by Cathy Allie
My baby hasn’t asked for any toys for Christmas again this year, not even any techy thing I could consider a toy, and I am heartbroken. Granted, she is almost 14 and hardly who anyone would consider a baby anymore, but some of the magic of Christmas morning leaves when there is nothing to steal the batteries from the remote for, argue with my husband about assembly directions, and then watch my daughter rush to it on Christmas morning.
I was glad last year when llamas were all the rage because it gave me the opportunity to buy a stuffed one, which she snuggled on Christmas day then placed in a closet bin to bond with the other 6,304 animals residing there.
Oddly, when we try to purge those, she can tell me where or who each one came from, pleading with me to spare the poly-filled friends, and yet cannot remember to grab her lunch from the refrigerator for school about three of five days.
The year before, when she determined she was no longer interested in toys, I was determined to interest her in games again. I put together a basket with all my childhood favorites, like Uno, Candy Land (with funky looking bright colors and not the beautiful pastel candy I remember), Clue, Racko, and some newer game gang members like Left Right Center, Five Crowns, and Apples to Apples. I had visions of laughing teens at my kitchen table, merrily competing with one another, just like are pictured on the Mattel commercials.
My daughter’s response to a basket of fun was--well--best described as underwhelming. She was thankfully polite, and later in the day when I suggested some games, she suggested a movie. Her suggestion won.
When she was 11, I tried craft kits as a sub for toys. She made several string bracelets, a couple of very odd smelling candles, and a beaded keyring, always a popular accessory for a middle school backpack. Later, I found the candle wax tangled up in some of the string when I vacuumed her room, successful clogging the vacuum hose. I guess we are done with crafts.
Art supplies seem to be the one whimsical thing she loves. She feels about them the way I feel about office supplies, so I get it. But the marker pens I bought for her last birthday, with which you can blur lines and create shading the easy way, were the same cost as a root canal. I am currently busy squashing every artistic notion she has, to avoid bankruptcy.
I have done the next best thing in my fervor to purchase toys, moving on to children of friends who are young enough to appreciate them. I have to be careful with my four present rule friends (something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read), so as not to interrupt their careful parenting.
And maybe I won’t find anything for the kids anyway, because I long for toys of old. Where did the plastic vanity dresser complete with fake lipsticks and a styrofoam stool go? We converted the top of the vanity seat into an amusement ride, starting at the top of the stairs and sliding all the way down. We could fly on that old olive green sculpted carpet.
Where are the Baby Secrets of the world? She had a string on her side to pull, and her lips moved as she spoke to you. Granted, some of the phrases now seem a little weird in today’s world. “I want to sleep with you” and “ I know a secret!” may be the two most egregious. Never mind on Baby Secret. Don’t even Google her if you don’t want nightmares.
I also had a Baby Tubsy, with two little teeth on her gum line and a big smile, who came complete with her own terry cloth hooded towel, washcloth, and plastic pink tub. And her arms moved up and down and splashed water everywhere. Great fun!
The one flaw? The batteries to make her arms move were in a compartment on her bottom, which was submerged in water. After about two baths, Baby Tubsy began to leak battery corrosion, which appeared to be very baby-like diarrhea.
What about a Rings and Things plastic toy and ring maker? The concept was very hot metal plates with molds, into which you poured colored plastic from bottles that looked like Elmer’s glue, then you cooked them at a high temperature to firm up the plastic. What could go wrong with that?
The outdoor type? How about Jarts lawn darts? The really sharp, metal tipped missiles were fun to throw underhanded. That’s how we ALWAYS THREW them, I swear… Not into Jarts? What about a set of Clackers, acrylic orbs on a string that you banged together and whipped around your head in patterns, like an Olympic ribbon dancer with much less safe equipment?
Or maybe a Chinese jump rope, one continuous loop of incredibly strong elastic that hurt so bad when it snapped you cried. Made of the same thing as bungie cords, those jump ropes were wicked. I was pretty good at jump rope, and I suppose personal dexterity was not the reason.
Pretty much everybody I knew either had a Go Go the Burro, which was a precursor to the western comeback of bull riding in the bars, where your ride was dictated by your ability to hang on and to bounce (and later in life how many Tequila Sunrises you had consumed), or a Radio Flyer horse, usually named Blaze, attached to crazy bouncing springs.
I saw a version of Blaze at a big box store the other day, and they had carefully covered the huge springs which trapped many a sibling’s finger and either injured it badly or snapped it completely off when one rider wanted on and the other didn’t believe his or her time was up.
One day I will be a grandmother, God willing. I can tell you right now my daughter will be mad at me all the time for the toys I am going to drag into her house to make really cool memories. Four present rule be damned!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
I recently read an entry from a blogger who had done a take-off on the old Then God Made a Farmer, and called it Then God Made a Coach’s Wife. I felt my eyes mist over, and I looked around to see if anyone would witness my tears. It was not that I was so moved by the blogger’s words, but I was so hysterical with laughter, I had reached the point of tears.
The beautiful story tells how the wife smiles with pride at her husband as he coaches, greets family and friends at the game, and prays with him over dinner for the success of his team and for his profession. I suppose I have done each of those things once or twice, but the life of a coach’s wife is a little different from my perspective.
Most people assume that it is like Friday Night Lights, where Coach Taylor and Tammy breeze through the season with reckless abandon to win a championship despite romanticized hardships. Or perhaps people were fans of the Craig T. Nelson sitcom Coach, and assume my husband is just a dumb, fumbling jock. Most seasons don’t really end in championships, and most coaches are actually very smart tacticians. Through it all, coach’s wives build a resume and skill sets no one could ever imagine.
