Rockin’ round the Christmas Tree

When I was a child, I remember, my parents would buy a real pine tree and bring it home. Oh, we were so excited! But, as an exercise in patience and endurance, they would leave it resting in the garage, keeping it cool. We walked by that tree every day, wishing and waiting for the day when we got to put it up.

I remember my mother would help my father get the tree in one of the old screw stands–you know, “screw that one in a little further, it leans to the right” and then, for added fun, she would make us leave it another day so that it could “warm up.” I didn’t want it to warm up, I wanted to put stuff on it! Eventually, eventually, we got to decorate that tree and it smelled terrific and it looked even better! We kept it watered, enjoyed the ambiance and swept up all the dead needles when Christmas was over.

I never knew how much I enjoyed those days until I came to the modern Christmas tree. I remember being shocked because I saw someone had a silver aluminum tree. There were no lights on it…just a revolving light on the floor that turned it various colors. I vowed on that very day that I would never have a fake Christmas tree. Even when they started coming out with passable green ones that allowed lights and decorating, I was still determined. No artificial tree for me.

My resolve began to weaken as the years went on and I had to wait longer than anyone else to put up my tree because it was live and then when it was over, I was reduced to getting down into the carpet and picking out those sticky, dried-up needles that had adhered themselves so much to my carpet that even the shop vac would not get them. My bare feet, though, they picked up dry, prickly needles nicely!

Okay, so I pulled the last of the razor sharp needles out of my feet and went shopping for a “fake” tree. There were masses of them. I finally managed to choose one and, avoiding the clerk’s suggestion that I buy some fake pine smell to spray over the fake tree plastic smell, I headed home.

Now, I have always regarded the tree stand as the ultimate test of our holiday spirit. If you can get those little screws into the base of the tree so that it stands up reasonably straight and you can still smile, you pass the test. However, if you can get those plastic wedge things properly seated in the grooves provided on a fake tree and not wish to hit the inventor of those tree stands in the head with a hammer, well, you’ve more Christmas spirit than me! Either way, the chances of the tree taking a header after it’s fully decorated because the stand gives out are very high. Some people have a drunk uncle who runs into the tree and knocks it over. The rest of us have an unstable tree stand!

Just getting the fake tree upright is quite a chore, but once you’ve done so, there is still more to do. Unlike the real tree which must be “warmed up,” the fake tree instead must have its branches “fluffed”. You see, a fake tree has been smooshed into a box with all of its little green wire branches adhered to the main branch so tightly that the whole thing resembles a fat marching baton. You must artfully bend and move and “fluff” these branches until they look like “real” branches.

Decorating has never been a problem for me. I slap on the lights and always secretly wonder what led the early proponents of the Christmas tree to put lit candles on a dead tree, but I am grateful things have evolved since then. I love bulbs and all manner of interesting ornaments. I know of a woman who used to put the same color and style bulbs only on her tree and she measured with a tape measure to make sure they were exactly placed. This is not me! I put the darn things on willy-nilly and usually spent the rest of the holiday rearranging them as I notice where I may have left “blank spots.”

My mother was a big fan of tinsel, those little silver strands that cling to more things than glitter. She made us put them on one at a time and take them off the same way. It was years before I realized that some people just throw bunches of it on the tree in random fashion. This seemed sacrilegious to me considering my upbringing so in the end I solved the problem by not putting tinsel on my tree. I prefer festive garlands that never fit over the whole tree and always stop at awkward points in the tree’s decor. It looks like the tree was getting dressed, but got caught trying to fit it over their ample middle and therefore, ran out of garland!

Nonetheless, my tree is now up, the stand is in place, the plastic smell has been disguised, and the branches are all fluffed. The decorations are in place…at least for now. I sat down with a sigh of relief and then I made my fatal mistake. I asked my husband what he thought.

“Well, the top branch is bent awkwardly because your lighted star is too heavy, part of your string of lights is not working over on this side–you should have checked that before you put them up–and the cat is currently sitting about a third of the way up on that branch over there that is sagging under her weight. However, beyond that, it almost looks like a real Christmas tree.”

If I was speaking to him after that, I’d have told him it IS a real Christmas tree. Ho, Ho, Ho!

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My Home Away From Home

Jackie Wells-Fauth

One of the most consistent parts of my working life is the fact that I have always had a fairly steady commute. I have always had to drive from one town to another to teach and that means a lot of time in the car. Or, as I call it, my home away from home.

My car is equipped with all of the necessities for a vehicle which is exposed to the vagaries of the South Dakota weather. It has windshield wipers, four-wheel drive, warning camera indicators. But those are the minor things. My car is also stocked with all of the things which ensure that I have a safe and comfortable drive.

