Thursday, November 23, 2017

A different kind of holiday memory

Shortly before the actual holiday, I was given the opportunity to share something about a Thanksgiving that was memorable to me. It happened in front of my fellow Toastmasters members at our recent meeting, during a session called Table Topics, where you are asked to speak spontaneously in response to a question. Nobody is prepared for the query, but I was even less prepared for the first thing that popped in my head as an answer.

“This is going to sound pretty ironic,” I began slowly, “but the Thanksgiving that was most memorable to me was ten years ago this Thanksgiving while I was in the hospital with a diagnosis of Leukemia.”

Naturally, there was a hush in the room. I knew I had to continue because that’s a heck of a way to start off a memory. For the next few minutes I was transported back to my hospital room where Spouse, our girls, my sister and my parents gathered around a long table the nurses had enthusiastically set up when they heard about our impending meal. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner had been prepared by my family in my little kitchen at home and driven to Maine Medical Center where I had been receiving treatments for two weeks by then. The enticing scent of turkey and stuffing filled the room, providing almost a sense of normalcy to the setting. We sat together eating, joking, soaking in our closeness.

This story wasn’t an easy one to tell because that Thanksgiving was the last memory I had of a lengthy hospital stay. There were complications, an unexpected, rapid decline, and a long, arduous road to recovery. But recover I did, and there I stood last week acknowledging this odd anniversary to a room of acquaintances who were probably expecting a story about an uncooked turkey or a snowstorm that threatened dinner. A feast in the confines of a hospital room would not have been on their radar.

Thanksgiving of 2007 was not my finest hour, but it was my family’s greatest, most selfless act of love and support. Their presence and all they did to find the positive in a difficult situation was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Every November, crisp fall scents and plummeting temperatures are a penetrating reminder of where I was then. I don’t always remember to be grateful for all that I have when those flashes of the past resurface. But this year it’s different, thanks to a simple question. Ten years is significant and worth celebrating. Ten years makes it worth remembering.

By the time you have a chance to read this, Thanksgiving may be over. The parade, the food, the family gatherings and the football games will already be history. Maybe you sat around your table a few days ago and shared what you are thankful for. Perhaps you dug into buttery mashed potatoes along with loved ones you only get to see a few times a year at most, grateful for this gathering. Hold on to that feeling of gratitude a little longer. Hold onto the memory of siblings arguing over the last piece of pie, the smell of burned potatoes, or a crooked cornucopia the six-year-old made for a centerpiece. You may be thankful for something only you can understand. It could happen… just as it did ten years ago when thankfulness surrounded a hospital room.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The resurrection of winter wear

Winter is not my enemy. I’m more of a cold weather fan than of the humidity and intolerable heat of summer. If anything might make me shiver, it’s going through the dreaded hat and mitten box. We all have them – those bottomless containers where gloves, mittens, scarves and hats from 1983 are still stored. Right around this time of year I drag the whole box out of the hall closet, attempt to match gloves back up, ask myself several times why there are seven different single gloves, toss the ones that are missing fingers before Spouse says those are his ‘good’ gloves, and wash everything else. I roll the scarves and place them neatly on one side, put the hats in the middle and layer the mittens and gloves on the other side. It looks like a department store display.

As soon as that first hand digs in for scarves, gloves, or hats, my neatly organized collection resembles the aftermath of a going out of business sale.

A couple of years ago I fell in love with big, fluffy, blanket scarves after seeing one that Second Born purchased in Budapest on her study abroad. Ironically, she got it at H&M instead of some unique Hungarian shop. I didn’t care where she found it, as long as I found one under the Christmas tree when she returned home (I did). The problem with blanket scarves is that they are, well, like a blanket. That equals about four regular scarves, a couple of hats and at least half a dozen wandering gloves.

I crammed that sucker into the box anyway. It pretty much blanketed everything else, making it even more of a challenge to find a winter cap that still fit. Eventually I got the hint and moved it to a hanger so I can grab it without swooping up several other items at the same time.

