Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Look out, Florida, Hurricane Patti is on her way

What makes a woman -- who is not going into witness protection -- up and leave family and friends, a comfortable home and a newspaper career to move 1,200 miles away?
A husband whose lifelong dream has been to live among palm trees and palmetto bugs, that’s what.
You see, a few months ago, I dragged home from yet another day leading the charge to put out this newspaper to find my teacher-husband hunched over the computer, feverishly tapping on the keyboard with his two pointer fingers.
There were manila folders and stacks of paper everywhere. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose and I’m pretty sure he was sweating.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Sending out resumes to Florida,” he answered.
“We’re moving to Florida?”
“We can if I find a job down there. What do you think?”
What I thought was that our lifelong dream of moving to a tropical climate could actually turn out to be more than a dream.
And I also thought that it would give me an excuse to get out of the newspaper.
Putting out a 25,000-circulation daily newspaper is like riding a never-ending roller coaster. I would never voluntarily get off that roller coaster. It’s too much fun. But, at the same time, I always wished the thing would stop for just a minute so I could catch my breath.
And now, with the words, “moving to Florida,” I thought for the first time in my life, I could actually hear the sound of that roller coaster pulling into the station.
In recent years, there have been some things going on at the paper that told me it’s time to move on. Now I had the chance.
And, so, we were moving – or at least we were willing to move.
My husband sent out close to 100 resumes to Florida school districts that had teacher openings.
He never heard back from any of them … not even a “thanks but no thanks.” It’s as if he was filing those applications into a black hole.
And then he heard from St. Petersburg. He was one of a dozen prospects for one job. He went down for an interview. They hired him that very day.
And so, we really were moving.
Fast forward two months and here we are today. He has a job. I don’t. For the first time in 30 years, I not only don’t work at a newspaper, I don’t work anywhere.
Talk about a woman without a country.
I hope to get some writing work, hopefully on a magazine, and I plan to shop my column around down there.
But I just wanted to say how much fun it has been telling you stories every week in this column.
And I want to thank you for all the kind comments you have sent back to me about it and the stories of your own lives that you have shared with me.
I always thought that deep down we really are all a lot alike. Your reactions to this column proved that to be true.
I’ll keep writing online at pattiewald.blogspot.com.
I’m sure the skunks and other critters that have been terrorizing me in Ohio will get word to the wildlife in Florida that I’m on my way down.
Do you think beating with a broken broom handle on the top of the metal lid of a fire pit will scare away alligators in Florida the way it scared away birds of prey in Ohio?
Stay tuned.

Patti Ewald’s last day as managing editor of The Chronicle was Friday. You can always reach her at pagewald@hotmail.com. Please stay in touch.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing tastes better than a fond memory

Published June 23, 2008

In a box of old photographs on my mother’s table is a picture of my grandfather.
He’s sitting on an overturned orange bucket holding a slab of bacon over a backyard fire with a tool that looks like a homemade fireplace poker.
It was taken at a Hungarian bacon fry, the main event at all family picnics when I was a kid.
My grandmother would buy a slab of bacon from the butcher shop, and she would cut it into pieces about the size of postcards.
She would score parallel lines with a knife through the meaty side of these smaller pieces so that the meat would fan open — allowing the grease to drip out — when it was held over an open fire.
My grandfather would hold the meaty-side down close to the fire until it started to drip.
Then he would swivel around and hold the dripping bacon over a tray of bread that my grandmother had gotten ready. The tray — a cookie sheet covered with tinfoil — was on a small bench next to him and held more than a dozen slices of rye bread.
My grandfather would let the bacon grease drip on several slices of the bread, dabbing the bacon on them every now and then.
Once a piece of bread was adequately saturated, my grandmother would heap it with cut-up salad vegetables — iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers — that were in a bowl she held in the crook of her elbow.
Then my grandfather would drip a little more bacon grease over the salad.
There was usually a line at the bench waiting for one of the open-faced salad sandwiches because you couldn’t take one until it was deemed ready by either the chef with the bacon or the chef with the salad.
Every once in a while, my grandfather would take a big knife and slice off the tips of the bacon that had gotten crispy in the fire.
Those little nuggets were sprinkled on top of the salad like croutons.
If you were lucky, you were next in line when the bacon was being trimmed.
Back then no one seemed to care — or even know — about the evils of eating that much bacon grease.
All we knew is that it was delicious.
Once my grandparents got too old to host the family picnics, bacon fries got rarer and rarer.
And, once my generation became of age and started having families of its own, they became even rarer — because we knew about the evils of eating that much bacon grease.
Except, my grandparents were in their mid-90s when they died, so I’m not sure exactly how evil it really is.
Every once in awhile, I think that maybe we should resurrect those old bacon fries. Maybe we should have one at the Fourth of July picnic at my house.
We could do it just like my grandfather used to do in his Elyria Township backyard.
No doubt, it would be good, but it would never be the same.
I don’t have a bucket to sit on; we’d have to use lawn chairs.
And I don’t have one of those homemade spears for the bacon; we’d have to use a store-bought utensil.
My grandma isn’t here to cut up the salad fixings; we’d have to use a bag-o-lettuce.
And most importantly, my grandfather isn’t here to cook.
Well, maybe I won’t plan one of those bacon fries for the Fourth of July.
Because come to think of it, they weren’t about bacon at all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Half the fun of picnics is getting there

Published June 16, 2008

At least one day of every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we have a family picnic to go to.
First there are the holidays — the three patriotic ones and Mother’s and Father’s Day. Those are given picnic days.
And that would probably be enough family gatherings for most people.
But, in our large extended family, every person was either born in June or July or had a child born in June or July. The birthdays are endless.
It’s hard enough for my husband and me to just haul ourselves out of bed on the weekends and actually leave the house.
The drill is always the same. I wake up and look over at the other side of the bed. Empty.
I go downstairs and look out the patio door.
There is my husband, well, the backside of my husband, who is kneeling on the concrete next to the pool with his arm down in the pool filter.
By the time I go and pour myself a cup of coffee and go out in the backyard, he is upright with the skimmer pole or the pool vacuum in his hand.
I sit down to read the newspapers, and he goes about his pool business.
Until one of us eventually mentions that day’s family gathering.
And the food we have to take.
And the present we have to bring.
And how much time we have to get those two things before the picnic.
We’ve got it down to a science. Most of the time, we’ve had the foresight to have already gone to the grocery and purchase the ingredients for the dish we are making to take with us.
But the present? It’s usually still on a shelf in a store somewhere.
That means one of us has to go present shopping and the other has to cook.
I’m usually the cook because my husband can go to the store and be back before I’m dressed and ready to go — because he is a husband.
Husbands can actually walk into a store and make their way to the item they intend to purchase without getting waylaid by every single piece of merchandise between the door and that item. It’s an amazing feat.
Plus, the gift we were going to buy my dad for Father’s Day — the picnic started at 1 p.m. at my youngest brother’s house — was one that my husband knew much more about than I did.
It was an orchid.
I thought my dad would like to have one. He likes to grow flowers outside, so why not get him the most fussy, finicky — and beautiful — flower on the earth?
And since I have a hard time telling petunias from begonias from geraniums, I thought it was probably best that my husband went to buy one.
And I would stay home and make the coleslaw because I do know my cabbage from my lettuce.
It was only about a half hour after the picnic starting time that we gathered up the beautiful orchid and the bowl full of coleslaw and headed for the party.
We were a little late, but we weren’t the last ones there.
An hour or so later, I asked someone where my sister was.
"She’s in Marc’s, buying the food she was supposed to bring here," her daughter said, laughing.
See? That’s what happens when you send a shopper to do a husband’s job.

