November 26, 2015

Around the Table

     It doesn’t matter where the table is. What matters are the people sitting around it—and the many other people who aren’t sitting there: the people in our thoughts. The people who mean something important to us; the people we love; the people we miss today.
     According to the information at americanhistory.about.com and history.com/topics, the first Thanksgiving, in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, was celebrated by 52 colonists and about 50 Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe. They must have had a large table, or maybe it was several tables. They were there to give thanks for the successful harvest and express gratitude. Not much has changed, except Thanksgiving has become more of a family affair.
     Funny how our giving of thanks centers on a fat, stuffed turkey in the middle of the table. Not always a turkey— many people have switched to a baked ham or some other main dish for convenience’s sake or because they don’t really like turkey that much. But it isn’t the turkey in our midst or the ham or barbecued steak that makes the day. It’s the gratitude.
     We say thank you so often during the day that it’s almost a habit more than a word with deep meaning. I started thinking: What does it REALLY mean to say thank you; what does it REALLY mean to thank someone; what does it REALLY mean when we thank God in our prayers?
     Definitions of “thank” include the words gratitude and appreciation and according to edenics.net, “The Indo-European “root” for . THA(N)K, THI(N)K and THOUGHT is the Indo-European tong (think).” Since “thank” comes from the word “think,” it must mean something deep enough to penetrate our brain; more than a mere courtesy. The definition of showing gratitude or appreciation gives “thank” that deeper meaning.
      “Appreciation” is defined at thesaurus.com as “recognize the full worth of; understand (a situation) fully; recognize the full implications of.” This connects “thank” back to the root word to “think.”
      Sitting around the table, I’ll be thinking of my grandchildren who live in other cities, wishing they were here; I’ll be thinking of the thanks I owe so many professionals who helped Paul through his surgery and rehab; I’ll be thinking of the friends who helped me as I helped Paul through his recovery; I’ll be thinking of the thanks I’ll never give in person to people who have chosen to work in fields I depend on: trash collectors, writers of books that take me away to faraway places, researchers who developed and discovered medications and medical equipment. There are so many more who do the things behind the scenes that ease our daily life.
     I’ll especially be thinking of the people around the table with me, my sons and daughter, my dad, my grandchildren, and appreciating who they are. This Thanksgiving Day will be more than a turkey in the middle of the table; it will be many thankyous shared and appreciation felt.
      Happy Thanksgiving from me to you and to all those at your table.

November 19, 2015

Termites and Gophers
      Across the street a carnival tent rises from the lawn. Patches of blue and green canvas cover the two-story house, with the arch of a doorway stitched on the front. Not sure why it’s there; no one goes in or out of it.
     Termites ’most always make their first appearance shortly after the sale of a home. The requisite termite inspection takes place and the inspector confirms it: “Yes, there are termites. You’ll need to tent the house.” This was the case across the street.
      My termites didn’t wait for me to sell the house, since I’d just bought it not so long ago, but they slipped up. They dropped their shavings in plain sight, straight down from the broad wooden beams in the TV room onto my pristine tiled floor—right where the morning sun shines brightly. If they’d been more careful, they could have gotten a few more meals out of me—or more correctly, from my broad beams. Not a pun.
     Aardvark got the job; not a real aardvark—although that would probably be cheaper—but a company that chose to name itself after the infamous ant-eating animal. Aardvark keeps my gophers away, too. The only difference between the two is the size and sites of their tunnels; one prefers dirt, one prefers wood. Inside, outside. Something for everyone.
     Termites and gophers: they’re a mainstay of our economy. Every home sale requires a termite inspection, making jobs for inspectors, termite exterminators, and purveyors of Aspirin, Advil and Aleve—to handle the uptick in headaches incurred by the appearance of these pesky critters in one’s home, or out on the lawn, as the case may be.
      The gophers, bless their souls, seem to have gone underground during the recent heat spell, but they’ll return for sure. The pitter patter of recent rains interrupted by bursts of booming thunder surely rattled them awake in their underground tunnels. Joyful gopher cries of “Good news! The soil is ready, soft and moist, ready for us to tunnel through to the surface where—ah! air to breathe! Return of the gophers is coming!” could be heard across town. It won’t be long now—holes surrounded by mounds of dirt will pop up everywhere.  
     Which will then produce more jobs for Trapper Dan and Aardvark and all those other people who love to rid the world of pesky critters, keeping their customers happy until the next onslaught. The website for Pest Control Employment had 100 million visitors, according to ask.com, so there are plenty of people out there looking for pest control jobs. It’ll take a lot of termites, gophers and assorted other pests— not including that obnoxious fellow at the Charger game— to employ a hundred million employment hopefuls.
      But. . . Five billion dollars! That’s how much property damage the National Pest Management Association claims is caused by termites each year. And that’s just termites. So the next time you spot termite droppings—technically “frass”—or gopher mounds, don’t think “Pest!” Think “Jobs!”

November 12, 2015

Letting the Air Out
     I threw off the covers, leapt out of bed, brushed my teeth and threw my clothes on; skipped the shower and exercises. A glance at the digital clock on my Bose radio—I could make it!
     It was Sunday so Christy was home to help Paul if he needed it. As I rushed to the door, I told them I was going out for breakfast and I’d be back by nine-thirty, in time for Christy to get Rocco, her little Shih Tzu, to Petco for his ten o’clock grooming appointment.
     The morning air was fresh with the aroma of rosemary; my beloved Mazda6 was damp with dew from the night before. I swiped the windshield clear and backed out of the driveway. If I got there early enough, my niece Kathy would still be there. Otherwise I’d eat solo, with my Kindle for company. I turned my Mazda out onto the street and was halfway to the corner when -   
     BEEEEP!!!—I jumped out of my seat! The beep seemed to come from the dash so I looked for anything unusual there. No-o-o. Yes. The pale orange U-shaped icon grinned at me. I knew that face all too well: low tire pressure. So much for breakfast with Kathy. I turned around and pulled back into the driveway. The tires looked pretty much the same as usual so I poked each one a couple of times. Maybe the right front?
     Christy came outside and looked at the tires, too. Since they looked fairly normal, she said it must be a slow leak; I should just go to the gas station on the corner, fill it up with air and go on to breakfast.
     At the station I pressed the numbers for the code to activate the air pump. I stuck the hose connector onto the valve stem of the right front tire and checked the pressure gauge when it popped out of its sleeve. Definitely low pressure. I pressed the lever and held it, seemed like forever, but the tire wasn’t getting any fatter. I let go and pressed again. This time the air whooshed out. I kept pressing and un-pressing but nothing changed. Same thing happened on the other front tire, which also showed low pressure. Was I putting air in—or letting it out? I gave up.
     When I got home, with grimy gas station hands, the front tire was totally flat. I washed my hnads and texted my two sons. “Got a flat tire. Can either of you help?” They replied instantly: “I thought you had Triple A, Mom.” Thanks, Bryan. Thanks, Craig. What I didn’t tell them is that I was too embarrassed to call Triple A. I’d called them four times in the last three months.
     The Triple A guy was tactful; he never mentioned my recent frequent flyer use of their services, but then, as I handed him my membership card, “13 YEAR MEMBER” stamped on the card in gold letters caught my eye.
     Not bad. In thirteen years, I’d only used my card five times.

​November 05, 2015

 Those Stickers on the Apples
     The fruits at the grocery store all have those little stickers on them. The apple I was about to eat had one firmly affixed to its skin—the skin I love to eat. I don’t love eating stickers.
     If you’re one of those people who cuts up your fruit and eats it in tidy little pieces, you can throw away the piece with the sticker on it, but I love to sink my teeth into the apple, so the sticker had to go.
     I’ve heard those stickers are edible, but I’ve never acquired a taste for edible stickers. Usually it only takes me two or three minutes to remove one, but today’s sticker was super stubborn. I could not get it off but I wanted that apple, so I kept trying.
     Like a golfer surveying the angles of the slopes surrounding the eighteenth hole, I observed that sticker from every angle. Aha! I spied a tiny gap between the sticker and the apple skin. I sneaked up on it and slid the tip of my finger into the tiny gap. My finger slipped on the slick, shiny skin of the apple.
     I tried again. I charged into that gap with vigor and vim and tore the tiny label right off that apple. Got a little skin with it, too. The apple’s, not mine. I tossed the label into the nearest trash can.
     Not so easy. The sticker stuck to my finger. Five tries later I got it into the trash can—without my finger. That’s when I began to wonder. . . What is this label all about? How come they stick one on every single piece of fruit? I reached into the trash can, pulled out the sticker, smoothed out its wrinkles and stuck it to a sheet of paper. The tiny print said, “Royal Gala Sweet #4173.” They count the apples?
     This was the last of the Royal Gala apples at our house, so I couldn’t look for #4172, nor for #4174, but I had more apples in the refrigerator—a different kind. I checked out the label on one of them. The words “Responsible Choice” were printed next to a tiny red ladybug. Not alive, I hoped. Nope—it was a lifelike drawing. Did this mean that ladybugs like apples? Further down on the label, running across a couple of Blue Mountain peaks were the words, “Stemilt Golden Delicious.” Below the mountain was the number #4021. Ah! Would the other apple be #4022? or #4020?
     No, both apples had the same number, so the number must be the code for the variety of apple, unless it’s the “Packed by employee number” number.  I put the two apples back and went off to enjoy my now sticker-less Royal Gala Sweet #4173.
     I’m thinking someone will come up with a gadget for removing those stickers easily. Or better—they could flavor the stickers so they don’t taste like paper. Caramel for apples, whipped cream for peaches. . . Hey, maybe those stickers should be a little bigger.

