Posted in Columns

Make your list – but check it twice

We have a new game at our house, begun inadvertently through a magical mixture of a whiteboard, a grocery list, and a college student who needs entertainment as he trolls the refrigerator for leftovers.

I came up with a brilliant plan to attach a whiteboard to my refrigerator to keep a running grocery list. In case you are unfamiliar, a whiteboard is a white board – really – on which you can write with erasable markers. (Note: never mistake a permanent marker for an erasable marker. The respective modifiers clearly describe the results for each.)

I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, scrawling the names of items that run out or are nearly-running out, so I can copy the list when I’m ready to go shopping, leave it on the counter and call home to ask someone – anyone – to read it to me over the telephone.

But I digress.

I ran out of foil last week. You know, the metal stuff you line the bottom of pans with when you don’t want to scrape off a burned mess. I automatically wrote it on the list: “Foil.”

A day later, there were unfamiliar etchings next to “Foil.” They read:
(x+2)(x-2) = x2 – 4 (x+2)(x+2) = x2+4x+4.

Or something like that.

Huh?

I recognized the college student’s writing, but given that he is a theater major, I wasn’t sure where the math stuff came from.

Then, visions of high school Algebra class came flooding back – not really in detail, but I vaguely remem-bered using something called the FOIL method to solve equations that no longer matter in my life. (I have an innate preference for words, not numbers. My apologies to all the mathematicians out there!)

Funny stuff.

Next item on the list: Nutella. Nutella is a fabulous hazelnut-chocolate spread that is a sort of Italian version of peanut butter. Only it’s chocolate, so it’s way better.

Next day: Nutella at a bank. What? What’s a tella at a bank?

I groaned.

Later, I ran out of Pam (the non-stick cooking spray) and Suet (for birds, not people.) Those items went on the list.

Later: “Pam per your chil-dren,” and “Suet to the old-ies.”

The first one was easy. I had to think about the second one…until a rather unpleasant vision of a sweaty Richard Simmons dancing to 60s music in silk shorts popped into my head.

I decided to play the game, too. I added “Salad dressing to kill” to the list. And “Smilk (some + milk).”

Turns out I stumped the crew with pizza, however.

I wrote it on the list. I waited.

The note: “I got nothin’.” Perhaps his creativity ran out?

Because I would have added: “Pizza meet ya’.”

Does that mean I win?

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Posted in Columns

Senior moment a decade or two early

Apparently, I am over the hill at age 44 (OK, so I’ll be 45 in less than a month – who really counts after 40 anyway?)

I know this because last week, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up lunch and a few dinner items to save me a trip later.

The nice blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl at the registered greeted me cheerfully as I unloaded my basket onto the counter so she could scan each one and then efficiently dump the item into a bag.

We chatted about the weather and whatever else came to mind. Maybe even about the fajitas I was making for dinner.

I rummaged through my purse, looking for my debit card to pay for my groceries as she totaled the bill.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I forgot to ask you, did you want to sign up for our senior discount?” Her blue eyes widened as she waited for the answer.

Wow, that’s crazy – she thinks I’m a senior in high school, I thought.

Wrong.

It hit me all at once. No, she did not think I was a senior in high school.

She meant she thought I was a senior citizen!

I truly did not know what to say. I thought about crying. Then I thought about screaming. I thought about leaping over the counter, pulling her blonde curls and screaming, “I’ll show you a senior discount!”

I wondered when the last time was I dyed my hair – no, the six-week gray stripe was not running across my skull, so that couldn’t have been the reason she thought I was – well, older than I am.

I was wearing practical shoes, but who doesn’t when there’s this much snow and ice in the middle of a real Wisconsin winter?

Truly, I was at a loss for words. I mumbled something unintelligible, grabbed my grocery bags and slunk out to the car to nurse my wounded ego.

Of course, I called my (younger) sister to share my story. I couldn’t understand her response. She was laughing too hard.

I told some of my coworkers as well. They were nice (Sometimes I bring them food, so I suppose they have to be) and said the girl must have been really young, that I don’t look like a senior citizen, yada yada, trying to make me feel better.

One of them said, “So did you say, ‘Sure! I’ll take the discount!’”

Hindsight is 20-20, of course, and I guess when you’re my age you’re lucky to have sight at all.

So I’m thinking next time I see my favorite grocery clerk, I’ll ask her for that discount after all!

