Belying my current less than athletic appearance, I once reigned as the 12 year old girls tennis champion in Lexington, Kentucky. I was a bit of a tennis junkie, watching every slam and open carried on our pre-cable-console-complete-with-stereo-tv.
And I looked the part for sure. I had a wooden Slazenger racket and Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes, and I was rarely without a Billie Jean King looking visor.
My folks were smart enough to make sure we had summer lessons for activities in which we showed an interest. Since there were no lessons for reading, which is what I spent most of my time doing, I suppose tennis was my only other option.
We spent mornings on the courts, getting a little parks and rec type instruction, making sure to take lots of water breaks, in a time when nobody had a Yeti, and we waited in line at the fountain, hoping the weak stream of water would be cold. As August approached, we toiled through challenge matches in the southern humidity to earn a bracket spot, and the tournament began.
There was no magical Wimbledon-like setting, just the old acrylic coated green asphalt courts with nets that had seen better days. I don’t remember every opponent, but I am sure I must have received a forfeit or two along the line, some other pre-teen begging off a match that day, claiming her mouth hurt too much from the previous day’s visit to the orthodontist, really just wanting to stay home and work on her baby oil and iodine tan or ride her bike with friends.
The winner got an 8 inch trophy and free entry into the following year’s tournament, which were great prizes for a 12 year old. The winner also got a healthy dose of self-esteem, a pretty good memory to talk about at Happy Hours and family bragging sessions many years later, and the perfect entry into one of those ‘Three truths and One Lie’ getting to know you games we are forced to play when we are in a new group.
Literally no one ever guesses I have been a 12 year old tennis champion. Once I listed the tennis championship, my ability to recite Eugene Field’s 32 line poem The Duel from memory, and the fact that I once played the piccolo as my truths, and then listed my skydiving hobby as the big whopper, and they still picked tennis as the lie. Go figure.
As of late, I have been looking for somewhat smaller victories. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, on two separate occasions, I finished my morning cup of coffee while it was still warm, without a visit to the microwave to re-heat it. All you fast coffee drinkers, those willing to scald your tongues, will never understand the perfect coffee drinking window, where the beverage is not too hot to swallow, yet not cold enough to offend. Never mind that one of those cups of coffee was actually my husband’s cup that I just thought was mine.
I am also celebrating the small win of keeping track of my paperback book through the entire four weeks it took me to read it, as my memory about where I have left things is not as good as it once was. I am an avid reader, one who appreciates a variety of genres and authors. But I don’t have a lot of spare time for reading-which is not to say I don’t think I will have the time- so my books become my traveling companions.
If I drive my daughter to a lesson, a rehearsal, or a practice, I take my paperback because I might have time to read in the car. If I head to the dentist for yet another crown (trust me, I am full-blown royalty), I pack that novel for a little reading time while the Novocain takes effect.
And sometimes, that means I can’t quite remember where I have last had my book. Usually I have to check bags, my bedside table, the family room, and the car before I find it. Once I found my book in the laundry hamper, and it wasn’t even a dirty novel. See what I did there?
Saturday morning, I found I had exactly one hour to myself. I pondered the possibilities. Continue my advance meal planning? Try to create my Christmas budget? Exercise? Nah, none of those are any fun. Finish my novel! That’s it! And lo and behold, I walked right to the shelf where I had placed it for safe-keeping. I will take the win, even if the novel didn’t end exactly the way I had hoped.
Other small successes come in the area of biting my tongue. Since sarcasm really is my native, primary language and full scale English comes a little less naturally, I often find myself in situations where my sarcasm would be fitting, but perhaps not appreciated.
Here is the short list of places I did not use my sharp tongue just this week: waiting in line inside a Starbucks when the barista called out the name Bambi (Come get your coffee, DEER, I thought); at the gas station where I had to go in to get a receipt because it didn’t print at the pump, and the clerk said, “I guess this didn’t print at the pump?” (No, I just came in because I enjoy the hot dogs on rollers combined with coffee brewing and antiseptic bathroom cleaner smell that convenience stores have, I thought); and at my husband’s football game when the opponent scored and a very vocal critic informed all of us in earshot that we should have tackled that guy before he got into the end zone (I can’t put in a family paper what I thought on this one). Some victories are truly hard earned.
The final area where I am happy with some miniscule triumphs is in raising a teenager. Those of you who have completed this arduous journey know it is not for the faint of heart. The Vegas odds makers won’t even make book on a parent’s chance of surviving the teen years unscathed.
My daughter recently started back to school, a tenuous parenting time. Should I ask if she would like to find something new to wear on the first day? Is a trip to buy school supplies too babyish? Are really clean white tennis shoes still a thing?
I decided to play it cool…and to tell a little white lie. I saw a backpack I knew she would really like. I also knew that if we were together and I pointed it out, she would no longer like it. I bought that backpack, took it home, tucked it in the guest room closet on a shelf and began my plan. That night I asked if she would need a new backpack for school.
“Probably,” she mumbled. At least, I think that is what she said. I was keeping my distance, because sometimes if I breathe or blink too loudly it irritates her.
“Oh, wait,” I said. “Didn’t we buy one last spring? Where would we have put that?” I was Academy Award convincing in my ditzy mom brain search.
“Maybe,” she said. “But it’s not in my room,” to which I thought, “And with all that mess, I am sure you would know,” but of course I didn’t say it, because as you might remember, I am no longer being sarcastic.
“I might have put it in the guest room closet,” I say, as if it is an afterthought, so light, so casual, so airy. She doesn’t move immediately because a part of her teenage persona is to never show excitement in the presence of an adult. But when she finally has to go get her phone charger because something could be happening on Instagram that she will miss and her phone needs some juice, she goes to the bedroom and looks for the backpack.
“Here it is,” she says, holding it up for examination. “Yeah, this is the one I picked out last year. This will work fine.” She will never know about my internal high five for my most recent, very underhanded success.
She will also never know I have just been topping off the body wash, shampoo, and conditioner in her shower from larger bottles stashed in my bathroom because apparently the stress of having to ask ones parents for toiletries is just too much for a teen. It’s the small victories that count. No 8 inch trophy needed here.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
There are times in the life of each family that are so earthshaking and consequential that the best and perhaps only way to get through them is with careful planning and quite frankly, prayer. These moments come in waves, and when we crest the wave and can see the top again, we feel a relief that gives us just the energy we need to tackle the next difficult thing that comes our way.
Recently the days surrounding these times have me wishing for strength. I think back to when I was younger and more resilient and able to handle things better on my own. But I push forward with what resolve remains, and I step in to lead my family.
Lest you worry too much, and begin to organize a meal train or a Go-Fund me page for the Allies, I need to lessen your anxiety by telling you that the earthshaking and consequential event to which I refer is…rearranging the living room furniture.
I live in a house which is great for parties, because you can pretty much see all parts of the main floor at one time from a centralized point. But ill-defined shapes, no walls, and giant ceiling heights make it a furniture staging nightmare. Thus, settees and sofas, tables and trunks, arm chairs and armoires are in constant motion in my home.
In addition to a weirdly designed house, there are multiple other reasons for moving furniture, despite the fact that many people are content to just set it and forget it.
First, I cannot buy a new house. Scooting things around a bit to keep me interested is much cheaper than closing costs. I love to go to real estate open houses, honestly not because I am looking to move, but just to get ideas for furniture arranging.
Second, It saves wear and tear on the carpet from having the furniture in one place for too long. Yes, we still have some carpeted areas, and I am saving for hard wood floors (maybe that Go Fund me page is not a bad idea after all), but see my first reason as reference: I cannot buy a new house, so I am looking for ways to make this old one seem new.
Third (and this one is a little cruel), I love to watch the dog the first few days after a furniture move. He strolls through the living room, looks left and right and finally spots his bed. It’s like a man in Target. He has to acclimate himself to where he is going.
Lastly, I like to challenge myself with new schemas. Okay, this one is not exactly true. I think I read it in a Marie Condo book or a bathroom stall. Either way, change is good, right?
At the very first moment the idea of another way to arrange or place the furniture comes to me, I start my plan of attack. Multiple days ahead of the proposed move, I make a minor complaint designed to get my movers thinking.
“Wow! The summer sun kind of glinting through the window makes it hard to see the television from over here,” I might say. This is the appeal to my daughter, for whom television is a life-blood. I know she will feel bad if someone’s view is impaired.