Monday, June 9, 2008

They know who's stealing cemetery flowers

Published June 9, 2008

You’ll never guess who’s responsible for stealing flowers off graves around here.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about flowers getting stolen off my grandma’s grave for the third Mother’s Day in a row.
She’s buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery on Lake Avenue in Elyria Township.
I called the local office for the cemetery and the Lorain County Sheriff’s office but neither place said it had gotten complaints about stolen flowers.
But it didn’t matter, I still didn’t believe thieves would zero in on the humble little grave of my dear sweet grandma.
And it seems they didn’t.
I heard from lots of people who were victim to these graveyard robbers – and most of them had put their flowers at St. Mary’s.
One woman said she has been taking flowers there for 21 years to put on her daughter’s grave. And, for 21 years they have been stolen.
She said it didn’t matter if they were live or cut, in a pot or in a vase. They were gone.
Several people said they would put flowers on a grave one day only to have them gone the next.
One couple said they even resorted to putting notes on their baskets asking the thieves to please not steal their parents’ flowers. But that didn’t work, either.
And, know why? Because the thieves can’t read. And the reason they can’t read is because they are DEER.
I know; you are probably having as hard a time believing that as I did but that’s what Joe Smith, director of marketing and family services at the Catholic Cemetery Association Diocese of Cleveland, told me.
I called Joe because St. Mary’s – by far the cemetery most complained about – is one of the 18 cemeteries in four counties that his association oversees.
"It’s a real problem," he told me, "and you’re not the first person who has asked about this.
"It’s the deer."
"Deer?" I repeated, imagining Bambi and his mom carting off the pot of my grandmother’s yellow violas.
"Deer and other wildlife. They eat the flowers," he said.
"I was out there. I saw a herd of deer come out of the south side of the cemetery. There is a thick row of trees there," he said.
OK, now. Joe was very kind – and earnest. I was trying to get my mind around what he was saying.
"So the deer eat the flowers and then the cemetery workers carry the chewed-down pots off the graves?" I asked.
"They take the pot in an effort to keep the cemetery looking pretty," he said.
"caught in a position where we can’t do anything about it. We can’t really hunt deer on cemetery property," he said.
"We know flowers are important to people," he added.
He said the deer situation is even worse at Holy Cross Cemetery on Brookpark Road in Cleveland. One time, he said, there were 47 deer in Holy Cross.
Hmmm. I was prepared to pepper the director of the Catholic Cemetery Association with questions but now, with four-legged gentle creatures -- who do have to eat after all – being named the culprit, I was stymied.
"So is there anything people can do to keep the deer away?" I asked.
"They can try putting a bar of soap in with the flowers," he said. “Sometimes that will keep them away but there’s no guarantee it will work."
If he wasn’t so kind, I would have told him that there’s no guarantee any of us will believe this, either. But I didn’t.
He said people are welcome to call him.
"We do solve problems," he said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Sunday ride back in time

Published June 2, 2008

A beautiful sunny day like yesterday would have been perfect for one of those Sunday drives our parents used to take us on when we were kids.
The destination - parents always enjoyed the ride, but we kids only cared about the destination - was most often a "custard stand," some ice cream place that we may or may not have been to before.
My father, a connoisseur of soft ice cream, seemed to know every little out-of-the-way custard stand from Indiana to Pennsylvania. We'd pull in, and he'd take our orders. Back then, it was easy. You had two choices - a cone or a sundae. There were no fancy concoctions like they make today with Oreos or Butterfingers swirled in.
So, we'd all order our cones, some with sprinkles, some dipped, and he'd go get them. My mother never ordered, though. She didn't like ice cream. (I know - I can't believe it either.)
Sometimes before the ice cream, our parents would take us to one of those roadside attractions - like the Blue Hole - that people used to flock to but are now just things for Tommy Boy and Clark Griswold to make fun of.
By the way, the Blue Hole is still there, except now it's part of a fish hatchery on land owned by the state. I have a feeling it's not quite as spooky and mysterious as it used to be.
There's a place in Marblehead called the Prehistoric Forest and Mystery Hill. I don't know how prehistoric it is, but it is definitely caught in a time warp. I have a feeling the place isn't a whole lot different than it was 40 years ago.
The Prehistoric Forest is a 10-acre plot with a trail winding though it. Every once in awhile, you'll spot a dinosaur - some of them built in the 1960s - along the way.
Len Tieman, who has owned the park since 1995, is constantly repairing the fiberglass beasts and building new ones.
"The park was not meant to be here this long," he said.
The other half of the attraction, Mystery Hill, was built in 1953, Tieman said. To get there, you walk up a hill and behind a fence. There, you come to a house that is on about a 45-degree slant - or is it you that's on a 45-degree slant? Either way, it makes you lose your equilibrium.
And it's not the only mystery spot in the country. A Web site called Roadside America lists 32 of these places where gravity is defied and balls roll uphill. Included are three Mystery Hills, two Mystery Holes, two Mystery Spots, one Mystery Area and a House of Mystery. There are also 11 Gravity Hills, one of them Ghostly.
I'm not sure how they work, but here's a tip: If you close your eyes, you regain your equilibrium (which I had to do several times to get from one side of the house to the other). Hmmm. I'd guess the mystery might be optical illusion.
I want to take my boys there this summer. I want to know what they think even though I'm pretty sure just about all they'll have to say is: "I bet Tommy Boy slept here."
It'll make me feel old because - unlike my sons - I'll remember a time when you couldn't experience much stranger and spookier things by hitting a few keystrokes on a computer. But it will also make me feel sort of special for being able to remember that.
I guess that means I'm old enough to get nostalgic - and that's the spookiest thing of all.

Gram, did you see who took your flowers?

