returned with a receipt allowing us to stay parked until next Tuesday, but no change. We no longer cared. We were parked. We were hungry. And we were sick of aggravations on the noble search for an epicurean delight called Skyline Chili.  Hand in hand, we walked down the sidewalk toward the front of the restaurant.
It was closed.
Of course it was. Locked up tighter than an angry woman’s lips in a lovers’ quarrel. There would be no happy ending thinking Fate had smiled on us and given us a parking place right next to our supper club. Instead, Fate was on the floor, laughing hysterically at the colossal joke made at our expense. We were no closer to tasting this famous chili or filling our grumpy stomachs than we were while taking the scenic route along the Ohio River an hour ago. But instead of losing our tempers, we fell against each other and laughed, too. Hey, it was either that or cry, and why should Fate have all the fun?
We turned to go back to the parking lot and tried to figure out what to do next, but our discussion was suddenly interrupted by an intruder.
“Hey, buddy,” the large man said, eyes wide and glazed, “I’m starving. Can you help me out? I’m an ex-Marine and I’ve just been released from the hospital.” He showed us the picture I.D. wrist bands he still wore. My husband recognized the soldier’s inebriated state right away, but the wind must have been blowing away from me because I didn’t pick up on that at all. All I knew was we were all alone now on the sidewalk with no one else in sight, blocked on the path by a large, pickled ex-Marine who hadn’t told us just how many men he’d actually killed with his bare hands. We had a truck full of apples and cheese sticks, but I didn’t want to volunteer that information or the location of our vehicle—I’m kind of selfish about cheese sticks. Rob just didn’t want him to know where his wallet was.
Drawing on his years of firefighter/paramedic experience where he often dealt with people down on their luck and high on chemical substances, he spoke gently with the stranger and assured him he’d go get some money for him if he promised not to use it for alcohol. I just wanted him to promise he'd let us escape in one piece. Well, two actually.
“No sir,” the Marine said, sitting down on a window ledge against the building, “I wouldn’t spend it that way. I’ll just wait here,” he finished.
Reaching the safety of our parked truck, Rob found another five dollar bill, went back and gave it to the seated soldier—who didn’t try to beat us up—and then we got in our truck and locked the doors. We’d been parked for five minutes, were out ten bucks, and still hadn’t had any Cincinnati Chili. It was the most expensive dinner we’d never eaten.

