When I was younger, I learned to spell just about anything (except French words, and frankly who cares about any of them but quiche?). I rarely erred in using the correct form of verbs and making those subjects and verbs agree.
I took pride in knowing what should be capitalized, how to punctuate correctly, the differences in homonyms, and that I should move prepositions away from the end of sentences.
In fact, I made a living of sorts as a Grammar Guru. I taught English and journalism, and later I worked in communications. If a participle was caught dangling, I righted it. I paid attention to the order of adjectives and moved other modifiers into the exact right place in sentences. Direct address question? Pshaw! I had your answer, Scarlett.
And then I met Autocorrect (and later his cousin Grammarly), and my skill set took a trip to Canada or another fine place where people have cool accents and everybody gets good, inexpensive health care.
It started innocently enough, with Mr. Autocorrect catching a misspelled word, that actually could have been the word ‘misspelled’, which for some reason gives me trouble. I was immediately attracted.
New love is always flawless, right? We overlook annoying habits and talk to our friends about our crush. I was crushing hard on Autocorrect, and he reciprocated pretty well…at first.
My texts were becoming error free. It was the little things, like an extra space materializing when I had neglected to insert it that strengthened our relationship. He learned to correct my sister’s and a couple of friend’s unusually spelled names when I dictated into my phone and even suggested emojis to accompany my words to make sure my receivers knew exactly how I felt.
We were getting along swimmingly, and I even started to feel guilty about how I was using him, sometimes just tapping in the start or a semblance of a word and letting him do his correctional magic.
But just like the day where a new love’s cologne that used to smell like the beach to you now smells like fish rotting on that beach, trouble arose. Autocorrect began to assume things about me that just were not true.
He changed the word plan to fang, so that my text told a co-worker I would like to have a fang moving forward. To this day, she covers her neck when around me, afraid I have become a vampire. Autocorrect didn’t like MO for Missouri and changed it to NO, freezing my online order at the delivery address phase. I am pretty serious about online orders.
Autocorrect didn’t like my colorful language, erasing a few choice curse words and replacing them with family friendly verbiage. That’s when I headed into settings and shut him off.
I missed him for a day or two, but slowly my spelling knowledge returned, and I decided I was okay with some flawed capitalization.
My recovery was almost complete when one fine day about a year ago, the program I was working in suddenly offered Grammarly’s good advice for sentence phrasing. “Oh, yes, I see how that adverb would be better placed just right there, thank you,” and just like that I was crushing again.
Grammarly was a little sneakier in reeling me deeper into my feelings. Squiggly yellow lines drew my attention to the need for a better word choice. And I dutifully made the corrections, even enjoying the weekly report I got for my efforts. Grammarly smiled at me with his happy yellow face, and I flirted right back.
At first the weekly reports had me ranked as an overachiever, always in the high 90’s. Then slowly my numbers began to drop. And Grammarly wanted a “bribe” of sorts to make me feel better.
“I have several suggestions for moving your writing from good to excellent,” he said. He offered me the benefit of the computational linguists and their fancy algorithms to better analyze my apparently weak sentences.
A constant thorn in my side, Grammarly would hint that there were three more errors in the passage I had just typed, subtly disguised with a hazy screen over the correction. Like a love-sick teen wondering why her date never called her back, I worked lots of extra time, ruminating on what Grammarly had found that I didn’t. Was it a stronger synonym? A suggested introductory clause to promote sentence variety?
One day I spent about 30 minutes reviewing about four paragraphs to see if I could self-correct Grammarly’s grim countenance. I was talking to myself, phoning a friend, researching answers, and sweating bullets over a potential error. I was in trouble.
Recent interactions in account, and after hearing about a particularly terrifying Dr. Laura podcast on toxic relationships, I ended my time with Grammarly. But the pain of lost love still exists within me (and yes, I am fully aware I started that sentence with a conjunction).
To help me heal, I have signed up for a Daily Dose of Grammar, sharpening my skills in increments. Wordle has helped me remember all the five letter words I used to know, and the four letter ones remain ever present for me anyway. However, subtle reminders of my past loves exist all around me.
Last week at the license bureau, a frustrated clerk confided in me that she wished their data screens had Autocorrect. I just smiled, myself wishing I knew her well enough to warn her against his charms. Instead I said, “ You are doing a perfectly fine job,” knowing with certainty those modifiers were not dangling at all.
by Cathy Allie
I picked up a drive through meal for my daughter the other night as we rushed from one event to another in a very busy week, and while not tempted to have a full meal, I decided to treat myself to a kid’s portion. With the meal came a little bottle of chocolate milk, which I downed quickly, and the cutest book entitled, “Bear Wants More.”
My daughter had a great time reading it aloud to me between her hurried bites. She sounded just like me reading a kid’s book to her little girl self, and we both decided she would have been thrilled to get that paperback in a kid’s meal.
Besides really pretty illustrations, the book had lovely predictable rhymes, just enough figurative language not to be sappy, and a hint for me. Not sure how to tell you all this, but I may, just may, be a bear.
In the story Bear wakes up after his long winter hibernation, and he is hungry. I don’t know if the six or so hours I sometimes sleep at night counts as a hibernation, but I do wake up hungry. In fairness, I also text hungry, drive hungry, work hungry, and shower hungry. Basically I am hungry.
Bear tries a little “salad”, in fact nibbling on his lawn down to the last blade. And the book’s refrain then comes into play, when the next line reads, “But Bear wants more!”
I also eat salad, maybe not first thing after a nap, but I try. I love a good romaine lettuce, maybe a little fresh spinach, or even iceberg if forced, well-rinsed and chilled from the refrigerator. And like Bear, I want more.