Published May 26, 2008

"They did it again."
It was my mother on the phone. She called to tell me that my father had just gotten back from the cemetery where my grandmother is buried.
He went to pick up the pot of violas they had put on my grandmother's grave for Mother's Day.
My mom thought the tiny little pansies were a fitting flower because they look so much like the African violets my grandma liked so well.
And my father had gone out to pick them up because the sign in St. Mary's Cemetery in Elyria Township said that all flowers had to be removed by May 19.
Except when he got there, the flowers were gone.
That's what my mom was talking about on the phone. For the third Mother's Day in a row, someone stole the flowers she and my father had put on my grandma's grave.
"Who would do such a thing?" my mom asked me.
Three years ago, the first Mother's Day after my grandma died, they put a pot of geraniums, another of my grandma's favorites, on her grave. It was stolen.
The next Mother's Day, my parents once again put geraniums on the grave, never thinking the plant would get stolen again.
It did.
So this year, my mom decided to try another flower. Maybe it was geraniums the thieves were after.
Enter - and soon exit - the tiny pansies.
I echo my mom's sentiment: Who would do such a thing?
What do people do? Scrounge around graveyards for their yearly landscaping?
The flowers that my parents put on other grandmothers' graves - in St. Joseph Cemetery in Amherst and Calvary Cemetery in Sheffield Township - weren't stolen.
I called the office of Catholic Cemeteries, which owns both Calvary and St. Mary's cemeteries, to see if it got a lot of stolen-flower complaints.
"We don't," a woman named Peggy told me, "but it would be hard to catch people even if we did.
"We don't have patrols there in the evenings. They are there during the day but we really can't approach people who are taking flowers off a grave. We don't know if they are family members or not," she said.
"If we see something suspicious - like people loading flowers into a van - we do check that out," she said.
It was beginning to look as if the situation was hopeless.
My hunch is that thieves aren't singling out my grandma. It's just that others aren't complaining about it.
"So what can my mom do when she wants to put flowers on the grave?" I asked.
"She could get one of those in-ground bouquet holders and put fresh or artificial flowers in it," Peggy told me.
She must have sensed my disappointment because she added, "I'm really sorry that happened."
Still finding it hard to believe there have been no other "grave robbing" complaints, I called the Lorain County sheriff's office, which has jurisdiction over Elyria Township where the cemetery is located.
But, once again, I was told they don't get complaints about stolen flowers. Stolen brass urns, yes, but not stolen flowers.
When I relayed all this to my mom, she said, "That's OK. We learned our lesson. We won't be putting flowers out there again until their anniversary in August, but when we do, they'll be in one of those in-ground holders."
Hopefully, thieves will leave those flowers alone.
Until then, if you see a big beautiful basket of tiny little yellow pansies on someone's porch, think of my grandma.
There's a chance they were meant for her.

Have bike, will travel -- hopefully

Published May 19, 2008

In my never-ending quest for health and thinness, I decided to buy a bike.
I figured it's easy enough to ride the one at the gym that has a TV hooked to it. How much harder can peddling around the neighborhood be?
My brother had given me a bike last summer that his daughters thought too uncool to ride. Well, it was cool enough for me - with its curled-down racing handlebars - but it was too small. My knees hit my elbows when I rode it.
And that's why I needed a new one.
I started at Sears, but The Store-That-Sells-All-Things-Metal no longer carries bikes. It's true. The salesman told me.
Oh, well, it didn't really matter. I couldn't just go into a store and buy the first bike I found anyway.
First I had to do Google research and look on eBay and read some blogs on bicycling.
There's no sense making a major purchase these days unless one is thoroughly ... informed.
But I knew what I wanted - a girl's pink racing bike with a real comfortable seat and gears that didn't let the chain slip.
It became readily apparent that color was the least of my worries. Bikes come in sizes - and I'm not talking just 20- or 26-inch wheels. Oh, no. The frames come in different sizes and the wheels come in different sizes.
So, even after you figure out what size frame you need according to your height and inseam - and most importantly, where the bar hits you when you straddle the bike - you then need to pick a wheel size.
It was all too complicated for me.
I decided to shop for a bike the way I had always done - in department stores.
I found a Schwinn I really liked. It cost a little more (twice as much) than I had planned to spend, but it was on sale.
It wasn't pink. It wasn't even a girl's bike, but it was big enough and it had a really comfortable seat - and some other features the salesman told me about.
"It has a quick-release front wheel," he said.
I must have looked puzzled because he added, "If you take it off, the bike will fit in your trunk."
Hmm. That's handy, I thought.
"And see these tire valves? If you push down on them, you can let some of the air out of your tires when you are racing," he said.
"When I'm racing? Wait, maybe this bike is too elaborate ..."
"Well, you don't have to use them," he said. "Look, you can put these caps on them."
I hope he didn't say anything too important after that because I kind of stopped listening.
I liked this bike. I was going to buy it. I wasn't going to use all of its functions, but what else is new? My younger son and I both have Blackberries. His does everything but the laundry. Mine makes phone calls.
Anyway, I paid for the bike and the salesman walked it out for me. He quick-released the tire but the bike still didn't fit in the trunk. We crammed it in the backseat and I brought it home.
So, if you see a big blonde woman on a big blue men's bike go zipping by, it's probably me.
And, if you see that big blonde woman go sailing over the handlebars of that big blue men's bike, you'll know why.
She probably wasn't paying enough attention when the sales guy showed her how to put that quick-release front wheel back on.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Talk about a line for the bathroom!

Published May 12,2008

Michelle Duggar of Arkansas is pregnant with her 18th child.
Yep, 18. A dozen and a half.
But, wait, it gets better.
The names of the 17 she already has all start with the letter J — Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer. There are 10 boys and seven girls, ranging in age from 20 years to 9 months.
The family lives in a 7,000-square-foot house in Tontitown, in the northwest corner of Arkansas, not far from the spot where Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas meet.
And if that isn’t enough to make your head explode, I have even more.
She homeschools them all.
Maybe you already know about the brood of Duggar and her husband, Jim Bob. They’ve been on cable TV reality shows and have made appearances on network news shows like “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.”
I must have missed all of that because the first time I heard about this family was last week when we carried a story about her latest pregnancy — just in time for Mother’s Day.
I always thought I accomplished a lot raising two kids. Kind of put me in my place as a mother.
I tried to figure out how they could afford all those kids.
They claim to be able to feed the entire brood for less than $2,000 a month but, shoot, even if all they eat is toasted cheese sandwiches, it would take two loaves of bread just to give them each one sandwich.
Maybe money isn’t an issue anymore what with their celebrity status and all — but it still made me wonder.
When Jim Bob, a former state representative who made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, was asked what he did for a living, he didn’t give a direct answer. He just said he is still guided by a seminar he went to 20 years ago that blends finance and religion.
Hmm. Somehow that brought into focus the fact I would never understand any of this.
And, seriously, who has 18 kids?
The family is taking it on the chin all over the Internet. It’s getting pretty nasty. They say the parents aren’t taking care of the kids, the kids are taking care of the kids.
And Mama Michelle — called “Jichelle” by bloggers because she’s the only one in the family without a J-name — didn’t help herself when the first words out of her mouth after delivering little Jennifer last year were that she couldn’t wait until the next one.
This warning was posted on one blog: “Please note that we will not be hosting a discussion on whether their number of children is right or wrong, as the last two posts we've attempted to run have been closed due to fighting.”
It’s a hot-button issue, all right, the question of just how many children one set of parents can adequately care for.
There has been a continuing story in The Chronicle about a woman in Sheffield Lake who had more than 80 cats.
She really loves all those cats, and they seem to be well-cared for, but Sheffield Lake says 80 cats are just too many — and to show it is serious, it has vowed to levy fines against the woman until she gets rid of all but four of them, the maximum number of cats one person is allowed to have.
Now, I’m not suggesting the Duggars be fined until they get rid of some of their kids, but, hey, maybe Sheffield Lake has an idea about what a kid-limit should be.

