Musings from the Middle: Confessions
They say that confession is good for the soul, so pull up a chair. What you are about to read may set you back a decade or two. I have decided to do all the confessing at one time, get a good soul cleansing, and start anew.
I think I better begin with a big one first: I have never seen the movie Titanic. When the movie came out, I was in graduate school, and every spare moment was spent on the computer, in the library, or grabbing much needed sleep.
And before long I had heard so much about it that I almost felt like, "What's the point? I basically know the plot anyway."
I vaguely remember someone hosting an Oscar's watch party that year, which would normally be my jam because I love a good party, but they were dressing in costumes and serving period food, all in the hopes of Titanic sweeping the big awards show. I played sick.
When a movie is released today, it is in the theater for about a hot minute, and then streaming somewhere 30 seconds later. In 1997, it was in the theatre forever, then at Blockbuster as a rental, then available for purchase, then finally relegated to cable channels you paid extra for, and then and only then, available on "regular t.v.".
Somewhere in that dichotomy of offerings and chances to watch it, I sort of dug in and decided to take a stand. I simply would not watch Titanic. Some people fall on political swords, but apparently I fell on an iceberg.
I had no particular aversion to Leonardo or a fear of boats or anything that would be good fodder for a therapist's couch. It even became my lie in the “Three Truths and a Lie” game people use for icebreakers.
"Well, everybody has seen Titanic, so that must be her lie," they would say, and I would be well on my way to winning the gift card giveaway.
Since taking my no Titanic stand some 25 years ago, it has been hard to avoid any discussion of the movie, so I actually understand a lot of the references-- a couple in love, a sinking ship, and Rose’s choice to let Jack go.
Oops. Hope I didn’t spoil it for the one other person in the world who hasn’t seen it. I suppose my heart will go on, if you know what I mean.
If my first confession didn’t shock you, stay tuned. This next one is a pretty big admission, too. Ready? I like cheap wine. Whew. Feels good to get that out.
Pour me a sweet and fruity Winking Owl beverage and set a pricey offering right next to it, and I will pick the junk wine in a taste test every time. The good news about this confession is that my husband says this makes me a cheap date-- wait a minute, he may have meant that in a more derogatory way than I first took it.
The bad news is, in a culture currently obsessed with wine, I am the odd woman out. I don’t have a collection of corks, because the wine bottle with the screw top works just fine for me.
I really have tried to like the better stuff. My husband and I went to a wine tasting charity event. We liked the beautiful outdoor setting, the appetizers, and all the people there.
But the wine? Meh. My husband claimed to have been able to detect the notes of oak and orange in one of the samples, but I should remind you this is the same fellow who thinks Velveeta is good cheese.
I was particularly intrigued with the process of cleansing our palates after each sampling, mostly because it was hilarious to watch grown-ups spitting into Dixie cups. I held out for one last sample of a wine that was supposed to have a distinctive, easily identifiable taste.
The other 19 people there closed their eyes and swished it around in their mouths and said, "Mmmmm". The consensus was it tasted like chocolate covered cherries.
“Yes!” the sommelier said. To me, it tasted like the Episcopalian communion cup. If you know, you know.
So I don't like one of the most famous movies ever, and I don’t have a discerning palate. Can it get any worse? Hold my cheap wine.
Confession #3: European history baffles me. Please note that baffles is a much stronger word than confuses. I mean if I was just confused about it, that would indicate that at some point I might get it straight. Being baffled is more permanent, I believe.
It is not that I haven’t tried to get all those crazy, land-grabbing dictators and despots all squared away. My daughter was studying European history this year, and I actually kept up with her… through the first week of school.
When we got into the various kings and queens, out of desperation and embarrassment that I didn’t know the difference between the Romanovs and the Hapsburgs, I offered to help her with math. What I don’t know about math could be a separate confession column all of its own.
As my daughter inched nearer the world wars in her studies, I jumped back into the European fray. Turns out I just knew the American side of the wars. This whole being-an-ally-in-one-war and then switching-allegiance-in-another puts me in turmoil of my own.
I have finally cemented in my mind that Britain and France are pretty much always our buddies now, and this is good news for me, as I like both bangers and mash and croissants, and I would be sad to eat enemy food.
