People, Places and Things

The word “vacation” means different things to different people. When we travel, Dan loves to visit famous geographical and historical landmarks and take in all that they have to offer.  I, on the other hand, like to talk to the people I encounter, read, nap, linger over meals, get up late, go to bed early, and relax.

Dan and I have made two extended tours of the West and have traveled in the East more than once.  We have seen all of the main attractions in Washington, D.C.; visited Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg; walked along various beaches; toured multiple national parks; and viewed many deserts, canyons, mountains, forests, rivers and plains.  It is just that “seeing” these things means something different to Dan from what it means to me.  He cannot get enough; I fill up quickly.

When we travel, Dan spends weeks preparing an itinerary.  He knows in advance the order in which we will visit our selected destinations and the exact routes we will follow to get to them.  He knows how early (very) we need to leave our motel each morning and how late (very) we will return to a motel that evening. He leaves very little wiggle room in his scheduling because there is much to see and he doesn’t want to miss a thing.

Dan cannot understand why I might choose to spend time chatting with local people or other tourists we meet along the way.  In Yosemite I came across a man with two sweet dogs on leashes.  I struck up a conversation and, according to Dan, we stood and listened to the man tell us his dogs’ complete life histories, plus the histories of the dogs he owned before he got those two.  All of this took place while Half Dome stood only several hundred feet away, begging to be admired.

In Arches National Park, while waiting for Dan to make the long and difficult trek to photograph Landscape Arch, I met a recently widowed English woman.  She and I shared the one tiny area of shade that exists in the park while she told me how she and her husband had planned a trip to the American West for many years and when he died, she decided to brave it on her own.  I admired her courage.  Besides, I will talk to anyone with a British accent in the hope that he or she will say the word “bottle” (bo’ ul) or mention the trunk of a car (boot), riding in an elevator (lift) or using a flashlight (torch).

At the Lincoln Memorial, Dan was incredulous that I preferred visiting with a Japanese woman near the Reflection Pool to climbing (again) the memorial’s steps and reading (again) famous quotations of our sixteenth President.  Afterward, I told Dan that even though the foreign woman and I struggled with a definite language barrier, I learned quickly that the words “children” and “grandchildren” are spoken with the same facial expression in any language.  I laughed as I told him that when I asked the woman if she had experienced Washington D.C.’s subway system, she at first looked confused.  Then she smiled in comprehension, spread her hands about one foot apart from each other and asked, “Subway?  Sandwich?  No like.  Too much bread.”

Of course the natural and manmade wonders that Dan exults in seeing never disappoint him.  They are predictable and safe.  Conversely, the people I meet along the way may or may not be pleasant and entertaining.  In Arlington National Cemetery, I declined walking up the steep slope to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (again), telling Dan that I would rest in the shade of a large tree while he did his thing.

The day was clear and breezy and the cemetery was peaceful.  Soon, using my purse as a pillow, I stretched out to nap for a minute and recover from a day of hiking.  I awakened to see a stern-faced, official-looking man wearing a black suit and sunglasses looking down at me.  He asked, “Are you ill, Ma’am?”  I replied, “No.”  “Have you been injured?” he queried.  Again, I assured him that I was fine.  Then he asked me, “Have you been drinking?”  At this point I sat straight up and declared that I was entirely sober.  “In that case,” the man said, “I must ask you to remove yourself from this area.  We cannot have people lying around in Arlington National Cemetery.”  As I stood, embarrassed, I was tempted to tell the man that, in truth, most of the people in Arlington National Cemetery were lying around, but the eyes behind the dark glasses did not invite humor.  I removed myself.

That’s about it for people and places.  As for things, the main thing that must be remembered is that every long-term relationship is a give-and-take business.  Dan and I, each giving and taking a bit, always enjoy our trips together.  He relishes the places he sees; I savor experiences with the people I meet.  I’m sure you get the picture.

In case, however, you don’t “get the picture,” Dan has a well organized collection of over 700 picturesque vacation slides that he will happily show you if you come to our house.  Don’t expect me to be present for the slideshow, though; I’ll be out somewhere with friends.

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Don’t Touch That Dial!

