Dec 222017

December 23, 2017

Our housekeeper, who is 82 and has been with our family for 25 years, is here today (Friday). We’re both pretty afraid of her (and you would be, too). We love her to pieces, but she has strong opinions that we consider, or she will not be happy. We want her to be happy. When it was time for a new vacuum, I asked her opinion.

My Beloved wanted a Dyson, but I honestly couldn’t see it for a home that has less than 25% carpeting. Our housekeeper wanted a Shark. On Cyber Monday, I ordered the one she wanted which arrived unassembled. Had I purchased at a local store, it still would have come unassembled. Or as my husband pointed out later, I could pay an outrageous fee to have a 17-year-old assemble it. (In retrospect, the idea is growing on me.)

As I am the most organized person on earth, I started assembly at 10 p.m. last night. The directions were pictures entirely too small for me to see. I’m not sure I could have seen the diagrams when I was twenty. Tiny, tiny images.

I retrieved my magnifying glass and was able to see the pictures.

The second problem, I am unable to comprehend the pictures. Ask me to write a ten thousand word essay on vacuum cleaners, and I’m good to go. Insert part A into part B, and a dark cloud befalls the room.

I could not assemble a kitten without written directions (place tail above anus).

Pictures showed a bolt connects the handle to the body of the vacuum. I put the bolt in the hole and attempted to screw it in with a regular screwdriver. After finding resistance in the initial twist, any rational person might think, “This is not the right hole.”

No, it wasn’t the right hole. And it wasn’t even close. And I got it stuck.

How would you like it if your spouse (who is high on steroids) asked for your help at 10:30 p.m. on a work night? (He’s not retired yet.) My Beloved nearly stripped the damn thing before he got it out. He was able to persuade the bolt from the hole with pliers.

Then we couldn’t figure out where the actual hole was located. Five college degrees between us and we are completely clueless. Before I get a lecture on liberal arts degrees, let me state for the record that the only person I know who could assemble this is our nephew who has a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s the one we call when we cannot figure out how to turn the tire pressure light off in the car, and cannot comprehend the helpful 22-minute YouTube video on same.

My Beloved figured out how to attach the handle correctly. Gratefully, I noted that the handle also faced the correct way.

Time for hose assembly. Neither of us could understand the pictures. And what didn’t help at all was that the Easy Start Up Directions and the regular directions had different information. Somewhere in the Ether copywriters at Shark are laughing their rear ends off, pondering ignorant customers like us.

My Beloved was most patient with me. The steroids now entirely kicked in, I was somewhat hysterical and singing “Bring me some figgy pudding” out of nervousness. The steroids are, however, slightly useful because I could reshingle the house if necessary with my colossal surge of energy. My Beloved had many sharp objects in his hands over the course of our time together. He could have quickly (and rightfully, I might add) have stabbed me any number of times.

As the shortest day of the year drained into midnight, we finished. Well, we think we have completed.

As our housekeeper owns the same model, she can tell us if the hoses are in the right place. As Tiny Tim would say, “God Bless Us, Every One.”

IF YOU FOUND THIS FUNNY, please share on your social media. Indie writers need love, too.

Apr 012017

April 1, 2017
We’ve known about the three family weddings for a year.  Three of our nephews are getting married this spring, each blessed day six weeks apart.  The first wedding is a week from today. Somehow, it evaded me that I might need to have something to wear to these special family events.  My Beloved bought new Florsheim shoes a month ago, so he’s a bit ahead of me.

As aunt and uncle, we have no visible role.  We buy an acceptable gift. We show up and try to stay low key, looking normal, not like a flamboyant Auntie Mame character or clueless Marvin from “Office Space.”

The bride and groom tell everyone the same thing; we want you to be at our wedding.  Don’t worry about the details.  You being there is the most important thing to us.

But we know the underlying message is that we need to stay in the background. Our day is past. We want to have a Low Profile. Staying out of the spotlight is difficult because we both possess qualities of each character, well, mostly me.  (Ones of my prized possessions is a red stapler I won from Radio WOWO in 1973.  Sad life.)

My Beloved knows how to stay under the radar. He looks respectable every day, because (unless it is Saturday) he won’t go out in jeans and a sweatshirt. He wears nice slacks and neatly pressed collared shirts (by the dry cleaners, not me) every weekday. (We’re not counting that time we ate the 100 Swiss franc lunch in Lugano when he was wearing his Allis-Chalmers orange sweatshirt from Rural King.  I’m telling you, he’s Ralph Lauren business casual most of the time.)

We rarely dress up. The suits I wore when I worked for a Fortune 100 company are long gone. Husband has the requisite weddings and funeral suits.  Wednesday night we canvassed his closet and had a “try-on” session.  He was wearing no shirt and Marvin the Martian fancy pants.  Real sexy stuff.

He found three identical blue sports jackets. Helpful for when we summer in the Hamptons.  Seriously, why does he have these?   My theory is that in the last 21 years (that’s as long as we’ve lived in this house), some occasion arose that he needed a blue sports jacket, so he bought one.  And then another.  And then another.

Then he found five nearly identical suits in dry cleaning bags.  One of the outfits had two red Christmas tapers packed in plastic attached to the bag.  Was it a giveaway from the dry cleaners?  Were they in his pockets when he took the jacket into the cleaners?  We thought we might surprise the bride and groom as we walked up the aisle each carrying a red candle, but realized that would put in the Being Noticed category.

Four of the five suits fit, and I insisted he put the fifth (a leftover from about twenty years ago) in the Goodwill pile.  He didn’t want to, but I reminded him that having four identical suits that fit qualifies him for a new career as a funeral director.  He’s not interested in changing jobs.  We agreed to find a shirt and tie to match whatever I wore.  This is problematic.

I have nothing to wear.  

Nothing.  I purchased a dress for another nephew’s wedding in 2015, and well, the dress was hideous.  There was also a minor incident with a slip.  A slip is a piece of women’s lingerie from Queen Victoria’s era.  The only other dress I have is my “funeral dress.”  I wore it to my mother’s funeral because my father requested I wear a dress. (I will not be wearing one to his funeral, should he proceed me, as he won’t be there to observe.)  There is something acceptable I can wear to Wedding #3 because it’s colors are black and gold, and I happen to own a summery, shimmery black and gold two-piece top with a pair of black summery, shimmery slacks.  This look fits into the vision of being stylish but not overly visible.

I made a trek to the mall today (a place I never visit) and found a helpful clerk and found something acceptable and low key.  Now if I remember not to call the groom by his childhood nickname, not carry lighted tapers down the aisle, pull my red stapler out of my purse, and for God’s sake, not dance at the reception, we will be under the radar.

Jul 062016

Sunset, Seagrove Beach, FL, 2005

July 6, 2016 — Over the weekend, we watched a TV show that features people hunting for a perfect private island. A couple, Larry and Lubya, toured three islands near Fiji, with a realtor.  Each island had fantastic views. Who can imagine purchasing an island for several million dollars? No wonder these shows are popular; most of us probably fantasize along with the couple about our private island.

Something the male half of the couple said stuck in my mind as he pondered an island with great views.

“You can put your lawn chair toward the sunrise, and turn it around for the sunset.”

Well, duh.  I’ve thought about it ever since. The sun rises everywhere, and the sun sets everywhere.  You can put your lawn chair toward the sunrise, and turn it around for the sunset in Thailand or Abilene, Texas.  While there may not be the Pacific Ocean spread out before you, there are amazing, wonderful surprises all over the world.  It’s just a matter of perspective.

While I’ll never see a sunrise or sunset in Fiji, I’ve viewed beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

I’ve been blessed all my life to enjoy sunsets such as the one pictured above in my beloved Florida. I prefer the moments just after the yellow orb dips into the horizon, and colors up and down the spectrum glitter across the water.

