Sticks and Stones: Part 2

Yes, this is Part 2 of my oxymoron, post-COVID vacation to North and South Carolina. I did travel to Aiken, SC, to see Annie and CB, her fiancĂ©, where the landscaping was much more rolling. Aiken is horse country and has an expansive, time-trials track for such races as the Kentucky Derby. Many of the houses are antebellum; in fact, my eldest will be married on the lush grounds of the former governor’s mansion in October. After my short stay, we drove back to Wilmington for the 4th of July weekend.

The sticks: Friday night my friend was in charge of preparing the garlic bread and broiling it in the infamous stove oven from hell. I swear she had just placed it in the oven when the loaf caught on fire and sent smoke billowing through the house. Later, I tried to warm something in the microwave, which I had covered with a paper plate. The paper plate caught on fire and sent more smoke roaring through the house. (Did I mention I didn’t notice the paper plate had a metallic covering?)

The stones: Yes, they indeed break bones. First, I rolled my ankle on the concrete porch. I felt my stomach lurch; I swallowed hard. Whatever I was about to hurl retreated. Then my youngest stubbed her toe on the porch stoop. Her toe went off at a weird angle. Enter my eldest, Dr. Boss, to inspect our injuries. She demanded RICE! Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Damn! There went our 4th of July plans to watch the fireworks from the USS North Carolina battleship on the Cape Fear River. Of course, we also missed a day at the beach and a shopping adventure.

I was outfitted with an brace to stabilize my badly swollen and bruised ankle; according to Urgent Care doc, I wasn’t broken, just bent. My youngest, on the other hand, was diagnosed with a broken toe, which was yanked back into alignment and taped to another toe. She further got one of those high-styling ortho shoes.

Needless to say, my first post-COVID adventure was memorable. However, I’d prefer the next one not include sticks and stones.

The Stove: Part I

I’ve just returned from my first, post-COVID trip. Oops that may very well be an oxymoron–call me a cynic, but I’m not convinced with the number of anti-vaxers it’s possible. Moving on, I spent almost 2 weeks visiting my kids in North and in South Carolina, where I was still awed by lush green landscape, occasional thunderstorms, and tree frogs that hung on the porch windows. Such a contrast to drought-ridden, burned up Phoenix.

My first stop was Wilmington, NC, where my youngest and her husband had relocated two weeks prior. (It was her birthday, and since her cancer bout I make an effort to be there to celebrate her new year.) Though I did offer to take the two of them out for birthday dinner, my kid wanted homemade spaghetti and meatballs. No problem. Meatballs mixed, baked in the oven, plopped in a rich sauce in a crockpot to simmer for several hours. With the salad prepared, the garlic bread ready for a quick dash under the broiler, it was time to boil the pasta. Angel hair is her preference; dinner would be served in 10 minutes. WRONG.

“Lena, help me. I can’t turn on the stovetop burner.”

“Mom, just look. Press the square that says power on.”

“I did. It just blinks.”

Thirty minutes had passed and neither my kid, nor my son-in-law could turn on the burner. Midway through their efforts, I left the kitchen to stifle my laughter. They were so frustrated! Young tech-savvy folk who thought I was dumb. Finally, Lena found some contraption I’d never seen, plugged it into an outlet and anchored it into a pot of water. “Mom, what’s the temperature of boiling water?”

Oh, ye gods! And we paid a fortune for her college education. “212 degrees. Didn’t you ever learn that?” My suppressed laughter was making my sides ache.

“The thermostat only goes to 195 degrees. But let’s give it a try.” And so, another 25 minutes passed. I put some pasta in the water to see what would happen. Nothing a a stale stench of a long-opened box of angel hair. I went to the restroom. Who says one’s best ideas don’t spring from the toity? When I emerged, “John, I’ve an idea. Will you make a quick run to Walmart and buy a hot plate? We could have used the one on your grill, but you’re out of propane. A hot plate will allow me to boil the pasta, and we can finally eat.”

Lo and behold John returned with a double-burner! At nine PM, I served birthday dinner. I could barely eat due to my smug humor roiling inside. The couple rued the fact a broken cooktop was not disclosed in the sale of their house, as they made plans to purchase another. However, Lena found the stove’s instruction book and the next morning announced she’d figured out the problem. Induction cooktops require special cookware, so instead of buying a new unit for $1,000+, she bought four special pans for $500+. However, John could have bought three, dual cook plates for a mere $75, which may have not been as attractive, but they would not require rocket science to operate.

Two weeks have passed; why do I still find this event so utterly amusing?

How HOT Is It?

This week I received numerous condolences from my friends and family across the country about the scorching Phoenix heat wave. Temperatures of 117+ with night lows in the 90’s. The breeze, if one can call it that, is like opening a 500-degree oven. It’s neither welcomed, nor refreshing. It serves solely to benefit the raging wildfires around the state.