You’d think once we made it safely out of the parking lot that all our stress was over. Not exactly. We still had that neurotic flashing blue orb to deal with. It only took a couple of blocks for us to realize that leaving downtown Cincinnati took us deep into the heart of the less attractive side of town. Finding the freeway out of here was our top priority now, followed closely by my Christmas wish not to get mugged on the way out of town.
I’ll admit. Sometimes the biggest enemy I face in a situations like this is my own imagination. I pictured paper-sack-carrying loiterers mobbing our truck, busting out the windows and stealing every last one of my cheese sticks. I’m pretty sure I read about something like that on the internet once. 
Still, even Rob was uncomfortable with our surroundings and, just like that, gave up on eating Cincinnati Chili in Cincinnati. The fun in this experience was pretty much over, and the frustration built as even our flashing blue orb had no idea how to reach the elusive freeway and rescue us from our big adventure. I’m pretty sure I saw it sulk off onto the margins of the iPad screen. Fine with me. I was about to give it a timeout anyway.
Rob went into firefighter/navigator mode again, drawing on years of experience and logically deducing that if we drove north—away from the river—we might get out of here alive. Ten minutes later, a freeway on-ramp suddenly materialized and we got on it. I didn’t care if it took us south to Kentucky or north to Toronto. I was done with the merry-go-round we’d been on. And did I ever have some choice words for the AAA tour book that bragged about this elusive chili in the first place. 
We crossed the Ohio River, immediately transported into the civilized state of Kentucky, and voila! Right there across the river, in Wildcat country, another Skyline Chili materialized. Rob decided he’d be satisfied with eating their chili while enjoying a view of Cincinnati and pulled into the parking lot. The free parking lot. Right next to the restaurant with the “OPEN” sign in the window.
I’ve never loved Kentucky more.
As for the infamous chili we’d talked about for the last three thousand miles, let me just say that New Mexico has nothing to worry about. I have no idea what all the fuss is about in Ohio. And serving chili with beans, onions and cheddar cheese on top of spaghetti is stupid. By the time Rob finished his authentic “Five-Way” Chili (they also offer three-way and four-way—don’t ask me, I don’t even want to go there), his plate was a watery wasteland of pink noodles and a couple of vagrant beans. 
That’s just wrong.
By the time we finally got inside the elusive diner, I had no sense of adventure left. I ordered a chili dog and a salad and dove into the dog before Rob ever even sampled his Five-Way. When I got to the house salad, it was so covered in grated cheddar cheese that I couldn’t even see the lettuce. I’m telling you the truth. I took a picture of it on my cell phone just because I knew no one would believe me. I literally pushed aside the cheese in the middle of my salad bowl until I located a suffocating slice of tomato and some comatose romaine. When I finished the salad, I pulled the cheese back over the top like a blanket on an accident victim and gave it the Last Rites. 
I realize you yourself may be from Cincinnati, Ohio.  And possibly, though not logically, all of my griping about the ‘famous’ chili from your hometown might even seem a little offensive. But it only took a couple of bites of this creative concoction to discover the secret flavor additive in an otherwise unremarkable bowl of meaty tomato sauce. 
They put nutmeg in Cincinnati Chili. Then they pour it over pasta, drown it in cheddar cheese and call it a masterpiece. More ridiculous than the double entendre names for the types of chili you can order, more than the half pound of cheese that adorns even an innocent bowl of salad, I am stupefied by the addition of a Thanksgiving seasoning in a sauce that is supposed to be. . . chili.
So here, in a nutmegshell, is my impression of you, Cincinnati. You are a very nice city with an impressive river and lots of nice artwork outside your downtown buildings. At least one person in your town was very friendly to us and even stopped us on the sidewalk to say hello and ask for a tip. No one in the sadder part of your city made any attempt to steal my cheese sticks. For that I am truly grateful. And when your unintelligible freeways wearied of harassing us, they gave us an exit and escorted us out of town. 
On the upside, it was an interesting afternoon. 
On the creative side, you convinced an entire metropolitan population how to be proud of a plate of schizophrenic spaghetti.
On the downside, I haven’t had this much fun since I had my wisdom teeth removed.
But  . . . I will never forgive you for convincing my husband that we just hadn’t lived until we risked our lives to taste tomato sauce with nutmeg.
I hope Guy Fieri pays you a visit some time. Cuz, Lucy, “you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

Friday, April 20, 2018

In Defense of Millenials

“It’s a different world,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, his weatherworn face etched by at least eighty-five years of living. “Young people don’t want to work anymore.” His companions nodded in agreement. Encouraged, he went on. “We knew how to work,” he emphasized.

