Sunday, December 30, 2007

The skunk

This is the skunk that found not-so-safe refuge at our house.

Early bird still hungry after catching worm

Published Dec. 17, 2007

There weren’t many "Early Bird" shoppers at the mall Saturday morning.
But my friend and I were two of them.
I had asked her half-jokingly the night before if she would be up for some 6 a.m. shopping.
She said maybe she would.
I thought maybe I’d be awake at 6.
But I knew it was fat chance on both counts.
Yet, here we were, dragging ourselves into JC Penney’s before dawn.
The few people who were in the store were lugging to the register $200 kitchen mixers that were on sale for $99.
For a moment, I got caught up in the frenzy and thought that I, too, should buy one of these mixers. I didn’t really need one but I hated to pass up such a bargain.
But I came to my senses and went to find what I was really looking for.
You see, this Early Bird was looking for a whirlybird – two of them actually. Remote-controlled helicopters for my boys – my boys who -- at 21 and 26 – outgrew toys long ago.
Too bad their mom never outgrew the need to buy them.
Or should I say the need to hunt for them? That’s what it’s really about because there are few things more thrilling to a mother than snagging an elusive toy at Christmastime.
When my boys were growing up, people didn’t shop online. They actually went to the stores.
It was mother-vs.-mother in the toy aisle – and may the best mother win.
The most formidable battles took place the year that every kid in the world – including mine – wanted “Ghostbuster” action figures.
The factory shipped the toys to the stores in big boxes, each containing an assortment of characters from the movie. Handy, unless you were looking for the Marshmallow Man. For, although these big boxes contained lots and lots of action figures, they only contained one Marshmallow Man.
And you’ve never experienced real terror unless you’ve been in the same toy aisle as a Marshmallow-Man-crazed mom.
Store clerks risked life and limb as they opened these boxes – a dozen moms hovering over them -- to put the figures on display.
That’s the Christmas shopping spirit that I miss – and try to re-create every year.
About a month ago, I spotted mini remote-controlled helicopters in a drug store ad.
I had visions of the boys flying them around the house on Christmas morning.
But, when I went to the store to buy them, they were sold out.
I felt a momentary jolt of Marshmallow Man mania.
From that day forward, I scoured the ads looking for mini helicopters.
I spotted them again but the result was the same: The store had none left.
And so it was this helicopter hunt that brought me to the mall before dawn on Saturday.
I have to admit I was hoping for a Marshmallow Man showdown with a crazed mom or two but, alas, I just walked into the toy aisle and plucked two mini radio-controlled helicopters off the shelf.
There wasn’t even another mom in sight. It seemed too easy.
But I found out something after I bought those helicopters. I found out that there may be better ones.
Apparently, there are battling helicopters that come two-to-a-package and they have lasers so you can shoot your opponent’s copter, sending it into a tailspin.
I wonder where I can find those. I could always return the ones I bought and get the battling ones. It’s probably too late to order them online.
But there is still a week before Christmas.
And that’s a lot of time for a mom on a mission.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Griswold, er, Ewald family Christmas

In a scene reminiscent of the movie, "Christmas Vacation," my husband and my brother drag what will be the Ewald Family Christmas Tree out of the tree farm.

They dragged the tree out of the trailer hitched to the Explorer and into the house.
It took two of them.
My brother and my husband yanked and grunted as they pulled the giant evergreen up the front steps and into our foyer.
It was a little rough making the turn into the living room but, luckily, it only sounded as if the woodwork was getting ripped off.
They laid the tree down gently in the center of the room like the prize it was. We all just stood there admiring it and the smell it was giving the house.
Then my brother said something that one of us had to say sooner or later.
“Think it’ll fit?”
We all looked at the tree and then up the wall to the 15-foot ceiling.
No one said anything in response but my husband and I both began pacing off the tree. He on one side, me on the other.
“It should,” we said in unison.
“I don’t know,” my brother said, looking back up to the ceiling.
“Maybe you should have cut some off before you brought it in,” his wife said.
We hated to cut any more of it off. After all, we had already left the bottom five feet of it in the forest.
“Let’s try to stand it up,” my husband said.
Then, he and my brother got down on their bellies and shoved the trunk into a huge round plastic tree stand and screwed it in.
“OK, you hold the stand while we walk it up,” my brother said to me.
I walked around the gigantic green bush and grabbed a hold of a bottom branch. Soon the tree was coming at me. I put my foot on the tree stand to help ease it to the ground.
Three quarters of the way up, they stopped pushing. The tree was lodged at a 45-degree angle.
I guess it was a little too tall.
The two of them lowered it back to the floor.
Now what?
“Let’s take it back outside. I’ll get my chainsaw,” my brother said.
Take it back outside?
“Just cut it in here,” my husband said.
“Use a chainsaw in the house?” my brother said. “Not a good idea.”
“Not a good idea at all,” his wife echoed.
But the next thing I knew, my brother was firing up his chainsaw. In the living room. Two minutes and a lot of gas fumes and wood chips later, our tree was three feet shorter. And 10 minutes after that, it was standing upright. The biggest tree I had ever seen.
That was Saturday. Ever since then, my husband has been stringing lights on it. He dragged down from the attic every box, bag and ball of lights we had.
Up the ladder, string some lights. Down the ladder, get some more. He did over and over and over. But at some point he ran out of lights. Then, the drill was up the ladder, string some lights, down the ladder, go to the Walgreens, buy some more and up the ladder string some lights.
The tree is beautiful now, lit – at last count -- with 1,300 twinkling little colored lights.
There was a message on my phone today. It was from my brother who cut a tree almost as big as ours. We helped him get his tree to stand upright in his house before he helped us.
“Just wondering how your tree is coming,” his message said. “Ours is done, all decorated.”
Wow, he’s done already. Wonder how he did that so fast.
I’d ask my husband but he’s not home.
He just ran over to the Walgreens.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

21 really is a magic number in Vegas

Our younger son just turned 21.
And I lived to tell about it.
You see, the birthday party was in Las Vegas. He and his brother — my older son who lives in Denver — cooked it up over the summer. A bunch of their friends were going.
"It will be fun, Mom. You and Dad should come," they said.
"I don’t think so. We’re old. We can’t hang with you guys," I told them.
I’m not quite sure how the rest of the conversation went, but the next thing I knew I was looking at the Las Vegas strip out of the airplane window as we landed.
It was 10:45 p.m., a mere hour and 15 minutes until my baby was an adult.
Where was my baby?
He had taken an earlier flight.
I called his cell phone.
"We’re at the Mirage. Come on down," he said.
I wonder where the Mirage is, I thought, as I dragged my bulging suitcase through the airport. We were only going to be there three days but I had heard the horror stories about how far you had to walk to get anywhere so just to be safe, I had packed virtually every pair of shoes I own.
We checked into our room at the MGM, which, of course, was at the opposite end of the strip from the Mirage and set off to find the party.
The phone rang. This time it was my older son.
"Where are you guys?" he asked. "Get a cab. It’s pretty far away."
I hung up.
"Mike said we should get a cab …"
"We’re not getting a cab. We can walk," my husband said. "We’ve been sitting on that plane for hours."
A little while later, the phone rang again.
"Where are you guys? Did you get a cab? I told you to get a cab," my older son said.
"Mike said we should get a cab," I told my husband again.
"We don’t need a cab. It’s right there," he said, pointing at the Mirage sign.
Here’s a little tip if you’ve never been to Las Vegas: Nothing is "right there." It’s an optical illusion. It’s a two-dimensional place. There is no depth of field. Your perception is always off. Near-far, day-night, rich-broke … you can’t tell anything apart.
Except maybe sober and drunk for when we finally got to the party, it was clear which one of those everyone was — especially the birthday boy.
He disappeared for a while and I found him sitting on a railing outside the casino. He told me he was sick and wanted to go lie down, so I got him a cab and told the driver to take him back to his hotel.
The next morning, we met the gang for breakfast — burgers and beer (add breakfast and dinner to that list of things you can’t tell apart in Vegas).
This was The Day, The Birthday.
We rode the roller coaster that zips and zooms around the outside of New York, New York. We went from bar to bar and casino to casino and, in between, we drank fruity drinks out of yard-long cups.
Every once in a while, the birthday boy would say, "I can’t believe you just stuck me in a cab last night. I couldn’t even walk."
I wanted to hop in that cab with him, really I did.
But I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure who I was putting in that cab — my baby or my all-grown-up son.
What a relief it was to find out they are one and the same.

Monday, November 5, 2007

How much is that mousie in the window?