Patti Ewald is managing editor of The Chronicle. You can reach her at pewald@chroniclet.com. BTW, the Web site that shut down negative comments on the Duggars is www.celebrity-babies.com. However, it did recommend people with a beef check out the forums on www.televisionwithoutpity.com.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Money talks but we don't always listen

Published May 5, 2008

It was late afternoon on the beach, and I was hungry.
"Let's go for a walk and find something to eat," I said to my husband.
He came willingly, so I guess he was hungry, too.
We walked and walked and walked. Lots of condos and hotels but no restaurants.
We finally spotted a place where we could sit out on a deck.
We found an empty table with an umbrella and sat down.
A waitress came over.
"It's two-for-one happy hour," she said.
The sun, the beach and two-for-ones. Life doesn't get much better.
A couple of salads, blackened grouper sandwiches and two-for-ones later, we sat looking out at the water and batting away pesky sand flies.
"I hope we have enough money," my husband said casually. "How much do you think it's going to be?"
Hmmm. Probably something we should have thought about before we upgraded our potato chips to French fries - or maybe even before we ordered our two-for-ones.
"I don't know ... $30 maybe.'
With that, I thrust my hand into my beach bag and he stuck his hand into the pocket of his swimming trunks.
Together we had $36.
"That should be enough," I said.
"I don't know ..." my husband said just before the waitress put the faux-leather folder containing the bill on the table.
He opened it up.
I stuck my hand back into the beach bag and swirled it around on the bottom.
A camera, a book and some suntan lotion. No more money.
"I'll walk back to our hotel and get my debit card. I'm tired of these flies anyway," I told my husband as I reached down to swat at one biting my leg.
It took me awhile - it was quite a way down the beach - but I brought back the card.
Another problem solved. We paid the bill and left.
Our sons weren't with us that day, but the story would not have surprised them. They grew up with parents who have a clueless disregard for money - and the lack thereof.
My boys know all too well about people who don't have money.
The test will be whether they can deal with people who do.
My younger son's girlfriend comes from a very wealthy family, something that hasn't been a problem - until the other day when he got into an argument with her father.
They were together because her father had come to help her pack her stuff and haul it home from college for the summer.
Things were going well between the three of them for most of the day, my son said. And then it got ugly.
"He treated me like dirt," my son said.
Then he related the profane and condescending things the father had said to him. They had been drinking, so the words were no doubt fueled by alcohol, something I tried to tell my son.
"He's probably just used to getting his way. You're taking it personally, but it's probably the way he treats everyone."
"I tried to apologize, and he wouldn't even shake my hand," my son said.
I didn't know what to say. I guess there's no way to teach our kids about the people they'll encounter when they grow up. Shoot, forget about potty-training, this is the tough parenting stuff.
We'll just have to wait and see if my son and his girlfriend get through this.
I suspect they will, because up until now most of the things my son has told me about her father have been positive.
Or maybe they were just about him being positively rich.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The sexes and the scales of injustice

Published April 21, 2008

"I'm just calling to remind you of your appointment tomorrow."
I regularly get that phone reminder from three places: My hairdresser, my doctor and my dentist.
I don't mind getting those calls from the hairdresser. They just give me a chance to look forward to a couple hours of pampering and girl-talk. The only stressful thing about hair appointments is worrying whether I have enough money in my account to cover the cost of them.
Oh, but that same reminder message from the doctor's or dentist's office ... gulp! Panic and dread.
I guess everyone dreads the dentist, and that's unfortunate because, think about it, when is the last time your dentist hurt you? Actually, if anything, it's the other way around. You hurt, and he makes it stop hurting. But it's just the sound of that drill and all that poking and prodding that goes on. Not quite the same as looking forward to getting your hair shampooed or your toenails painted.
And then there is the appointment reminder from the doctor's office, the call that trumps the others as the King of Dread - and the one I got last week.
Why is it so scary to go to the doctor?
Because the doctor does something that neither the dentist nor the hairdresser does. He weighs me. Well, he doesn't weigh me; his capable assistant does. But those numbers she sees on the scale are recorded in my file and the file is handed over to the doctor.
And then he opens up the file and looks at it - and it's time to face the music.
On the rare occasion those numbers from the scale are smaller than the ones she handed him the last time I was in his office, life is good. He's proud of me and he tells me so. I feel as if I just told my dad I got all A's in school.
But, oh brother, if those numbers got bigger, I feel as a dog must feel when he gets caught ripping up the garbage.
Sometimes when the doctor's receptionist calls to remind me of my appointment, I ask her if I can reschedule it for next week, the thought being that I will eat like a bird and exercise like a horse until then.
Of course, I never do that, but who lets past behavior influence renewed resolve? Not me.
In the midst of all this irrational getting-weighed-at-the-doctor dread, I read about a study that was done by researchers at the University of North Carolina.
It seems that some women are so self-conscious about their weight that they put off really important doctor business like cancer screenings. It seems not all doctors tuck their scales away in a corner as mine does. Some are in high-traffic areas and the women are ashamed.
The study also found that some of these obese women are afraid that the hospital gown they are given to put on will be too small.
Men don't act like that. They weigh what they weigh - good, bad or indifferent.
A co-worker participating in the newspaper's version of "The Biggest Loser" was actually going around the newsroom looking for heavy objects to put in his pockets before the initial weigh-in.
He didn't care what the scale said. He just wanted to weigh-in heavy so that the next time he was asked to step on the scale - pockets empty - it would look as if he lost weight.
And he probably would have gotten away with it, too.
If only he would have filled his pockets with teeny little iron pellets instead of big old office staplers.

Homework not the only thing dogs eat

Published April 14, 2008

"I'll be a little late coming to work," a co-worker told me when she called one recent afternoon.
"My dog ate an ant trap, and I don't want to leave him alone," she explained.
"Your dog ate an ant trap?" I asked, a little alarmed.
"Yeah, he seems to be all right, but you wouldn't believe what I had to go through.
"I wanted to make him eat salt so he would throw up - but I couldn't catch him," she said.
She finally got him, but only after enlisting the aid of her 4-year-old daughter.
It seems some of them will eat anything, no matter how pampered and well-fed they are.
According to what I've read, this eating of non-food items can be either a medical or a behavioral problem. I guess that means you should take your dog to the vet to make sure there isn't a reason he feels the need to eat socks or rocks - or ant traps. If there isn't, you just have yourself a bad dog.
A friend of mine once had to rush her dog to the 24-hour (very expensive) animal emergency room in the middle of the night because her dog was having seizures. Thinking he may have been poisoned, the vet pumped his stomach only to find it full of Styrofoam packing "peanuts."
No, the dog wasn't being mailed anywhere, but I have a feeling my friend fantasized about it once she got over worrying that he was going to die.
The bearded collie we once had ate the light bulbs out of a bunch of those electric candlesticks that we had put in our windows at Christmas time. He must have gone from window to window like Wee Willie Winkie when we weren't looking.
That was the last Christmas we had candles in our windows.
Sophie, our late and beloved Old English sheepdog, had such a sweet tooth that she didn't let things like wrappers or plastic Easter grass stand in the way when she could smell chocolate.
One Halloween, my husband went to grab the bowl of candy bars off the coffee table for the trick-or-treaters at the door but found it was empty. Sophie had eaten them all.
Unfortunately, we forgot that had happened the following Easter when the bunny left a basket full of chocolates on the floor. Sophie licked it clean, Easter grass and all.
So, anyway, back to the ingestion of the ant trap. As my co-worker talked to me, I typed "dog ate ant trap" into the Google search. I read about a lot of dogs that had eaten ant traps and lived to shed another day.
Actually, it looked as if dogs could eat just about anything without it killing them.
I found stories of dogs that had eaten underwear (that seems to be a favorite) and shoes of all kinds, especially flip-flops. They ate stones and loofah sponges, ropes and string, chains and knives. I was surprised to find that my dog wasn't the only one to eat light bulbs. In fact, they seem to be a popular non-food item among dogs.
My co-worker's husband finally got home to spell her on poison watch, and she came to work.
"Well?" I asked her.
"Oh, he's fine. The vet said the trap was so old it probably wasn't even poisonous anymore," she said.
I guess she should be thankful he's not one of the "gourmet" hounds I read about.
Those dogs wouldn't look twice at an ant trap. They only eat expensive things like iPods or Uggs boots, or even whole couches.
Kind of makes me glad I have a cat.
He won't eat anything.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hey, Silda, stand up -- for YOURSELF

