I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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You Didn’t Know It, But I’m a Poet!

In my last post, Utensils Vs U-Turns, I used a quote from one of my all-time favorite poets, and suggested that I could, perhaps, have a bit of poetry in me. The truth is, I have always enjoyed, for as long as I can remember, writing poems and making up new, original verses for popular children’s songs. My poetry is the “Old Mother Hubbard, Went to the cupboard” brand of verse – I am drawn to reliable meter and perfect (or at least near perfect) rhyme. In an effort to share my gift of poetry with you (and, also, to get a quick blog post in before I head out of town for a week in the “greater” Big Apple area, visiting a dear, old friend), I have composed an “on-the-edge-of-epic” poem about my car, Louie. Get a glass of wine, light a cigar, and sit back and relax. You are about to be courted by some cultivated verse.

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Louie the Shark    

I bought an older Hyundai,

A sweet, reliable guy.

He’s the greatest transport buddy.

If I lost him I would cry.

 

There is one crazy thing, though,

he thinks he is a shark.

I know because he told me,

one night when it was dark.

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At first I thought him loony.

He’s just a common ride

who’d never seen the ocean,

and not once rode the tide.

 

But as I looked much closer,

I was surprised to find

a cute gray fin upon his back,

a baby sharkish kind.

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He had a battle scuffle

etched on his auto nose.

I’ve seen a real ocean shark

sporting one of those.

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And so, in part, for his sake,

I headed to the shore,

all the way to Virginia Beach.

six hundred miles and more.

 

My plan was for his welfare.

I hoped that he might find

a day spent near the ocean

would soothe his shark-like mind.

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He couldn’t hang out on the beach,

The lifeguards wouldn’t let him.

An access road with ocean views

Was the closest I could get him.

 

But, Oh, he was so happy,

his horn beeped Ode to Joy.

He didn’t want to pull away,

he shouted out, “Ahoy!”

 

I witnessed this with merry mirth,

my gray car’s alter ego.

And now I could believe him,

my auto shark amigo.

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I’m considering a vanity plate

(if they didn’t cost so much),

‘cause what I’d put upon it

would be the sovereign touch.

(“LUI SHRK”)

 

So someday you might see us,

driving in your town,

me and my harmless, land-locked shark,

sporting our sharky crown.

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I hope that you will greet us

and give my shark a wave,

’cause waves are what he longs for

my car shark, true and brave!

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It was the summer of superfluity. It started out with too much rain, and when I say too much, I mean, I was on craigslist daily, looking for a good deal on an ark. California is in a severe drought because all of their rain clouds got lost and ended up in Ohio. In our state, the farmers suffered from too much precipitation – they couldn’t get fields planted, and/or, once they did, the plants in low-lying spots were drowned. For the organic farmers, the rain caused a bumper crop of weeds, which quickly overtook the main crops. Local pools were empty, picnics were being endlessly rescheduled, and any events that couldn’t be rearranged required a soggy hopefulness, extensive rain gear, and a generous supply of towels. Somehow, we muddled through.

In the midst of these soggy circumstances, my daughter and her husband returned from their Central America mission adventures and settled into our guest room/computer room. It’s a small room, so the computer table quickly filled up and was hidden for months under piles of make-up, wardrobe accessory items, books, health-food supplements, and other odd, sundry bits and pieces. (I blame my prolonged lack of creative writing accomplishments solely on this unfortunate circumstance.) In addition to the discomfort of the small house/tiny room tight squeeze, there’s also only one full bathroom (i.e., shower!) in our house, and none of us girls like the basement toilet, so that led to some rather indelicate situations, on a daily basis. Not to mention a need to be flexible in attention to one’s own personal hygiene habits. And just when we had come up with a livable working plan, all five of us drove up to Minnesota to converge on another one of my daughters and her family. Eight people, all packed into a cute, but small, house – two bedrooms, with an added bedroom and bathroom in the basement (thank God for those additions!). Toss in three dogs, two cats, a very small kitchen, and no dishwasher, and my house was looking like a palatial estate…well, except for that one full bath issue. Let’s face it, overcrowding was a main theme for us this summer.