High on the resume would be the ability to bite through one’s tongue to keep from speaking out of turn. I have holes the size of craters in mine, but I also have some failures at holding back. I have successfully NOT expressed my opinion to my husband on offensive strategy and special teams play, to 6th grade parents who tell me about the future Division I athlete who lives with them, and to the uninformed friend who believes there is an off-season.
And for the MOST part, I have not replied to the bleacher critics who throughout more than 23 seasons have called my husband everything except tall. A couple of my comebacks to critics would have earned me a sideline warning for sure. I have also had to tell the truth to the adorable, perky girlfriends of the young coaches, who don’t yet realize this life is not for the faint of heart. “Run! Run like the wind! Get out while you can!” I whisper in their naïve ears, as they don jerseys and wave pompons despite the perils that await them.
Also high on the resume would be the ability to pack a car for everything from 95 degree game starts to freezing weather. Once when my husband’s team was deep in the playoffs, there were actually cattle warnings, which to those of us not from rural areas means your cows could die if you leave them out. I can visualize their hooves frozen to the ground as I write, a piece of icy grass cud breaking off one of their molars. But I watched that game from start to finish because that is what coach’s wives do.
I have waterproof clothing, blankets in school colors, blankets with thermal linings, seat liners, cleaning wipes, waterproof boots, extra stocking caps and hand warmers. Likewise, I have cooling towels and fans that attach to cell phones. I have an assortment of seats ranging from cushioned to pop up to canvas chairs, as you just never know what you will need. My favorite football accessory is an umbrella hat. Yep, a hat with an attached umbrella, in my current team’s colors.
On my resume you will also find the ability to double and even triple recipes and use a crock pot to make enough food to feed coaches and their families most weeks following the game. This means my house has to be clean on Fridays, after a full week of everybody dropping clothes and bags on every available surface. Whose house is clean on Friday? It takes away all the joy of making everybody hustle around on Saturday mornings to clean up, like my mom did back in the day.
I never knew my sharp elbows would come in handy, but they are now on my resume, as I have used them in the following manner during football season: to elbow my way into a crowd rushing for seats at the state championship when my daughter was in a stroller, to push my way forward at the meat counter to grab enough pork tenderloin to feed 25, and sadly, to keep my husband awake at church on Sundays, because frankly we love Jesus, but the season is a tiring grind.
There are some perks to being a coach’s wife for sure. You never have to worry about whether there will be enough space on your DVR to record any shows you want to watch because A.) it is already full of games he is recording, and B.) you are home alone enough to be able to watch whatever you want whenever you want. Another perk is exercise. Most weeks I climb the full height of the bleachers to find the one space where when the wind is just right, I cannot hear all the bleacher coaches. My calves are fabulous!
Being a coach’s wife has developed my sense of humor, as well. I crack up at the shirts that say things like Dibs on the Coach, It’s a Coach’s Wife Thing, Mrs. Coach, or Bleachers and Bling, I Wear the Coach’s Ring. No coach’s wife I know really wants to have her identity known. We are just walking around hoping not to be recognized by the smell of testosterone that clings to us from kissing and hugging the coach goodbye that morning so he can head off to spend another 8 hours with somebody else’s kid (this is where a sarcasm font would be so handy).
On a somewhat related note, I have had a recurring dream lately where I am opening my front door, and I let my husband in and introduce him to our daughter. “This is your father,” I say in a Darth Vaderish voice, because he has hardly seen her since Tuesday. She finds it very funny, and he does not.
I also find humor in those moments like during the NCAA basketball tournaments when the camera zooms in on the coach’s wife during a particularly close game or an overtime contest. I just wish they would show the thought bubble above the wife’s head, because I already know her internal dialogue. “Are you serious? Regulation time is not enough time to get this done?” or “I can shoot better than that kid!” or “I cannot remember if hubby’s contract has bonuses for the next round, but it isn’t looking good”.
One of the best laughs I have had about coaching was when once upon a time, a now defunct local sports station did a feature on a coach’s wife, and how it felt to be in the midst of all that excitement. Her husband was having a record-setting, winning season and was receiving accolade after accolade.
She was so cute, and all her kids were dressed in appropriate spirit wear. The interviewer asked her if it felt good to be reaching such a lofty goal. She didn’t miss a beat, surprising the interviewer when she said, “Well, that’s my husband’s goal. I am just trying to get the kids on regular schedule for bed time and get laundry done.” Hilarious! And that was during a winning season. If you want a juicy interview, come see me some time when we are in the throes of a 3-6 campaign.
My second best laugh happened just a week or so ago, when a friend forwarded me a funny quote from Coach Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and an actor (go figure). He said, “Hollywood made a movie of my life. In one scene, they had me proposing to my wife on the football field. I would never misuse a football field that way.”
My husband isn’t quite as much of a fanatic as Crazy Legs, but when he complained about our annual family picture being taken in beautiful wooded settings or against an urban feel brick wall, I let him choose our next photo shoot location. Once I convinced the photographer that we were actually taking our photos at the football field, she did a great job of capturing the 50-yard line and goal posts for the perfect contrast to our smiling faces.
I have some fond memories from my years as a coach’s wife. When my husband used to have to maintain an old grass field, and sometimes place the white yard lines on it himself, he would strap our daughter’s car seat to the field liner with elastic ties, and the two of them would set off to make the marks. They were a funny and heartwarming, if not janky, sight.
Many of my husband’s former players are now coaches, and I love seeing them in action. Tons of fall Saturday afternoons have been spent road-tripping to see a college game of a former player, and for many years I kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings which we flip through once in a while. My husband’s glass-half-full-optimist attitude has served him well and made me proud.