Published March 17, 2008

While Silda Spitzer was standing by that dog of a husband of hers – the New York governor who only likes sex he has to pay a lot of money for – I, too, was standing by my man in New York.
Standing by him in line for an airplane.
Standing by him in line for a train.
Standing by him in line for a shuttle bus.
Standing by him in line for a cab.
Yes, we just happened to be in New York City the week all hell was breaking loose for the state’s governor.
And, to tell you the truth, I could not get enough of the “Luv Guv” story.
It was better than fiction. Who could make this up? Who could be that stupid? Who so deserved to be toppled – by his very own fantasies-come-true, no less?
By all accounts – and I read each and every one of them in all the New York papers – Eliot Spitzer was an insufferable human being -- an arrogant, self-righteous jerk.
And somehow the story became to me more than just one about a governor (that most of us had never even heard of) gone bad.
It was as if Eliot Spitzer came to represent all those arrogant, self-righteous jerks who never will topple no matter how much they deserve it or how hard we wish it to happen.
And that’s what makes the story so intriguing.
Anyway, back to being in New York with my man who, by the way, was not nearly as fascinated by the slimy governor as I was.
It was his birthday last week and I thought it would be fun to take him to dinner and a show in New York to celebrate.
On Skybus, the airline of $10 fares -- $36 round trip with taxes.
Great deal, right?
Absolutely – if you don’t mind a few minor inconveniences -- such as flying into “less congested” (their words) “out in the middle of nowhere” (my words) airports.
In other words, to get to New York City, we had to drive to Columbus, the airline’s only Ohio stop, and fly to Stewart International in New Windsor, N.Y. From there, we took a shuttle bus to the train station and boarded the Metro North for an hour-and-20-minute ride into Grand Central Station. A short cab ride later, we were at our hotel.
We just chilled, had some lunch and got dressed for dinner and the theater -- to which we walked side-by-side, hand-in-hand.
Which brings me back to Silda and her man. Today is the day Spitzer’s resignation takes effect and I can only hope that if he makes a public speech, she is not standing next to him again like some lobotomized lover.
Look, Silda, just because you watched Suzanne Craig and Dina Matos McGreevey stand by their unfaithful husbands does not mean you have to do it, too.
I mean if he was just a regular criminal who killed someone or stole from someone, maybe I can see why your love for him would make you want to show your solidarity with him.
But, for heaven’s sake, girl, he’s a sleazebag and what he did is humiliating to you.
Can’t you see that?
If you are truly looking for a man to stand next to, I suggest you find one who likes the same Broadway shows as you do.
Then you go and park yourself next to him as the two of you wait in line to get into the theater.
And that, poor misguided Silda, is the way a real woman stands by her man.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Snow days: No school, lots of fun

Published March 10, 2008

When it was blowing and blustery last week, I had a fleeting urge to grab a sled and head over to the hill on the golf course.
But the thought passed as quickly as it came and I grabbed an afghan - well, now it's called a "fleece throw" - and snuggled up on the sofa.
As I watched the snow get deeper and deeper against the sliding glass door that leads to the patio, I was thinking about "snow days" and how much kids look forward to them.
I don't remember a lot about the snow days my boys - and my teacher husband - had when they were little. I wasn't there. I didn't get a snow day. Somebody has to put out that paper. No snow days for us journalists.
But I do remember my favorite snow day activity when I was a kid myself.
Ice skating.
We would get all bundled up and my mom would take me and a friend - and sometimes my sister - to the skating pond at Oakwood Park on Grove Avenue in South Lorain.
And drop us off and drive away.
Drive away? Yep, that was something moms could actually do back then - before stranger-danger. Mothers and fathers didn't have to hang around all the time to make sure we didn't get kidnapped or murdered. We got to be on our own sometimes.
As my mother drove away from the park, I would wave, feeling delighted and abandoned at the same time.
Then we would trudge over to the big shanty next to the pond where all the kids went to put on and take off our skates - and, more importantly, to warm up.
We sat down on one of the benches that lined the building's perimeter and pulled off our boots. There was a fire pit in the middle of the building, so I guess there must have been an adult around in some supervisory capacity - or at least to make sure the shanty didn't burn to the ground - although I don't remember ever seeing one.
You had to kind of hold your breath while you were in the shanty - or breathe out of your mouth. The place smelled awful. I always thought it smelled like Limburger cheese even though I had never smelled Limburger cheese. But, if I had, I was sure it would smell like the inside of that shanty.
The room was so warm that you were sweating by the time you got your skates on.
That's what that smell was. It wasn't Limburger cheese at all. It was sweaty, smelly kids bundled up in lots of wet, woolen winter-wear.
When we couldn't stand the smell a second longer, we'd walk across the wooden floor in our skates and go outside and onto the ice.
We'd skate around and around until we got cold, and then we'd go in the shanty to warm up. And that's what we did over and over again all day long.
I never made any new friends at the skating pond for although I wasn't afraid of strange adults, I was plenty afraid of strange kids who might be mean and make fun of us or call us names.
So my friend and my sister and I would just keep to ourselves, skating and thawing and skating again.
And then at some point, we'd spot my mother's car coming to pick us up.
And suddenly, after having been fine all day, we were cold and hungry. Our ankles hurt and our fingers were frozen. She had gotten there just in time.
Isn't that just like a mom?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Have noodle, will travel in swim class