Shortly after we returned from that sojourn, it was time for the middle child to move out. Her hubby had been hired as a teacher at a high school not far from here, and it was time to rent a U-Haul and shut down our short-term storage business. Suddenly, the computer reappeared, along with A LOT of space in our storage room upstairs. Honestly, I didn’t even know we could fit that much stuff in that room. We hauled box after box out to the truck, along with some recently purchased thrift store furniture items. Then, my husband and I spent an afternoon helping them move into their apartment, on the top floor, on a hot day. It’s times like these that I am grateful for the affliction of exertion-induced asthma. As soon as a comfortable chair was situated in the apartment, I turned on the AC and supervised.

Just to keep myself from getting bored this summer, I planted a couple of tomato plants. Those cute, innocent little plants that I picked up from a local farmers’ market morphed into stage props from the Little Shop of Horrors! I am talking monster plants! They were pulling down the tomato cages, and I had to resort to tying them to our fence. I was concerned about the neighbors’ children and small pets being sucked into the depths of these bloodthirsty bushes. There was so much foliage on the plants, I had to search carefully for long periods of time to find (and then plot out how to get my arm in for harvesting) the ripening fruit. Luckily for me, they didn’t start to ripen until the local climate returned to it’s normal, hot and humid discomfort, and that was just about the time we got back from our summer travels. Suddenly, I had tomatoes coming out of my ears. I gave a lot away, and still came up with enough to make and can two batches of salsa. And, in case you didn’t know, it takes a lot of tomatoes for a batch of salsa! But I had decided, come hell or high water, that I was going to be a good steward of the harvest, so not a one of those tomatoes went to waste. At this point, my plants (which I eventually trimmed back, like overgrown trees) are still loaded with green tomatoes, which were just starting to get an orange tinge when the cool snap hit. I might end up with enough ripe ones to make one batch of pico de gallo, but after that, I’m thinking I will soon be trying some fried green tomatoes for the first time in my life!

Still in my summer stupor, I went to a market last week and bought a bushel…I said, a BUSHEL…, of apples, “seconds” they’re called, to be used for making applesauce. When you come home with a GIANT pile of gnarly-looking apples, with soft spots here and there, you can’t wait around for a few days before you begin working on them. The bad ones need to be cut up, cooked, and put through a food mill ASAP, before the bruised, rotten spots spread and/or fruit flies take over your house. I did most of the fruit the evening I got home from market, then filled my fridge to overflowing with containers full of the cooked-down remnants, until I could finish up the remainder of the fruit. This weekend I cut up and processed the rest of the apples, then prepared and canned 24 pints of applesauce.

Just as I was completing the final stages of the canning process, something snapped inside my head. I began to babble in unintelligible gibberish, and my cats all ran for cover. I stopped and stared at the calendar for a good, long, while. Suddenly I realized, it’s September, summer has zipped by in a flurry of tightly-packed activity, and I am thoroughly worn out. I decided it was time to write a long-overdue post for my blog, and then settle into my recliner with some chips, salsa, and applesauce. And I might just stay there until I run out of all three.

Breaking the Age Barrier

Age never used to concern me much at all. When I was young, I was in no hurry to be a teenager, or sweet sixteen. Nor did I see any reason to rush to the magical age of twenty-one. I was always content, at any given point, with my actual age. As I left the twenties behind, I didn’t mind. Thirty? Who cares? I am still healthy and active. Forty? What’s the big deal?! I am having a great time with my family and friends! Fifty? Hey, I’m a cancer survivor, so I feel very blessed to still be around. Then, suddenly, without any warning, I hit the brick wall of fifty-five. There was an eardrum-splitting sound, similar to that of a high speed jet breaking the sound barrier, and, WHOA, I had found my age barrier, and I was totally unprepared!

In my ongoing effort to selflessly serve my fellow man, I am sharing this helpful information with you in an attempt to prepare you for this life-changing occurrence. The age barrier is not the same for everyone, so I can’t really predict when this will happen to you (although, the mid-to-late fifties is a safe bet). I have, however, compiled this invaluable list of “symptoms” (in no particular order) that you can watch for. If you start to notice any of these things happening to you, you are nearing your optimum-functioning age limit. You better strap in and get ready for an activity-altering jolt, followed by measured deceleration!

Symptom 1 – You find yourself waking up, in the middle of the night, every night, to get up and pee (even if you’ve been careful not to drink anything since noon the day before!). And, don’t even think about drinking a beer or a glass of wine before bedtime – that will go right through you!

Symptom 2 (which might be related to symptom 1) – Afternoon naps become your new hobby. I used to never be able to take an afternoon nap, and/or fall asleep in my recliner. These are two of my newly acquired skills, at which I am excelling!