When I was a little girl, our television sat on a black, metal, swivel stand between our living room and dining room.  Each Saturday morning my siblings and I watched cartoons and shows like Fury, all in black and white, in the living room. Each weekday evening, the TV was swiveled to face our dining room table, and together our family ate supper while watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report.

On the front of the television were three clearly labeled dials.  The smallest dial turned the set on or off and controlled the volume.  Above the on-and-off, volume-controlling knob was a slightly larger dial that we turned to select the channel we wanted to watch.  I can still hear the soft, clicking noises the dial made as it moved through the thirteen or so station options.  In between those two dials was a third one that was used for bringing the picture on the screen into clearer focus.  It didn’t do much, but it got twisted a lot.  A three-year-old could operate that television set.

Today in my living room sits a television set with absolutely no dials on it, and I miss them.  Thanks to the magic of fiber optics, this television can bring in several hundred different channels, all of them clearly focused and in brilliant color.  However, were I to approach this television set and run my hands over every one of its flat surfaces, I would not find a dial to let me choose a channel.  Nor could I adjust the volume or focus the picture.   All of those functions are now controlled remotely.

I despise remote controls.  Our television alone has three, and when used correctly, these remotes let us view television programs, record upcoming shows on the DVR, or watch DVDs. Learning to use the three remote controls in proper combination is a challenge that takes many adults years to master. Why can’t we just have dials on the front of the television?  Is it all that much trouble to get up out of a chair and walk across the room to make adjustments?  We didn’t used to think so.

Of course lots of things had dials when I was young, even the telephone.  When I wanted to make a call, I simply lifted the receiver, listened to make sure no one else on our party line was currently using the phone, and dialed seven numbers.  In a few minutes, voila, a real person answered.  Usually this was my grandma or a school friend.  Never once was I greeted by a stranger’s voice advising me to listen to the full menu before choosing an option.

Our radio had dials, and so did our record player.  We turned the dial on the iron to select the correct temperature for the item being ironed and on the toaster to determine the brownness of the bread.  We dialed the oven to 350 when making a cake and to 450 when baking cornbread.  We adjusted the dial inside the refrigerator to make our food cooler and the dial on the water heater to make our water warmer.  It was so easy!

Our clocks and wristwatches had their equivalent of dials.  If the power went off and the time had to be reset, I simply turned the dial that moved the hour and minute hands until the time was right again.  There was no worrying about a.m. or p.m.  I usually knew if it was day or night.  I wound the dial on my wristwatch every day to keep it running, and I made minor time adjustments using the same tiny dial.  Granted, my watch did not tell me the date.  I had a wall calendar for that.

In our attempts to make difficult tasks easier, we have succeeded in making simple tasks impossible!  While visiting at my sister’s house a while back, I wanted to help her with household tasks so I offered to dry a load of wet clothes for her.  Getting the clothes into the dryer was all I managed to do.  After shutting the dryer door, I found myself facing a control panel that contained as many lights and buttons as the cockpit of a small plane.  I was clueless as to how to turn the dryer on.  I left the laundry room and settled for just sweeping her kitchen.  I still know how to use a broom and dustpan.

I don’t want to go back to the days of wringer washers and freezers that have to be defrosted.  I just long to be able to find the oldies station on my radio without having to consult the 50-page, fully illustrated, multilingual instruction manual that came with it.  I want to know how to turn on my oven timer without accidentally setting the thing to self-clean.  There may even be something on television that I want to watch, but that will require the use of those blasted remote controls.

I miss the days of Fury.

Instructing Grandchildren

Sara Teasdale is one of my favorite Twentieth-Century, American poets.  In her poem, The Net, she describes the futility of trying to put into words how very special a certain person in her life is.  She says that when she makes an effort to do this, it is “As though a net of words were flung to catch a star.” That poem describes any attempt on my part to put into words how special my grandchildren are to me.  It simply cannot be done and every endeavor to do so falls short.

Because I was a mother before I became a grandmother, I realize for how short a time children remain children.  I feel an urgent need to pass along to my grandchildren all of the important life lessons I have learned in my 60+ years of living.  Therefore, unless I check myself, I am tempted to turn all of my experiences with them into science, math, morality or faith lessons.