Sunset in my backyard is amazing almost every evening.  Deer like to traverse our yard from the neighboring woods to travel to the lake across the street. We’ve seen as many as seven in the dim, amber light after sunset. To be honest, I’ve not seen that many sunrises in my life, but one stands out. If I never saw another, this morning on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon would fill my soul with enough joy to last a lifetime. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge and got up early (not usual for us) and walked to an area where a large, wooden cross stood against a view to the east.  Seeing the sun rise over the canyon with the cross in the foreground lacks appropriate words or pictures to describe its magnificence. The sunrise view was a once-in-a-lifetime, take-your-breath-away experience. If this scene had a score, it would be “How Great Thou Art.”

Not all our days are beach days or sunrises over a sublime slice of the earth.  But, we have been given a gift; we can “move our lawn chairs” either way and catch the sunrise or sunset, wherever we are. The day after my mother died, the sun rose as it always does. The day my son was diagnosed with autism, the sun set.

Move your  Adirondack or camping seat or cushioned wicker couch often and take in the beauty around you. It’s a matter of perspective.

May 142016

Snow White 5May 14, 2016 — Yes, it’s me, Snow White. Do you remember I won an Oscar in 1939? Child star Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney a special Oscar for his first film-length animated feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”   Seven small duplicate Oscars accompanied the larger one. The diminutive Oscars were for my dear friends and former roommates,  Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy, and Bashful.

I am the very same Snow White, who starred as a maiden in the Oscar-winning film nearly 80 years ago.

You probably wonder what has happened to my compatriots and me.

Someday my Prince will come.  I found my Prince Charming at the end of the film. We had a wonderful life together. He swept me off my feet,  out of the woods, and into the high rent district. We lived in his paternal grandmother’s castle. His family is noted for longevity.  His grandmother the Queen, his grandfather the Duke, and his father are still alive. His grandmother turned ninety this year. Pity the poor fool who has to wait that long to be king.

I’m no longer living in the castle. My dear one died in an unfortunate accident in the equestrian competition at the 1960 summer Olympics. Charming’s skill as a calvary officer was well known. However,  his dressage horse Hoof Hearted didn’t get the email and threw Charming over a fence. My beloved met an untimely and unfortunate death.

My children (Barry and Vanna) and I initially moved in with my sister Betty.  Our arrangement didn’t last. Betty’s house was overrun with dogs. The children developed severe allergies.

Barry left us a decade ago and is with his father.  Vanna has an excellent, well-paying job. She helps me as much as she can. But, I can’t live with my daughter. Her great room features a huge alphabet board, and worse,  a  shiny, lighted, neon wheel looms over the house and makes noise.

I took a day job at a hospital, and this week we celebrated National Hospital Week. I love my co-workers, so I decided to surprise them and dress in my costume from my first and only movie.

Can you believe that’s a wig in the picture?  Snow White has snow white hair now. I was pleased to find a plus-sized costume on Amazon. Snow may have put on a few pounds since the movie. So, I look like a tugboat in my Princess costume. The film was a long time ago. You should see my former roommates; they’ve gone to pot. Sleepy has marks on his face from staying in bed most of the time. Bashful is whacked out from taking pills for 80 years for Social Anxiety Disorder.

Heigh Ho. Heigh Ho. Where did the heck those boys go? The word dwarf is now politically incorrect, so I’ll just refer to them as little people. Only five of them are alive.  Due to climate change, Sneezy’s allergies worsened, and the little fellow succumbed to COPD years ago.

Doc ripped out my heart. I’m sad to report he committed suicide. His reimbursement rate from Medicare and Medicaid dipped so low he couldn’t pay his overhead. And don’t mention those three ex-wives.

Dopey always enjoyed working with people with his “sales personality.” He’s now the Midwestern Director for the Donald J. Trump Campaign for President.

The other four had difficulty finding work and moved to China where they got work as Internet trolls.  We hear Grumpy has a lead on some of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

My grandchildren don’t know about my fame. They see me as a white-haired little old lady who works in a hospital, wears Alfred Dunner, and likes to listen to Tommy Dorsey. Perhaps some things are better left in the past.

Apple, anyone?

May 092016

By User:Aka (File:Chocolate.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Aka (File:Chocolate.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This week I’ve been approached to support a children’s dance class, a high school mission trip, a college sports trip, an elementary soccer league, and a private school fundraiser.

Are we solicited because we have a soft touch, or are we simply soft-headed? My husband is worse than I am. He’s contributed to “Laplanders for Botox” or something as equally arbitrary. We don’t need garbage bags via a fundraising organization that takes a huge percentage off the top. But, wait, there’s more!  Donate more and get 100 additional monogrammed trash bags today and all the penguins of Antarctica get new bowler hats.

To be fair, I’ve worked in professional development and as a volunteer in the disability community. My hands reached out for many a friend and family member. We do, however, try to reciprocate, but this is something else.

From the time our son was asked to sell World’s Finest chocolate bars, we insisted he do the selling himself. It was a teachable moment.  I showed him the ropes. He was raising money for the elementary school band, where he gave a less than stellar performance with his rented baritone horn.

At first, we didn’t allow him to solicit outside of friends and family.

For the fourth-grader, that meant a somewhat scripted phone conversation with his maternal grandparents and his paternal grandmother. He called a few other relatives and hit up the elderly ladies in his fan club at church. He had success and moved on to Boy Scout popcorn.

Our son and his friend donned their regal uniforms and pulled a wagon through the neighborhood. Who isn’t a soft touch for a man in uniform? Again, our son hit up the relatives and his community and church groupies.

Something has changed in the 15 years since he started his sales career. This change is well illustrated by a story my now-adult son told me. His co-worker approached him to buy a bauble or coupon book from her child.

My son said, “I will, but my parents always made me ask myself. They said I was the sales person, and I had to do it.”

His co-worker replied, “But, my child is five.”

ENOUGH already.

I repeat, I am a soft touch, and sponsor most things. I’m also aware that civic and school organizations don’t have resources, and I’m happy to support them. My family has a tradition of scholarships at several state universities.  But…

I suggest three ways a child can improve his sales, and learn some valuable life lessons, like speaking to adults respectfully, understanding rejection, and following through with orders.

Here are my three suggestions, with apologies to the real estate industry and their location x 3 mantra.

  1. Let your child sell his stuff.
  2. Let your child sell his stuff.
  3. Let your child sell his stuff.

I am more likely to buy from a child (even if the parent is standing a distance back) than I am from a co-worker who slips a sheet in front of my face. Or worse yet, asks me randomly, “Do you like going to the movies?” Yes, my co-worker has a bargain on discounted tickets for the local theater to benefit youth soccer. The most egregious are the emails sent to an entire contact list on behalf of their young child.

Don’t call me Grinch. If your child is too young to sell products, you should not do it for them. Many workplaces have no solicitation policies, resulting in a breakroom with multiple jewelry, purse, food, and makeup catalogs as well as the goodies schoolchildren sell.

This morning I gave a co-worker a check. My son purchased whatever it was from the parent of the 5-year-old. Our names must be on a list somewhere.

Cross-posted at BlogHer under different title.



May 012016

HEALTH May 2016 © Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age By Amy Abbott

 While we do not know the events that led up to Duke’s illness, medicine tells us that sepsis is of particular risk to older adults. Many of us have compromised immune systems from other disease states. We may not recognize the symptoms.

When television icon Patty Duke died in late March at 69, shocked fans learned her death was caused by sepsis of the intestine. Anyone born in the Eisenhower or Truman administrations grew up watching the iconic star of stage and screen who later became a mental health activist.