What happened with Italy and Russia? You liked us in World War I, but by World War II, we weren’t on the same kickball team anymore.
I think part of my bafflement is that I never understood the International Dateline in 4th grade social studies class. So apparently anything on the other side of that is simply out of my grasp.
Lastly, I would like to make a couple of confessions about my television viewing. If you think I am going to confess that I sometimes binge, well, sure. But so does pretty much everybody I know.
If you think I am going to confess that I prefer one genre over another, well, sure, I like a good game show or medical drama way more than reality t.v. What I have to confess is much bigger and potentially damaging to my status as a card carrying t.v. connoisseur.
I do not like American Ninja Warrior. There. I said it, and I feel better already.
I realize it glorifies the underdog, it contains the important element of not knowing exactly when someone will fall into a tepid chest-high tank of water, and age and gender are no barriers to competition.
And yes, all the competitors have these great back stories, and they look good in soccer shorts and close fitting tank tops, which makes me hate them and the show on general principal.
My husband and daughter talk about the warrior obstacles like they are old friends. “She’ll never make it through Cannonball Alley,” they scream. “It’s a dream killer.”
All the while, my biceps are aching, and I am having flashbacks to the President’s Physical Fitness test and the dreaded flexed arm hang. I was gifted with a weak upper body, always on display in the yearly knotted rope challenge and the wall peg climb.
My best friend’s sinewy arms were perfect for the test, and I cheered her from the sidelines, sweating from my previous exertion in my polyester gym suit. She battled it out with scabby-knee’d elementary boys, and we bragged about her win over our square slices of cafeteria pizza.
So what would I rather watch than American Ninja Warrior? Almost anything, but specifically my soap opera, and there you have my last confession. I really like my soap.
Yes, the characters have terrible habits like falling into comas, marrying and divorcing their brothers or cousins, driving wedges into families with thefts and betrayals, slapping one another in times of turmoil, and baby swapping. But they have a certain appeal.
Thanks to Botox and good lighting, soap stars are ageless. No matter how bad a day I have had, one of them has always had it worse, but still manages to look fabulous.
Even their identical twins have an identical twin or a hidden triplet. They find and lose love faster than I can switch the channel away from Ninja Warrior. Best of all, they are my escape from reality.
I think I am finished confessing for today. I am headed into the kitchen to grab a cup of ice for my wine, and maybe hunt down the remote to see if I can catch a WWII documentary before my soap comes on.
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 bouillon cube (second pause for others of you to reflect on the fact I am still using bouillon 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 bouillon 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.
by Cathy Allie
I recently interviewed a young person who wants to change careers. She is confident and well-trained and 100% certain she wants to do something different than what she is currently doing. She just doesn’t know exactly what that different thing is yet.
I envy her commitment to embrace change, and in addition to being just a little enamored with her skill set, which includes everything from number crunching to cake decorating, she has me considering alternate careers for myself as well.
I have eliminated some of my original career goals from childhood. Being a female astronaut is likely out since I now get carsick at any speed over about 40 if I am not the driver, and I can only imagine what G force would do to a weak bladder like mine.
Besides holding my hand in just the right way to make it look like I am removing a finger, which typically scares little kids, and downing coffee by the gallon, I have no marketable human tricks, so joining the circus is probably also a non-starter.
My forays into karaoke have confirmed I won’t be joining a band as the lead singer. I have, however, penned my list of contract perks for my hotel room in case I am on tour, like unlimited Apple Jacks cereal, only pink towels with a ruler standing by to measure their plush thickness level, and the episodes of Petty Coat Junction where Betty Jo runs the train playing on repeat.
I used to want to be an aerobics instructor. But now that leg warmers are no longer in style, I have just lost interest ...well, that and the fact that 20 minutes of consistent movement might leave me bedridden. Pardon me, Olivia, but I just don’t want to get physical.
Honestly, what’s left? I am surely too squeamish for anything in the medical field except possibly entering patients’ insurance information, and I don’t type fast enough for that job.
Plus, I have a nephew studying to be a doctor, and it would just make it so awkward if, as I undoubtedly breezed through medical school, we ended up on rotations together, and I was walking around telling people I know what he looks like in a diaper.
I can’t work as a barista, because I cannot even remember why I walked into a room, much less some really long coffee order with weird ingredients like partially hydrogenated coconut husk skinny milk with pulverized ice chips and cinnamon.