Our oldest granddaughter is five now and ripe for instruction.  While playing in our backyard, she and I came across a cocoon.  She showed a mild interest so I explained how the little worm inside would gradually turn into a beautiful butterfly.  I volunteered that it was very hard work for the young butterfly to break out of its shell.  I warned that she or I might be tempted to help the butterfly escape by peeling away the layers of the cocoon, but that would keep the butterfly from developing the muscles it needs to be able to fly off into the sunshine.  I looked into my granddaughter’s sweet face to see if she comprehended.  She smiled warmly and said, “Besides, it would get our hands all icky.”   Yes, that too.

This five-year-old misses her great-grandmother, who died just over a year ago.  She asks many questions about where her Mee-Maw is now, why she had to go away, whether she is really underneath the dirt, does she sit on Jesus’ lap, etc.  I explain that all of the good things she remembers about her Mee-Maw are still alive.  Her Mee-Maw is now living in heaven and she is very happy there.  I emphasize how important it is to love God and believe in Jesus and trust that we will be in heaven one day too.  I am hoping I am making an impact when this little one exclaims, “And guess what, Grandma!  Mee-Maw gave me a beach towel and it smells just like her house!  You can smell it if you want to.”  Ahhh, yes.

My granddaughter and I spend quite a bit of time putting together jigsaw puzzles.  Her favorite puzzles feature Disney princesses.  I have taught her how first to look for the four corner pieces, followed by the straight-edged pieces that form the border.  Once those pieces are in place, the rest of the puzzle goes together easily.  I want to compare the puzzle to life and to tell her that if a person has a good framework of faith, moral guidelines and discipline, all of the other pieces of life will fall into place.  As I am considering how best to present this lesson, she looks up at me expectantly and says, “Uh, Grandma, I think you’re sitting on the stem of Belle’s rose.”  Touché.

I won’t stop trying to instill in my grandchildren the principles I know to be important.  Perhaps, though, I should lighten up a bit and simply enjoy them while they are still oblivious to principles.  Another of Sara Teasdale’s poems, The Coin, emphasizes the importance of creating lasting memories.   She says, “Oh, better than the minting of a gold-crowned king is the safe-kept memory of a lovely thing.”  The “lovely thing” I am doing right now with these little ones is creating memories for them and for me.

As for the instruction part, I sometimes wonder who is teaching whom.

My Hair Towel

Being a woman with distinct OCD tendencies, I like doing things in prescribed ways.  Nowhere is this more evident than in my showering routine.  I have several large, white, very absorbent bath towels that I use for drying my body after a shower.  I also have two smaller, well-worn, white bath towels that I use exclusively for wrapping around my wet hair.  Since these towels are used only for covering clean, freshly washed hair, I use them several times before washing them, and I hang them on a specific rack in the bathroom for easy access after a shampoo.  These old towels are too worn and too small to be much good for use as bath towels, and I have asked my husband not to use them for such.  They are designated hair towels.

One morning I found one of these damp hair towels in the bathroom, hanging on a rack where I never hang them.  “Uh-huh,” I thought.  “Dan has once again used one of my hair towels as a bath towel even though I have asked him more than once not to do that.”

I took the towel off its unassigned rack and confronted Dan with it.  “Haven’t I asked you not to use these towels?  Don’t you know they’re my hair towels and are not to be used for anything else?”  He looked up from whatever he was doing and said, “I didn’t use that towel.  I found it lying on our bed, wet, so I hung it up in the bathroom.”

Oh.  Well.  Hmmm.  “Okay,” I said.  Truly, I had left my wet hair towel on our bed, on his side, no doubt.  He had found it there, and without chastising me or complaining, had merely hung it up for me in the bathroom.

I hope I learned something from this little episode with my hair towel.  In any given situation, I rarely have all the facts.  I need to be a little more charitable in my estimation of others.  I am called to extend grace, not hand out judgments.  Could it be that I am too insistent upon the rest of the world doing things my way?