I swallowed another bite of pancakes, having no choice but to listen to the voices nearby. Their geriatric opinions floated out in all directions inside the Missouri restaurant where we all sat comfortably eating breakfast while millennial waiters hovered nearby, serving us. I frowned as I heard the global generalizations by the old-timers and the pessimistic view they held of their grandchildren’s grip on their baton, long passed.
It seems every generation has a dim view of the next. 
“Back in our day,” the rhetoric begins, “we got up at four a.m. to milk the cows then walked to school uphill both ways OR never bought new OR never heard of cell phones OR watched tv by listening to a dresser-sized radio, OR . . .” You fill in the blanks.
Back in their day, the weary story goes, the choices they were forced to make based on the resources available to them were somehow superior. Right. I still remember the eight hundred square foot building—one giant room—filled with six-foot tall steel boxes which lined the perimeter of the space. “This is what a computer looks like,” the man bragged, proudly leading me on a tour of his employer’s 1970 facility. “Wow,” I said in amazement. 
Now, nearly every six-year-old I know has his own personal iPad and can access more information than that entire room of salvage metal ever did.
But just because some tasks are easier than they used to be, does that mean baby boomers like me, or Generation X, or current millennials don’t appreciate hard work? Definitely there are some, just as there have always been some, but so far I’ve never met them. Every Starbucks where I go to feed my addiction is run by twenty-somethings with bright smiles who arrived there at three a.m. to open up at four and went to bed the previous night at eleven (if they were lucky) after studying for their college classes. The only thing I get up for at three a.m. is to go to the bathroom.
Guess the old man wasn’t talking about barristas.
Nor did he seem to be criticizing the young waitress who kept his coffee cup full, as she did every morning when he and his party appeared, delivering their heavy breakfast platters despite her torn rotator cuff. (Well, as I implied, they were talking pretty loud. I could recite the names of their children and maybe a couple of phone numbers they mentioned, too, but it’s not very interesting.) If their waitress was the target of their criticism, I hope she spat in their grits.
So, where is this lazy age group who doesn’t want to work? Who’s ruining the America built by the Greatest Generation? Maybe they’re the ones wreaking havoc on my commute to the grocery store by working in foul weather to improve our roads? The lazy jerks.
Probably they’re the pampered single moms who stand on their feet all day, checking out groceries for people like me who have the luxury of driving home to a husband who helps me unload the car.
Come to think of it, all those nurses and doctors who take care of the old guy next to my table must have been born the day after he was and completely support his fear of specialists half his age. Wait. No, that’s unlikely. I’d bet a dollar this guy has outlived all his favorite doctors. Sooner or later, though, he’s going to have to trust a physician educated in this “whole new world” he complains about—the ones who are currently keeping him alive.
In every generation there are lazy people who’ve learned to manipulate the system and are happy to do it. But they’re not the majority, nor do they deserve to be touted as its mascots. I never heard the name “millennials” espoused by my sausage-eating neighbor, but clearly they’re the ones he was referring to. He’s not alone in his criticism. For a generation characterized by their astute understanding of technology and social media, they’ve been surprisingly betrayed by it. One of the worst critics of today’s young adults is the media itself.
I find that ironic. Aren’t most newscasters millennials themselves—born between approximately 1981 and 1996?
It is a different world. Things are changing at an unnerving pace. We’d do well to be grateful we can leave it in the hands of millennials—the only people on earth who can navigate Microsoft updates with one hand while changing baby diapers with the other. Easy peasy. 
I’ve got to agree with baseball player, Sam Ewing, though—class of ’67 and a fellow baby boomer, in case you’re interested. “Parents who wonder where the younger generation is going,” he said, “should remember where it came from.”
Let’s be honest. Nothing in all of history has ever remained the same. Nothing, that is, except the way the older generation always thinks the younger one is about to destroy civilization as they know it.

“Our earth is degenerate . . . there are signs that the world is . . . coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
Assyrian clay tablet, 2800 B.C.

I didn’t know they used Tablets in 2800 B.C. 
Maybe the guy at Cracker Barrel was right. It is a different world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Armchair Athletes

I like the Olympics. They remind me of all the things I could have done if I wasn’t so exceptionally good at being an armchair judge. That’s kind of like my husband’s version of an armchair athlete, except he actually understands the rules of the game. I just like the costumes. Or uniforms. Whatever.

I was pretty athletic as a kid. Or, active as a kid. The two are synonymous, right? I always got picked first in relay races and four square and dodgeball. Although, getting picked in dodgeball meant the class bully aimed a red rubber ball at my head in a thinly veiled murder attempt. It’s not really a compliment.

I never did like that girl.

But something happened when we moved away from that town where I was so athletic. We landed in a tiny village in an Arizona desert where girls played with jacks during recess instead of kicking soccer balls. Jacks aren’t really that aerobic, but it was a tiny village and there wasn’t anything else to do. I was still an athlete, though. With my killer instincts and competitive nature, I reigned supreme after about three months of practice.

I guess that’s when I burned out as an athlete. It was all downhill from there, so I swapped out participation for judging. It's a lot less exhausting.

Enter the 2018 Winter Olympics . From beneath my flannel blanket in my comfy chair in the family room, I know right away who’s going to bring home the gold with perfectly spun ice skating quads (the Russians). Which country has the best dressed two-woman bobsled team (the Germans and their orange jumpsuits). And who will be voted Most Likely To Win The Most Medals (Norway, duh—the place is an icy wasteland. Didn’t you see Frozen?)

Yeah. I’m that good at judging.

But one event has me completely stumped. My husband loves it. My big, burly, firefighter son-in-law loves it. It seems men all over America love it. Maybe even in the world, come to think of it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not violent. It’s not sexy. I’m really not sure it’s a sport. But if it is, I think every man in America owes every woman in America a big, fat apology.