I want a little more dressing than the two tablespoons I am supposed to have, maybe a sprinkle of cheese, and few sunflower seed kernels, something to make it crunchy like won ton strips, and maybe even some ham or turkey or a hard-boiled egg. Suddenly, it’s not a salad, but more like a three course meal.
Bear has a mouse friend, one who can eat all he wants, and he leads him to get some strawberries. Bear eats a bunch, but as you might already guess, he wants more.
I have mouse friends whom I both love and despise at the same time because of their well-functioning metabolisms, and I also eat fruit. And I always want more. Two or three strawberries are not enough. I can slice a whole pineapple for my family to share, but what should last a couple of days usually doesn’t, because I want more.
Bear’s adventures also include eating too much clover (which I have not tried but am seriously thinking about), some fish, and some honey cakes. Honey cakes? Is it possible there is a dessert I have not heard about?
Bear gets pretty full, and his tummy aches, so he stretches out, and a nap ensues. Much to the delight of his animal friends, he snores through his nap, only to wake up to find he still wants more.
With this additional evidence, I am now almost 100% sure I am a bear. I had a pre-Mother’s Day dinner, came home and slept, undoubtedly snored, and still wanting more, had a great Mother’s Day brunch the next day to boot.
Then, like a rinse and repeat shampoo commercial, I took a nap (not in a den, but in a fully darkened room with threats to my family to keep noise levels down), woke up and had dinner. Basically I slept and ate for two whole days, so very, very bear like.
On the last page of the book are upcoming episodes to look for, like Bear Feels Sick (so did I, after all that food), and Bear Can’t Sleep, surely a mirroring tale of my insomnia episodes.
The only clues I have that I might not be the bear’s twin sister are that he has some really fine fur, and my hair no longer grows like I would like it to; he has some pretty fierce claws, and I at least try to keep my nails manicured; and he is content in the woods, whereas my idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service.
As my daughter finished reading about Bear to me, I smiled and said, “ I myself might be a bear, huh?” and she contemplated it for a minute.
“Maybe,” she said, “But I have always thought of you more as a lioness or maybe a penguin.”
Too tired to explore her reasoning behind equating me with a voracious meat-eater or a wobbly iceberg dweller, I am going with lioness. At least there would likely be a steak involved, just a little light snack before my nap.
I have been a member of many clubs in my lifetime. I started with my illustrious and well-noted-in-Kodachrome-photos membership in Brownies, then Camp Fire girls, then back to Girl Scouts for a hot minute. Let’s just say I was heavily motivated by uniforms and badges in my early days.
In high school I was a member of the Spanish Club, despite my lack of proficiency in the language, a failure that hounds me to this day, despite my best efforts to converse a bit better in the beautiful romance dialect.
Fast forward to college, where I fully enjoyed sorority membership and the lifetime friendships that have come from it. I was also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, at a time when I envisioned myself as a Diane Sawyer of sorts.
As an educator, the list of clubs is a long one. I joined fellow English teachers, curriculum writers, administrators, and communications professionals in beneficial groups. I have been a proud member of service clubs in towns where I have lived and worked.
I am currently a member of the Mom’s Club, the When do the Angsty Teenage Years End Club, the Band Parent Club, and the I Didn’t Learn that in School, Honey, Club. I also belong to the Partially Retired but Still Need to Work, the Didn’t We Just Have That for Dinner Last Week?, the Where Did I Put My Keys?, and the Dang It, I Should Have Gotten Gas Last Night Clubs.
But the one thing I have never belonged to is the Green Thumb Club, and there is a reason. I don’t have one.
It sure isn’t for lack of trying. My failed gardening efforts would fill a book and then some. It would be a sad tale, one where the protagonist only ends up with soil stained fingernails and never gets the victory she so richly deserves.
My family history details that I should be a member of the Green Thumb Club (GTC). My mother in law is the most recent addition to the people in my life who are members of the GTC. At her old home in Des Moines, she had trellises of flowers and a full blown garden that looked like a magazine cover.
She would take a hose with a nozzle that seemed more like a power washer and practically spray the heads off of delicate petunias, and they would still smile back at her and grow way bigger than they were supposed to with the brightest pinks and corals one could imagine.
She had peonies with heads seven or eight inches across. They were so pretty, they looked fake.
Her annual flowers last from April all the way into November when she finally has to take them inside or dispose of them. And she rescues things, also, and brings them back to life.
She brought home a plant from a local discount store that looked like it was dead. Within a week, it could have been a county fair winner. She makes it look easy, and people are amazed at her results.
In her smaller space in Kansas City, she has mastered the hanging basket thing. It is like walking into a floral shop when you hit her front porch. It’s a heavenly flower madness.
My own mom has a green thumb and to say she is good at it is an embarrassing understatement. She has a back yard oasis of every kind of plant you can imagine. She is an artist with a canvas, designing her botanical vision.
She will say,“I think I will put a phlox (I just made that up… I don’t even know what that is…) over there to sort of fill out that corner,” and the next thing I know, she has this lush, but almost ethereal arrangement of plants along her fence line.
She has variegated bloomers of all sizes: things that creep along the edges, things that add height, things that add depth, things with texter, things that bloom in succession. She has the patience to tell me the names of things over and over each year and the energy to maintain her personal nursery, another element potentially missing in my DNA.
And speaking of DNA, apparently my sister’s more closely matches my mom’s in this case, as she is a card carrying GTC member. Her thing is hydrangeas.
These beautiful, big headed florals are living the life in all their violet, pink, white, and dusty blue hues in her back yard. I wish I could say it is the soil at her house, but she has lived multiple places with multiple beautiful gardens. She harvests them and makes breathtaking dried arrangements, too.