I did take a long look at coal mining but I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. See what I did there? So funny, right? And now you have my segue and the introduction into my new career as a standup comedienne.
I think I will be a natural fit for the comedy stage, despite the fact that my family once told me our dog is funnier than me. That nine-pound canine was chasing a laser pointer around the room at the time, and my husband and daughter were rolling on the floor in laughter, proof that both my family and the dog are easily amused, and that clearly my humor is too advanced for them.
As a starter into the whimsical world of comedy, I love to talk, so the five or ten minute set I would have as a fledgling laugh maker would be easy. And getting paid to engage in a one-sided chat? Nirvana.
I can talk for five minutes alone about the time I almost choked on a chicken bone and died, all because I was cheating on a diet my husband and I committed to together, and I caved in and snuck a fried snack in the form of a KFC wing box.
For those of you readers of an age, I have since referred to that day as the Mama Cass Medical Emergency. Hilarious, right? In sheer panic, and unable to breathe, I Heimlich maneuvered myself against my car’s side mirror, and that bone dislodged with such force it put out a bird’s eye.
Even though us comedians are somewhat prone to hyperbole, and the flying bone may only have abraded that wren’s cornea, I suppose I was kind of glad it nearly blinded the little fellow, as he was the only witness to the diet downfall.
And speaking of near death experiences--didn’t that transition sound just like a comedian?--I can talk about all my previous failed diet attempts and how a chicken wing is just the tip of the iceberg of snacks I snuck instead of eating the actual iceberg lettuce that was on most of those diets.
I am confident I can do a full 15 minute routine on things I have seen people do for their dogs, like build them man caves, dress them for holidays (guilty as charged, but who can pass up a cute madras Easter tie?), and feed them baby food with a spoon.
I’ve got at least another solid three to four minutes based on conversations I have had with toddlers which made much more sense than my daily interactions with adults.
Just like many folks working in stand up, I am thick-skinned enough to pretty easily deal with hecklers. My family alone qualifies for the Heckling Hall of Fame.
If you add to that the fact I survived being a media liaison who dealt daily with reporters and was also a high school teacher who encountered lots of teens who regularly let me know they knew more than me, my Heckle Response Expertise Level is off the charts.
Some comedians have an unusual appearance and over the top facial expressions as a part of their persona, and I can check off on those as well. I love a good pattern mix in my clothing for no discernable reason, and there are people who have legit asked me if my real, highly teased hair is a wig. I can raise only one eyebrow at a time with the best of them. Yep, I am a regular weirdo!
Most audiences expect a little irreverence from a comedian, perhaps a comment on modern politics or people in power, a ding at celebrity lifestyles, a jab at organized religion. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am a 25 on irreverence, even in daily conversation.
But in preparation for this new career launch, I have crafted several jokes that start with “The President, Kim Kardashian, and the Pope walk into a grocery store….” That should work, right?
I promise I won’t be full blown irreverent, remembering the need to connect with the more folksy members of my audiences as well. I can add an occasional bit to my gags about kids saying the funniest things, muse on why the ratio of chips to dip is never just right, and even deliver a spontaneous, but really hilarious monologue about things I found under my car seat on a hot day, and who I later gave those things to as Christmas gifts.
Lastly, a good comedienne is able to make fun of herself, in an endearing, self-effacing way. There is a lot of untapped potential in this area at an open mic night for me.
I could confess to my mispronunciation of common words, giggle about the fact that I cannot name all 50 states, much less capitals of said states…or correctly divide fractions…or remember my cousins’ birthdays without prompting, for that matter.
I have reached out to some agents to see about booking a set or two—see, I already know the lingo. Have not heard back from anyone yet, so I have continued to work on my alternate choice for a new career as a balloon animal artist. I hear things there are really popping. Ba dum tsss.
As a kid of the 60’s and 70’s, I became a candy connoisseur. I am a fan of everything from Necco Wafers to Zero bars to the original Willy Wonka gold bars, and I have rarely met a piece of chocolate I didn’t enjoy. My waistline has suffered, and my dentist has profited from my bad candy habits.