Everlasting Job Stoppers

All of us are alike in many ways.  We all eat, sleep, breathe, love, interact with people, and spend 24 hours every day doing something.  Our areas of difference, however, are what make us individuals.  We all have habits (I always park in aisle 10/11 at Wal-Mart.), preferences (I choose Prego spaghetti sauce over Ragu.) and quirks (I cut my fingernails very short when I am stressed.).   And then, as my grandmother used to say, we all have our own “ways.”  I have a way of grimacing in an unattractive manner when concentrating very intently.  I grew up hearing, “Stop scrunching up your face!  It’ll freeze that way!”  I also have a way of finding pull-through parking spaces because I hate backing vehicles, and I have a way of avoiding tasks that I really don’t want to do.

As a matter of fact, I am quite skilled at finding ways to skirt around doing jobs that I don’t want to do.   Here are three job-stopping tactics that I successfully employ when I want to dodge a distasteful chore.

My first job-stopping strategy is to over-analyze the task at hand.  For example, if I need to wipe down my greasy stove top, I stand in front of the appliance and take inventory.  Yes, the stove top is greasy and needs to be wiped down.  However, it seems imprudent to settle for wiping down the stove top when the burners are blackened with baked-on food and in far worse shape than the actual stove top is.  The filter for the vent above the stove top is covered with dust; the back splash is be-speckled with food particles; dust bunnies, coins, and runaway allergy tablets reside underneath the stove; and the oven needs to be cleaned.  It is impossible to decide where to begin!  Therefore, I deduce that since I don’t have time to do a thorough job today, I’ll wait until another day when I can do the job right.  The greasy stove top, which I really didn’t want to clean, goes untouched, providing proof that this strategy works.

Another strategy that works for me is to avoid tackling a particularly distasteful job by addressing other tasks instead.  Let’s say that my overloaded, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves need to be dusted.  This is a monstrous endeavor involving a ladder, cleaning rags, a vacuum cleaner, various cleaning products for the different types of items on the shelves, and the stamina of a rock climber.  Yet, the job needs to be done.  However, upon reflection I realize that I also need to go to the bank, return some library books, and visit the Post Office.  In fact, these jobs are more time-sensitive than the shelf-dusting.  If I don’t take care of them right away, I risk bouncing a check, accumulating overdue book fines and getting my Mom’s birthday card to her a day late, so I put on my coat and head out the door.  At the end of the day, the bookshelves are still coated with dust, but I did take care of three jobs instead of just one.  I even managed to get in a little window shopping.  Truly, I am an efficiency expert.

A third job-stopping strategy I often employ involves simply asking myself these questions: “Will doing this job really make a positive difference in the lives of others?”  “Is there not some more noble, charitable, or service-oriented task that I should address instead?”   Thus, when I recognize that 14 items of clothing are waiting to be ironed, I ask myself who will benefit if I spend my time ironing them.  Will anyone’s day be brightened?  Certainly mine won’t be.  Will a relationship be strengthened?  Who will receive encouragement or pleasure from the fact that my ironing is done?  Probably no one will.  However, my granddaughter will be ecstatic if I tell her we are going on an impromptu outing to Monkey Joe’s.  A friend who is feeling blue will be cheered if she and I go to lunch.  My mother, who lives 600 miles away, will delight in a long, rambling phone chat with me.  Shouldn’t I choose to bless rather than to press?

It may be true that greasy stove tops, dusty bookshelves, and wrinkled clothes deserve more attention than I give them, but consider all that I accomplish by choosing to neglect them!  In the category of Avoiding Unpleasant Jobs, I rate myself as functioning at the professional level.   However, reaching this high degree of expertise does not happen overnight.  Like any skill, this one takes years to master.  I will give a tip, though, to anyone interested in becoming more adept in this area: It helps if you’re already good at rationalizing.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

I am not bothered by many of the things that annoy other people.  For example, there is not one ounce of road rage inside my whole body.  Drivers can cut me off in traffic, adjust their driving speeds to exactly coincide with mine to make it impossible for me to pass them, take a parking space I have been waiting on for five minutes, fail to signal an upcoming turn, or even stop dead in the middle of the road to finish sending a text and I don’t get flustered.  I figure that as long as nobody gets hurt, the “no harm, no foul” rule applies.