From Child Star to Activist

At 16, Duke was the youngest Oscar winner for her 1963 portrayal of Helen Keller aside Anne Bancroft in the film The Miracle Worker. Duke originated the role on Broadway from 1959 to 1961 with Bancroft as teacher Anne Sullivan. Duke also won a Golden Globe for her performance. (Tatum O’Neal stole Duke’s youngest Academy Award winner crown with her honor for Paper Moon in 1973.)

For baby boomers, the characters and theme song of “The Patty Duke Show” still ring in our heads 50 years later. Duke played twins, Patty and Cathy (“when cousins are two of a kind” proclaimed the catchy tune). Patty was frequently in trouble; while Cathy, her cousin from England, was more refined. The show, naturally in black and white, was hokey and we loved it.

The ABC sitcom ran for three seasons and netted Duke an Emmy. For a brief time in 1965, Duke’s pop hit “Don’t Just Stand There” held in the Top Ten hits.

Duke had a long television and film career, with other notables such as Valley of the Dolls, and a turnabout role in a remake of The Miracle Worker as Anne Sullivan in 1979. She won another Emmy for her interpretation of Helen Keller’s acclaimed teacher.

Behind the screen, Duke served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and was a prolific writer. In her 1987 autobiography Call Me Anna, Duke detailed her tumultuous childhood and lifetime battles with bipolar disorder.

Thirty years ago, the discussion of mental illness was not as open or frank as it is today. Duke was ahead of her time with her willingness to discuss a difficult childhood and struggles with mental illness. A second book A Brilliant Madness Living with Maniac Depression Illness, was published in the 1990s.

Duke had three sons and was married to former drill sergeant Michael Pearce at the time of her death. Her former husband and father of two of her sons (one by adoption) was John Astin, an actor noted for his role as Gomez in the television show “The Addams Family.

An Untimely Death by a Lurking Killer

Not yet 70, Duke died at her Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, home of sepsis from a ruptured intestine, according to her online biography. The Mayo Clinic defines sepsis as a “potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection trigger inflammation responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger changes that may damage multiple organs. Mayo reports that if the disease progresses to “septic shock,” blood pressure may plummet and death may be the result.

While we do not know the events that led up to Duke’s illness, medicine tells us that sepsis is of particular risk to older adults. Many of us have compromised immune systems from other disease states. We may not recognize the symptoms.

Because of her celebrity, the news of Duke’s death by sepsis may increase awareness among seniors. Cleveland, Ohio, NBC-affiliate WKYC reported that Google searches on sepsis increased 800 percent after Duke’s death.

The Sepsis Alliance organization was featured in multiple venues on March 30, the day after Duke’s death as awareness jumped across the country. The article highlighted symptoms that everyone (and especially seniors or those with compromised immune systems) should know. The signs of sepsis are outlined in a fact sheet on the Center for Disease Control website.

S – Shivering, fever, or feeling very cold

E – Extreme pain or general discomfort, as in “worst ever.”

P – Pale or discolored skin

S – Sleepy, difficult to wake up or confused

I – “I feel like I might die.”

S – Shortness of breath

These symptoms together seem grim, but someone with a painful bowel or frequent asthma attacks or another kind of compromised immune system may miss symptoms. Your mindfulness to these symptoms in your own or a loved one’s life may help you avoid the tragedy of an early death, like Duke’s.

Find my books and columns at

Apr 232016

Vintage Raven Lunatic published by Senior Wire News Service, July 2015, and written on a cocktail napkin sometime between 1984 and 2009.  You figure it out. (Reposted April 23, 2016).

By Andypiper from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (Michigan Theater Tickets Uploaded by clusternote) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andypiper via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an old expression, “You need to get out more.” It’s good for us to travel and experience new things, but some of us have more trouble coping with the outside world.  Years ago, we went to a Barry Manilow concert. (I know, I am quite ashamed to admit it, but give me a break, I was a teenager in the 1970s. “Weekend in New England” was the romantic torch song of the era.) I purchased advance tickets and shoved them into my suitcase of a purse.

Our son was still at home and needed a sitter. I kept our two tickets and handed the sitter the receipt which had the venue name, time, and seat numbers in case she needed us. Except I accidentally gave the babysitter one of the tickets and kept the receipt and another ticket.

When we arrived, I recklessly grabbed the tickets and ran them under the nose of the snooty docent. Without two real tickets, she pulled us aside. After some serious sweet ­talking, the docent took us to the stadium office to discuss our situation. Eventually, we went up to our seats by a circuitous route.

Barry is now older, and so am I, and that “Weekend in New England” jazz just wasn’t there for Barry and me anymore.

In 1992, we went to Comiskey Park in Chicago for White Sox opening day.

Who thinks sitting outside and watching baseball in April is a good idea? (One  baseball fan in our house does.)

The south side of Chicago was about 20 degrees and windy that day. We stopped Woolworths for sock caps and cheap blankets. We held our opening day tickets close and went through the front gate.

By the time we were ready to enter the stands, my husband had lost his ticket between the front gate and the entrance to the bleachers. In about 40 yards, he lost his ticket.

Another round of sweet talking,  and soon we were eating peanuts and looking like thugs in our dime­store sock caps and blankets. That day we saw Bo

Public Domain, Wikicommons

Public Domain, Wikicommons

Jackson hit a home run on his first at­bat in two years, well worth the cold and the lost ticket.

These lame events pale compared to our most sincere, darkest moments of shame.

Early in our marriage, we visited the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Security at NASA, even in the 1980s, was tight.  Visitors were ticketed and traveled on shuttle buses to see the Vehicle Assembly Building and the various launch pads. We purchased our tickets and boarded the first in a line of six identical multi­colored transporters.

After the first stop, we were told to reboard the same bus.

We couldn’t remember which one was ours. So we just picked one.

We sat down about halfway back and soon the bus filled with tourists. The bus driver got on the PA system and said, in that mumbled kind of way that bus mics have, “There are two extra passengers on this bus. Will those individuals who are on the wrong bus please disembark immediately?”

Naturally we were so horrified we didn’t say a word. We looked around innocently to see who the guilty culprits were.

The bus driver was getting agitated. A pregnant woman who was standing in front of the bus with her hulk of a husband wasn’t looking too thrilled, either. We thought she might deliver any minute.

Still, did we identify ourselves and leave? Hell, no. We  sat there like smiling lumps on a launch pad.

Soon the tour of America’s Space Coast was over, and we hastily made our way to the car, fully expecting as we passed a newspaper box to see our story on the cover of the “Orlando Sentinel.” The headline boasting in Second Coming type size: “Portly young couple takes seats from the pregnant woman.”

We don’t go out much anymore.

Apr 222016
Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

Twenty years ago today Erma Bombeck died at 69 of complications from a kidney transplant. Bombeck, a native of Dayton, Ohio, rose to fame as a newspaper columnist, author, and ultimately, regular guest on “Good Morning, America.”  At her peak, she wrote three columns a week for 900 newspapers. She never won a Pulitzer prize and didn’t make it off the then-Women’s Pages.

Her legacy endures today among a new generation of women, and some men, writers, mothers, fathers, and humorists.

The University of Dayton holds Bombeck’s papers and established the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. I was fortunate to attend the biennial workshop in March 2016. It was much more than a writer’s workshop.  The three-day event was a tribute to Bombeck and her family, as well as a “hands-on” workshop with A-list speakers, writers, and humorists, including Roy Blount, Jr., Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, Leighann Lord, Alan Zweibel, Amy Ephron and Gina Barreca.

Every day when participants entered the conference center, we were greeted with one of Erma’s old IBM Selectric typewriters. For writers who “composed at the typewriter” on machines like this one and their non-electric predecessors, seeing Erma’s typewriter was magical.

