Finding the Key

I may not be the tidiest and most organized person in the world. (Okay, based on the state of my desk, a photo of which I have NOT included here, an unbiased observer might conclude that I’m not even in the top ten percent of tidiest and most organized people in the world.) Still, I keep track of things reasonably well.

Things like car keys. I have had a driver’s license since 1967. I have owned cars and carried my own sets of car keys since 1970. I’ve kept careful track of every one of those keys. Even when it didn’t matter much, as in the case of the little white Datsun station wagon that could be started just as easily with the house key as the car key. (My then-teenaged son was the one to figure this out; I prefer not to know exactly how or why he made the discovery.)

In my entire driving history, I have never lost a car key. Until now.

I bought a new car last week, my third Honda CR-V. That’s “new” as in “2014, fresh off the lot, only 38 miles on the odometer” new. It’s the first time I’ve ever bought a car that somebody else didn’t own first. It feels luxurious to drive. It allows me to talk on my smart phone with its audio system. It has enough bells and whistles to be exciting, but is still familiar enough to be comfortable.

And, instead of browsing through the manual, learning how to use all the great technology this car offers, what have I spent my free time on since I’ve had this car?

Trying to find the second key for my previous car. In my defense, it’s my partner’s key rather than mine. But since he’s been gone all summer, I’m afraid the person responsible for that key vanishing from the top of his dresser has to be me.

The one place I know it can’t be is in the car. In getting it ready to sell, I cleaned the glove compartment, under the seats, under the floor mats, all the little compartments in the console, the cup holders and side pockets in all four doors, and the “hidden” drawer under the passenger’s seat. I found several fast-food napkins, two stray water bottles, three old tubes of lip balm, a peppermint, and seven pennies. No key.

I emptied out my purse and turned it inside out. I found cough drops and cough drop wrappers, unused but battered tissues, 57 cents in odd change, four faded store receipts, a few expired coupons, and two old grocery lists. No key.

I checked under and between the seat cushions in the couch, two recliners, and the rocking chair. I found a handful of lint, a nickel, an unexpected dollar bill, and an embarrassing amount of popcorn. No key.

I examined every reusable bag I routinely carry in my car, plus every reusable bag that’s ever been in my car. I checked the gym clothes bag, the library book bag, the craft/project bag, the big shopping bag, the small shopping bag, and the three string bags. No key.

I looked in every jacket, coat, and pair of pants in every closet in the house. By the time I got done, I had had my hands in more pockets than a Tammany Hall politician. No key.

But there’s still hope. I’m not ready to resort to this yet, but I know there’s one last strategy that’s sure to work. All I have to do is cough up $150 to make a new key. Within hours, like magic, the old one will turn up.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Arriving By Appointment

No waking people up in the middle of the night. No mad rush to get to the hospital on time. No inconvenient showing up when one member of the grandma support system was out of town. No fuss, no chaos, no drama.

Eden Lynn, a most considerate little person, arrived by appointment. She was scheduled to come into the world by C-section at 7:30 on Tuesday morning, and that’s exactly what she did. Quiet arrival or not, however, “no drama” isn’t the same as “no excitement.” Eden brought plenty of that with her, as well as lots of joy.

Truly, after the first dozen or so, it’s hard to find something new to say about a brand-new grandchild you’ve only just met. She’s beautiful. She’s precious. She’s sweet. It all begins to sound clichéd.

But that’s because it’s all so true. And because when it comes to meeting a tiny new person, words are simply not enough to describe the sense of awe and wonder. Getting to hold an hours-old grandchild, looking into blue eyes that are deep with mystery and innocent wisdom, is a privilege and a blessing. It’s a chance to participate in a miracle.

So far Eden seems to take the miracle of her arrival quite matter-of-factly. She appears to be a calm and relaxed little girl, looking around her with interest but no alarm even when she was only a few hours old.