Then there is the rest of the closet. I have three winter jackets hanging in our hall closet. One of them fits but the zipper isn’t always cooperative and the pockets are ripped. Another jacket doesn’t really fit – it’s more of a ‘wish’ jacket. The third is… was my favorite. I got one year out of it when a nail snagged my arm and ripped a gash in an arm. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, I know. Someone should be able to repair it. There are plenty of seamstresses around here. Yes, there are – and not a one of them wants feathers anywhere near their business.

The first place I walked into with my jacket in two and the offending hole taped securely closed, the owner just about chased me out, saying she had prom and wedding dresses everywhere and could NOT afford to deal with feathers.

I didn’t even try to just show up with the offending piece of clothing for the second seamstress. I called first to ask if she would be willing to look at it.

“No! No-no-no – no feathers.” Well, all-righty then.

This year is going to be The Year of Winter Wear Renewal. Once I collect everything that is no longer used and donate it elsewhere, we’ll have more room and others will get good use of those kid-size caps and Grandma’s knitted mittens. Then we’ll realize we have nothing to wear, so naturally, the box will be refilled with new stuff. I refuse to get a bigger box because then I’d need a bigger closet to put it in, which leads to needing a bigger house.

I guess it’s cheaper to keep pushing down on that pile and deal with the hat, scarf, and glove treasure hunt of winter.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Two sides of visiting the big city

Recently my coworkers and I took the bus to Boston for the day to meet staff we had only spoken on the phone with since a recent merger. My day job had gone from 50 employees in two offices to over 1,500 all over the world. It was time to see where some of the other 97 percent worked.

Arriving on a bus in the early afternoon, my coworkers and I walked from South Station to a dock where we met some of the local crew, boarded a pontoon boat and toured the harbor before heading to the office. “Just another day at the office,” I teased next to a Boston skyline photo on my social media. Upon disembarking, we hiked a few blocks and began the real office visit.

The Boston staff was friendly and welcoming, but their office environment is very different from our cozy Portland setting with its wooden beams and brick accents. The staff is surrounded by glass, glass, and more glass. Our tour guide admitted walking into walls – and even right into a conference room - when he had been too distracted to look up. It felt like I should have my hands in front of me at all times as we maneuvered around glass everything.

Then there was the walking. People who live and/or work in Boston walk in hyper speed and don’t even realize it. I don’t mind walking but my pace is closer to the speed of snail. Toddlers pass me by without losing their breath. My rear regularly brings up the rear on a long-distance walk. In Boston, three blocks can seem like a long distance, especially when trying to keep up the pace that other younger, healthier, more experienced hoofers have set. I get it, Boston, you’re America’s Walking City.

By the time we got back on the bus to come home, I was too wiped out to keep my ear plugs in and concentrate on whatever Katherine Heigl movie was playing. Plus, I was having a hard time seeing the screen above the head rest in front of me. Yes, I am that lacking in height.

Boston Harbor teaser tour
Second Born also headed to Beantown last week to meet with college friends in celebration of her 23rd birthday. Their agenda was slightly different. Fun was the priority, and they had plenty of it. Walking was also a big part of the weekend. I’ve walked with Second Born. I should say, I’ve almost busted a lung keeping up with Second Born, and she’s slow compared to First Born and The Groom when they lived in Philadelphia. From twenty paces behind I’d typically wave to them saying I’ll catch up.

Philly came up in conversation when our youngest returned home from her birthday weekend. While Boston is a great place to visit and I can see why young people would want to head there, Second Born had a different perspective about her time there. While I thought the weekend would remind her of everything the Hub had to offer – plenty of activity, shopping and restaurants, as well as various employment opportunities – there was one aspect of this city I hadn’t considered. She absolutely hated the traffic. In fact, she said, Boston made her miss Philly.

Are return trips to the City of Brotherly Love in our future? Spouse and I spent a decent amount of time in Philadelphia when the Love Couple resided there. It felt a bit intimidating to me, but First Born walked the town like she had lived there all her life. Her sister loved to visit and had no qualms about driving in Philly because the grid made sense to her. Nothing about Boston roads make sense to her or anyone.

With the possibility of Second Born pursuing relocation to another walking city, I’m thinking I might want to get out and take a few steps at a time to shape up for future visits. Maybe by the time she settles into a new city I’ll only be ten paces behind.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

More than just hitting the hot light

There are times when it can be difficult to think of what to write about. After all, not every moment of my life is chock full of fascinating events. This past week, however, my column was handed to me in the form of a gooey, glazed donut. Krispy Kreme came to town.