October 22, 2015

The end of Daylight Savings Time
     Daylight Savings Time is over. Who started it anyway? All this gaining an hour, losing an hour. . . Good question—let me go check.
Wow! A bug guy! George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist, wanted more daylight to study bugs after work on summer days, so in 1895 he came up with the idea. Only he wanted two hours, not one. Loved those bugs! He didn’t study bugs in winter. Well, I don’t study bugs at all, so I’m going to go radical and suggest a daily 20 second adjustment to ease us into the time change.
     I’ll bet ol’ George only had one clock to re-set. We have clocks everywhere these days and it’s no fun, re-setting them all twice a year. Some are programmed to re-set themselves but you don’t know which ones until the morning after, and you’d think the just plain clocks would be easy, but some of them make you move the hour hand forward eleven hours to go back one hour. If no one’s looking, I quick move the hand back an hour.
     On some of the electronic stuff, you have to hold the button down until the numbers get to where you want them, but the numbers flash past the one you want and you have to start over. Then you have to change the AM/PM indicator and the date and the day of the week, and when you’re done with all that, you’ve lost an hour.
     The hardest is re-setting your inner body clock—your circadian rhythm. My circadian thing does okay until the second day after the time change, which happens to be a Monday. Then it rebels: it’s too early to wake up! I’m not ready to go to work yet!
     So. I got out my calculator and did some calculating and discovered we can gain an hour—or lose one—without all this fuss every fall and spring. We take away 20 seconds each day until spring and voila! no need to re-set the clocks! Then we add 20 seconds every day until fall and yay! we’re back on Standard Time.
     For you mathematicians: to gain one hour over 182.5 days, we need to gain 60 minutes times 60 seconds, or 3,600 seconds. Divide that by 182.5 days and you have roughly 20 seconds a day. Hey, I’m no scientist, but if you happen to be one, it’s more like 19.7260274 seconds.
     Programming to do this shouldn’t be too hard for the IT people. We’d have to buy all new clocks and gadgets or have the old ones reprogrammed, but that’s a small price to pay for avoiding severe shocks to our system every spring and fall. We wouldn’t have to stop and think: “Is this the weekend we’re s’posed to move our clocks forward? Or is it backward?”  And we’d eliminate all those accidents caused by commuters who aren’t used to driving home in the dark because they would have been adjusting, day by day, 20 seconds at a time.

Sorry, George. Daylight Savings Time is a thing of the past. Get a flashlight.

October 15, 2015

To Cover or Not?
     Life was so simple before I got the patio furniture covers. After making an investment in patio furniture for the first time in twenty years, I jumped at the chance to buy some cheap, end of summer sales, protection. The covers arrived, folded neatly in small butterscotch-colored bundles that opened up into huge parachute-size tarps.
     My iPhone weather app told me there was a 40% chance of rain. The weatherman was talking about the coming of El Nino. What could I do? I took the cover lying on top of the box and unfolded it. It wasn’t marked. What’s it for? The loveseat? The table and chairs?
     I shook it and floated it out over the table and chairs. Lucky guess. It breezed down over everything, but wait—there’s a bunch of straps hanging out. What are these? Tie-downs? In case of a hurricane?
     No hurricanes around here. I scuffed the straps under the table and moved on to the next neatly folded butterscotch bundle. Surprisingly quickly I covered all the furniture.
     I wish. Since the covers are shaped to fit each piece, you can’t just toss them over the chair or table or whatever. I put them on backward; I put them on sideways; I put them on the wrong piece of furniture. Finally they came to rest where they belonged and I went inside to relax. No worries.
     No rain, either. I waited four days before I took the covers off. Taking them off was easy, but folding them? They’re huge and bulky and my arms aren’t wide enough to reach both ends. Of course I tried the biggest one first. After fighting it for twenty minutes I crumbled it into a messy ball and shoved it into the weatherproof storage box by the chimney. Half an hour later, I had them all shoved in there. Smushed, crinkled and sloppy, but in the box with the lid closed.
      The next two weeks were fraught with indecision. It’s supposed to rain but the sun is shining. Not a cloud in the sky. Should I cover? Not cover? The weather app says 30 percent chance. Should I cover? I do. No rain. Last night there was a 10 percent chance of rain. I didn’t cover.
     It rained. I woke up to a wet patio and drizzle. I scrambled outside to see rain drops freshly beaded on the plump beige cushions of the wicker furniture.  I brought the cushions in to dry and spent fifteen minutes covering the wicker frames. The sun came out.
     There’s something else. I covered the furniture before the last real rain and it worked fine—except for the shallows. Water collected in the dips of the material stretched over the table. Much as I tried, I couldn’t get the cover positioned to drain the water off the sides. Maybe that’s what the straps are for? To straighten out the dips?
     Life was simple when my patio furniture was left uncovered, to fend for itself. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.

October 08, 2015

The Light Touch
     Darn. I should’ve paid extra and got the one with the automatic light settings. I wouldn’t be sitting here looking at a page that turns darker, then lighter, but is never quite right. I have twenty-four choices on a sliding scale from bright to dim. Shedding light on an e-book page isn’t easy, if you want to get it right. If you don’t have an e-book, read on. . .
     You’ve seen people with e-books, those flat pieces of plastic with all the books between their covers. The covers are melded together so to get to the books, you have to tap or swipe at the right place. You know what tapping is. “Swiping,” well, that’s stealing, right? But now it’s also “moving one's finger across a touchscreen to activate a function,” according to Google.
     I was excited about getting the Kindle PaperWhite e-book with its built-in light and touchscreens. No more setting my Kindle aside in a dark restaurant; no more sore thumbs from pressing the page turner at the side of my old e-book over and over. Automatic light setting seemed like overkill and the PaperWhite was cheaper so that’s what I bought. I’m paying for it now. 
     Ohmigosh. This new Kindle is totally different than my old one. Instead of a list of my books, the PaperWhite shows pictures of three covers. To see the rest of your books, you have to tap the page in the right place with the right amount of pressure and yay! It’s a list! About ten taps is my average for getting to the list. Then I have to start swiping to get to the rest of the list. Swiping for me is like taking a chance on the lottery. Every now and then, I get lucky.
     A great feature of the Kindle is that it remembers where you left off reading and opens to that page. Supposed to. Mine must have a ghost lurking under its covers because half the time it opens way ahead of where I left off. Sometimes I accidentally brush my fingers across the part of the page that takes you backward or jumps ahead or brings up font choices and changes the font to HUGE or tiny. And then there are the light settings—non-automatic light settings.
     “In brightly lit rooms, use a high setting,” it says on the screen. Huh? Why not a low setting if the room is brightly lit? And “Use a low setting for dark rooms.” A dim light in a dark room? Contrary as I am, sitting in the dim evening light on the patio, I set the light to high.
     The page was kind’a hard to read so I tapped the light bulb icon at the top and waited for the sliding scale. I tried a lower setting. Better, but not good so I ramped it down to the lowest setting. Now it was way too dim. Like Goldilocks, I went to the middle and it was just right.
     Aren’t you glad you don’t have an e-book?