Posted in Columns

Hello Mudder, hello Fadder: Remembering summer camp

Summer camp. My mind filled with memories of my own experiences as I sorted photos of a local Boy Scout troop’s most recent outdoor adventures.

I remember packing my stuff – the most important items included pens, paper, sketchbook and a contraband AM transistor radio (it was long before the Walkman or iPod appeared on the cultural radar)—for a week before my sister and I actually left for camp.

Fortunately, my mom had a bona fide checklist of the stuff we really needed. She inspected our suitcases and added superfluous items, like socks, underwear and a few extra T-shirts.

“You know, you’re not supposed to bring radios,” she said, rolling the socks together and lining them up along the inside edge of the suitcase.

“Um, yeah,” I said, setting the forbidden object on my bed and making a mental note to pack it when she wasn’t looking. Mom was more into rules than I was back then. You just couldn’t mess with my precious pop music.

Early Saturday morning, my parents woke us up, loaded our bags into the car and headed to the circus that was part of the leaving-for-camp ritual.

The parking lot swarmed with frantic parents trying to cover all the details and excited girls who just wanted to get to camp. A few official looking people carried clipboards, answered questions and pointed people in different directions.

My sister and I got on the enormous bus, complete with microscopic bathroom in the back. The motor rumbled and occasionally sighed, its diesel-scented breath filling the air.

Finally, it was time to leave. The doors snapped shut, the bus jerked forward, and we waved at the parents lined up like soldiers along the curb. I now suspect that as soon as the buses were out of sight, the parents high-fived each other and went out for a celebratory champagne breakfast.

That didn’t matter—we were finally headed to a parent-free zone with friends, campfires, swimming, canoeing, hiking and tons of other stuff to fill the long summer days for the next two weeks.

Hours later—OK, for a kid who tended to get carsick 99.99 percent of the time, it seemed like days later—we arrived at Camp Windego, somewhere in the forest that was Wild Rose, Wisconsin. Relief! Campers were quickly sorted as they leapt from the bus. This was usually the last time I saw my sister—other than meal-times–until the ride home, because we were always assigned to different units. We grabbed our bags, gathered into our groups and hiked into the woods in search of the tiny tent villages that would be our homes.

Granted, my camp experience wasn’t entirely primitive. Our tents sat on wood platforms off the ground. We had the choice of an outhouse or, if we wanted to walk a long, long way, there were actual flushing toilets out there in the woods.

It was primitive enough for me, a girl from the ‘burbs of Chicago. The outhouse was a no-go unless desperate measures were in order, like in the middle of the night. The same woods we skipped through during the day took on a Blair Witch Project look at night as our imaginations ran far ahead of the dim beam from our flashlights.

We hiked everywhere, singing silly camp songs along the way. I often wonder what my parents thought of the musical selections my sister and I would belt out in the back seat of the car when the mood struck. Sure, there were the traditional “If I had a hammer” and “Kumbaya,” but we liked the more interesting songs, like one about a billboard:

As I was walking down the street one dark and dreary day,
I came upon a billboard, and much to my dismay,
The sign was torn and tattered from a storm the night before.
The wind and rain had done its work and this is what I saw:
Smoke Coca Cola cigarettes;
Chew Wrigley’s Spearmint beer;
Ken-L-Ration dogfood keeps your complexion clear;
Simonize your baby with a Hershey’s candy bar;
And Texaco’s the beauty cream that’s used by all the stars.

That’s only the beginning. But after almost 30 years I remember every word!

Camp wasn’t always perfect. I usually attended with one friend or another from home—and inevitably, we’d end up in a big fight over who-knows-what, and not speak to each other until we were home for a good week. Then we’d cry, apologize, and forget what the fight was about in the first place. Stupid girl stuff.

I was introduced to horses at camp. My friend, Nancy, was a horse freak. I was not. Nancy convinced me we needed to be in the horse unit one year. I figured it would be an adventure, and maybe I would love horses as much as she did.

I was wrong.

The horse unit had to get up early to muck out the stalls (for you uninitiated, that means we had to shovel the horses’ poop) and feed and brush the horse that was ours for the two weeks.

Strike one: getting up at 5 a.m. was not my idea of fun at the time, especially because I tended to stay up until nearly midnight yacking with friends or reading a book by flashlight.

The bonus was supposed to be that we got to ride our horses before breakfast as well. However, we quickly learned that we were the lepers of Camp Windego, since the horsy smells tended to follow us wherever we went. We had our own table at the mess hall, and generally ignored the other girls’ wrinkled noses.