The first of its kind in the state of Maine, the “hot light” indicating the delivery of a warm, fresh batch of donuts was scheduled to light up at 6 a.m. Tuesday, October 3. I drove by Monday morning just to see how crazy – I mean dedicated – Krispy Kreme fans could be. There were already a few vehicles in the parking lot. I found out later in the day that the first customer, Alice, arrived at 3 a.m. to secure her spot, her adult daughter Amanda snagging the number two spot.

Out of curiosity, at the end of the day I paid a visit to those who had decided to camp out overnight. Already waiting customers were being entertained by a band. This place knows how to take care of its loyal fans.

What fascinated me was that most of the folks I spoke to had never even tasted a Krispy Kreme donut, but they knew someone who did.  Yet there they were with blankets and sleeping bags, ready to rough it on the ground of a cold parking lot (no cars were allowed). Temps were heading for the low 40s later that night.

The first person in line will receive one dozen donuts a week for a year, while the next 99 get a dozen donuts a month. That’s a pretty good incentive for hanging out all night, but Alice – Customer Number One – had a better one. Her coveted position at the head of the line guaranteed that she would hit the hot light for the first time on Tuesday morning.

All of this talking about such dedication made me think about donuts. Then it made me think about lines, and what I would be willing to wait in line for. At my age, if there isn’t a restroom in the immediate vicinity, all bets are off. But in the past, I’ve done my share of waiting in line, as I’m sure many of you have.

Back in the olden days, otherwise known as my teen years, I waited in line for concert tickets at the mall. There was no ordering online then. You were at the mercy of the mall hours and you usually had to bring a friend so your place in line was safe if you needed to step away for a few minutes.

I’ve never waited in line to get a much-desired Christmas present, though I have been laughed at by a store clerk when I asked if they had a toy that was long ago wrestled off the shelves.
As close as I've gotten so far

This particular day wasn’t just about waiting in line for a donut. Just a few years ago, the first two people in line at Krispy Kreme – mother and daughter – might have never had the chance to share this crazy experience. As a pregnant teen, Alice had given her baby, born on Christmas day, up for adoption. It will be four years this Christmas since Alice and Amanda were reunited for the first time in close to three decades. It struck me chatting with them that they may have been strangers until just recently, but the smiles on their faces and their obvious, natural bond made little moments like the opening of a donut shop pretty special for them.

I watched Krispy Kreme’s opening on the news Tuesday morning instead of choosing to stand in the line that snaked around the parking lot for my first taste of donuty decadence, but I’m glad I stopped by the day before to find out what brought people out. You never know what you might learn when you ask what motivates someone to wait in line. I hope hitting Krispy Kreme’s hot light will be a mother-daughter moment that Alice and Amanda can smile about for many years to come.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What's that cat catching now?

WARNING: If you believe cats should not be allowed outside, you may take offense to this post (as one reader did when it ran as my weekly column in the local newspaper). We choose to let our cats outside, mostly to save our furniture (not that it's that nice... in fact, I really want a new sofa. Oh right, cats...) and because the cat that is the main subject of this post tends vengefully find something to pee on if we don't. Okay, that's the disclaimer. I think.

One morning last week I was getting ready for work when I realized Spouse was in our backyard, slowly circling our fire pit in pursuit of a terrified, fleeing chipmunk. He was trying to convince the little critter to climb into a peanut butter jar. The poor little thing’s heart must have been fluttering a million miles a minute, thanks to his (or her) near fatal altercation moments before with a great big, furry bully - Second Born’s cat, Sophie.

Sophie, a short-hair tuxedo cat, is a top notch, stealth hunter. We spend a lot of time checking her mouth before we allow her to enter the house. We learned that lesson the hard way, after three mice, a chipmunk, and - almost - a bird entered our house via the cat’s jaw.

Sophie the hunter, resting up.
It is a cat’s instinct to provide us, her surrogate family, with a donation to the table… not that any of those ‘presents’ are going to end up on my table. Even though she is catered to with canned and dry food, not to mention spoiled with extra treats, it isn’t enough to assuage her instincts. We can’t get mad at her for doing what comes naturally, but we’ve adjusted to her varying meows. Some are simply meant to signal that she wants to come inside, while others are slightly muffled with a struggling (or stifled) woodland creature.