Of course, food is critical. I always have candy bars and fruit snacks stashed somewhere at hand. I also bring along plenty of water and pop and then there are the fresh doughnuts and such that I add in on special occasions. I like chocolate and powered sugar ones the most, but I stopped getting those after Roy drove my car one day and got a butt full of doughnut residue. According to his “hysterical” account, he looked like a drug dealer who had soiled himself!

Of course, by the time I have added in the books I carry with me — you never know when you will get stopped by a train and need something to do — and my extra winter wraps — because I can never find my gloves when its time to go — and my lunchbox — obviously — I have a pretty full front seat.

Now, this is not counting the other items essential for a road trip. Of course I must have my purse which is so overstuffed that it looks like I’m carrying the living room sofa around, and it takes up a lot of space. It also has the regrettable tendency to tip over in the car, so in my yearly cleaning I find a lot of loose change, chap stick containers and random loose cough drops.

I never let Roy clean the car because then I would have to explain why I have a flyswatter located convenient to hand. He seems to think that trying to swat the annoying flies that always seem to get into the car, while I am driving down the road is a hazard. I have tried to explain that flies landing on my face, forcing me to swing at them with a soda bottle is also a hazard, but he won’t listen.

I would also have to explain why there are random vitamins or fiber capsules lying around on the floor. But he doesn’t understand that those buggers are really slippery and when I’m trying to take them on the drive to school in the morning, they frequently slip out of my hands and land on the floor. I can’t pick them up and take them then, can I? The floor is dirty because I never vacuum. If I never vacuum my house, I could hardly be expected to vacuum my home away from home, could I? He took a look at the capsules strewn throughout the car and said, “You’ll be arrested as soon as they see that and only after they test for Metamucil will they know you aren’t a drug dealer.”

Of course, with all the items I have in the car, I do need a nice little trash bin, but I keep forgetting to buy one. Therefore, there are candy wrappers, plastic drink bottles and doughnut napkins on the floor, in the compartment in the door, stuck between the seats and of course, in the glove box. On my annual cleaning day, I take out bags of garbage and I also retrieve quite a bit of change…usually enough to buy myself another candy bar!

Of course, no home away from home would be complete without a companion and I have one of those: it’s called the radio. It is from this chatty little friend that I learn all the latest gossip, sing along with for all the latest songs and keep ahead of the latest trends. For instance, I learned that if you smile really big even when you don’t feel it, it will improve your mood. It works while I’m still in my little home away from home with my food, coffee and purse, but the minute I step out and meet actual people, it’s a lot harder. My radio friend didn’t mention that.

Now I know there are inconveniences to my little home away from home. I would hate to have to spend the night in it and there isn’t a great deal of room for the television, but still, I find myself very comfortable on my commute back and forth to work. And as soon as I get one of those self-driving cars I’m going to bring along my microwave and oh, maybe even my needlework! Hope you all have a safe and happy commute to work this week and make sure to smile!

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The Gambler’s Life

I’ve never been much of a gambler. I don’t even buy lottery tickets because I am not what you would call “the winning kind” when it comes to games of chance. I don’t win at Monopoly, I never win in a raffle and I’m not raking in the winnings for cards or dice.

So why did the football lottery at school appeal so much? I started at first to let Roy fill out my sheets for the winning NFL football teams for the week. I put in the money, but he made the picks. And neither of us, aware of the quirks of fate and the unpredictable NFL, really expected a win.

Until this week. I had begun doing my own sheet to see how I would stack up against Roy. Last week, he picked more winners than I did, but this week I was determined to do better.

“Why did you pick Denver?” he asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Because they are playing Jacksonville and I’ve never been to Jacksonville, but I’ve not only been to Denver, but I have family there,” I answered, such an obvious point.

“Do you even know what the Denver team is called,” he asked after a moment’s silent reflection.

“Something to do with horses or something,” I was busy making my next pick. “Now, let’s see, these Houston Cowboys…”

“Dallas Cowboys,” he corrected.

“Dallas Cowboys then, I’m picking Chicago against them,” I made my mark on the paper.

“I hate to ask why, but I will,” he mumbled.

“Because city boys from Chicago are likely to know a lot more about football than cowboys would,” honestly, some things are so common sense.

He didn’t question any more of my picks and I gleefully handed in his paper and mine the following day. All I was really looking for was to beat him.

Then, the games started piling up and I was winning a few of my guesses. After Baltimore beat Tampa Bay and Denver took out Jacksonville (see, I told you), I started taking an interest in the winners. After all, I had my 5 bucks on this…maybe I could win!