Or maybe I will say something like, “Since we scooted the couch over there, it seems like we just sit on that one end. It’s getting really beat up looking.” This is the appeal for my husband, because the one thing he hates worse than moving our current furniture around is shopping for new stuff.
On that same day, I may just carry around a tape measure and randomly stretch it out across pieces in the room and jot it down on the notepad I have with me. Sometimes they are sitting in the spot I need to measure. I just go right over them, a lady on a mission. This is the visual aspect of my plan, as it foreshadows what may happen in the next few days.
I leave the sketch for the new layout on the table at breakfast the following morning at my husband’s place. If it has a little scrambled egg or jelly stain on it, I know he is tracking.
Then I start to follow the weather forecast. Furniture moving days need a certain kind of weather. Too sunny and it will get hot as we are working, too rainy, and it is better used as a nap day.
The night before the perfect day, I prepare the family. “Would you guys want to go out to eat lunch after we move the furniture tomorrow?” is met with both excitement and dread, but at least they know they will be fed at the end of the despised event. Death row prisoners would be jealous of some of the meals we have when I am rewarding them after a move.
My daughter, who was such a willing participant in younger days, references a vague commitment to be somewhere else. I tell her we need her around to check the extension cord and to make sure all the technology is working post move. She agrees after negotiating the suggested lunch at her favorite steak place.
My husband, who is the single most habitual and patterned man that ever existed, references a need to mow the lawn. I reply by saying we will start early, so that the dew can dry on the grass before he cuts it. He is trapped.
After I check their feet to make sure they are wearing their gripper, rubber bottomed socks so they have good traction, we assemble to begin the moving. The irony of the earlier measuring tape explanation is that my best guesstimations are done by placing my feet very close together and stepping off lengths.
I review the layout with my husband like a lawyer practices a witness’ testimony. This will go here and this will go here and this will go here, I say, pointing with emphasis. Before we move the couch, he asks multiple times if it will fit.
Smart man to ask! I nod emphatically, but behind my back I cross my fingers for luck. The only thing worse than moving a couch is moving it twice. And I know this because we have done it. Several times. Marriages and several third world countries have crumbled over lesser issues.
As we move each piece of furniture, we become a cleaning crew at a crime scene, vacuuming away any evidence of where the chair sat, cleaning under and around cushions which somehow have crumbs on them, despite my plea to just eat at the table, and furiously wiping baseboards.
It is tough being both the supervisor and one of the movers on these days. With a practiced HGTV designer stance, I stand back and look at the angle and placement of a piece we have just hoisted into place. Two or three inches to the right I say, and the exhaled sighs from my own Two Family Members and No Truck crew practically bowl me over.
I once made the mistake of just leaving instructions for the move. Imagine my horror upon returning to an altered plan. Almost every piece of furniture had to be scooted as much as three or four inches into place! They simply have no vision.
Once everything is in place, I let them pick their new landing spaces. My husband can’t stand the thought of shaping a new piece of furniture to his backside, so he lands wherever the Dad chair landed and looks for the best footstool.
My daughter is an equal opportunity lounger, so she finds the best angle for TV watching. They spend about the first two days griping about what I have personally determined is the perfect arrangement.
“Okay, okay!” I say. “Let’s just move it back,” after which the new arrangement also becomes perfect for them, as well, as they would literally rather die than move it again.
A few weeks ago, we had some friends over to visit. One of the ladies said, “Oh my gosh! You moved the furniture since I was here last! Love it!” to which I was about to reply that I really did like it, too.
But before I could jump in to accept the Decorator’s Association of America Award, my husband said, “Every once in a while I just like to change it up. I get bored with an arrangement after a time,” with no idea that I stood in the shadow of the recently relocated entertainment center hearing his whole lie.
I am letting him have the credit this time because I finally got the couch into the perfect napping alignment, so I won’t be moving it for a very long time. And…I have been secretly sitting in his chair, gradually reshaping it to fit my much more generous backside, which will surely confuse him somewhere in the near future into thinking he is getting womanly hips. The dog and I will laugh.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
We love summer, don’t we? In about May, people start asking each other about summer plans. We launch our annual bathing suit diet (and yes, I typed that with a straight face...) Breweries begin advertising their fruity summer offerings. Baseball standings grace the paper’s front page. Our neighborhood pools become the daily hangout.
Dinners just naturally get served later, as the day light extends. Supper at 8:00? Sure, why not? The Europeans do it, we think. Let’s eat on the patio! Fireworks tents pop up everywhere, and the neighborhood bombers build up their stash. Self-tanners replace winter dry skin potions on drugstore shelves.
Convertible owners make their annual attempt to make the rest of us peasants jealous, as they roll those tops down, don cute, sporty hats, and play their music just loud enough at stop lights to makes us take a second glance.
Large family reunions start giving t-shirt printers all the business they need, as the Jones, and the Smiths, and the Roberts families gather generations together to lie and swap stories and mourn those who are gone. Rock salt disappears off store shelves to be used in the slushy ice mix on the outside of a hand cranked ice cream maker, and I don’t mind telling you how sorry I feel for those of you who never got to have my Nanny’s burnt sugar ice cream straight from her White Mountain freezer.
Even musical artists get in on the action, right? Every generation has a song or two that make them think of summer. While Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” might not have been your jam, I can still sing most of the lyrics. Maybe the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” makes you think of the ocean. They wish they all could be California girls? What about us Missouri chicks with Iodine and baby oil farmer’s tans?
Or if you are old school, can’t you just imagine George Gershwin penning “Summertime” on the fire escape of his stylish New York apartment in the stifling heat, thinking he better write another song to pay for that stylish New York apartment? Old George had us thinking about easy summer living and catfish practically jumping from the water onto our line.
I truly am a sucker for the sights and sounds of summer. You can find my nose jammed into a bottle of Coppertone’s original suntan lotion, the stuff we wore before we knew we were supposed to block the sun, inhaling the scent of that tropical concoction.
I am pretty sure fresh peaches is what Heaven will smell like, and I don’t even have the words to describe the smell of a rain shower on a summer day except to say I just love it—earthy, damp, promising. I even like the powdery yet medicinal smell of the calamine lotion we used as kids to cover the tops of the mosquito bites we had scratched open.
And the sounds that accompany summer are pretty good, too. Early morning lawnmowers and weed whackers that bother some folks don’t disrupt my sleep at all. The thwunk of a paper hitting the driveway reminds me of fair-haired boys I once crushed on, making a little bit of money on their paper routes.
Kids with grass stuck all over their bare legs, shrieking in the sprinklers, with their pffft pffft pffft pffft noise. Concerts of crickets and cicadas as the sun sets. For those of us of an age, the scratchy sound of a drive in movie coming through a rusty speaker attached to a car door is a great summer memory.
Maybe for you it is the hiss of a well-seasoned steak hitting the glowing grill or the neighbor’s wind chimes, which irritate you during all the other seasons, but during the summer seem just about right. And the hssssst a pop top makes when somebody reaches into a cold cooler and opens a soda can is something we all know.
A creamy orange push pop or a dipped cone costs a lot more than it used to, but it is the perfect treat through lots of generations, and kids love the tinkly, tinny sound of the ice cream truck music as it rumbles through the neighborhood, like a siren’s call hearkening sailors.
When you are a mom or a spouse, the sounds of summer might take on a little different twist. At my house this year, those sounds have just about put me over the edge, and the typical daily playlist rings a little more domestic.
It starts with a slamming screen door, because who would want to gently close it as you go out to the deck to have your coffee, when if you let it slam it might wake up everybody in the house?
Maybe it is the squeak the cabinet makes when someone opens it to get our ANOTHER glass which they will eventually leave on a table somewhere to make another dewy water ring. The breaking of the seal on the refrigerator door as it opens to the food- seeker, one who stands looking for just the right FIRST snack of the day, is never pleasant to a mom’s ears.
This summer, I have heard the air conditioner constantly laboring, as a certain 15 year old decides she is hot from “lurching” around the neighborhood, and lowers the temp to cool down. But I can just barely hear the air conditioner over the television left running in another room since early morning.
At my house, the background music is always a running washing machine, chugging its way through yet another load of the clothes my family has worn for four minutes and then discarded in the hamper, nestled right next to the damp towel they used for the third shower that day; or maybe its companion the dishwasher, running another half-full load so no one has to fill a sink with hot soapy water for the good old hand washed look.
One of my least favorite soundtracks is the groan that comes when I wake my teen before noon, followed by the loud protest that it is still early. It just barely beats out the rushed requests at the window of the car as I head out to the grocery to please buy more ice cream, frozen lemonade, and grapes. If you read that with a whine, you are right on track.