Curling is nothing more than sweeping on steroids. And we’ve been doing that for years. Without steroids. And without appreciation.

I’m telling you, Olympic curling is just cleverly disguised housekeeping—after all, somebody’s got to clean up the ice once the Russians get done with it. Just look at the terminology for this game. The sliding stones are sent to the “house.” The game is related to another one called “bowls.” And there are two “sweepers” with “brooms” who direct all those over-sized pebbles on the icy floor inside the “house.”

Players defend the sport by stressing it’s an activity that requires strategy and teamwork. Big deal. I learned the very same thing giving chore lists to teenagers. And let me tell you, nobody ever gave me a medal for doing it.

“What are they sweeping the ice for?” I asked my armchair athlete.

“Melting the ice helps them direct the stone.”

“Well, I think that’s cheating,” I armchair judged.

“How do you figure that?”

“It’s no different than that other Scottish game you like so much.”


“Yeah. That one. You told me golfers have to learn to read the course and let the chips fall where they may.”

“You mean the golf balls?”

“Whatever. Nobody’s allowed to run ahead of a golfer’s ball with clipping shears, trimming the grass so the ball goes the way they want it to.”

“That would be stupid.”

“Exactly. Not to mention, cheating. So don’t you think it’s stupid that they let players rub-a-dub-dub the ice in curling? They should just shuffleboard their little rocks and let gravity do the rest. No cheating. You know, take it like a man.”

Blank stare.

“And why do they call it “curling” anyway? Those granite stones look like giant egg timers to me, which is kind of appropriate since sweeping and boiling eggs are the basics of any good homemaker’s skill set.”

That’s when my husband turned off the TV and went to bed. See what I mean? The only place anybody appreciates the strategy and skill of housekeeping is when it happens on an ice rink with an audience and there are medals on the line.

Maybe I’m just disillusioned by the Winter Olympics. It’s only two more years until the summer version rolls around, anyway, which is plenty of time for me to get out of this chair and brush up on some rusty skills I haven’t used since the sixth grade.

I’ll bet you a dollar they introduce the game of jacks in Tokyo’s Olympics. And when they do,  I’ll be ready.

Once an athlete, always an athlete.

Thanks to David Wilson for allowing me to crop and use this photo of frozen people on a frozen sofa. And that's why I gave up winter sports. You can find David's original photo at:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Better Late Than Early

I don’t know how to tell you this.

I’m not sure where to start because even I don’t know exactly what happened. But honesty is good for the soul, so here I go. I hope this doesn’t change your opinion of me.

I’m hardly ever late anymore. I know. I can’t believe it either. But this morning my hubby and I were buckled up and backing out of the driveway at 10:14. “Look at us,” he said pleasantly, “leaving the house a full minute early.”

Well, actually, the clock in our truck is one minute slow, but I let it ride and acted like it was no big deal. You know, played my cards close to the chest. Not because I’m proud, but because I have no idea how it keeps happening. Nobody was tense. No blood was shed. The bed was made, the dishwasher running, and we didn’t forget anything. We left on time and I had all my clothes on.

Weird. And kind of sad, really.

Secretly, I’ve taken a certain amount of pleasure in my tardy identity all these years. I hate showing up early just so somebody else can be a control freak and start a meeting on time. And don’t get me started on going to the movies. Did you know there’s a theater full of people who show up a half hour early just to hog the good seats? Once in a while my hubby tricks me into doing that, but that means all my Junior Mints are gone before the previews even get started. There I sit—snackless—through a whole movie.

Really ticks me off.

So, I’ve stayed true to my inner clock most of my life, arriving flushed and apologetic, but in full command of my own control freak version of time. Until recently. Suddenly, I’m taking an extra ten minutes to gather myself and my stuff and walk out the door a tiny bit early. Early. I just learned how to spell that word. Not frantic, not panicked, not manic. Just . . . prompt.

I’m scared to death I’m losing my mind.

Yesterday I arrived right on time for a doctor appointment and waited thirty minutes before I was seen. Can you imagine if I’d arrived thirty minutes early like those weird movie buffs? I’d have sat there in his calm little office for an hour with nothing to do but lose myself in the book I brought along.

How do people live like this?