A while back, we were baffled at how Sophie was catching birds. After all, they fly – she can’t… at least not that we are aware of. One day we witnessed her stalking the birdfeeders Spouse had attached to a backyard tree, then pull a high jump that would any Olympian would envy, and snatch a poor, unsuspecting bird out of the air.

Spouse moved the bird feeders higher up in the tree. Now we have no idea how she’s getting her flying fix – perhaps jumping off the garage roof.

Sophie has not tackled a squirrel yet, thankfully. I’m sure she would not come out on the winning end of that particular pursuit. Mice and chipmunks are constantly on her hunting radar, and their little corpses are constantly being tossed into our driveway for us to find at the end of our workday, or even before we have our Saturday mug of coffee.

It’s important to remember that dogs have owners and cats have staff. When a dog does something that fails to meet the approval of his person, he will tuck tail and hide in a corner, muddled with shame and confusion. Cats have no shame and, in fact, act the opposite of confused. When Sophie was shoved inside the house while Spouse tried to convince the chipmunk that a peanut butter jar would be a safe haven, she stood at the kitchen door with ears back and tail swishing. This is what is known as her “If you don’t let me back out, I may pee in an undesirable area” stance.

Spouse can be incredibly patient, but I didn’t hold much stock in his method of saving this little chipmunk. I had gone back to getting ready for work when I heard, “Got him.” What? He caught this tiny, lightning fast animal with a peanut butter jar? He had indeed, then deposited it back into the woods.

The chipmunk lived to frolic another day, I hope. Sophie was eventually let back out, and within a half hour had delivered a bird to the driveway. We had a cat once that brought home a garden snake and left it under our bed, so maybe mice, chipmunks, and birds aren’t that bad… except maybe to the mice, chipmunks, and birds.

For a cat who is affectionate and sweet, loves to rub her face against yours, and whose purr rivals the sound of a boat motor, you may not suspect that Sophie has a less gentle, more ninja-like side. But she has us wrapped around her little paw, even as we groan at her offerings. We can’t help but love her and also be fascinated, in an occasionally grossed out way, by her many feline facets.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Blanket weather is the best

You might hate me for saying this, but I am a happy camper since the temps dipped. Blanket weather is my favorite season. You can’t beat days where the thermometer doesn’t slip above 70 and you can sleep curled up under warm covers with the windows still open at night. Admittedly, not everybody in my family has the same affinity for fall.

While the Love Couple was visiting us last month from Atlanta, the weather was too close to home – theirs. They were comfortable, I was cranky. I didn’t move to Maine for this 80-plus degree business.

It’s not that I enjoy shoveling the white stuff to come. In fact, Spouse and I are both dreading the winter, mostly because we have ten years before retirement when we can just stay inside and not care about the weather. The Farmer’s Almanac is no help, with its “snowier-than-normal” forecast for the Northeast. Still, at night it is heaven to use a blanket and no ceiling fan. Humidity doesn’t bother my mate. He would be perfectly happy with having to mow the lawn over shoveling the… well, you know.

Fortunately, at least one person in this family totally gets my fall weather favoritism. Second Born.

While First Born and The Groom were here last month, my oldest kept a long-sleeved shirt in sight at all times because it was only, you know, 80-something degrees. My son-in-law mentioned that he felt chilly their first night sleeping here. They had t-shirt sheets and two blankets on the bed. Our youngest, however, practically breaks into a sweat thinking about breaking into a sweat. Like me.

This week, at least two of us are in our glory, lounging in yoga pants (I hope you didn’t expect me to use them for yoga) and having valid reasons to pull up that extra blanket at night. Everyone else is moaning about summer ending and temps dropping.

My friend and fellow columnist Michelle Cote (the Rookie Mama) had to battle the worst of southern Maine’s heat in her final week of pregnancy. By the time Number Three was born, he was probably looking for the air conditioning.