Driving to work today, I hit on a radio station running a marathon of summer songs: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, possibly one the longest but most fun song titles ever; “Under the Boardwalk”, which somehow seems more ominous to me now; and “Summer Lovin’” from Grease, filled with all its innuendo. By the time “Summer Breeze”, a song from my era came on, I was singing along, oblivious to the less exciting soundtrack playing at home.
Happy summer, ya’ll. I hope today you eat a piece of fresh fruit, catch of whiff of chlorine from the pool, or think of an old summer love. I know I will!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
Several years ago, I began commuting to work. It is not my favorite thing to do. But I like the familiarity of the drive, and I am always at work honing my powers of observation, like all ladies of an age should.
On my drive I pass a house that sits on a slight hill, a bit back from the road and has a long gravel drive winding up to it. In years when we have had snow, I have felt both sorry for the owners that didn’t have a smoother surface that could be scraped or snow blown, but also somewhat envious, as they were undisturbed by the outside world, no SUV or truck tracks marring the snow covered drive.
One Friday early this spring, there were trucks at the end of the drive, temporarily blocking that lane of my commute. As I got closer, I realized one of them was churning cement. Were they pouring a driveway?
On Monday I craned my neck in the rearview mirror after passing the house, and to my surprise, it looked like only one fairly small section of driveway, right at the base of the hill, had been poured.
I looked forward to the end of work that day—ahh, who am I kidding, I always look forward to the end of my work day. But that day, I wanted to take a look to verify the tiny driveway they had poured.
Sure enough, as I slowed down to rubberneck, only one section of concrete was curing, surrounded on the other two sides by all that gravel. What in the world? Why wouldn’t you pour the whole thing?
When my husband got home, I shared the exciting, albeit puzzling details. Or at least I attempted to.
As my opener, I said, “I saw the weirdest thing today.”
Somewhat intrigued, because likely he thought I had seen someone with a third eye or a 50 something year old with a really good mullet, he inclined an ear toward me, a sure invitation for me to continue.
“Yeah, you know that house that sits sort of on the hill on the right, just before our turn, with the gravel driveway?”
“No,” he said, without even trying to access the route in his mind, “I guess I never saw it.”
“Well, of course you saw it,” I said, suddenly desperate to cement a reference in his mind for this fabulous story I was getting ready to tell. “You drive past it all the time.”
“I just can’t picture it,” he said, “but go ahead with the story.”
In that moment, I had a choice to pout about him not noticing the same things I do or to have at least a smidgen of a viable dinner conversation topic, so like Lewis and Clark, I pushed bravely forward.
“Well, they have a gravel drive, but…” I started, when he interrupted and said, “Yeah, that’s what you said.”
“That’s not the whole story!” I whined.
“Oh, well that is weird or at least kind of unusual to have a gravel drive in the suburbs, so I just thought that is what you meant,” he said, now fully engaged. “There’s more?”
Setting his threshold of weird aside, I told him about the cement truck and the resulting single section of driveway it had poured.
“Okay, go ahead,” he said.
“Well, that’s it. I mean who pours one section of driveway? That is just weird.”
Maybe it was my tone or the volume at which I emphasized the word weird, but he paused for just long enough to make me think he was thinking about what I had said and considering the level of weirdness.
“Hmmm. I have a question,” he said. “Do you want possible explanations, a rating from 1 to 10 of how weird that is or isn’t, or would you just be satisfied with my initial hmmm?”
I wanted a discussion, which was not one of his options. Before he could offer me his list, I offered mine.
“I know that sometimes concrete companies will schedule a driveway when they know they will have extra concrete mixed from a big job, and it saves the homeowner money. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe the grader they were using to level the gravel threw craps, and they couldn’t level the other sections. Or maybe they got to pouring it, and it was too thick or too thin. Or maybe some of the workers were sick with COVID, ” I said breathlessly.
When he didn’t bite on one of those explanations, I ruminated further.
“I think they poured it Friday, and wasn’t it supposed to rain over the weekend? Maybe they just thought the weather wouldn’t cooperate for it to cure correctly. Or maybe…nah, this is too crazy…maybe the wife commissioned the driveway and the husband didn’t really want it and he just stopped the work! Or maybe the crew got there with the invoice, looking for payment and the amount was way more than they anticipated, and they could just afford a section!”
He smiled like he does when he knows more than me. I should tell you it isn’t his best look.
“Maybe they just decided to do it piece by piece,” he mumbled under his breath.
Mind blown at his simplistic explanation and lack of willingness to gnaw that bone right down to the marrow, I said, “Well, that’s just dumb,” mimicking Ricky Bobby, one of my most favorite cinematic characters of all time.
To my husband, that was not at all dumb. He started a Perry Mason like defense of all the things that were better done piece by piece.
He talked about some dessert that you start one day that gets refrigerated, and then you complete it the next day, like in two pieces. I countered with the idea that recipes were done in steps. He countered with puzzles. He meandered his way into quilt making and mosaic art. I teased him about his love for crafts.
He said he thought there was maybe even an ACDC song with the name Piece by Piece, and I resisted the urge to tell him it was Kelly Clarkson who sang it and question his very manhood. ACDC, pshawwww.
We ate the rest of our dinner in silent contemplation about pieces, until our daughter interrupted just long enough to share her desire to have curtain bangs cut into her beautiful all one length hair, and the shock of her announcement sort of pulled me out of the debate.
About an hour later, my husband said, “Do you remember a TV show called Piece by Piece?”
I didn’t bite.
“I can’t remember if we watched it together or I just watched it. It was about graffiti artists in California,” he said.
“You Googled piece by piece, didn’t you?” I said.
Unphased, he said, “Pizza. Pizza is a piece by piece thing.” No argument there, most of us do eat it piece by piece.
I know why he understands the single driveway panel. He is a piecer, and yes, I just made that word up, according to my grammar checker.
He pieces together outfits, ones that incorporate lots of patterns and lots of colors, none of which the rest of us would match. The results are dazzling.
He pieces together long, often rambling prayers at family dinners, praising God for everything from good steaks to temperate weather and implores him for help with everything from slowing down golf cart drivers in our neighborhood to good boyfriends for our girl to real things like curing cancer.
He manicures our shrubbery in pieces, working until he tires, and then attacking it again another day. My Edward Scissorhands likes to piece away the branch which results in a sort of late 80’s asymmetrical bob on our boxwoods.
Under pressure from our maid (me), he cleans off his dresser top piece by piece, examining each item like it belongs in a gallery, whereas I would just rake my forearm across the whole mess the night before trash day and sneak it out.
In the months since the tiny drive was poured, I have romanticized that concrete, thinking about it on my daily commute. Perhaps they wanted to see the color of the concrete once it was cured, kind of like trying to find the right blue paint for a bedroom wall with little swatches. They probably just gazed out their picture window at it each day.
The deeply sentimental part of me imagined a little grandson who would be so enamored by a concrete truck, that they postponed until he could be there with them to see it poured. I assumed he lived in either Portland, where it rains so much it is hard to pour concrete or in Mississippi, where it is so muddy that the concrete just sinks in. Concrete is a big deal to little boys.
The patriotic part of me just knew their son has been serving in the military in an overseas occupation, had finally gotten word of his discharge, and they wanted to afford him one last view of his boyhood gravel drive, and thus had halted the work while he made his way home, perhaps not arriving until months and months from now.
A few friends with the same commute also noticed the drive, and it was a good topic of discussion. We assumed they had committed to the ‘soul patch’ look.
Then one day, as spring turned to summer, the concrete truck re-appeared. A friend texted me the news. Talk about exciting! The driveway would be finished! The grandson had come to visit! The son had said a tearful goodbye to the gravel!
I mentioned at dinner having seen the truck at the house again, and my husband patted my hand and said he was glad I wouldn’t have to worry about the driveway anymore. He didn’t hear me when I mumbled that I would give him something to worry about.
I looked forward to my commute, maybe even catching a glimpse of the chubby-cheeked grandson, holding the granddad’s hand, just standing there admiring the magnificent new driveway. I planned my neighborly wave, which would turn into a thumbs up, acknowledging their patience and the beautiful new addition, complete with the anchoring initial piece.
Why was I surprised when I saw they had just poured only one more single section, adjacent to the original piece? They truly are piecers, my husband’s kindred spirits.
I promise you I will not be bringing it up at dinner.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I have a new friend. Men who are reading this are thinking, ”So?” Women who are reading this are thinking, “How? How did you do it? Is this some sort of trickery?”