June is National Candy Month and truly never has anything deserved its own full month as much as candy, perhaps discounting National Coffee Month, which of course pairs very well with candy and is a life-blood type fuel for me.
I am not sure what you have to do to get your own month. I mean having your own day is one thing, but it seems that a whole month is big stuff. I have seen National Red-Head Month, which is totally unfair. If your genetics just handed you a month, that seems too easy, and it excludes us bottle brown and blonde folks.
I saw National Math Teacher month advertised recently, and I am for sure okay with that one. Anybody who A. understands math, and then B. has the guts to teach it to the rest of us deserves a month for sure. But I digress.
I blame both sets of my grandparents for my entry into Candy Land. At Grammy and Grandy’s house, there was a beautiful dish on the mantle, containing butterscotch hard candy in cellophane wrappers, and if my sister and I so much as glanced that direction we got to have a piece. Or three pieces.
I can remember rolling my tongue over that sweet butterscotch and trying so hard not to bite down on it. I would eventually give in and have the sweet sticky mess stuck to every molar in my mouth.
Grammy and Grandy also kept Russell Stover Chocolate boxes on their big piano. Grandy was an accessory to the crime of sticking our fingers into the bottom of a chocolate to see if we could grab a caramel or a strawberry cream instead of a gross nougat. Sometimes we had to poke lots of holes before we settled on one I could enjoy.
At Nannie and Pa’s house, the candy sometimes came right off Nannie’s stove, as she whipped up divinity and peanut butter candy. As an adult, no matter how many times I try to recreate her holiday treats, they never taste quite the same. But I persevere, testing batch after batch in the name of preserving history.
We also were the recipients of Life Saver story books at their house each Christmas. It was such a thrill to know that all the candy was just mine, and the tattered wax paper under the colorful sleeves was evidence of the fact that when it came to Wild Cherry, I had no willpower to resist.
As I became a wage earner, pulling down that $1 an hour for babysitting neighborhood terrors, some of my first purchases were candy. The jaw breakers from Wheeler’s Drug Store were fully worth the Huffy bike ride up there, and I am guessing I never donned my skates with pom poms on any Friday night without having a Hershey bar and blowing huge bubbles from chewing that grape flavored Bazooka.
I became proficient at dismantling Easter bunnies ears and tails first, and I even enjoyed the eggs with the shellacked outer shells and the marshmallow center, trading away jelly beans to my sister to get them. I remember when there were two shades of brown M&M’s, and the blue ones were just a thing of fantasy, much less any M&M that had a filling other than milk chocolate.
As a college student, Reese’s became my go to pick me up. If you would have tapped my veins in those days, I would only have bled out Reese’s, those dry orange crackers with the peanut butter centers, and Mountain Dew. Gross.
As a beginning teacher, I upped my game and grabbed an occasional Snickers, convincing myself the peanuts would fill the void of the lunch I had missed as I made copies for my next class. I sometimes wonder how those school vending machine guys are enjoying their retirement in the Bahamas or another lovely place, because they sure made some bank off us hungry teachers in those days.
I recently received an email with a website containing candies of old. They used names like nostalgic and retro, making me feel ancient. I could have had my share of Bit O Honey’s, wax pop bottles, giant Sweet Tarts, black licorice, Mounds, Almond Joys, Wacky Wafers, Tart ‘n Tinies, Banana Bites, Astro Pops, cherry sours, Fruit Stripe Gum, Chiclets, Marathon bars, Pixy Stix, even candy cigarettes.
I resisted the temptation to just order a whole bunch, using as an excuse that I wanted to show my daughter what I had growing up. But two things finally made their way into my cart, and I don’t regret purchasing either one of them at all.
I order a whole pound of Brach’s chewy candy, the kind that used to live with no expiration date in bins in the supermarket, where you could fill your own bag and weigh it. The caramel goodness wrapped around fake raspberry, vanilla, and orange flavors had my mouth watering.
I knew I risked the chance of ending up with some root beer barrels or even one of the white nougats with jelly like fruit pieces in it mixed in the assortment, but I didn’t care. The last of them are riding around in my purse today, collecting fuzz, before I act like my great Aunt Pauline and hand one off to some unsuspecting kid in church.