Tuesday night we were playing trivia at the local ‘hood bar and grill, when someone announced: “Everyone outside! It’s raining!” The entire clientele rushed outside only to be bowled over by searing, gusty-dusty wind, and 3 or 4 raindrops. A promise of rain that ended in dirty cars and continued drought.

I’ve lived in Phoenix for 38 years; I know about its summers. I know even the Devil goes to San Diego this time of year. And I know my air-conditioning bill will surpass my Amazon one. However, I lived for 13 years in the Lake Erie Snow Belt. I endured week-long lock downs in my apartment, where the only way to the grocery store was by foot or snow mobile. Snow drifts, high winds packed with swirling snow made roads impassable. And God forbid, it the electricity went out, and I had no heat. I spent many a night on the floor in front of a Vermont Castings wood stove, which not only warmed the living room, but served as a cooktop to boil soup. I’d sweep the snow off the out-door gas grill to cook a hamburger, and while my burg cooked, I plodded through the snow and forged a bathroom path for my puppy.

A favorite Ohio joke: What do you call the day after two, straight days of rain? Monday. No one was brave enough to plan an outdoor picnic, without a backup-rain plan. On one 4th of July, my grandmother invited everyone to her farm for a picnic. We spent the entire day huddled inside, as the rain and wind rattled the farmhouse windows. Then my boyfriend and I drove to Geneva-on-the-Lake to watch the fireworks. I wore my fur-lined boots and wool coat.

I just checked the current water temperature of Lake Erie: 68 degrees, deemed suitable for swimming. Hmm. I think not; I prefer my 90-degree pool water. It’s much more therapeutic for my aching body. And so, my friends, please don’t worry about me. I still have a fairly good memory and can vividly recall Ohio seasons, which frankly, I don’t miss one bit!

And Then There Were Ten

Supposedly, earlier this week a woman in Pretoria, South Africa gave birth to ten children. If that is verified, she will have outdone the current Guinness World winner who last month gave birth to nine. Frankly, the thought of these multiple births boggles my mind.

Yes, I’ve birthed two daughters—but one at a time. I can vividly remember having an ultrasound and praying there was only one bun in the oven. Ye Gods! Not nine or ten! I can’t imagine trying to tend to a veritable litter of newborns. Diapers, bottles, onesies. I would have to buy a twelve-passenger, short bus to accommodate car seats. How would I grocery shop with 10 kids in a shopping cart? When would I ever sleep?

But the mere thought of trying to name 10 kids is overwhelming. Some couples choose to name each of their children with the same first letter, i.e. Charles, Candace, and Cooper. I have enough trouble trying to remember names, let alone names that start the same. So what would I name them? Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Quincy, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler? Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia? Or would simply take a permanent Magic Marker and write a number: 1 through 10 on their foreheads?

Snopes.com is currently investigating if indeed 10 children were born to one mother. Stay tuned in for updates. In the meantime, when you can’t fall asleep, amuse yourself by contemplating the care of 10 babies!

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

I try not to think about it, but most days it is impossible. I’ve lost more weight just shaking my head these past two years than by going to the gym. (However, I look obscene in spandex, so I’ve never been to the gym since I completed my college physical education requirements.)

I’m overwhelmed by news of the Kardashians, Harry and Meghan, COVID variants, anti-maskers, and a talk of a new POTUS in August. Federal investigations, court cases, restrictive voting laws, climate change, inflation, crime, and mass shootings boggle me. My futile attempts at shutting out the madness lead only to incurable insomnia that even reading War and Peace can’t solve.

Yesterday, I brewed a cup of morning coffee, walked outside, and sat down to sip and scan my email. Mostly ads. Then, much to my surprise, an email from an old friend–literally. Fifteen years older! I hadn’t heard from her in five or six years, as she’d moved away, so I eagerly opened it: Hi Sue: How are you? If you get this, email me back. I need a favor.

I responded immediately but then got caught up with morning chores, and didn’t check email until mid-afternoon. There was an email from my friend, Sandra, enumerating her many health issues. Since she was currently hospitalized she was unable to get her niece’s birthday present. Her simple request was for me to send her an Apple Pay card, and she’d reimburse me when she left the hospital.

Hmm? Her response came in less than two minutes after, my first one. Who is her niece? Where am I supposed to send this Apple Pay card? Methinks, I’m being scammed. With the help of the internet, I found Sandra’s phone number in Washington State. I called.

“Sue, how nice to hear from you after all the years. You are my 52nd caller today. No, I’m not in the hospital; no, I don’t even have a niece; no, I don’t need money. Yes, my email account has been hacked.”