Published Nov. 5, 2007
There are dog people and there are cat people.
And there are people who want both but have husbands.
My husband didn’t always hate pets. In fact, at one point, we had two cats and two dogs all living in the house at the same time.
But, the cats peed in his shoes and one of the dogs (the bad one) ate doors and woodwork and took off like a shot whenever he spotted an open door.
It was around that time my husband decided an animal-less house is a happy house.
After those animals were gone, we compromised. A cat, OK, but no more dogs.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t look.
The classified ad said in bold type: Puppies for sale.
“Shih-Tzus, Yorkies, Dachshunds, Poms, Malti-Poos, Puggles, Yorkie Chons, Lhasa-Poos, Cavaliers, Yorkie mixes, Yorki-Chis, Chihuahua mixes and more.”
And then it said they would be for sale for two days at a nearby motel.
Little tiny designer dogs. I had to go check them out.
As I pulled into the motel parking lot, I was a little afraid I would run into a collection of puppy-mill dogs, raised by one mad breeder, mixing and matching with no regard for the animals.
But that wasn’t the case at all.
What I found were four breeders — representing scores of others who have banded together to form what amounts to a traveling pet store — and about two dozen cages of cute little puppies.
I walked around looking at the fuzzy little creatures.
There were Yorkie Poos (a cross between a Yorkshire terrier and a poodle) for $199, Malti Poos (Maltese and poodle) for $299, Pom Poos (Pomeranian and poodle) for $199, and Shih-Tzu Poos (shih-tzu and poodle) for $350.
There were Yorki-Chis (Yorkshire terrier and Chihuahua) for $325, toy fox terriers for $225 and a Peke-a-Pom (Pekinese and Pomeranian) for $275.
“The poodle mixes and the Bichon mixes are the most popular,” said Steve Litener, a breeder of Puggles (a cross between a pug and a beagle) from Vienna, Ohio.
“Poodles don’t shed, so when you mix a dog that sheds, like a Lhasa-Apso, with a poodle, you get a dog that doesn’t shed … most of the time,” Litener said.
He brought four of his puppies this weekend. By late Sunday, there was only one left. It was $275.
This traveling pet store was Litener’s brainchild. He said he got the idea three years ago after he rented a table at a craft fair and sold all the puppies he brought.
So, he and Marti Drozdek, a Yorkie breeder from Youngstown, hatched the idea of the traveling puppy store.
Every couple weeks, the breeders take turns setting up shop in motels near highways in Northeast Ohio. They take about 40 puppies from assorted breeders, splitting the cost of the motel and the classified ads.
“There are really only about 45 good breeders we deal with,” Drozdek said. “We check them all out.”
“We turn some of them down if we don’t like the way they raise their dogs or we already have too many of one particular breed,” Litener said.
They usually sell between eight and 15. This weekend in our area, they sold 30.
They check out prospective buyers, too.
“We ask how many kids they have at home and what other kinds of pets are in the house,” Mark Crane, a breeder of Australian shepherds from Mentor, said.
Hmm. I knew my 20-year-old son would be OK but I wasn’t sure about my spoiled 15-pound Siamese cat.
Especially since the dog I would have bought — the Yorkie-Chihuahua in the photo — looks exactly like an overgrown mouse.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Finding space for treasurers ... priceless

Published Oct. 29, 2007

"I really wish you'd get rid of that doll. It's creepy," my son said as he came in the house.
I didn't see him as he walked through the garage to get into the house but I had a pretty good mental picture.
He stepped between the tables laden with "getting ready for a garage sale" stuff.
As he turned to wedge himself around an old TV whose back end sticks a foot into the aisle, he saw it.
The doll.
The life-size doll that that my parents gave me for my fifth birthday. It had been in their attic until my mother came across it a few years ago.
She bought the doll a new outfit, including made-for-human-children shoes, fixed its hair and presented it (back) to me.
"Look what I found," she said proudly as she handed it to me.
I took the huge plastic little girl from her.
Now, the first time my mother gave me this heartfelt present, I’m sure I must have known what to do with her.
But now, I hadn’t a clue what to do with a doll the size of a small child.
So I thanked my mom and brought the doll home.
I walked in the door and set her in a corner.
“That thing looks like Chucky,” my husband said. “It’s going to come alive when we are all sleeping and kill us.”
I looked over at her. She was a little creepy. I took her out of the kitchen – and away from the knife drawer – and put her in the living room until I could figure out what I was going to do with her.
Nothing says "something you can't keep and something you can't get rid of" like a 3-foot doll you got on your fifth birthday from your parents.
My husband, the Chucky chicken, put her in the attic and we forgot about her.
Until we moved.
Now the doll is perched in a corner of our garage, standing guard over all the other stuff we pulled out of the attic in the old house and didn’t know what to do with when got here.
All the sentimental stuff we've been holding onto for decades.
The garage is full and winter is coming. We have to get it cleaned out so we can put the cars in there. Cars? In a garage? Imagine that.
We've separated the attic junk into “stuff for a garage sale” – things we don’t expect to get more than a $1 for -- and “stuff to be sold on eBay” – stuff we hope to get more than $1 for.
But then there are still a lot of things that don’t fit in either of those piles, things such as the big doll and the mobile that hung over my babies’ cribs.
And the revolving bookcase that used to belong to my mother-in-law, the epitome of stuff you have absolutely no use – or room -- for but can’t bring yourself to throw away.
And then it hit me. I had an idea.
We should borrow my dad’s pickup, pile all the stuff in there and take it to one of those U-store places – those rental units that serve as garage annexes – and unload it.
Then we lock it up and give the man our address so he can send us a monthly bill.
The key? Oh, we’ll give that to our sons.
In our will.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

If it wasn't meant to be, it will be -- maybe

Published Oct. 22, 2007

The couple in front of me on the plane were agitated.
“Where are they?” the wife asked her husband as she craned her neck to see the front of the plane.
“They were right behind us in customs,” her husband said as he looked out the window.
They had apparently lost the adult children who were supposed to be flying with them. After some frantic negotiations, most of which I couldn’t hear, the husband decided he would get off the plane, find their kids and take a later flight. The wife would stay on the plane with their baggage.
As the husband walked toward the front of the plane, I was momentarily panic-stricken.
I guess we all have our own rationale as to how those big heavy airliners filled with 300 people get and stay aloft.
Well, my rationale is that all of the people on my plane are destined to be flying on that particular flight, on that particular day. It is that combination of lifelines that fate will fly safely to its destination.
And now one of those lifelines was getting off the plane.
When I said momentary sense of panic, I meant it. Rational thought came back and I realized how ridiculous I was being.
Or was I?
In that case, yes, because obviously I got home safely.
But what about the destiny I interjected myself into when I made my only trip to Jacobs Field for the American League Championship Series. You guessed it. I was there Thursday for the home field shelling that sent the Indians back to Boston for Game 6. And you know what happened there.
Did I bring them bad luck? They won the first two at home when I wasn’t in the stands. Am I the curse of the Indians?
A couple of my friends thought so.
“You are not going to any of the World Series games,” a co-worker — who had been in the Jacobs Field stands for a couple of playoff wins — said.
She didn’t have to tell me. I already had decided I wasn’t going anywhere near downtown Cleveland if the Indians got to the World Series.
But even if my karma wasn’t bad enough to do in the Indians, could it have been a collective Chronicle whammy?
Did the column written by sportswriter Scott Petrak that was posted on the Red Sox door before Thursday’s game have anything to do with the Tribe’s undoing?
The column read, in part, “This Indians team is better than the Red Sox and will prove it once and for all in cramped Fenway Park. Sure, a home-field celebration would’ve been nice, but silencing Red Sox Nation in its house will be just as sweet.”
Could that have fired up those Red Sox enough to pound the Indians? Or was it a combination of my bad karma and that column?
Somehow, rational thought isn’t returning to me on this one as quickly as it returned to me on that plane. I’m wondering if I should even watch tonight’s game on TV.
By the time you are reading this, you will know how it ended.
If they lost again, I don’t blame you at all for holding me — and Scott — responsible for sending the series back to Boston.
Hopefully all this superstition will seem silly as time goes by.
Because we’ll realize that while there might indeed be a finger of fate, the only place it can possibly be is on the hand of the pitcher who couldn’t find the plate or the batter who couldn’t find the ball.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thorns? Well, yeah, they come with the roses

Published Oct. 8, 2007

Today is my 30th wedding anniversary.
Hard to believe it has been 30 years since that day I walked down the aisle with the guy from New Jersey I met at Ohio State.
We were just kids when we got married. We didn't have jobs, but we had a 1968 Firebird convertible that started most of the time. We'd be fine.
And we have been.
We've been like two boats tethered together, riding calm seas and rough seas. Yeah, we've gotten a little banged up over the years - we raised two boys - but we're still riding those waves together.
I asked my husband why he thought we have been able to stay together for so long.
"You just have to keep mother happy," he said, laughing.
When he quickly noticed I wasn't laughing back, he stopped making fun of me, illustrating what may be the most important key to a long and happy marriage: Realize what irritates the other person and don't do it.
"To last for 30 years, two people have to really like each other," he said.
"Sure, we're in love, but we are also best friends. We have fun when we are together. We laugh all the time."
We laugh all the time because we look at the twisted world through what seems to be the same set of eyes. The people he sees as nincompoops, I see as nincompoops. The people he sees as blowhards, I see as blowhards. The people he doesn't like, I don't like.
Hmm, I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge that may explain why we don't have a lot of friends.
It is a good thing we have each other.
"Even the things we differ about we have fun with - like our constant temperature battle," he said.
We only have temperature battles because he's a hothouse plant with no need for circulating air, and I'm a normal person who needs a fan in the room to be able to breathe.
But this, too, we have found a way to resolve. He lets me point a fan at my side of the bed and I let him have a gigantic comforter to wrap himself in.
See, that's all it takes to have a good marriage - a little give and take.
"We love to travel together and want to go to every Caribbean island we can before we are too old," he said.
Yes, getting out and seeing the world is great - as long as you want to see the same corner of the world, and we'll take any corner with a beach, a lounge chair, a turquoise sea and a fruity drink.
And go on those vacations even if you think you can't afford them. It's only money, and you only live once. We've never been very good at managing our finances but we always seem to get by. When we're old, we may be sitting on a corner somewhere with tin cups in our hands, but we'll always be able to look back and say we've had a good life.
"We've had our share of tough times, but that's where the love came in - neither one of us could bear to think about life without one another," my husband said.
When I got home yesterday, he was standing at the kitchen counter arranging 30 long-stemmed yellow roses in a big vase.
Every anniversary, he has given me yellow roses - as many as the years we have been married, but he wasn't going to get them this year. I'm going to a newspaper conference tomorrow and - we talked about it - by the time I get back, the flowers will be wilted.
"Afraid breaking the tradition will be bad karma?" I asked him as he put the roses he wasn't going to buy on the table.
"Yeah," he mumbled.
"Aren't they pretty?"