These gardening ladies in my life have tried to help me and are willing sponsors of my potential membership into the GTC. My mother in law will suggest a certain fertilizer or watering schedule or say, “That plant looks good!” even about a tiny succulent I am nurturing.
My mom has gone so far as to dig up starters for me and help me get them planted. She walks the perimeter of my house, pointing out good places for a garden bed.
My sis routinely adds her clippings to my presents and decorations and pulls bad stems off my ferns when she stops by. So far their efforts have not rubbed off on me.
My husband knows my GTC longings, and he has also tried to help. He bought me a gift card to a really nice nursery, where the prices rival the cost of a good steak dinner for a four inch starter plant.
His theory was that my money saving efforts have hampered my ability to grow things, that buying cheap plants has produced bad results. I took him with me for my fresh start and because we needed a day date idea and he loves all things gardening, sarcasm fully intended.
We wandered around the site, inhaling the earthy smells, gift card in hand. Carefully placed misters spritzed the plants and the shoppers in their waterproof shoes. Clearly experienced GTC’ers walked directly to the racks to grab new selections. I had arrived!
We intently read labels on Mother Nature’s merchandise. We were looking for a tag that said, “Place this in direct sunlight, or shade, or your car trunk if you forgot you bought it; water frequently or infrequently, dependent on your week’s schedule; don’t worry about pruning it; and wait for it to come up again next year” but alas, there were none.
About an hour in, when my husband’s stomach started to rumble for the deli sandwich I had promised him, and my own non-waterproof shoes were soggy, I picked out a beautiful hosta, something pretty much all GTC members tell me is the best thing to start with, a hearty plant that voluntarily returns each spring, despite its owner’s ineptitude of care.
I shepherded that baby home like a couple with a new born, obediently placing it quickly into the ground with a hole dug to the exact suggested depth and filled with better vitamins than I ever bought for my kid.
For three days it look beautiful. My hopes rose as it spread its beautiful leaves. I picked out a scarf and sunglasses to wear for the picture in the neighborhood newsletter for my honor for Yard of the Week. And then a critter ate it. Right down to the root.
I could almost see the teeth marks from this ferocious predator’s assault on my precious plant. Defeated again, with hardly a start toward my GTC membership.
My neighbor saw me grieving the loss and told me it would grow back. But who wants a plant that looks like it has had a bad home haircut with jagged bangs?
I have shifted my focus and am currently accepting applications for the Green Thumb Envy Club. Surely I am not the only member, but I can finally be president of something.
As the saying goes, the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. However, in my ripe old age and with my habitual nature, there are a few things I know about myself for certain as well.
You can count on me to be at work unless I am terribly sick or supporting my kiddo in one of her ventures. You can count on me to pray for you if you ask. You can count on me to have a car trunk full of emergency items because I am convinced I will have one.
You can count on me to side with the underdog and root for Missouri sports teams. You can count on me to probably have too much sweetener in my coffee or tea but to still need that caffeine badly enough to drink it. You can count on me to be dressed in layers because, like Goldilocks, I am either too hot or too cold and rarely just right.
You can count on me to have really great stocking stuffers due to my dollar aisle obsession and extra dessert on hand in case someone drops by unexpectedly. And you can count on me to cut a big slice of said dessert for you and practically force you to eat it, because dessert is love, right? From here, it pretty much goes downhill.
You can count on me to spill a drop of whatever I am eating or drinking on a clean, newly pressed white shirt. I am particularly good at just dribbling a little bit of coffee, leaving a spot in a very embarrassing place.
And it won’t be on a day I am staying at home with no meetings. My stained white shirt days are always special appointment days. You can also count on that shirt to carry the stain through the wash because I forgot to treat it, as well.
You can also count on me to remember what someone wore but not his or her name. I met a beautiful lady at a recent party, the guest of mutual friends. She wore a sort of golden chiffon flowy dress and had on a pair of high heels that looked like they were made of piano wire. She was so princess like, she took away even my grown up breath.
When the party hostess and I talked about the event, I mentioned her princess friend, but embarrassingly, could not come up with a name. Not a first letter, not a hint, not a trace of name recognition.
You can also count on me to remember all the lyrics to a 70’s song that has faded way into the recesses of everybody else’s mind. And I will be able to tell you that lyric in pressure situations, unlike the contestant in a recent game show challenge.
The subject was Melanie’s song Brand New Key. They played a snippet of the song and asked the contestant to finish the phrase. $3K was on the line, and she blew it, all while I was gleefully singing, “I think we should get together and try them on to see” and not pocketing a dime.
You can count on me to tell you a joke that I have told you before, since I only have a repertoire of three, two of which I can’t tell in mixed company.
Some of the things you can count on with me have to do with paperwork. I guarantee you I will arrive one document short of what I need to complete any licensing process. I can also guarantee you I will find the receipt I need the day after I return the item it accompanied. You can count on me to have about 20 uncorralled scraps of paper with important lists and notes on them, having a regular rodeo in the wild west of my giant purse, another thing you can count on me to carry.
You can count on me having 20/20 hindsight. My best party planning is done a day or two after I have hosted one. That’s when I will finally go through a magazine and see the perfect signature cocktail or appetizer recipe. And I will save said recipes somewhere (probably with the missing receipt), so that I can once again not use them at the next party.
I might be able to find the receipt or recipe if I was better organized, but you can also count on me to have started a massive organization project that will go unfinished. To date, I have tried using file folders, envelopes, baskets, and dividers for paperwork and haven’t had much success. I resisted the urge to buy clear plastic stacking bins, despite multiple Pinterest pins.