It’s still a mad, mad, mad, mad world some 58 years after the film’s release.

Is Low High? Redux

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my new dryer with the inverted temperature controls. Low equalled high; high equalled low. I sent a complaint email to the manufacturer who insisted a contact a certified, Whirlpool repair technician. Of course, I had to wait four days for an appointment. With the aid of his temperature gauge, he found I was incorrect. “How long has it been since your dryer vent was cleaned?”

An absurd question! How would I know? I’d lived here almost thirty years and never knew it needed cleaned.

He walked outside, climbed up a ladder, pulled out a bit of lint, “There’s nothing wrong with your dryer; the vent is plugged. That’s why it doesn’t heat properly. The majority of dryer vents are a straight shot, just like a freeway. Yours is L-shaped. In the bend is the plug.”

“So what do I do?”

“Call a company that cleans dryer vents. You’re very lucky there wasn’t a fire or worse a gas explosion.”

Holy Mother of God! I could have burned down my casa! So last week I dried laundry on the patio again. Friday The Top Hatter came and in 15 minutes blew out the blockage–a twelve-inch bird nest and thirty years of lint! Now while this may be a boring blog, as I’ve told this story to my friends, they’ve all reported they had never cleaned out their vents. I found solace in their admission. However, this old dog has learned a new trick. Even though I won’t live another thirty years, I will have the vent blown out every three or four years until….

Jefe de la Casa: Boss of the House

Ten years ago in April, I became el jefe–the boss. Now, I was not without some training and had clearly established myself as the Alpha in my dog pack. Nonetheless, my new role forced me to learn more about home maintenance, yard care, and big-ticket purchases than I ever wanted to know. As I muddled through my new role, it finally occurred to me I was acting like a manager, not the leader my university degree proclaimed me to be. I did a U-turn and sought out those to assume some of my responsibilities.

I hired a monthly landscaping service, a financial advisor, an accountant, and a cabana boy. But I haven’t stopped mowing the lawn, planting and maintaining the vegetable garden, tending to the swimming pool, nor fertilizing the citrus trees. I do laundry and cooking. Then, on my 70th birthday, I acquiesced my role of house keeper.

Yes, I have a biweekly cleaning service. Yes, some have a weekly one, but I’m old-fashioned enough to think I should bear some burden for my messes. Please don’t assume I’m a saint, for my week of cleaning may be simply vacuuming the tile floors or dusting the piano. Further, I’ve been known to run an unplugged vacuum up and down the living carpet to give the appearance it’s been swept, and I spray Pledge in the air to give a clean scent. I certainly don’t scrub down the shower, nor the toilets.

No, the only day I do a serious pick up and put away, folding and straightening, and sweeping and dusting is the day before my cleaning service comes. It’s absurd; I know that, but I don’t want be the talk of the town. “Man, we went to clean Sue’s house–talk about a filthy, trash pit!”

I should stop complaining about being El Jefe because the day will come when I’m locked up in a retirement care facility. My lawn mower will vanish, my garden will be some potted plant, my wardrobe will be nothing more than a robe and a night gown. I’ll be told what to do, when to do it, and what to eat. I’ll no longer be in control of my own destiny. My Boss title will be nothing more than a fading memory.

OMG, this blog is depressing! Sue, el jefe de la casa, needs a cerveza!

Is Low High?

Last week the evil appliance demon struck again, in spite of the presence of St. Joseph, protector of household repairs. This time it was my high-end, five-year-old, state-of-the-art dryer. The repairman said he simply needed to replace a part.

“Sue, the bad news is the part won’t be available for two or three weeks.”

Doable. I would survive the inconvenience.

“But, given all the COVID issues, the Suez Canal, and the international shipping situation, it could be 2 or 3 months.”

What? I flashed back to memories of both my mother and grandmother hanging laundry on their clothes lines in the Ohio summer breeze. Nothing smelled better than sheets dried outside, but in Phoenix? Land of blowing sand and dust? Doubtful.

“You should just buy a Whirlpool; at least, they’re American made so you can get parts.”

Me? Get parts? Wrong, masked man, but after he left, I went and bought a Whirlpool dryer.

“Sorry, Sue it can’t be delivered until next Thursday. We’re really busy with new house construction needs.”

Ok, so I’d have to dry my cabana boy’s weekly wash outside. I decorated my patio furniture with towels, shirts, socks, shorts, etc., and the Phoenix heat dried it in no time. However, I had to shake out the dust as I folded each piece. Admittedly, I did smell one t-shirt. No fresh aroma whatsoever.