I usually watch the Vikings and cheer for them because that is the team of my father and my husband, but this week, I found myself screaming at Cousins, “Come on, you Chump, I got money on this! Throw a first down!”

I got New Orleans over Las Vegas…New Orleans is so much nicer than Las Vegas…and then, New England beat the Jets. That stands to reason..have you ever seen the autumn leaves in New England???

When Tennessee beat Houston, Roy actually cheered, because it meant I had one wrong. I gave him a cold and evil stare, “Perhaps you don’t want me to win? Perhaps you don’t want a few extra dollars in this house?”

“Are you going to share it with me,” was his next question.

“I wonder how Washington is doing,” I said, avoiding his eye. “I bet big on them.”

“You bet five dollars on the whole works,” he replied. “And I knew that if you won, you wouldn’t share.”

I was riding high until the Green Bay/Buffalo game. I bet on Buffalo, but it was still nerve-wracking. After Rogers pushed through the third first down on a single drive, I threw my sewing at the television. “Rogers, I’m just not going to watch if you are going to play like that!” I yelled.

“It’s just 5 dollars,” Roy said again. What did he care? He was already out of the running.

“It’s not the five dollars,” I lied. “It’s the principal of the thing. I thought we cheered against Green Bay no matter what, in this house.”

“It’s the five dollars,” he said.

By Monday night, I was close to winning the pool, but had Cincinnati won over Cleveland (I picked Cincinnati, because it’s more fun to say than Cleveland), that might cinch the deal. No such luck. Pretty name or not, Cincinnati went down to Cleveland. I tried to shrug my shoulders and say it wasn’t a big deal, but at the thought that I was so close, I could feel my lip trembling and my mood going down.

So, it was quite a surprise on Tuesday when they handed me the football pool for this week. Apparently, I picked 45 total points in the game as a tie-breaker and I was spot on! Well, of course, I always choose 45–it was one of my favorite years in age!

I came home with this week’s sheets and a fist full of cash. Roy made his picks quickly and then looked over at mine. “Why Seattle over Arizona?” he asked.

“Because,” I really shouldn’t have to explain something so simple, “I like rainy weather better than dry heat. And I picked Kansas City over Tennessee because we live closer to Kansas City and…” I may not be suited to the gambler’s life!

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The high blood pressure blues

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As I write this, I’m sure my blood pressure would measure a little high, whatever “high” is, because my blood pressure seems to have a mind of its own and it delights in all the attention it gets at the doctor’s office. I have said so many times, that I could walk in the door of a doctor’s office with a spear sticking out of my eye and the first thing they would do is strap on that blood pressure cuff and then remark, “Wow, your blood pressure is really high.”

For those of you who think this is an exaggeration, I can offer proof. Three years ago, I was walking bare-footed through the carpet in my living room when an errant toothpick rose up and drove itself under the nail of my big toe. I’ve heard that they do this deliberately when torturing spies and I can tell you from first hand experience that if someone had done this to me and they wanted the nuclear launch codes, I would have made something up if I didn’t know the answer, just to stop the pain!

Of course, when I limped into the clinic an hour later after getting profane with the receptionist to convince her that it was indeed an emergency, what was the first thing they did? They slapped on the blood pressure machine and then remarked, “Wow, I don’t like the looks of that blood pressure.” Personally, I didn’t like the looks of the piece of wood sticking out from underneath my toenail, but, to each his own.

On another occasion, I was having back and neck spasms every time I moved. They had me get on to a table for a female exam (don’t ask), requiring three people to get me there and by the time they were done, I had little pain sparks dancing across my eyeballs and my legs were not too steady. So, of course, the next step was to take my blood pressure. “Well, we have a problem here; that blood pressure is really out of whack.” What I felt was out of whack was the fact that nobody seemed to feel that intensive and horrific pain in the back might just increase the blood pressure and a good way to bring the blood pressure down might be to treat the source of the pain. Of course, I’m not a medical person, so what do I know?

At one point in time, they sent me home with my own blood pressure machine so that I could daily monitor my blood pressure. I am not sure who thought this was a good idea, but I assure you, it was not. I made the error of asking, “Well, what would be considered a dangerous reading?” The nurse laughed and said, “Oh, don’t worry too much about it. Now, if it got to, say, 200 over 100, then we might want to worry.” You know that whole mind over matter thing? I’m here to tell you it works both ways. It took me exactly 48 hours to record 200 over 100 on my little blood pressure machine. For those who think I did it wrong, when I staggered into the clinic, it was still at 190 over 99. I made up my mind then and there that the first person who made the Captain Obvious observation that my blood pressure was out of whack, was going to get a whack from me.