Symptom 3 – In order to exit from a low-riding car, you have to roll out of the door onto the curb, and try to get to a standing position from there. (Ladies, do not wear a skirt when you anticipate dealing with this form of transport!)

Symptom 4 – One of your knees or ankles (or, any random joint) has a sudden, painful blowout that stops you in your tracks, but then returns to normal after about five minutes.

Symptom 5 – You’re switching over to all elastic waist and/or stretchy pants.

Symptom 6 – When you make your bed in the morning, it reminds you of a foothills landscape, because of all the accessory pillows you now need for comfortable sleeping (i.e., wedge, body, under-knees, etc.).

Symptom 7 – Random snot drops fall without warning from your nose, at the most inopportune times. (Watch the movie, Shadowlands, for a perfect example of this phenomenon.)

Symptom 8 – In public stairwells, other folks are always trying to figure out what that “snap, crackle, pop” sound is (coming from YOUR knees). However, you might not encounter this problem if your wheezing is loud enough to drown out the sound from your knee joints.

Symptom 9 – You finally decide that putting up with the smell and the inconvenience of coloring your hair is totally worth the small amount of satisfaction you get from at least being able to beat the gray! …Or… You don’t worry at all about the gray because you have no hair, but you do have a very impressive collection of caps!

Symptom 10 – Swallowing your pile of daily supplements helps you meet your daily intake of water.

Symptom 11 – Do I even need to address forgetfulness?! You can be sitting across the table from a close friend, having an intimate discussion with them, and suddenly you realize you cannot think of his or her name. This is a scary and embarrassing symptom which can only be addressed with daily doses of gingko biloba, Asian ginseng, fermented cod liver oil, vitamin E, a B-complex supplement, and 100 mg of phosphatidyl serine.

Symptom12 – Seeing yourself in the mirror of a public restroom, with harsh fluorescent lighting, triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 13 – Any little thing triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 14 – After several anxiety attacks and a trip to the doctor, you find yourself in a cardiac testing center waiting room with a bunch of old(er) folks, able to join in on a discussion regarding all of the above issues (with startling frankness).

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of all the possible symptoms of breaking your own, personal age barrier, but this will be a helpful start to guide you along the path to impending physical and mental breakdown. If you are able to relate to all of these age-related manifestations, you may have already passed the boundary into the land of decrepitude. If you can come up with a much longer list than this….you might want to update that life insurance policy, check into some pre-planned funeral options, and get back to church in preparation for your proximate appointment at those pearly gates, because (as a wise, old neighbor once told me), “you’re getting closer!”

The Secret of Eternal Happiness

Today seemed like just a normal, run-of-the-mill kind of day. Got up, went to work. After work, I decided to run some errands, …you know, all those things we all do EVERY day without thinking about where we are or where we’re going. Then suddenly, out of the blue, an epiphany comes wafting my way from the car radio, and, EUREKA! I have found something I have been searching for all my life – the SECRET TO ETERNAL HAPPINESS!!! Well, that’s not exactly what the radio guy said. He actually referred to it as “unlimited happiness,” but, obviously, we are both talking about the same thing here, right? I had to stop my car right there, in the middle of the road, and just meditate for a while on what I had heard. Honestly, I am still a bit skeptical. The epiphany came during an ad for a car wash company, and they now offer a monthly membership, with which you are able to wash your car as many times as you want in the same month! Wow. Just imagine the magnitude of that for a moment. It sounds rather nice, I guess, especially during those winter months when the car looks like a post war army tank. And then, the radio guy refers to this car washing obsession as “a recipe for unlimited happiness.” I just don’t know. I’m trying really hard to think through the steps of following that recipe religiously, but all I’m coming up with is – lots of waiting in line, a really clean car, and an endless supply of those little bags they put on the back wiper before I drive through (which they never take off for you when you drive out!). Now, maybe, if they added in the service of taking those little wiper bags off, maybe then the eternal bliss would come, but….nah, I’m just not buying it.