Photo by author, University of Dayton, March 2016

Photo by author, University of Dayton, March 2016″composed at the typewriter” on machines

Why does Erma Bombeck matter today?

My mother read Erma’s “At Wit’s End” newspaper column and all of her books. Like millions of other women, Mom clipped out her favorites and stuck them on the refrigerator. She frequently chased me around the house to read a portion of Erma’s column. Mom, who had a silly streak and an excellent sense of humor, often quoted Erma.

Erma’s writing is ordinary, yet extraordinary. It takes tremendous skill to garner laughter and tears from the same anecdote. Her work is timeless and accessible. In a strange way, my discovery of Erma in my fifties is a link to my late mother, as well as further understanding of her life. All three Bombeck children, Betsy, Andrew, and Matt,  also Boomers,  attended the conference. and I imagine it was beautiful and terrible for them at the same time. Workshop attendees loved their mother, and none of them knew her personally. But, we all knew her, her home, her longings, her view of the world. She spoke for the generation of our mothers.

When I was an adolescent and starting writing, the last person I wanted to emulate was Erma Bombeck.  She’s a housewife, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t then have much appreciation for the love and sacrifice my mother — also, college educated like Erma — had for my brother and me.  No, I wanted to be Joan Didion or Judith Viorst or Gloria Steinem.

Bombeck 2

Courtesy Erma Bombeck Archives, University of Dayton

My first job involved all writing, the second job less writing, and more administration, and soon I was in management with little creativity. I managed an advertising agency account, but my “hands-on” days were over. I still yearned to write.  Multiple life transitions gave me that opportunity in 2009.  I started writing again and haven’t stopped since. Interestingly, my life was less like Gloria Steinem’s and more like Erma Bombeck’s.

As is the case for many female Baby Boomer humor writers, people tell me sometimes I remind them of Erma Bombeck.  I’ll never be Erma Bombeck, but I’m okay to stand in a sliver of her reflected glory. I’ve been privileged to have several of my pieces published on the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop site (click here).  I also had the honor to interview on of the Bombeck (adult) children for a Senior Wire News Service piece.

Erma Bombeck quotes from “Brainy Quotes.”

The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.
My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.

Rest in Peace, dear Erma.

Apr 162016

April 16, 2016 — My husband is the Love of My Life. But high on the list is coffee.

I love coffee. I love everything about coffee. I love the smell of coffee. I love the feel of coffee on my tongue. I love the sound our coffeemaker makes as the fresh brew gurgles through the filter. I love the sight of my familiar pink and green mug filled to the brim with the sublime medium-roast.  I love the taste of rich, full-bodied coffee, black with no irritating powders or creams.

Most important, I love the things that coffee does for me. Coffee helps me in ways I beyond my ability to spell them out. Here are a few: coffee gets me up and going.  Coffee kills the morning troll that’s been hiding under my side of the bed since I got up to use the bathroom at 2 a.m. The troll that wants to throw a rock at Wretched Morning Breath Spouse when he speaks nicely to the cat before the sun is up.  That troll that makes me swear every day that I’ll never watch “The Today Show” again if Matt and Savannah don’t stop being so effing chipper. The troll that makes me hate every other human being on the planet.  Dr. Phil (and what does he know?) says that the first 15 minutes in the morning are key to a couple’s long-term happiness.

Really?  Before I have my coffee, I would like to clean Dr. Phil’s molars with a rusty meat hook.

Coffee provides the routine I need in my life.  I’m not talking about connecting with my Android calendar.  If I drink my coffee, as  I normally do, between 8 and 8:30 .m., life is glorious and joyous at 9:30 a.m.  Butterflies, Unicorns and fairies appear, and life is good.

We don’t even want to think about what happens when The Editorial We doesn’t get coffee until, say, 10 a.m.  Bad, bad things happen. The earth stops revolving around the sun.

We’re ending a long week. I had four days of meetings either at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m.  I am not a morning person, despite my mother telling me every day of my childhood that I would magically turn into one someday.  Mom, you’ve been dead for four years.  I’m almost 59 years old.  Never going to happen.

We slept in late today, and I nearly killed the Love of My Life when he made goo-goo eyes at our ancient cat and asked him, “Are you my baby kitty?”

No, he is not your baby kitty. He is eighteen years old and just had diarrhea and threw up in my bathroom.

The cat would probably do a whole lot better if he just drank some coffee with his fish crunchies in the morning.

Crossposted at BlogHer.

Apr 092016

catfoodThis is my life now.  Never mind I have a busy full-time job, an active secondary writing career, a human family, and a home. Never mind all that.

The complete and entire focus of every free waking minute is caring for and feeding an 18-year-old blind, demented, toothless, deaf, arthritic feline.

About three months ago,  Fala was diagnosed with pancreatitis. And the vet recommended a switch to wet food.  That was a difficult change for the Gray Prince, who loves his “crunchy fish”  as we deem his Acana Pacifica food. Despite having only two teeth, he manages to crunch it from his little red cartoon mousie-covered bowl.

Our kitty sitter, Nan, suggested the Pacifica after she learned we were feeding him bowls of Friskies Original Party Mix.  Offering this high fat snack is the equivalent of feeding your two-year-old child Cheetos for three meals a day.  Salt and fat are yummy.  Are they good for old kitties?  That’s a resounding no.

Since the vet changed Fala to wet food, we’ve been feeding him Lil’ Friskies chicken with gravy (he favors chicken. In younger years, he stealthfully stole the chicken from a plate). He’s been licking the sauce off and leaving the rest.  This behavior cannot continue, or he’ll die. Last night I went on a buying spree at our local pet food store.  The clerk told me they have food for senior cats, but none of them work for a toothless old Tom. She suggested I check out the gourmet food, as well as the kitten chow. The clerk also instructed me to look for cans with the labels, “pate”, and “minced” and “kitten”.   I bought fourteen cans  (mostly gourmet labels, so my total was about $341.)

Sure, he’s worth it.  There’s constant midnight cater walling, hairballs on a newly washed bedspread,  puking on my rug daily, and his timely and odiferous evening constitutional 10 feet from us during “Wheel of Fortune”.  Who wouldn’t want to care for a kitty like this one?

There is this one tiny payoff. His Majesty cuddles  up between us each weeknight as we watch “Perry Mason.” And he purrs and acts as he likes us. A lot.

This morning the Potentate of Pussycats limped to the kitchen for breakfast, “Super Premium Fussy Cat Grain Free Chicken with Egg Formula in Gravy.”  Herman put out the food and immediately the Czar of Catdom started eating. We decided to leave him alone for the first course.  He acts an adolescent; any encouragement means he’ll eschew instead of chew.

His walk is so distinctive and lumbering that I heard him return to the kitchen thirty minutes later. And then a third trip. I grabbed my camera. He heard me.  I think he likes the new food, but God forbid his handlers observe him enjoying himself.   He turned his back on me and walked away. We might be on to something.  So what if it is the most expensive cat food in the world?  Why else do I work?  I mean, seriously?  Taxes, bills, the occasional vacation?  None of that is as important as catering to the whim of a cat, who in human years, is 89 years old.

And the damn bowl still isn’t empty.

© Amy McVay Abbott, The Raven Lunatic, April 9, 2016

If you are interested in reading more about Fala Jo, buy his book.  You didn’t realize he was a famous feline, did you?  The Many Moods of Fala Jo by Herman and Bernadine Spitzsnogel

Mar 282016


March 28, 2016 — I mistakenly referred to a calculator as an adding machine at work. Everyone burst into raucous laughter, followed by taunts about my age. Senior moment? Or generic brain fart?”

Did I conjure up the image of Eustis, the bookkeeper from “It’s a Wonderful Life” from my co-workers? I doubt that any Gen Xers or Millennials can identify Eustis. And it’s a black and white film. Younger people don’t like black and white movies.