Last week I was ready to leave fifteen minutes early—which was really right on time since we needed to take a fifteen minute detour on the way to our actual appointment. I walked into the kitchen to tell my husband I was ready, and there he stood, ironing a shirt he didn’t need until next week. Just like that, we left fifteen minutes late. And it was all his fault. That’s like . . . okay, well it’s the first time it’s ever happened.

I think I figured it out.

It’s menopause. I heard everything changes in midlife. Men get cold and women get hot and men get emotional and women get—bossier, and women go to work and men retire to stay home.

And now, just as I’m figuring out how to show up on time, my husband gave up his day job and set all the clocks in the house back an hour. I think he’s trying to undermine my new success.

Oh. So that’s what ‘menopause’ means—the pause of men.

It’s his turn to be tardy now. Crap.

Thanks to Francisco Vargas for this beautiful photo. The original can be viewed at the link which follows.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Chicken Soup For The Sick

Oh, by doodness. By doze, by doze!! Oh, brudder. Reading dis is gonna be as hod to do as it dis to breed. Breadthe. BREATHE.
Wait a binute.
I’ll interpret.
The view from the winepress this morning is depressing. My fifth box of Kleenex looks as sad as I feel, its next volunteer sticking up out of the cardboard box near my laptop and listing awkwardly to starboard. It knows what’s coming—foul nasal nastiness too disgusting for even a disposable handkerchief to contemplate. If it knew how to do it, I bet this paper tissue would jump overboard now rather than face its horrible destiny.
I get it. If I had the courage, I’d jump, too—right into a giant vat of chicken soup.
Anybody know where I can find one of those?
I’m not sure how long hubby and I have been sick. I only know that this record breaking virus, the final kick in the keister as 2017 bid us a bitter adieu, is one for the books. Almost all my friends have it. No, I didn’t give it to them. Sheesh. How could you even suggest such a thing? I might have given it to hubby, but that was an accident waiting to happen.
You can’t share the same doorknobs and remote control and not wind up in sick bay together.
Any minute I expect to see an unmarked van pull up to our house, where six men in white, inflatable jumpsuits will emerge, teepee the place with yellow caution tape, and warn the world that the two of us are walking bio-hazards—living, breathing, bio-hazards. Still, I wouldn’t blame them or the neighbors who ratted us out.
I’m afraid of my germs, too.
It’s not fair. We haven’t had a cold in two years. Two years! Do you know how long it takes to stack up a record like that? Two . . . oh. You did the math already. Now, we have to start all over again, from the ground up. I thought we were on our way to indestructible. After all, we drink homemade kefir—every day! Guzzle gallons of kombucha every month. I even throw back teaspoons of cultured sauerkraut when I think about it. Did you know when you take an ordinary, unappetizing head of cabbage and ferment it for a week that the vitamin C content skyrockets from 30 milligrams a serving to 600-700??
Of course, a serving is one cup. A teaspoon is . . . embarrassing.
That might be where I went wrong. Turns out it doesn’t keep you healthy if you merely admire a jar of kraut in the fridge every day. You have to actually eat the stuff.

Please don’t tell Donna Schwink.
And holy cow. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to get sick? If I’d just eaten that sauerkraut like Donna told me to, I could have taken all the money we donated to our neighborhood pharmacy last month and used it to . . . buy more kombucha. That's a pretty pricey probiotic.

The point is . . . well, what is the point? There’s no point. You’re probably sick with the same cold as I am and, as we watch helplessly, it's currently morphing into something more serious which, in the end, will be so expensive it’ll leave you nearly broke and you’ll be forced to send the kids to community college instead of funding an Ivy League education for them. So, all this whining from the winepress about how my nose is keeping me awake at night is just about as interesting as watching infomercials at 3 a.m., like I did this morning.
I knew you’d feel that way.
Well, I have no advice for you. I have no advice for me, either. I just thought we could toast one another with a cup of hot tea, blow our noses in unison, and promise ourselves that the next time we think we’re immune from the common cold, we get our heads examined before they’re taken captive by a rhinovirus.
And maybe eat another teaspoon or two of der sauerkraut.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Lemonade Stand

Sometimes stories and blogs just write themselves. All I have to do is give you the facts and take a nap while you do the rest. You hardly need me at all.
This is one of those stories.