The other was a less conventional choice, one some scientist is still earning royalties from, based on that one day in his lab when he thought, “What kind of candy could I make that would basically explode in someone’s mouth?” And thus was born Zotz. I scarfed down a sleeve of blue raspberry flavor the day they arrived, the only telltale clue a blue stained tongue that I could not explain away.
I saw a meme the other day that said, “Okay, hear me out. An old-fashioned candy necklace, but with Tums and ibuprofen.” I’d be down for it! Happy Candy Month!
When people meet my husband and me, and we tell them we are getting ready to have a milestone anniversary of being married 20 years next week, there are mixed reactions. Try on a few.
One lady said, “Well, congratulations! However, many years you have been married, I am proud of you. Marriage stinks.” She used a little less friendly version of stinks, but this is, after all, a family paper.
While I don’t necessarily agree that marriage stinks every day, there are some days when it does. When I am whining about not getting a room painted or the yard not being trimmed correctly, I am sure David thinks it stinks. His bachelor pad looked like a haunted house until I came along and exorcised those ghosts away.
Alternately, when he is hanging on to the remote like it is providing pain meds after back surgery, just flicking it incessantly, I may feel like it stinks. I haven’t controlled the television for some 20 years. But when I find the softest t-shirt for him to sleep in on a clearance rack, or when he asks the waitress for more butter right when I run out, all is forgiven.
When we shared our anniversary news, another lady said, “Oh! I always wanted to be married for 50 years! Congratulations!” and she walked away before I could ask her why she wouldn’t be married that long or explain that it would be impossible for us to have reached 50 years for a number of reasons.
First, we are barely that old… okay that is what we are telling ourselves. Second, my husband and I met a little later in life, and the all-revered 50 mile marker wasn’t even on the horizon. We are goal setters, but only incremental ones.
We are the couple that was like, “Hey, what if we shoot for 12 years? It seems like a nice round number. People use it to package eggs and cupcakes. Wanna’ give it a shot?” And when we got to twelve, then and only then, did we dare think about that next eight.
Now that we have arrived there, we are quietly negotiating for another three. I have asked for partial custody of the remote, but we will see how that goes. For his part, he wants two carbs with each meal, which my waistline won’t allow. We have reached an impasse in arbitrations.
One man who we told about our anniversary said just one word. “Wow.” He didn’t even say it with an exclamation point attached, just “Wow.” I suppose his wow could mean anything from wonder, like the shock and awe kind, to worrying that it could fall apart at any moment.
Other folks might be offended by his response, but we get it. Let me start with Dave’s side.
I am a Type A, where I like things organized and scheduled and planned (and in order and orderly… do you get it?) But I also have a creative mind, where I dream and think aloud and plan for things that frankly, will probably never happen. So, I am a Sybil of sorts to those trying to unwrap me. Dave has managed those (and probably a couple of other personalities) pretty well for all these years.
And on my side? I married a coach. I could just stop there, and the coaches wives would all be nodding their heads and waving praise hands fast enough to create a wind that would generate a tidal wave. But others of you need a little more information.
Coaching is like a side chick, or how I imagine one might be. It requires constant attention, money flowing out of your pockets instead of into them, hard work when you are tired, and lots of time away from your family, all for occasional enjoyable moments. I have learned to relish the time Dave gives his “side chick” and use that time to explore those crazy creative ideas that will never come to fruition. For us, it works, and frankly, “Wow” pretty well summarizes it.
The last, best, and perhaps favorite response was from a lady who was in the card aisle at the same time as me, as I struggled to pick out a card that conveyed just the right sense of, “No, that beard hair in the sink doesn’t bother me” and “I wish when you grilled pork chops they weren’t so dry” but still said “I love you so much.”
I had picked up and put down about 20 cards as she and I skirted one another in the aisle. I had already noticed she smelled like the nicest combination of vanilla with a hint of barbecue, truly two of my favorite things.
I was getting frustrated and was moving on to picking out a birthday card for my beloved brother in law when she handed me a card. I smiled politely and said, “Do I need this one?”
And she said, “You were looking for an anniversary card, right?,” to which I nodded. I swear there was a beautiful light around her, but it might be the onset of cataracts for me.
The card was a muted green, David’s favorite color, and I know this, because we have been married for 20 years and green makes up at least 50% of his wardrobe.