As the youngest in a busy and active family, she’ll probably need all the calmness she can muster. Her big brother, just turned three himself, seems proud to have “two sisters!” He was uneasy, though, about the disruption in his world, with grandmas temporarily in charge while Mom and Dad were at the hospital. Things are better now, with everyone back at home. Or so he thinks. Poor kid, he has no idea that the disruption has only started.

Eden’s big sister, not quite two, pats the new baby in a vaguely approving manner when she gets the chance. I’m not sure she grasps the full implications of being bumped up from “baby sister” to “middle sister,” but it won’t take her long to figure it out.

And did I mention the two vociferous beagles? They probably won’t find the new baby all that interesting at first, but she’ll get their full attention once she gets old enough to spill food on the floor.

The household Eden has come into will be filled with noise, activity, and enough chaos to keep things interesting. It will also be filled with love, laughter, sharing, and support from an extended family thrilled to welcome this newest member.

Maybe that isn’t quite paradise. But it’s certainly close enough.

Categories: Family | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Hungry Caterpillar and the Yuck Factor

The tips of our tomato plants were missing. Well, okay, some tips of some branches of two plants.

At first we blamed the usual suspects, deer. A little munching from them is only to be expected. It’s a normal hazard for any tomato plant foolish enough to poke its limbs through the fence and wave them temptingly to the outside world.

But last week, we started seeing signs of munching that was clearly an inside job. No deer could reach that far inside the fence. Besides, it was a different MO. Deer browse their way along, taking a nibble here and a bite there. This critter ate everything in its path. The tender tips of several branches were completely gone. Leaves had disappeared, leaving nothing but rows of stumpy stems on bare branches. Worst of all, the inside halves of several green tomatoes had been sheared off.

This was serious, but once we started looking closely, it didn’t take long to find the culprits. Tomato worms. Big, fat, juicy green ones. Several inches long and as big around as my thumb. Yuck. I know, they’re really caterpillars, not worms. Still, yuck.

You wouldn’t think something that big would be hard to spot, but their green color is a perfect match for their surroundings. It’s amazing how much a fat green caterpillar can resemble a delicate tomato leaf. Finding them was an exercise in the value of camouflage.

Removal was something else again. The standard advice is to “pick them off,” but I didn’t want to touch anything with such a high yuck factor. My solution was to take my kitchen scissors and snip off the branch that held the intruder. Then, with the caterpillar still methodically munching, I carried the whole thing across the yard and flung it into the brush pile. (And yes, I washed the scissors.)

I know, in the interests of protecting the tomato crop, I should have squashed them. Or snipped them in half with the scissors. But I just couldn’t; they were way too juicy.

I have wondered, now and then, if an aversion to snakes and other creepy-crawly critters could be something we’re born with. An instinct, even, meant to protect us from things that might be poisonous. It would be such a good excuse for my extreme unwillingness to touch something like a tomato worm.

But I’m not sure that’s a valid theory. As evidence, there’s a family story about one of my cousins. When she was nine months old or so, not walking yet but able to do a lot of exploring on all fours, she was outside in the yard. Her mother saw her come crawling down the sidewalk, grinning. Well, probably grinning. It was hard to tell, because she was grinning around something clutched in her mouth—a fat, green, juicy tomato worm.

No yuck factor there, apparently. At least not that she was born with. So it must be something we learn. I bet, by the time her mother got the caterpillar out of her mouth, she had learned it very well.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: | 3 Comments

Playing With a Full Deck

When we were kids, our family was so frugal . . .

Cue chorus: “How frugal were you?”

We were so frugal, we only had two decks of cards.

At least, that’s how I remember it. They were the classic Bicycle cards, in the original cardboard boxes, which were kept in the top drawer of the china cabinet. They served us kids for countless games of Hearts and Old Maid, both of which left me with a lasting suspicion of the Queen of Spades. The grownups sometimes played Hearts, too, or poker for small change. (Side note to the unwary: keep your wits about you if you ever play poker with my mother.)