I don’t criticize people for putting up their Christmas lights before Halloween or for leaving them up and turned on until Easter.  I have no problem with people wearing wet swimsuits in the library.  I don’t even care if people use the same plate when making a return trip to a food bar as long as they do not let the serving spoon touch their plate, arm, clothing, or floor.  I say live and let live.

I save my fury to vent on important issues:  printed spelling, grammar and word usage errors in public places.  I am incensed every time I go into a grocery store and see a sign above a register reading: 10 items or less.  One cart does not contain “less” items than another cart.  It may contain fewer, but never less.  If I ever find a grocery store with lane signs reading: 10 items or fewer, I will patronize that store; I don’t care how high its prices are.  If their eggs cost a dollar apiece, I will buy no fewer eggs than I always buy.

Another thing that makes my blood pressure go up is seeing a billboard, which almost certainly is costing someone thousands of dollars a month to display, containing a glaring error.  I almost wrecked my car the other day when I saw a prominent highway billboard proclaiming: One out of every five high school students are using illegal drugs.  I don’t want any high school students to use illegal drugs, but that is not the thing that caused me to hit my brakes and scream, “What?”  One out of every five high school students is, not “are” using illegal drugs.  Were I not afraid of heights, I might make it my business to paint corrections on such billboards to save the people who put them up so much embarrassment.

I know I am not the only one who is troubled by these errors.  I once saw a sign on a restaurant door that read: Shoes and shirts are required to eat here.  Someone had scribbled next to those words:  Socks may eat wherever they wish.

As a public servant, I want to educate people and help them correct word errors for which they are responsible, but for some reason, such conversations tend not to go well for me.  People often misunderstand the point I am trying to make and think I am saying something that I am not saying.   I saw on the check-out counter of a sandwich shop recently a cup containing coins and bearing this sign:  We are greatful for your tips.  I wanted to explain to the clerk the problem that I had with the sign; however, I suspect that if I had broached the subject with her, she rather snootily would have told me that the shop was entitled to have a tip cup if it wanted to have one.  Then as I tried to make a graceful exit she would have added something like, “And for all intensive purposes, it’s none of your business!”

One day I returned from grocery shopping with a frozen Sara Lee cheesecake.  I took the cheesecake out of the box to thaw and just as I tossed the empty carton into the trash I spotted these words on its side:  Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.  Having listened to Sara Lee commercials since I was a child, I knew that the company’s slogan was “Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee.”  How could such a well-known, reputable company as Sara Lee allow an error like that to appear on its packaging?  I put together possible scenarios in my mind.  Maybe a new plant had opened and the person responsible for printing the words on the carton was new to the company and had just made an honest mistake.  These things happen.

Fortunately, on the box was printed a 1-800 number for people to use when calling with concerns about Sara Lee products.  I was certainly concerned and so I called.  After jumping through the usual prerecorded hoops I was finally connected with a customer service representative.  I told the young woman as clearly as I could that I had just spotted a printing error on a box of Sara Lee cheesecake.  Instead of immediately thanking me and assuring me that the error would be corrected, she began asking me all kinds of irrelevant questions.  “Where did you buy this product?”  “Do you often buy Sara Lee products?”  “Are you usually pleased with the Sara Lee products you purchase?”  I was patient to a point but finally I pressed her to hear me out.  I said, “This box of Sara Lee cheesecake that I bought today has printed on it the words: Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.  “Yes?” she replied.  “Well,” I said, “That’s wrong.”  “What is wrong about it?” she asked.  Astounded that she, a sales representative, did not even know her company’s slogan, I explained.  “The box should read: Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee.”  “No, it shouldn’t,” she explained.  “That is not our company’s slogan.  The slogan is ‘Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.'”  “What?”  I almost screamed into the phone.  “Are you telling me that the Sara Lee slogan is actually ‘Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee’?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “That slogan appears on all of our products.”  Completely aghast I shot back, “A double negative?  Nobody doesn’t like . . .”  “Yes,” she said.  “But that is grammatically incorrect,” I insisted.  “We know,” she said, “but we like it.”

What is wrong with people?

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.