Published March 3, 2008

I wrapped a towel around me and went into the pool area.
It was my first day at "deep water aerobics" class.
I wasn't sure what the class involved, but I do like bobbing around in the deep end of a pool and - in my never-ending quest for a type of exercise I might like - I thought I'd give it a shot.
"Is this the deep water class?" I asked a woman on the edge of the pool who was giving exercise instructions to people standing waist-deep in water.
"It starts in 10 minutes," she said smiling, "down there." She pointed to the other end of the pool, the deep end.
So I walked down to where my class would be. There were two women already in the water.
I hung my towel on a peg along the wall and lowered myself down the ladder into the water.
I floated over to an open spot and watched as the rest of the class - one by one - got in the water.
Most of the people were wearing flotation belts. Hmmm. I don't need one of those belts, I thought. Or do I?
Then I saw a woman with a "noodle," one of those skinny, brightly-colored foam tubes that can miraculously keep any size human being afloat.
The teacher, who had finished with her shallow water class, came to join us. She stood on the edge of the pool, bent over toward me, gave me that big smile, and asked, "Do you need a belt?"
"Maybe I'll just take a noodle," I said to her.
She got me a noodle and class began.
"OK, let's walk," she said as she began power-walking in place, swinging her arms in tune to her steps.
Everyone in the pool started doing this movement - marching in place, staying in their own little spot.
Me? I was off like a shot. I marched to the front of the pool and when I hit the wall, I turned around and marched the other way. No matter how hard I tried to stay still, I couldn't.
I tried not to bump into anyone as I raced from one side of the pool to the other.
"Maybe it would be better if you would straddle the noodle instead of keeping it around your waist," the teacher said to me as I whizzed past her on one of my trips around the pool.
As I repositioned my noodle, the teacher and her assistant began handing out sets of foam barbells to the class for the next set of exercises.
We were told to move these barbells around in a circular, bike-pedaling motion with our arms as we exercised our legs water-walking.
In other words, I had just been handed another means of propulsion.
Now, with my arms helping my legs move, I was flying around that pool. I went from front to back and side to side and corner to corner, all the while smiling and apologizing to each of my classmates as I zipped in front of them.
"That's OK," they would yell as I whooshed by, "you'll get the hang of it."
An hour and about a dozen laps around the pool later, the class was over. We all walked down to the shallow end and climbed out.
"Hope to see you again," the teacher said to me as I was leaving.
"I'll be back," I told her.
The way I had it figured was that I had two days before the next class - two days to practice standing still.
Now, that's an exercise I like.

Patti Ewald is managing editor of The Chronicle. You can reach her at pewald@chroniclet.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yeah, the dog's crazy but he's hers

Published Feb. 25, 2008

I'm afraid my friend's dog is going to kill her.
I don't mean bite-and-maul kill her.
I mean drive-her-crazy, deprive-her-of-sleep kill her.
He's a Jack Russell terrier, and although he's 12 years old, he's spry as a pup.
When we go over to visit, the dog greets us as we walk through the back door. He barks, spins around in a circle, barks again and then takes off for the living room, presumably to let my friend know she has company - as if she hasn't figured it out yet.
The drill is always the same. As we walk into the living room, my friend walks toward the door and puts the barking dog on a leash outside.
She shuts the door and invites us to sit down.
But before we hit the sofa cushions, the dog starts barking again. My friend gets up and lets him back inside.
He's almost as excited to see us this time as he was when we first walked through the door. He races around, jumping up on each lap to (try to) lick our faces.
My friend sits down on the floor, picks up a chew toy and calls the dog. He comes running over and she heaves the toy toward the kitchen. The dog chases it.
He brings it back to her.
You would think this would be a distraction, but my friend carries on a conversation as if there wasn't even a dog in the room let alone this one.
"Know how many times this dog got me up last night?" she asks as she heaves the chew toy down the hallway toward the kitchen.
"Four. Four times," she says, not waiting for us to answer.
"He won't let me sleep. He whines until I get up and let him out and then as soon as I get back in bed, he starts barking to come back in," she says as she heaves the toy again.
"Tomorrow he's going out in the back when I go to work. It's not supposed to be so cold," she says as she lets the chew toy fly again.
She sometimes leaves the dog in the fenced backyard, where he has a dog house, hoping he will spend the day running around like a lunatic and tire himself out so he will sleep at night - and then she can, too.
Sometimes it works.
When it does, he only gets her up twice in the night instead of four times.
The University of Minnesota recently did a study and found that a person who owns a cat is 40 percent less likely to die of a stroke or heart attack than a person who owns a dog or has no pet at all.
I consider telling that to my friend whose dog is going to give her a stroke - never mind not prevent one.
But first I have to figure out how to do that. She really does love that dog - despite everything. And I don't want her to think I don't like him. He really is sweet - when he's sleeping.
"Know how long these dogs live?" she asks, breaking my train of thought.
She pulls the toy back and forth to get it out of the dog's mouth.
"Seventeen years," she says as the dog lets go so unexpectedly that she has to catch herself to keep from falling backwards.
"That means I have five more years of this," she says as she whips the toy toward the kitchen like a knife-thrower.
"Then," she says, "I'm going to get a cat."

Where will I get down on my knees for a bargain?

Published Feb. 18, 2008

Value City is closing.
Sadder words were never spoken.
To me.
For you see, you either love or hate shopping at Value City. There is no in-between.
But the people who love it - me - find a lot of good bargains there for the people who hate it - my husband, my sons, my mother, my brothers and just about everyone else I know.
It's a place for treasure hunters - and people who don't mind crawling around on the floor looking for those treasures.
I was there at Christmas time, looking for presents - specifically sheets and men's dress shirts.
Get a shopping cart - if you can find one - and follow me on that Christmas shopping trip.
But first we have to get into the store, and that's not easy. There are tables laden with seasonal items - today it would be Easter baskets; at Christmas, it was wrapping paper and popcorn tins - that seem to have been placed close together to keep us from getting in the store, but we will not be deterred. Just push the cart hard and squeeze through.
The sheets are over to the right.
The shelves are lined with sheets of every color, good sheets with high-thread counts - and cheap. But they are packaged separately, the fitted sheet, the top sheet and the pillowcases.
There seem to be a lot of packages of tan sheets. I pull a couple of them off the shelves. The colors are close but not quite matching. I pull out a couple more.
Pretty soon I have more than I can hold, and none of them match. I put them all on the floor. I never realized there were so many shades of tan.
I keep pulling them off the shelf and soon I put another pile on the ground.
Then I get on my hands and knees to re-sort my piles.
Not a match in the lot.
I put them all back on the shelves. It's hot in here. I take off my coat, lay it over the top of the cart and survey the selection again.
White. White is white, right?
When I start pulling white sheets off the shelf, I realize that there is white and cream and patterned white.
Let's forget about the sheets.
I walk around the perimeter of the store toward the shoes. I don't really need any shoes but it's fun to look. I especially like to look at the women's shoes - fancy high heels - in size 12 and bigger. Who wears those?
Maybe the women who go with the men who shop across the aisle in the big-and-tall department, where I have seen size 6X.
Housewares are on the far side of the store.
In the clearance aisle are flower vases and baskets and picture frames. Lamps and candleholders and "art" objects. Some are broken and many are missing their mate - kind of like the sheets - but it's as fascinating as any shopping trip you can take.
The last stop is the dress shirts. I see a sea of lavender and an occasional bright blue or yellow on the shirt tables. This isn't looking promising.
In the end, I find a black shirt in the size I want to get but put it back. I'm simply too exhausted to weigh the merits of that shirt.
I head toward the checkout. Hours have passed since I squeezed past that wrapping paper, and I have nothing in my cart to show for it.
But that's the thing about Value City. You always knew that even if you didn't find something that day, you'll find something next time.
Except that soon there will be no more next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The son shines, whether or not his house does