We played plenty of games of solitaire as well, which in my experience is a great way for a kid to learn the value of integrity. It may be easy to cheat when you’re the only one playing, but cheating takes all the fun out of winning. The biggest challenge with solitaire was to play a complete game without a sister looking over your shoulder to point out that you could have played that red seven on that black eight.

But no matter who was playing with them, when the games were over, the cards were put back into the boxes and back into the china cabinet. Those decks survived intact, jokers and all, for years. For all I know, the cards in the drawer today are the very same ones.

Another game that’s still in that drawer is the much-used Scrabble set. The box has been held together by a big rubber band for years now, but all the tiles are still there. Possibly because, a long time ago, my mother made a handy little drawstring bag to keep them in.

I’m not sure what my point is here; I certainly don’t want this to be a rant about how kids these days don’t know the value of things, blah, blah, blah. But I am a bit embarrassed to consider how many decks of cards I bought for my kids over the years. True, it was a different time. Cards were cheap, an impulse buy before a road trip or a little gift to drop into a Christmas stocking. But they never lasted long. First the jokers vanished, and then a stray ace or a six got lost, and pretty soon the rest went into the trash because you can’t play games when you’re a few cards short of a full deck.

It is true that the more stuff we have, the harder it is to keep track of it. Which sounds like a very good excuse for being the cheap grandma who doesn’t buy the grandkids a lot of toys.

But at least my Scrabble set, which came with its own bag, still has all the tiles.

Categories: Family, Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Who Ate My Homework?

At our recent family reunion, several of the kids (whose father says with pride, “Our kids are such nerds.”) discovered some tadpoles at the edge of the lake. They spent half their swimming time on the last afternoon catching the little critters and studying them. I assume the focus of their research was observing the stages tadpoles go through as they change into frogs.

I wasn’t there, but I wish I had been. It might have given me an opportunity to finish something I started a long time ago.

As a freshman in high school, I was much more interested in English and history than in science. So when I needed a project for the science fair, I didn’t exactly embark on any cutting-edge research. My plan was to capture a batch of tadpoles and preserve one in formaldehyde each day to show the progression of steps from tadpole to frog.

The ditch beside the road into our yard, filled with water from the spring rains, was a handy tadpole habitat. I scooped up an assortment of the unsuspecting critters and poured them into a gallon pickle jar. Then I fished out the first victim—er, research subject—and dropped it into a little jar of formaldehyde.

At this point, my Uncle Ernie intervened with a suggestion. Tadpoles kept in a pickle jar might not survive long enough to take their turns being sacrificed on the altar of science. He proposed putting them back out in the ditch in a sort of live trap. He helped me build one by tacking window screening around a peach crate, leaving the top open so I could easily fish out my research subjects. We settled it into the muddy ditch, and I dumped the tadpoles into it.

The next morning I went out to select the second volunteer to give its all to science.

The box was right where we had put it. It was still full of water, the screen around it was secure, and it didn’t appear to have been disturbed. But there wasn’t a single tadpole in it.

Apparently somebody, most likely a raccoon, had discovered the tempting tadpole buffet—not unlike the lobster tank at a seafood restaurant—and enjoyed a feast. My science experiment had turned into somebody else’s fine dining experience. I wonder if Charles Darwin ever had that problem?

I don’t remember why it wasn’t possible to simply catch a new batch of research subjects and start over. Maybe whoever ate my project also wiped out most of the remaining population. At any rate, I had to ditch the tadpole project and find something else for the science fair. Perhaps motivated by a desire to identify the culprit who ate my tadpoles, I did an exhibit on fingerprints instead.

Maybe I should have written up the experiment anyway, displaying the empty box, the one lonely pickled tadpole, and the sad story. After all, there are lessons to be learned from failed experiments as well as successful ones. And I did learn an important scientific principle from this experience. I now understand why, until they are ready to publish, scientists find it so important to keep a lid on their research.

Categories: Remembering When, Wild Things | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Freedom of Speech

It was certainly the most enjoyable time I’ve ever spent in a courtroom.