Maybe you’re one of us crazies who are good with seeing our breath in the air while enjoying the smell of a campfire. Perhaps you’re fine with putting away the shorts and sandals, and dragging out the sweaters and closed-toe shoes. The first day I wore a sweater to work in August was exhilarating.

The Love Couple has hinted that they’d like to consider relocating back to this area within the next couple of years. I think they should start a separate savings account just to prepare for their heating bill. They’ve also mentioned to Second Born that Atlanta has many job opportunities. Her response – yes, but it also has heat, so No, thank you.

Ready for blanket weather!
Lately, our youngest has taken on a new hobby, one that you might associate with cold weather. She is learning to knit. I’m sure her grandmother, whose many handmade pieces are still used in our home, is smiling in heaven.

The thing about knitting is that it’s essentially preparing for winter. Second Born is already talking blankets and knit caps. She started challenging herself right off the bat with fingerless gloves. She managed to con me into a trip to a local crafts store for a few small items she “needed” to start her projects, with the promise that I will at some point be the recipient of at least one handmade gift.

I know most people are lamenting the loss of hotter temps, and I hope those folks made the most of their summer. For me, the best season begins when I’m sleeping under a mound of covers.

Congratulations and best wishes from this mom to the Cote clan on their newest edition. We are all looking forward to more wonderful columns about their party of five.

P.S. This column appeared in the Journal Tribune in August (timelines have been edited)
, when sun worshippers (as much as you can be a sun worshipper in Maine) weren't worried about it getting chilly any time soon, and are in denial that yesterday was the first day of fall.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The cast iron pan that came to breakfast

My son-in-law is one of a kind - polite, genuine, funny, and wicked smart. His transition into our family was seamless, which says a lot, considering just how crazy we are. He is also, as we have discovered over the last couple of years, an excellent cook. This is a good thing because the other half of The Love Couple – First Born – is not exactly a fan of cooking. You can’t blame it on genetics. I enjoy cooking, even if I do it more out of necessity than an overwhelming passion for it. Spouse will occasionally chip in and make (most of) a meal, but if it’s anything special I am reminded of how good it was for an interminable amount of time. He made spaghetti sauce in 1986 and still talks about it.

Last weekend, The Love Couple paid a visit to Maine and we enjoyed some much-needed family time. During their stay I realized how seriously The Groom takes his cooking. We had experienced a taste of his culinary delights last Thanksgiving in Atlanta. This time he promised to make homemade cornbread and guacamole while here in Maine. I tried to find out ahead of time what ingredients he would need, but he insisted on picking them out himself. Fine, I thought. I can understand that some chefs are quite particular about choosing things like produce and spices. And then --

He brought his own cast iron pan.

That’s correct. Even though I had a cast iron pan that was perfectly good, which he could have used it to make his delectable cornbread, he chose to check a bag at the airport just so he would have his own seasoned cooking vessel. Oh, and he also brought his own special-ordered grits.

We discovered it’s not avocado season when the Groom attempted to make guacamole and almost broke the counter with the bag avocados he purchased (apparently, he wasn't tipped off when he needed a forklift to put them in the cart). While he sputtered over trying to chop up pieces of green rock, Spouse, Second Born and I ran back to the store and found the only five ripe avocados in Maine. The end result was an amazing guacamole that was completely wiped out within hours.

Over the weekend this 50-don't-ask mid-lifer who has been making meals for more than 30 years with considerable success (my lasagna is especially noteworthy), was schooled in the art of seasoning a cast iron pan by a 29-year-old. During this process I felt compelled to admit to several cast iron cookware infractions:

I’ve used soap and a sponge on my pan.

I don’t always dry it immediately after cleaning it.

I have cooked eggs in it. A lot.

In the world of cast iron cookware, these lapses of judgment could end in disaster. My son-in-law wasn’t taking a chance that my pan may not be seasoned properly or the appropriate weight for his cornbread recipe. He was correct - it wasn’t seasoned, but isn’t one cast iron pan the same as the next? Oh no, I learned. Different manufacturers and different eras meant different weights, as faithful cast iron users know. The Groom researched them, read reviews, and eventually found exactly what he wanted on eBay, not Wal-Mart... like some of us may have done.