This week, I decided that there is no way to win the blood pressure game. The first thing they did at my yearly appointment was take my blood pressure. Now, I had gone through the blood-taking they do and semi-conquered my problem with needles. I was waiting to hear what the doctor had to say about my numbers and I had spent the last week worrying about what my blood pressure would be. It didn’t disappoint. First reading was 167 over 80. The attendant remarked, “Well, the bottom number’s not too bad, but the top one’s pretty high.”

When the doctor came in, before he could comment, I burst out, “I know, I know, the blood pressure is high, but in my defense, when they took it at my thyroid checkup, it was only 145 over 69. I think you guys might be stressing me out.” (I’ve heard over the years that if you want to win the argument, always come out on the attack.)

The doctor said nothing and began going through my health check and everything came out normally. And just as I was relaxed, ready to leave, he slapped on the blood pressure cup again. To my astonishment, the numbers had drastically dropped to 136 over 80. “Well, that’s pretty good, isn’t it?” I said, looking for affirmation.

“Well, the top one’s not bad, but that bottom one’s a little high,” was his reply. That’s it, I’m divorcing my blood pressure. I’m tired of it grabbing all the attention!

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Static at the Stadium

It’s a well known fact in my family that when I attend a professional sporting event in person, I don’t always come away with the best feelings afterwards. I had a friend tell me once that the thing they liked best about going to a stadium event was that they could watch all the people. Well then, they would have loved coming with me on Sunday because there were a lot of people to watch!

First of all, I have to say that I was at the home stadium of the only professional football team that I watch–the Minnesota Vikings. I watch them because my husband does, and I will admit that he is more into the game than I am.

That leaves me doing the people watching. I watch them cheer, I watch them fall apart, I watch them do that Skol thing, where they all look like a bunch of trained monkeys responding to their Pavlov trigger–the big drum. What I watch people at these games do the most, unfortunately, is drink, some of them to the point where I really hope they aren’t driving home!

At this point, it is important for me to admit that I am not overly-tolerant of an intoxicated individual in a public setting. I always wish they would save that fun for the bars, but with beer flowing like water from so many different places in the stadium, a person with enough money and stamina can get pretty lubricated at a football game.

However, this game did not have an over-amount of intoxicated people, unless you count the individual sitting directly behind me screaming “Boo” as loud as he could, using his rolled-up program to try and amplify the noise. He only stopped this screaming to wet his whistle on yet another beverage. I was given to understand from his extremely loud rantings that the opposing team “sucked”, the entire coaching staff from both sides “sucked”, and in particular, the referees sucked and had apparently done something quite unnatural with their mothers.

I was distracted from his antics (not really) by the three gentleman sitting two rows down. They were also enjoying the liquid refreshments offered at the game which apparently must have stiffened their knees because they never sat down. So all of us behind them also got to stand up and the expensive seats we had paid good money for stood empty for much of the game.

These gentlemen got the best video of anyone at the stadium when two of them held up their phones and videoed the third one, who on a dare, ran down to the front row seats to try and make time with one of the cheerleaders, a young woman who was not excited about being distracted from her job. The two videographers probably didn’t particularly good film as they were laughing until the tears ran down their faces, while they stood up, blocking the view of the running, passing and scoring that was taking place on the field, from the rest of us. I doubt that prevented the video from going online as soon as they were sober enough to get home, however.

A gentleman, whom I admire greatly, finally did ask them to sit down and he did it so much more graciously than I would have. They were most apologetic and complied immediately. And they stayed in their seats for nearly three minutes.

With our view of the game at least temporarily unobstructed, we got to watch some excellent plays from both teams and I amused myself by contemplating all of the different methods by which I might permanently attach the screamer’s program to his body, but I never tried any of them out because I didn’t really want to be arrested.

After a while, I even got into the whole “Skol” clap, that is, until I managed to jab the fellow next to me in the eye. He was probably wondering just how many beverages I had had, but he was kind enough not to punch me for at least temporarily fouling up his eyesight!

The game turned out well, with the Vikings pulling out the win with a very exciting finish in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. We all high-fived each other–yes, we even high-fived the drunks–and the whole afternoon had a rosy, after-win glow to it.

On the way down the street towards the parking garages, I may have witnessed the best thing of the whole day and I don’t think the gentleman who did it was anything but clear-headed. A mass of purple was on the corner waiting for the light to change, when one gentleman wearing the light blue of the opposing team walked bravely into the crowd. He exchanged glances with a few of the silent, purple-clad hometown fans, grinned the biggest grin ever, pumped his fist in the air and declared, “Skol Vikings!” There was a man who correctly read his audience and responded accordingly. Skol, Vikings, you won the game!