October 01, 2015

Droughtscapes Take Over
      The tanning of the lawns has surpassed simple tanning. Creativity reigns – no pun intended. A few lusciously green lawns sit like oases amidst their dirty tan companions during this drought that’s hit California, but then. . . Restricted water use has brought out the best in landscape lovers.
     “Give your lawn a tan!” the water districts tell us. What choice do we have? Ten minutes, two times a week watering does not a green lawn make. Unless it’s artificial. . . and artificial seems to be gaining popularity. Who wants to look at dirt? Especially in your front yard?
     But sometimes it’s not bad. In some yards, the dirt is evenly raked, free of weeds, almost a pretty brown color. If you look again, you might see a lone palm in the corner, resplendent with its topping of green fans and a circle of concrete filled with white or gold pebbles at its base. Droughtscape 101.
     Further down the street, a neatly edged lawn shows its owner’s pride. The lawn is speckled with sickly blades of barely-alive grass in a hodge-podge with dead brown blades, but the lawn is mowed, trimmed and obviously cared for, if not watered.
     Next door the mostly brown lawn with a few green Bermuda strands needs a haircut. Why bother? Can’t water anyway; might as well go out for a beer and wait for the drought to end. Maybe go fishing, if there’s any water left in the reservoir.
     The mulch and landscape rock dealers are doing a booming business. Concrete, too. One guy around the corner cemented his whole yard, planted a pretty red plum tree in the middle, encircled it with one of those scalloped concrete borders and surrounded it all with a shiny white picket fence and added a white arbor. Looks great!
     In outlying areas on country acreages, creative rock designs combine with red bark or pebbles, garden statues or recirculating fountains and a few well-tended plants to make their drought-cooperative statements. Makes you wonder why we were all so fascinated with plain Jane green lawns for so long. Except they are pretty, especially in the midst of all the dirt, rock, concrete, and half-dead grass.
      Our backyard is a concrete deck with low-water plants growing against the fence behind it. The front yard is green with low-growing rosemary, a few bushes, a desert museum tree and boulders scattered throughout. The boulders don’t need much watering. The plants are on a drip system.
     I haven’t been able to find the drought rules for drip systems—only that the rules for sprinklers— water for ten minutes, two times a week—don’t apply. I looked on the water district’s website, but there was nothing there. I’m doing the best I can to keep the plants alive without much water and sending best wishes to all of you who are trying to get through this hot weather, humidity, and lack of rain. Just remember, dirt is good, requires no watering and is cheaper than dirt.

September 24, 2015

If You’re Not Young and You’re Not Old -
     Have you seen that commercial where the guy asks how long it takes to grow old? I always wonder what he means, “grow old?” When do you grow old?
     I know. I know. “Old” is geriatric, can’t run around like a marathon runner; can’t figure out where the wrinkles came from. But when do we “grow old”? That’s what I want to know.
     I trotted off  to my Internet browser and punched in “old.” Merriam Webster got my attention, so I opened its page and discovered that old  is “not young,”  so I clicked on “young” to see what “old” isn’t.
     Well, look at this! “Young” is “not yet old.” Hmm. If young is not old and old is not young, what’s in-between? No one goes straight from young to old. Not willingly, anyway. When are you not still young? When are you old?
     To a toddler, anyone in their teens is old. To a teenager, anyone over 30 is old. To a 30 year-old, 60 is old and to a 60 year-old, well you don’t want to think about it anymore.
     Webster also defines young as “in an early stage of life, growth, or development.” Seems we pass that phase pretty quickly—out of diapers, into grade school, out of high school, and then. . . old???
     A second definition for old is “having lived for many years.” If eighteen years qualifies as “many,” anyone finishing high school would be old.
     Middle-aged. You notice I haven’t brought that up. Mostly because it brings to mind middle-age spread, which is not mayonnaise or mustard. You don’t hear many people bragging about how middle-aged they are. There’s not much to brag about, unless you’ve just had a sensational midlife crisis. Then you’d better tell us about it or we’ll die of curiosity before we stop being young.
     Middle-aged is defined as between 40 and 60 by most, so if 60 is the new 40 and you just turned 60, you haven’t gained much. You’re still middle-aged.
     How about NYNO, pronounced neeno? An acronym for the in-between time, since acronyms are all the rage. Not Young Not Old. Sounds kind’a sexy.
     Young, old, or NYNO, Take your pick. It’s all relative. Or you can call yourself a tweener. Wait! That’s for kids who are almost, but not quite, teens, isn’t it? It is even a word?
     Tweener actually is a word. If you’re a Scrabbler, use it in your next Scrabble game. A guy at Webster’s website said he got 158 points for using it. Urban Dictionary defines tweener as “a person or thing considered to be between two other recognized categories or types,” so if you’re.between young and old, you’re a tweener. Wait—there’s a bunch more definitions for tweener. Someone might get the wrong idea. . .
     This is getting silly. Let’s stick with NYNO, pronounced “neeno” and change the goalposts: if you’re over 30 and under 110, just tell people you’re a NYNO. I’m sure they’ll know exactly what you mean.

​​September 17, 2015


September 10, 2015

Some days are like that
     
It was just another hot, humid day. I decided to check my e-mails before going to the pharmacy, the car wash, the appliance store for a new water filter and maybe I’d have time for a haircut. I glanced at the subject lines of my unopened e-mails. I’d open them later. But then I read “Action Required: Problem. . .” What’s this? The rest of the subject line was cut off so I had to open the e-mail.
    It was from Amazon. It said they couldn’t download the book I’d ordered on my Kindle last night and I should go to “amazon.com/fixpayment.” Funny—I was positive I’d read three chapters of that book. Had they taken it back? I opened my Kindle. The book was still there and I could still turn the pages so I ignored the e-mail, figuring it must be a scam.  The rest of my e-mails looked harmless, so Paul and I went to the pharmacy.
    I got my prescription, came back to the car, turned the ignition and heard that entrancing sound: “click   click.” Dead battery. The pharmacy parking lot enjoyed our company for a lot longer than we enjoyed its company, in the heat with no air conditioning. Luckily I had my Triple A card and the service rep was on his way. I got my card out to show him. Or maybe not. It expired four months ago.
     Eddie came and charged the battery and me—me, for the new battery. The old one was broken, he said. I expected to see two big chunks of battery, but it was all in one piece, with a circle of mucky green stuff around one of the terminals. He never asked to see my card but I called Triple A anyway, to get a replacement card for the new one I must’ve thrown away when it came in the mail.
    I dropped Paul off at Starbucks and went home to have a good read on my Kindle. The scam turned out not to be a scam, after all. Must have been a software screw-up on Amazon’s part. I spent the next hour on my Kindle and my computer fixing it.
While I was doing that, I got a call from Bed Bath and Beyond, where I’d bought a patio set online the day before. The voicemail told me if I wanted them to ship my patio set I’d better call them immediately.
     I spent the next hour on the phone with them. Their credit person had to call my credit union for confirmation that my shipping address was the same as the address on my credit card. For some reason, all three of us had to be on the call together. After waiting for the credit union to answer their phone and ask a multitude of questions, all was confirmed. The BB&B person later explained they follow this procedure for all orders over a certain amount.
It was a busy day. I got nothing done—except for my prescription, which probably should have been for Valium.

August 20, 2015

  What happened to the quiet?
     Used to be, church was a peaceful refuge from the outside world. The silence was overwhelming, if only your shoes wouldn’t clatter so on the tile floors.
     You had to tiptoe to your favorite pew so you wouldn’t disturb the people praying with heads bowed. Kneeling on the not-so-soft padding of the kneeler, you let peace and quiet envelope you as you tried not to think about the broken faucet at home.
     Not so today. Cell phones ring; babies squall; conversations echo throughout the vast worship space. Hardly a Sunday goes by without at least one cell phone’s musical notes chiming at a most inopportune time. Everyone tries not to look to see whose phone is chiming, but no one succeeds except that guy over there. He’s checking to make sure he turned his phone off. Did I turn mine off? I’m sure I did, but I’d better make sure.
     Today I don’t worry about my shoes tap-tapping on the floor when I arrive. Everyone’s talking and laughing, greeting each other after a week away from church. This is the time to get caught up on your friend’s aunt’s health and the latest trade of a Padres player. It will be quiet pretty soon.
     No, it won’t. Here come the priest, the deacon and the altar servers. The guitar and piano players are strumming the entrance hymn as the priest and half the congregation sing along. The other half is wishing for a little peace and quiet; some don’t trust their off-key singing.
     When the song ends. the priest starts Mass with a greeting and a few minutes later, we’re singing again. Peace and quiet? A thing of the past. Singing’s in.
     Time for the sermon—more talking, this time by the priest. A family’s arriving late—they’re being very quiet as they search for an empty pew.
     Brriinngg brriinngg brriinngg! Everyone looks around. A lady wearing a red straw hat gets up and hurries down the aisle toward the door, head bowed so we won’t know it’s her. I hope it’s not bad news and say an extra prayer, in case it is. 
     After the sermon’s over, there’s more singing and then the priest blesses us, “Peace be with you.” Handshakes and hugs ripple through the pews as people turn to wish peace to each other. The lady in the red hat quietly comes back to her pew.
     At the consecration of the host, there’s a moment of silence. Everyone is kneeling, heads bowed, or checking their cell phones, or admonishing their children, “Shhh.” All remains quiet, until the next hymn number is announced.
      A few songs later, people get up and start shuffling down the aisle to receive communion and then return to their pews to pray. Moments later the priest gives the final blessing, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” A toddler in blue denim shorts and a green T-shirt claps his chubby hands, “Yay!”
     It was a good service, full of the world. Tonight I’ll sit on my patio, in the quiet of the night.