One of the latest additions to things to count on with this old gal is that my hearing doesn’t serve me the way it once did, and I don’t catch everything. For example, just this week, someone wished me a happy birthday.
I was surprised to hear it because my birthday is several months away, and this person didn’t know me. I replied by saying I was anxiously awaiting my special day and that I had already given my husband some clues about what I might like for a present.
“Wow! You guys exchange presents for Earth Day? Most people don’t even celebrate it! That is so cool!” Oh! EARTH Day!
Well, apparently you can also count on me to be too embarrassed when I mishear something like that to even make a correction.
Not that I have given tons of thought to my passing, but sometimes after a funeral, I wonder what they will say about me when the time comes. Will they line up with accolades? Detail one of my epic organizational projects finally completed (because that is likely what will finally do me in…)?
I would be happy if they said, “You could always count on her,” and just left it at that.
For a long time, I have done a daily crossword, never in ink, because even though I love words, there are too many words I just don’t know, and too many other words I know that would never appear in a crossword. I can finish most of the online versions, even if I have to have a hint or two, and they are my go to’s for a long car ride.
I played Words with Friends on the regular. Now some of those friends aren’t friends anymore. Sorry I wasn’t a better competitor, Mom.
I don’t mind an occasional word find, word scramble, or even a Jumble. My paternal grandfather was a serious crossword man and would never have messed with these others. I can still visualize his ball point pen scratchings on the soft newspaper finish as he doggedly completed the New York Times crossword puzzle.
I held off on the latest word challenge, Wordle, until I finally succumbed to peer pressure. Or perhaps competitive pressure. I needed to see if I could compete with my word savvy friends, who were posting their daily results and sharing their methods for success.
The five letter fill-in-the-blank to make the word game has made a huge splash. People of all ages are playing on phones and tablets everywhere. I was in a Zoom meeting the other day where a participant inadvertently screen-shared, and her Wordle efforts were on display for all of us to see.
My first couple of days of Wordle were spent testing out starting words, remembering that Y can be a vowel, and trying to access my mental word bank of five letter words. Then one golden day, I made a correct guess on the second word. I was hooked.
Only since then, now about three months into my Wordle history, I have only pegged the word on the second guess one other time. Some days, I am right down to the wire, sneaking in a guess on my 5th or 6th try.
And in the meantime, my friends are posting their 2’s and 3’s to all the accolades. I have lots of smart friends, according to Wordle, one of whom I had lunch with this week.
We talked about our families, caught up on mutual friends, and confirmed that we both hate Vladimir Putin, all before our meals came. While we were eating, she got a notification that her daughter had beaten her on Wordle that day. She wasn’t happy.
“ I think she is cheating.”
She spat the words out in a harsh whisper, fire in her eyes.
“How would you cheat at that?” I asked. “Aren’t there just five blanks and a keyboard?”
My friend, a notorious night owl, says she always completes her Wordle right after midnight, when the day’s game first opens. Her daughter waits until her lunch break.
“I think she is looking at other people’s answers,” my friend whined. “But if she needs the satisfaction of beating me at Wordle, that’s okay.” Somehow, I think it isn’t.
No stranger to competition, both its power and its problems, I feel my friend’s frustration deeply. On a recent trip to the beach, my husband had finished his book and was phone scrolling.
“What’s that word game you have been playing?” he asked, over the top of his reading glasses with only one earpiece, because apparently we are so impoverished we cannot afford the multipack from Costco or even a single replacement pair.
I helped him download Wordle, and honestly not just because I wanted him to enjoy it. Selfishly, I hoped I could at least beat him at the game.
We did a couple of practice ones, looking at the green, yellow, and gray letters, and he was off to the races. On his first real Wordle, he worked until the 5th level to get his answer. In person, I patted him on the back and congratulated him.
“It takes a while to master it,“ I said.
But in the revelatory cartoon bubble above my head and deep in my heart, I gloated and began to dream of how I would beat him like an old rug from granny’s porch.
On day two, he made progress and hit a 4. “Fluke,” I thought, which is not by coincidence, a five letter word.
On day three, he said “Hmmm,” after his first line entry and then quickly punched in his next answer and smiled. He hit it on two.
“That was an easy one, wasn’t it?” he said, and I nodded. Not for me, it hadn’t been. It took me four levels and some luck.
I wish I could say that his streak was a short one, where his two was interspersed with plenty of fives and sixes, but apparently he is a Wordle savant. In his first three weeks, he averaged a two.
I asked him about his strategy. He didn’t comprehend.
“Well, like I always start with this word,” I said, typing it out to show him, “and then I enter this one next because it gets me lots of consonants.”
“Huh,” he said. “Never thought of it like that. I just look at the blanks and try to figure out what to put in them.”
Well, duh… that’s the whole point. Upon further questioning, I determined that his method is just to sit and stare at the screen and hope letters materialize in front of him. Thus far it appears to be working. I have booked his appearance on Wheel of Fortune just in case.
The first time I saw a hashtag, over a decade and a half ago, I was proofreading for a friend who had written a pop culture piece about its arrival. To this day, I am not sure she used it correctly, but there she was, bravely venturing into the latest social media marker.
The next time I saw the online categorization tool was shortly after that, when I attended an educator’s conference where we were encouraged to use a few different hashtags supplied by the organizers to see if we would trend, and to allow us to follow one another and link topics of interest. Full disclosure: I didn’t hashtag, as I thought it was a bit too #trendy for me, and perhaps even a passing fad.
And with some of the deadly sessions at the conference, I would more likely have used #boring or #notinterested. And that would have been wrong, because hashtags are not supposed to be about feelings or what you are doing, even though to this day I use them this way.