At a football field far away, a wife is sitting in the bleachers, smiling down at a coach and waiting patiently for him to look up at her and wave. Dramatic, movie score quality music is playing in the background, when he turns and sees her, and she sheds a tear which she quickly wipes away with a rally towel from the Booster Club. The musical score hits a discordant note as we realize it’s an assistant coach who is waving, and her husband is already in the locker room. Better luck next season, Tammy!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
I had really good parents growing up, and looking back, they probably didn't mean to corrupt me; but when they supplied me with rich literature at a young age, they had no idea the impact it would have later, when I turned into a bibliophile. Truly, I am a lover and collector of books, and in full disclosure, pretty much anything I can read.
My earliest memory of reading was a board book of Eugene Field poems and stories. It featured Wynken, Blynken and Nod and The Sugar Plum Tree. It was beautifully illustrated with soft pastels, the way books of old were.
Nestled in the arms of my parents or my grandparents, after only a couple of reads, I already knew what would appear on the next page. Their fingers ran underneath the words as they read them, and soon, those words were ones I knew how to read on my own.
We got books for birthdays, Christmases, even tucked into an Easter basket or two. Golden Books graced our shelves in numbers too high to count. That collection alone would be worth a mortgage payment or two in today’s market.
Since I already knew how to read when I went to school, I was surprised when many peers did not. When we started into reading Dick and Jane books, my teacher sounded out the words and turned the pages ever so slowly, moving side to side for all of us seated on the floor to see.
The cadence of the words and the lack of text bored me. Who didn’t know the word cat for crying out loud? I wanted to hold the book and move at my own pace.
That’s probably why I began a short-lived criminal career when I popped up and snatched the book from the teacher and hid it. Luckily, that teacher was my mom (a perk of living in small town) and she found the book before the authorities could intervene.
At home and with family, I read street signs, and travel brochures, and cereal boxes, and instruction manuals for my toys. I read to my baby sister, one of the few times I can remember purposefully being nice to her.
Then came elementary school, and the SRA reading modules, with their colorful tabs. We took a test to see the level at which we would start reading, and then the teacher would give us a story on card stock labeled with a particular color. We answered comprehension questions to see if we could move through all the stories in that color, and then move to the next.
I loved the 64 Crayola box feel to the tabs, which once I breezed past the primary colors of red, blue and yellow, had names like lime, aqua, carnation, olive, lilac, violet, mahogany, plum, silver, bronze, and gold.
I was excited to read about Tarzan, heroes in the Navy, astronauts, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, the Presidents, life on the farm, flying an airplane, bank heists, madcap playground antics, and mothers who baked pies and set them on window ledges to cool, only to have them stolen by neighborhood thugs.
Selfishly, I wasn’t focused on my reading purely to improve my comprehension; I was driven to compete with other good readers in those years. When my teacher sent me to the box to pull a new color, I looked around to see who else had it. In my case, it was generally no one…except that old Jennifer Tucker.
I read at lightning pace and had good comprehension. Jennifer, in her snow white cardigan sweater and perfect auburn curls, did too. I finally got the jump on her one day when she had an upset stomach. The chocolate milk from lunch didn’t sit well with her, and she made elementary fame by throwing up in the hall. Her cardigan wasn’t so white anymore.
I marched right back into the classroom and snagged the tangerine SRA card she was getting ready to start on, and I never looked back. I heard she became an accountant, probably embarrassed to this day that I bested her. But the SRA stories were chosen for me, and it was when I had full reign of the library and could choose what to read, that I knew I had a problem.
I dutifully signed my name on the checkout cards, which the librarian, using her handheld inked date stamp, marked with a due date. If I was at school, I could hardly wait to read until I got home. I ignored math- and sometimes social studies—and let’s face it, science, just to spend time reading.
If I was with my parents, I started reading on the way home in our faux-wood paneled station wagon. At first it was Ramona Quimby, then quickly Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and Little House on the Prairie. I would become 'bookklempt' when I reached the end of a series.
Those elementary years were also magical for me, as we lived in a neighborhood where they ran Book Mobiles, and library staff drove the books to us. Those of you who know my age are thinking how cool it must have been to have books delivered by horse-drawn carriage or a Model-T, but alas, it actually happened on beautiful, air-conditioned modern buses, somewhat like today's fancy RV's.
We marked the next Book Mobile dates on our calendars, and the morning of the visit, we raced on our banana-seated Huffy bikes to be one of the first readers to arrive so we had the best selection. The fact that parents didn't have to accompany us and oversee our book choices was an added bonus.
The only problem was that I read fast, so a bi-weekly Book Mobile visit wasn’t going to work for me. In a move I can only call crazy, desperate, and disobedient, I obtained information about a Book Mobile visit in an adjacent neighborhood, and I rode my bike across the four lane road separating the neighborhoods to meet it. Mom, if you are reading this, I am sorry. I promise it’s the worst thing I did as a kid.
During my junior high years, I took to reading books my parents had read in previous years and left sitting on the shelves, so I spent some time with paperbacks that may or may not have been an approved SRA reading level for me. I can remember reading Airport, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (for which I somehow also ended up owning a silver necklace), The Thorn Birds, Watership Down, and The Deep.
One summer I discovered Agatha Christie, the Queen of Mystery and hung out on hot July days by the pool with baby oil and iodined legs, and Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple as companions. Those novels exposed Nancy Drew for the amateur detective she was.
I suppose the only reading I did for a few years post junior high was high school and college textbooks and novels. To Kill a Mockingbird impacted me so profoundly I can still quote passages from it today. Actually being excited to own my own hard back copy of New Hopes for a Changing World by Bertrand Russell, suggested by a favorite teacher, solidified my nerdy bibliophile status.