Want to forget your ills? Watch daytime TV

Published Oct. 1, 2007

I walked into the hospital for my routine woman exam.
I spotted the door that said "Women's Health" and walked in.
It was a tiny room, more like a cubicle than a room actually.
I checked in with the receptionist and took a seat.
In this tiny room was a television, the volume up so high that the sordid tale that was unfolding on it could be heard in the next county, I'm sure.
"I caught my husband in bed with my cousin's daughter," a female voice said.
"I didn't know she was your cousin," a male voice replied.
And on they went, revealing secrets that I had no desire to hear (and wondered how anyone else could either).
There were two other women in the room. I asked them if they were watching the television. They said no.
Kindred spirits.
"Who watches this stuff?" I asked them, not expecting or getting an answer.
I opened my newspaper and tried not to listen to the trash tale of woe.
I looked around the cubicle for a place where I could not hear the television.
The guests on the show, who were now screaming at each other, were sporadically interrupted by a calm voice - the daytime TV show's host - that only served to set them off at an even higher decibel.
"I can't take it," I thought, feeling a little panicked. "I can't sit here any longer," I thought, feeling like an animal in a cage.
I got up and walked over to the receptionist.
"Do you think you could put on a news channel?" I asked her.
"Oh, you can change the channel. Go ahead," she said.
So I did. I put in on CNN, and then I turned the volume down real low.
Ah, much better. I read my newspaper until they called my name to go back for my exam.
When I was done, the X-ray technician took me down the hall and told me to have a seat in the waiting room. This was not the first waiting room I was in. This was the post-exam waiting room, and it was even smaller than the first one.
I looked in. It was nearly filled with women in hospital gowns who were staring toward a corner of the room where a TV was playing if not the same show I had seen earlier, one with the same theme - loud people telling the world things I would not tell my mother.
I stood on the threshold. I looked around inside for an open seat. I spotted one, but I couldn't make myself go in. So I just stood there.
I was lucky in the other waiting room - it only had two women in it. This one had six. I couldn't just tromp in this one and be Queen of the Television.
I turned around and walked back down the hall. I found a little alcove with a couple chairs in it. It was almost out of earshot of this new Mr. and Mrs. Trashy TV Couple. I sat down and read my paper, waiting for someone to tell me they had looked at my X-rays and I was free to go.
After getting out of my hospital gown and back into my own clothes, I considered asking someone working there why we had to be subjected to those obnoxious TV shows playing loudly in every corner of the place.
But I didn't.
I was afraid I was just being a brat who is used to having control of the remote control. Maybe everyone else there liked to watch those shows.
So I just left. I walked through the waiting room and out the door.
Wondering how many ailments are as painful as watching the Jerry Springers and Judge Judys of daytime TV.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Oh, say can you see? Well, not too well

Published Sept. 24, 2007

I've become my sixth-grade teacher.
You know the one - the woman who clickedy-clacks over to you in her high-heel pumps and peers at you over the top of her rhinestone encrusted bifocals.
The bifocals that she is constantly searching for because she takes them off and puts them down and then can't remember where.
Yep, that's me.
Yesterday, I got to my desk, sat down and reached into my purse for my reading glasses, one of about two dozen pairs I own, most of which I bought at Marc's for 88 cents.
I couldn't feel them in the bottom of my purse, so I flipped the purse onto its side and rooted around a little more. Phone. Wallet. Sunglasses - but no reading glasses.
Then I did what any desperate woman does. I actually picked up my purse and looked into it. I stirred around all the stuff in there a couple times. No glasses.
I cannot read a thing without those glasses. It was the darnedest thing. One day I could read the paper, the next day I couldn't. My close vision went - overnight.
"It happens to everyone," my eye doctor told me, "when they get older."
Small comfort - on both counts.
Then I remembered that I had stowed a pair in my desk drawer for just such an occasion. I opened all the drawers. You see, I only used the front three inches of each drawer. I guess it makes things easier to find that way. The back 90 percent has been untouched, I figure, since at least 2002, the date of the unopened desk calendar I spotted back there.
Anyway, no glasses. I was getting a little panicked.
I went out to my car where I have a couple of purse "annexes," those canvas totes they give away at places such as newspaper conferences - and Costco. My annexes hold things that won't fit in a purse - like magazines and hair gel - and hopefully a spare pair of reading glasses.
Ah-ha. Yes! I found a pair in the first canvas-tote-annex I looked in.
See? And my husband can't figure out why a woman needs so many purses. This is why.
Speaking of my husband, the above scenario would never happen to him and not only because he doesn't carry purses. He has one (O-N-E) pair of reading glasses that he got from the eye doctor at slightly more than 88 cents.
And he can never find those glasses.
Making the matter even worse is the fact that his near-vision is almost non-existent without magnification. I can't read the newspaper but he can't find the newspaper without his glasses.
His glasses, when he can find them, sit at about a 20-degree angle across his face.
"You ought to get those glasses fixed," I tell him.
"What's wrong with these glasses?" he asks, looking at me over the crooked frames hanging on the bridge of his nose.
And then he adds, "I know. I have to call the eye doctor. I can't see a thing anymore."
And that's the conversation we have had - almost word for word - every week for as long as I can remember.
Because, you see, we have turned into those people, those poor aging souls who can't read a thing without glasses that they can never find.
One day, our younger son, who is in college, said, "I feel like I'm in a Seinfeld episode when I'm around you guys.
"It's not what you do that is so funny, it's the fact that you think it's perfectly normal."
Well, it is perfectly normal.
Isn't it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

She left her map in San Francisco

Published Sept. 15, 2007

My husband had the steering wheel.
I had the map.
And off we went to see the sights of San Francisco.
It wasn't five minutes later that I was wishing I had the steering wheel instead of the map.
Who does have more power in the rental car? The spouse who is driving or the spouse who is directing?
There was so much to sightsee. We wanted to drive through the Presidio and go shopping in Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown. We wanted to drive down the World's Crookedest Street and ride the cable car. We wanted to see the view of the city from Coit Tower. And we wanted to eat dinner on Fisherman's Wharf.
To get all that done, we had to have a plan (devised, of course, by the person with the map), and we had to stick to it (turn where the person with the map says to turn).
That should mean the map-holder has the power, right?
You would think.
We had no sooner entered the grounds of the Presidio - a former Army post that is now part of the Golden Gate National Park and is known for its spectacular views - when we came to a fork in the road.
"Go right," I said to my husband as I manically waved a rolled up map in that direction.
He made a left.
"We were supposed to go right!"
"You didn't tell me soon enough!"
"But that way is the Scenic Route," I said, collapsing back in my seat and pouting as any diligent navigator would.
He just kept driving probably to make me mad but maybe because we were on a very narrow and winding road in a forest of very tall cypress trees.
I went back to studying my map to try to figure out how get us out of this jam - and back on the Scenic Route, so designated by the signs that were posted along the way. It turned out that we were going counterclockwise instead of clockwise on the road that ran along the perimeter of the park. I guess that was OK but it was probably more scenic if you drove the right direction.
We parked the car - a Mustang convertible - and got out to see the view of the Golden Gate Bridge (which is actually red, by the way) and all our navigational woes were forgotten. It was so beautiful.
We actually got around pretty well when we were on city streets. We found Chinatown and the cable car without any problem. It was the parks - greenery and trees - that got us all bollixed up.
We wound up in Golden Gate Park - San Francisco's version of Central Park - as we tried to get to Haight-Ashbury, that famous intersection associated with beat poets and hippies.
I hadn't studied the map for this park the way I had studied the one for the Presidio. We were lost. As I looked at the map, my husband looked for a way out. He saw it - a glimmer of city streets beyond the green - at the exact moment I figured out where we were in the park.
He pulled into the turning lane just as I said, "Go straight."
"I can't go straight. I'm in the turning lane."
"Just go straight," I said as we rounded the corner. I was sitting on my hands to keep from grabbing the steering wheel out of his.
And then I had an epiphany.
We aren't really "map people." We rarely have a plan. We live life by the seat of our pants, so why should we change now just because we are lost in a strange city?
A sense of calm washed over me, and I folded up the map and stuck it into my purse.
I wasn't really lost anyway. I knew exactly where I was.
Sitting next to the guy with the steering wheel I promised to love in sickness and in health - and, so it would follow, in bumper-to-bumper traffic in San Francisco.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The only black suits I know are clubs and spades

Published Sept. 3, 2007

My husband was going shopping for a new suit.
"I'll come with you," I said.
The plan was to leave for the mall at 6 p.m. so, in keeping with that schedule, we backed out of the driveway a couple minutes before 7.
By the time we got there, we only had about an hour and a half until the stores closed.
Can a tailor-made man with an off-the-rack pocketbook find a suit in that little time?
I didn't think so.
We got to the store and my husband started walking down one of the rows as I stood there trying to get my bearings in a sea of jackets and pants in varying shades of black.
"What are you looking for?" I asked my husband, the man who has been pawing through the likes of Esquire and GQ for so many years that I was sure he saw the differences in these suits that all looked exactly the same to me.
"I want a plain black suit," he said.
And with that began my lesson in the nuances of "plain black suit."
There are two-button and three-button jackets with narrow or wide lapels. There are one or two or no back vents. There are different weight materials and types of lining.
I was still being schooled in jackets when the salesman came over and offered to help.
He asked my husband his size, walked to an end area in the suit sea and pulled out about six of them.
I hadn't had enough lessons to see the difference in these half-dozen suits. I wondered which was the least expensive.
My husband eliminated a couple of them, and the suit salesman carried the others over to an open spot in the sea of suits where there was a full-length mirror.
The salesman pulled jacket after jacket off their hangers and helped my husband into them.
He looked anywhere from dashing to very dashing in all of them.
And then finally, the slightest mention of a price.
"Here, try this one on," the salesman said to my husband. "I think it's as nice as that other one, and it's a couple hundred dollars cheaper."
OK, well, now at least I knew the dollar ballpark - hundreds.
But neither of them flinched at the salesman's words, so I didn't either. I did, however, stand up straighter and try to smooth out my shirt in an attempt to look like a woman who didn't flinch at the words "a couple hundred dollars cheaper."
He finally picked out a suit. He looked marvelous in it. If he had a clue how much it cost, he didn't let on and, by this point, asking him "How much?" would have been gauche no matter how softly I whispered it.
Besides, how much more do you have to know when the difference in prices is measured in hundreds?
The next day, my husband related part of the conversation he had with the suit salesman as he got the hem of his pants pinned up.
"As soon as you asked for a two-button suit," the salesman had told him, "I knew you were a Democrat.
"And then I saw your wife," he went on, "and I knew she was a Democrat."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked my husband.
"I don't know," he said.
"Well, what kind of suit did he have on?" I asked my husband.
"A three-button one."
Hmm. It's true; you do learn something new every day.
It's just that some days, you have absolutely no idea what you just learned.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lifestyles of the rich and homeless