Strike two: the horses.My horse was named Nikki. I think horse people would describe her as an old nag. She uncooperatively poofed out her belly when I pulled the saddle straps around. If I didn’t pay attention, as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup and swung the other leg over, the saddle would slide sideways.

I swear she snickered when that happened.

Once I learned to check the straps more than once, I figured I had her conquered. Ha. She was always at the back of the line on trail rides, munching grass and leaves and taking her sweet time.

“No, Nikki!” I yelled, pulling the reins up and hoping her head would follow.

“Don’t let her eat. She’ll have a bad attitude,” our unit leader said.

It was too late for that. Nikki’s attitude was years in the making, probably from dealing with kids like me who had no clue about horses.

One day we were riding in the ring. Nikki must have had an itch to scratch, because she got down on her knees.

“What is she doing?” I asked, yanking the reins upward.

Nikki looked over her left shoulder, her eye gleaming. Then she started rolling over.

I jumped off.

“Don’t let her roll over,” the leader said.

Sure. No problem. By then I realized Nikki could do whatever she darn well pleased. She was much bigger than me and, I suspected, much smarter as well.

It was with relief that I would head back to the stalls, put Nikki inside and toss her a bunch of hay. That was the only time she was truly happy.

Nancy, of course, had a great time. She loved her horse, which was the biggest one. He was in the stall next to Nikki’s. One day when I was brushing Nikki, he leaned over the wall and bit me in the back. Maybe that’s what started our fight. Nancy thought it was kind of funny, and I’d had enough of horses. Never mind that at this point I realize she was right—it was funny.

Even the year of my horse adventures, when I looked forward to going home, the final night of camp was filled with tears around the campfire (more stupid girl stuff, I guess.) We’d sing our repertoire of pretty and obnoxious camp songs, talk about all the stuff we did, made amends with the people we didn’t get along with and exchanged addresses with the promise of writing at least once a week.

I remember the scent of smoke mixed with burning sugar—an invisible testament to the marshmallows that had dropped off our carefully carved sticks into the fire below, and canopy of stars far above our heads. I remember feeling like I was really part of the natural world.

Sometimes I wish I could go back, so I could appreciate every moment as it happened. My two weeks at summer camp gave me a chance to operate as an individual, without being defined by my parents or siblings. I saw and ex-perienced things I never would have otherwise. I probably have a better time visiting camp in my memories—and when I do camp that way, I don’t have to deal with mosquito bites.

 

Posted in Columns

Opposites attract…then drive each other crazy

After 23 years, three kids, seven homes and an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters and fish, my husband and I had a revelation:

Opposites attract.

Then they drive each other crazy – or so it would seem if our feelings weren’t buffered by stronger feelings of love and commitment.

Most of the time we laugh about our opposite-ness. Example: while taking a romantic stroll along a moonlit river, we pause.

He turns to go left.

I go right.

Then we look at each other, shake our heads, and continue forward.

The engineers who designed those expensive dual-heating systems for cars were probably thinking of us. I’m cold, then hot in a matter of seconds, and generally crank the heat up or down accordingly. Hubbie’s body temperature is apparently less sensitive to outside forces. I’ve seen fear in his eyes as he anticipates the joys and wonders of the menopause I have yet to experience. Or perhaps, he’s thinking of a desert island where he can hide for several years, until it’s all over.

For a long time, our musical tastes ranged from loud long-hair-bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s (him) to mellower, albeit snore-inducing folk (me). Fortunately, we’ve gained an appreciation for the other’s musical preferences. It’s funny – while we lived apart this past summer (I started my job here; he stayed in Minnesota getting our house ready for sale), I found myself listening to the stuff I thought of as “his” music. It gave me a sense of his presence, though he was 500 miles away.

If we let them, our differences can become an irritation – perhaps the catalyst for irreconcilable differences. This is true in any relationship that goes deeper than the surface level. It’s how we deal with the differences that make us better people as we become open to new thoughts and experiences and allow ourselves to walk in another person’s shoes.

Sometimes it’s hard. I’m hot; he’s cold. He’s hungry; I’m full. I’m tired; he’s ready for a night on the town. We have to be willing to give something up to get something in return.

I believe opposites attract because we need other people to balance our lives – to be strong when we’re weak, to bring joy when we’re sad, to be good at numbers when we’re better using words. Our differences are something to celebrate.

Even when I want the window open.

And he wants it closed.