For women, particularly of an age, making friends is not that easy. The old Camp Fire Girl song lyrics, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold” were some fine encouragement for us growing up. But dang, both parts of that are hard.
Let me work in reverse here and explain. Old friends really are gold, and keeping old friends seems like it would be easy. You have been friends a long time, right? But life happens.
Your kids have activities four days a week and by the time you get home and eat and argue about homework and think about calling, you realize it is 9:00, and because you are old friends, you know the friend you wanted to call binges all her sitcoms on that night, and you don’t want to interrupt.
When you finally touch base with one another, she tells you she was going to stop by Wednesday after work, but since you are old friends, she knew it was your mom’s birthday and you would be out to eat, so she waited for another day.
And as you talk, there is so much to catch up on that you both feel like you really missed out. You promise to not let as much time go before you talk, and the pattern starts again.
Not that old friends don’t come with some baggage. Reminiscing about your high school penchant for a tall skinny bass drummer is fun the first few times you get together for girls night, but it quickly loses its shine. Listening to your friend describe her ex-husband’s latest girlfriend’s tattoo holds a bit of prurient interest, but it isn’t very life giving.
Likewise, though, old friends are also the ones you can pick up the phone or message, who will automatically connect with what you are saying. Just this week I texted a friend with a picture of a new neighbor and said, “Who does this remind you of?”
Without hesitation, she answered, “Roseanne Rosannadana,” and we were both instantly transported back to sleepovers and watching Saturday Night Live skits. There’s that gold.
The new friend thing is a challenge because there are so many things to consider. Women’s friendships are complex, or as my daughter would say,”It’s deep.”
If the new friend candidate is too young, she might make you look old. If she is too fashionable, you might look shabby in comparison.
She can’t be too smart, because maybe she will think you are dumb. If she has traveled to France and loves fancy cheeses, will she be repulsed that you like your grilled cheese made from Kraft singles, a much less cosmopolitan choice?
Us girls talk to another mom at a school program, and we silently size her up. Does she have any stains on her shirt from a rushed dinner to get the kid backstage in time? Does she have a spot right in the crown on the back her head where it looks like she propped herself up for a nap and forgot to smooth out the matted hair evidence?
I am immediately suspicious of a really well-groomed mom. Perfectly manicured nails? Well, lucky you, to have time for a manicure when I have been playing taxi all day. Her kid looks perfect? She will take one look at the safety pins holding together my daughter’s shirt and dismiss me, no doubt.
If it is a new co-worker, we have another whole set of challenges. Do we want to mix work and play? Has she brought anything super smelly to heat up for lunch, or is she grabbing the half banana and pre-packaged chips and sticking them in her purse like I do? Does she have to re-heat her coffee? If not, is she too efficient, getting the coffee all slurped down while it is still hot?
When I met someone at work that I mentioned liking to my husband, he said I should see if she wanted to have coffee sometime. “Ahhh, I dunno,” I mumbled, and listed my concerns. If it was him, he would have rolled the dice and would maybe already be planning a trip together.
The very way we approach acquiring a new friend is just different than men. Guys just want somebody to have a beer with. Women want someone to empathize with them when their husband stays out too late having that beer.
Guys want somebody to watch a game with. Women want someone to plan the outing, tell them what they are wearing, invite the right additional friends, and make sure there are both salty and sweet snacks present.
Guys want somebody who likes the same kind of cigars they do. Women want someone to tell them the story of finding the perfect cigar, invite them to a tasting party, find shareable discount codes for cigars, and then connect them with other cigar smokers. Not really, for the most part we don’t even like cigars.
The reality of it is, lots of things separate women instead of unite us. There is no more of the “Hey, you wanna’ be my friend?” from our playground days.
Our interests and experiences are at the top of the list of separators, but other things present barriers, too. It’s hard for a childless friend to connect with the lady with a house full of kids.
“I am going to a yoga retreat this weekend while Doug is on his float trip. Wanna’ come with me?” she asks. The mom of four has to reply that she is interested in yoga, meaning she has worn the same yoga pants for four days straight, but she cannot go because of the kids. It’s a deal-breaker.
And the length of time it takes to curate a friendship in this immediate gratification society is a little overwhelming for some of us. We need two family size daily calendars to mark off the many months it may take us to slowly reveal small parts of ourselves to test the water to see how much our new friend can handle.
“I cut my own bangs sometimes,” I revealed to a potential friend once. I told her because it looked, in fact, like she too had cut her own. “Wow,” she replied.
It was not the “OMG you are so brave, tell me how you did it Wow,” but just “Wow.” We didn’t really stay friends, and when I saw her at the store, she immediately glanced at my forehead to see if I was still cutting my own bangs.
We have to consider how a new friend fits in with our other friends. Sometime when we have a Happy Hour at our house, we encounter this dilemma, and I have to take a long hard look at how the various friends will mingle.
I don’t want it to be like a Brady Bunch episode where I draw a line down the middle of my family room and friends made before 1990 are on this side, with newer ones relegated to the other side. My husband and I have a permanent A List of people we love and are always welcome, and we have built a pretty decent B List of good, relatively non-offensive minglers.
I once had two friends who met at one of my fabulous parties, and they became friends outside me. Not going to lie, it still smarts a little. They are both now on the C List.
And finding a best friend is another matter entirely. One of my very favorite friends once had a best friend contest when her teaching partner retired. They had worked together a long time, and she knew she was going to miss her pal dearly.
I still think it was really just a ploy to get a lot of gifts and perks as we competed for the coveted best friend role, but it became a full blown, knock down drag out contest. Turns out a whole bunch of people were looking for a best friend.
The winner actually wrote her a song, and sang and played it on the guitar for her class. Who can compete with that?
My new friend checks a lot of the boxes for a friendship with me, so I have great hope. When she and her family came over to eat, she brought a brownie cookie that made me cry it was so good, and she insisted on cutting it with a special knife because she baked it in her good pan and she didn’t want it scratched. She has good pans? Me, too!
Right before we ate, I started to set the table, and she made me put away the real dishes and use paper plates so we didn’t have as much clean up and would have more time to talk. Without prompting, she plopped herself down in the chairs by our fireplace that I had been begging my family to sit in to just talk.
“This is an awesome, cozy conversation space,” she said. I know, I thought, and tossed her a fuzzy throw to put over her legs.
When I texted her a picture of a Christmas tree I was putting up early November because it was COVID and we needed a pick me up, she replied with a picture of her already decorated mantle. “Girl, I feel ya’,” it said.
She sends me videos of her son’s steaming pile of laundry so that I know I am not alone in the teen angst phase. She lives out on some acreage with both a pool and a pond for a trashy or not so trashy swim. It’s also great to go out to her place if I need an escape or to bury a body. Kidding, Not kidding.
She recently sent me screenshots of a conversation she was having with the owner of a place she had rented for a family getaway weekend. The water from all the taps ran brown, and she was requesting help and/or a refund.
The first few polite texts she had sent made me so proud of her adult attitude about the whole thing. When she wasn’t getting a response, and she intensified her requests for help with a few spicy words, I was just as indignant from a distance as she was.
When she texted pictures of an empty Gatorade bottle pyramid they had constructed and then eventually a pic of a dwindling bottle of tequila they had resorted to drinking, I felt her desperation and wished I was there. The hilarity of it all would have broken the Internet if published.
She has perfected the art of sarcasm, a skill I totally respect. She manages a full time job and a family, and occasionally takes a mental health day. I can relate.
Don’t ask to meet her. I am afraid she might like you better. The next time she and I meet up, I am going to try to discern if she is the kind of friend who might later ask me for a kidney. If not, she is headed for the A List.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
The dream sequence in every movie either ends with something so sickly sweet it gives us a cavity when we watch it or so terrifying it causes nightmares. The sleeping character awakes either with a dreamy smile or having sweated through the sheets in sheer terror.
I am a dreamer. Not the pleasant kind, like a daydreamer, or one who dreams of a perfect future. But I dream all the time. I know this because my husband tells me the conversations I am having with someone when I talk out in the night, and also because sometimes when I wake up, I can remember what I dreamed.
Some days I wake with just the vague idea that I was in the middle of a big adventure, and even if I fall back asleep, I can rarely get back into my dream. Other days I can remember the whole thing, and I am primed for a re-telling.
“You won’t believe what I dreamed,” I say to my husband. That’s his cue to immediately stop whatever he is doing and listen intently to whatever long-winded thing I have to tell. And generally he is rewarded with something pretty good.