Published Aug. 27, 2007

Did you ever see that show "House Hunters?"
Homebuyers are shown three homes in their price range with the amenities they are after and they pick one of them to buy. It's as if you are house shopping with some friends - often, some very rich friends.
"House Hunters" is the most popular show on Home & Garden Television - HGTV - and it's addictive.
You get to see a bunch of cool houses in different parts of the country and then you get to play a guessing game - in my case, against my husband - to see if you can figure out which one they will pick.
We're relatively late to the game. The show premiered in October 1999, but we just discovered it about a month ago.
The good news is - between regular "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International," which is the same show except the houses are all over the world instead of all over the country - you can watch the show at least three times a day.
And if you have one of those snazzy DVR or TiVo gizmos like we do, you can stack up so many episodes on your recorder that if you don't like a particular one, you can just delete it and watch another.
I set my DVR to record every instance of the program so that I can switch on the TV and call up an episode of "House Hunters" whenever I want to - usually about 10:30 every night.
This is how it goes: I turn on an episode and get about halfway through. In other words, the couple has looked at one or two of the houses. Then my husband wanders in and sits down and starts asking questions. Instead of answering him, I push the rewind button and we watch the show together.
Despite me getting a second look at most of the show, he still guesses right more times than I do.
A couple of days ago, the first episode I chose began by showing a family - a youngish couple with three small children, all of whom were scurrying around and climbing their parents' legs like they were trees.
The announcer began, "Joe and Mary Smith are looking for a larger home for their growing family ..."
And then he went on to say they didn't have much money.
While I appreciate the fact that Joe and Mary are looking for an inexpensive house for their three darling children, I've been there, done that with two kids of my own.
Oh, no. I want something more exotic, more expensive. I want to dream, not re-live.
So I delete the Smith episode and go back to my list of recorded programs.
The next one I play is about a childless 50-year-old couple, both real estate agents, who live in a swanky Washington, D.C., suburb and are looking to buy a vacation house on the North Carolina coast.
Ah. That's more like it. I want to watch people who are looking for granite countertops, not a place for a swing set.
The real estate agents ended up choosing a waterfront house with a boat slip - and a yard big enough for their two little sweater-wearing dogs - for close to $1 million.
I was looking on the HGTV Web site and found a "casting call" for potential homebuyers and real estate agents. You can be on the show.
There is an application to fill out that asks you things such as "Why do you want to move?" and "What kind of house do you want to buy?"
There is no stipend mentioned and there are lots of warnings about how much time it is likely to take.
So you might wonder, "What's in it for me?"
Well, what was in it for one homebuyer was a huge new house a stone's throw from the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for $225,000.
Could you get that deal without going on "House Hunters?"
I guess not knowing the answer to that question is the whole appeal of the show.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whoever said 'thrill of the hunt' should be shot

Published Aug. 20, 2007

We are always on a mission for something.
It seems we never have the right stuff, enough stuff or the stuff we have needs to be replaced.
Our most recent mission was for a new bed.
You may know the drill. One morning you crawl out of your bed and you realize you just had a pretty lousy night's sleep on a pretty lousy mattress.
And before you know it, you are obsessed with a hunt for a new bed. You pore through the pile of glossy ads that spill out of your Sunday newspaper.
And, I don't know how it happens but it seems that those Sunday advertisers always seem to know the object of your hunt-of-the-week.
For every other ad that spills onto your kitchen table includes a page of mattresses on sale.
We studied those ads but after a couple Sundays, brand names and prices all began to run together, sending me into the second stage of the hunt.
The Internet.
There, "customer reviews" offer insight into brand names and prices. Theoretically.
Trying to figure out what bed is best by what customers say online is like trying to find out which bed you want to sleep in based on what Goldilocks has to say.
And so, finally, you are at the third stage of the hunt: Getting in the car and actually going to the store.
And, in our case, once we started lying down on mattresses, brand names, customer reviews and even prices were of little consequence.
We fell onto one particular bed and we knew it was the one we wanted - even if it was a brand I had never considered at a price I had been unwilling to pay.
But we bought it and finally our mission was accomplished.
You see, we bought a king-size bed to replace a queen-size bed, therefore setting up another series of hunts, starting with sheets.
The drill was the same. Look in the Sunday ads. Look on the Internet. Go to the store and buy some on sale.
And then we needed pillows.
You see, king-size bedding needs king-size pillows.
"Let's go the mall," I said to my husband late Saturday afternoon.
"The mall, I don't want to go to the mall. Why do we have to go to the mall? I don't feel like ..."
An hour later we were at the mall standing in front of a wall of pillows. I'm not kidding. As far as the eye could see upward and outward were pillows - down pillows, alternative-down pillows, down-surround pillows, firm pillows, medium pillows, soft pillows.
Some cost $7; some cost $27 and some cost $157.
It was a hunt for a master hunter. I pulled down a pillow and squeezed it. Then I smashed my cheek against its plastic sleeve. My husband was doing the same at the far end of the wall.
Two hours later as we were trudging out of the store laden with bags of pillows (they were buy one, get one free), I lost sight of my husband.
I put down my pillows and looked around.
I could see the top of his head across the furniture department so I made my way over to him.
He was sitting on a sectional sofa.
"You like this?" he asked, brushing his hand across the seat of the sofa.
"I think it would look good in our living room."
And so begins another hunt.
But we should be able to pay for this one with the proceeds from that garage sale we plan to have.
A garage sale sure to include an old sofa and lots of queen-size bedding.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Table for two? Yes, a man and his crazed wife

Published Aug. 13, 2007

Summers sure are a lot hotter these days.
It used to be that on a warm summer day, a person would look at the thermometer hanging on the side of his garage and say, “Whew! 90! It’s hot outside!”
Then some weather guy factored the humidity into the temperature, inventing the “heat index” and turning that 90 into 94.
And then another weather guy decided you can’t ignore things like wind speed, sun intensity and elevation, either. And so was born “real feel” temperatures and that 90 was now 96.

We were down in Key West last week.
Who goes to Key West in August? Crazy people, that’s who. My husband and I.
The same two adventure seekers who fly into Fort Myers so they can drive across the Everglades and the Keys.
In a convertible.
I donned a visor, sunglasses and 30 spf sunscreen for the five-hour voyage. It wasn’t so bad, especially when I turned on the air conditioner when my husband wasn’t looking. Each time, I managed to cool off a bit before he switched it off. (“It wastes gas.”) On. Off. On. Off. It was our little car game on the way to Key West.
One day, we walked 10 blocks or so to have lunch at “Blue Heaven,” a famous Key West restaurant, but it wasn’t until we got there that I realized all the seating was outdoors in a sweltering, er, shaded garden.
When it hit me that my trek was not going to end in an air-conditioned restaurant, I got a little panicked.
“You eat outside?” I asked my husband.
“Yeah, is that OK? Look, it’s nice back here,” he said.
I couldn’t see anything except the half-dozen or so standing fans that were strategically placed around the tables.
Look at a fan. Look to see where it is blowing. Look to see if anyone is sitting there.
Look at another fan. Look to see where it is blowing. Look to see if anyone is sitting there.
As we stood — my husband admiring the place, I taking stock of the fans — a waiter came up. He was carrying menus and two bundles of silverware.
“Hello. Would you like to sit here?” he gestured to the table nearest us.
I was off like a shot. I saw a fanned location.
My husband was right behind. The waiter behind us.
“Here then?” he motioned to the table where I had stopped.
Again, I was off like a shot. I spotted what looked to be a better place. I wriggled around seated diners on the mulch-covered ground. My husband was behind me. The waiter behind him.
“She’s looking for a table with a fan,” I heard my husband try to explain my behavior to the waiter.
“Well, here,” the waiter said. “Why don’t you just take these?” He handed the silverware and the menus to my husband. “Just sit wherever she decides.”
And then I had to make a decision: Yank out of their chairs a rather large couple seated directly in front of the best fan in the place or take an empty table nearby.
I decided I was probably already pushing my luck with my husband, so I took the open table.
Two glasses of ice water and two glasses of iced tea later, I was composed enough to realize that I had just led a chase around the outdoor dining room.
I started laughing and then my husband started laughing, too. We laughed so hard I forgot how hot it was.Now, if I can only figure out a way to factor into that real feel temperature the speed at which a diner scurries around a patio with a husband and a waiter in her wake.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Modern-day Gladys Kravitz solves a mystery