What is it with these people who right ad copy, anyway? I mean, can’t we handle the truth, and/or are we really that stupid?! I just saw an online news story today, about a TV ad that the Cadillac company is planning to air during the Oscars. The ads don’t even show a vehicle. It was more like a short, inspirational film. I practically had to take notes to keep up with the narrative, it was so classy and esoteric, but nothing that was said told me anything about the car. It was just weird, and theatrical. Car commercials, as a whole, are very superficial, useless works of fiction these days, anyway. They’re often interesting to watch, very artsy and well done, but they appeal mainly to our egos. There might be a few little tidbits tossed in about safety or gas mileage, or maybe even affordability (now there’s a relative term!), but the big focus is about how owning said vehicle will affect your image. I drive a 2000 Honda Odyssey van that was given to me by my mother-in-law. It has a check engine light that never goes off, despite many trips to a car repair shop. Finally, in an effort to fix the problem for good, I bought some black tape, and covered up the light. I constantly drive around wondering, what does this say about my image? What are all the other drivers and the pedestrians thinking about me right now?! Some advertising exec, somewhere, is giving me an inferiority complex.

And what about all those sentimental commercials that make us cry, or the ones that produce a good belly laugh. Those are highly entertaining, but what do they tell us about the product? Take, for example, the Budweiser Clydesdales’ commercials. Those horses are some of the best actors I’ve ever seen. I LOVE those ads, but…, have they ever, really, made someone rush out and buy a six-pack of Bud Light? Lots of companies have a spokesman/woman/animal. We latch on to these characters and they become part of our lives. Ronald McDonald, the Maytag Repairman, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Juan Valdez, the Gerber baby, Mikey from the Life cereal campaign, Mr Whipple of “please don’t squeeze the Charmin” fame – the list goes on and on. We would think about these characters like they were our buddies and they were waiting for us at the grocery store every week.

When I was a kid, the transition to soppy and absurd advertising was gaining momentum, but it hadn’t taken a complete hold yet. Some of them actually made sense, and told us something about the product. One of my all-time favorites was the Reese’s commercial, where folks with peanut butter and chocolate would collide and make a mess, plus a new taste sensation. That was perfectly logical. Another promotion that always got my attention was the one for Oscar Meyer bologna. I can still sing that song today, “…and if you ask me why I’ll say, ‘cause Oscar Meyer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A!” I probably ate that stuff almost every day, just like the kid in the commercial. Sometimes I’d fry it first, after making the little cuts around the edge so that the bologna wouldn’t puff up in the frying pan. Nothing soppy about that ad! Two scoops of raisins, the Big Mac jingle, the Slinky song, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” these were the ads of common sense, teaching about the products they were trying to popularize, and giving us some catchy tunes to sing around the campfire, too!

Ladies and Gentlemen, those days are over. No more straightforward, just-tell-me-about-the-product promotions, well, except for those low-budget, family owned, family spokesperson kinds of ads – those are still around, but, other than those, it’s all a bunch of well-planned, pricey, powerful persuasion coming your way. My best advice is this – use the mute button, or go to the bathroom during the commercials. And, that, my friends, is truly the recipe for unlimited happiness!

February. Who in the Northern Hemisphere needs it?!

I find myself, once again, stuck in the annual black hole of winter, and it got me to thinking…, who made up this stinkin’ month, anyway? Back in ancient Roman days, the period of time we now call February wasn’t even named, because the Romans, in their extreme wisdom, thought of the winter as a long, miserable, monthless period, unworthy of being segmented and assigned monthly monikers. When it finally was tacked on, it was the last month of the year, and days could be taken from or added to at will. Finally, when the Romans started having more dentist appointments, and calendar printing companies were clamoring for reform and standardization, the Julian calendar was adopted, and February became the second month in the year. The name of the month comes from the word, februum, which is a Latin version of the word Brrrrrrrrrrr! If a Roman soldier tried to say “februum” while his stomach was growling and his lips were frozen together (both common occurrences in the bleak midwinter), it was very difficult to understand. If someone with warmer lips was trying to discern what was being said, they would ask, “feb you, eh?” and hence, the name February was born. Other northern countries eventually came up with more logical names for this month, like Macedonia, for example, where it’s called some unpronounceable word meaning, “wood cutting month” or the Polish who refer to February simply as “ice.” These names are so logical, and easier to spell. Too bad these countries didn’t rally more support for calendar reform based on their common sense. If someone put me in charge, I would find a name that means “the month to be bored and grumpy and sick.” I think “Bleah” would just be perfect. January, Bleah, March….yeah, that sounds good.