Recently we had a chance to attend a naturalization ceremony in Wyoming where eight people, including a friend of ours from Turkey, became U. S. citizens.

Swearing allegiance to a new country is surprisingly quick. The oath itself only took a few minutes. But the people in charge carried out the event with the ceremony it deserved. There was a short speech of welcome from the judge. A children’s chorus sang several patriotic songs, including all three verses of the national anthem. Maybe they were a bit wobbly on the high notes, but they knew all the words—unlike the rest of us, who sang along for the first verse and faded off into muted humming for the others. Representatives from the DAR, the VFW, the American Legion, the Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of other organizations welcomed the new citizens with smiles, handshakes, and gifts of flags, banners, and patriotic tokens in red-white-and-blue bags.

The whole event was welcoming and warm. It was friendly. It was moving. It was inspiring.

And it was missing something.

The judge, in his talk, referred to his own immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents. He told the new citizens how much their children and grandchildren would benefit from their decision to become part of the United States. Without saying so directly, he implied that life wherever they had come from must have been bad and life here would be ever so much better.

Maybe, for some of them, that was true. But I happened to know it didn’t apply to at least one of the new citizens. Our friend would have had a perfectly fine, middle-class life in Turkey. He came here to go to school, and now, with a Master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D., he may have more opportunities here. But I suspect much of the reason for his decision to become a U. S. citizen was sitting beside me in the courtroom—his American wife.

I also know he is a responsible, hard-working, honorable young man—the kind of person you’d be glad to have move into your neighborhood, your town, or your country.

And that’s the piece the judge had missed. Essentially, he said how lucky the immigrants were to be here But he forgot to add how lucky we were to have them.

So all the while I watched and listened to the presentations of the gifts, and the three verses of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the raising of right hands and swearing allegiance, the back of my mind was busy rehearsing what I wished the judge had said. What I would like to say if I had a chance. I imagined the judge asking if anyone had anything else to say. I imagined myself raising my hand and asking, “Your Honor, may I add something?”

We’ve probably all been in that situation. Sitting there, knowing something needs to be said, knowing just what should be said, and wishing someone would say it.

This time, someone did. After the last song, when the new citizens sat in front of their piles of red-white-and-blue gift bags, in that pause when an event is a heartbeat away from its conclusion, the judge asked, “Does anyone else have any words of welcome?”

And my hand went up without a second’s hesitation. I didn’t have to decide whether to act; I wasn’t nervous. In my mind, this had already happened, and my reaction was more like, “Oh, there’s my cue.”

I raised my hand and said, “Your Honor, may I add something?” He nodded. So I stood up and put in that missing piece. I thanked the new citizens for bringing their skills, their energy, and their hard work to the United States, and I told them we were grateful to have them here.

It was something that needed to be said. And on this particular occasion, I happened to be the person in the right place at the right time to say it.

One of the rights guaranteed to U. S. citizens, old and new, is freedom of speech. We have the right to say what we think, to criticize our elected officials, to express our opinions. Sometimes we exercise that right rudely, crudely, or loudly.

But like all rights, this one comes with obligations and responsibilities. Sometimes, freedom of speech goes beyond what we can say to what we should say. It means each of us, in a circumstance where “somebody should say something,” can be that somebody. Sometimes, freedom of speech means being the one to say the “something” that needs to be said.

Categories: Living Consciously | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Half a Bubble Off

Some people think in three dimensions. Give them a pile of vacation baggage over here and a car trunk over there, and they can stuff the former neatly and precisely into the latter before you can say, “I don’t think we have room for all this junk.” Sometimes, even, they have it done, with the blue overnight bag tucked into the deepest corner, before you can say, “I need to have my blue overnight bag on the top.”

There are several of these 3-D thinkers in my family, and very useful people they are, too. Especially for those of us who are not quite so spatially gifted. Oh, I can get the stuff into the trunk eventually—and I will remember to leave the overnight bag for last—but it will involve a certain amount of unloading and reloading, at least one broken fingernail or skinned knuckle, and the creative use of language.