Published July 30, 2007

The house down the street looked empty.
I passed it every day on my way home. It always had three or four or more cars in the driveway. Now there was none.
"I wonder if that house got foreclosed on," I said to my husband a couple weeks ago.
I kept meaning to get the house number so I could look it up.
There are a lot of Web sites that list foreclosures, but alas, most of them give only the most basic information - such as the street name - before you have to sign up and pay to get the rest.
One site offered a seven-day free trial.
Shoot, I thought, I only need it for seven minutes. I'll sign up. I had to provide credit card information, which I had no qualms about being the avid online shopper that I am.
And then I read the fine print: If you do not cancel within the seven days, your card automatically will be billed for the following month: $49.95.
I closed out that Web site fast.
I don't know about you but I always, always, always forget to cancel subscriptions that have that caveat after a free come-on.
Anyway, what piqued my interest about the house down the street was that last week after I noticed all the cars gone, I noticed the pool gone. An above-ground pool that had been visible from the street had vanished, perhaps having been drained and folded up and carried off into the night.
"It has to be a foreclosure," my husband said. "Did you check the auditor's Web site?"
The Lorain County Auditor. That's the ticket.
So I went looking.
I tried to figure out the house's house number. It is five houses down, add 10 to my house number and I should have it, right?
No, that would be too easy. My house number plus 10 brought up the next door neighbor's property.
Puzzled again. I ended up - the auditor's site allows this - putting in a range of numbers and looking at all the houses in the range.
I was typing and clicking and studying the computer screen for hours when my husband said, "Hey, Gladys Kravitz, what are you doing?"
For those of you who don't remember - or, gulp, are too young to remember - Gladys Kravitz was the nosy neighbor always threatening to expose Samantha's magical powers on "Bewitched."
"Actually," he said, "you're the modern-day Gladys."
It was true. Gone are the days when neighbor had to spy on neighbor over the back fence or between the slits in the drapes.
Now, with enough time and ingenuity, anyone can get information on just about anyone by using the Internet. It's kind of scary.
I found out the names of the people living on my short street. I found out, in many cases, what they had paid for their house and when they bought it.
I found out how many square feet each house has and how many bedrooms and baths. I compared our square footage with the other houses on the street. I was lost in my research.
And then I remembered what I was looking for.
Did the house down the street get foreclosed on?
I figured out what house number it was and clicked on the address for property information.
Sure enough. The words "sheriff sale" came up on one of the categories on the page.
Hmm. Wonder what the people who lived there did for a living? Wonder how they lost their house? Did something bad happen?
OK, so, I guess the Internet can't tell a person everything about her neighbors.
Maybe Gladys Kravitz was onto something with those binoculars of hers.

(By the way, you have to pay to look on the auditor's Web site, too, but it is a fraction of the cost of the others.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Attack of the cicada killer wasps

Published July 23, 2007

What makes grown men flail their arms and run around the backyard shrieking like girls?
Dive-bombing flying insects as big as your thumb, that's what.
There's been a lot of flailing and running and shrieking around here lately.
Actually, the above scene could be juxtaposed with a magnified version of the scene I am about to describe, and a filmmaker would have himself quite a horrifying Grade B science fiction movie.
A huge striped wasp - the same bug (or its cousin) that has been terrifying swimmers in my backyard - was dragging a big, fat dead cicada into the crevice between the concrete walkway and the pool.
The wasp squirmed down in the hole and tried to pull the fat cicada in after it.
The cicada was clearly twice the size of the hole and its predator.
But the wasp didn't give up.
The dead cicada seemed to move of its own accord like those metal filings in those board games in which you put a beard on a man with a magnet.
But it wasn't a magnet that was levitating the bug; it was another insect.
You could see the wasp's furry little insect legs sticking up through the hole trying to get some leverage as it twisted and turned and tugged at its prey to get it into the hole.
The hard-working bug - according to Shelly Hill, program assistant for horticulture at Lorain County's Ohio State Extension office - is actually called a cicada killer wasp or, scientifically, sphecius speciosus.
Hill convinced me, and now I'm trying to convince you, to please stop swatting and bug-poisoning these annoying dive-bombing bugs that are almost as big as hummingbirds.
"They are beneficial," Hill told me in that sweet bug-loving entomologist way, "and very interesting."
Cicadas - not the 17-year locusts we are all familiar with but the ones called "dog day cicadas" that come around annually - will eat trees and eat the roots of trees.
"The cicada killer wasps go after them," she said.
And although they will dive-bomb you - that is the aggressive male, by the way - they don't sting.
The males don't even have stingers and the females will only sting if cornered or trapped - like in laundry brought in from the clothesline, she said.
I told her about watching a cicada killer fly back and forth over the same small area of grass day after day.
She told me that what I was seeing was probably the same male guarding his brood of eggs or larvae in the ground below.
"The male is real aggressive toward its young," Hill said. "He doesn't have a stinger, but he will head-bang you if you get in his way."
The wasps' life cycle parallels that of the cicada, spanning 60-75 days from mid-July to mid-September. They are solitary insects. They don't live in colonies. There is no queen. Just a bunch of little cicada-killer families. The female lays eggs in the ground, and in one or two days larvae hatch from them. The insects spend about two weeks as larvae before becoming fearsome cicada killers.
Boy, am I glad I didn't kill that diligent dad. I considered it. I wanted to. But, I couldn't find a flyswatter.
So anyway, the next time I walked past that crevice into which the wasp had been trying to pull its levitating prey, the cicada was gone. Either the wasp managed to wedge it into the hole or he swallowed it whole.
"That's kind of surprising that it was trying to take it underground," Hill said. "They usually fly up into the trees with them."
Oh, now that's a comforting thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Everything's good -- except my flipping age

Published July 16, 2007

“Have any of you guys ever played ‘Flip Cup’?” I asked a group of 20-somethings in the newsroom.
“Yeah,” said one, nodding vigorously.
“Oh, yeah,” added another.
“Yeah, we used to play it in college,” a third chimed in.
“Well,” I told them, “I played it last week when my sons were home. It was boys versus girls, and we won.”
“Cool (or some other words expressing that sentiment),” they all said.
Flip Cup is a popular drinking game on college campuses. Teams line up on opposite sides of a long table. Each player has a plastic cup into which a couple fingers of beer — the $6-a-case variety — is poured.
The game starts with two players standing opposite each other drinking their beer and then placing the empty cups on the edge of the table with about half of them hanging off.
Then they have to flip the cup over so that it lands on its top. That could take a few tries for the uncoordinated.
As soon as it is done, the next player goes. It’s like a drinking relay race. The first team that finishes wins a point. The game goes to seven or 10 or whatever number is arbitrarily chosen.
It’s loud and it’s wild with team members egging on each flipper in turn.
It’s also a game we never played long ago at Ohio State. Back then, the only energy we expended was what it took to haul our meat off the sofa and walk up to High Street where we found a bar in which to again park ourselves.
I guess the game is just another example of “today’s more active lifestyle” that everyone talks about.
Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about having something in common with my much-younger charges in the newsroom. I was hip to their party games.
That was until one of them came over to my desk a little while later.
“Did I hear you say you were playing Flip Cup?” he asked.
“Yeah. My sons and their girlfriends stayed at our house last week, and they talked my husband and me into playing.”
“Aren’t you a little old for that?” he asked.
Whoa. I felt as if I had been sucker-punched.
Old? Moi?
“No!” I blurted out. “I mean we still act like we’re 22. We still do wild things,” I told him, my voice trailing off.
I spent a few minutes thinking about the way I act, the way I see myself, the way others see me but then my brain blew a fuse and I went back to my work.
I didn’t think about my age — real or perceived — again until my new “Shape” magazine came in the mail. Now, my age I have a problem getting a handle on, but my shape I’m well aware of. I know I’m not the demographic targeted by that magazine but, hey, won’t hurt to try to get some pointers, right?
This month’s cover touted: “Your best body at 20, 30, 40.”
I turned to the story inside. The first pages were about looking good in your 20s; the next, 30s; and then 40s. I turned the page again and it was a different story, so I flipped back and flipped forward again, rubbing the glossy page between my thumb and forefinger to find the pages I was skipping.
Nope. That was it. I don’t know what I was looking for anyway. The cover said it: “Look great at any age (as long as it’s under 50).”
Hmmm. What to make of that?
So maybe I don’t look so good when standing at the Flip Cup table. But, hey, what I lack in youth and beauty, I make up for in wisdom and determination.
And my record as a winning flipper proves it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Some people (not us) just can't let go

Published July 2, 2007

When people buy a new house and fix it up, they want everyone to come over and see what they have done.
Everyone except the old owners, that is.
Well, it's not that we don't want them to see it, it's just that we are afraid they will be offended that their way isn't exactly our way.
I know my husband and I have been worried about the things we have done to our new house.
"What do you think they would think of that wallpaper?" I asked my husband one day.
"Don't you think they would be proud at how clean the pool is?" my husband asked me another day.
But, I have to admit, we haven't made a lot of drastic changes here.
However, at the old house, trees are coming down, rolls of carpet are out for the garbage man and red geraniums have been planted out front.
I think it's great.
When we first moved in that house that was built in 1890, we did the same thing. We ripped out and remodeled like crazy.
Back then, the questions my husband and I exchanged about our work and the new owners started with, "Wouldn't they die," not with "What would they think."
But either way, I think we all do a lot of worrying for nothing.
No one expects new owners not to make changes.
I left a note for the new owners of our house explaining some things and leaving my e-mail address in case they needed to get a hold of us for anything.
A couple weeks later, I got a note: "The house is loved. I am the new owner at your former very lovely old girl as you say. She is quite the lady, I do agree."
And then she went on to tell me about how they both fell in love with the house and were happy to get it.
She ended with "We are making transitions and changes, naturally. Some are from the recommendations of the building inspector. Other changes are just personal."
Hmm. Bracing me.
But I didn't need bracing and I wanted her to know. I wanted her to know that she had my blessing to do whatever she wanted to do with the house.
I told her so.
"I'm sure the changes you make will be great."
An old neighbor came to visit last week.
"They cut down a big tree in your yard," she told me.
I finally figured out it was the hemlock we planted right against the house to hide the electric meter. It seemed like a good idea at the time (when the tree was 5 feet tall) but it grew and grew. I can understand why they cut it down.
But now, the electric meter will show.
OK, I'm beginning to understand why people are afraid to tell former owners what they have done to a house.
I got another e-mail from her the other day.
"Everyone is watching what we do," she wrote. "People in the neighborhood who walk by comment on it and us and what we are doing. I know we are watched but I am not concerned. We only have the best intentions for the house."
And I'm sure they do.
I'm also sure I'll find out about how those intentions look. I don't go through the old neighborhood very much any more, but I know a lot of people who do.
And come to think of it, I wonder what carpet they ripped out.
All the carpet in the house was in pretty good shape - and it was expensive, too.
What could they have been thinking?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Traveling with dad -- and boot