Since that time, I have tried to use hashtags with discretion, making sure I stay current but not getting too #crazy. It drives me nuts to get a text or see a post which is more hashtag than content. Here’s a gem from a university I follow, from just this week: “It’s #spring on #campus #flipflopweather #tulipsblooming #longerdays #beautifulsunsets #allthecolors”
If I had hash tagged about spring in college, it more likely would have said #thinkingaboutskippingclass, #turningassignmentinlate, or #whendowegraduate? And it would have been done on a typewriter. Just saying.
I am also afraid of creating a hashtag controversy like the one that arose with Margaret Thatcher and Cher. The hashtag #nowthatchersdead was trending when the Prime Minister passed away, but not out of love for the leader. Cher’s fans thought they had lost their diva and took to social media. The last thing I need is to create an international incident. I am too #busy to manage the fallout.
Sometimes I cannot figure out why a hashtag is paired with the advertisement or content it is with. This week there was an ice cream ad (which in my always hungry world needed no hashtag to grab my attention anyway) that said #groundbreaking. I mean I love me some pralines and cream, but I am hard pressed to call it groundbreaking. #Dietbreaking or #calorieladen perhaps, but #groundbreaking hardly.
I read a meme that says, “Friends don’t let friends use too many hashtags.” In my case, it’s daughters who don’t let me. In a recent post, I used #werk as a funny twist on the word work to compliment my daughter’s efforts in music and at school, and said daughter about had a coronary.
“Do you know what werk means?” she texted me, because most of our important conversations are held that way #sarcasm.
“Yes, it is a hip twist on the word work,” I texted back, not admitting to having looked it up and finding out it could also be an Ethiopian gold coin.
“It means to hit on somebody. So are you saying I was working hard or hitting on somebody?”
Dang. That urban dictionary thing. Before I could reply, she texted “#nobody #cares #about
#hashtags #anyway”. But I think her hash tag filled text shows she actually does. Wouldn’t that be #irony?
I wish we could trademark hashtags. I would have grabbed up #tired, #annoyed, #hangry, and #smart to start, as they are all my best #emotions and #qualities in descending order, and then as time and finances allowed, added #fatandsassy and #classycolumnist.
I would have also grabbed up #werk just to annoy the kid, #thatsjustdumb so I had a response for most politicians, and #shutup for all the armchair quarterbacks at high school football games.
Follow me for more social media tips and #goodideas.
My grandmother Frances was funny and frugal and friendly. She once flew out to see my cousin in Montana, and on the plane, she struck up a conversation with a couple with whom she exchanged Christmas cards for the next 25 years. Back in the day when long distance calls were expensive, she and her plane friend wrote each other letters every couple of weeks.
We laughed about it and teased Nanny a little. In hindsight, both of them were probably anxious about flying, both wearing sensible shoes, both had husbands who were more fascinated with the workings of the plane, and were looking for a way to pass the time. The friendship made perfect sense.
Following in Nanny’s footsteps, my mom doesn’t know many strangers either. When she and Dad attended Mizzou football games, they had really great seats, and Mom is a true Tigers fan. But as much as she enjoyed the games, she like people watching and catching up with the complete strangers who became friends just based on proximity seating.
When we went to the games, we sometimes got to sit in seats near them, because “Joann and Tom’s daughter and her boyfriend are traveling on game day.” I am embarrassed to admit we once were the beneficiary of “funeral seats” from some other of Mom’s friends. Don’t ask.
There are some benefits to not knowing a stranger, primarily that other extroverts get to connect with even more people and expand their likely already large group of friends.
So an extrovert like me had no trouble keeping the generational gift going. I am likely to strike up a conversation with someone new without prompting. Unfamiliar face in the row in front of me at church? I am grinning and greeting.
Parent of a rival band marcher sitting close to me in the bleachers at a competition? I am congratulating them on their band’s performance and asking them if they had any good meals while they were in town.
Two new sets of friends came from this kind outreach, and what we fondly refer to around my house as ‘making nice.’ I don’t have to force myself to ‘make nice’, as it is buried deep in my genes. I wish I had inherited the ability to cook like my Nanny and Mom, but I will settle for this gift. That is I would have settled for this gift, until recently.
We took a spring break excursion to watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals at spring training. I avoided the temptation to make friends with anyone in the airport, having read enough scary reports about smugglers that I was busy keeping my luggage near me so I could answer honestly that I had it with me at all times when they asked at check-in.
We ate at a cool restaurant with really close seating, and I hardly made eye-contact with anything except my chicken. In fairness, I do appreciate a good chicken dish, and traveling makes me hungry.
Checking into the hotel, we encountered a frazzled clerk who really was doing her best, and I resisted the urge to comfort her and tell her that her mom would be proud of how she was handling her job. I had to put my hands in my pockets not to reach out and pat her.
So when we finally got to practice one day at training camp, my ‘make nice’ had been bottled up for days. We all spread out to different fields and stalked our favorite players. Don’t panic. I didn’t try to build a lasting friendship with a professional baseball player. It’s worse.
On the first set of bleachers, there was a male version of me. He inquired where I was from and before long, we were deep in conversation.
I found out he had married someone who was not a Cardinal fan, they had stayed together for the kids, finally divorced, and on this trip, he had with him two of his children (one of whom is studying sports medicine in college and really having a hard time), his aging parents, and his new fiancé, one who is as devoted to the Cardinals as he is.
He was happy to learn about my family, too, and he gave me one of his business cards in case I ever have a need to buy a washer and dryer when I am in southern Arkansas. I bid him a reluctant goodbye. Sure would like to have heard more about Angie’s collegiate struggles.