Then there’s the whole right-left issue. I do know the difference between right and left, honestly. My right hand is the one I write with, and it’s on this side, so this side is right. And since this side is right, obviously the other side is—wait for it—left.

But if I’m rushed—such as being in a moving car in traffic in an unfamiliar town, and just because I’m holding the map the driver expects me to navigate, and he asks urgently, “Which way do we turn?” and I know, really I do, but sometimes what comes out of my mouth is “left,” when I mean “right,” or vice versa. I’ve learned it’s simpler just to point, and those near and dear to me, especially if they’re driving, have learned not to believe me unless I do.

This is just one of the spatial things that seem to make perfect sense to other people but don’t quite click for me. Another one is the simple carpenter’s level. I know that if the bubble is precisely between the lines the surface is level, and if the bubble is off to one side the surface is sloped. But I never can remember which way is up. If the bubble is off to that side (trust me, I’m pointing here), is that side high or low?

This has been explained to me, but so far none of the explanations have stuck. Which can sometimes cause difficulties.

For example: We were landscaping the slope beside our driveway with railroad ties. This involved digging dirt out at one end, putting dirt in at the other end, rolling the tie into place, checking it with the level, and repeating.

Railroad ties are heavy. By the third repositioning of the second one, I had a brilliant and back-saving idea. The tie was close to level. It was sitting on soft dirt. If a person applied weight and pressure—by jumping up and down, say—on the high end, it might pack the tie down enough so we didn’t have to move the damned thing one more time.

I tried it. It might have worked, too. Except for the minor detail that I was jumping up and down on the low end.

A fact I did not realize until I heard a strange noise and thought my companion was choking. When you’re trying to use logic and creative thinking to save your partner’s back from harm, it’s counter-productive when he laughs so hard he nearly hurts himself anyway.

Never mind. Just because the execution was a bit flawed doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea.

Later, we told some friends this story. After they finished laughing, she said, “The way I remember which end is high on a level is that the bubble always goes uphill.”

And just like that, the bubble gained a personality. It became a noble little critter, always seeking the high ground. Suddenly, an abstract idea turned into a story.

Oh. How simple. That’s the kind of third dimension I can remember.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: | 6 Comments

The Naming of Names

With all the bad publicity about the name of the team, it astonishes me that the Washington Redskins haven’t changed their name yet. Maybe the problem is trying to find a new name that won’t be received even more negatively than the old one. The Washington Politicians? The Washington Congress? Not likely to get high approval ratings.  The Washington Gridlock has a nice ring to it, though. There’s a hint of power and manliness about the Washington Filibusters. Or, if they want something ominous, meant to strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, how about the Washington Big Brothers?

It isn’t just sports teams. For several decades now, states and other governmental bodies have been working on changing place names that are offensive, historically inaccurate, or modern overlays of much older names. From McKinley to Denali National Park. From Custer Battlefield to Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.

But then there are other names that, oddly enough, no one seems to have a problem with. Like the Grand Tetons. There’s a name that would have been changed long ago if it were in English instead of French. Just try naming some mountains the “big breasts” today and see how far that gets you.

On second thought, though, maybe there’s another option, one that sports teams are already using. It’s based on the theory that, if you pay enough for the privilege, you can have your name on almost anything.

Instead of renaming, maybe the National Park Service should be looking at an untapped funding source—selling naming rights in the Grand Tetons National Park. “Maidenform Trail.” “Underwire Gulch.” “Lingerie Lake.” “Victoria’s Secret Uplift.” Since limited budgets are always a problem for national parks, there are possibilities here for a lot of support.

Then there are names that are certainly not offensive or inappropriate; they’re just boring. Like the Rocky Mountains. Really? Isn’t that a little obvious? Is it truly the best designation for some of the most spectacular scenery on the North American continent? If the person or persons who came up with that had been in charge, our maps would be full of designations like the Flat Plains, the Sandy Desert, or the Wet River.