My dreams have included things like the time I was leading a hiking expedition up to a very snowy mountain top. My group of about 20 had very expensive backpacks, healthy pink cheeks, and can-do attitudes.
Here’s the thing. I don’t like to hike. At all. I don’t even really like to walk and have to carry anything. There is no way I am hiking to a mountain top, and surely no way anyone is following me there.
When I told my husband that dream, he said it probably meant I was looking for something to lead or maybe already getting ready to take on a leadership role. His practicality in interpreting my dream left me wanting more.
Who were all the people? Where was that mountain? How much did the gear weigh and how did I know what to pack? Why were we dressed in shorts when we were hiking to the top of a snowy mountain? I spent about two cups of coffee drinking time ruminating about it and decided he was probably right.
I mentioned it at work that day, and a co-worker said, “Did you eat popcorn last night?” Turns out some foods make us dream a little more than others. She shared that popcorn, cheese, smoked meat, pizza, spicy foods, candy and sweets, milk, and pickles also create more intense dreams.
“I don’t think you have to eat them all at once,” she said. Thank goodness. But could my pickle and candy milkshake could have been the culprit?
I have a friend who has put a lot more time and effort into collecting and interpreting her dreams than I have. She placed a tape recorder by her bed in case she woke up and wanted to record a dream she had.
She bought pretty notebooks to chronicle her dreams. She gave great thought to where she was sleeping when she had her best and worst dreams and what kind of pillow she had used.
She bought books, attended a kind of shady seminar held in a hotel ballroom, where she was the only one not wearing a turban or weird hat of some kind on her head, and she even did a little online research to formulate her own dream database.
She came up with some pretty good stuff. When she dreamed she was falling off a cliff, the shady seminar lady told her it meant she was afraid of failure and that the average person has at least five falling dreams in his or her lifetime. As is per usual, I am below average, as I cannot remember one falling dream.
When my friend dreamed she was pregnant, although far past child-birthing years and with no one around with whom to conceive a baby, one of her books told her that meant she was just searching for what kind of legacy she could leave.
When she dreamed about driving really fast and recklessly in her car, she saw online that it meant she was headed off track in her life and needed to slow down.
I shared my mountain climbing expedition dream with her ,and she became very animated. “That’s on the list of top 100 dreams,” she said. “It’s number 64!” Sure enough, other people were dreaming about mountain climbing as well.
“It means that you have an obstacle in front of you. If you are leading the climb, it says you are feeling confident you will overcome the obstacle,” she said. I tried to tell her I don’t know anything about climbing.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The mountain is just a symbol.” She spent about ten minutes telling me the symbolic meaning of everything from elephants to grapes in dreams. She urged me to tell her more of my dreams.
I shared with her another dream about being in Europe with my whole extended family and losing our passports. Fear of closed doors and missed opportunities in your life, she replied.
What about a cake falling apart? She thumbed through her resources.
“Was the icing slipping off or did the cake just crumble?” she asked.
“It just crumbled,” I said, frantically trying to remember the status of the icing.
“Oh, bummer” she said. “If it was just the icing, it means you can repair or smooth out the problem, but crumbling means you are struggling trying to pick up a bunch of pieces and can’t get ahold of them all.” She sighed heavily, either for effect or with genuine dismay at my crumbling life.
Three of four more dream scenarios, and three or more pat answers. I was beginning to think I was a very pedestrian dreamer. Was everybody dreaming the same things as me? There were already books and lists about my boring dreams?
My friend said hearing about my dreams just made her think I was a normal person, with normal thoughts that translated into normal nighttime visions. Those of you who are regular readers know by now that I have been called a lot of things, and normal is not one of them.
And maybe in that moment I didn’t want to be so normal. I opened up and spilled out something that might change her mind. She wants a dream to interpret? How about this one?
I detailed for her the dream about the day when my former administrative assistant, then in her late 50’s, asked for time off to be in a beauty pageant, during what was an incredibly busy time in our five person office.
Carmen was a great assistant. She was creative, good with the public, good with budgets, not at all scared of technology. Basically the yin to my yang.
I had given her great job reviews complimenting her on her skill sets. Efficient. Fast worker. Paid attention to detail. Good project manager. But never once had I commented on the fact that she would do well in a pageant.
In the dream, she asked to see me in my office, and reserved about a half hour to do so. In the dream I was scared to death she was going to quit. FYI: I would also have been scared in real life.
After what seemed like an eternity, with her first telling me about a cute thing her granddaughter had done, sharing a recipe for sweet potatoes cooked in olive oil she had found, she got around to the point.
She needed some time off, she said, to pursue something that had been a lifetime goal of hers. She knew the time to get this done was running short, and she had found a small window of opportunity. She wanted to enter a local beauty pageant, and she needed time to train and practice.
I need to supplement the narrative at this time by saying that Carmen might have done pretty well in a pageant. She was a good conversationalist, so the interview question was a cinch. She was in shape, so the bathing suit competition wouldn’t scare her off. Friendly as all get out, just hand her Miss Congeniality. And Carmen was pretty. Very pretty.
But what happened next in my dream is the most bizarre part. Instead of saying, “Well, let’s see if your leave request fits within our policies and start from there,” like a smart boss would have, I said, ”Yes! Of course! But what will you do for your talent?”
Within minutes in my dream, our whole office was buzzing around Carmen like something between a cross from Cinderella and the beauty shop scene from Grease. People were pulling dresses and wraps out of desk drawers for her to try on. Someone had created a fundraising flier for her that would guarantee her travel funds if she won and needed to go to the next level. The phones were blowing up with congratulations. John was snapping black and white head shots, with Danielle and Phyllis holding fans to blow Carmen’s hair back for a sexy, tousled effect.
I determined the best talent would be for her recite a poem from memory, accompanied by interpretive dance moves, and she agreed. We began vocal lessons in earnest, and she used silky lilac -colored scarves to emote. Her arms waved furiously, and I corrected her and demonstrated what the move should actually look like. She was a natural.
The day of the pageant came, and I had rented a charter bus to take us to the auditorium, where we all snuck back stage and delivered flowers to her. Her husband had saved a block of seats for us.
Her sister had come from California, but was leaving on her oversized sunglasses and a scarf for fear of being recognized. How did I not know Carmen had a famous sister?
Her granddaughters were dressed alike, beaming at their competitive grandma killing it on stage. In fact, we all cheered each of her appearances on stage, the loudest contingent present.
When the emcee asked her, “What would be even better than world peace?”, we applauded her cleverness when she said, “Flavored coffee creamers at every work place.” Genius.
My dream goes right up to the point where they announce the winner. Carmen is a finalist, one of five. I am already planning the purchase of a file cabinet where she can lock her tiara during the day. And then… the dream stops.
In all the technicolor detail I could remember, nearly crying when I reached the part where there is no resolution, I finished my tale. Had Carmen won? I would never know, despite repeated attempts to reconstruct the dream for the finish.
“What do you think it all means? Isn’t it crazy? ” I said breathlessly.
My friend didn’t frantically type into her dream database. She didn’t immediately go to a special chapter in one of her dream books. She didn’t phone-a-friend her shady dream seminar lady with whom she had become quite close.
“Aren’t you going to look it up?” I practically screamed. Had I gone too far, and my friend thought I was a nut?
“I don’t have to look it up. I myself have had this dream. Lots of women have had this dream. It could mean you are questioning your own self-esteem if you were the contestant, or you would rather see someone elevated above you if you dream it about a friend,” she said.
Relieved to be a humanitarian, placing others above me, I decided to save my dream about waking up being able to speak fluent Chinese and Russian interchangeably for another day. It’s probably normal. Probably.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
It likely began in the air over Los Angeles, when the first smartly dressed TWA flight attendant asked the traveler, “Coffee? Tea? Water? What would you prefer?”
The beloved pre-school teacher’s mantra, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” got thrown right out the proverbial window, in this case at about 42,000 feet, with that very first mention of a preference.
The restaurant industry followed shortly, really aiming to please their customers by allowing almost every preference to be met. Booth or table? Lemon in your ice water? Loaded or plain baked potato? Salad dressing on the side? You say you would like sweetener for your tea? Which of these three kinds would you prefer?
Then it was a short leap from restaurants to our own homes. I follow the blog of a really creative mom with three young kids. Luckily none of them are allergic to peanut butter, a lunch staple, but get this: all three kids each prefer a different kind of peanut butter.