Being one of the oldest at my workplace is new for me. I started full-time work in May 1980. This was before the Challenger blew up, before “Tear Down this Wall, Mr. Gorbachev,” before 9/11. Before diagnostic related groups, Obamacare, electronic medical records, and lung transplants. Probably before you were born, co-worker. Five years later, I started my first leadership level position in a hospital at age 28, which was (yes, indeedy, 30 years ago. People who have worked thirty plus years say “indeedy.”)

In 1985, I sat at the table with the big kids; I was the only one in my twenties. My co-workers were, at least, fifteen years older than this brunette with long hair, high heels, and eyelids lined with powder blue shadow. We lived in an apartment; my husband was in graduate school. Our second car was a ’73 VW Beetle. Our “good car” was an unairconditioned Chevette. All of my leadership team co-workers had homes and sedans or SUVs and kids and mortgages. Grown-ups.

Until my present job, I was among the youngest on my team.

The man who hired me in February 2014 was seven or eight years younger; my current boss is somewhere in her early thirties. My organization has about 120 employees. I guess that less than ten outrank me in age.

At work, I’m frequently lost in the conversation. I don’t get my co-worker’s jokes, and they certainly don’t get my quips. They talk about the eighties as ancient history. They see me as a child reading “McGuffey’s Reader” while a boy in overalls sticks my pigtails in an inkwell. They don’t listen to NPR. They understand nothing of the classics.

  • “Never at dusk.” Steve Martin
  • “Dave’s not here.” Cheech Marin
  • “Nixon’s the One.” The 1968 Republican National Committee, now known as conservative Democrats

No one at work understands my jokes, literary references, or anything I say. I used the phrase “a pox on our house”  the other day after a series of computer outages. My colleagues thought I was babbling in gibberish.

I referred to Mercutio’s triple epithet on the families of “Romeo and Juliet.” A quick Google search revealed Mercutio said “plague” a word which any hospital worker should know. One of the sources I used said “pox” was an archaic word not used today. Yes, indeedy. My co-workers probably don’t believe it, but I wasn’t around in Shakespeare’s time.

(Time for a pop culture reference none of my colleagues will get. They often call what I say “random.” Perhaps it’s authentic frontier gibberish,  as originated in a 1970s Mel Brooks flick. “I think we’re all grateful to Gabby Johnson, for clearly stating what needed to be said.” It’s a double entendre. You can’t get the pop culture reference from the 1970s without knowing who Gabby Hayes is from the thirties and forties. You know, like black and white?)

I don’t see myself as old. I don’t feel old. Isn’t sixty the new forty? Three of my grandparents looked ancient at sixty (one grandfather died in his early fifties.) Maybe it was the hats?

A 2015 study surveyed attitudes about aging in Europe.
“Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue, is middle-aged, but 200 years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person.

Dr. Sergei Scherbov, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, led a joint project with New York’s Stony Brook University, looking at how life expectancy has increased.”

The study, published in the journal “PLOS ONE”, found people across Europe were currently viewed as “old” when they hit 65.”

So what is Middle Age now? Remember the old saying Life Begins at Forty? If you married at 18 or 20 and started a family, you were footloose and fancy-free at forty. (Of course, most males had a job for life, and looked forward to a pension at 65, but that’s an entirely different story.)

We are healthier, working longer by choice or financial resources, and looking better than our parents or grandparents at the same age. Perhaps it was the hats?

Or paraphrasing the fake Fernando Lamas said on vintage “Saturday Night Live,”We look mar-veah-luss.
Google it, kiddos.

Let my co-workers laugh. They might learn something from me. And I’ll take it in stride. Tomorrow I’m taking in my son’s abacus to show them how we cave women used to count in the days before adding machines. Believe me, I can give it out as well as I can take it. When I drove the company van the other day, I changed all ten pre-sets on the radio to NPR. That’ll teach ’em.

Cross posted on BlogHer.

Feb 012016

February 1, 2016 — Tonight my adult son is going to hear MUSE in concert in the District of Columbia where he lives.  He is extremely excited about the event.  He posted a video called “Bliss.”  I want to share his enthusiasm; I know he’s tried to get tickets for past concerts and failed.

I watched the video which is four minutes and 52 seconds in length. I lasted about a minute and a half.  It made me dizzy, and I couldn’t understand the words.


I have become my parents, the people who stopped listening to most modern music in 1955.  Long before the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959.  Long before Elvis went into Sun Records and wowed them with his voice and moves.  Long before “Good Golly Miss Molly” and the Platters.

When my parents got stuck,  Pat Boone and his whitePATBOONE shoes were popular.  My parents always listened to standards, but popular music for them ended when they got married. Music filled our home with albums by Andy Williams and Mantovani and the great Broadway musicals.

Take a look at the Top 30 Hits of 1955.  While the rock classic, “Rock Around the Clock,” grabs second place, most of the top groups or artists are those I associate with my parents–Mitch Miller, Roger Williams, Les Baxter, the Four Aces, the McGuire Sisters, Pat Boone, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.

While open to some new music, my parents were mostly fixed in 1955 and before. But, Elvis and the new rockers were too out there, too foreign, too unintelligible for them.

In spite of my parents white-bread tastes, some rock and roll turned into standards and became favorites. My father begged me to play Paul Mariat’s 1968 “Love is Blue” on the piano for him again and again.  Songs by Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles stood the test of time. Do we think of “The Sounds of Silence”  or “Yesterday” as rock songs anymore? I swear I’ve heard “Don’t Get No (Satisfaction)” by the Stones on Muzak in an elevator.

As the oldest child, I didn’t have an older sibling to influence my musical tastes.  With brothers who graduated from high school in 1961 and 1969, my husband, Herman, learned early about rock and roll. To this day, he maintains a collection of anthologies, and can name group, song, and the year.  And hums a mean “Devil with the Blue Dress”.

I bought “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells at our local Rexall Drug Store in South Whitley, Indiana.  A little too young for the Beatles, I loved The Monkees and Bobby Sherman before I started high school.

The summer of 1971 was a magical, musical summer. The music of 1971 has stayed with me all of my life. Hits like “Joy to the World,” Maggie May,”It’s Too Late,”Me and Bobby McGee,”  “You’ve Got a Friend,”The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,”If You Could Read My Mind,” and  “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” The early seventies brought us the Carpenters, the Eagles, America, and our first beloved albums, “Tapestry” by Carole King, “Harmony” by Three Dog Night, and “Pearl” by Janis Joplin. Other favorites by James Taylor and Carly Simon and Aretha Franklin and Elton John and Joan Baez. What wonderful sublime music that fills me with joy to this day.

How many times did you play “Tapestry” on your turntable,  until it scratched and whistled?  Then replaced with an eight-track, then a cassette, and finally a CD which you put on your phone or MP3 player.

From 1971 on, music went downhill in the seventies.  And then I got stuck.  Look at this list of number one songs from the seventies, and perhaps you will understand why.

1970 “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Simon and Garfunkel
1971 “Joy to the World”, Three Dog Night
1972 “The first time I Saw Your Face”, Roberta Flack
1973 “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, Tony Orlando and Dawn
1974  “The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand
1975  “Love Will Keep us Together,” Captain and Tennille
1976  “Silly Love Songs,” Wings
1977  “Tonight’s the Night,” Rod Stewart
1978  “Shadow Dancing,” Andy Gibb
1979  “My Sharona,” The Knack

It’s painful to see it in writing.  Captain and Tennille make the formal break.  How can you go from the ballads of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille in five short years? And it just gets worse.   Even in 1979, Billy Joel is way down the list, a list filled with disco and mind-numbing, forehead-on-concrete, unintelligible music.