Somebody should do something about that. They should look into options for something more dramatic. More descriptive. More exciting.

Like, say, the Black Hills.

Um. Well. Never mind.

Categories: Just For Fun, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

National What Day?

It wasn’t my fault, honest. Nobody told me in time. I didn’t find out until after breakfast that today was National Doughnut Day. By then, it was too late. I had already eaten a bagel.

Apparently, National Doughnut Day is more than just a marketing tool dreamed up by the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. It’s actually a marketing tool dreamed up by the Salvation Army back in the 1930’s.

Okay, that’s not quite fair. The day honors the efforts of Salvation Army volunteers who started serving coffee and donuts to soldiers in France during WWI. Their Salvation Army Huts represented a lot more than just a doughnut. The respite they provided must have been a blessing, and the women who made and fried all those treats became known as “Doughnut Dollies.” During WWII, the most widespread sources for coffee and doughnuts—thanks to the work of the next generation of Doughnut Dollies—were the Red Cross canteens.

Now that I know all this, I’m even sorrier to have missed the chance to observe National Doughnut Day. Though I guess there is still lunch. And midafternoon snack. And supper.

Or I could look ahead. I have some rhubarb in the freezer, just in time for June 9, which is National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day. Or, to think more broadly—in more than one sense of the word—June is also Candy Month.

There’s a special day for just about anything you can think of, and a lot of things you can’t imagine anyone thinking of. Yesterday, for example, was Hot Air Balloon Day. June 10 is Ball Point Pen Day, and June 13 is Sewing Machine Day. And today is also Gardening Exercise Day—a good thing, given all those doughnuts.

For anyone wanting to keep track of these things, you might check out It could help you avoid glaring mistakes like observing National Doughnut Day with an inappropriate bagel.

But I have a plan to make amends. I’m marking my calendar now. Next February 9, I’m having a doughnut for breakfast. Maybe two, since I missed out this year. February 9 is National Bagel Day.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Texting and Survival of the Fittest

Rapid City has just imposed a ban on texting while driving. This is probably a good thing, but for me it comes a little late. I have already been run over by someone who was texting.

The incident was clearly not my fault. I wasn’t doing anything life-threatening like running into traffic or crossing the street at a corner. I was right where a good law-abiding pedestrian ought to be: on the sidewalk.

Of course, so was the woman who ran over me. Did I mention that she wasn’t in a car at the time? She was walking.

I saw her coming a block away. She wasn’t a kid, but she was young; maybe in her 30’s. She was walking down the sidewalk toward me, along with a man about her age and a teenage girl. The three of them, of course, took up the whole sidewalk. Not a problem. I assumed they would do the polite pedestrian thing and drop into single file while we passed each other. As we drew closer, I did my part by moving to the right, so I was walking on the edge of my side of the sidewalk.

I could see that the woman was looking at her phone, but I assumed she was also paying some attention to her surroundings. Silly me.

Just as we were about to meet, the girl veered off to her right and headed across the street. The woman finally glanced up from her phone as she turned to say something to the girl.

And that’s when she hit me. Her elbow got me right in the solar plexus, which was uncomfortable as well as surprising.

What was equally surprising to me was how surprised the woman was. She had been so focused on her phone that she had no idea I was mere inches away from her until she ran over me. Her “radar,” that warning sense we have when someone approaches our personal space, was totally disengaged.

I’m sure that warning sense has been crucial in helping humans survive all kinds of predators and evolve into the technologically advanced beings we are today. But as we continue to evolve, I’m not sure where our technology will take us. This woman was so completely unaware of her surroundings that she was at serious risk. A mountain lion would have considered it poor sportsmanship to grab her.

She didn’t apologize for running over me, either. Possibly because she was still focused on her phone—in dismay, this time. When she hit me, she had dropped it onto the sidewalk, where it exploded into several pieces.

I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel the least bit sorry.

Categories: Living Consciously, Odds and Ends | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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