Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Lasts

Standard

I was working at our library’s book sale today, and had an interesting experience. An older gentleman came to the table with 3 books to purchase. He said, “I bought two books yesterday, and I’m buying three today. I hope I live long enough to read them all.” It stopped me in my tracks. Do we consciously get to that point where we start counting out the last number of books we think we can read before we leave this Earth? Should I be counting things? Oh, my!

The man I was working with then related a recent conversation he had had with his son. He bought a new car, and his son asked him if this would be his last car. He told his son, “Yes, it will. I bought the extended 15 year warranty, so it’ll be covered.” And he isn’t even that old a guy!

Have I been neglecting some calculations?? I’m not OLD, but I AM getting up there. Should I be giving more thought to my purchases, as if they are my last? If I have to read all the books in my possession, I will live a very long life! My car is five years old. Is it my last? Should I have bought that pair of capris last week? And I just bought a DOZEN rolls of toilet paper. Did I overcommit?

I know I’ve considered a few more long-term things that I probably won’t be doing again, like buying another house or moving across country. And there are some things that I’ve come to realize that I just can’t do anymore, like stay up all night, sleep on the ground in a tent or jump rope. Heck, just sitting on the floor or ground gets harder all the time! (It’s not really the sitting, so much as the getting back up!) But I guess I don’t think of those things in terms of how long I have left to live, but, rather in terms of being out of shape or old enough to just be too darned tired to attempt them.

But, seriously, it must be a strange place to reach, when we start to realize that we are purchasing our last this or that, or doing something for the final time. EVER. Does everyone who reaches “old age” start to think like this? Is it depressing, or freeing? Maybe you just start buying one book at a time, and hoping for the best. Or maybe you go with the opposite strategy, and buy a whole pile of books, so you will guarantee you’ll live long enough to read them all. Maybe it’s a relief to find that you will never again have to dicker with the car salesman, while he goes to “talk to his manager” in the bathroom.  

Missing What I Missed

Standard

Last Friday would have been my mom’s 98th birthday. I know this will sound a bit creepy, but try to get past that with me. It dawned on me a few years ago, that she likely wouldn’t have lived this long. And that somehow made me feel sort of like it was ok now, since she’d likely have died by now, and I could miss her a little less than I have for so many years. My mom died when I was just a month shy of 14. I was a very young, naïve almost 14 year old. It was a tough time to lose your mom…as if there’s any good time to lose your mom.

Through those many years, I’ve missed my mom for so many reasons. All the big things I went through without her advice or support…”becoming a young woman”, first crush, driving, dating, graduating, college, first job, first car, getting married, getting divorced…just about everything. When I was young, I missed her emotionally, but when it came to the everyday things, I just went on, because that’s what I thought everyone sort of expected of me. I didn’t stop to think too much about what I was really missing.

But as I’ve gotten older, and started looking at it from an adult perspective, I’ve realized some things. I never really got to know my mom as a fellow grown-up. I never got to talk her about her childhood, her romance with my dad, her young adult years, or her marriage. I didn’t get to ask her advice about the major, or minor, decisions I faced. I didn’t get to cry on her shoulder when the guy I had a huge crush on didn’t even give me the time of day. She didn’t get to meet the man I wanted to marry, and give her approval. She didn’t help me decide what I wanted to be, or see me graduate from either high school or college. And she never knew about the jobs I took over the years, or the work I did. She never got to see me teach.

We missed out on hanging out together as adults…going shopping, eating lunch somewhere, having coffee and a good, long talk. We didn’t get to discuss politics, religion, or the environment. I don’t know what her favorite things were…songs, foods, books. I have only limited knowledge of what she liked, because she probably cooked those foods for us, or sang us those songs, but it was from the perspective of a child.

There are so many things I would love to ask her…how did you meet Dad? How did you know you were in love with him? What kind of jobs did you have? What did you like to do with your girlfriends? What was your favorite song? What kind of books did you like to read? Were you happy being a mom?

And then we move into a very difficult piece of this whole mind game. Mom died of breast cancer, and when I was diagnosed, there was a rush of many more questions I would love to be able to ask her. And a whole wave of realization of what she must have gone through. In a weird way, thinking about her battle made mine a bit easier to handle. I knew I had technology and time passed on my side. She probably had very little hope back then. And I kept telling myself, “If she could fight it, so can I.”