Published June 25, 2007

It was 4:50 a.m. and I was walking toward the back door of my parents' house.
My dad was standing in the doorway.
"You're late," he said.
Hmm. I told him I would be there at 4:45. Five minutes is, relatively, not late for his oldest daughter.
"You said you would be here at 3:45. I've been up since 3," he said.
"Dad, I didn't say quarter to 4," I told him as I reached for the door handle and scooted up next to him inside the doorway. "Anyway, are you ready to go?"
My dad and I were going on a trip. I've been trying to talk my parents into going out to Colorado to visit my son - their oldest grandchild - for a couple of years, but my mom won't fly and my dad won't drive so that was that.
But somehow my son finally talked his grandfather into coming out for a long weekend of golfing. I was just along for the ride.
A couple of weeks before we left, my father did something that would turn our trip into an adventure.
One morning, he took the hard way down the basement stairs - on his side with one arm sliding down the handrail and his long legs buckling underneath him. He got down the stairs faster that way but ended up with a broken ankle.
A broken ankle that - along with the size 13 foot attached to it - was now, in lieu of a plaster cast, encased in a big, black knee-high boot.
A big, black boot not good for hobbling around airports, let alone golf courses.
But nothing holds my father down - not even what amounts to a cement shoe - so the trip was still on.
My husband drove us to the airport and we had to hurry because, of course, even though my dad had been up since 3 a.m., we were still running late.
We were making good time until we got to security. They took one look at the boot and told me to wheel my father over to an inspector wearing plastic gloves and holding a wand.
He was joined by another inspector and while one poked and prodded with the wand, the other got out a fistful of those white circular swabs that check for explosive powder.
The swabber wiped the top of the boot where my father's toes were sticking out and fed the circle into a machine.
Then he got out another and wiped the side of the boot and fed it into the machine. And another. And another.
Finally, apparently convinced my father and his boot were no threat to other passengers, the inspectors released him. I whisked the wheelchair under him and we took off for the gate.
We were flying standby and knew that I - the sister of a Southwest employee - was a low-priority traveler. What I didn't know is that my dad - the parent of a Southwest employee - had a much loftier position that would also carry his traveling companion.
In the end, there was only one flight we wanted to get on and didn't. We were like VIPs on the other three legs of the trip. Being in a wheelchair - or pushing someone in a wheelchair - means you get on the plane first. And at Southwest, where there are no assigned seats or first class, that means sitting right up front.
And while the boot killed any golfing plans, it didn't keep us from sightseeing up in the mountains or sampling some of Denver's best restaurants.
It was a great adventure and, although it may pain my dad to hear it put this way, I think he got a kick out of it.

Operation Leave Me Alone (please)

Published June 18, 2007

Across the hall in a cubicle identical to mine, stood a man with a white woven purse hanging on his left arm.
He was talking to a woman - most likely the owner of the white woven purse - who was lying in a hospital bed.
I peered over the top of my reading glasses to get a better look and as I did, I tugged on the elastic of my hairnet that was digging into my forehead.
And then I went back to reading my newspaper.
I was in the on-the-way-to-surgery wing. You see, a couple months ago, I tore the ligament in my knee and the doctor assured me that all he had to do was "trim it up a bit," and the excruciating pain that it sometimes gave me would be no more.
Sounded like a plan.
I wasn't scared about having surgery. There is a day when I would have been. But there also was a day when I was scared about getting on an airplane.
I'm not sure when I stopped being a fraidy cat -when my kids grew up, I guess.
Anyway, I wasn't too worried about the "little trim" on my knee ligament. My husband drove me to the surgical center for my 7:15 a.m. appointment last week.
"You don't have to stay," I told him as we left the house. "Just drop me off and come back home. They'll call you when I'm done."
"OK. We'll see what happens," he said.
We pulled into the parking lot and I said again, "Just drop me off."
"Don't be silly," he said. "I'll come in with you and see what's going on."
So we went into the waiting room, and I went to the front desk where the woman put a plastic name bracelet on my wrist and told me to take a seat.
I sat next to my husband who was reading one of the newspapers I had brought with me.
It wasn't too long before a nurse came out of the office and called my name.
My husband and I both stood up.
"Bye," I said as I gave him a quick kiss. "I'll have them call you."
And off I went. As the nurse and I walked back, she said to me, "We'll get you checked in and then your husband can come back with you."
"Oh, that's OK. He's going home," I told her.
She put me in one of the little cubicles that lined both sides of the hallway.
"Take off your clothes and put on this gown. It fastens in the back. And put this on your head."
I took from her the gown that fastens nowhere, let alone in back, and a hat-hairnet thingy. I put them both on.
So this is where I was when I looked across the hall and saw the man with the white purse.
I couldn't help but wonder what he and the owner of the purse were talking about. I mean we were in a surgery center. They did minor knee surgeries and removed cataracts. They weren't doing heart transplants or removing brain tumors. There was a pretty good shot we were all going to live long enough to eat supper that night.
I started wondering if I was the odd one. How come I didn't need loving support in the form of another human being in my cubicle as I waited for surgery?
Then I decided, no, I'm actually one of the lucky ones. The people who care about me don't make me talk to them when I'm wearing a hairnet thingy.
And they're wearing my purse.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dr. Jekyll and Mother Hyde

Pubished June 4, 2007

It was 9 a.m.
"Matt, aren't you supposed to have that car to the gas station by 10?" I said softly to my younger son, who was sleeping diagonally across his big bed, his long body twisted in his sheets.
"Yeah. I'm getting up," he mumbled.
At 9:20, I turned it up a notch and yelled up the stairs, "Matt!"
At 9:40, I tromped up the stairs and cranked it up yet another notch as I pushed open his bedroom door. Still there. Still diagonal.
"Matt!" I shrieked. "Get. Up. And. Take. That. Car. In."
Once again, he had managed to turn his kind, loving mother into a raving, shrieking lunatic. Dr. Jekyll and Mother Hyde.
What usually happens next - because most times he's awake during his mother's metamorphosis - is that he gives me a perplexed look and says, "What's wrong with you?"
But he wouldn't be saying that today.
Because he was still sleeping.
And I was done talking. I grabbed my car keys and went to work.
As I was pulling out of the driveway, I thought, "That'll fix him. Now he'll never get up to take that car in."
As I was nearing the corner, I thought, "How's he going to get up now that I'm not there to wake him? I should go back and try to get him up again."
As I was getting on the highway, I thought, "Ooh, he makes me so mad. He stays out with his friends half the night and then won't do what he is supposed to do."
And on and on. Back and forth. Good, evil. Sane, insane.
Finally, somewhere between that spot on the highway and the parking lot at work, I became, if only momentarily, rational.
It doesn't matter if he's right or wrong, I thought, he has to get that car fixed.
You see, Matt was to leave later that day for Denver. His brother had asked him to come live with him for the summer and get a job out there.
That's why he was driving; he would need a car for work. The plans were to pick up his girlfriend in Chicago and she would keep him company on the ride and then fly back home.
So there were a lot of people counting on Matt getting on the road as planned.
But first he had to get out of bed.
Well, as is almost always the case, things worked out. He managed not only to get out of bed but to convince the mechanic to look at his car even though he had missed his appointment.
He called me later that day. He and my husband had packed up his car and he was ready to leave. He wanted to know when I would be home.
I left work early so I could say goodbye, the morning's rage long forgotten.
"Follow me to the ATM, and I'll get you some money for your trip," I told him.
I pulled away from the machine and parked my car next to his. As I climbed out of the car, I could feel a lump in my throat.
"I don't want you to go," I said.
"Mom. I'll see you in a week," he told me.
"Oh, yeah." I had forgotten that I am flying out there next week.
Later, I was talking to my husband.
"You know you do drive him a little crazy," my husband told me.
"But I don't know what it is with those boys. They are really attached to you. It must be something about mothers and sons," he said.
Or maybe it's just that love really does mean never having to say you're sorry.
For driving someone crazy, that is.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sometimes life really IS for the birds

Published May 28, 2007

A fashionable socialite is standing near a school in Bodega Bay when all of a sudden, she looks up and the sky is filled with fluttering, squawking, dive-bombing birds.
They swoop down and start pecking and grabbing at Tippi Hedren in "The Birds."
Well, in my story, the fashionable socialite is my husband and our Bodega Bay is our backyard pool.
The birds here aren't vicious seagulls, they are blackbirds and they don't get in my husband's hair - they just get on his nerves.
One day last week, when my husband was lying next to the pool with his hand down in the filter he was trying to fix, he watched as one bird after another came from the front of the house, swooped down over the deck, released droppings, pulled back up and flew away. Bird after bird, swooping and dropping over the same 10-foot runway on the deck.
The next day, when my husband was again next to the pool, this time on his hands and knees, one arm in the still-broken filter up to his elbow, he looked up to see the same irritating little airshow taking place. Like little feathered airplanes, the birds would zoom in, dip and drop.
The deck was turning into a sea of white bird-droppings.
Why were they doing this? It was as much of a mystery as in the Alfred Hitchcock movie. Were they aiming for the pool and missing? Who was drawing up the flight plan for these winged creatures?
"What's with all those birds?" he asked me. "I hate birds. They sit up in those trees watching me. It's kind of creepy."
Me? I'll take the blackbirds and their white droppings any old day. The blackbirds only threaten my husband and he can take care of himself - and the deck. But the hawk that hung around our old house threatened everybody. He terrorized the other birds because he stole their eggs or their babies, and when he swooped down, it wasn't to drop something; it was to pick up something - like a baby squirrel.
Now, those are the kind of birds I hate.
But anyway, a bird problem is a bird problem, and we had to figure out how to solve it before an unsuspecting sunbather got pelted with little white bird bombs.
The third day my husband spent a couple hours with his arm down the pool filter, he watched how the birds swooped underneath the Japanese maple just beyond the deck in the side yard before hitting their favorite dropping place on the deck. He had an idea. He yanked his arm out of the filter, walked over and closed the gate into the side yard.
Voila. Runway interrupted.
He got the filter fixed shortly after that, probably because he was able to concentrate on the matter at hand instead of the matter overhead.
So, the next day he was in the flower garden, pulling weeds when he heard a loud splash.
He turned around, and there bobbing around in the pool as if he owned it was a mallard duck with a bright green head.
"Hey, get out of there," my husband yelled.
With that, the duck stuck its webbed feet deeper into the water and paddled around a little faster.
"Hey!" my husband said again, this time a little louder.
The duck flapped its wings, splashing before taking off over - except in the opposite direction - the same runway the blackbirds had used.
My husband watched it fly away.
"Geez, I do hate birds," he muttered.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jim's flying higher than any old airplane