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That’s a negative on the home repairs

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The dryer malfunctioned this week. The repair needed was minor, but we lacked the expertise, proper tools and body flexibility (to get behind the dryer) needed to fix it. We contemplated calling a repair person, but the last time we did that, they laughed a little and told us it might be easier to just buy a new dryer!

As Roy sweated in the tiny space behind the dryer, attempting to affix a hose to the vent that was not agreeing to the attachment, and I stood above, trying to keep him from bumping his head, back, etc. on the shelf above him when he stood up, I suddenly began thinking about “The Long Winter,” a book I am reading with my grandsons.

I know, this seems like a non sequitur from the topic of dryer repairs, but it really does connect. In the book, the Ingalls are struggling without coal, kerosene and flour. Of course, they find that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” for each of those problems and Pa remarks, “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. (Modern conveniences) are good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.” (The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Chapter 19)

Now he was talking about railroads, kerosene and coal, but the truth of his statement is still there. My dryer, which is a wonderful thing when I have it, makes me almost helpless when it isn’t functioning correctly. And while the trains are still running around here, they aren’t bringing in any repairmen to fix the problem.

“How is it looking,” I asked, hanging hopefully over the back of the dryer as my husband attempts with only two hands and a lot of cursing, to get things back together.

“I can’t make the thingy fit over the doohickey,” he mutters, his head covered in leaking lint, “and the clamps they use must have been developed on the moon. I’m afraid you may have to do without the dryer.”

“Do without the dryer!” I exclaim in horror. “I’ve got a pile of wet clothes here!”

“Well, take them to the laundromat,” he grumbled, straining to try and force the things to fit together.

“I tried them, they are closed. I can’t just leave these clothes wet!”

In exasperation, he looked up from his work and said the words that could very well end our marriage, “You may have to hang them outside.”

I was speechless. Hang the towels outside???? I have never heard of anything so outrageous. It has been so long since I pulled out the collapsible clothesline, that I’m pretty sure it’s rusted and as for clothespins? I only use those to keep opened bags of chips sealed. I don’t hang clothes out with them!

It’s true, trying to repair household items could lead to the breakdown of our society and everything we hold dear. When the refrigerator broke down a couple of years ago, we were forced to store our cold food in a cooler with ice for over half a day, before we could find a repairman. The worse argument we had in years was over who was going to be brave enough to test the milk to see if it had spoiled!

My automatic floor sweeper gave up the ghost a few months ago, but I kept it plugged into the wall so I wouldn’t have to face the awful truth that it had died and there was no miracle resuscitation that could help it. I didn’t realize how this had affected me until the neighbor child said, “You should really run that vacuum thing, because there is dog hair all over this rug!”

“Don’t you think I know that?” I sobbed into my hankie. “But I just keep hoping that maybe the battery will suddenly charge and my floor sweeper will come back to life and clean the rugs!” That child has not been back to visit since.

Okay, so I’m not particularly resourceful like the Ingalls in compensating for the things that are not working. Modern society has made me helpless in the face of a phone that doesn’t function, or a printer that’s out of ink. I know I need to learn that “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” or else, move to someplace where there are more repairman–is there such a place?

I was thinking about that again this morning when Roy trudged up from the basement with a grim look on his face. “The furnace isn’t working,” he announced. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”

But no! Winter’s coming, and I don’t have Pa Ingalls here to show me how to twist those hay sticks to burn!

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Medical Mysteries

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All right, it’s true. I pick on the medical profession a lot. But I think it’s a fair trade: I pick on them in my realm of writing and they scare the life expectancy out of me in their realm of medical mystery!

Since it is nearly the time of year when I must pick up the phone and voluntarily give myself into their hands for my yearly physical, I think it is a good time for me to list some of the reasons why I don’t like doing this.

The first reason is the time they set up. I call the office and say, “Yes, I would like to schedule my annual checkup with the doctor. Could we possibly set it for sometime in the early morning in a week or two…”

I am cut off at this point by the medical receptionist who begins to fire questions at me like a drill sergeant with a new recruit, “What is your birthdate? Any changes in insurance? Any trips to areas having outbreaks of disease? Are you experiencing new symptoms?” I swear to you, if I told them I needed to see the doctor because I have a spear sticking out of my throat, they would schedule me for 4:30 in the afternoon, three months from that date (minimum) and I should bring a copy of my living will!