The sentiment was sweet but not sickeningly so, which I knew he would appreciate, and I know this, because we have been married for 20 years. It also had pretty large print, which means he won’t have to grab his specs to read it, always a bonus.
What I maybe loved most was that it had plenty of “signing space” for me to pen words of love and gratitude, which likely won’t come to me in that moment, and I know this, because we have been married for 20 years and I could never tell him what he means to me, no matter how big the space.
I looked up to tell her thank you, and she was gone! Poof! I convinced myself she was our Anniversary Angel. I wandered around grabbing other essentials, smiling about our angel, and wondering where she had gone.
That is until I got in line to pay. There she was, in line right in front of me, buying a home decorating magazine, a package of Rolos, pork rinds, and Busch Light beer. That’s when I knew for sure she was our personal messenger, sent just as a reminder for our perfect anniversary celebration.
Happy 20th Anniversary, David. Let’s go ahead and aim for three more and see how it goes.
When I was a kid, we all knew the name Mario Andretti, a famous racecar driver. He was a handsome Italian-American who wowed the world with his track antics.
He was regularly featured on Saturday’s Wide World of Sports, even the sportscasters marveling at his latest run. He drove in rain and in sun, and once even in 2” inch hail—always against some of the other most famous names in the sport.
He had a beautiful smile, a full head of wavy hair, and his signature sunglasses made him even more mysterious and handsome. His lesser known brother was also a driver, but it was Mario and his mad driving skills, who rose to fame.
Sometimes he won his race, sometimes he crashed or spun out, but it was always with aplomb, peeling himself out of his cars to flash his bindingly white-toothed smile at a bank of paparazzi. Names like Formula One, LeMans, Grand Prix and Daytona became a part of our vocabulary thanks to Mario.
I remember one race where they fitted him with a camera inside his low-slung car, and we got a first-hand look at his prowess. He wove in and out of his competitors at breathtaking speed, all the while humming a quirky Italian tune. He was so cool.
Kids wore racecar driver coveralls with his logos on them for Halloween costumes. He made guest appearances on sitcoms, always playing a charismatic boyfriend or love interest.
Johnny Carson interviewed him, and female audience members swooned. He won races in three different decades, making him a generational household name.
When I put the pedal to the medal as a new driver, my dad would say, “Whoa, Mario Andretti. Slow down a little!” To this day, I highly doubt the story that Mario from Mario Kart games was named for a landlord at the Nintendo headquarters building. He must have been named for Mr. Andretti.
The racing phenom, now 82, has aged pretty well, now sporting the most beautiful shock of white hair, such a distinguished gentleman. He has since retired from racing, long before I could ever see him race in person. But I swear I thought I saw him just the other day right here in town.
It’s documented that Mario Andretti drove all kinds of vehicles, from go carts to high performance cars made just for him, and as a child, he drove on clay and red dirt circles. But the cul de sacs of suburbia? Could it be?
It was a beautiful spring day, the first hint of warmth we had felt in weeks. The air was filled with the sound of lawn mowers buzzing away in the background, the cries of agony from children tumbling off poorly secured backyard trampolines, and birds chirping about the latest, best porches and eaves on which to build a nest.
I was on my front porch, admiring my newly procured pedicure, and deep in a novel which had nothing to do with racing, except racing hearts. I heard the engine before I saw it.
I glanced up in time to see the top of the driver’s head, his classic mirrored sunglasses flashing in the sun. He was crouched low over the wheel, intent on having his body become one with the vehicle, but he somehow still knew he had an audience.
His vehicle was shiny and clean, proudly displaying an American flag duct taped to the roof. Its open design allowed what I am sure was a cooling air flow on the warm day.
It was then that the other driver pulled up slowly next to the first vehicle and revved her engine in response. It was like a matchup through time, with Danica Patrick challenging the old master.
There was no checkered flag. There were no pricey concessions, no t-shirt stands at the gate, and no RV’s parked for camping the night before. But the race that ensued might as well have been the Indy 500 final lap, minus only a baritone-voiced announcer narrating the matchup.
The drivers swerved, they changed leads, they careened around streetside parallel parkers. They risked it all for the unnamed prize. I swear the Danica wannabe had the vehicle up on two wheels at one point.