As I walked to the next field, I was behind an adorable couple with one toddler who didn’t want to stay in her stroller. I couldn’t see a way past them, so I just walked behind them, enjoying the pretty little family. When we stopped to enter the next area, I noticed the mom was very, very pregnant. We exchanged smiles.
While the dad was wrestling a diaper from their bag, my ‘make nice’ bubble burst, and I leaned forward and started a conversation with what I thought was a sparkling opener.
“My niece and nephew were stairsteps apart like yours will be. All my sister could think about was getting the first out of diapers before the baby was born,” I offered.
They both smiled and murmured something I couldn’t quite hear. Assuming they had not understood me, I offered a little clarification.
“You know, so she wouldn’t have two in diapers at the same time.” They both just sort of smiled and nodded, and then they stepped aside to let me pass while they changed the toddler.
When I was almost out of range, the dad said, “Wow. Thanks for the advice, Martha.”
The not so ‘make nice’ part of me turned around and said, “Actually, my name is Cathy,” to which the dad said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know you could hear me,” and looked at least a little embarrassed.
But it was me who was embarrassed that my intrusiveness had not been well-received. And also sad that I hadn’t gotten to know them well enough to exchange Christmas card addresses. I could send one to the car dealer in Arkansas and see where it goes, I suppose. I wish I could remember the fiancé’s name, but maybe I can ask how Angie’s studies are going or if she solved her roommate problem or got to liking dorm food any better.
I have given a lot of thought to the exchange with the expectant parent, and to my intent as opposed to the young couple’s reception. I am going to just keep smiling from now on to see where it goes, before I issue my opening salvo or deeply engage.
If I see you at the post office, and I am grinning maniacally, please speak first if you are so inclined. I don’t want to get caught ‘making nice’, or as my family is now calling it, “Making Martha.”
I was cooking dinner the other night (pausing here for some of you who are surprised I actually cooked to let the shock wear off…), and I reached for a bullion cube (second pause for others of you to reflect on the fact I am still using bullion cubes). Much to my surprise, there were two jars of the cubes, one mostly full and the other yet unopened.
If you are still with me at this point, you are likely thinking that no one needs that many bullion cubes, and you minimalists have passed out and need reviving, because you would never have two jars on hand to begin with. I am with both sets of you.
I looked at the expiration date on the opened jar of bullion, and it was still a year away. The expiration on the unopened one was three years out. The salty goodness of that ½ inch cube apparently not only heightens the taste of my chicken and noodles, but is self-preserving.
The Bullion Incident, which is how I am now referring to that moment, created a spice drawer cleaning frenzy, once the chicken and noodles were safely cooking. Prepare for some vulnerability: I had multiple duplicates of spices, and here it comes… several were expired.
I set them aside to place them in the trash during cleanup. Were they like medicines and I needed to follow a proper disposal method? Could they just go down the disposal, at the risk of it smelling like Chinese 5 spice or coriander seeds for the next week? Can the plastic containers be recycled?
In the middle of the Spice Elimination determination, my husband sauntered into the kitchen. I showed him my school of expired spices (no, a group of spices in not called a school, but I need alliteration like plants need sunlight). He seemed interested, not a normal state of affairs.
“Well, you aren’t throwing them out, are you?” he asked, and I felt a spicy discussion coming on (see what I did there?).
“I planned to, yes,” I said, not backing down.
He views expiration dates as suggestions, and he told me that as small an amount of spice that I would put in any dish, we wouldn’t expire from having said expired spice in our system.
“Would that also apply to arsenic?” I quipped, the relentless rule-follower me chiming in.
I told him I would think about saving them, but I threw them out the next day, and Honey, if you are just now finding this out, I am sorry. Not sorry.
I once poured a glass of cold milk, never glancing at the jug’s expiration date, dunked a Chips Ahoy cookie right in and took a giant gulp… of sour milk. Some 30 years later, I can remember that taste, and my gag reflex tightens. I surveil milk expiration dates like first time parents listen to a baby monitor.
I have helped people clean out houses or storage areas where canned food surely contains ptomaine poisoning, and they seem unconcerned. #can’t This is one gal you won’t see cutting mold off of cheese and claiming aging enhances the flavor. I guess it’s just the idea that old cheese might taste like old cheese.
A quick search tells me that chocolate degrades over time, and expiration dates, while they might be extended, should be observed. Being as how it is March, and I didn’t even blink before chomping down on a Reese’s pumpkin from October, and I have not yet died, I am pretty sure that is just a ploy to get us to buy more chocolate. As if we needed a ploy.
On a related note, after I told a friend my spices story, she texted to tell me she noticed that Nutella has ‘extinction’ dates. Before I could ponder if autocorrect fixed expiration to extinction for her, her second text said Nutella is only bad if its consistency has changed. The consistency of Nutella is what bugs me about it anyway, so maybe extinct was just a Freudian slip.
Following The Bullion Incident, I have been considering expiration dates on nearly everything. I have determined that my current (and probably future) hairstyle has already expired, and I don’t care. Taming these locks is a full time job, and I will be doing what works throughout future decades despite my expired look.
I know that the shoes styles which house my ever-widening foot are out of date and expired as well. Comfort over classy is my new motto there.
I have a purse which wasn’t likely stylish when I bought it and sure isn’t two decades and three trips to the leather repair shop later. I know I should have retired it a while ago, as one of the identifiable stains on its beautiful leather is from when my now teenage daughter’s bottle of formula spilled inside it. Even though it is defunct, I just can’t send it to meet its maker.
I have two sets of sheets and a questionable blanket that I keep using on our bed, too, that Oprah Winfrey and other high thread count connoisseurs would immediately pitch, as they even look expired. It would take so long to break in new ones that I myself might expire.