Well-lit bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Borders, and B.Dalton beckoned us to malls, during my college years, but the only outside class reading I did was on the parking tickets I seemed to get almost every week at the dorm, makeup and fashion magazines, and my sorority's by-laws.
In class, Professor Herman Wilson beckoned me to world literature, and I dredged through it. It was likely the only time I experienced 'readgret' at having spent so much time reading something I didn't enjoy.
When I became an English teacher, I re-read the classics so I could teach them, surely creating lessons so much better than the ones my teachers had shared with me. As a single person, perhaps my commitment phobia led me through a period where I only read short stories and magazines, as a novel would perhaps have attempted to tie me down.
By the time I was a graduate student and working full time, I read for escape, needing a release from statistics class and course work, so there was no fiction book that was too silly or too trashy for me. And then I started to build my own library. And when I say build, I really mean amass.
I bought books at an alarming rate. Before online sales heightened, I snatched books off shelves like a stockpiler before a natural disaster. I rabbit trailed down religious roads, I became a groupie for multiple authors, I owned a How-To book on everything from plumbing issues to estate planning. I attended book signings, participated in chat groups, even had a chance to review a book for a friend turned author.
When my husband and I married, I imagined blending our lives and of course, our books. But he had so many. So, so many! And they covered history and sports and war and conspiracy theories. They had cracked spines and funny man-like smells about them.
I became 'shelfrighteous' and I morphed into a home-librarian, carefully separating such nonsense away from my books. In a cleaning fit, I once grabbed a short stack I had never seen him touch, must less look at, and I donated them.
Mind you, these books belonged to the man who never noticed when I replaced an entire room of furniture when he was gone for the weekend, but who miraculously, through some spidey-sense, knew I had purloined his page turners, vamoosed with his volumes, toted away his texts, bagged his bestsellers, filched his fiction. You get the idea. We are still married. Barely.
Now, as a semi-retired person, I have returned to the library-- the one you can actually walk in, and not online models for reading on a device. Paperbacks I check out just might have a chlorine splash or two on them from afternoons at the pool, because I still like the feel of the book in my hand; I just don't want to find a place for it and have to dust it next week-- or a month-- from now.
As I 'Marie Kondo' my house and possessions in a decluttering effort (I do still have HER book), I am parting ways with some of my collection, and it really is like saying goodbye to friends. Occasionally I pause long enough to convince myself that a book can stay. I think about a friend who might like it, or I even think about my daughter enjoying it someday.
Most moments I question my parenting skills, and those of you who are regular readers of this column no doubt question them as well. But my daughter Harper just recently asked for more shelves in her room on which to keep her books. She is a full-blown bibliophile as well, so I must be doing something right.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
My daughter Harper is a dancer, and by default, I am a dance mom. When Harper was about 2 ½, a friend encouraged me to enroll her in dance classes. In her best Montessori pre-school teacher voice, Donna explained that dance helped with left and right brain balance and confidence. I signed on the dotted line so quickly I almost lost my own balance.
At first, it was fun to buy the frilly tutus, to shove Harper’s chubby little legs into blush pink tights, to sweep her wispy hair into a bun for class. And oh, how I laughed at her determined little face as she watched her teacher in the big studio mirror.
In her first recital, Harper wore a green leotard and a bright yellow sunflower headband. She and her classmates popped up out of giant, plastic flower pots as the “farmer” watered them.
Awwww, the audience said, when their little heads first popped up. The toddlers climbed out of the pots, did a few steps around the “field,” then headed back to the pots. That is when it all went wrong. Another dancer climbed into Harper’s pot. And in true toddler form, she didn’t handle it well.
She stood through the next section of the dance with her hands on her hips, giving the other dancer the stink eye. When the dancemate headed back to the pots, Harper gave her a big ole forearm shivver and knocked her out of the way, so she could land safely in her own pot. The audience roared with laughter, and thankfully there were no arrests for assault. I am assuming by now that the statute of limitations on her offense has expired.
My husband’s concerns that we seemed to be paying a lot of money for her to dance primarily in a circle like a peg leg pirate, and her obvious lack of rhythm, gave way to a little bit of a skill set, and the years in dance began to add up. Future recitals and then competitions took a slightly upward turn, and my dance mom fate was sealed. Currently, most of my dance mom life can be summarized by the slogans on the t-shirts I wore for the week at our most recent national competition.
Day One’s Competition t-shirt said, “Dance Mom Squad.” No, we are not like the Dance Moms of TV fame with designer purses or shoes, because we spent all our money on dance, and our sweat pants sometimes have holes.
Most of the moms on my squad are much better at it than I am. They have color coordinated sewing kits, healthy, balanced lunches and snacks in insulated coolers for their dancer, and incredibly positive attitudes. Some of them are former dancers, born to the dance mom life, who speak Dancinese, a complicated language containing words like tuck, lunge, prep, turnout, combination, leap, and bound.
They memorize the order of dances, organize the costume on their hanging racks, and carry Command hooks with them for backstage quick changes. One mom has something that looks like a coal miner’s lamp, which she straps around her forehead and which allows her to see in the dark backstage. She is nothing short of a dance ninja, and I’m jealous..
I, on the other hand, have in a Ziploc sandwich bag with holes, a variety of pins, paper clips, a stapler (not kidding), double sided carpet tape, and a glue gun, all of which came from my kitchen junk drawer, to hold Harper’s costumes together. So far she has not had any Janet Jackson Super Bowl mishaps, so I will stick with my “janky” tools.
For sustenance, I usually grab a can of Diet Dr. Pepper that I let Harper share for a caffeine boost, and I don’t worry about a breakfast or lunch with fiber, as I figure she’s ingested enough loose costume sequins that she will stay regular throughout the day. On a scale of 1 to 10 for dance moms, I am a solid five with extensive room for improvement.