Because I was never going to get around to it, I took him up on his offer to season my large cast iron pan. This method involves applying and reapplying oil or grease (in this case, bacon grease) to the inside and outside of the pan, then baking it at 375 for about 45 minutes… I think. All right, honestly, I wasn’t fully paying attention except for acknowledging this was the one week in Maine where you did not want to have the oven on for any length of time.

My son-in-law is trusting me to use kosher salt to clean my pans going forward. I didn’t make any promises but it was with a sigh of relief that I unearthed kosher salt in the cabinet, thereby proving that my intentions were good.

I can’t let him down even though technically he showed me up. That cornbread was like a little slice of heaven. I will accept that someone younger can still teach me a few things… but I guarantee I’ll be doing the schooling when it comes to using a lasagna pan.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Please and thank you, Alexa

When First and Second born were being brought up, they knew politeness and respect went a long way in our family. When “Please” was not added to a request and “Thank you” was absent from a kind deed, it was a short trip to the word “No.”

Enter Alexa. Chances are you’ve seen or at least heard commercials (while you were flipping through Facebook) for this “intelligent personal assistant” created by Amazon as another reason to never publish another encyclopedia. Does anyone even publish encyclopedias anymore?

I have a problem with Alexa, or Siri, or any of the smart electronic devices that can recite lyrics to a song with a simple teaser or time your baked goods or order flowers. None of them teach you how to be polite. When is the last time you used “please” when you asked Siri to show you the most direct route to a Thai restaurant? Have you ever thanked Alexa for reminding you about your dentist appointment? Of course not. They don’t require you to use your manners.

Second Born devised a sneaky little method to get around our “please” and “thank you” rules when she was very young. She would ask for something and, with the confidence of an adult who concludes a query letter for a job with “Thank you in advance for your consideration”, Little Miss Smarty Pants concocted her own version. “May I have some ice cream? Please and thank you!”

While this was not exactly the phrasing and emphasis I was going for, I had to acknowledge her clever way of covering all the bases.

So, how are we teaching our kids to ask for things now? We aren’t, at least not with these electronic gadgets that have the answer or solution for almost everything. On a side note, I just had a flashback of my twenties, when I was sure my parents were old because they used phrases like “gadgets” – and here I am. I can almost feel my hair turning white in Second Born’s eyes as she sits across the living room from me.

Back to my point of politeness. Spouse was given an Alexa as a token of appreciation from his work place. Alexa is sitting on our kitchen counter all charged up and ready to answer our questions. In fact, Alexa keeps reminding us how ready she is, if we would just start using the dang smart phone application and ask her some stuff already. I have added a condition to our use of Alexa. We must – and I mean MUST – always say please upon our request, and thank you when Alexa responds.

I have also forbidden Spouse to call Alexa stupid. That’s one of his favorite words when his smart phone or his laptop does something to irritate him. Call me quirky (and I’m all right with that) but I don’t want anything with a name to be degraded. What if it rebelled and stopped working? Mind you, user error is a significant factor, but until my mate admits that sometimes he’s messed up, he is putting us all in jeopardy by being too critical of the electronics we are surrounded with. I, for one, don’t care to end up driving down a dead-end dirt road because my GPS decided we didn’t deserve to find our way home. If you think I’m crazy, do a YouTube search of Dave and Hal from A Space Odyssey.

Am I being too persistent about politeness? Personally, I don’t feel you can be too polite or courteous. So, if you do take advantage of this new technology, use your manners, even if you are talking to an electronic know-it-all. That way you’re less likely to find yourself at a biker bar when you really just wanted Italian.

On a final note, I should apologize for doubting Garth Brooks in the commercial where he asks for a weather update. Alexa really does know that "deep in her heart" the thunder rolls. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

How not to be a turkey

You’re a turkey. Oh, don’t get your feathers all ruffled, we’re just pretending. You and your family or friends make up a flock turkeys. You’ve just stepped out of a wooded area after visiting your favorite pond or bug hunting spot, and you’re about to cross a quiet little road on your way back to your favorite sleeping tree. Yes, turkeys sleep in trees.

You don't stop and look for oncoming traffic because - well, you're a turkey!

But the driver of a car that’s supposed to be doing 25 miles per hour and is rounding the curve at 40 has no idea they are about to cross paths with you. Can anybody win in this scenario?