Entry Number 8,687 in things they never tell you when you have a baby: Some day that baby will grow up and get his own place and you — the mother — will be a houseguest there.
Mother. Houseguest. Mother. Houseguest.
How can one possibly be both those things?
My husband and I recently spent a long weekend with our older son who lives in Denver.
He has a very small two-bedroom apartment and a roommate who was gone for the weekend.
So there we were, three people in about 550 square feet of living space for three days.
The place was very clean, especially for a place that houses two working men.
But … (yes, there’s always that “but,” isn’t there?)
It was Super Bowl Sunday and we decided to make some party food and hang around the apartment to watch the game.
We went to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients we needed. When we got home, I set off for the kitchen to cook and the men watched the pre-game show in the living room.
The kitchen was clean and the countertop was cleared off but the dish-drainer — with its bad design containing a hundred nooks and crannies — was in dire need of some scrubbing.
That was the first dilemma I found myself in: Am I a good mother or a meddling houseguest if I clean it?
Would the chore be appreciated or seen as an insult to his housekeeping?
Well, I cleaned the dish-drainer. And while I was at it, I took everything off the counter and wiped it down.
Ahhh. Now I could cook.
“Thanks for cleaning up,” my son said when he came into the kitchen during a commercial break to check on me.
It sounded sincere enough.
So, I went in the cupboard to get out a pot for the chili and a pan for the cornbread. Well, I found a pot, lots of them actually, but the only thing vaguely resembling a pan was a cookie sheet. Wouldn’t work for making cornbread.
I started a mental list of things I would buy for my son when he was at work the next day.
And that was the second dilemma I found myself in. Was I still supposed to see there were necessary items missing from his cupboard, or should I respect his definition of “necessary”?
Well, I went to the store and bought a square baking pan the next day, along with some dish rags, a serving spoon with no slots — because all he had in his drawer were slotted ones — a garlic press and a couple of other things.
“Thanks for buying all that stuff,” my son said when he got home from work.
It sounded sincere enough.
While I was staying there, I tried to be a good houseguest. I cleared my stuff out of the bathroom when I was done. I reused the bath towel he gave me. I tried to be as unobtrusive as a mother could be.
We really did have a great time.
After three days, we left, my eyes brimming with tears as usual.
I think next time I visit, I’ll try to tell him what I really want to tell him — how proud I am of him. How proud I am that he has managed to make his way in life.
Without cornbread pans and garlic presses and dish rags.
And, of course, the thing I’ll never be able to say.
Without me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hurka recipe

After I wrote the column below, I got many requests for the hurka recipe my grandparents used. I e-mailed my aunt, Anita Csincsak, in Tecumseh, Mich., for the recipe because it was her husband, Dick, who inherited the hurka maker when my grandparents died.
Anyway, this is what she sent me:

Hungarian Hurka, from Dick Csincsak

Pork Liver 2& 1/2 lbs.
Pork Heart 2 & 1/2 lbs.
Fresh Side 2 & 1/2 lbs.
Pork Shoulder 4 & 1/4 lbs.
Rice ( 4 cups) 2 lbs.
Onions 1 lb.
Lard 1 lb.
Salt 3/16 cup
Pepper 1/8 cup

Boil pork livers and hearts until punctured when they do not bleed.
Cook the fresh side and pork butts ( or shoulder) in a separate kettle.
Cooked diced onions in the lard.
Cook rice.... one cup rice per 2 cups water
Grind the cooked meat and add to the rice, onions and seasoning
Stuff hurka and boil in water till they rise.
Let set and package..

Patti, there is no way a novice could make this without someone showing them.
... Love you Aunt Nin

So, hope that helps all you little hurka makers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Opposite of fast food? That'd be hurka

Published in The Chronicle Feb. 4, 2008

Some people have stories about their ancestors picking up muskets and going out into the wilderness to hunt for food.
Me? I have stories about my ancestors picking up a meat-grinder and going into the basement to make sausage.
My grandparents had a very limited list of things they would eat, mostly things familiar to Eastern Europeans that you couldn’t find in an A&P, a Stop&Shop or a Pick ’n’ Pay.
Things such as a Hungarian rice sausage called hurka (pronounced who’d-kuh), which was made with pork shoulder, onions and rice -- and other things you probably don’t want to know about.
My grandparents made their own hurka because shadier sausage-makers used ingredients not to their liking – things such as pig snouts and ears.
None of that for my grandparents. They only wanted the “good” stuff – things such as pig livers and lungs.
Scary as that sounds, it was good stuff.
And unfortunately, when my grandparents died, so did the hurka making. It is just too much trouble.
These days, the only time we get hurka is when my parents order some from a local Hungarian church and share it with us. My dad brought some over last week.
When my grandparents made hurka, it was quite an operation -- an operation that would never be done in a kitchen. The grease and the mess made it no job for a spotless Hungarian kitchen.
That’s why my grandparents had a second stove in the basement where grease and mess belong. It was in a small room off the basement TV room.
If you are old enough, you probably remember those basement TV rooms people had before there were family rooms. They contained furniture and TVs deemed no longer good enough for the living room.
It was in this big TV room that the actual sausage-making took place.
Along one wall was a long table that my grandfather had fashioned out of plywood and scrap lumber. It was covered with a vinyl tablecloth that was thumb-tacked under the edge.
On that table was the sausage-maker, a heavy metal appliance that looked something like a meat-grinder only bigger. Next to the sausage-maker was a pan filled with water in which sausage casings – another thing you don’ really want to know about -- were soaking.
The cooked rice and meat products were brought from the stove to this table where the meat was ground, mixed with the rice, seasoned and loaded into the sausage casings.
My grandfather would take a sausage casing out of the water and push it onto the sausage maker spigot the same way pantyhose are gathered on your foot before you pull them up your leg.
Then he would crank the machine and the sausage mixture would slowly fill the casing. My grandmother would guide the plump link, pull it off and curl it into a ring. She’d place the ring on a tray to await packaging in white butcher paper. They would repeat the process until they ran out of mixture or ran out of casings, whichever came first.
And then my grandmother would bake some of the hurka in a cast iron skillet in the oven for any helpers -- or kids who were hanging around.
Mmm, I can almost smell it cooking.
Wait, I can smell it cooking.
I put some in the oven – and I think it’s just about done.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's what's in the cupboard, not in the bank