I am guessing many of my jokes, one-liners, narratives about concerts I have attended, and well-shared memories have moved past their expiration date for those who have been subjected to repeatedly hearing them, also. But they are just so good…
My daughter heard me telling a friend about the spices and has since been checking every expiration date on everything, including her shampoo and conditioner, a bag of frozen strawberries, and some lasagna noodles. I disposed of the strawberries and of the pasta, but I took the shampoo and conditioner for myself. Since my hairstyle has expired, using expired products on said hair won’t make any difference, right?
Our Expiration Exploration finally moved to the garage during a weekend cleanout. I looked at a few items and was surprised to find an expiration date. The degreaser in our car kit had a use by date. So too did the paint thinner and motor oil cans.
Perhaps the saddest expiration date appeared on a large bag of grass seed, purchased on a whimsical Saturday, one where we thought we would really begin taking care of our lawn, hoping it would rival some of the luxurious emerald carpets around our neighborhood. I would like to say that a busy schedule kept us from using the seed; truth be told we are a little lazy and haven’t the foggiest notion about what to do with a yard.
I scrutinized the date and began calculating the risk of using the grass seed. I smelled it. I held it in my hand and felt it. I looked for mold. I determined it smelled and felt and looked like… grass seed.
In perhaps the greatest or potentially most catastrophic gardening moment of my life, I threw caution, and large handfuls of grass seed, to the wind… and all over the back yard. This week’s rain followed by next week’s sun will surely give it all it needs to sprout. But if not, I held back one container of expired fertilizer to put down with it.
When the annual “What Will People Paint Next?” committee met a couple of years back, they probably never thought that front doors would be the comeback recipient of the year.
A splashy turquoise, a sunny yellow, a leprechaun beard orange, and a patent leather black have all taken up residence on front doors in my neighborhood, and I love the rainbows I am seeing on my walks. I don’t have the guts to paint our current front door (or a husband with any inclination to add color to anything), but I love the bold artists who do.
In a former life, about a decade and some change ago, I cajoled the old man into letting me have a red door. Our old tan house needed a splash of color, and with no shutters on the windows, our options were limited.
We brought home color splotches and dabbed away until we landed on a cross between a brick and a barn red. Pinterest was just getting started, so there were not 6,438 door painting tutorials, but the nice salesperson gave us a few pointers, and I prepped and painted a gorgeous entryway to our home.
I can remember driving up to the house the first few times after we finished it and still being surprised and pleased at the look of it, and it was a talking point for the walkers in the cul-de-sac. A couple of them paused one day as I was pulling into the driveway, and I was ready with the name of the paint color, just in case they wanted to become our twin.
“Congratulations on paying off your house!” one of them said. Certainly not the comment I had anticipated, I was taken off guard. My confused look encouraged an explanation.
“That’s when you paint a door red, when you have paid off your mortgage,” she gushed. Well, we had not paid off our mortgage, having just moved in.
“ I told her it was for the blood of Christ,” her friend said. We do love Jesus, but truly, we had just wanted some color. I managed not to answer either of them, so I am guessing they combined their two guesses and believed we used Dave Ramsey’s envelope system to quickly pay off our debt.
The recent advent of door painting had me doing a little research, and I have found there is some symbolism behind the colors, whether folks know it or not.
An orange door might mean you are vibrant and exciting, that you have a zest for life…or that your kids are currently obsessed with traffic cones like my nephew once was, and this is the best way to lure them home.
Green doors are indications of life, health, and community. They may also be indicators that kale and Brussel sprouts are welcome at a pot luck there.
Dependent on the shade of blue, your door might be saying you are wealthy (why isn’t this the green one?), calm and grounded, or friendly and sincere. In Kansas City, it might just mean that you love my favorite Royals player, Salvador Perez.
Keeping a door white might indicate cleanliness. I wonder if painting it white would automatically keep my house clean? Might be worth a try.
My friend maintains that whatever color paint was on sale might become popular because materials are so expensive homeowners have to save somewhere. My theory is a little bit more ugly.
I am picturing a husband and wife duo at the local home improvement store on a Saturday. She knows he wants to be home in time for the big televised contest between local rivals, and she is playing the long game for a door color.
She stretches out her selection time until she knows that he will have to say yes to one of her last three options, all various shades of pink, to give them enough time to get the paint mixed and shaken and still make kickoff. I mean otherwise, how does a geranium colored front door get past any self-respecting man’s discretion?
Realtors have whole blogs about what perspective buyers might be thinking when they are looking at your front door and seeing purple or moss green or brown or grey. And mostly those blogs end with the phrase, “Be prepared to re-paint your door, as color choices are very personal.” Go figure.
Therapists have begun recommending painting doors certain colors to help folks manage feelings or send messages to those around them. I cannot afford to repaint each time I have a mood swing or a shift in feeling, so I am currently using wreaths to let people know I am feeling Christmasey, or Eastery, or Chiefsy. When I am “hangry” I display the Venus Fly Trap wreath with some baby’s breath to soften the appearance a bit.
According to a national magazine, home owners associations are scrambling to adjust by-laws to include some door references, saying the number three complaint (behind neighbors not cleaning up after mowing and unsightly sheds) is neighbors who painted their front door a color that didn’t appeal to Ned and Nancy next door.
I may have to paint my door a new color to display my shock that the number one complaint about neighbors is not about picking up your own pet’s waste. I guess I might have time to paint a door after I clear my yard of giant piles of poop my tiny 9 pound dog didn’t leave. But I digress.
Besides just the color, there’s lots of other symbolism associated with doors—new possibilities and thresholds, closing doors on old chapters, transitions. And all kinds of phrases reference doors: “When one door closes, another opens”, “We have an open door policy”, and “Check your ego at the door.”