No.

That’s a heck of a way to start off what is normally a humorous post, I know. There’s nothing funny about a turkey-covered windshield, especially at the moment it happens. In fact, there is really nothing funny about an animal placing themselves in front of a dangerous situation. Even less so, a person. But if you drive, you probably do just that more than once a week.

So, I want everyone to count with me. I’ll go first. One, Two, Three. Your turn.

One. Two. Three.

You may have just saved your life and possibly someone else’s, because almost every day that you drive, you could be first in line at a traffic light. You wait for your turn. Your light turns green. You move forward.

Did you read that carefully? I’ll say it again.

You wait for your turn. Your light turns green. You move forward.

But the other driver is determined to beat the yellow light that’s about to turn red. Or they think they’ll just squeak under the red light.

Or, all too often these days, they JUST KEEP DRIVING long after the light has turned red.

One. Two. Three.

The American Traffic Solutions website recorded that in 2015, two people died every day in red light running crashes. That becomes 60 people dying each month, and that becomes an average of 720 a year. 720 Lives A Year. It starts with two and it doesn’t stop.

Now, here’s a somewhat embarrassing statistic.

In a national telephone survey by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, 94 percent of drivers said they believe it is unacceptable to go through a red light if it's possible to stop safely. We won't try to figure out the mindset of the other 6 percent. But the bigger irony? In that same survey, 39 percent reported doing so. In the past 30 days.

Three. Two. One.

Remember, the order doesn’t matter. The time it takes you to count does.

In this great state of Vacationland, reckless driving ramps up during the summer tourist season. Sometimes a driver is following another car and doesn’t want to become separated. Maybe they’re lost, or paying more attention to the GPS, or reading a text, or JUST NOT STOPPING. The reasons don’t matter as much as the devastating result.

Several cities use red light cameras now, and statistics show up to a 40 percent decrease in red light violations. But some cities have removed the cameras amid the backlash from an increase in traffic tickets... shooting the danger level back up by 30 percent.

One. Two. Three.

New England winter driving can be harsh, but it is somewhat predictable. The snow and ice don’t make the decision for you. In summer, a lot of other factors come into play. For instance, a holiday weekend equals more cars, more lost tourists, more impatient drivers not always making the best decisions.

I started with some name calling – or is it turkey calling - to get your attention, but what I really want is to ask a favor of you all. Don’t become a statistic. Please value your own life and others on the road.

I’m asking you to resist running a yellow or red light and avoid making what could be a fatal decision. I’m also asking you to always be aware that another driver just might be making that decision for you.

When the light turns green, before you move forward, count.

One. Two. Three.


Please... don’t be a turkey.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

What's next? Don't ask.

Second Born is officially a college graduate. Her authentic degree arrived in the mail, replacing the fake degree handed to each student at commencement a few weeks ago. So where does she go from here, you ask? Has she been applying for jobs? What type of job is she looking for? Where is she looking? All of these and many more little pop quizzes face the graduate any time she is near another adult. Her response is polite, somewhat practiced at this point, and pointedly vague. She is adept at avoiding the question while convincing the interrogator they know everything by the end of the conversation.

I’ve more or less learned to refrain from asking too much or repeating the same questions within a 48-hour period. Spouse, not so much. He doesn’t query about his own daughter’s progress – he follows up on every one of her closest college friends, from the gaggle of girls she shared living arrangements with during the past four years to the few friends from high school that she still keeps in touch with. It goes something like this.

Spouse: So… does anyone have something lined up yet?

Second Born: Grad One and Four have summer jobs. Grad Two isn’t sure what she wants to do. Grad Five is moving into her apartment next week to be closer to her new dream job. And, well, you know Grad Three.

Do we know Grad Three? I get them all mixed up. It seems like each time Spouse asks (I don’t have to say too much - his curiosity keeps me out of trouble and in the loop), things have switched around. Next thing you know, Grad Four could be opening a tattoo parlor and Grad Three might decide her creative writing major would be more beneficial if she takes a summer course in accounting to better understand why she’ll never make any money with a creative writing major.

Then there are her local friends who have jobs or boyfriends or both. Second Born is just starting to arrange get-togethers so they can catch up and trade stories from their final year of awesome and atrocious professors, wonderful and weird roommates, and endless exams and projects. We usually get a reader’s digest version of these visits.