Day Two’s Competition t-shirt said, “I Can’t—My Daughter has Dance.” That summarizes our lives for about the last three years. I have missed happy hours, baby showers, planting flowers, and sometimes a personal shower, all due to dance. Would I like to go for a Girls’ Weekend? Yes, can you schedule that for about five years from now?
I have to admit that we have used dance as an excuse from time to time as well. I have been conveniently unable to provide garage sale help, make an airport run for a friend, and work as a debate tournament judge. I have yet to cross the line of using dance as an excuse to miss a funeral or wedding. I do have a small remnant of a conscience left.
Day Three’s Competition t-shirt said, “I got 99 bobby pins, and I Can’t Find One #dancemom.” Dance hair and makeup is a science. I can name by brand and identify by shade 7 of 10 red lipsticks with just a glance. I stock up on hair products, and I even ordered a package of grandma-like hair nets to corral Harper’s hair into a smooth bun. CVS greets me like they used to greet Norm on Cheers. I help them make monthly sales goals with purchases of packs of bobby pins, only to be one short when I need it.
I have watched moms use accessories that look like kitchen scrubbers, old tube socks, and something I am pretty sure came from an auto parts store to create a hairdo to last all day. They ambidextrously apply mascara, carry on full blown conversations with bobby pins in their mouths, and stab relentlessly at the backs of their daughter’s heads to create a secure hold. Spritz, squirt, pin, swish, squirt, spritz.
Harper’s long, thick, auburn hair most closely resembles a full grown draft horse’s mane, and after one particularly brutal session wrestling with her hair, I knew she would run away from home if I ever tried again. Luckily a friend stepped up, and now I go get coffee for Heidi while she performs her dance bun miracles. Shampooing and make up removal following a performance are best done at a car wash.
Just so you know I am not completely feeble, I have actually earned a rep for being able to apply eye-liner that has an almost Asian flare to it. Not exactly something I can add to my resume, but handy at competition time.
Day Four’s Competition t-shirt said, “Never Dreamed I’d be a Cool Dance Mom, But Here I am Rockin’ It,” and some days I actually think I am. Just this week I correctly referred to a ballet position and did not endure Harper’s wrath when I mispronounced some French word. I remembered to wash her favorite of the five identical black leotards so she could wear it to pointe class, and I got a parking spot closest to the studio door, so when she dragged her exhausted body out, I was right there.
I no longer gag at the smell of the costumes after the second or third wear, and I have learned to check Harper’s bag for leftover snacks which grow science-experiment-like mold. I have made friends with Danette, the sweet lady at the dance supply store, who calls to tell me when tights are going on clearance so I don’t have to take money from my 401K to buy them, and who talks about how to treat a dancer’s foot callouses with me.
Danette also shared with me an old dry-cleaner’s trick of diluted vodka sprayed into costume underarms to keep away odors. I plan to try that with PART of the next 5th of vodka I purchase. Any dance mom who says she doesn’t drink is a liar.
And I have adjusted our lifestyle to fit dance storage needs. Despite modern home trends, I have maintained a guest bedroom, not because we have guests (we can’t, we are always at dance), but to serve as a costume storage-sewing-staging area. As if women don’t have enough trouble with our overstuffed closets--where we keep clothes that are our current size, one size before our current size, the size we were when we met our spouse, along with a couple of outfits for the dream date or party or cruise we have planned from browsing Pinterest--now we have to find a place for costumes to live. Problem solved if we never make any out of town friends who need to spend the night.
Day Five’s Competition t-shirt said, “Not the Dancer, Just the Financier,” and Lord knows, we have dropped some bank on this dance stuff. Among the things I did not own a few years back are a special rolling duffle bag with a pop up clothing rack, a battery operated fan for hot days in the dressing room, a squatter’s camping stool, special felted costume hangers, a hand held steamer, and sample sizes of everything from baby powder to Superglue.
For the cost of a typical community college education or a compact car, we have kept Harper in dance shoes. Seems silly to just have tan jazz shoes when you could also have black ones. Clearly tap shoes with cork inserts are superior, as the tone they make on the floor is so much sharper (read annoyingly loud).
Pointe ballet shoes, which as far as I can tell are specially made to smoosh Harper’s toes together and break off her toenails for a feral child look, help create beautiful dancer lines and a classic ballerina style. They cost so much that I literally thought the clerk had added an extra zero when we bought her first pair.
I suppose when Harper is done with dance, I will miss the constant movement of her feet under the dinner table as she memorizes steps during choreography season, her unabashed twirls and combinations down enticingly open grocery store aisles, the smile on her face when she sticks a turn, and late night bobby pin runs. I’ll let you know.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
If I didn't know any better, I'd say I heard them calling my name, like a Siren song, wooing the ancient Greek sailor. I stood quietly, trying to focus, willing myself not to move toward them.
They were beautiful, unlike anything I had ever seen before, and when I finally reached out to grab them, the initial contact was electrifying. Before you label me as a weirdo, let me assure you this has happened to many a woman, some right there that day in the same place as me. And while we may be just a little ashamed or embarrassed, we cannot help ourselves. We are shoe addicts.
Let me say up front, if you have never bought a pair of shoes and then built an outfit around them, please quit reading right now and skip to the weekly police report, ’cause Sister, you won’t be able to relate. However, if you don’t count flip flops or boots when your husband asks how many pairs of shoes you have because they are not really shoes, then stay with me! We are kindred spirits.