I didn’t mean for this piece to get all sad and bring everyone down. I just wanted to share this realization with you because it’s very intriguing to me. I compare it to a situation where when a young child dies, we can only remember them as a child. And when your mom dies when you are young, you only remember her from your child’s perspective. I happen to believe that my mom, and those others that have passed on, can somehow know how I’m doing. And I know I still have lived my life based on what they taught me, and what they passed on to me in an indirect way. And that gives me great comfort. I’d love to be able to ask my mom what she thinks of my blog, but I’ll just have to assume she’d somehow let me know if she thought it sucked.

 

Small-Town Summer

Standard

We are about to enter the festival season in my little town. Every town has them, I guess, but our town seems to have a LOT of them, and they keep adding more every year! Our newest addition is the Zany Zucchini Street Festival. I knew I could get your attention…read on!

So, we started things off with Frost Free Friday in late May, which is our climb-out-of-winter festival during which local businesses give away plants to visitors to their businesses. It’s supposed to be an advertising kind of thing, and a promotional thing for businesses, designed to get people in the door to purchase something. But, unfortunately, most people just dart from business to business, snatching as many free plants as they can juggle, without giving a thought to purchasing anything, or even shopping around. At about this same time, our local farmers’ market opens, and the Garden Club has a big plant sale at the market. It’s a much more supportive way to get your plants, as far as I’m concerned. We also have not one, but TWO fishing openers in May, because we ARE in Minnesota, after all.

This week is our Summerfest. I’m pretty sure every town has a Summerfest, right? This is the first festival I came to know upon taking up residence in town. We happened to arrive in town after a 23 hour trip from Maryland on the eve of Summerfest, 2001. Our realtor had joked that there’d be a parade in our honor, and it turns out, he wasn’t joking! Arriving around 3:45 AM, and after conking out for a few hours on our air mattress in our new home, we awoke to a loud, “Testing…testing…1, 2, 3…testing!” They were setting up for the musical entertainment for Summerfest. So, we got up, and joined in the festivities. There was a parade soon to start, and we met our neighbors because our yard turned out to be primo viewing real estate for the parade, and they all had been setting up their chairs in our yard for years. It was great!

The county fair is the same weekend as Summerfest, so there is plenty to do in town. Inflatable jumpy things for the kiddos, carnival games and thrill rides, pony rides, horse shows, tractor pulls, beer gardens, music, talent shows, those ridiculously tall mudder trucks, petting zoo, 4-H displays and animals…you get the gist. And, of course, there’s the food…brats, smoked turkey legs, sweet corn, pulled pork, cotton candy, soft pretzels, sno cones, cheese curds…the list goes on, as do the pounds.

Then we have a mere 4 day break before the 4th of July sneaks up on us. Our town doesn’t actually do anything for this one, because there are so many other fireworks displays and parades at surrounding towns. Later in July, we’ve added the Zany Zucchini thing, because there wasn’t anything in particular in July.

We start August off with the Community Garage Sales, which is always fun. That same weekend, we have Pie on Park Ave. (which used to be “Pie on the Porch”), which is a fundraiser for a church’s mission trips. It’s delicious, and happens to be a block from my house, so handy like that. More pounds. Then, at the end of August, is the big Bluegrass Festival. That draws a lot of people to the area, and is a big deal for such a small town.

We finish things off with the Art Crawl, which is usually Labor Day weekend, and that is the end of the trail of touristas, street vendors, an abundance of bad-for-you foods, lots of time in the sun, and medallions to search for. Ahhh, the peace and quiet of fall…even if it means winter is just around the corner.

 

Plummeting Pussy Cat

Standard

Cats are fairly agile, gracefully maneuvering their way through the human world. It’s said they always land on their feet. I’ve watched them walk on narrow rails, leap great distances, and swerve to miss furniture during high-speed chases. The word pussyfoot comes from the cat’s delicate, careful tread.

