Monthly Archives: August 2014

Disappearing Snails

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OK. This confirms my fears. Today marked the 3rd day this week that I went to the post office box to pick up the mail and found it empty. No super-sized slick highlighting my local politician. No store flyer advertising the great deals I could be taking advantage of. Nothing. Nada. Not even a bill! Not even when we are approaching an election and the Labor Day holiday weekend. I’m starting to worry that my important mail is sitting in a dead mail basket somewhere in Kansas. The alternative is that snail mail is really on its way out, as “they” have been predicting.

I’m no fan of junk mail, and I certainly don’t support swapping trees for paper just for me to recycle. But there’s something nostalgic about real mail. If you are of my generation, you remember the art of letter writing. They used to sell something called stationery which was fancy paper that you could write a letter on. You used a pen and wrote it by hand. Then you put it in an envelope, carefully addressed it, stamped it, and mailed it. Then you waited several days for your friend to receive it, and several more days for your friend to respond, by mail.

When you wrote a letter, you offered up your half of a whole conversation that you would have over time. You poured out your soul, reported the news, gossiped, or just said hello to an old friend. Or maybe you wrote a thank-you note to your Aunt Sue for that $5 that she sent you for your birthday. Letters home from camp. Letters from your college dorm room, including pictures of the crazy times you were having. Love letters to your new beau. Birthday cards with letters enclosed.

Sometimes, you even took the time to decorate the envelope. They used to sell sealing wax and seals, which were really cool. The sealing wax was like a candle that you lit and dripped onto the back of the envelope, and then pressed your seal into the liquid wax before it cooled. It make an impression in the wax that sealed the envelope. Mine was a flower. I still have the seal somewhere, but I don’t know if you can even buy sealing wax any more.

Now we have moved on to email, texting and Face Time or Skype. Instantaneous communication. I remember thinking in wonder when my dad would talk of the possibility of future “picture phones” when I was a kid. HA! If he only knew! We think nothing of firing off a few words to someone. The old anticipation of watching for the mailman, and waiting day by day for that letter to arrive has been replaced by checking your phone for that text you’ve waited an expansive 3 seconds for.

Sure, it’s convenient to be able to communicate instantaneously, and in some instances, such as an emergency, it’s vital. But I do miss the act of writing a long letter, and receiving one in return. I miss choosing the spot I would go to open that letter and enjoy it. I miss choosing the stationery and the perfect pen for the occasion, and the decorating of the envelope. And I miss handwriting!

So, I challenge myself, and all of you to WRITE to someone right now! I guarantee they will be thrilled, and may even return the favor. Who knows? Letter writing could go viral on Facebook! We could all be Tweeting about it by tomorrow!

Hairy Hot Tub

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*Spoiler Alert: This may ruin your hot tub experience for life.

I have always loved to swim, and also enjoy a soak in the hot tub. When traveling to conferences, I would always check to be sure the hotel had a pool and hot tub, and be sure to bring my suit for an after-conference relaxing dip. But as I’ve gotten older, and experienced more in public pools and hot tubs, I’ve become way less excited about it than I used to be.

In theory, both the pool and hot tub are great ideas. The pool for exercise, or cooling off, or just having some fun splashing about. The hot tub for easing stiff muscles, relaxing, or warming up after a cool swim. But in reality, there’s more than meets the eye.

My first negative hot tub experience came many years ago, when I was on a trip to the Bahamas with my friend. The hotel we stayed at had a gorgeous pool and a nice sized hot tub. But one day, there was a gentleman sharing hot tub space with us who was quite well-endowed in the body hair department. All we could focus on was how many stray hairs he was likely to have shed in that hot tub, with us sitting there soaking in the hairy stew.

Skip forward to a few years ago, when I was making use of a hot tub at a nearby hotel. It wasn’t a very big hot tub to begin with, but when you add a family of four, including a toddler and an infant, both in inflatable ring seats, it gets tight. Now I’m all for family fun, but a hot tub is no place for an infant. (Someday you’ll see my piece on places infants do not need to go.) And it is certainly not a place for inflatable toys. There are so many things wrong with this picture, I will skip to the highlights, to drive the point home. Aside from the space being taken up by the inflatables, there was the issue of the infant being in a diaper…in the hot tub…with me. And then, the quote of the day…mother to toddler son, as he draws a booger out of his nose with his finger and shows it to her: “Oh, so now what are you going to do with that booger?” Giggles all around as he discards it…in the hot tub…with me.

So now you know why I am less enthused with the idea of a nice hot soak in a public hot tub after a stressful day. I just hope I exited that hot tub faster than the booger traveled towards me in the swirling, steamy water with not near enough chemicals in it.

Sensory Suggestions

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I find it fascinating that my feeble brain often cannot remember what I was just headed to the fridge for, but it can be jolted back 40 years to an exact experience by a simple smell or song. What is it about aromas and songs that trigger memories in us?