Like my parents, I found good music after 1979, but mostly the music died.  I had Fleetwood Macs and the Eagles, but I fixed on a point and never moved on.  Many of my heroes are icons.  Carole King was recognized recently at the Kennedy Center with a kick-ass version of “Natural Woman” by the amazing Aretha Franklin.

At least, I still have jazz, but that’s another story.

Addendum:  I know I will hear about my absolute ignorance from the Muse loving, Arcade Fire loving, Adele-loving, Bruno Marrs loving folks.  I’m working on it.  Be happy.  Crossposted at BlogHer 




Jan 222016

O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 5, Scene I

January 22, 2016–Eighty million people in 23 states are experiencing a historic storm with rain, sleet, snow, ice, and even thundersnow. The Weather Channel calls the storm “Jonas”, and the Washington Post pundits named it #Snowzilla! WaPo held a contest and “Make Winter Great Again” won, but they went with the runner-up #Snowzilla!  Our adult son lives in the district and I’m sure will have his stories to tell.

Here in Indiana, a mile north of the Ohio River, we received five, six,  or seven inches of snow, depending on your source of information.  Thirty miles north of us in Princeton, Indiana, there is no snow.  Seventy miles to the south in Princeton, Kentucky, an inch of ice fell followed by nearly a foot of snow.  The local paper states “near blizzard-like conditions.”  (Not sure what the word “like” implies?)

Back here at Squirrel Vista, our driveway inclines upward for about 20 yards, makes a 90 degree left turn, and heads straight up for another 20 yards into the garage. Our official Snow Shoveller moved to DC seven years ago, so now we hire a professional.  He’s visited us twice in the last 48 hours.  It’s worth it, says the asthmatic out-of-shape senior woman with the diabetic out-of-shape senior husband.

We grouchy out-of-shape old-timers like to reminisce about the good old days.  Honestly, while I love talking about the Blizzard of My Youth, I do not love snow.  The biggest blizzard I lived through covered most of the Midwest in late January and ea72maverickrly February, Year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Eight.

I was a junior in college and lived in the dorm.  Every other Wednesday afternoon, my cronies and I picked up our paychecks (no automatic deposit) from our student jobs at the yearbook.  We liked to go out on Wednesdays.  That day we chose Mr. Happy Burger, about an hour away in Elwood.

Our friend Bill drove the five of us.  Both Bill and my husband Herman (who wasn’t yet my husband and lacked the nom de plume Herman) grew up in the area.

Happy Burger was deserted.  We ordered our food and noticed something strange at the drive-up window.  Two people on horseback rode up to the drive-up.

That was a sign the end is nigh. We hightailed it home.   By now the snow was coming in waves, and the wind was howling like Act I of King Lear.  There was no Weather Channel, no cable TV. We couldn’t check AccuWeather on our phones.  Cell phones hadn’t been invented. I’m not sure the car radio worked.

We trudged on down Highway 28, glad to see the city lights of Muncie in the very late afternoon. Did we return immediately to our dorms?  Of course not.  We stopped at Bob’s Bottle Shop for laundry detergent.  Well, that’s what we said it was when we carried it up to the seventh floor in a laundry basket.  I am either making that last part up or mixing it up with another story.  Get over it.  I’m old, and this is my old-timey reminiscing. I know for sure we bought vodka at the liquor store.  And orange juice.

We missed five days of school and drank and played Monopoly, pretty lame stuff.

Then we had to go outside, and our two booted feet were the only transportation available.  My car was in a ten-foot snow drift blocks away at the Newman Center.  My roommate secured permission for me to park Ole Bessie there. Three or four weeks later the snow had melted enough for us to start digging her out.  The snow wasn’t all gone until April.  Our spring break extended  a week due to the coal strike.  I caught a ride to South Whitley with a friend, and Herman spent two weeks in Florida.

My son is five years older than I was during my Blizzard of a Lifetime. He can drink legally and doesn’t have to hide his microbrew beer or whatever it is they drink these days.

On days like this one,  I wonder about the brilliance of moving back to Indiana from Florida in 1988.  When I was growing up and as a young adult, my often-stated goal was to live in Florida by the time I was twenty-five. I  missed it by three weeks. I  moved to Largo, Florida, in August 1982.

And then we came back.  We came back for good reasons.  Both of us missed our families.  We didn’t want to raise children in the Florida schools, where no school bond issue had passed for thirty years.  We’ve had an incredible life here, but I still dream of spending winter months back in the Sunshine State.

Until that is possible, we listen to the sound of someone else plowing our mega-driveway, enjoy some soup, and remember our youthful snow days.



Jan 162016

January 16, 2016 — I’m a world-class complainer,  one who has hoisted a  trophy for kvetching and donned the medal around my neck for my lamentations. I’m a champion griper.

Complaining is the absolute opposite of gratitude, and gratitude is something I want in my life every day. So, when a high school acquaintance posted the following on Facebook, I was intrigued.  Here’s what Kelly wrote:

I’m reading the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. I LOVE this book! His concepts can be applied to so many aspects of our lives. His challenge to readers, which I pass on to you, and hopefully you’ll pass on to others, is this: “Here’s some homework that I promise will change your life. For the next seven days, I challenge you to not complain adare_to_complaint all. Not just out loud, but in your head as well. But you have to do it for the full seven days. Why? Because for the first few days, you may still have some “residual crap” coming to you from before. Unfortunately, crap doesn’t travel at the speed of light, you know, it travels at the speed of crap, so it might take a while to clear out.” Let the challenge begin! Thanks Harv!

I saw this challenge on Facebook on January 8.  Today is January 15, the seventh day.  What I have to report is that I was an utter failure, but I learned much about myself and others.  I will use this knowledge to move forward, and honestly, I’m much more aware now of how my thoughts affect my mood, and possibly, actions. Have I stopped complaining?  No, not completely.

(A caveat, however, sometimes complaining is good, and sometimes it is justified.  Bad things happen. Repairing the damage involves productive complaining when something is repairable.  So, let’s focus on the unproductive, no-good-nik complaint, the one that nobody can fix, particularly the person you are laying it on.)

The first morning of the challenge I was in the drive-up line at Starbucks, early. If I’m in the line, of course, I’ve not had my coffee yet.  Bad situation for all concerned. I am not nice. I am not a morning person, and it sets me off if you are.

The car in front of me had the trunk and rear doors closed with a large piece of duct tape. The sedan was about thirty years old and spewed something smelly and seemingly toxic.  Naturally, I’m car #6, and it is caImage result for giant lipsr #5.  (I know: first world problem, right?)  After inhaling this distillation for five minutes, I finally got to the window where the smiling man with the long ponytail greeted me warmly.

What do I say to this young man?

I complain about the car ahead of me.  Woe is me! The car smells bad! My car now smells bad! Nevermind that this person has to open the drive-up window to every fragrant car in the drive-up.

Bingo!  I lose and not an hour into the first day of the challenge.  Seriously, what can this Starbucks employee do about a car with a bad muffler?  I’m spewing forth toxic words to him just as the car was spewing toxic air at me.

That initial incident made me think. Several adverse events happened in my work life this week that were completely out of my control.  I handled them better when I didn’t complain about those things out of my control.  I call this PERSPECTIVE.  Good word perspective.  Not complaining because there’s not a darn thing that complaining will accomplish is a good thing. And it is not only the complaining to others, it is the complaining to self.  The spinning in my head that I allow to continue has to stop, the harmful ruminating over things I cannot change.  Channels the AA motto, “Grant me the wisdom to change the things I cannot accept, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (paraphrased.)