Whatever the name or the spelling, February will always be the darkest, seemingly longest month of the year. I personally think there should be a law that requires, or at least allows, hibernation in the northern hemisphere, maybe from…say….latitudes of 38˚N or higher. God surely did not intend for those of us in the north to be active during the month of February. We are supposed to be sleeping, eating, and staring at our I-devices. Instead, we are getting up like we do every other month, shoveling snow, and going about our usual business, but we’re doing it with a lot less energy and a lot more grumbling than in other months. Over the centuries, people have tried to spruce up this annual northern tribulation. In the United States, we’ve come up with the Super Bowl, St. Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day…..that’s it. That’s all we got. No one really cares all that much about who wins the Super Bowl. It’s just an excuse for getting together with friends and eating football-shaped foods of all sorts. Pies, cakes, jello molds, cheeseballs, meatloaf, you name it. Just about any food can be molded into the likeness of a football. When that’s over, we say, “Thank, God,” and we start counting the days until baseball season begins.

Valentine’s Day is a big event near the middle of the month. No one is really sure who decided to go all gung-ho with this celebration, but we all fall for it, buying cards and candy, or flowers and jewelry. Some go all out and take their loved one out for dinner. We do all this in the name of a man who no longer has a “feast day” on February 14th. St. Valentine’s story ended up becoming a bit too difficult to sort through (there is probably more than one memorable and heroic Valentine), so he is no longer on the official saint calendar of the Catholic Church. I think he actually took himself off of the calendar, kind of like Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News. Between the two of them, there are some whopper stories of daredevil adventures, some of which are not holding up under intense scrutiny. However, in defense of our holy saint Valentine, he did not embellish his own stories – that was done by his faithful friends and followers, after his death. And, Valentine was martyred, that we know for sure. Mr. Williams should have thought of that idea.

Once we’ve made it past Valentine’s Day, the only bright spot left for us Americans is President’s Day. Whoop-di-doo and fiddle-dee-dee! Let’s take Monday off and go buy a washing machine (in honor of George WASHington). After that, we can recite the Gettysburg address, sift through all of the President’s Day cards we received in the mail, and pack this holiday away until next year.

There’s nothing after that, people. Just day after endless day of bleakness and frigid arctic air, with an occasional tease of some slightly warm days, just enough to flare up the sinus issues, and then it’s back to winter. We’re all getting tired of soup and squash. We long for sun and warmth and fresh vegetables, but it is not to be. If we were snuggled up in a warm, cozy bed, waking only to snack on some stale potato chips, drink some warm tea, and run to the bathroom, it would be tolerable, but no…yours truly still has to plan meals, and go grocery shopping, and cook, and go to work, and watch the news, and gather up all the stuff I need to file my annual income tax return.

The only thing that makes any sense at all is that Lent begins next Wednesday. I love it when Lent begins fairly early in February, because it’s a penitential period, a time of sacrifice and alms-giving so PERFECTLY suited to February. Last year, Lent didn’t start until March, which was just about unbearable – an entire month of murk and misery was squandered. So now, beginning next week, at least I can put all this suffering to good use. No one will say anything if I don’t smile as much as usual, or if dinner is spaghetti for the third time this week. They’ll just assume I’m over-practicing penance, or something like that. And then, before we know it Easter will come peeking through the clouds, and winter will be over, and it will be glorious! Hang in there everyone….we will make it to spring somehow, just like we’ve done every other year!

The Six Stages of a Winter Cold

Yeah, I know this blog post is LONG overdue. Please forgive me. I have been in the midst of my own, personal study and scientific documentation of the stages of a winter cold. It wasn’t easy, but I sacrificed myself for the cause. I share my findings here with all of you, so that when you feel that hint of a sore throat, or catch yourself sniffling, you will be able to navigate safely through the stages. A enlightened view of the stages is all part of the healing process. Just another of the selfless things I do, for you, my loyal readers.

Stage 1 – Denial    Someone (or maybe everyone) around you is sniffling and/or coughing. You shake your head at them and toss back a couple of Echinacea capsules. Just to be safe, you head to the local warehouse store and buy the 5 gallon drum of hand sanitizer. You can do body-dunking in this size, should it become necessary. On your way home, you’ll swing by the drug store for some face masks and disposable gloves. These will not prevent illness, but will send a loud message to the sickies that you do not want their germs! In the next day or two, when the inevitable happens, and the first hint of symptoms come upon you, you confidently shrug it off. It’ s a little dust allergy flare up, or some pepper up your nose…..that’s all!