I was wasting time on Facebook two days ago when some very familiar faces showed up suddenly in a video feed. I didn’t know you could make your own TV show on social media. Then again, I’m not five or even seven, so I’m not as techno savvy as my granddaughters are.

They’re cute and smart and enthusiastic. But the main thing I noticed during their infomercial was how optimistic they were about their product.

“You know,” the seven-year-old redhead began, “lemonade is really good on hot days.”

Well, I couldn’t argue with her there. Except that two days ago when her program taped, it was 26 degrees outside where she’d set up her lemonade stand on the lawn. She and her five-year-old business partner were zipped up in parkas and wearing gloves.

“It’s really healthy for you,” she continued. Her skeptical interviewer was heard to ask, “What’s in it?”

“We have ice and sugar and water, and we mix it up. That’s how we make lemonade.”

Um. Where’s the lemon, I wondered? Well, if truth in advertising laws apply here, she was just being brutally honest. Let’s face it, there’s not really any lemon in powdered lemonade mixes either. And at twenty-six degrees, they probably just stirred water and sugar until it made its own ice. Clever. That made me want to catch the first flight out to Kentucky and buy a cup of genuine, authentic, we-told-you-it’s-just-sugar-and-water lemonade. I like supporting the American dream.

“How much is your lemonade?” they were asked next.

The little redheaded tycoon paused a second to calculate the cost of her overhead, personnel, 401K contributions, local and federal taxes, advertising fees, and ingredients before she answered the question.

“Five dollars and twenty-four cents,” she said with confidence.

So, they knew their competition and decided to undercut Starbucks by a nickel or two. The interviewer had to do her job, though, and find out whether they were selling a tall, a grande, or a venti cup of lemonade so potential buyers could make an informed decision.
“How big is your cup?”

The clever redhead wasn’t prepared for the question, but didn’t want to wing it. She leaned over and inspected the dixie cup.

“Five inches,” she said.

At that point, the interviewer noticed the quiet five-year-old fidgeting in her chair. Obviously, she was the silent partner and had nothing to say. Right up until her older sister pointed out the barren money jar on their makeshift table, and suddenly she found her voice. 
“We want to raise money to buy Play Doh!” she exclaimed.
“But we’ve only had two people,” the redhead added plaintively. “No one’s coming.”
Yeah, well, the twenty-six degree temps may have thrown them a curve ball there.

I’m thinking they may need the advice of an experienced marketing consultant. Somebody who could explain the principle of supply and demand. But, of course, that would cost money and alter the bottom line and, the next thing you know, they’d have to raise their prices and Starbucks would edge them out. It’s just dog eat dog out there in the business world.
Ten minutes into the venture, they were ready to wrap up their advertising. They finished with a friendly, “Bye!” and waved their mittens at the camera phone and their four viewers.
In the end, they made $1.83 in loose change, donated by their dad, to pay for the two cups purchased by their mom. I guess that might be another problem with their pop-up stand. They only sold two cups of lemonade and are already short $8.65. Now they need to hire a bookkeeper.
I’m starting to worry a little about the solvency of this business, and whether or not I really want to fly to Kentucky in December to buy a five-dollar cup of lemonade. I may give this one a pass while I consider selling off all my stock in their company. I think they need a little more experience. Do some more homework. Find some more investors who are passionate about their business. Stuff like that—you know, Shark Tank advice.
In the meantime, I’ll keep watching for future episodes. And I’ll let you know if they decide to open a Hot Chocolate stand there in July.
I think that one could be the real money maker.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

YaYa's Gift

Laughter is the best medicine. The very BEST medicine. I heard about a man who found out he had terminal something or other, and decided that if his days were numbered, he’d go out laughing. He rented every funny movie ever made, watched them all day long for the rest of his life, and when the time came for him to stand at the pearly gates, he’d outlived his doctors.

True story. I read it on the internet.

My favorite kind of humor is the sarcastic kind. To prove it, I plaster seasonal sarcasms all over our refrigerator. Right now, at the end of the Christmas holidays, you can find a magnet there announcing that all my friends are flakes, another that lists my emergency contact number as Starbucks, and—my favorite of all—a Christmas card with a depiction of Jesus’ mom, babe in arms, astride a donkey while her husband walks beside her. On her left, each riding their own animals, are two moms who stare down at the holy virgin in disapproval. “Well! If it isn’t Joseph and Mary . . .” one woman’s word bubble reads. Across the rear ends of the two camels where the women are seated are these bumper stickers: 

Our Son Is An Honor Student


Our Son Is In Medical School    

Mary’s mount has a bumper sticker on his hindquarters, too.  