Truthfully, I don’t have an accurate count of my shoes, but I can tell you it is too many. When I go to line up the browns, and I have four different shades, I probably have too many. When I can create actual categories besides just flats, heels, and tennis shoes, I probably have too many. When I am looking for a pair of shoes to wear, and I pull out a pair I don’t even remember buying, I for sure have too many.
I scoffed at an article that popped up online the other day. Ladies should only own 12 pair of shoes, it said, one pair each of: classic white tennis shoes, ballet flats, summer espadrilles, classic black loafers, neutral evening heels, over the knee boots, something whimsical or with personality, flat sandals, office appropriate pumps, a pop of color, walkable heels, and classic black ankle booties.
Clearly, the disillusioned blogger forgot multiple other categories: fuzzy boots with which you may or may not wear socks, ones that match something your daughter owns, just in a bigger size, something with such a high heel that you only wear them when sitting down, and rain boots in multiple colors, to name a few.
The good news about being a shoe addict is that I know I am not alone. I once helped move a friend whose shoes numbered over 100 pair. And when we got her all settled, we celebrated by visiting – you guessed it—a shoe store.
I imagine meetings for those of us with a problem might start like this: “Hi, I’m Cathy and I am an addict.” “Hi, Cathy,” my fellow shoe junkies would say.
“This week I found myself in a new city on a business trip, and I just happened to find a shoe boutique,” I blurt out. My friends comfort me and applaud me for going home with just one pair.
I also know it is a problem because there are shoe memes, like the one that says “I make shoe contact before I make eye contact” and “There’s no shame in my shoe game.”
And there are too many famous idioms and quotes about shoes, also. ‘If the shoe fits, wear it (or in my case buy it)’, ‘Mama needs a new pair of shoes’, ‘Give a girl a new pair of shoes and she can conquer the world’, or ‘Change your shoes, change your life’. And maybe my favorite, ‘Life isn’t a fairy tale. If you lose a shoe at a party, you probably have another pair almost exactly like it in your closet’.
I have drawn the line at shoes that cause my feet too much pain. I have seen the pictures of supermodels’ gnarled feet, caused by wearing sky high heels 2 sizes too small for their runway walks. I have, however, purchased a pair of shoes with the promise to myself that they will stretch a little bit, and a couple of Bandaids later realized that maybe they won’t.
I have had one serious shoe injury, that happened when I was in high school, but I still remember it well, and have a little scar to help me. I wish this was the story of a beautiful shoe I wore to prom, and I was running to make curfew after one last kiss with my date when the heel snapped off. But the real story is not nearly as cool.
Adidas tennis shoes, made of real leather, with stitched on stripes were the rage when I was about 14. I just had to have a pair, and I finally talked my mother into letting me add some babysitting money to her contribution to have enough money to get them.
A friend and I bought matching Adidas, with dark red, almost maroon stripes, ones that closely matched our school colors. We were headed to band camp with our new kicks, sure to impress some fresh-faced sophomore percussionist.
Day one at camp we learned a marching high step, which required us to drag our feet up the inside calf of the opposite leg. The stripes on the Adidas worked nearly as well as a razor, scraping away our flesh with each step.
By about mid-day, I could no longer drag my leg over the open wounds anymore. Neither of us brought another pair of shoes to camp, so we marched in sock feet on 100 degree pavement. Not even a sophomore percussionist would be impressed by that. The scars on my right leg are hardly noticeable anymore, but the memory is pretty fresh.
Look, shoes are about the only thing in our wardrobe that doesn’t have to be sensible, that lets us rebel against the old Buster Brown oxford school shoes, and truthfully, when your clothing size is not as small as you would like it to be, shoes still fit.
My theory is this: When life gives you lemons, sell them, and buy shoes.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
At a recent garage sale at my parents’ home, I took an unexpected trip down memory lane. There on a rickety card table from my mom’s bridge playing days, was a stack of records for sale. I ran my hand over the well-worn covers and was instantly transported back to our formal living room in a typical 70’s home.
That living room was pretty standard fare in those days. Normally the first room you saw when you entered a home, it was kept clean for company. There was a separate rec room or den, now called a family or great room which got more use.
The living room was not a place for couch naps, or art projects like loom potholders, or playing Barbies. But our family pictures were taken in the living room, my sis and I in matching dresses and shoes, and if the church minister and his family came by, we sat together there.
The door to door Avon lady was still on the move back then, and when she would stop by, Mom and my sis and I would sit with her in the living room perusing her lipstick samples in adorable, tiny white tubes and sickly sweet perfume bottles. There was no Keurig coffee maker, but she might have shared a cup of Sanka with us, and even sampled a lemon bar or blonde brownie that Mom always seemed to always have on hand.
Visitors and special occasions aside, the main feature of that room was our stereo. Residing among the matching veneer coffee tables that flanked each side of our brocade couch, globed lamps with three click bulbs, and the tufted arm chairs, was the most glorious stereo of the time.
It had built in speakers, sides with hinges that opened to hold the albums, and a center section that lifted to expose the turntable and accessories. That stereo cabinet glistened, a recipient of the Old English or Lemon Pledge polish my mom buffed it with each week.
It was a source of pride and provided us with good entertainment many evenings, particularly on dinner party nights. We had many friends from the neighborhood and the university in those days, and dinner parties were all the rage.
As a kid, I could sense the excitement of the impending dinner. Mom would pour over a cookbook, selecting the menu as early as Wednesday or Thursday, and we would head to A&P for ingredients.
The day of the dinner, there were special, sometimes exotic smells coming from the kitchen. Or maybe my mom pulled out the avocado green fondue pot and began to slice the cheese or the bread which would serve as appetizers. We busily cleaned our room that no guest would ever enter that night, and Dad would do his part by dumping ice from the freezer trays into ice buckets, and then just before the guests arrive, selecting the records.