I have some hand soap that is the same fragrance I used two years ago after having had surgery. Every time I wash my hands with it, it still throws me back into the experience of wound care, and frequent hand washing. When it rains, like it is doing today, and I smell the earthy, wet smell, I am still a kid playing in the puddles after a good rain. Someone’s cologne will take me back to a first kiss in my teen years.

As I listen to the “oldies” on Pandora, I am repeatedly transported to various times in my life. A college party…a first listen to an album on my dorm room stereo…driving around in a convertible with friends on a summer day with the radio blaring. I still get a surge of energy when I hear the song I tried out for the Pom Pom Squad to…Along Comes Mary. I didn’t make the squad, but it was huge for me to even have tried out, and I so wanted it! The Youngbloods Get Together, the first song I formally learned on the guitar. The pastel, gingham checked, seersucker dresses we made for our junior high choir concert to sing The Candy Man, holding big spiral suckers.

So, why is it that we can remember all of these smells and songs, and what was happening in conjunction with them, but not the mundane things we are always asking our brains to recall? Maybe I need to devise a plan to associate an aroma or tune with my to-do list, so I won’t forget anything. Or do you think in 40 years I’ll still remember what song was playing when I remembered to get the meat out of the freezer that one day?

Downtown With Dad

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When I was around 10-13 years old, my brother and I would sometimes go to work with my Dad on a Saturday. Dad was an optometrist, so this may not sound like so much fun to any of you, but it actually was. We spent some of our time hanging out with Dad at his office, “helping” him, and then there was the bonus of shopping around downtown. And we’d get to have lunch with Dad, of course, which was always fun.

At his office, there were several tasks we could help with. I remember helping him get glasses orders ready in old wooden trays, making sure the names matched, and sometimes filing the index cards with the patient’s records on them. I also seem to remember some rubber stamps being involved, and I LOVED rubber stamps…the kind you could spin the wheels on and change the date. I’m sure he double-checked all of our work, and we really weren’t “helping” that much, but it made me feel so important.

He also had some cool equipment that fascinated me. He had a lens grinding wheel, which had a chunk of “real” sponge at the base to catch the water that came off of the wheel. The water came out a small pipe at the top of the wheel, as I recall. There was also a pan that heated up fine grains of glass, used to heat plastic frames enough to bend them into shape. Somewhere, I think I still have a small bottle of that glass. He also had a roll-top wooden cabinet that was filled with lenses with various prescriptions, all stored in velvet slots. My brother still has that cabinet.

But the topper was a cow’s eye he had in a jar from his college days. We used to use that cow’s eye for our science projects every year. No better way to get an A than to have an actual eye in a jar to augment your report and drawing of THE EYE. I can still see it clearly in my mind…it was blue, and sort of sad looking. My brother also still has the eye, which he says has deteriorated only somewhat over all these years.

Aside from helping at the office, we got to go wandering around downtown. Back in those days it was safe to go shopping around the few blocks without your parents. We were allowed to go next door to the Walgreens, which had a lot to look at, including a paperback book section. I got one of my first paperbacks there, which I still have…The Best of Sick Jokes. There was also an old-fashioned lunch counter at which we’d have our lunch.

If the Walgreens wasn’t exciting enough, there was also a little shop a couple of blocks away that had gifts and such. I remember buying a little ring with a yellow flower on it there, among other purchases not quite as memorable. There was something so cool about having your little coin purse with money in it and making the big decision as to what to purchase all on your own. I still have my little coin purse, which was a vinyl zip up affair with red roses on it. There was also a men’s clothing store nearby, and I remember buying my “mod hat” there, when they were so popular. Yes, you guessed it, I still have the mod hat, and even wore it when I was going through chemo!

So, hanging out with the boring optometrist wasn’t so boring at all! The best part was that it was quality time with my dad, when otherwise, he’d just be at work while we were home.

Sometimes I Get Words In My Ice

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It happens when I least expect it. I’ll be getting some ice for a nice, cool drink, and I see a flash of black in the ice tray. I dig to the bottom, and discover a word. Sometimes I take it as some sort of sign. Sometimes it’s just a pain in the butt to fish it out of the ice tray. You see, I have poetry magnets covering the front of my fridge, and a bottom freezer. Occasionally, a shift in gravity allows a word magnet to fall into the ice tray when it’s open, usually unnoticed at the time it happens.

I became fascinated with the concept of poetry magnets when they first became the craze, back in the 90’s. First of all, I love magnets of any kind. Second, I love words. So these little gems, which combine magnets and words could hardly disappoint this girl. I remember getting my first set, and how I couldn’t wait to break them apart and distribute them on the fridge. I would fiddle with them, making obtuse streams of words. I started adding sets of magnets as I found them, and people started giving me sets as gifts. Soon the fridge was covered with words.

When I lived in Maryland, my husband and I had a big party on Memorial Day every year. We started to keep a composition notebook near the fridge, with instructions to our guests to make poems with the magnets, and then we’d record their creations. It was quite funny! Especially since there was alcohol involved.