The worst part of the visit is, of course, the orders not to drink or eat anything for the 12 hours prior to the appointment. I get why they do this, all right? But jeez, no food or drink AND I have to see the doctor? That is just too much. But, every year, I drag myself in there, feeling like I’m in the desert as I pass water fountains and with my stomach rumbling as I watch the small child next to me eating Cheerios out of a baggie, which look absolutely delicious, especially the ones stuck to his wet and sticky fingers! By the time I actually see the doctor, I’ve got a case of the “hangries” that just won’t quit!

Blood draw is no fun and it’s the first thing they do. The vampire in the lab is waiting with a large needle, ready to do their part and making clever little comments like, “It’s okay, you don’t have to look and I won’t either.” In my fantasies, I grab them by their white coat lapels and snarl, “Don’t mess with me. I almost punched out a three-year-old for a baggie full of week-old Cheerios. One more word from you and I’m going to slap you around this lab and steal the candy bar sticking out of your pocket!”

Finally, finally, FINALLY, they take you into that little cubicle where the doctor will eventually get around to seeing you. They make you step on the scale and then they ask the terrible question, “Do you want to know what you weigh?” If I wanted to know that, I’d join a gym and work out. As it is, I’m operating on the ignorance is bliss theory, so no-I don’t want to know what I weigh. After that, they bombard you with even more questions, “Are you pregnant? (Seriously?) Are you safe at home? (I stepped on a plastic fork and nearly wiped out, does that count?) or, Do you feel like you want to harm yourself? (A little hint, here, if you answer, “Only when I have to answer these questions” they will make you answer a whole new set of questions. Trust me on this one.)

And of course, they take your blood pressure. Here again, I refer to the spear in the neck example. If I came in with that, they would ignore it to begin with and take my blood pressure. And they would say, “Wow, that blood pressure’s a little high.” I have gone into the doctor’s office after a night of pain in my side and throwing up, having pain washing up and down my spine when I moved, a toothpick shoved completely under my toenail…don’t ask, and so dizzy, I was seeing two of the doctor. In each case, they took my blood pressure first and said, “Wow, that blood pressure’s a little high.” As a result, anytime I see a lab coat, my blood pressure shoots straight up!

Of course, any kind of test is fun; the pap smear (women’s answer to the prostate exam), the mammogram and a fun new one I’ve been having called a thyroid check. That’s where they lay you back in a semi-dark room and shove needles in your throat. The tests themselves are bad enough, but that week wait to hear whether you get a passing grade or not is even worse. “Yes, this is the doctor’s office. We are calling to let you know about the results of you recent test. The test was administered on Friday. Please verify your birthdate…” With a woman of my anxiety levels, I want to scream into the phone, “Get to it! Am I going to live or die????” My ideal report would be no more than the day after the test and they would begin the conversation with, “All good, here.” We can straighten anything else out after that. Is this too much to ask?

Now, before everyone thinks I don’t understand the hazards of the medical profession, I will be the first to say that I don’t. And for the record, I appreciate what the medical community does for me. Now that I’ve done my worst for them in my writing, it’s time for them to get me in their little cubicle and do their worst on me!

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Nothing like a brisk shower

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Jackie Wells-Fauth

I have always been behind the times when it came to taking care of myself physically. I ate poorly (and still do from time to time) for many years–red meats every night, sugar on top of sugar, and processed foods by the fishstick! My favorite pizza in the world is one of those little frozen square ones that cook up to the consistency of a cardboard carton–nothing could be better!

In addition, I did most of that junk-food eating sitting in a chair watching television and stirring myself to nothing more strenuous than changing the channel on the remote. Finally, my doctor gave me the sad eye and informed me that my blood numbers were not good and if I wanted to kill myself early, it was quicker to run my car into a tree. Okay, he didn’t say it like that, but that is darn sure what he meant!

Okay, so I’ve had to bake the potato instead of fry it and enjoy it with less butter and sour cream. I have had to peel my lips off the constant soda pop bottle and teach them to welcome a little tea or water instead. I have had to break off my long-standing relationship with chips and rolls every morning and try a few bananas or melon or apples in place of it. I have worked hard to do this, but I have to admit that a nutritious, crispy apple is a sad replacement for a succulent roll full of cream and chocolate.

I’ve had to revise my physical life as well. I do stretches and yoga…okay it doesn’t look like yoga when I do it, but it seems to serve the purpose. During the last year, I have adopted a lot of back exercises as well in order to avoid another round of spinal shots, which make having to eat cauliflower instead of steak look easy by comparison.

I took up walking a few years ago (I know, I know, I’ve always been able to walk) operating on the premise that I either use it or lose it. I have done well with walking, even walked mornings in the dead of winter until that particular practice began to bother my husband. He felt getting my overbundled butt hit by a car that can’t see me in the early morning fog might do the body more harm than good, so he bought me a treadmill. I don’t mind the treadmill, but the view is seriously less interesting from there!