Stage 2 – Blaming    As the days wear on, the symptoms begin to strengthen, and you’ve got to face the truth. Not only is the sniffling and sneezing growing steady and stronger, but you’re starting to feel cranky and tired. There’s no denying it any longer, your wellness ship is sunk and you’re sick. This is when you must take some small measure of satisfaction in pointing a finger at your “bug” benefactor. “You did this to me,” you will accuse, “with your sneezing and coughing, right on my cup of wellness tea!”

Stage 3 – This will be fun    So, now that you’ve admitted you’re sick, what’s next? Well, it depends on how bad you feel. If it’s just the nuisance kind of cold, you’ll keep on going, just like all those kind folks who shared their illness with you. You’ll go to work, moving a little slower than usual, maybe, and carrying your own box of tissues, but you’ll be a trooper. The world can’t go on without you, so you gotta get to work, push some papers around, send a few e-mails, call a couple of clients, and keep the workplace germ base at a steady count. But, what if it’s more than that? What if you are feeling bad enough to stay home, or maybe you just have a lot of sick days to use up and things are slow right now and you say, what the heck? This brings us to the fun stage.

Set yourself up a sick station, preferably on a couch, in clear view of the TV, or with access to outlets to charge up your laptop or tablet. Get extra pillows and a warm blankie to add to the infirmary ambiance. If there is no table nearby, find one you can drag into place. This will come in handy for your pile of books, seed catalogs, DVD’s, cups of tea, snacks, medicines, and anything else you could possibly need. The point here is to not get up again, for a long time, so stock up. Once you’ve got the entertainment inventory in place, settle in for a fun, relaxing day. Practice your whining, so that you can convince any family and/or roommates to wait on you, hand and foot, and then settle in for some TV watching, game playing, and internet surfing!

Stage 4 – Reality and fatigue rear their ugly, little heads    If this is more than just a little cold, or if you are prone to sinus infections, things might not go well for you from here on out. As your body begins to fight off the invasion, all energy is focused on the skirmish. Your legs grow weak, your brain floats up into the clouds, and your body reduces your food options to ice cream, applesauce, and hot tea. You got a bad case, and you are looking at some time in solitary confinement! Send the loved ones out to the store for all the things you’re going to need. There’s all the over-the-counter cold medicines, if that is your arsenal of choice. After hours of trying to sort through the overwhelming selection of products, they will come home with a bag of nasty tasting drugs that will put you to sleep. This is the main goal of drug manufacturers – to put you to sleep until the virus has run its course. You don’t really know if the medication actually helps ease the symptoms, but you don’t care.

If you’re like me, you might go for more natural options of “treatment.” There’s nothing like crunching on a nice, fresh clove of garlic with your morning tea. Make sure you add some honey to that tea, because both honey and garlic are said to have immunity boosting properties. Follow that up with some homemade chicken bone broth for lunch. And don’t forget the vitamin D and the cod liver oil…..oh, no, do not even think about forgetting them! Perhaps all of this extra attention you are paying to your health will do some good, and you will be up and dancing the next day (you tell yourself this as you’re settling more deeply into the cocoon you’ve built on the couch).

Stage 5 – People no longer care    You have been sick and on the couch for a few days, now. If you are the mom of the family, this means there is nothing in the house to eat, and the pets haven’t been fed in days. No one cares anymore. Die or get well.

Stage 6 – Boredom settles in    In addition to being hungry, like everyone else in the house, and feeling unloved, you will also notice the signs of extreme boredom settling heavily upon your blankie. You have watched everything you could find on Netflix that was worth your time, and even a few episodes that weren’t. No one can keep track of the number of times you have played solitaire on your laptop. Hot tea and naps have lost their appeal. Your hair looks like a moussing experiment gone wrong, and you really need to brush your teeth. At this point, it doesn’t really matter if you’re well or not, it’s time to give it up. Pack up the pillows, toss the blanket in the wash, and get to the grocery store. You’re going back to work tomorrow!

Grandma’s drops of coffee soup wisdom

I know that many of you are forming an unfair opinion of me from my previous posts. You are thinking to yourselves, “This is one, crazy lady whose blog has no theme or usefulness, and I am wasting my time here.” However, I have a depth to me, which I have not yet shared with my faithful readers. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two. Some of these little pearls of wisdom might come in handy for a few of you, so I thought it would be very kind and unselfish of me to share these hard won nuggets. Since I do, sometimes, consider myself kind and unselfish, I felt obligated to offer this compilation of lessons learned, from many years of experience, for your perusal.