But I have also caught my cats in some really awkward, clumsy moves that are huge fails. The most amusing faux pas (you can pronounce that fo paws…funny, huh?) are those in which the cat doesn’t calculate the distance:oomph ratio properly, makes a jump and misses the mark. The front paws make a landing, but the rear doesn’t quite arrive on deck, and the cat slowly slides or falls to the next level down, sometimes doing a little backflip, as if trying to stick the landing coming off of the uneven parallel bars.

Immediately, the kitty rights herself, then quickly looks around to see if anyone saw what just happened. When you’ve got a word named after your agility, you can’t afford to have anyone see you make that kind of mistake. Kitty slinks off, embarrassed, and waits until she has mustered up enough courage to try the classy move again. It happens.

But the other night, I witnessed the worst of kitty mishaps. One I’ve long feared would happen. I have a beautiful open stairway that turns direction partway up, and then there is a landing at the top of the stairs, with a railing all around the landing area. It sort of forms two sides of a square at the top of the stairs. From that railing to the floor below is maybe 13 feet or so. The kitties like to walk on that railing, and it makes me crazy when I see them do it. How can they be that brave?? When I’m vacuuming up there, and come close to that railing, I imagine losing my balance and tumbling over it to my certain death below. Yet they cruise along it as if they are walking on the floor.

So, my friend and I were sitting on the couch in the living room, watching TV and chatting. The cats were doing their thing…chasing around, napping…whatever cats do. Suddenly, a furry blur plummeted from the stairway railing, bouncing off of the piano below, and finally landing on the floor. I was sure this cat must be dead from the sound of the thud on the piano, let alone the final thud on the floor. She did NOT land on her feet. She did NOT exhibit any grace.

In the time it took us to say, “Uh-oh!” the rest of the cats and the dog had all rushed to the scene. They looked on in amazement, as kitty righted herself, gave that sort of panicky, embarrassed look about, and then hunkered down and slunk off to the kitchen in a big hurry. The rest of the animals just stood there, looking from the spot she had landed, to each other, to us, and back again, as if to say, “Did you SEE that?” Even though I was worried that kitty had injured herself, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the reaction of the rest of the crew.

I went to find her, and she was in the litter box. Apparently, the fall had scared the poop out of her! I checked her out, and she was fine, except for her bruised pride. She seems unscathed by the episode, as she went right back up the steps, ready to do it all again! The funniest thing is that my oldest cat was sitting on my lap on the couch the night after this happened, and she seemed to be watching the area near the piano, and alternately looking up the stairway. I think she was watching to see if it was going to happen again!

 

Ed’s Grill & Bar

Standard

I’m sitting here thinking about what I can throw on the grill for dinner. Cooking on a gas grill is so quick and easy…it’s the decision as to what to have that’s the obstacle. It reminded me of my experiences with grilling in the good old days. You see, I grew up with the master griller, Ed Beck. I knew no one more particular about his grilling, and no one who could produce finer charred beast.

So, back in the 50’s and 60’s, gas grills weren’t even a twinkle in Mr. Char Broil’s eye yet. We had charcoal grills, or none at all. And if you were Ed Beck, there was a lot of thought, preparation, and tending that went into grilling. You couldn’t just decide at 5:00 what you were going to toss onto the grill, and be eating by 5:30. The meat had to be washed and prepared, sitting at the ready on a large pan or platter, most likely lined with heavy duty tin foil. The barbecue sauce and dousing matter had to be mixed and put on the stove. Dad mixed his own barbecue sauce, adding worcestershire, Tabasco, dry mustard, molasses, and beer (among other things) to the bottled sauce (which back then was original flavor.) If he was cooking anything but a steak, he also doused the meat with a vinegar mixture (and/or beer) while it was cooking, before putting on the barbecue sauce.

The grill had to be carefully lined with heavy duty tin foil, and the charcoal arranged just so. Then there was the starter fluid. There was a method to the dousing of the charcoal, and the speed with which you struck the match…just long enough for the fluid to soak in, but not enough to evaporate. And the calculation as to how quickly you had to move to avoid singeing off your eyebrows, or arm hair. (Are you counting the carcinogens with me??) Now, I know there are many out there who are stackers of the charcoal, but Ed was not one of that camp. He believed in laying out the coals in a double layer, filling the grill edge to edge. He was going to need a BIG fire.