My latest undertaking, however, has to have most of my former actions beaten. Over the radio one day, I heard that if a person turns the shower on cold for 30 seconds to two minutes or so of their overall time, it will be very beneficial to one’s health. Now this was upsetting! One of my chief joys in life has always been a nice, hot shower. I dismissed this report, until I began to hear others say that yes, their doctors were recommending it.

Oh dear, I knew that I was going to have to try it, but I was of two minds about the result: If I had no benefit from it, I could say I tried and go back to my warm showers. BUT what if it helped? What would I do them? I’d be doomed to a chilly blast every day!

I got in the shower, took my usual ablution routine and then stood there, letting the warm water cascade across me, building up my nerve. I turned down the temperature a little. It began to run rather tepid. The next inch down brought medium cold. All I could think was, “30 seconds, surely I can take 30 seconds.” But that was before I turned it all the way down. What I discovered is that when I am taking a cold shower, everyone will know it, because I bellow like a banshee in a cold spray!

Out I got, put on my flannel pajamas and shivered in a chair for an hour. Well! That was one sacrifice for my health that I was not going to make! Except the longer I sat there, the more I became aware that my chronic neck pain and my chronic knee complaint were absent. Now, they came back, but they disappeared every time I took a cold shower and stayed away longer each time. Darn!

So, I have made one more sacrifice to try and keep myself alive and kicking longer. And just the other day, I read in some Internet post (your red flag here) that you have a better chance of a complete bowel movement if you balance yourself above the stool, and sit backwards. No, No, NO! I refuse to even think about it…unless I start having bowel problems…..

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A list of facts…from the Internet!

Photo by Chait Goli on

I was reading an interesting article on the Internet the other day…this should be your first red flag! The article gave a series of “facts” that it labeled as “things you didn’t know.” I am pretty sure, after reading some of them, that they don’t know either. I want to share some of these facts with you, only for the purpose of making fun of them. Not one of them has been “fact-checked,” and pretty much all of them are ridiculous in one way or another. Having issued that caveat, here we go:

Fact #1: 85% of statistics are wrong. I felt it was important to lead with this one, because so many of these statistics are questionable at best!

Fact #2: 30% of all traffic in cities is people circling around trying to find a parking spot! If you have ever circled the block ten times, praying a parking space magically appears so you can run in and pick up your cleaning or your prescriptions, you know that this one feels real, even if it isn’t. I’d rather hear some statistics on how many hours of my life I waste, looking for that space.

Fact #3: You can fit about $3 billion worth of plutonium into a shoebox. Now, as the article pointed out, plutonium is apparently radio-active (I’m not up on plutonium properties). That being the case, if you found a need to store something like this in your closet, it’s likely that one of two things will happen: you will be arrested for having it or you will die from the green cloud in your closet!

Fact #4: In feudal Japan, lords purposely built squeaky floors as a defense against ninjas. This one made me a little emotional, because if it were true, I have a home ready-made to sell to some feudal Japanese lord…and in the meantime, ninjas will not get me!

Fact #5: The human eye blinks about 4.2 million times a year. When the job comes up that calls for someone to sit and count the blinks of their eye for a year, I’m applying!

Fact #6: It would take 1.2 million mosquitos, each sucking just once, to drain an average human of blood. The nightmares this particular statement is going to give me have no end! Who is the unlucky fellow that this was tested on?????

Fact #7: Canada eats more mac n’ cheese than the US by volume. I don’t know exactly what this means, but I feel bad, because I didn’t know we had a competition going. I’ll step up my pasta game!

Fact #8: There is a state in the union where there are more tigers living with people than there are tigers in the wild anywhere. In that same state, it is illegal to own six or more sex toys (imagine being the cop on that case). I’m just going leave this one to your imagination.

Fact #9: Sperm count in men have gone down 50% since 1970. This has so many possibilities, I don’t even know where to begin, but if it were true (and imagine the testing), maybe it’s God unique way of “culling the herd?”

Fact #10: A wild boar can ejaculate up to a quarter of a gallon of semen in one go. Who is testing this, how are they testing it and most important WHY are they testing it?

Fact #11: If you are over 7 feet tall, there is a 17% chance that you will play in the NBA. But, there is a 100% chance that you will hit your head on the underside of my deck, because I do it all the time and I’m nowhere near that tall!

Fact #12: 6% of Americans think they could beat a grizzly bear in unarmed combat. I can feel the new reality show coming already: So You Think You Can Beat a Grizzly Bear: the show where everyone had better had their wills up to date!