Lesson 1 – Always smell things before you taste them. This is a very useful and necessary piece of information. Unbeknownst to many of the unschooled amongst us, our taste and olfactory nerves work in conjunction with one another. Chances are, if the smell of something makes you gag, then the taste of it will make you vomit. Smell any questionable food items before tasting, and if you feel the slightest queasiness from the odor, toss it in the trash. Or, if you don’t tell PETA, you can feed it to the dogs.

Lesson 2 – Never smell things that you pick up off of the floor. This wise advice is closely related to #1. I have a habit of smelling anything that I can’t categorize. This is not a good habit to get into. There are strange and gross things in this world, and many of them live on the surface of the earth, or on the floor of your home. If you reach down to pick up an unnamable item, simply wrap said item in a tissue, and toss it in the trash. You are not a scientist. Classifying every object you encounter in your daily life is simply not necessary.

Lesson 3 – Always check the toilet paper supply before the release of any bodily wastes. I know this is a rather taboo subject, but it is something that we must, as a society, be willing to talk about. Too many people find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing a wipe when a wipe is inaccessible. Sometimes, if you are in your own bathroom, or in the bathroom at a friend’s house, you can rummage around in the cupboard and find emergency back-up, however, do not fail to follow this friendly forewarning when visiting a public restroom.

Lesson 4 – Never send anyone under the age of 20 years old to look for something in storage (i. e., in a food pantry, in the attic, in a cupboard, on shelves in the basement, etc). Anyone under this age of wisdom has not yet assimilated the concept of searching for items. If the thing they are looking for happens to be behind or under another item, they will never locate the item. They will search for a very long time, while you are, perhaps, stirring the pot, anxiously awaiting the needed ingredient. You will then have to find someone to take over the stirring, so that you can go rescue the searcher, who is standing there in a daze, staring at the shelves. You will move one can aside, which will reveal the jar of sauce that has eluded your unschooled detective. Invariably, the thwarted searcher will say, “I didn’t know it would be hidden behind something!”

Lesson 5 – Never, ever let yourself believe that grocery shopping can be taken care of in one trip per week. You will ask the entire family, several times as you are laboring over your shopping list, if there is anything that anyone needs. They will invariably say, “No.” You will take your cell phone with you, just in case they think of something while you are at the store. As soon as you get home from your big, weekly marketing excursion, and pack everything away where no one under 20 can find it, someone will say, “Did you get toothpaste (or tissues, or saltines, or quick oats, or whatever it happens to be that they have suddenly remembered that they can’t live without)? You will stop by the store on your way home from work the next day, and then the following day, you will run back again for an essential recipe ingredient that you forgot to put on your list, and so it will go, until you are stopping by the market three or four days a week, and everyone who works there will know you by name, and think that you are cuckoo.

Lesson 6 – Buying clothes in a smaller size to encourage yourself to lose weight will not work. You might think that those cute, little shorts and the skimpy tank top will be like a carrot in front of your nose, leading you on to a successful diet and exercise plan that will get you in great shape for the summer. It seems like it could be a beguiling incentive, however, the only good thing that can come of such a gamble is a nice, generous donation of brand new, never worn clothing to the local Goodwill. In addition to the donation, you will also have to hit the shops again, to get some clothing that actually fits. Save yourself some time and money – buy stretchy clothes.

Lesson 7 – (Standard Mom advice) Don’t let people get on your nerves, and try not to worry (about stuff that probably won’t turn out as bad as you think it will, anyway). Don’t take things personally. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. It never hurts to ask. Laugh a lot, be goofy, have fun. Thank God for the gift of every day, and leave things in God’s hands.

Lesson 8 – (Ending on a serious note) The only thing that really leads to true happiness in this life is relationships. Family, friends, work associates, classmates, the folks who work at the grocery store or your doctor’s office – these are the souls you can impact on a daily basis with your love and kindness and compassion and good humor. God brings these people into your daily life, and how you act towards them can truly make an impact on them, for good or for ill. Choose to love, choose to care, choose to be kind, choose to compliment and encourage and pray for those in need – these are the greatest gifts we have to offer to our little part of the world each day, and the sharing of these gifts will bless us in ways we cannot begin to grasp. We will feel happier, and we will leave those in our wake feeling happier, but these simple gifts of love and kindness will splash and ripple out into eternity, and have astounding and lasting effects we may never know.

Lesson 9 – Don’t imagine you can grasp all these staggering life lessons in one reading, because, honestly, you have to be old to be this wise.