August 06, 2015

Everyone’s Doing It
     Must be fun, everyone’s doing it: getting older. Toddlers, teenagers, young adults, old adults… If you think about it, you probably are, too. There’s not a person alive who isn’t doing it.
Getting older is a state of being we enjoy for a lifetime. It starts the moment you’re conceived and ends… oh, shoot. Let’s don’t think about that part. Back to the point. Getting older is the one constant in your life, from the early days in the womb, which you probably don’t remember, to the graying–or-balding-of your hair, which you’re in no hurry to get to. But you can’t get away from it. The old saying stands, “You can run; you can hide…” but all the while you’re running or hiding, you’re getting older!
     Some of the consequences of this state of being are good; others not so good. You get taller, slimmer, hopefully not fatter; you get more feminine or more masculine. You, as they say, come into your own. After you’ve had a few decades of feeling quite pleased with the results of getting older, the consequences take a turn for the worse-unless you happen to like wrinkling skin and creaking bones. On the other hand, a bit of wisdom usually comes along, too.
     Toddlers could care less about getting older, but teenagers? Remember when you couldn’t wait to be old enough to get your driver’s license? When you couldn’t wait to be able to order a drink, legally? When you envied grown-ups for all the things they could do? If you had an older brother or sister, you couldn’t wait to grow up and be allowed to go on dates and go to the movies or shopping without a parent hovering over you.
     Getting older after a good five decades of life isn’t quite so exciting, although, given the alternatives, it’s not bad. If it just didn’t happen so fast. Too bad we don’t have the option of getting younger – or, if we happen to like where we are, the option of staying right there for a few more years.
     There are no classes to educate us on how to get older. There’s no Getting Older for Dummies book, only a Getting Old for Dummies. That’s a different matter. You could ask a friend or someone a few decades older than you, someone who’s been there, done that. But mostly it’s up to you.
     The good thing about getting older, at any age, is that you get to decide how to get older. Granted, some things you don’t get to choose. But the rest of the time is yours.
Last night I grew older sitting on the patio watching the clouds change colors, waiting for the full moon to make its appearance among them. Next week I’ll grow older throwing a party with KFC chicken, corn on the cob, watermelons, beer, and music by Tim Egan.
     I’ll share a secret with you: there’s another word for growing older–living. Enjoy!

​​July 30, 2015

Who takes care of the caregiver?
     Caregiving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s lots better! And sometimes it isn’t. Some nights you collapse on your bed, crying, “I can’t do it.” But you get over it. Because that’s what you do. You give care. Either you don’t have a choice or you’re a saint and you’ve told everyone else, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him.” Or her.
     The question is - who takes care of the caregiver? Everyone wants to; no one knows how. If you’re lucky, someone in your family or a friend offers to take over for a morning or an evening so you can run wild with carefree abandon until the clock strikes twelve. If you’re not so lucky, you just dream about it - if you can get any sleep, uninterrupted.
     When someone asks how she can help, you know what to say, but you’re chicken to say it. “How about taking over for me next week?” Not gonna fly. So instead you tell them your “care-ee” would love to have visitors. You would love to have visitors. Maybe they could do a few bathroom runs with your care-ee while they’re visiting… On second thought, skip that last one.
      If they notice how exhausted you are, they might suggest you hire someone to take over one day a week. “You need to take care of yourself,” they say with the wisdom of Solomon.
Wonderful idea! A whole day off! “Okay. Know anyone?” “No, but I’m sure you can find someone.” If you could, there’s so much to tell them about caring for your care-ee, it would take  a month. No problem showing them the routines: eating, sleeping, meds, exercises, but what about the intangibles?  What upsets him; what makes him laugh; what helps him get through the tough times…
     So you find someone. Great! An hour after you leave for a relaxing afternoon, you remember you forgot to tell them about that sensitive spot just below his knee.
The hardest part of caregiving? The lack of sleep. No! The cleaning up. No! Seeing your care-ee give up. Seeing your care-ee’s health decline…Being yelled at by your care-ee when he or she gets frustrated. You understand, but it still hurts. The apologies come later and they help, but the hurt is there.
     Rewards? The rewards are sweeter than a strawberry sundae. “I love you so much. Thanks for taking care of me.” “It’s okay; go ahead and take a nap. I can take care of myself for a while.” Seeing your care-ee unexpectedly get better. A friend making your care-ee laugh… 
     You probably know someone who’s caring for a husband who has dementia or for a seriously ill mother, a disabled child, a teenager badly injured in sports or a car accident. If you yourself are giving care, you know: caregiving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s better and it’s worse. My prayers go out to all of you out there who are caring for loved ones.  

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     On a personal note: My daughter Christy is a godxend. She lives with us and shares the caregiving with me on weekends and evenings. My sons, Craig and Bryan, stop by often and call Paul ’most every day. He loves talking to his “bros.” I’m blessed.

July 23, 2015

The un-doing of the diet
     So smug. I was going to lose ten pounds. I totally blew it. The diet, if you remember, was orange juice and coffee in the morning; a banana and granola bar for lunch; a tall glass of iced tea to last me through the afternoon; peanuts and carrot sticks for snacks, and best of all – dessert for dinner! No dinner. Just dessert.
     First mistake: I forgot to buy the carrots. I got the peanuts, bananas and granola bars, but I forgot the carrots. Second mistake: I passed up the boring, plain peanuts and snagged a can of toffee brittle peanuts. Well, they still have protein, right? Third mistake: I lost three pounds the first week.
     You should never lose pounds when you’re on a diet. You get overconfident and start cheating and from there on, forget it. The diet’s done. The first thing I started cheating on was the dessert. Yeah, the dessert. Crazy! How could anyone cheat on dessert?
     I could. I had cake and ice cream at a birthday party and counted it as one dessert. Then I had an apple fritter for dessert two nights later and hit the ice cream two hours later, figuring an apple fritter and ice cream is sort’a like ice cream and cake. Close enough.
     That’s all it took. Two nights later, I ate three big chocolate chip cookies and an hour later, when a bowl of creamy chocolate pudding greeted me in the fridge, I snatched it up. What was I doing in the fridge? Don’t ask… Anyway, cookies and pudding – that’s kind of like ice cream and cake…
     I was okay all day - up until dessert time - until the day I woke up with a yen for Rice Krispies with two percent nonfat milk – not so many calories. I’ll exercise five minutes longer to make up for it. They say you’re s’posed to eat a hearty breakfast but I made sure not to fill the bowl all the way full and officially added Rice Krispies to my diet.
     In spite of all that, one Friday night I suddenly felt starved for a real dinner. They say it’s okay to take a break from a diet, as long as you go right back to it. Who’s “they?” I forget. Anyway, I headed up the hill to Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant with joy in my heart, an eager stomach, and my credit card. One cheese enchilada, one tamale, a plate of refried beans and rice later – all accompanied by a glass of white zin to celebrate my downfall – I was full enough to last me a week.
     The next day I went right down to Ralphs and bought the missing carrots and a can of regular, boring peanuts. I was determined: I would stick to my original diet. At home I cut the carrots into munchy snack-size sticks. I put some peanuts in a tiny custard cup so I wouldn’t eat too many. I poured a tall glass of calorie-free iced tea and picked up my Kindle, ready to read and watch those pounds run away.
     Dumb me. Pounds don’t run away. They don’t even walk away. They creep away silently in the night and come back early in the morning right before you step on the scale. As of today, I weigh exactly the same as I weighed the day I started my famous – or infamous – Dessert Diet.
     Unlike me, my dad is wise and super self-disciplined. He’s never been overweight or underweight. When we start talking diets, he says his is simple: “Gain weight – eat more; lose weight – eat less.”
Ah, the simplicity of wisdom.           

July 16, 2015

Shades of yellow
     It was time to brighten the TV room. The rock fireplace, wood beams and neutral beige walls would stay but suddenly the aqua accents looked drab and depressing. With all those shades of brown, what would look natural and bright?
     Yellow! Sunshiny yellow! Yes! A splash of yellow toss pillows would brighten the cinnamon leather sectional, and I’ll need a few yellow accents… Do I have anything yellow I can use? Sure do! That set of pen and ink flower sketches. The flowers are white and yellow and the frames are just the right shade of clear sunshiny yellow.
     Okay. Time to find them and hang them over the green bistro table. I took them down from the wall in the guest room when my grandson arrived to stay with us. Where did I put them? They’re not in the closet - I cleaned that out last week. Prob’ly in the garage with the stacks of pictures that I love but that don’t fit in with the current décor. The stacks are on the top shelves. I pulled out the step stool and reached…
     Nope. Not there. Maybe under my bed? I put a mirror under there; maybe I put the pictures there. I scooched down and looked. Nope. Not there. Maybe in my closet?
     I stretched up high to check the top shelf. Not there. I pushed aside the luggage and old purses on either end of the closet. Not there. I gave up, but when I told Christy, she immediately asked if I’d looked in the chest at the foot of my bed. Ohmigosh! I hadn’t.
     Yep! They were there. Thank goodness for daughters! Especially daughters with good insights. The pictures now brighten the wall over the bistro table. Beneath them, in the center of the table, sits a yellow rectangular wood vase with a bouquet of yellow flowers. I stole it from Paul’s room. It’s the perfect shade of yellow.
     Now it was time to go shopping for yellow toss pillows for the sectional and a few yellow accents. Maybe some tall yellow vases. Off to the Home Goods store I went, thinking jeepers, I need another color; can’t do just yellow. I sorted through colors in my mind until I remembered the spring green leaves in the flower prints. Spring green and sunshine yellow. Okay, I’m ready to shop.
     Pillows first. Yay! Whole shelves full of yellow pillows! Yellow pillows falling into the aisles! Every shade of yellow you could want. There were golden yellow pillows. There were fluorescent yellow pillows. Oh! Here’s one! Nope. It’s got brown rope all over the back. There were yellow and orange pillows. There were pasty yellow pillows. No sunshiny yellow pillows.
     I pulled out a two-pack of yellow pillows that were almost right but a tad too bright. The color I wanted wasn’t there, so they would have to do. The price was a bit high. Not too high, but more than I would’ve paid at Walmart. I tossed them in my cart and moved on to look for accents…
     A green wire barrel caught my eye. Right shade of green and on sale. It would make a perfect occasional table.  I snapped it up. Oh! Look at this wreath! Delicate yellow and white flowers. I don’t do wreaths, but this one – on the mantel? Perfect. Into the cart. And look at the metallic wall art with yellow roses. Kind’a dark yellow, but yes, they would do. And here’s a pebbled green glass globe. On sale. Into the cart.
     One more stroll around the store. Whoops! Back up! What’s this? Perfectly yellow outdoor cushions. On sale – a lot less than the too-bright ones. I grabbed two and picked up a green cushion with white fishes on it. Took the not-quite-right-shade-of-yellow pillows out of the cart, checked out and came home to un-drab the TV room. Summer’s here!