Yesterday, aka laundry day, I washed and used my dryer for the first time. The buzzer went off; mission accomplished. I opened the dryer. Wet clothes. Hmm. How about timed dry, instead of normal? After 70 minutes, buzz, still wet. Hmm. Maybe, the installer forgot to turn on the gas valve. Since gas, like electricity, scares the bejesus out of me, I looked and listened, but didn’t touch the valve. I filled the laundry room with blue language instead. I reread the manual. Finally, I decided to wait until Monday to deal with this.

An hour later, I jiggled and wiggled every dial. I turned the temperature setting from High to Low and hit the start button. I waited 20 or 30 seconds and opened the dryer door. Voila! Hotter than a Youngstown steel mill blast furnace!

As one can tell from the photo, this is not the fault of the installer, but of the manufacturer. I can imagine the nightmare of dealing with the Whirlpool Corporation about this mess, so I’ll simply write them a letter for their circular file and remember that Low = High!

Thank You, Teacher

This past week was national Teacher Appreciation week. All of us have had teachers who made a difference in our lives. In fact, when I taught Master level classes at the university, I gave a quiz: Write down the names of your best teachers. Write down the names of your worst teachers. Write down the name of your remaining teachers. Of course, my students could only recall the best and the worst. The remainder were for the most part nameless. No surprise in a society of overload information. Our brains routinely sort and categorize enormous amounts of data into convenient compartments that we can regurgitate when Dr. Suze asks a nonsensical question.

My silly little”test” was merely an intro to an extended discussion about what makes a great teacher. “Some of you in this class aspire to be supervisors, principals, and maybe even a superintendent. Your responsibilities will include hiring teachers. How will you know if you hired the best, the mediocre, or the worst? Finally, based on our discussion this evening, by a show of hands, how many of you have thanked a teacher for making a difference in your life?”

As to be expected, one or two raised a hand. “Your assignment for next week in addition to the readings in the syllabus is to react to the following via the discussion board: What is teacher appreciation?

Of course, the discussion board was jammed with thoughts about teacher pay–no surprise, for that has been an issue for 200 years. However, many mentioned intrinsic rewards. “I had a former student show up in his Marine Corps dress blues.”

“Mrs. Johnson?”

“Wow look at you! I’m so proud of you! Thank you for coming by.”

“Ma’am, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Another wrote, “I’ve taught for over 25 years. My most treasured possessions are a handful of cards and letters I received from students. Oh yes, every once in a while I got a bouquet of dandelions, a bottle of stinky cologne, and even a salamander! But it meant and means so much to have a student write me a note or draw me a picture. To me that’s priceless.”

It’s never too late to thank a teacher. All of us who have taught or still teach measure our success on the priceless notes and comments we’ve received from students.

COVID and Teenagers

I had an interesting conversation this week with the principal of my district’s alternative school, but first some words about the school and its students. The school was designed for students who didn’t like or succeed in traditional middle or high school for a variety of reasons. Some had discipline issues, some were credit deficient, some were bored, some preferred a small environment, and some, in their words, “just didn’t fit.”

Under the leadership of a spectacular principal and a caring faculty, homeless students found shelter. Due to small, computer-assisted classes every student could work at his/her own speed to attain subject mastery. The archaic 120-hour requirement of seat time vanished. In fact, one enterprising young man, completed 7 math courses in one year! The school faculty embraces a sense of community, and several times a year they hold a barbecue at lunch time for the kids. In return, the students are no longer chronically absent or constantly referred to the assistant principal for infractions.

The principal said, “Sue, COVID has changed my kids. They rebelled against virtual, at-home learning, they missed being at school. Some of them promised to reenroll when things ‘were normal.’ As you know, every Friday I draw names of those for attendance award prizes. In the four years I’ve been doing this, the most popular prize was lunch with the principal from their choice fast food joint. Second, was a bag of candy. But not this year when many of the kids lost their fast food and menial jobs due to COVID lockdowns. Blankets and socks have replaced Whataburger.”

Wow! That anchored me.

“Remember Sue, when your neighbor gave you all the giveaway stuff she’d collected from the casino, and you brought it here over a year ago?”

How could I forget? A trunk load of crap from rice cookers, to dinnerware, pots, and pans, serving dishes, and platters.

“That stuff has sat in the prize closet for over a year, but now, it’s wildly popular. All of this was chosen by our 10 winners today.”

Hmm. Why would a 17-year-old want a ceramic serving platter?

“Can you believe it? All of this is for their moms for Mother’s Day!”

I was moved. So many of these kids were labeled throw-aways, ne’er do-wells, bad boys, etc, but this school culture had changed them. COVID had changed them. They’d gone from selfish, it’s all about me, teens to becoming caring adults. In fact, more members of this graduating class have enrolled at the community college for fall. They’ve experienced first-hand job loss, they’ve struggled with ill family members, and they’ve missed the human connection of regular school.

The incredible tragedy of COVID has changed all of us.