I saved my favorite fact for the end, and it is this: Female fish (I believe it was goldfish) fake “sexual completion” to trick males into thinking they have been successful, so the female can move on to another mate. On top of the fact that I have no idea exactly how fish reproduce, who is the serious scientist out there with a clipboard asking some promiscuous female fish, about her sex life?

I know what you’re all thinking now and I do definitely agree with you: I’m going to stop reading fact articles on the Internet!

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Paintbrush Peccadillos

Jackie Wells-Fauth

Every eight years or so, my husband makes a decision that imperils his marriage: he says, “I think we should paint the house!” I’m not sure if he is unaware that this decision imperils his marriage or if this is just his clever ploy to wrangle a divorce! If the later is the case, he hasn’t succeeded yet–I wouldn’t divorce him for this, I’d just feed him a paintbrush!

This week, he came in on a fateful Monday, looked at me profoundly for a moment and declared, “It’s time to paint the house.”

I was unimpressed, “So? Who are you, Caesar Augustus announcing an edict throughout the land? Call a painting service,” and I went back to my book.

“Oh no! That would be a lot of money. We can do it ourselves!” and he smiled as though he had just conceived of a brilliant idea for slicing bread or something.

“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?” I squealed, my romance novel hitting the floor, “By ‘we’ you had better mean you and your mistress, cause I’m not doing it! Besides, you said after the last time that we would be hiring it done from now on!”

“Yeah, but I was tired when I said that. I think I can handle one more house-painting job,” he flexed his muscles–I think that’s what he was doing.

“The last one was eight years ago and we have barely recovered from it physically yet, let alone mentally,” I protested further, but by this time, I could see it was a futile discussion and that, indeed, ‘we’ were going to be painting the house.

Now, when Roy paints a house, there are certain rules we abide by. One, we will both be on ladders of some type or another and we must not whine, whimper, or wrap ourselves around the ladder, using all four limbs. Why no wrap-around, you ask? Because then you have no limbs left to paint with, of course. As for the no whine and whimper rule, that’s because it annoys the head painter. Yes, that’s the second rule: Roy is always the head painter.

Rule number three: you may not throw a loaded yellow paintbrush at the head painter after he reaches over and smooths out your “brush strokes” for the fiftieth time. Apparently, it might hit the head painter or worse, miss him and hit the brown trim he just finished painting.

Painting the house with my head painter involves arising in the morning before Gabriel has sounded the trumpet for the day, eating a breakfast at the unheard of hour of 8 a.m. and being on a ladder with a paintbrush in your hand before you’ve even had your fourth cup of coffee, while relaxing on the deck. And speaking of coffee, this is the only way I can ever get my husband to serve me coffee in bed.

He appeared at my bedside at (there isn’t a time for how early it was) and presented me with a cup of coffee and the sweet words, “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!”

“Oh, you made breakfast,” I sat up and sniffed the air, so pleased by his effort.

“Heck no, I left you a banana on the kitchen counter. Get a move on here, daylight’s a wasting!”

“Daylight hasn’t happened yet,” I grumbled, but I got out of bed, sipped the coffee and ate the banana (which was on it’s last leg, by the way) and stumbled out the door.

Another problem with our painting projects: the discussion of a break. I think a break should occur every ten minutes or so and should include freshly brewed tea and perhaps some muffins. Roy thinks a break should happen after two sides of the house are done and the break consists of going to the outdoor spigot, bending so your head is under it and turning it on. The break lasts as long as your glasses stay on your face!

Well, we are mid-way through our house painting project and we haven’t contacted the divorce lawyers yet, although we came close when he criticized my paint spray on the ground. “It will wash off in the next rain,” I reassured him. “In that case, so will the paint on the house,” he growled. Technicalities, technicalities, don’t bother me with technicalities!

Clean-up is an equally fun time with my “head painter”. For me, it is imperative that I buy a cheap brush for painting, because my idea of clean-up is to throw the paintbrush away. Roy wipes down his paint ladder (as you can see from the picture, I do not), cleans and wipes the rim of the paint can (why is this necessary) and washes his paintbrushes to within an inch of their lives. First there is the water bath, then the soak, then the soap and water followed by four or five rinse cycles. I’ve heard of people who have an unhealthy attachment to their paintbrushes, but this boy has paintbrushes still in his possession that were used to paint his baby crib–with something lead-based, no doubt!

It will be another eight years before the “let’s paint the house” hurricane breezes through our marriage, but I’ve vowed to be better prepared next time. Before the painting the house subject comes up, I plan to burn all of his paint brushes and stir sticks at a giant barbeque in the back yard…and I may throw in his trusty paint shoes (bought for him in high school) as well!

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