You see, Ed’s idea of portion size was not as big as your fist. No, Ed believed in as big as your head, or perhaps as big as your left thigh when it came to portion size. A two-pound steak was average for Dad. Per person. And he counted on everyone eating 2 or 3 pork steaks, 1 whole chicken, or a rack of ribs each. Dad was a big man, and planned big when it came to meals. Is it surprising I have issues?

Anyway…back to the ritual. So, while the coals were burning down to the perfect white all over, Dad was busy stirring the sauce, and having his first beer. Grilling was usually a 4 or 5 beer operation, as I recall. Hot Illinois summers, cold cans of Miller High Life, or, in the later years, frosty bottles of Heineken. And, on occasion, it was a martini kind of day. You just never knew.

Dad was in his element. He brought out the pan of meat, stacked neatly on the heavy duty tin foil. He used his barbecue tools (which he ALWAYS pronounced in an exaggerated accent, much like a popular commercial on tv at the time) to hoist the heavy hunks of beast onto the hot grill. He sat and drank as he doused the beast with the vinegar mixture. He had a little mop that looked just like a big cotton floor mop, but in miniature. He sopped up the vinegar mixture and doused the beast regularly for what seemed like an eternity. Now that I look back on it, the slow cooking time was likely a factor of the number of cocktails he could consume.

When the meat was mostly cooked, and the beers were nearly finished, it was time for the sauce. The same mop made a great slosher of sauce. He put on sauce, cooked it for a bit, turned it over, and put on more sauce. Like lather, rinse, repeat, he went through this routine several times, so that the sauce’s flavor was totally IN the beast. If infused had been a trendy cooking term back then, Ed would have coined the phrase. Once the beast was fully barbecued, he’d stack it on a big tray, covered with (you guessed it) heavy duty tin foil, and carry it into the house.

There was nothing finer than Dad’s barbecue. And hanging out with him for the whole ritual was even better than the beast. My brother and I would spend that time watching, joking around, and just having fun with Dad. He never really let us help too much…it was his baby. But just that time with him, inhaling the smoke from the grill, watching Dad down those beers, sweating in the Illinois sun, and laughing, was priceless. 

Occupied

Standard

Kids today have a lot of entertainment options. Toys are no longer simple. Gadgetry abounds. Electronics, TV, movies, games, videos, music. And the gadgetry makes all this fun portable. Kids no longer have to sit in the living room to watch TV, or go to the theater to see a movie. Music, movies, texting, talking, games…it’s all on their smart phones, with them at all times.

On the one hand, it’s a wonderful thing. All that technology makes it possible for today’s kids to have everything at their fingertips. So much more to experience. So much information. So much fun. So much learning. But on the other hand, it’s a bit sad. All that technology makes it way too easy for them. Kids don’t have to work for the fun any more. And they don’t have to use their imaginations at all! It’s all made up for them…all they have to do is choose an animated character and the game takes them on an adventure. They select a favorite emoticon to show how they’re feeling when texting friends. And they hit shuffle on their iPods to hear a string of all of their favorite tunes.

When we were kids, things were much less complicated. We had to work for our fun. We had to take a record out of a sleeve, put it on a turntable, and set the needle on the record in order to listen to a song. We made up scenarios to act out with our dolls or plastic army men, and had to move them around ourselves. We played card games, board games, and made up games of our own. We cried, and laughed, and talked through our play.

With so many electronic options, kids today don’t really have to come up with ideas of what to do to occupy themselves at any given time. When they are with friends, they are likely watching videos on their phones or tablets, or texting other friends. When they are at home, they are likely listening to music and watching videos, or texting friends…God forbid they should engage in conversation with members of their families, or sit down and play a game of gin rummy with the folks.