My parents had fairly eclectic tastes in albums and musicians in the late 60’s and 70’s, and they had the means to have a pretty good record collection as well. If our guitar playing friend Herman and his wife Nancy were coming over, maybe we spun Jose Feliciano or Chet Atkins. If out of town visitors came, maybe we heard the newest release, just purchased at Camelot Records at the mall.
Dad would carefully pull the records from their sleeves, holding them just by the edges and then wipe them down with a very soft, foam like applicator with a cleaning fluid. He would bend down and eyeball the needle and gently place the record on the spindle.
He would stand back from the stereo listening, and then step forward to adjust the bass or the treble as he saw fit. Looking back, I guess the length of the album was the time measure for serving dessert. About midway through the album, my mom would bring out the Baked Alaska or coconut cream pie for us to enjoy.
I listened to everything from classical music from my dad’s 78 collection to James Taylor, The Carpenters, Jerry Reed, The O’Jays, Chicago, Roberta Flack, Streisand, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Seekers.
Under supervision, my sis and I got to spin a few 45’s like Helen Reddy’s Ruby Red Dress, Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You, and J. Frank Wilson’s Last Kiss, but our little records were mostly relegated to a portable turn table in our bedroom, and stored after use in a Caboodle like plastic carrier complete with a carrier handle, just waiting for our next slumber party invitation.
I remember as we prepared for a move to a new house, my dad purchased a Pioneer stereo with multiple components, for the latest in music: the traditional turntable was joined by an FM tuner, a place for 8 tracks and cassettes. I had moved on to Earth Wind and Fire, Peter Frampton, Lou Rawls, The Steve Miller Band, and Leo Sayre by then, a moody teen, listening to albums with friends in our rooms.
The old stereo moved to the den, no longer the center of attention, and then I am not sure where it went during the move. Today, it would be some millennial’s dream; tucked in among thrift store orange naugehyde chairs and mid-century coffee tables, the stereo would again be a showcase piece.
The garage sale rate for the albums was $1.00 a piece, but my memories of that time are much more priceless.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
Back in the day (as my daughter likes to call any time past Tuesday) at the end of CBS’s 60 Minutes, commentator Andy Rooney used to take a few minutes and grouse about whatever had him sideways at the time.
A classic Rooney was, "I don't know anything offhand that mystifies Americans more than the cotton they put in pill bottles. Why do they do it? Are you supposed to put the cotton back in once you've taken a pill out?" That rant still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
Another time he called modern street art work in Washington, D.C. ugly and invasive, saying “It makes about as much sense as the politicians there.” I suppose I think this one still applies.
He picked on speech, pop culture, habits, pretty much everything and everybody except nuns. I used to watch him and think to myself what a crabby old man he was. But as I’ve aged and the world around me swirls, I find myself on occasion in an Andy Rooney state of mind.
First, I hate the way people use their turn signal when they’re driving. According to the way I learned to drive, the signal is an indication that awaits an invitation.
I flip on my signal to indicate I want to come over, and then I sort of wait for the invite, either by speeding up a little to merge in front of someone, or backing off the gas to allow me to fold in behind.
But literally every. single. day. on my I-70 commute, a driver flips on the signal and in one half milli-second enters my lane. Numerous times I have had to slam on my brakes, swerve or begin praying, as I move to avoid the rampant signaler.
The ripple effect with the driver behind me is usually less than pleasant. I am just trying to avoid a wreck, I say, sometimes out loud, creating the illusion that I am talking to myself and am verifiably crazy.
Notice how I said wreck? This is another of my latest pet peeves. I listen to the traffic reporters each morning before my commute, and each day I hear them talk about all the crashes. But what I really think they mean is wrecks. Here is the dichotomy—two vehicles crash into each other and create a wreck.
When they say, “We have lots of crashes on the roads today,” they sound like 7 year-olds describing their Hot Wheels car play.
“See, Mom? I’m gonna’ crash all these cars into this truck,” little Paul screams. Pick the more grown up verb and call them wrecks.
Maybe those folks that wrecked were on the way to the airport where TSA will screen their bags right in front of the waiting room window, so all the world gets a glimpse of their Chewbacca boxers or rumpled slip. Andy would really hate that!
I am guessing he also would not like to share seats with a fellow passenger who believes BOTH arm rests are hers. On my last flight, I had folks on both sides who each claimed both arm rests, leaving me to tuck my arms deep into my sides like an Irish dancer. I was so stiff by the time we landed, I believe I had contracted arthritis on the flight.
In fact, many of my Rooney’isms have to do with personal space and people crossing boundaries. Don’t touch the items I have just put on the conveyor belt at the store, examining them like museum artifacts. They are mine. Get your own.
And while I am at it, don’t stand so close to me in line. No one is joining us in the 3 inches you have left for wiggle room, to cut in front of you in line. I should not be able to feel your warm breath on my neck.
As a former English and journalism teacher, I am a little bit pre-disposed to be irritated with others’ grammar. Truly, when we meet for coffee, I am not silently judging you, but let me cover a few that are high on my list of Andy Rooney-like complaints.
The first is irregardless vs. regardless. There was so much debate over whether irregardless was actually a word, that lexicographers around the world had to go to great lengths to explain it, then they made it an official dictionary entry just to share the explanation, which tells why it is not really a word.
Turns out it is sort of a cross-pollination of two words, irrespective and regardless. It is just basically an emphatic use of regardless, and I am happy to say that even as I type this, my grammar autocorrection system wants it to say regardless instead.
A second big time peeve of mine is the misuse of the phrase, “I couldn’t care less,” which should be used to mean that it is low priority, not bothering me, just a nothing.