Time Breaks the Sound Barrier

People like to say that time flies. The older I get, the more I can relate to that phrase. When you’re a kid, time hardly ever flies. You’re always stuck in school all day, wishing it were summer break or Christmas break. Do you remember looking forward to events for months and months, when it seemed like the big day would never come? I sure do. I would calculate the days for something colossal that I was anticipating. I’d get the wall calendar down and start a count from whatever the special day was – our summer trip to Cedar Point amusement park, Christmas Day, my birthday, whatever it was – and then, I would mark each day off before I went to bed. Sometimes, it seemed like it would take forever, but finally, after many little slash marks on my calendar, the waiting would pay off. Inescapably, the night before the big event would come, and I’d be so excited I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up, rush through the long-awaited adventure…and then it would be over in a flash. I guess that time did fly during those enjoyable times, because I recall that summer break was always way too short! All the good stuff would come and go, and then it would be time to find something else to look forward to. I counted down to my high school graduation, to my photography school graduation, to my wedding day, to the birthdays of each of my children, Then, before I knew it, I was in my 30’s, teaching my daughters how to do an official event countdown.

When I hit the big four-O, I had just lost my dearest friend to suicide, so time became eerily distorted for a while. But still, I counted. My oldest daughter went off to college, very far away in California – I began looking forward to Christmas again, just like in my childhood days, and also to summer break. The little numbers showed up once again on my calendar, and I marked off each day before I said my bedtime prayers. Then, in my late 40’s, cancer came to visit me. It was a surprise visit, as it most often is for folks. While I was going through the worst of my treatments, I didn’t know for sure when the struggle would end, so there was no reason to count. I stopped looking ahead, and sometimes barely managed to drag myself through each day. That was all I could do, and, at the time, it was enough. Each night, I still took the time to cross off the day on my calendar, but it was more like checking things off of a to-do list. I had done it, I had made it through another tough day, and I wanted to have many more days ahead. I did make it through, of course, and eventually, I realized I was going to be okay, and I found my silly, inner child again. By that point, I was getting close to my 50th birthday, so I planned myself a big, crazy celebration, and it went down in history as one of the best parties ever!

I am now six years out from the cancer treatments (seven years from when I first found the lump), and time is flying by so fast that I can barely hold on. I do not make a countdown on my calendars anymore. I still look forward to things, but my cancer has taught me to slow down, enjoy the slow, quiet times, and live in the simple joy of each day. I am still in the habit of crossing off each day before I go to bed, because it is one more gift of time for which I can offer thanks. But even without the countdown, I was, without a doubt, looking forward to having all of my family here for Christmas, especially since I don’t see much of my two older daughters during the year.

They were all here, my entire (extended) family, for two glorious weeks, and it was lovely, but with my new work schedule, and trying to squeeze in lots of fun outings, and preparing tasty, homemade meals almost every evening, and sitting with my granddaughter in my lap at every opportunity, reading her books, and staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap presents that would be opened the next morning, and babysitting my grandbaby so mom & dad could go out, and, (take a deep breath!), staying up late to greet the new year…, suddenly, it was time for everyone to pack up and leave. My house had been overflowing, packed with the belongings of eight people, and now it feels empty and quiet, and back to “normal.” When I go to bed tonight, I will be making a slash through the slot allotted to January 5th. How did this happen?! We’ve gone though five days of the new year, and I can still hardly believe that Christmas has come and gone. This Christmas season went by so quickly for me, I’m quite certain it broke the sound barrier. I did notice an explosion on New Year’s Eve, and I was just assuming, at the time, that our fireworks fanatic neighbor had fired up some fuses, but now I know better. It’s one of the laws of physics that time passes more quickly for the aged. In eleven days, I will celebrate another birthday – not such an exciting event as when I was a kid. Who, in their right mind, would count down to fifty-five? But you know what?! I think I am going to resurrect my old practice. As soon as I am done with this pointless piece of prose I am composing for your pastime, I am heading straight to my wall calendar. I am going to do a good, old-fashioned countdown to my birthday. And, when my birthday has come and gone, I will find another upcoming event and count the days until that, too, and I will keep on going and going, because…it will make me feel like a kid again, and when the passage of time is breaking the sound barrier, I need all the “anti-aging-secret-weapons” I can stockpile. Fifty-five isn’t really that old, but I am planning on being around for quite some time! May God bless you in this new year, with many good things to look forward to in the months ahead, and possibly even a few worth counting-down to!