And car rides have taken on a whole new meaning. It’s no longer about the ride…it’s about how to make the ride bearable and get it over with quickly. When today’s kids are forced to travel with their parents, they are likely watching DVD’s in the car, on the DVD players or iPads on the seat backs in front of them. I’m sure they are not doing any of the things we used to do in the car to pass the time. It’s not likely they are watching the mile markers, calculating the distance to the next town. And I doubt they are playing the license plate game, counting cows, or keeping track of car makes or colors. I’m sure they’re not singing songs, or playing word games with the family, or playing guessing games. And I KNOW they are not arguing with their siblings over who has to lay on the floor over the hump in the middle of the back seat, and who gets to sleep on the seat. I guess the only good thing about the kids being occupied is it’s easier on the parents…no one’s asking, “Are we there yet?” In fact, the kids don’t want to get there until the movie’s over. But that’s ok…I’ll still take a good game of Three Thirds Goat or I See Something You Don’t See any day over a rerun of Frozen.  

Go You Chicken Fat, Go!

Standard

I just saw a commercial for the iPhone5S that features a song I could not believe I was hearing! The commercial focused on using your iPhone to get fit, because we all know that a smartphone can really take the pounds off! The background music for this commercial is the Chicken Fat song that we used to have to exercise to way back in middle school!

Just a couple of years ago, I was trying to find the song on the interwebs to share with some young friends. I know I sounded fairly ridiculous, getting so excited, reminiscing about this song, and how miserable it made us in gym class, but how much it had stuck in my brain all these years. And now, it’s famous, thanks to the folks at Apple.

The commercial shows different people exercising in very stylish workout gear, in very poised positions. It makes exercising look graceful and powerful. But when we “worked out” to that record OVER, and OVER again, in our God-awful gym suits, I’m pretty sure we didn’t look quite so stylish. No…I’m pretty sure there was a lot of pain on our faces, sweat on our brows, and agony in our groans. That record could KILL a kid!

In the commercial, there’s that sleek iPhone, tracking their heart rates, calories burned, and all that good stuff. We listened to it on a record player. The standard brown record player that was in EVERY classroom in America in the 1960’s. Scratchy, grainy sound, blaring and vibrating through those old speakers so there was a buzz in the background. And the only thing being tracked was my head figuring out how long it would be until I either puked or passed out, and how embarrassing that would be.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a link to a video featuring the song, reflecting the era from which it came:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=af2j59zzX3Q

 

It’s Just Not Right!

Standard

(Gentlemen, you might want to sit this one out!)

For the past year or more, I’ve been hearing ads on the radio for a “med-spa” in a town near where I live. Now I’m not a spa person, but I’ve had massages, and can understand the need to pamper yourself and relieve stress. The whole beautification end of things isn’t my cup of tea, but I know there are many women who swear by it. So even though it’s not my cup of tea, I can certainly see a market for it. But, the concept of a “med-spa” takes the spa treatment to the next level.

Medical treatments can be included in the spa experience. And even though I’m not a spa person, and the beautification part doesn’t interest me, I can go so far as to understand that some women are in the market for these services. Chemical peels to take years off of your complexion. Laser treatments to remove hair, or treat varicose veins. Permanent make-up, waxing, and intense pulse light…some to remove skin spots, and some to add color to the skin. And something called “microderm abraision”, which I’m not so sure I want to know more about. To me, it sounds like someone will pelt your face with tiny wads of cement or something! And there are the usual spa treatments…facials, massage, hot stone massage. So far, nothing too crazy, even if some of it seems a bit extreme to me.

But a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a new addition to the radio spots for this med-spa. Ladies, you might want to sit down for this one. Now they are proudly announcing an addition to their staff and services. Are you ready for this? A gynecologist!

Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of ANYTHING that a gynecologist has ever done for me that would come ANYWHERE close to being spa-like. Way to ruin a nice, relaxing pampering session! Most women I know find nothing about a visit to the gynecologist very pleasant. Although necessary, it’s certainly not anything like a massage or a facial!

So what do you suppose the strategy was here? While you’re in the shop having your spa day with your gal pals, why not just grab a quick pelvic exam? A rather interesting way to dry your toenails after a pedicure! Couldn’t they have just added a coffee shop for some good talks with your girlfriends? Or maybe just a nice little boutique to shop at for a nice outfit to go with your nice, new clear skin. If you’re there to improve your looks, and fix your imperfections, what on Earth could a gynecologist offer? And for you guys out there, it would be just like having a proctologist move into the barber shop! It’s just not right!