Soon, my fridge full of magnets was not enough. As with all crazes I latch onto, I was obsessed. I was teaching middle school language arts at the time, and I found that they made all sorts of magnetic poetry sets with various themes, many of them lending themselves nicely to my poetry unit. I started to purchase sets for my classroom. I brought some of mine from home. I was fortunate to be teaching in a room in which all of the walls, floor to ceiling, were made of metallic chalkboard surface! I set up poetry spots all around the room, and let the kids go nuts. I was in word heaven!

I realized that it wasn’t only fun, and satisfying my own magnetic poetry obsession, but it was actually helping my students write poetry. When you ask a middle schooler to take a blank piece of paper and come up with a poem, it usually creates a block, and brings on much frustration. Who can decide which words, out of all the zillions of words we use, need to be on that page? And in what order? And to say what? I have the same problem sometimes.

But with the magnets, the words were right in front of them. All they had to do was move them around for a while, and soon they had a poem. Before I knew it, they were filling their notebooks with poems they’d created at the wall. And the best part is that they were having fun, and begged to work on poetry! If you’ve ever taught middle school, you know that any time your students love something, you have success. So when I find that occasional word in my ice, I have to chuckle at the thought of what poem it might complete.

The Great Garage Sale

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First of all, I apologize for being absent from my blog for quite a while. I’ve had a visit from my brother, and just had a garage sale this weekend. With all of the preparations, visiting, and saling, time has gotten away from me. But I’m back!

It’s been a few years since I’ve had a garage sale. As you know, I’m very fond of them…both shopping at them, and hosting them. But the hosting perspective is very different than the attending perspective. This weekend I was reminded how unique a social scene the garage sale is. Two of my best friends and I joined forces, compiled our junque, and made it available to the general public. We had perfect weather…not too hot, not too humid, clear skies, gentle breezes…just beautiful. With my OCD flag flying, I worked with my pals to prepare signage, organize goods, and arrange tables, and as we prepped, I fretted over every detail. But in the end, it was all good…our combined efforts filled a garage and most of the driveway with quite an interesting array of items. We were ready for the customers!

When you are sitting at a garage sale all weekend, you have a lot of time to observe and ruminate. I was most thankful for the superb weather conditions, since you always have to worry about rain shutting down your sale, but I devoted most of my thoughts and observations to the people. I love people watching, and a garage sale is one of the best venues. There were several unique individuals who visited our sale, but there were also many who fit into what I refer to as the garage sale personalities.

First you have the Sure Shopper. This person knows what he wants, and it’s a very specific item. He darts in, may make a quick swoop through the area, or may just ask if you have that particular item, and then leave. He’s not interested in the sale itself. There is no browsing. No considering. No bartering. No musing over unusual items.

Then there’s the Quick Looker. Much like the Sure Shopper, this person is not interested in spending time enjoying the shopping experience. She stops in, maybe on her lunch break from work, and breezes through in about 2 minutes. You know there’s no way she saw most of what was for sale, but she seems satisfied with this cursory glance at everything, and skitters away. Again…not a person who really takes garaging to its fullest capacity.

The most removed from the garaging experience is the Drive By. This person pulls up and may either very slowly drive by the garage, or may actually stop the car for just a minute in front of the garage. He takes about a one minute look, and then pulls away. Sometimes, the Drive By doesn’t even position himself where he can see what’s in the garage, and surely there’s not much detail available from inside a car, at that distance, but this low level of interaction seems to be all the Drive By needs.

Next we have the Dickerer. The Dickerer is never satisfied with the price on the sticker. He may ask if you’ll take a lesser amount for an item, but sometimes, he even says, “All I’d give you for this is $1.” I’m all for getting a good deal, but some of these Dickerers are rather insulting in their delivery. It’s as if you didn’t really MEAN the price you put on the sticker, and you were just doing it to irritate the Dickerer and get him to tell you what HE will pay you. Some Dickerers even seem to have a well-rehearsed schtick, and do the really fast price to price dickering, hoping to trip you up and agree to sell a full set of your granny’s fine china for $3.

In addition to the garage sale personalities, there are many things that you see and hear at a sale that are amazing, amusing, frustrating, or downright touching. We’ve all heard the saying, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and it applies to garaging, as well. I like predicting what types of things customers will be interested in, and there are always a few customers who surprise me and purchase items which I never would have imagined they’d be interested in. Yesterday we had one shopper drive up and ask from her car, “What kind of sale are you having?” Hmmm…I wasn’t sure just how to answer that one! And another, who in less than 5 minutes insulted our pricing, as well as our goods, in a very direct manner. He was our least favorite customer.

But we were fortunate to have way more wonderful customers than the few who were difficult. My favorite was the lady who shopped a good long while, petted our dog, and took time to tell us of her many rescue dogs. Then she was off to visit her mother in the nursing home next door. In a few minutes, she returned with her mother. She wheeled her around the entire sale, showing her items, getting her close enough to touch things, and telling her what things were, if she couldn’t see them well enough. She brought her over to meet us, and meet our dog. I almost cried right then and there. It was a good sale, indeed.