Never satisfying my curiosity and the very obvious question about how they even knew there were multiple kinds, blogger mom honors their preference. “They are just expressing their individuality,“ she writes. The adults in my life must have gotten individuality confused with being picky brats, which is what they would have called us if we had complained about the peanut butter.
Luckily my mom was a good cook, but let me assure you, she wasn’t much interested in our preferences. Maybe the spaghetti had meatballs, maybe it had meat sauce. Sometimes the lima beans had corn mixed in with them, and sometimes they didn’t (which frankly didn’t matter because we didn’t want to eat them anyway).
Our sandwiches were cut in rectangular halves, no trimmed crusts and no fancy triangles or star shaped cut outs. If it was baloney day, she chose the cheese, and the only choice we had was mustard or mayo.
She didn’t poll us for our preferences on how our egg was going to be cooked at breakfast each morning. If one of us had scrambled eggs (which for some reason still taste better out of Mom’s skillet), all of us had scrambled eggs. I am guessing I would have liked an occasional Ritz cracker rather than a saltine, but we weren’t busy making sure our preferences were known. And we survived quite nicely.
Some preferences are naturally easier to honor. When you bake a pan of brownies, somebody usually prefers the crispier edge pieces and somebody prefers the gooier center pieces. It is still all coming from one pan of brownies, and no, I was not tempted to buy the recently advertised all crispy tunnel looking brownie pan.
It’s okay for people to have a preference when you are passing a platter of turkey because dark meat and white meat are right there available for the taking. I also support steak houses asking our preference on how done we want our steaks because it is an expensive cut of meat that we are treating ourselves to.
My preference for a medium steak probably came from my dad slaving over a charcoal grill and finally giving up, plating it, telling us that is how it was supposed to look, and not asking us to cut into it in case we wanted it cooked a little more.
The rumors of people out there who like their steak moo’ing and some who like it charred are surely true. While I personally prefer a medium warm center, I have seen these mavericks in restaurants, sending back their steaks, like Goldilocks rejecting one chair or bed or porridge after another until one is just right.
As I age, some of the choices we are offered in the name of honoring preferences kind of wear me out. Case in point, every once in a while the hubs and I pretend we are young and hit up the local site of a nationwide breakfast chain.
We always do this on a day we know we can go home and nap off our food coma afterward; and by the way, I prefer the couch with a quilt for a quick nap, and an actual bed with a cotton blanket for anything much over an hour.
We get our coffee from the gum snapping waitress, and we each order the house special, which will be likely be delivered on a variety of not so clean looking plates, despite our preference for spotless plates and utensils.
Last time we went, I felt a little like I did when Mr. Hile would randomly call on me in Geometry class. “Quadrilateral? “ I would guess, and he would just shake his head, while I silently made plans to go home with Carla to copy her homework again.
Back to the greasy spoon. Did I want my hash browns crispy or soft? Bacon, sausage patty, sausage links, or ham? Grits or toast? Eggs over-easy, hard, or scrambled? Waffle or toast? Toast you say? Sourdough, wheat, or white? Real butter or margarine? I was so scared to make a mistake, to one of the questions I just meekly answered, “Yes.”
The Flo wannabe stared at me, uncomprehending, then finally looked over at my husband and said, “Do YOU know what she wants?” Luckily, he does, and if it wasn’t what I wanted when it arrives, he will just give me his breakfast and suck it up. Now there’s a guy that was raised not to have a preference, someone to truly love. I guess I should be grateful he preferred me over his other dates.
When we married, I knew he was darn near perfect, because he truly didn’t have any discernable preferences at all. He let me choose the side of the bed, which cabinets the plates and glasses went into, even our china pattern. I got to park my car on the right because it was easier to back out of the garage on that side.
Then came the day when he unpacked groceries to put them away. How could I have missed this crucial preference of his? Apparently he preferred jamming the cans onto the shelves all willy nilly and unreadable without a lot of effort or any organizational strategy at all.
Who doesn’t put soups together? Why were the beans all divided by short condensed milk cans? He has since changed his preference for can arrangement, likely due to my excellent tutelage and example.
At least I don’t have something as pedestrian as a dishwasher loading preference. I am so happy when anybody else mentions they will help with dishes, they can load them any darned way they want to.
But my friend’s preference about how her dishes go into her dishwasher has caused her a bunch of razzing. One night at a party she was hosting, two of us offered to clean up for her. She finally accepted and just told us to put as much as we could into the dishwasher.
She walked into the kitchen when we were about halfway finished with our mission. She froze in her tracks, and we could tell from her look we had somehow gone astray. “Oh…they actually go this way,” she said, and adjusted the plates on the dishwasher’s bottom rack.
I started to reorganize the remainder of them, but my co-loader intervened, wanting to know why the other way wouldn’t work. What ensued was a bunch of half-hearted explanations that finally ended with the hostess friend mumbling about the original manufacturer‘s instructions having diagrams of proper loading. In truth, it was just her preference.
Through somewhat incoherent cursing, my pal began to rearrange, but as soon as the hostess left the room, she quickly flipped them back. I cannot remember her exact words, but I think she said, “The sun will come up tomorrow whichever way they are loaded, “ or maybe it was, “That’s a load of something…”
Sure, there are some preferences that really are important, like high heels or flats, who we spend time with, No. 1 or No. 2 pencils, the type of car we drive, crushed or cubed ice, where we live and work, shaken or stirred, toothpaste flavors.
I bet some people think Coke or Pepsi is an important preference. Those of us who have experienced a perfect soda suicide mix know that it doesn’t really matter at all.
Preferences should also not be confused with highly distinguished favorites like the month of August, dark rinse jeans, and praline-flavored anything, which have risen to the top after years of testing out other options. They are not simply preferences. They are a way of life.
Heading into my landing, let’s circle down the runway back to the airlines, where this whole preference thing started, and where I recently booked some travel for my boss.
I selected the carrier, got to note his preference for the flight’s departure and arrival times, where and how much space he would have to stash his carry on, the amount of leg room, and an aisle, center, or window seat. Is this where the joke about you can pick your friends and pick your seat but you shouldn’t pick your friend’s seat goes?
When my boss came back from travel, I asked about his flight.
“I had great seats both ways, plenty of room to stretch out, and my bag was actually right above me for a change,” he said.
I smiled, but inside I was irritated; not with him, but with myself. My boss may not like his trip so much the next time; when I finished my purchase and went to pay, I forgot to save his darned preferences.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
For those of you expecting a column about deer from reading the title, sorry to disappoint. The closest I could come to writing about deer is the time someone tricked me into eating venison sausage. My intestines and bowels were not as easily fooled. Now moving along, pardon the pun.
The bucks I am referencing are the ones us shoppers get when we frequent some of our favorite retailers, and they attempt to entice us back in with the promise of a future discount.
In my purse right now, I have no less than five awaiting offers. They are colorfully eye-catching and the size of real money. I like the feel of the slick, magazine quality paper, but I also have them on my app, through text, via a network of neighbors reminding me, pop up email alerts, and carrier pigeon.
Part of the trick to unlocking all these fantastic bucks and cash deals is commandeering dates for their use. I haven’t reached the point of planning my work schedule around how I can get to all those places and get those bucks spent before they expire, but I am guilty of clipping them to my weekly to do list (and yes, by confessing to having a weekly to do list, I realize I am aging myself right before your eyes).
When you get them, they are usually three to four weeks out before they can be used. Do you realize what can happen in three weeks? I could have changed purses, vacuumed my car, put away my winter coats! Maybe even slept?!
I have forgotten a good friend’s birthday and two dentist appointments---and almost Easter, but due to a grocery store Peeps display, I was saved that embarrassment-- all in the last three months. No way I am remembering exactly when to start saving.
But retailers have gotten smarter. They know we will forget. Now they remind me the week before, two days out, and at midnight on the day the cash savings start.
Once in the storefront or online store, I now really test my smarts when I try to remember the sets of rules accompanying each discount. Do I apply it on top of other discounts? Do I need that total before I try to get free shipping? If I order from the kiosk and pick up in the store, will it save me even more?
I get very confused, kind of like when I was in school and they talked about the Prime Meridian. All the other kids seemed to understand. Why couldn’t I?
If I had time, I would petition the Retail Federation of America, which I hope is a thing, to regulate these extra cash options. Moms would lobby the decision-makers to come together. “Learn how to use them at one place, and it covers them all,” we would say, in impassioned speeches before the Federation. It would really help those slow on the uptake like yours truly.