This self-awareness (which is a word in progress, believe me, I’m still trying to outfox the negativity) may lead to better understanding of those around us. We listen to our friends because we care for them. Is the listening proImage result for banging head against wallductive?  Are you doing them any favors by listening to a rerun of last week’s complaint, if they have changed nothing that could be changed?  No, it is not our role to judge. However, it is not healthy for you or your friend to complain endlessly over things that cannot be changed.

 Why do you beat your head against the wall, goes the old joke?  Because it feels so good when I stop, is the punch line.
Find your peace where you may, perhaps doing this challenge is for you, or reading, or sleeping, or a hot cup of tea. I’ll share a favorite poem by Wendell Berry, our Kentucky neighbor to the south,  that may bring you peace as it has me. (Copyright by Amy McVay Abbott, 2016, cross-posted at BlogHer.)


 The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

Jan 032016

January 3, 2015 — One weekend day a month I travel to Emergency Rooms at outlying hospitals for my job. I work for an addiction and mental health treatment hospital. My Department is a liaison between those who refer patients and the hospital’s intake team.

Yesterday I went to south central Illinois. I hadn’t been in that area for some time. I relied on maps to get me from Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Indiana, across the Wabash River to Olney, and ultimately, Fairfield, Illinois.

The day was sunny. I enjoy being “in the field” as the sales jargon calls it, and it was a good day. After Olney, the GPS system routed me on a county road. I was surprised File:1818 Pinkerton Map of the Southeastern United States, Carolina, Georgia, Virginia - Geographicus - USASouthernPart-pinkerton-1818.jpgand somewhat uneasy. The vulnerability was a new feeling for me — a child of the great rural Midwest. As a teen, I drove my parent’s big Chevys all over northeastern Indiana on paved and unpaved roads in Whitley County. As a young mother, I carpooled all over rural Warrick County for Scouts and other events until my son could drive.

What was missing was a sense of control fostered by any knowledge of where I was.

As I moved south on that county road, houses were farther apart. Many natural gas or oil wells punctuated the scenery of fields harvested last fall and now fallow. Random mobile homes dotted the landscapes, surrounded by big trucks, satellite dishes, and crumbling barns. I was uneasy by the rushing waters of the Embarrass River and surrounding creeks that swelled banks and flowed for miles on either side of Highway 50.

Never much to celebrate the New Year, I had an epiphany of sorts as I spent more than twenty miles in this rural, desolate unfamiliar area.

Life is like this Saturday journey. We do our best to plan ahead and control the route. But, honestly, there’s no planning you can do. As prepared as you think you are, a strange path always appears. Friends and family are walking unfamiliar roads now. Roads caused by illness, infidelity, poverty, depression, substance abuse, and loss.

I make this analogy as I see these issues and concerns present to loved ones every day. I attribute it all to my age, but I know it is just life. The other shoe is always waiting to drop. I’m an optimist, and that might sound like a pessimistic viewpoint. I’m also a realist. Cliche or not, we only get one chance at this. We clutch our maps and our helps to our chest, and we move forward every day. We’re wary of the country roads and even unpaved dusty country roads ahead of us.

A piece I saw on Facebook the other day resonated with me, and I’m sharing it now as my pathetic two days after New Year’s message. Peace be with you for the new year. Get your maps ready. When led down a strange road, hang on tight.

Cross-posted at Blog Her

Jan 012016

This morning I drove to Starbucks to pick up coffee for us. The car ahead of me — a light blue Mustang — paid for our order. What a sweet and lovely gesture for the first day of the year.

This is a frequent practice.  Once and sometimes twice a week,  people ahead of me buy my coffee.

First world problem, right?   I’m addicted to Starbucks coffee.  I also like that the company supports employees with health insurance and other benefits.  I’m willing to pay a little more so employees can make a living wage.  Blessed with a good job , I can afford it.

I am momentarily grateful but something bothers me about it. Perhaps, though sweet, it is an unneeded act.

 My dad says “People spent their money on what they want, and what is important to them.  You shouldn’t judge.”

Of course, he is right. People can spend anything they want, anyway they want.

This pay-it-forward practice happens at Starbucks all across the world.  (Yes, there’s a Starbucks in the basement of the Louvre, and in other strange places. I took this picture in October 2011.)

Do you remember The New Yorker cartoon with astronauts arriving on Mars, only to find a barren red landscape and Starbucks?

A quick Google search found multiple stories including:

In this unscientific research, many people are angry at the person who “breaks the chain.”

Here’s my modest proposal and the thinking behind it.  Please hold back on throwing your green plastic stoppers and paper cups at me.

The line of cars at my Starbucks is usually filled with upscale sedans or nice SUVs.  I suspect buying a five dollar cup of coffee at Starbucks isn’t going to keep them from paying bills.  What if we each put five dollars away and gave it to the charity of our choice?  Doing this weekly assures five hundred dollars by year end.

And if that doesn’t turn you on, increase by $500 the amount of money you give to one of the charities you support.

Many of the vehicles in line are adorned with bumper sticks promoting schools, the environment, and political candidates.  Those of us blessed with good jobs most likely support something or someone.  Why not put the cost of one cup away each week and share the funds with those you support or the Red Cross or the homeless. Or take a tray of drinks from Starbucks to the local Red Cross office, or homeless shelter for the workers?

What the person ahead of me does is really none of my business. Yes,  I  benefit. But I don’t need it, and others may benefit from the funds. Consider the beneficiaries of your generosity.

It’s something to think about. Kindness, I believe, is never a bad thing.

Cross-posted at BlogHer

Dec 212015

December 21, 2015 — At a crucial point in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey and Clarence Oddbody (the angel) review how life would mary-hatch-spinster-librarianhave been without Jimmy Stewart’s character.

  • Had George not saved his brother, Harry Bailey would not have saved the transport ship in World War
  • And Uncle Billy?  Seems without employment at the Bailey Savings and Loan he would reside in the Bedford Falls State Hospital.
  • Sweet Ma Bailey would become a surly boardinghouse owner.
  • Poor pharmacist Mr. Gower would accidentally poison someone.
  • And the slutty Violet Bix.  Can’t even talk about what happens to her in mixed company.

This isn’t all.  There’s something worse.  Something much worse.   Oh, the humanity.

George Bailey shakes the angel and says “Where’s Mary? I’ve got to see Mary.”

Clarence Oddbody says, “You won’t like it, George.”

At this point in our yearly watching, my family turns apoplectic and hysterical.

The angel tells George, “She closing up the library” and the camera switches to a scene of poor spinster Mary Hatch.

Frail, delicate Mary Hatch, afraid of her own shadow, donned in tiny wire-framed glasses, sensible shoes, severe hairdo. Indeed, she’s closing up the library.

Insert my family here, going bonkers. My husband is a research librarian at a local university. It has not been a fate worse than death, as the film implies.  Implies, no, insists!

Consider how “It’s a Wonderful Life” might have turned out differently if  Mary  became a librarian and  married George.

Seriously.  It’s not so bad.  Unlimited access to books and magazines and newspapers.  Wire-framed glasses are cool.  Didn’t John Lennon just rock them?  And the sensible shoes. Not a bad idea.  I spent my twenties running up and down marble hallways in Florida hospitals.  I’m paying the price now, literally, with pricy Clark’s and Walking Cradle shoes (oh, and so worth it.)  I cannot explain or defend the severe hairdo, but that’s personal preference.  Who am I to say, the owner of a perennial wedge three decades after Dorothy Hamill popularized it?

Those are the basics about her appearance.  Let’s get down to more important things, feminist things. Yes, it was the 1930s but if Mary had a regular paycheck from the library, the Baileys financial situation might be more stable.  Most libraries in that era were endowed by the Carnegie Foundation.  City government paid salaries.

Ma Bailey could babysit the kids while Mary is at work.  George could go to the library and get book on home repair and fix up that blasted old house.  With two incomes, maybe they wouldn’t have had to start married life in that leaky, rat trap.