This question and half-answer game about the others is just a ruse on the part of my occasionally clever husband to give his daughter a chance to clue us in on her next move, figuratively and maybe somewhat literally. But we also meant it when we said she was not expected to be on her own the minute she graduated. That had been her plan until she realized taking a full load her last semester meant that putting her all into the job and location search would have to wait.

Shortly after graduation, Second Born and a carload of The Grads took a road trip to a fellow grad’s graduation party. It was what you could call their last hurrah prior to a lifetime of workdays and responsibilities. She returned just as Spouse and I were set to leave town for a few days to attend the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ conference. That meant she’d have the house to herself for three days – three whole days with nobody asking about her plans or anyone else’s. Heaven.

The right job and location will come. It might not happen overnight – or over several nights – but it will happen. So, to anyone out there who comes across a new college grad, instead of the same old inevitable questions, tell them about your first job, your worst job, your first dumpy apartment, or your own apprehension when it was your turn to enter the workforce. Give them the benefit of your experience and welcome them into the club of uncertainty and not always getting it right the first time. We’ve all been members.

Congratulations to all graduates, from college right down to kindergarten. Remember, first grade is a whole new world... with better scissors.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Bad habits and teeth are hard to break

It was a typical weekday morning. I was eating breakfast at the kitchen table, gluten free waffles and meatless sausage patties, the result of recently shopping at Trader Joe's. As I bit down on a tiny, hard substance I recall thinking, “Hmm… what would be hard in a waffle and a non-meat sausage patty?

Immediately after this thought, one of my bottom front teeth felt strangely rough. I tried scraping off what I believed to be an offending piece of food stuck on the tooth, until it occurred to me that it wasn’t something stuck. It was something missing – the top of my tooth.

Here’s the thing. The minute you realize something in your mouth has changed, you start talking differently. I don’t know if you’d call it a lisp or a slur, but I was definitely compensating for my unhappy incisor. A detour to the dentist before work was obviously in order.

Now, ask yourself, is a dentist’s office a place where you would expect to find a “walk-ins welcome” sign? Absolutely not. But I did just that and I all but begged them to fit me in that day. Despite the business of their waiting room, they took me in for an x-ray and determined that only the top had broken off and could be repaired at the end of the day. I can do that, I figured. It wasn’t like I didn’t have a tooth at all – it was just the top that had broken off.

My tongue, on the other hand, had a different idea. It would not leave that dang tooth alone. No matter how hard I tried to consciously steer it away, my tongue kept gravitating toward the sharpest spot on that tooth until it had developed - to the surprise of no one – an extremely painful sore on the bottom.

During my work day, nobody seemed to have taken much notice of the chunk of missing tooth, my fool tongue was causing the most grief.

I’m a big baby at the dentist, stemming from bad childhood experiences, but this time I didn’t cringe hearing the drill that was smoothing the jagged edges down. It only took a few minutes for things to be packed, patched and polished so that it looked like the rest of my teeth. I had no idea they could make this kind of paste with a coffee stained hue.

This lovely little incident is believed to be the result of a life-long habit of mine - grinding my teeth. It often happens during the night in my sleep, where I don’t have much control (and yes, I’m considering a mouth piece). It also happens in daylight hours when I’m stressing or over thinking, and since the dental debacle I’ve noticed it happens because I seem to have an inexplicable need to tap my bottom front teeth with my top front teeth.

It’s a bad habit. There are others but this one takes the cake, or - in this case - the tooth. At this very moment, I am willing my teeth not to clang together, especially considering the fact that this filled-in spot is only as permanent as I make it by not biting down on anything too hard, and by stopping my own tooth abuse. I’m finding this to be quite the challenge. It’s fairly easy to avoid chomping down on anything that would loosen my dentist’s glorious work, but policing my own grinding is proving to be a challenge. However, becoming a frequent flyer at the dentist is not an option, so awareness will be a priority.

My tongue healed quickly and I am back to biting down, but with some caution. I can tell you this little mishap will not deter me from eating those gluten free waffles and meatless sausage patties.

Sometimes you just have to live dangerously.