Besides the obvious savings, there are some other perks to being a financial wizard. Hardly anyone ever touts one of the benefits of mad money as vocabulary improvement, but I have learned you almost have to speak another language to use them.
Should I stack the savings? Can my cash accrue? How do I multiply my earning? Is today the right day to redeem them? Have I accumulated points?
And there is no way your math skills don’t improve as you apply the 20% department rebate, then calculate the cash reward, prior to applying the app discount to see if you still have enough for free shipping.
Like with any really good thing, there are also some pitfalls to pursuing these paybacks. I inevitably get to the register or to the online checkout only to find I am about three dollars short of what I need to get my dividend. I own an inordinate amount of headbands, tiny mirrors, notepads, and socks, all of which cost about three dollars, items that helped me reach that next level of currency.
In addition to the small things I invested in to reach exorbitant spending levels, I may have also made some advance purchases that didn’t quite work out, just to use those free dollars. Guessing jeans and tennis shoe sizes for a growing child is no game.
I gambled on some 6x’s for my daughter back in the day and also some ‘desirable size’ clothes for me that never got worn. Bargain-seekers have a heyday with clothes that still have tags on them at our annual garage sale, evidence of my bad guessing attempts.
Another time, I started a near Facebook riot when I offered my savings to friends. “I have some free bucks I can’t use, “ I posted, feeling generous.
Within minutes, maybe seconds, three friends had spoken for them. I literally had to toss a coin because two of the time-stamped replies came in the same minute. The one who lost was a good friend. Note the past tense. People are serious about discounts.
An additional pitfall is running the risk of being in line behind someone who is really, really good at this spending and saving game. Take a recent example from Bold Gravy, retailer’s name disguised to protect the innocent. Please read this next part using the voice of a Dateline correspondent like Keith Morrison or Lester Holt to create the intrigue it truly deserves.
“How did Sara get the big discounts? It surprised even the savviest of retailers and many people around her, who knew nothing about this part of Sara’s life. Watch this store surveillance video of her clever, nearly criminal, operation on a recent Saturday morning.”
I was behind said Sara recently, proud of myself for having just the right amount of items tabulated to use my accrued cash. She pulled her carts (plural) to the register and produced her impressive stack of mad money to show the cashier, who blinked nervously and called for backup. This was clearly gonna’ be big.
Sara neatly piled her items onto the counter, seemingly already having sorted them into categories. She watched the tally on the register intently. She nodded occasionally with approval. At one point she tilted her head to the side as if to question the clerk’s entry.
But the near crisis was averted when the register applied the anticipated discount and the next item was entered. At the end, the now heavily sweating clerk scanned and applied the multiple discounts, save one, which the register rejected. The supervisor stepped in and tried again to no avail, and the drama escalated. Sara’s total surfaced.
By now she had drawn a crowd, and we were elbowing each other as we saw that she was just $1.58 short of being able to use her full stack of moola. She triumphantly grabbed a lip gloss from the teaser rack in front of the register, opened it, slicked it across her lips for effect, and tossed it on the counter to be applied to her total. We gasped.
Sara took what looked like a small bow as the clerk announced her total after applying the discounts. She owed $8.37 cents for a pile of clothes that looked like it would easily have dressed a small country.
“Can you break a $50?” she said, smiling. Smart aleck. Nothing like a Sara to make you feel bad about your own saving skills. Store staff escorted her to her car as the rest of us schlepped our own bags.
If surveyed, I suppose most of us cash collectors would tell you that the benefits outweigh the problems of playing this game of big finance. The high of having bragging rights when we have finally reached the pinnacle of profit is a good one.
Oh, these shoes? “Five bucks, “ I say, completely ignoring the other $100 I spent to get my cash, disregarding the five hours of work I spent attempting to use it, and hoping no one else has witnessed Sara’s recent triumph.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
Our fascination with having a space all our own and getting away from it all begins when we are kids, when we still have little reason to even escape the world. And yet at those early ages we are fort fanciers, treehouse seekers, and bolt-hole builders (more on this fascinating term to come…).
One of the best memories I have of my dad was him crawling through a tunnel of boxes with my toddler daughter, completely forgetting the back troubles that had hounded him for years. They rested somewhere deep inside the boxes and requested snack deliveries from us peasants around them.
Just a short few years later my daughter cried when I sold some old ladder back dining room chairs with knobs that were perfect for making a beautiful canopy from a filmy opaque curtain I had tried to discard. “Where will I hook the clothespins?” she said desperately.
She typically built her fortress right in front of the television and declared it off limits to the rest of us. That pieced together palace hosted many a tea party.
I can’t say that I blame her. I myself have been a refuge seeker, way back into childhood summers. New appliances meant joy for mom, and for us it meant the best tunnel and hideout ever, as we toppled the boxes to their sides, filled them with expensive throw pillows and grabbed flashlights to enhance the mood. I draped sheets off the edge of the bunk bed my sis and I shared to enclose myself when it was my week for the bottom bunk.
In our back yard, a chain link fence was the perfect start for our lean-to tents and hideaways. My dad’s old army blanket was the best ground cover, and then all we needed was a quilt, a sheet, even some plastic to create the triangle into which we would burrow ourselves for hours, hiding away from the world, fortified with Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.
I was fascinated with movies where there were hideaways, like Swiss Family Robinson and Blue Lagoon. To this day, one of my favorite movie scenes is from Step Brothers when Brennan and Dale retreat to their treehouse to escape a mean brother.
If you have seen Step Brothers you get it, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s a good laugh at the end of a lousy week. Truthfully, I am still mad at Greg, Peter, and Bobby for not letting their Brady Bunch sisters share the club house. I hold grudges.
By the time I was a pre-teen, you would think the hideaway fascination would have stopped, but not for me. Across the road from my grandparents’ farm lived Natalie, a friend we only got to see on our twice or three-time yearly visits. She and Sally were our best buddies away from home, and while they might have enjoyed visiting us in the city, we thought nothing was better than a trip to the farm.
Natalie’s four wheeler took us down dirt roads on the bottom land, and one day I noticed a house off in the distance, a bit dilapidated but intriguing. A family that worked for Natalie’s dad on their farm had once lived there.
We headed over to it, and opened the door, despite the fact that looking back, just like I am 110% certain that leggings are not my best look, I am also 110% certain we were not supposed to have been in it.
Some pretty dusty and ragged furniture and rugs were still in place. My vivid imagination had us all wearing head scarves, sweeping, mopping, and dusting until it was spic and span, and then spending the night there.
A racoon or some animal that had taken up residence ran from a closet we pulled open, scared me enough to scream, and quickly snapped me out of my daytime reverie. But for a blissful moment, I thought we had found our bolt-hole (still promising more on this later…is the anticipation building?).
It is possible that desiring a hideaway is a family trait. My mom recalls wishing her father would build her a playhouse when she was a girl, but alas, the months to relax are few and far between for the farmer, and he never got it done.
He chose instead to build beautiful walnut clocks, which have been a much more transportable and lovely memory of his carpentry skills than a roughed out playhouse would have been. But when I talked about a little hideaway for my daughter, Mom was just as excited at the prospect as we were.
My nephew may have inherited a little of the bolt-hole desire (there is that funny word again… I wonder when she will explain it, readers are surely thinking…). My sister has a lovely back yard, filled with all things blooming and green. When we visited one day, they had added a garden shed.
Sis is happy with her hands in the dirt, and I think she imagined the shed filled with shelves of pots and trowels and other garden necessities (I am out of descriptive words here because gardening gives me metaphorical and physical hives…). But my nephew had other ideas.
The next time we saw the shed, it had a bunk bed built in to the side, and he had officially claimed it. At first, it was furnished with a leaking bean bag and an old rug. The following time, they had gotten it wired for electricity, and he had plugged in an old lamp, quite the ambience.
What followed were some serious decorating gaffes, like a Kansas Jayhawk banner (he is adorable but has terrible taste in sports teams), and some LED lights tacked around the ceiling to wall joist.
He and his buddies had countless overnights there, their suburban camping experience, escaping their tyrant parents, and no doubt eating junk food until they fell asleep, LED lights blazing.
My poor husband appeared to have outgrown the need for a bolt-hole (see now, you are just used to seeing this crazy word…) much earlier than the rest of us. When I asked him to construct a three poled tee-pee looking contraption for our daughter for the yard one summer, he thought I had lost my mind.
“She has her whole room to herself,” he said. When I tried to explain that it needed to be a little smaller and cozy, her offered her closet. Not the same, I protested, and after I purchased the lumber and brought it home, pretending I would just build it myself, he caved.