​July 09, 2015

Live to a hundred?
Live to a hundred? Always thought I would; don’t know why. Funny, not everyone wants to live to a hundred.
     It seems people think that living to a hundred means ending up in a nursing home or being stuck at home with bad eyesight and a cane and heaven have mercy – no driver’s license! Wait a minute. I don’t know that’s what they’re thinking. I just figured it was something like that when they said, “I never want to be that old.”
     At my dad’s hundredth birthday celebration I asked a few relatives if they planned to live to a hundred. Everyone I asked shook his or her head and said no. I charged forward, “Why not?” No one said much but you could tell by the look in their eyes they were thinking about all those “old” things: memory gone; hearing gone; driver’s license gone; nights out on the town gone.
     Well! If I thought that I wouldn’t want to live to a hundred, either. I plan to be healthy, wealthy and wise at my century mark. Well, maybe skip the wealthy bit; I’ll prob’ly have spent it all by then. And I’ll probably be a little more wise than healthy, but I don’t plan to get anything debilitating. If I do, I’ll welcome my hundredth from a spiffy wheelchair and get a good-looking caretaker to get me around.
     When I was growing up, our family spent vacations in Washington, D.C. visiting all the – old! – relatives. They weren’t all old, but the old ones made the biggest impression on me: they were all so active. They weren’t a hundred years old - but to a kid, what’s the difference between eighty or ninety and a hundred?
     Great-aunt Bessie was a sprightly old-maid school teacher in her eighties with the typical gray-haired bun and no make-up. Years after we moved out to California she sent pictures of herself riding a camel in Egypt. Then we got one of her sitting in a cow-girl outfit by the campfire at a dude ranch in Arizona.
     Great-aunt Margaret was quietly old – modestly styled hair and no color on her face. Great-aunt Eva was a retired chorale director. With her deep blue eyes, a thick pompadour of wavy blue-white hair and a mouthful of red lipstick, tastefully applied, she stood out among the great-aunts. She had me sneaking runs to the punch bowl for her with strict instructions, “Don’t let anyone see you.”
     There were lots more: piano-playing Great-uncle Stanley, rich Great-aunt Portia, owner of restaurants and Buicks. They were great! Of course I wanted to live that long.
In Maine, in the small college town of Orono where I grew up and practiced flying with Susie, life went along at its usual pace. Practiced flying? We spent the Maine summers sitting on the front steps of her house or my house on Grove Street, trying to think of things to do. Of course the subject of flying came up.
     How come birds could fly and we couldn’t? We should be able to. Just have to flap our arms fast enough, so we took turns jumping off the top step – there were only three – and imagined we were flying to the ground. Never quite made it past the bottom step.
     When I mentioned living to a hundred last week, Susie e-mailed me. “I always said I’d live to a hundred, too. Could that be a Grove Street thing?” So that’s it! I thought, as I e-mailed back and said we’d have to celebrate our hundredth birthdays together. That would require a cross-country trip for one of us: Maine to California.
     I have to admit, that hundredth isn’t as far off as it used to be; it’s not like we’re in our twenties. She answered back, “Yes we will. I think mine comes first! We can fly off the steps together!”
I can hardly wait! Ohhh… maybe I can…


July 02, 2015
I’ll Do It Tomorrow
Good thing I plan to live to a hundred. That should give me time to get everything done that I put off ’til tomorrow. Diet? Tomorrow’s good. Oh! The barbecue’s tomorrow. Better wait ’til Monday. Monday it is.
I’m not the only one in the family going on a diet. Paul and Christy won’t be chowing down on juicy cheeseburgers or slurping spoonfuls of ice cream with chocolate sauce dripping off to tempt me. They’re both on the Medifast diet. Paul just started; Christy’s been on it for a while. If they can do it, I can do it. I need to get rid of fifteen pounds if I ever want to get into those clothes hanging in the closet waiting.
But I’m not up to the Medifast regime. I like regular food too much and besides, I have a diet that works. Doctor-approved! Sort of… When I told him about my rather bizarre diet I sure didn’t expect him to approve of it, but wonder of wonders, he said, “If it works for you…” Which I took as being his blessing. So I’m ready to start again, on my proven, doctor-blessed…
“Dessert Diet.” The name’s a bit misleading - but catchy. I love the look on people’s faces when I order a cinnamon apple crisp a la mode instead of dinner and someone asks what I’m having for dinner and I say, “Just dessert. I’m on a diet.”
I happened upon this diet by chance. I was working downtown and didn’t have a lot of time to think about food. One morning I had my usual orange juice at home and a cup or two of coffee when I got to work. Maybe three cups… Around lunchtime I walked to a tucked-in-the-wall market in Little Italy, not far from the office, where an interesting “Sweet and Salty” granola bar caught my eye. The bananas looked inviting, too. I bought the granola bar and the biggest banana on the shelf. On the way back to the office I stopped at the café on the corner for their largest iced tea. The tea lasted all afternoon; it filled me up when I got those hunger pangs that come mid-afternoon and late afternoon and… well, you know – all the time.
That evening we ate out with friends. I was starved! So I did what anyone would do when she’s starved: I ordered a banana split. Mmmm. So-o-o-o satisfying. I didn’t eat a thing that evening after I got home. A record for me. Evening’s my worst snacking time.
The next morning I stepped on the scale, as I always do. Ohmigosh! I lost a whole pound! In one day! Wow – I can do this again. And I did. And I lost another pound. Obviously I couldn’t go on for long like this but hey, I was losing pounds. To make sure I could last another week or two, I would need snacks. I chose peanuts – protein, and I love them - and carrot sticks – a vegetable and nice and crunchy. So orange juice, coffee, granola bar, large banana and large iced tea – with peanuts and carrot sticks for snacks – kept me happy until… dessert time! No restrictions. Any dessert allowed.
The thought of dessert kept me true to my daily regime and eating a scrumptious dessert made me feel full all evening so I wasn’t tempted to snack. But if I was, there were always the peanuts and carrots. I lost ten pounds and kept the weight off for well over a year.
That was four years ago. Of course the pounds came back eventually. I tried going back on the Dessert Diet a couple of times, but I didn’t last more than a day or two. Too easy to say I’d do it later. This time I’m serious. Time’s running out. I don’t want to wait ’til I’m a hundred to get back my slim, trim figure.    