My favorite of the door phrases is, “Shut the front door!” which can indicate everything from awe about a new idea, to you don’t know what you are talking about, to your grandpa letting you know you are letting the air conditioning out.
I wonder about that first fella’ who rolled a boulder in front of the opening to his cave or put a flap on his tee pee or upped his game and added the rectangular swinging door to his log cabin to keep out the coyotes (which might still come in handy around here), and if he knew all that would come from doors.
I am guessing he could not have anticipated the joy a friend’s special donut delivery brings on a Saturday morning, or the nervous anticipation of a young person waiting for their special date to answer the door, the life-saving supplies those stuck at home get every day via door deliveries, or the pleasant or un-nerving sound of doorbell chimes.
No way he thought about cameras capturing everything from blowing leaves to intruders outside those doors, the porchlight flicking on and off outside the door while an anxious parent signals an approaching curfew, or a special pet waiting at the door for a special owner’s arrival home.
He could never have anticipated the panic that would ensue during COVID times, when a knock on the door was a shock, because who could be coming to see us? What is this unrequested contact with the outside world?
I don’t need to make plans to visit an art gallery this spring. I can just take a walk around the neighborhood to see what new colors and decorations my neighbors have added to their doors for my inspiration. I am looking forward to it.
Good old Frank Sinatra got it all wrong when he sang that the regrets he had were too few to mention. Maybe a guy who could sing that well and was rumored to have dated a whole slew of Hollywood starlets really didn’t have too many regrets, except perhaps his two pack a day smoking habit.
But us regular folks, and particularly those of us in an advanced set of decades, can often look back and point out a few things we are surely regretting. Most of my regrets fall in the category of things I wish I had done, and honestly, some of my regrets are not too earthshattering.
I regret not wearing a higher pair of heels to Prom, since we didn’t really dance anyway and mostly just stood around taking pictures and making sure the hairdo we paid so much for didn’t unravel. I also regret not serving on the Prom committee so that I could have coaxed the band into playing a few more slow dance songs, perhaps more realistically the reason half of us were there.
Others of my regrets are about not being a little bit more daring. I wish I had tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk on one of those days when my dad said it was hot enough to. I suppose I still could, but with all the dogs that take walks on my sidewalk, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the egg if I got it fried, and I hate to waste food.
I regret not being daring enough to jump the ramp on my skateboard, instead just tamely riding it to and from the corner drugstore, buying and consuming way more Necco wafers and Hershey bars than anyone ever really should. I regret not cliff diving in Jamaica, where at least the waters are clear enough for them to have dived in and found me when I cracked my head open and didn’t surface right away, as opposed to some muddy old bacteria-laden lake in Missouri where I could disappear forever.
I regret not learning a second language in a way that I can actually use it. I mean I am fluent in both English and Sarcasm, but Spanish continues to elude me.
I was watching a television show with my family that showed a Spanish speaker trying to tell fellow customers in a grocery store parking lot that her friend was choking. My family wonders what she is saying, and I boldly translate it to be that they have a flat tire and need it changed.
As the show continues, a savvy young man gives the friend the Heimlich maneuver, saves her life, and simultaneously proves I need to get back to my Duo Lingo practice. No tire problem. Yep, I really regret not sticking with those regular and irregular verb translations in Señor Dean’s class.
I regret not watching my grandmother and mom cook…and sew…and crochet a little more. My wallet regrets my inability to do those things also, as I shell out money for Door Dash, alterations, and clever crafts.
I regret not learning to play golf, so like my husband, I too can have something to spend hours away from the house on; not learning to play bridge, so I have a more legitimate reason to buy beautiful playing cards and fancy tallies and bags of chocolate bridge mix; and not learning to water ski, as I assume I have some natural buoyancy at my current weight, and because it would likely have been my best chance to have a good story about breaking a bone, unless you count the earlier skateboarding reference.
Some of life’s regrets are about things we did that we wish we would not have done. One regret which most ladies my age have that fits this category is called the Toni Perm. As I type this, I can still smell the solution which soaked the pastel plastic rollers snugged against our heads. The results of those stinky permanent waves were dicey at best.
Did we get the papers tucked around the ends enough not to have fish hooked straight ends? Did we leave the solution on long enough but not too long to create a beautiful wave and not a Brillo pad nightmare? Did we select the right week to get the perm and let it calm down a little so that our school pictures were not a permanent (pardon the pun) reminder of our folly?
I remember getting a spiral perm once and praying for the beautiful results I had seen on other girls. It made sense that if the rod was vertical instead of horizontal, the curls would be the cherished loose ringlets I desired.
I grew my hair long enough to hold the perm and “employed” a friend who was in beauty school to help. My regret is that I didn’t let her finish her schooling and practice on a few others before me. I think I finally destroyed the last of the photographic evidence of the spiral that spiraled out of control in a funeral-like pyre.
A couple of my high school friends and I have determined that we regret the following: overplucked eyebrows as teens when we now can’t grow any eyebrows that aren’t wiry grey remnants, many of our boyfriend choices, a few of our clothing choices, and our general snarly-ness toward adults who were busy telling us all the time about things we would later regret. I am keeping these things in mind with my current teen.
Despite my efforts to be a healthy eater, I have multiple examples of instant regret regarding food, including getting brain freeze from popsicles or slushies, one last hastily-consumed cluster at an all-you-can-eat crab leg restaurant, and a ghost pepper and milk challenge, to name just a few.
Lastly, and perhaps luckily, because I have a smart mouth and a razor sharp wit, I don’t have the regret that some folks do of not speaking up or issuing a snappy comeback, even if I do later regret some of those snappy replies.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.