Had George not felt so pressured, he might have taken the old suitcase out of the attic and taken Mary to Europe. Perhaps travel with their rich friends.  Hee haw.

Has a movie been made about what George and the family’s life would be like without Mary?   Beautiful Donna Reed  could have earned a university degree and become a faculty librarian at Bedford Falls State.  Then the kids would get free tuition.

Of course, that’s not Mr. Capra’s reality in this film.  George rushes to Mary’s side, and she is horrified and assumes his bad intentions.  George runs back across the bridge and realizes he did indeed “have a wonderful life.”  Most women did not get college degrees in those days.

It’s a great film, a classic story, and I love it just like everyone else does.

For a moment, however, imagine if the story were told in reverse. I’m going to go make a flaming rum punch and contemplate this development.

May 092015

ChevytruckBorn in the summer, I was a year behind  my classmates on almost everything. I was one of the youngest in my class. Classmates with autumn and winter birthdays owned cars before I ever took my first driving lesson or got my permit. In 1973, you could get a permit at age 15.

My friend Arlene had a blue two-door Pontiac LeMans and my friend Cheryl had a green and black Chevy that we called the Roachmobile.  This had nothing to do with mary jane, which I had nothing to do with in high school.  The word roach sounded vaguely like her last name so I christened her car the “Roachmobile.” Arlene and Cheryl provided most of the transportation for our friends.

Living in a rural area with many gravel country roads, my friends and I learned to drive in the country.

I did not own a car of my own until I was in my early twenties. My grandparents gave me their second car.  My grandfather wasn’t driving much, so I got the car he used to visit the farms, a ’71 Cutlas-S with a 350 engine. Vroom. Vroom.

In learning to drive I was stuck with the family trucksters, a four-door blue Impala sedan and a lime green old Chevy truck with a manual shift on the column.  How cool were those vehicles!

Back then the schools offered driver’s training in the summer and had a fleet of relatively new automatic sedans for teaching. My teacher was named “Sparky” for reasons I cannot explain and for a month-long period in the summer of 1973 we drove to neighboring towns, through the country, mostly in search of drive-ins and ice cream places.  Four sixteen year olds rode with the teacher who had an extra brake on the passenger side.

He worked with us individually on parallel parking, approaching a two-way stop with a yield, but we were convinced his main mission in life was to go to the Flag Pole in Warsaw as many times as possible. The Flag Pole is an iconic ice cream place which, as far as I know, is still there and offers multiple flavors and variations of dessert treats. We also visited the Dairy Queen in North Manchester and a root beer place in Columbia City.

At the end of the training, we had a special trip to Fort Wayne.  Were we visited the zoo or the botanic gardens? No, Penguin Point for it’s wonderful French fries was our mission.

Along the way, we did learn how to drive, as well as gain the  special skill of approaching a drive-in speaker to place your order for five root beer floats.

I earned my driver’s license in August 1973, days before I started my junior year at Whitko.  Again, we had a car and a truck, and somehow I convinced my mother to let me drive the car to school.  My dad taught at the school, so that meant both the car and the truck sat in the parking lot for the entire day.  And would I take my brother, an eighth grade, and drop him off at South Whitley Junior High?  Well, of course not.

On my first morning in to school, I drove the car up onto the curb on one of the side streets heading back to the high school. I overcorrected and ended up stopped on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I am so grateful I am always late because all the elementary school children were already in their classrooms and not on the sidewalk.  That early lesson taught me the car was much bigger than one sixteen year old.

My driving to school sans little brother lasted until my mom; rightly so, couldn’t handle being home without transportation all day, out in the country.

Then I was only allowed to get the car for special occasions, like Saturday night bowling in Warsaw (which really meant driving around South Whitley endlessly, from Carol’s Corner back to the school parking lot back to the M and R and back to Carol’s Corner.)

My dad figured it was time for me to learn how to drive a manual transmission.  We practiced in the country for days, and Dad wouldn’t let me drive the truck alone until I learned to downshift on little inclines leading up to the numerous railroad crossings in our area.  Our town was on the train route to Chicago and multiple trains pass through the area many times each day.  There were also many unmarked and unsafe train crossing in the country.

I lacked the coordination to learn how to shift on the column.

Today, I can’t drive a standard stick much to the chagrin of friends and relatives who want me to test drive their sports cars.  That’s okay, I’m perfectly happy with my seven year old Mom car.

And I still have my own driving instructor.  My husband behaves as if he has his own brake, and when he’s a passenger in my car offers wise counsel often.  I don’t much hear this screams anymore.  And why should I even pay attention to him? While I was taking driver’s training at Whitko in automatic sedans, he — being only a month older — was taking driver’s ed at Madison-Grant in similar automatic sedans.  His parents only had manual transitions so something was lost in the translation.





Apr 292015

April 29, 2015 — There’s an old expression, “You need to get out more.” It’s good for us to travel and experience new things, but some of us have more trouble coping with the outside world.

Years ago, we went to a Barry Manilow concert. (I know, I am quite ashamed to admit it, but give me a break, I was a teenager in the 1970s. “Weekend in New England” was the romantic torch song of the era.) I purchased advance tickets and shoved them into my suitcase of a purse. Our son was still at home, and needed a sitter. I kept our two tickets and handed the sitter the receipt which had the venue name, time, and seat numbers in case she needed us.

Except I accidentally gave the babysitter one of the tickets, and kept the receipt and another ticket. When we arrived, I recklessly grabbed the tickets and ran them under the nose of the snooty docent. Without two real tickets, she pulled us aside. After some serious sweet-talking, the docent took us to the stadium office to discuss our situation. Eventually we went up to our seats by a circuitous route. Barry is now older, and so am I, and that “Weekend in New England” jazz just wasn’t there for me and Barry anymore.

About twenty years ago we went to opening day at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Who thinks sitting outside and watching baseball in April is a good idea? (One hirsute baseball fan in our house does.) The south side of Chicago was about twenty degrees and windy that day, and we went to Woolworths for sock caps and cheap blankets.

We held our Opening Day tickets close and went through the front gate. By the time we were ready to enter the stands, my husband had lost his ticket between the front gate and the entrance to the bleachers. In about forty yards, he lost his ticket! More sweet-talking, and soon we were eating peanuts and looking like thugs in our dime-store sock caps and blankets. That day we saw Bo Jackson hit a home run on his first at-bat in two years, well worth the cold and the lost ticket.

These lame incidents pale in comparison to our deepest, darkest moments of shame. Early in our marriage we visited the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Security – even in the early 1980s – was tight and in order to tour the compound visitors had to be ticketed and travel on shuttle buses to see the Vehicle Assembly Building and the various launch pads. We purchased our tickets and boarded the first in a line of about six identical multi-colored transporters.

After the first stop, we were told to reboard the same bus. We couldn’t remember which one was ours. So we just picked one. We sat down about half way back and soon the bus was crowded. The bus driver got on the PA system and said, in that mumbled kind of way that bus mics have, “There are two extra passengers on this bus. Will those individuals who are on the wrong bus please disembark immediately?”

Naturally we were so horrified we didn’t say a word and looked around innocently as if to find the guilty culprits.

The bus driver was getting agitated.

The extremely pregnant woman who was standing in front of the bus with her mean-looking husband wasn’t looking too thrilled, either.

We thought she might deliver any minute.

Still, did we identify ourselves and leave?

Hell, no. We just sat there like smiling lumps on a launch pad.

Soon the tour of America’s Space Coast was over and we hastily made our way to the car, fully expecting as we passed a newspaper box to see our story on the cover of the “Orlando Sentinel”. Headline in Second Coming type size: “Portly young couple takes seats from very pregnant woman.”

We just don’t go out much anymore.