Published May 21, 2007

A huge cake with gobs of white frosting proclaimed, "Congratulations Jim."
It was on the pastry table in the dining room.
Along the opposite wall was a long table weighed down with roasters filled with chicken and scalloped potatoes and other party food.
The room was packed with people heaping food onto paper plates.
And one of them must have bumped into the picture frame that was lying in front of the big white cake because there was frosting on one of its corners.
The frame with one white corner contained a photograph of my brother, Jim. He was wearing his graduation cap and gown, and he had a huge smile on his face.
The picture had been matted with a wide white board, and there was a pen next to the frame so people could sign their names or write a sentiment to Jim.
"Best wishes, Jim."
"Finally," wrote his twin, Tim.
"Congratulations Dad. Love you, Lauren."
"Luv u, Morgan."
Lauren and Morgan are his daughters.
For you see, my brother didn't enter college right out of high school.
He's 42 years old, and he just earned an associate's degree in applied science. He's an ultrasonographer - a person who does ultrasounds - and his degree got him a job in a hospital. He starts next week.
Jim was one of those people you read about. He had worked for almost 20 years as a baggage handler at the airport. It was a job he loved even though his elbows hurt most of the time, a vestige of his high school pitching career. He didn't complain much. It's not in his nature.
But then the airline started cutting his hours. It was OK for a while. His wife is a nurse so at least they had one steady income. But three kids aren't cheap. Finally, after yet another cut in his hours, he knew he had to find another job.
What could he do? He had some college but not a degree. He knew no other job than the one he had held for two decades.
So he went back to school - to Lorain County Community College - to learn a new profession. To be retrained.
That was two years ago, and we haven't seen much of Jim since then. He studied hard - and he studied a lot.
"Where's Jim?" someone would always ask at family gatherings, many of which were to watch big Ohio State or Browns games.
"Studying," would always be the reply.
"Jeesh," someone would mutter. "He's always studying."
"It's hard," Jim would tell me. "And I have a lot of stuff to do."
The classes may have been grueling but they seem to have paid off, not just for Jim but for the other 10 applied science ultrasonographer graduates in his class. Nine of the 11 have landed jobs in their field.
Many of his classmates were at the party yesterday to help him celebrate. Many of them added their signatures to the mat around his photo.
"Where's Jim?" I heard someone ask at one point.
For the first time in two years, the answer wasn't "studying."
"He's out back," someone answered.
I looked out into the backyard and there he was, looking a lot like he did in the photo.
Of course, he no longer wore his cap and gown.
But he did wear that same great big smile.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A house where 2 boys and their parents grew up

Published May 14, 2007

A year ago this month, we planted a "For Sale" sign in the front yard of our beautiful old house on a tree-lined street in Amherst.
All last summer that sign was there, except when it was plucked out and leaned against the sandstone steps so the lawn could be mowed.
We saw that sign standing there every time we pulled out of the driveway, including the time last August when we hauled the last of our belongings from the place.
The sign was still there in the fall when there was no one living in the house to hear the roar of the crowds at football games on Friday nights, when no one was there to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.
And it was there through the winter, although by that time, it was leaning a little.
I didn't drive by it much. It hurt my feelings to think that no one wanted the house that was our home for 22 years. I wanted my house to be like the prom queen - pretty and popular - but she was the girl who wasn't even asked to the dance.
The "For Sale" sign remained there in the spring as the rains fell and made the grass around it grow faster than its absentee owners could mow.
Finally, after almost a year, the square metal sign's sentry duty is over. Someone has bought our house.
We haven't met the new owner, but she must be someone who looked beyond the flaws of something that has been standing for 117 years (like creaky floorboards and wavy window glass).
I plan to write her a letter, passing down stories of the house, the way we pass down stories of our ancestors.
I want to tell her about the day my husband announced - and I panicked - that he was going to tear the shingle siding off the house and restore the cedar boards underneath.
I want to tell her there is a baseboard heater in the smallest bedroom because that's the room my baby slept in when I brought him home from the hospital.
And then I'll tell her the wall behind the bedroom door is patched because that baby grew into a teenager with a temper and one day flung the door open with such force that the doorknob punched a hole in the wall.
I'll tell her that the cracks in the grout in the tile floor of the kitchen are there because the people who installed it - my husband and I - didn't know what we were doing. But she should probably be thankful she can even see the tiles because I remember crying while on my hands and knees because the grout was drying faster than I could wipe it from the tiles.
I'll tell her how the fireplace mantel in the family room addition came from a salvage yard in Ohio City and the big oak columns came from an auction.
I'll point out the tree in the backyard that came from my grandma's yard, and I'll show her how she can hang an Ohio State flag from the two cup hooks that have been screwed into the ceiling on the wraparound porch.
And maybe I'll even apologize for that smelly skunk and its smelly family that most likely will wake her up some nights - even though I did everything in my power - except convince my husband to shoot them - to get rid of them.
And if she doesn't believe me, she can ask the neighbor - the one who drove me and a cardboard box filled with five baby skunks out in the country to find them a new home.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Almost sleepless in St. Louis

Published May 7, 2007

The plane was about to land in St. Louis.
The muffled voice of a flight attendant was coming in over the music on my iPod. I pulled out my earplugs, and yep, the mom behind me was still loudly encouraging her baby to continue his squealing.
I was that cranky business traveler unnerved by an assuredly first-time mom and her assuredly adorable baby.
I unfolded myself and got off the plane.
I had come to the Gateway to the West for a newspaper conference that was being held in a hotel right across the Mississippi River from the famous shiny 630-foot arch.
The hotel had two round towers, a tall skinny one and a short squatty one. I checked in, and the clerk pointed me toward the short squatty tower.
With my laptop and my carry-on on my left shoulder and my large rolling suitcase in my right hand, I went looking for my third-floor room.
The circular tower was set up so that the core was open from floor to ceiling. I got off the elevator and circled around until I found my room.
I was so anxious to see the arch, I let all my bags fall when I got into the room and ran over to the window.
I looked out. There was an arch, all right, the slight arch of a rather ugly bridge beyond the brick walls of rather ugly buildings.
Oh, well. I won't be in the room much anyway, I thought.
Might as well take a quick shower. I went in the bathroom, only to find a pool of water standing over what appeared to be a clogged tub drain.
Back to the front desk.
"My tub is clogged," I quietly told the desk clerk.
"Oh, there are always drainage problems over there. I'll put you on a higher floor. Those seem better," she told me.
Dreaming of my new room on the fifth floor - this one surely with a view of the arch - I hauled my repacked bags out of my room - and into the roar of dozens of teenagers pouring into the common area of the tower. A man was telling them to go find their rooms.
When the elevator came, about 10 of these teenagers dashed past me. I got in, looked at the "5" button but pushed "1."
Back to the front desk.
"Um," I said to the clerk who had accommodated me earlier, "there seems to be about 500 children in my tower."
"They're here for a retreat," she said.
I found myself wishing for the single noisy baby on the airplane.
I walked away. I had to think. I had to figure out if I was being difficult or if I was entitled to not only a tub with a working drain but also some peace and quiet.
Ten minutes of pacing in front of the hotel convinced me.
I went back to the front desk and chose another desk clerk. I explained - nicely - what I had been through. He not only put me in another room in the other tower, he also gave me some coupons for free cocktails.
I was tired as I got in an elevator for the third time. I had no expectations as I pushed "17" and the elevator carried me up.
I slid the card into the slot on my door and pushed it open.
There, before my eyes, stood the great arch. I walked over to the window and pulled the sheer drapes. Wow. What a view. I looked around. Wow. What a room.
Now this was the kind of place a girl from out of town could sleep in.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

There must be some spread in heaven today

Published April 30, 2007

"I love stories. Stories keep alive those who have gone before us."
And with that, jazz singer Dianne Reeves launched into a song about her grandmother during her appearance at the Tri-C Jazz Festival this weekend.
I couldn't help but think about the stories we will always have about my mother-in-law, June. She died last Friday, after being sick and bedridden for more than a year.
She would never recover to come to live with us in the house we bought with her in mind, a house with a kitchen big enough for her to work her magic.
And "magic" is as good a word as any to describe what the former school secretary and mother of three sons did with food.
God love her, she may have been the worst cook to ever put a head of cauliflower in the oven.
It's true. One of her favorite dishes involved coring a head of cauliflower, pouring milk over it, sprinkling nutmeg on the top and then baking it in the oven.
Then she would proudly squeeze it on the table between a roast, a pitcher full of "gravy" (grease drippings) and candlesticks, a centerpiece, and salt and pepper shakers in the theme of the nearest holiday.
Add a bowl of pureed coleslaw - she made it in the blender - and champagne glasses filled with still-frozen mixed fruit to the crowd in the middle of the table and you had Sunday dinner at June's house.
But her love of cooking wasn't limited to Sunday dinners; she baked, too. And it didn't matter that anything she baked had the consistency of the nutmegged cauliflower.
When my husband and I were first married, she invited me to help her bake Christmas cookies. I'm no whiz in the kitchen myself, but I didn't want my new mother-in-law to know that - at least not yet - so we set off to holiday baking.
Three hours and batches and batches of cookies later, the kitchen was as white as the snowy backyard. There was flour everywhere, even on the ceiling, but it was all in a day's baking to June. What she lacked in culinary skill, she made up for in enthusiasm.
She loved holidays. Maybe it's because she was born on the Fourth of July. Every day had holiday potential. What better time for a Thanksgiving feast than a hot July day?
In a beach house. In New Jersey.
Why wait until a cold November day when you can cook up a turkey and all the trimmings any day of the year?
When my boys were young, we would join my in-laws for vacations on the Jersey Shore.
Imagine my surprise when I came up from the beach one day to find a 20-pound turkey thawing on the counter. For three days, that bird sat there slowly becoming unfrozen.
I don't remember how the meal went, but I do remember fearing for the life of my young son. But we all survived, just as my husband had survived a childhood of living in a house where "refrigerate after opening" was seen as an option and not a mandate.
We'll miss all those Sunday dinners with June. We'll miss her company and her joy in putting them on for us.
And some of us will even miss her cooking. My younger son told me not to forget to mention how good her "rolled meat" was. In this, another of her specialties, she took some sort of beef, rolled it around onions and raw bacon, cooked it in her favorite cast-iron pan and then served it with the grease from the pan ladled over it.
Hmmm. Greasy beef of undetermined origin.
Would someone please pass the coleslaw?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Did you ever buy a vacuum you liked?