When he climbed inside the finished tee-pee with her, his feet sticking out, my heart melted. When summer ended, we couldn’t part with the tee-pee just yet and brought it inside. She was at a friend’s for an overnight once, and I came home to find he and the dog sound asleep in the tee-pee.
I made enough noise to allow him to pretend to be awake, and he claimed he was looking for a flashlight they had left in there, but I still believe he was stepping back in time to his fort building days for just a moment.
Maybe right when some of us adults were ready to let go of the whole hideaway thing, She Sheds became the rage. Moms all over the globe were claiming a space in their back yard and decorating that space in outrageous ways, lighting up Pinterest and home improvement magazine covers. Sheryl’s She Shed was even the subject of a funny insurance commercial.
If you are driving behind me as I pass a lot where they are selling tiny homes and sheds, please move on by. I will be rubbernecking until I cause a wreck.
I am busy visualizing what shrubs or perennials I will have my sister plant around my new She Shed. But big girl dreams die, too.
My homeowner’s association prohibits me from having a fine looking She Shed. But the one in my mind has a big window that looks out over the acreage we don’t own, and my easel, where I use acrylic and other mediums to paint, never has to be folded and put away.
In another corner, I have a cozy day bed for when I tire of my artistic pursuits and take a nap, from which no one wakes me and asks me if we have any pretzels or cheese or milk (wouldn’t you know where to look for milk, for Pete’s sake?) or where I put their one good pair of black athletic shorts.
When I was watching the adorable series Grace and Frankie, even Frankie, who lives in a beautiful beach home that is another of my dreams had her own bolt-hole, which I suppose it is finally time to describe.
The English coined the word bolt-hole, and used lovely Englishy sounding words like nook, and harborage and sanctuary and refuge and lair to describe it. I first read about a bolt-hole in a flowery gardening magazine that my sis probably subscribed me to, hoping to convert me.
I was intrigued by the title, and then more intrigued by the author’s words. She actually purchased a home with a little secret passageway about which her husband knew nothing.
As they renovated and refurbished their country estate, she saved scraps of wood and building materials to shore up her bolt-hole. She worked on it when the kids were at school and her hubby at work. She presented it to them with great fanfare one rainy afternoon and announced she was spending some time ensconced there while they all stayed away.
It was the best piece of non-fiction I had ever read, though not enough to keep me subscribed to the magazine. I was teaching English at the time I saw the article, and I shared it with my students as a writing prompt.
After we got past the muffled giggles when I discovered that bolt-hole sounded a lot like butthole to them, we talked about personal space. What would your retreat look like? Why do you need one? I received some of the best writing I had read from them, all of us just wanting our own space.
I think as a writer, I will likely need a bolt-hole to escape with my thoughts. Stay tuned for the reveal, if I ever emerge from it.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I have been laughing lately at the memes about the lies we tell ourselves. One showed a book titled, “My House is Not That Dirty and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” Funny, not funny in my case.
Some of the lies I have told myself have to do with food and eating habits, two of my very favorite topics. A recent fib is, “If I buy this huge water jug with the clever hourly markings and sayings on the side, I will drink all the water I am supposed to in a day.” Not only was it a lie, but now my bladder is talking about leaving home to find different work.
The one day I drank all the water I was supposed to, a work meeting ran a little long, and I was due at school to pick up one impatient 15 year old. I dashed for the car without first considering a visit to the bathroom. Statement of fact: 1-70 during rush hour is no place to desperately need to pee.
I saw a recipe this week that is for sure a lie people are telling themselves: you can take really ripe banana peels, coat them in myriad spices, and fry them to taste like bacon.
Besides the original fallacy that anything would ever rival bacon’s sumptuous flavor, there are few ripe bananas around. I think most folks got used to being forced to eat all the bananas before they became overripe, so they did not have to eat one single more bite of mom’s Covid-19 Homestead Banana Bread.
Three additional favorite dieter’s lies are 1. Fish tastes good (which just requires incredible gullibility to believe), 2. Anything fried in an air fryer is as good as pan fried (which I saw on a commercial I was watching while wiping REAL fried chicken grease from my chin), and 3. No one can tell the difference in skim and 2% milk (except that one looks like murky water and has absolutely no taste).
Still others of my tall tales have to do with my talent and abilities. Lie number one is on display every day in my house, as I apparently once told myself I could mix patterns when decorating. I boldly tossed a striped pillow next to a floral one on my plaid chair. The result is sort of a Coat of Many Colors feel, and while one of my favorite Dolly songs, the mix I have created is not a good look in suburbia.
I have also deceived myself about my ability to bring consensus to family discussions and decision-making. We have resorted to drawing straws or playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide even small things like dinner menus far more often than I care to admit.
I have tried everything from having a list of meals to select from, to printing out my Pinterest recipe board, to suggesting only meals whose ingredients can be purchased using that week’s coupons.
“One of you JUST CHOOSE!” I scream when no one wants to decide anything, and my lie about being a consensus builder is exposed. Decisions about college ought to be a lot of fun in this consensus-builderless home.
Other half-truths about my ability can be lumped into living too far in the past. I still peddle fiction about myself about being able to bend down without pulling a muscle, shoot three pointers, apply lotion to all parts of my back without my husband’s help, and remember people’s names.
Another genre of lies has to do with health or appearance. They can be very common ones like, “Next spring I will be able to fit into those pants again” or “Tunic tops and elastic waist pants are not only comfortable but also stylish.”
I have lied to myself over and over about getting in shape. And where did that phrase ‘getting in shape’ even come from? People need to learn their shapes a little better in pre-school. I mean round is a shape, right?
Perhaps the biggest appearance lies have to do with makeup and hair. The cosmetic companies promise us there are lipsticks and eyeliners that will not smudge, but plenty of sweaty menopausal women will attest to clown-like lips and racoon eyes.
A lie that ran rampant during Covid-19 quarantines went like this: “I can go another week without touching up my roots.” What remained in my hair after two missed hair appointments was a color that would best be called River Bottom or maybe Greige. Not pretty. When my stylist finally saw me, she wept with joy. Or maybe despair.
Some lies I tell myself have to do with habits: I can watch just one more episode, eat just one more piece, read just one more page, hit the snooze button only once.
I spout the falsehood, “I don’t need to write that down, I will remember it,” with full confidence, even though as I age this isn’t even a near truth. Today I didn’t even know it was today. Sad.
As a serial shopper, I have lied about my habits. “There is no such thing as too many pairs of black pants or shoes,” I mumble, as I reach for a perfectly cropped pair from the rack.
I am a night owl by nature, and an early riser by necessity. In my 30’s, I was not lying when I told myself, “I can stay up late and still wake up early.” Today, that would be like a Christmas miracle.
Once after supervising my daughter’s slumber party, I fell into a Rip Van Winkle snooze from which ringing phones and shouting family members could not rouse me. I am still tired just writing about it.
Oh, I can ring in the New Year, alright. But then I might miss St. Pats’ day because I am still asleep. And no one wants to miss St. Pat’s Day, because…get ready for the lie…green beer on top of corned beef and cabbage is actually good for the digestion and not at all nauseating.
Finally, there are some whoppers I have told myself that are just so outrageous, each is in a category of its own. For instance, “I can live without chocolate” should maybe be rephrased to say, “ I can live without chocolate on my scrambled eggs” or “ I can live without chocolate for 15 minutes,” both of which are far more accurate.
Perhaps one of my least believable lies is about my aversion to some animals. If you ever hear me say, “I like bats because they eat mosquitos, and I like possum because they eat ticks,” move out of the way before my Pinocchio-like nose hits you. Can’t. Won’t.
On some dusky summer nights, bats fly near our street lights. Not sure if it is my connection to Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins that has forever spoiled me on bats, but we had to move the master bedroom to the back side of the house, free of street lights and bats.
The only problem is now our bedroom faces a ravine which narrows into a little trickle of a stream, one that is just the perfect spot for a mama possum and her 637 babies to get a drink and then scamper back across my yard to hang by their tales from a tree I promised to trim earlier, yet another piece of fiction. I would just stay up all night to avoid these nocturnal animals, but we discussed earlier my need for sleep.
I would like to write a book about all these fabrications, as I believe I would have a best seller on my hands with all you perjurers hanging around. I have selected the title, “My Academy Award Speech Will Fit Within the Time Limit and Other Lies I Tell Myself,” soon to be available at counterfeitcopies.com
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.