June 25, 2015
Too Many E-mails
     Who needs three e-mail accounts? Not me. E-mail isn’t used that much anymore; everyone texts, tweets and IMs - sends Instant messages. Who needs e-mail?
Me? Not a lot, but when I need it, I need it. However, I sure don’t need three e-mail accounts. Having two accounts comes in handy – I’ll explain that later.
     Like most everyone, I started out with Cox.net many years ago. Somewhere along the line I signed up for Google’s Gmail. I don’t remember why. It was there; it was free… When we moved to a new house, I changed to AT&T for my Internet provider and they required me to sign up for e-mail service, so now there were three.
     I stopped using Cox altogether – except for once a month when I went to delete the hundreds of e-mails that landed uninvited in my Cox account. They came from every catalogue I’d ever ordered from and every website I’d ever visited and – well, you know.
     Sometimes I’d spot an e-mail sent weeks ago from a good friend who was still using my Cox e-mail address. I’d quick send a reply giving my Gmail address and asking her or him to delete the Cox address.
     But one day my replies wouldn’t go out. One of those boxes you don’t love to see kept popping up, asking for my password. I tried every password I’ve ever used. Didn’t help. The box kept fading away and reappearing. The only way I could get out of the loop was to shut down my computer – which told me to close the program still running before it would shut down or I’d lose everything. I guess I lost everything…
     AT&T took care of the problem that time but the other day it started up again - this time on my iPhone. Like you, I have my e-mails connected to my cell, but only AT&T and Gmail. No way I wanted the deluge of e-mails coming through the Cox account to clog up my iPhone.
     No e-mails were coming in or going out on my cell. This was disastrous! A body can’t live without e-mail on her phone – e-mail that works, preferably. You can’t text or IM everything. Well, maybe you can. Maybe you’re savvier than I am, but for me drastic measures were called for…
     That meant calling tech support. When I had a few hours to spare I called AT&T; got quickly to the right person, thankfully, and put her on speaker. She asked me to turn on my computer and click the box that would let her into my home and give her the right to mess around in my computer. Having no choice, I clicked on the box and then watched her alien cursor flitting across my screen. While she was there I asked if she could delete the Cox e-mail. With a cyber-wave of her techno-wand, Cox was gone, along with eight or nine hundred unread e-mails.
     Back at my cell all was well again. E-mails were coming and going. I asked the AT&T rep what could’ve happened to cause all that - I hadn’t touched anything; I hadn’t made any changes to my e-mail settings. She said since I had both Cox and AT&T e-mails in Outlook, possibly Cox had recently made some software updates that changed my e-mail settings. Kind’a makes you wish for the days when you were the only one who could do stuff to your computer and phone.
     So now there are two. E-mail accounts. Since Paul – you remember him – doesn’t have a computer, I use the AT&T account for his Starbucks messages, which are mostly telling him he’s earned a free drink reward on his gold card. My Gmail account gets the free drink messages for me. That way I know whose gold card to use when we go to Starbucks. E-mail remains a vital and important part of our life.     


June 18, 2015
Serial Eaters
     Serial is defined by Merriam Webster as “performing a series of similar acts over a period of time…” so eating breakfast, lunch and dinner over a lifetime qualifies as serial eating, wouldn’t you think?  Most of us start the day with serial breakfast eating and for many of us this involves cereal eating.
     No oatmeal. Oatmeal’s too gooey. 
     Cereal has to be wake-you-up crispy. You have to eat it quick, before the milk soggies it up. Unless you’re an egg scrambler or a pancake lover or must have your oatmeal, you’re probably a serial cereal eater. In which case there are a few facts you should know. These facts are readily available in fine print somewhere on the cereal box, but I thought I’d save you the trouble.
     Due to circumstances beyond my control I’ve been forced to eat breakfast at home a lot lately. Since pouring cereal in a bowl, adding milk and sprinkling sugar over the top beats scrambling eggs and frying bacon and making a mess with pans to clean up and bacon grease all over the stove, I’ve become a serious serial cereal eater.
I love Raisin Bran. The fact that it’s good for your health is a bonus, but lately my taste for Raisin Bran has been fading and I find myself reaching for the Rice Krispies box. When the empty Rice Krispies box lands in the recycle bin, I resort to my son’s favorite cereal, Frosted Flakes. I never was much of one for corn flakes but much to my surprise, Frosted Flakes hit a tasty note on my palate and the next day I couldn’t wait to have another bowl of Frosted Flakes.
     My cereal box studies uncovered a few glaring inconsistencies. Comparing cereal to cereal isn’t all that easy. You read the tiny letters and see that Raisin Bran has 190 calories – not counting the milk calories. Who eats Raisin Bran without milk? I’m not planning to try it, so add 40 calories for milk. And make that skim milk – two percent reduced fat. The box doesn’t say how many calories whole milk adds. You’ll have to check it out on the milk carton.
     Without milk, Raisin Bran has 190 calories. Ha! Frosted Flakes only has 110! And Rice Krispies comes in-between with 130 calories. If you eat one of those fake cereals that want you to think you’re eating oreo cookies or graham crackers, I can’t help you. I’m not a fan of eating stuff that tastes like something else. You’ll have to read your own box.
     Nothing is what it says it is. Turns out comparing calories isn’t as easy as reading a box label. If you look real closely like I did when I embarked on this project, you’ll see you’re not comparing cereal to cereal. Some basic math is going to be required if you want the true facts, because…
One serving of Raisin Bran, according to the box, is one cup. We’re good so far. One serving of Frosted Flakes, however, is not one cup. It’s three-fourths of a cup. And Rice Krispies considers one serving to be one and one-fourth cups. So if you’re comparing nutrients and calories of your favorite cereals, wake up early and bring your calculator to breakfast.
     As a favor, I’ve done the math for you on the calories. One cup of Raisin Bran is 190 calories. That was easy. One cup of Frosted Flakes is 146.66667 calories and one cup of Rice Krispies is 104 calories. On the other hand, you could just measure out one and one-fourth cups of Rice Krispies or three-fourths of a cup of Frosted Flakes or one cup of Raisin Bran and the box will tell you exactly how many calories and how much of your daily required nutrients you’re getting.
     A little warning: one cup of cereal is not very much.


June 11, 2015
Watt?
     CFLs, light bulbs and more! Watt’s up? I’m trying to buy a lamp and the specs say it has a 13 watt CFL bulb and I don’t know how light a 13 watt CFL bulb is and I need to read with this lamp on my nightstand and nowhere in the specs does it say how many watts – regular watts – a 13 watt CFL bulb gives off and I’m doing this online so I can’t ask the nearest salesperson who probably wouldn’t know anyhow so I’ve no choice but to leave the site and go Google CFLs and watts and see what comes up.
     I had my disaster with CFLs last month when I decided to replace the standard bulbs in the ceiling fan with brighter, more efficient bulbs and ended up with CFLs that the package said had the equivalent of 100 watts on a standard bulb. I replaced the first of the four bulbs, turned on the light and wow! The CFL bulb shone bright refrigerator white light so strong it nearly blinded me. I had three more bulbs. Could I live with that much light?
     They cost enough; the least I could do was try, so I unscrewed another of the standard bulbs and screwed in another 100 watt equivalent CFL. Turned on the switch. Strange… Only one CFL bulb came on. The first one came on, but not the second one. Maybe the second one was defective. I took it out, set it on the granite countertop and went to get another CFL out of its package.
     Crash! The bulb rolled over off the countertop and landed on the tile floor. Seven bucks. That’s the first thought I had. After I swept up all the pieces I could find, I put a standard bulb back in the socket to make sure that socket was still working.
     It wasn’t. Working. And now the first CFL wasn’t coming on either. Looks like I single-handedly ruined an entire ceiling fan light. I scooted the stepstool over, stepped up and put back the two standard bulbs. Turned on the switch –
     Lights came on! All four of them.
So anyway, about this 13 watt CFL bulb… Turns out 13 watts on a CFL equals 60 watts on a standard bulb. I ordered two of the lamps and they arrived and are sitting happily on my nightstands, giving off enough light for me to read by, for as long as I like.
     According to the cost comparison chart on the EarthEasy website, if I read for 50,000 hours, replacing standard bulbs with CFLs five times, I’ll save about $260 on electricity and the cost of the bulbs - for which I would’ve had to buy 42 bulbs if I bought the old kind. Thought you’d want to know that.
     Nothing’s simple. The chart had no standard bulbs - that I could see - and an unexpected intruder. What I got was a three-way chart showing LEDs, CFLs, and Incandescents. Turns out the Incandescents are the old light bulbs, with a fancy name. And LEDs, well -
     Just when I’m learning my CFLs, they bring up a newbie. Now I have to learn about LEDs and their wattages. No hurry – right now they’re too expensive to compete with CFLs.
     According to the report, CFLs are only temporary for energy-efficient lighting until LEDs get cheaper. The LEDs use ten watts, instead of twelve, to get 60 standard watts and you only need one bulb to get 50,000 hours of use – not five CFLs, not forty-two regular old light bulbs.
     I hope this information has been useful to you. I don’t normally do educational columns, but when I learned all this about light bulbs I thought it would be good to shed some light on watts and bulbs for you. It might come in handy next time you have to change a light bulb – especially the part about not setting a light bulb on a granite countertop.