Published Jan. 14, 2008

Know how to tell if someone is really well off?
You can’t tell by the house she lives in or the car she drives. There is a good chance the bank owns both of those things, and she can just barely make the monthly payments.
You can’t tell by the clothes she wears or the vacations she takes. Those expenses could be piled up on a Visa card or two or three.
No, the only way to truly gauge the wealth of a person is by snooping in her cupboards.
For financial well-being is measured in rolls of toilet paper and paper towels and Scotch tape.
Or cans of chicken stock and tomato sauce.
Or jars of peanut butter and mayonnaise, bottles of ketchup and vegetable oil.
Yes, wealthy people have healthy cupboards.
It’s true.
One time a lot of years ago, we were overnight guests of one of my college friends.
She and I both got journalism degrees from Ohio State, but I used mine to get into newspapers and she used hers to get into corporate America.
While my career path may have been nobler, it certainly appeared hers was more lucrative.
And I figured that out by what I found under her bathroom sink. There was not one extra roll of toilet paper — like the cupboard in my bathroom — there were several packages of toilet tissue.
There was not one extra bar of soap, there were a dozen.
And there were extra tubes of toothpaste and shampoo and even toothbrushes.
Wow. I felt as if I was in a store.
How luxurious it was, I thought, to run out of something and find more in the cupboard.
I’m going to be like that someday, I thought.
Someday, I’m not going to have to run to the store every time I’m out of tissue or peanut butter or ketchup. Someday, I’m going to have extra.
And, for the most part, I have achieved that goal.
Now, if I run out of pancake syrup, I can go to the pantry and find a full bottle.
Or when my son dumps the last of the A1 sauce on his steak, there is often another bottle up in the cupboard.
Ahh, it’s great to find things in the cupboard.
I’ve been on a hunt for matzo meal for a couple of weeks. Matzo meal is that stuff that you use to make matzo balls to put in chicken soup.
I looked for it at the local grocery stores. I looked for it at the West Side Market. I couldn’t find it anywhere.
I stopped over at my parents’ house the other day. My mom’s got a larder that could feed the town of Amherst in a natural disaster.
But it wasn’t always like that. There were five kids in the family. We were almost always out of one thing or another.
I told her about my futile search for matzo meal.
“I have some in the cupboard,” she said. “If you want it, take it.”
Hmmm. I scoured Northeast Ohio for the stuff and my mother has some in her cupboard.
“It’s been in there for a while but it’s not open. It should still be good,” she said.
As I took the box of matzo meal down from the shelf, I couldn’t help but think that the only thing better than having a full cupboard is knowing that your mother has one, too.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We have a new perspective on the news

Published Jan. 7, 2008

Until last week, the newsroom had not been affected by the $11 million expansion and renovation project going on at The Chronicle.
Oh, sure, we've been a little inconvenienced.
Most of the parking lot was off-limits for a while, leaving us scrambling for parking spots.
And the back door, our main entrance, was closed off.
Pounding and jack-hammering have been made it difficult to talk on the phone.
And then there was the time we had no phones because water leaked through the roof into the phone control room.
Most everything has been coated with a thin layer of construction dust for a while but it has hardly been noticed by reporters and editors quite at home in years-old dusty piles of notes and notebooks.
At least we all had our own little familiar spots, dusty and noisy as they were.
Until last week.
We had to empty the newsroom so the workers can come in and build us a brand new one.
Do you have any idea how much stuff is in a newsroom?
It's not just desks and bodies, it's file cabinet after file cabinet and drawer after drawer of information gathered before a lot of us were even born.
What do you do with box scores from a 1950 Elyria High baseball game, photos from a 1970 car accident, results from the 1982 Lorain County Fair?
Will they ever be used again? Probably not. But can we bring ourselves to throw them away? It's tough.
And in the midst of all this priceless stuff are people, people who had to relocate until the newsroom construction is done.
"Get your stuff packed up," I started telling them a couple months ago.
But you see, there is a reason most of us got in the news business -- we can only do something when a deadline is imminent.
So there wasn't a lot of packing done until we got word a couple weeks ago that we had to be completely out of the newsroom by Jan. 4.
We hurriedly packed up our stuff and carried it to our temporary surroundings, a spot on the first floor that has already been remodeled.
We are a little crowded. The desks are arranged in three rows of back-to-back desks stretching from one side of the room to the other. Wires run across the floor to connect our computers.
But everyone seems to be working on rebuilding his or her own little area.
One reporter uses as a privacy screen a bulletin board onto which pictures of her children are tacked.
Other reporters have squeezed bookcases between their chairs and the wall and put on them essential reporter things -- like phone books and dictionaries and city directories and coffee mugs.
One wall is lined with more than a dozen file cabinets filled with things too precious to leave behind.
As exasperating as it was to get the staff to move -- and throw some things away -- it also made me remember why I like them all so much.
The newspaper isn't just a job to them. It's who they are.
In the piles of things that were headed for storage, I spotted a magazine holder, its metal sides carved into a word.
I picked it up, carried it down to our temporary quarters and perched it on top of a tall bookcase.
NEWS is the word carved into its sides.
And as it stands there, its metal shining out over us like a beacon, it feels as if we are home again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Celluloid heroes have nothing on skunk man

Published Dec. 31, 2007

It was the final minutes of the triple-feature.
We had watched the "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy."
And now we were watching the end of "The Bourne Ultimatum."
The boys were sprawled across the sectional pit.
I was on the floor in front of the TV.
And Jason Bourne was floating in New York’s East River.
Could he survive a 10-story fall and the shots fired at him as he fell?
In the midst of the suspense, I realized something menacing was in our own house.
I smelled it.
And suddenly, being face down in the East River didn’t seem so bad.

I got up the next morning and the smell of the menace from the night before still lingered.
A skunk.
My husband had found the source of the odor: The critter was hunkered down in a shoebox-size hole that allowed access to the plumbing under the pool house.
"Come see," my husband said.
We bent at the waist, squinting down into the hole while keeping our distance, ready to run if need be.
The skunk wasn’t moving but it looked as if it was watching us. Its teeth were clenching a stick like a dog clenches a bone.
"Let’s get something and poke him," I said to my husband.
"Poke him?"
"Maybe he’ll run away," I said.
My husband got the handle of a shovel and poked. I stood back.
"I think he’s dead," my husband said.
"We need to call someone," I said as I walked toward the house.
I went inside, pulled out the phone book and opened the yellow pages to Pest Control.
As I was dialing the phone, I looked out the window and saw my husband walking deliberately across the back yard.
He was carrying a handful of spear-like objects -- a spade, a tree trimmer and a couple other sticks. Draped over his other arm was a coiled orange extension cord.
He looked as if he was going to harpoon a seal.
A woman answered the phone.
"We don’t do skunks," she told me. "We only do bugs. You need critter control."
And then she rattled off some phone numbers of people who might be able to help.
I dialed one of the numbers.
"How much would you charge to get a dead skunk out from a hole in our yard?" I asked the man who answered.
"Are you sure he’s dead? $65."
Shoot, a bargain at twice the price.
I asked him how soon he could be here and went to tell the mighty hunter in the backyard that he was off the hook.
As we stood looking at the critter, we heard a car pull into the driveway.
The skunk man.
"That’s not a stick in its mouth," he said as he peered into the hole. "That’s an electrical wire. He must have been chewing on it and got zapped," he said, contorting his face into that of an electrocuted skunk.
My husband cut the electricity to the house so the critter control man didn’t end up like the critter. Then the skunk man went to work.
He thrust a grabber tool into the hole and yanked on the skunk’s head.
Whoa. That was it for me. I jumped back as the first try was unsuccessful and the critter’s head popped out of the tool.
But, a couple more yanks and it was out and safely deposited in a garbage bag.
Now, if only that grabber is strong enough to pull a body out of the East River …