But people routinely say, “I could care less,” which literally interpreted means they actually do care, the opposite of what they are saying.
If I am with my husband when I hear this, he will reach out and grab my hand and try to start conversation on another topic so that I won’t ask for the person’s list of things about which they could care less.
Just this week, I heard it in passing. I was waiting to get a hair trim and to get my eyebrows touched up, because unlike Andy Rooney, I am concerned about the crazy toupee looking things above my eyes.
“I just told my daughter I could care less about what she thinks about her curfew,” another customer said. So what ranks lower? Her fast-driving friends? Her dirty hair? Pierced tongue? I nearly bit through mine.
I am also pretty adamant about first-come, first served, which has a d at the end, as well. Billboards, television commercials, print ads all leave off that precious d. So by saying first-come, first-serve, the speaker indicates that those who arrive first will be the ones who serve everyone else, probably not the idiom’s intent.
Before this column goes completely grammar guru, let me just remind gentle readers that we just thaw meat, and not unthaw it; a mute point could never be made aloud because mute means silent, while a moot point is debatable or doubtful; and a strong coffee drink is espresso, pronounced with an "s" in the first syllable, and expresso is not a word, unless it joined its brother irregardless in the latest Webster release.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
One of my favorite old games shows was Let's Make a Deal, where crazily dressed contestants tried to maneuver in Monty Hall's (now Wayne Brady's) world. The prizes were the best, and my most favorite part was when Monty would ask the ladies in the audience if anyone had a certain item in their bag.
Sometimes it was a bottle of aspirin or something many ladies had. But every once in a while, he went for the truly original, like a set of Yellow Pages, a hammer and nails, or a wedding garter. I watched with amazement as ladies would reach deep into their bags and pull out these surprises.
For a long time, my favorite movie was Mary Poppins, complete with her carpet bag that held the wonders of the world. Perhaps these favorites were just foreshadowing for my life as a bag lady, maybe not the one you have seen on city streets with all her worldly possessions tucked into her handled storage; but instead one who has amassed quite a collection of bags through the years.
Maybe it started when I was a teacher, as I shifted from the collegiate backpack to a hard-sided briefcase, which someone thought would provide me with both a professional look and a storage place for all the papers I would be grading.
The briefcase handle encumbered one hand, making it tough to carry my coffee cup (and cups are a full column for another day), so I set it aside for something roomier with handles that slipped over my arm and up on to my shoulder.
Then began the parade of school bags, some canvas, some "pleather", some fashionable, some purely functional, some pretty, some downright homely. They held my after school walking tennis shoes, coaching or game clothes, lunches, and random paperclips, which seemed to multiply at the bottom.
When a new bag caught my eye, I shamelessly abandoned my old ones, randomly tucking them into closets and trunks, sometimes not even emptying them fully of their contents. Once when finally cleaning out a bag, I found an uncashed birthday check from my grandmother, who had since passed away. Pitiful!
Somewhere in the 80's, I am guessing about the same time actress Debra Winger appeared in Urban Cowboy, I latched onto a decidedly Western look myself, I had two beautiful leather hand-tooled bags that coupled with my sky high hair made it appear I was headed back on the oil company plane to meet J.R. for lunch at the Ewing Ranch (just FYI, I would have preferred Bobby).
Then came the passionate purse pursuit of the 90's, when I was making enough money to treat myself to nice purses. A bag to match this, a bag to match that. I must have had quite a night life back in the day, as I owned about 10 evening bags, with varying amounts of sequins and crystals, none of which I can truly remember ever using.
Thankfully for a world now obsessed with sharing old photos, I was never a fanny pack girl.
Fast forward to the baby years, and carrying a diaper bag I convinced myself was both stylish and useful. I enjoyed having an excuse to have a small suitcase with me, and I packed it to the max with more than diapers and ointment, for sure.
When my daughter was old enough to need a backpack of her own, I was forced to transition out of the house sized bag into something reasonable. I began to focus on color and season, purchasing a sky blue Easter bag, a purple Advent bag, and a tawny orange bag to welcome fall.
I supported my beloved MU Tigers with a gold and black striped bag that stopped traffic more than once. A Chiefs bag still ranks as one of my top 10 best garage sale purchases ever.
I suppose at some point I realized my borderline obsession with bags when one day after hauling in about three bags with me to work, a co-worker said casually, “Everything okay at home?” and it took me a minute to realize she thought I was moving in at work all my bags in tow. I wish I could say that stopped me.
I shifted away from personal bags and shifted to household use bags. A casserole carrier, an insulated cooler bag for lunches and picnics, a three compartment bag that could literally have held a small body but nestled just perfectly in my car trunk.
In a nod to nobly protecting our environment, I bought reusable bags for my groceries, and bags made from recycled materials. After a shoulder injury, I garnered cross body bags which I told myself had a slimming effect. When Oprah told us never to carry a bag bigger than our backside, I dutifully checked the sizes in the mirror before purchasing them.
After a frantic search one day for car keys that had slipped in between the lining and the outside of the bag, my new favorite bags became ones with lots of different compartments that help me keep my cell phone, keys, and sunglasses in easy reach. I have curbed my bag collecting seriously over the last few years, and I am down to the few that I really love and use. But it may be too late.
I watched my daughter get off the bus this week, laden with bags. Like a line from a Christmas carol, she had "one small bag for gym clothes, two bags for school books, and a trumpet in it's shiny case."
Last week I saw what I know will probably be my last bag purchase to complete my collection. It is a tiny, almost keyring like size, and it holds the quarter I need, not to call someone who cares, but to use to nab a cart at Aldi. No one will even know I have it.