June 4, 2015
Calling Up Your Car Keys
     Isn’t it neat, you can call up your phone when you lose it? You have to have an accomplice nearby, with her phone securely in hand; if you’re alone - well, you’re out of luck. You just called your sister ten minutes ago. Your cell has to be somewhere in the house, but where?
     On the chair by the door? Nope. Maybe you left it in the bathroom. What? You never take your phone in the bathroom? Remember that time you were expecting a call from your cable provider? Ha! Gotcha! But it isn’t there, either. Luck’s with you – you’re son’s in his room, firmly attached to his iPhone. He calls your cell and sure enough, the musical notes “ching-ching” merrily as you follow them to the TV room, dig down deep into the sofa cushions and – cell phone found!
     How come you can’t do this with your car keys? You promised to meet your cousin at ten and it’s nine forty-five and your keys aren’t where they’re s’posed to be and if you could call them up… You can’t. Sorry. Technology has only advanced so far – no calling your car keys.
     The TV ads show all these amazing things you can do: you can watch your dog play in the yard while you’re at work twenty miles away; you can turn off the lights you left on this morning; you can see if your teenage daughter’s car is still in the driveway so you can call and tell her she’s going to be late to school. But you can’t call up your car keys.
     Darn! Now you’re going to have to think. Think where you last had them. Think where in the house you’ve been since you got out of the car last night. Think where you sometimes leave them when you’re not remembering to put them on the entryway table like you always do.
Whew! Too much thinking! Eventually you’ll find your keys because it’s too much bother to not find them – and expensive. Those keys don’t come cheap – they’re like little computers with their remote opening, closing and locking of doors.
     Well, if car keys are like little computers, why can’t you call them up with your cell? Don’t ask me. I’m not a cyber guru. Except, if I were to take a guess, I’d say it’s for one of two reasons: either there’s not enough Consumer Demand, or more likely, those cyber techs never lose their car keys. Okay, I don’t believe that last part, either.
     And what about that lost sock of yours? If you could call up your socks – have a special ringtone for them – you wouldn’t have to dig through the dirty laundry looking for that sock with the brown and green stripes. How about you tech gurus following up on that? I’m sure you’ve lost a matching sock now and then. Just insert a tiny computer chip with an assigned phone number in the toe – or the heel – of all your socks and off we go! Sock’s ringing, under the bed, right where you left it last week.
     And glasses! They would be easy to put a chip in. No, not drinking glasses… those are always in the cupboard or the dishwasher and if you lose one, there are always more sitting around. But eyeglasses, sunglasses – that’s a whole different story.
     You’re at Hard Rock Café and about to pay the bill but your hundred dollar sunglasses aren’t on the table where you left them and it’s too dark in here to see if they fell to the floor. If you could call them up and hear them ringing, you’d find them – right there on top of your head where you pushed them when you walked in.
     We really only need one chip. We can Velcro it onto whatever we’re planning to lose. A word of caution, however: better give it a phone number you can’t forget.


May 28, 2015
Fast. Fun. Easy
     The last time I used the self checkout at Walmart I set my eyebrow pencil in its plastic-impossible-for-humans-to-open packet on the glass scanner. Ching! The screen noted the item and I whisked it away, into the bag at the side of the scanner. Stuck a ten dollar bill in the easy-to-find slot, got my change and smiled at the people still waiting in lines at the regular checkout counters.
     Today, I was in a real hurry so I went straight to the self checkout on the second level - no waiting in line there. I scanned the towel; I scanned the three washcloths – one at a time, you can’t scan one and tell the machine to record it three times like they can at the regular registers; I scanned the hand towel and then I scanned the puffy, beige, light-as-a-feather toss pillow. The towels and washcloths went easily into the plastic bags at the side of the scanner; the pillow was a bit of a tussle. It was the same size as the bag and kept popping out when I got one corner of it in. That’s when the real trouble started.
     You can’t talk to scanners. You can’t tell them you DID put the item in the bag, it just wouldn’t stay in. But they talk to you. With absolute certainty, from their powerful perch on the screen. “Put the last item in the bag.” I did! I stuffed the pillow into that bag with a vengeance and finally it stayed put. So there!
     Not satisfied, the scanner changed its message. “There is an unbagged item on the scanner. Bag the item now.” I wanted to pay and get out of there but I couldn’t – not until the message cleared. I took the pillow out of the bag and set it back on the scanner and stuffed it back in the bag where IT HAD BEEN BAGGED. The message remained: “There is an unbagged item on the scanner. Bag the item now.” I tried re-scanning one of the washcloths to wake up the machine but it didn’t work so I did what anyone would do –
I looked for an Attendant. As I turned around, I noticed a lady across from me, standing at another self checkout machine. Everything was in bags and it looked like she was finished but she looked frustrated - like she didn’t know what to do next. She was staring at the place on the machine that gives you your receipt – and then she started looking around, too. Just like me.
     There were three Attendants – at least they looked like Attendants – standing over at the other end of the checkout aisle. None were facing us; they were in a tight circle, talking animatedly to each other. The lady across from me waved at them. They didn’t see her. I waved both arms at them. They didn’t see. We called. We called louder.
Finally one of the Attendants came over. She went to the customer across from me – who, it turned out, was waiting for her receipt. It wasn’t coming out of its hole. The other two Attendants kept talking and not looking. I was even more in a hurry now - almost desperate enough to go downstairs and wait in line. But the scanner was still convinced I hadn’t bagged that pillow – or else that I had something else that I hadn’t bagged. I’m not a mind reader.
     The Attendant was still wrestling the other customer’s receipt out of the ink-splotted roll of tape. When she got it out she came over to my machine, waved her wand over the scanner and that was that! Whatever wasn’t bagged was recorded as bagged and I paid and hurried off to pick up my son...
When I got home, I noticed the receipt was labeled: “Self Checkout.” Strange… I didn’t know they specially labeled them. And then I read the line below, “Fast.Fun.Easy.” Huh???


May 20, 2015
Sounds More Like a Beer
     It was gonna be my birthday in a couple of days so I figured I’d splurge and get one of those coffee pots except it isn’t really a coffee pot because it only makes one cup of coffee and anyway it’s called a Keurig Brewing System which sounds more like a beer than coffee but I guess coffee is brewed, too, so that’s okay. Anyway I ended up getting a Mr. Coffee, not a Keurig, because when I went on Amazon.com the Mr. Coffee cost less than the Keurig and it claimed to do the same thing and the reviews for Mr. Coffee were one star more glowing than for the Keurig so I ordered Mr. Coffee and couldn’t wait to get it and save myself all the trouble of measuring out the coffee grounds and emptying the messy wet grounds after the coffee brewed and well, I just wanted one!
     Mr. Coffee arrived the next day with a sample package of those tiny K-cups that look like creamer cups plus I ordered an extra variety pack so I’d be sure to have enough for everyone at my birthday celebration. The little K-cup – well, you prob’ly know, but in case you don’t, that little K-cup is filled with coffee grounds and you put it in the jaws of the brewer contraption and shut them. Inside, tiny steel blades poke holes in the top and bottom of the K-cup so the water can drip through, except it doesn’t drip it runs really fast through the K-cup and into the coffee cup you set below. I hope you did or you’re going to have a mess all over your countertop.
     I had to fight to get Mr. Coffee out of its box. The molded Styrofoam wouldn’t let go. Five minutes later I won the tug of war and plunked Mr. Coffee on my countertop to wait for further instructions.
     Plugging it in was easy. That’s when I noticed the “Keurig Brewed” label on the front. What? I ordered a Mr. Coffee! Oh, okay - “Mr. Coffee” is embossed in black on the jaws of the brewer. Did I mention I was born in Brewer? Prob’ly not, but I was. Brewer, that’s in Maine, near Bangor and if you don’t know where that is, either, that’s okay.
     So now I was ready to try a cup of coffee to see if it was as good as the coffee my son and daughter-in-law brewed for me in their bona fide Keurig Brewing System a few months ago. It took a while to decide which K-cup to use; the variety pack had everything from Donut House, McCafe, Paul Newman, Starbucks and more...
     I forget which one I chose but after I popped it into the jaws of the brewer, I realized I needed to fill the reservoir with water and then I couldn’t get the dang thing out of its slot. I pulled harder and harder until I gave up and read the instructions. “Remove Water Reservoir,” it said. Thanks…I tugged again. Oops! Lift-off!
     The coffee was delicious but then I didn’t know how to turn off the pot - um, brewer - because I couldn’t find an “off” button. Nothing about an “off” button in the instructions so I yanked the plug out. That worked. Then I noticed the “Helpful Hints.” Point one: “Keep your Brewer turned “ON” at all times.” I really didn’t want to do that so I kept reading and there it was - in the fine print: an “Auto-Off Timer Feature” that turns the brewer off two hours after your last brew: “Follow the instructions on page 12.” A bit tricky… you hold down the Serving Size Button and the Brew Button together for five seconds. The buttons will flash. Be ready to count – they flash really quick!            Two flashes for activated; five flashes for de-activated.
     I’ve got it all under control now. Stop by for a brew next time you’re in the neighborhood…