I hopped off the porch and raced to the sidewalk to see the neck and neck finish and determine who would have bragging rights. And in all truth, to make sure none of the drivers in the GOLF CARTS were injured.
When the competitor exited the vehicle in jubilant triumph, I was not too shocked to see his small stature, as the golf-cart drivers in our neighborhood are always up for an Andretti like race at their ripe old ages of 10 or 11 years old.
Welcome to warm weather in the Hood. Mario would be proud. Me? Just a little terrified, but along for the ride.
I have not had an original thought in approximately 15 years. If I was a scientific researcher, this would worry me. But as a busy person who likes to get things done, I am pretty happy that somebody already thought about it and likely posted some of their pretty good ideas for me to use.
I recently hosted a diaper shower brunch for one of my favorite families ever, one who will soon welcome their second, no doubt fabulous, child. It was a joyous day that I enjoyed planning and preparing for. Or maybe I should say borrowed ideas for.
One quick trip to Pinterest gave me the idea to have everybody bring the diapers and wipes, enough to keep that precious baby’s bottom covered and dry for quite a while.
Pinterest guided me though everything else, too, from what food to serve, to writing funny messages to the parents for early morning changing times right on the diapers. I am no original.
Sometimes I think I have thought up something brand new, only to have someone tell me they saw it on Tik Tok or a creative blog.
For example, before there were 5,763 pins about repurposing pallets for furniture, I thought I was really on to something. After determining pallets from work were just being junked, I asked permission to snag some.
With the help of my trusty, albeit somewhat reticent helper husband, we pried away some boards, added others, figured and reconfigured until we had some rough-hewn patio furniture, which I showed off to a friend.
She was impressed with our work and told me I should check out a blogger who had basically redone her whole home using pallets for everything from wall art to storage cabinets, and who not only had constructed patio furniture, but had also used the pallets to lay a wooden walkway all around her garden.
Are you kidding me? I didn’t have an original idea?
Several other cases in point of my non-original ideas include: combining assortments of odd refrigerator leftovers into tasty dishes, only to find someone served the same thing just last week; Valentine boxes during elementary years for my daughter, only to send her to school and have a classmate have a matching (generally better looking) box; and creative hairstyles when I am growing out my bangs, only to find out I am already a part of an online stylist’s look book.
I am in awe of people who just randomly come up with the next new, completely original idea. I want to meet the lady who was looking at a strawberry one day and thought, “I bet a drinking straw would make the perfect tool to remove that center. Here, Grandma, hold the baby and let me try it.”
I need to hang out with the genius who created the first bath bomb. I figure she was looking at a laundry detergent pod (in a carefully locked container so her not so bright teenager wouldn’t eat it) and thought, “Dang. I wish they made these to use to get people clean. Here, Sheila, hold the Shout wipes, and let me think this through.”
Better yet, maybe I want to meet the first hot chocolate bomb maker who was just thought it was too dang hard to add chocolate syrup and sprinkles and marshmallows all separately to the cup. “Here, Harvey, hold the hot scalded milk while I form a chunk of this stuff.”
I am sure I would quake with excitement to meet the gal who had the idea of a ponytail hat for women. She was probably on day three hair, was headed out to a happy hour, and grabbed her boyfriend’s ball cap on a whim, only to realize it was the fitted type.
After trying for a minute to wedge her thick, healthy ponytail under the edge, she needed a better solution.
“Here, Sandy. Hold my beer. I am gonna’ cut the crap outta Justin’s favorite hat to make room for my ponytail” then dug out a pair of rusty old nail scissors from the bottom of her purse and went to work. Get it, girl!
I might be a little jealous of the patent holder of sticky notes or of those corrugated sleeves for hot coffee, since about 60 million of each of those are used in a single day, but for the most part, I am a cheerleader for those with bright ideas. “Hooray for you,” I think. “Now I don’t have to think about it.”
I do think special ‘props’ should go to people who had the ideas for over the top things like clothing that changes color based on the wearer’s mood and self-driving cars. I mean those are really big ideas. Not good ideas, but big ones, right?
And perhaps this is the place to let people know I am currently willing to pay a hefty price to anybody who has a good idea or two about how to communicate with teenage girls or a husband with selective hearing. I am out of original ideas on those fronts, for sure.
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.
Musings from the Middle: I Want More
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.
Grain Valley News
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