Published April 16, 2007

Eureka, Dirt Devil, Kenmore, Fantom.
They stood like soldiers up on a shelf.
Below them were their boxes that proudly proclaimed things such as "Bagless!" "12 amps!" "Rated 33.0!"
And I stood in the middle of the aisle sizing up one vacuum soldier after the other.
I was on a "Buy a Household Appliance" mission and there are few things in this world that are more humbling.
There are two ways to buy: As an educated consumer or flying by the seat of your pants.
Which is better? Beats me. I've never figured it out. All I know is that there was always something better than the one I bought.
I recently bought a new dishwasher, and I could not have been more educated. I studied online, and I studied the Consumer Reports' Buying Guide. I narrowed my choices, tucked the guide into my purse and went to nearly every store in the county that sells dishwashers.
My choices were nowhere to be found.
I showed a clerk in a popular large appliance store my choice in the buying guide.
She put on her reading glasses and looked at the page.
"Oh, those are last year's model numbers."
"But this is the 2007 buying guide," I told her.
"Yeah, but it comes out before the new models do."
See, you try to be an educated shopper, and they change textbooks on you.
I followed her to the model that she said used to be the model I was looking for.
"This one," she said. "See, it has three washing arms and an adjustable top shelf."
I wasn't looking at the dishwasher. I was looking at her, trying to figure out if she was telling me the truth. She seemed honest enough, but I couldn't be sure.
In the end, I wrote down the new model number and told her I'd be back.
As I was walking out of the store, I started thinking that my old dishwasher wasn't all that bad.
In fact, I didn't even need a new one. Just because the door was broken and the bottom shelf rolled down it and across the kitchen floor during loading or unloading was no reason to get rid of it. I could just keep using my leg to keep the shelf from rolling across the floor.
And it did get the dishes clean.
A couple of weeks and a bruised shin later, I was back in the store. My spirit was broken. My will to find the World's Best Dishwasher gone.
All I had left was faith in my fellow man so I bought the one the saleswoman recommended and hoped for the best. Although it has been fine, I still wonder about the lost model.
My trip to buy a vacuum cleaner was completely different. I decided we needed a new vacuum to clean our old house - yes, we still have both an old and a new house - and I went to buy one.
So, there I stood in the vacuum aisle, wishing I had my Consumers' Report Buying Guide. I narrowed down my choices by process of elimination and bought one - not the least expensive, but definitely at the low end.
It seemed to work fine, but what do I know? I found my buying guide and opened it to "Vacuums."
My chosen model was not among the top 10. Shoot, it wasn't among the top 33. But the brand was - and maybe, just maybe, they changed the name of the model after the guide came out.
After all, it is the 2007 buying guide, you know.

Monday, April 2, 2007

That robin looks as if it could use a bath

Published March 26, 2007

Ahh, spring.
Time to put on some shorts (yikes), open up the windows to air out the house and do some spring cleaning.
Suddenly the "ahh" is gone.
No, I shouldn't say that. As much of a chore cleaning a year's worth of grit and grime is, it always feels so wonderful to be sitting in a clean house.
I know you probably feel the same way. Because, according to a survey done by the Soap and Detergent Association, which represents the makers of 90 percent of the cleaning products marketed in the United States, 98 percent of people feel good about themselves when the house is clean.
Yet, despite that, only slightly more than half (54 percent) said they clean on a daily or weekly basis, and 18 percent said their homes are filled with clutter.
But 65 percent believe a good spring cleaning will fix all that.
What room do you think people found the biggest priority when spring cleaning? It was the kitchen, followed by the living room and the bedrooms - with the bathrooms and family room a distant fourth and fifth.
If you go on the Good Housekeeping Web site, you can take a quiz to find out what kind of housekeeper you are. (As if you don't already know.) It's all based on how much time you spend cleaning each week.
The soap group's survey also asked people what the least rewarding tasks were. Cleaning the kitchen was No. 1 - hmmm, guess that explains its importance when it comes to spring cleaning.
Other unrewarding tasks were doing laundry, cleaning the garage or basement, cleaning the bathroom and mopping floors.
I really don't understand those answers, because it seems that doing those things results in instant gratification. You can see results immediately.
My first choice would have been cleaning out the garage or the basement, places that no amount of cleaning can make look clean.
Or how about that side of the stove that butts up against the counter, that magnet for all things gross?
Good Housekeeping rated me - a person who spends seven hours a week cleaning her house - a "member of the White Glove Sisterhood."
It says I'm a "serious cleaner."
And then it estimated the time it would take to complete my spring cleaning tasks: Five days.
Five days? Shoot, I just did what I thought was my spring cleaning in five hours.
But I did forget a couple of Good Housekeeping's recommended tasks, like cleaning the blades and grills on all the ceiling fans and washing the blinds and shampooing the carpets.
Now, I knew that I absolutely could not do that all myself, so I went to find my husband.
He was last spotted in the back yard raking leaves off the top of the pool cover.
He had moved on.
Now he was clearing the tall ornamental grasses he had chopped down.
Spring cleaning the yard.
I watched him bend over, scoop up a pile of cuttings and throw it in the trash. Go back for another load. Bend over, scoop up cuttings and throw them in the trash.
There aren't a lot of things that are readily apparent in married life, but this one was. I knew this yard-working man was not going to come indoors and help me dust the grills on the ceiling fans. I actually knew better than to even ask.
Hey, that's a subject matter the soap people never dealt with: Who in a house is responsible for all the spring cleaning?
It's easy to figure out the answer to that question here.
It's the person in the house, of course.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A walk down pierogi memory lane

Published March 19, 2007

When I was young, we couldn't eat meat on Fridays so we ate fish or pierogis.
(Yeah, well, sometimes we ate toasted cheese, too.)
Then, in the '60s, the Catholic Church relaxed the rules and we could eat meat on Fridays - except during Lent. So, this time of year always sends me on a trip down Pierogi Memory Lane.
When I was young, my mother - who, being Hungarian, had dumpling skills for chicken paprikash but not pierogis - would phone St. John's Ukrainian Catholic Church on East 31st Street in Lorain - my dad's family's church - and order dozens of the potato-filled dumplings.
Then we would take a big empty bowl and a piece of tinfoil to St. John's church basement where tables of old women chatted in Ukrainian as they turned out pierogi after pierogi, lining them up on a big wooden cutting board. When the board was full, someone would carry it into the kitchen where other workers would drop the stuffed dumplings into boiling water.
When the pierogis were done cooking, they would be ladled into a big pot and it was from that pot your order would be counted out into the bowl you brought, ladled with butter and sauteed onions and sealed up with your piece of tinfoil.
Well, St. John's is still making pierogis - not every Friday but the third Friday of every month. And the dozens of very old women who made them when I was young have been replaced with about 20 young and old, male and female, church members, about half of whom speak Ukrainian.
Friday I went to St. John's to pick up some pierogis I had ordered.
I introduced myself to the man checking orders and taking payment at the door.
He pointed over toward the stove. "Talk to Father," he said.
I looked across the room and I saw a man in a T-shirt stirring huge steaming pots. I looked back at the seated money-taker.
"Father. Over there," he pointed again.
Then I realized he meant the young man in the T-shirt.
Father Steven Paliwoda was working just as hard as everyone else making the 200 dozen pierogis they expected to sell that day. He spoke to me in English but occasionally spoke to the woman next to him in Ukrainian.
Donna Kapucinski, who is 69 and lives in the same house on East 31st that she lived in as a child, told me St. John's has been making pierogis for at least 75 years.
"My grandmother made them here," she told me.
Across town, at St. Anthony's Catholic Church on East Erie Avenue, pierogi-making has been taken to a new level.
The school's PTU - with help from volunteer parishoners - makes about 1,200 dozen each week. Last year, the group made $32,000 selling pierogis.
Chairpersons Carla Rock and Lisa Stefan have the weekly sale down to a science. Those who can't come to the church to help out can peel potatoes or chop onions at home.
Unlike the Ukrainian St. John's, St. Anthony's has no ethnic affiliation. In fact, the priest, Father Joe West, who is Scottish and German, said he never heard of pierogis until he got to Lorain.
When I went to visit its pierogi-making operation last week, I was sent home with bags of frozen pierogis to cook.
So we've been eating pierogis every day since.
My son just asked me if I wanted anything from Taco Bell. He was going to get a March Madness snack.
"There's a lot of pierogis left in the refrigerator," I told him.
"I don't know how many days in a row I can eat pierogis," he said.
And then he added, "How many did you buy anyway? A gross?"
No, I thought, that's just the number of calories in all those pierogis I've eaten.