Our Son Is God

“YaYa,” my young granddaughter, Allie, asked me a few years ago when I first put the card on the fridge. “Is that sarcasm?”

Well, of course.

“Oh,” she said, her forehead wrinkled, and her head turned to the side as she looked at me. “I don’t get it.”

That Christmas, I gave Allie and her little sister, Juliet, each a mini snow globe with tiny Disney figurines inside. They loved shaking them up and down while wet, white snowflakes cascaded slowly over the famous mice. Suddenly, Allie’s little globe slipped out of her hand and crashed onto our tile floor, exploding into a hundred soggy pieces.

“Hey, look at that,” I announced, trying to curtail the inevitable tears. “You found a way to set Minnie free!”

It didn’t exactly work. Allie still didn’t understand sarcasm, and my attempt at humor did nothing for her broken heart. I hugged her tight and told her I’d replace the globe. Which I did—because I promised and because I am the YaYa. A few days later I took her the new one, a less favorite version of a Disney figurine. She thanked me politely, and an hour later her mother texted me that Allie accidently dropped that one, too. This time Daisy Duck was released into the wild.

“Pretty rough week for snow globes,” I said. Sarcastically.

“Yeah,” my daughter agreed. “Better stick to the plastic ones next time,” she said. Pragmatically.

So, the next Christmas, I bought everybody one of those half-oval shaped plastic globes which are practical but not nearly as adorable. They were politely shaken a few times and then disappeared somewhere in the girls’ room, never to be seen again.

“We like the little glass ones better, YaYa,” the two girls said.

“Well, if I buy you new glass globes,” I suggested with a twinkle in my eye, “why don’t we just throw them onto the tile floor right away and get the breaking over with? It could be our new Christmas tradition!”

Juliet, the family comedian, exploded with laughter while Allie smiled in confusion and stared at me the same way she’d looked at the card on my refrigerator. “Is that sarcasm?” she asked politely.

Two years went by and I forgot about the hapless snow globes. This Christmas, Allie and Juliet once again brought up how much they like the mini versions. “I wish we had one of those,” Allie said wistfully.

Well, what’s a YaYa to do? I bought them each another one—the tiny, glass kind. The girls held them carefully as they left my house, promising not to drop them.

“Oh, don’t worry about it if you do,” I said. “Remember our tradition? Throw them right on the floor and skip all the stress?”

“Very funny, YaYa,” Juliet said, while Allie grinned and gave me that “grandmothers are so weird” look.

Yesterday we celebrated Christmas with the girls and the rest of their family. In the kitchen, I caught the girls looking at the card on our refrigerator. “That’s sarcasm,” Allie told Juliet. I patted my heart as I watched. She takes after her YaYa, I thought.

We spent the next hour opening presents, until it came time for the last one. With a twinkle in her eyes, Allie gave it to me. “I made this for you, YaYa,” she said.

I’m a sucker for homemade gifts from grandbabies. In the off season when the Christmas magnets are hibernating, the fridge is decorated with crayon love notes made of construction paper. I figured I’d been given another masterpiece like those.  But tearing off the wrapping paper, I found myself holding three ziplock bags, one inside the other, the innermost containing something runny. It was going to be a challenge to stick this on the refrigerator, I thought.

I began to undo the outside ziplock, but Juliet and her dad stopped me. “I wouldn’t open that if I were you,” they both said. Now my forehead was wrinkled. A giggle escaped from Allie as she shared a conspiratorial look with her family. That’s when I realized what she’d done. Inside the triple-stacked ziplocks were glittery water, a floating angel, and the broken remnants of a clear glass ball.

“See?!” Allie laughed. “You don’t have to throw it on the floor—we already broke it for you!”

Pure genius. I wish I’d thought of it first. She’s got a bright future ahead of her, that one, either as a multi-level marketing tycoon or the first doctor to prescribe comedy instead of valium. But whatever she does, I hope she gives credit where credit is due.

After all, I’m the one who taught her sarcasm.