May 14, 2015
Secrets of The Dashboard
      I accidentally poked the black knob next to the clock settings on the dash of my Mazda6. “ALC Level 0” flashed on the electronic display. Huh? What’s ALC? I’m driving, can’t stop. I’ll check the manual when I get home.
     Of course I forgot. Good thing I did because months later, when I did remember, I was overwhelmed with WTMDI – Way Too Much Dashboard Information.
Meanwhile, having discovered this ALC knob, I began experimenting. Only at stop lights, of course. I tried turning the knob. “Level 0” became “Level 1.” And look at this! It goes all the way to Level 6! What have I been missing out on? What th’ heck is ALC?
     When the signal light turned green, I pressed the knob to end my exploring. But “BASS” flashed on the display screen. Oops. The knob wasn’t done with me. Everyone knows what BASS is - it gives that singer on the CD a deep sexy voice! I waited eagerly for the next red light to see what else lay behind the knob.
     At the next light – yes, red - I turned the knob to the right. Oh! Look! “BASS” has six levels, too. Not only that… When I turned the knob back to zero, it didn’t stop; it went all the way to negative six. Stripped that singer of his manhood!
     This is getting good. Like I have my own music studio. I pressed the knob again. This time I got “TREBLE,” but I had to stop fiddling with the knob because I was running out of red lights.
     At home in the driveway I continued my research. “TREBLE,” as expected, went up six levels and down to negative six. I pressed the knob twice more and up came “FADE,” and then “BAL,” each with multiple settings. I turned the knob on “FADE.” “FR” appeared and the music moved over to the front right of the car – no, not outside, inside.  “FR” has 8 levels and then there are “RR,” “FL” and “FR,” eight settings each. You know what “BAL” is…
     Next up… “BEEP.” This knob is amazing! How much more is there? Everyone knows what a BEEP is – but why would you want to BEEP? Two settings: “ON” and “OFF.” The manual enlightened me – the beep is for when I turn on and off the audio system, in case I wasn’t paying attention. Well, forget that. I don’t want any beeping when I turn on the music. I might miss a beat.
     “ILLM EFT,” “Welcome,” and “BT Setup” were next. “ILLM EFT” was obvious: illumination and electronic funds transfers so you can make smart moves in the stock market. Whoops! Nothing here about electronic funds transfers and the illumination is for the audio system. You can turn the lights on or off. Why would anyone turn them off? Don’t you want to see what you’re hearing?
     All you audio techies are thinking what an audio ignoramus I am. But so it is. Anyway, moving on to “BT Setup,” as soon as I saw the word “Bluetooth,” I understood. I do know what a Bluetooth is, but I still didn’t know what the “ALC Level” was. Fortunately, Chapter 6, Verse 29 of the 2012 Mazda6 Owner’s Manual blew away my ignorance. Of course! “ALC” is Automatic Level Control. How stupid of me! It tracks how fast I’m driving and adjusts the audio level and sound quality to my speed. Adjusting the audio level I get, but the sound quality? How do I get the best sound quality? Do I need to go faster or slower? Come to a complete stop? Plus there are six settings, which completely baffles me. Either it tracks me or it doesn’t. How can it track me less - or more?  
     I have some hands-on work ahead of me. The dash is full of unknown treasures I’ve never met, used or abused, but I’m sure the manual will explain it all before the car wears out.


Final Installment of 'Paul's World' Series

May 7, 2015
Summing It Up
      When Paul and I started on this journey into “Paul’s World” with you last summer, we had no idea we’d be taking you through a major surgery and months of recovery. The intent was to give you a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a disabled person – and to let you get to know Paul.
     I think we did that. If you’ve been following Paul, you know him pretty well by now. You know he’s enthusiastic and that he wishes he could drive. You know he was born with cerebral palsy and doesn’t cue into “normal” social signals. You know he’s a friendly guy who likes to make people happy and that he wants to get married and have a family.
     You know he’s sensitive and wants to be treated “like a normal person; ” that he knows immediately if someone talks to him like he’s not too smart or talks “over him” to whomever he’s with. You know he loves God and feels very much loved by God; that he talks to Him often and to his family and friends in heaven.
     Still, there are some things about Paul that he and I didn’t share quite so freely. Being optimists and “cup half-full” people, we tend to leave out the tougher times, so we’ve probably given you the impression that Paul’s life is much smoother than it really is.
     Yes, we told you about his frustrations. But we didn’t tell you about the waking up at night, angry or scared, refusing to get back in bed and blaming his troubles on someone else - or blaming me for his sore shoulder because I made him do the exercises. But then I would have had to tell you about his sweet, heartfelt apologies the next morning and every day for days afterwards - always telling me he loves me very, very much.
     But apologies given later don’t help when he’s stubborn and angry. There were days during his recovery from surgery that I thought I couldn’t go on, that I couldn’t handle all of his needs – both physical and emotional. I’m sure many of you who have loved ones to care for understand.
     Having said that, Paul hasn’t been alone in getting angry. I had my days, too - usually when he needed me most. Then it’s my turn to apologize. I’m not trying to confess all our sins here; I just think maybe it’s good to let it all out – the good and the bad. Fortunately God helped us through many a tough time.
     The best advice He gave me was one night not long ago. I was crumbling, falling apart, saying, “I can’t do this.” Often God teasingly addresses me as “Ms. Fix-it…” because I’m so sure I can fix everything for everyone. On this particular night He didn’t call me Ms. Fix It; He told me to lower my expectations – of myself and of Paul.
     I did. Peace returned to earth.
     These days Paul is recovering his strength and coordination far more rapidly than he was two months ago. He gets in and out of the car now; that frees us up immensely and life is beginning to feel normal.
     Best of all, Paul is getting back to being himself: fun-loving, a big tease, happy and full of love. Yes, grumpy, too – but not often, now that the fear is gone. And once he’s walking again, all he’ll have to deal with are the usual frustrations of a guy with cerebral palsy who doesn’t recognize “normal” social cues. He can to that.
     Now that you know Paul pretty well, this column brings the “Paul’s World” series to an end. Next week we return to the lighter “Up Against It” columns about everyday life.If you want more about Paul, let us know. Plans are to put “Paul’s World” in a book and it’s possible we’ll continue with more about Paul in the future. 


April 30, 2015
'Paul's World'

Fitting In Is Good If…
   Paul sits in his wheelchair in the waiting room, his neck ensconced in a blue and white neck brace. A few seats away, the white-haired gentleman waiting with his wife asks Paul if he was in an accident. Since the doctor whose office we’re waiting in is an infectious disease doctor, the unspoken question is “What kind of disease requires a neck brace?”
   The infectious disease doctor became involved when bacteria showed up in a blood culture after Paul’s neck surgery, leading the doctor to suspect the newly-installed titanium plates were infected. Paul’s visit today was to bring those concerns to a close - no infection during or after two months of intravenous antibiotics and the antibiotic-free four weeks following that.
   All this was too much to explain, but Paul was happy to tell all about his neck surgery: the three compressed discs and his time in the hospital and rehab. As he told his story, I could see the couple listening intently and asking questions. He told them he felt like he’d been through a war.
   I observed that he “fit in” perfectly: a young man telling a couple of strangers about his neck surgery. But I wasn’t surprised when he continued talking, telling these strangers more personal things about his experience: about the catheters that hurt so much and how he hated the diaper he had to wear after surgery.
   As Paul enthusiastically shared the more personal details of his hospital stay, I sensed the gentleman and his wife becoming a bit more cautious. I know Paul sensed it, too, because he stopped talking about his surgery and informed them, “I’m physically disabled.”
   He does this when he feels someone is thinking he’s “not normal,” or more to the point, not smart. By telling them he’s physically disabled, he assumes they’ll understand that he isn’t mentally disabled. I have to admit, I squirmed a little as he proclaimed once again, a little louder - in case they didn’t get it - “I’m physically disabled.” They smiled graciously. The sense that Paul “fit in” was gone.
   This led me, sitting in that waiting room that day, to think: What is normal? How do we, as humans of every kind, “fit in?” What is it we’re fitting into? There’s the coffee shop on the corner; there are associations for professionals; there are support groups for people with problems; there are religious groups, groups for seniors, theater groups and quilting clubs; there are groups for disabled people. Most of all, there are the everyday occurrences of life.
   Paul grew up in a “normal” family. What’s normal? Who knows? His life has always been full of “normal” experiences. Sure, he didn’t experience them quite the same way his brothers and sister did; he experienced them in his own special way. For whatever reason, from early childhood, he’s never “felt comfortable” (his words) in groups of disabled people; he’s comfortable in the regular scenes of life with all types of people. So does he “fit in?”
   Not in the way you or I fit in. But he makes it work. He fits in - in his own way. If it’s at the cost of people thinking he’s different, well that’s okay because he’s smart and he’s Paul and he’d rather be Paul than try to be “normal.” And if someone thinks he’s not quite smart, it hurts, but he can handle it.
   The most common reaction to Paul’s uninhibited conversational style is a smile and an unspoken realization that he’s different but he’s a nice guy and pretty sharp – and he’s fun. His compliments to strangers come from the heart; his sense of humor lightens the day; and his enthusiasm for the things he loves shines through his eyes. Who wouldn’t love a guy who greets you with an unexpected, “You look real pretty today” or “I like your haircut.”
   Fitting in is good, but being comfortable comes first.


   

With S. Buska

Up Against It

Sheila Buska is an author, columnist and long-time resident of East County. Send e-mail to Sheila at 4smbrks@gmail.com